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The Who, What, and Why of Fandoms.

How Fans Identify Themselves and Their Communities.

In the early part of 2020, I posted a survey on all of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook) as well as my website focused on learning people's perceptions of fandom culture based on their participation in it. By August of this year, it had gained more than 2100 responses.

This survey is going to be an important part of a book I am writing on the evolution and impact of fan culture over time, but I wanted to go ahead and share some of the fascinating things I learned from reading through the responses.

I asked people how long they had been involved in their fandoms, and was actually quite surprised to learn that the most frequent answer was longer than three years!
Time Spent in Fandoms

The majority of responses came from women (75.4%), and from people who were 18 years old or younger (73.4%), followed by people between 19 and 29 years old (29.3%). Most people that responded had been a part of their fandoms for between three and five years (40.1%), with the second most actually having been around longer, between six and ten years (30.3%).

This graph shows how responses were divided among continents. While it doesn't look like it here, I did get a couple of responses from Australia and Africa!
Fandoms by Continent

I advertized the survey the most on Facebook, and therefore its results are slightly biased to the regions I chose for my selected audience, although I tried to keep it evenly split. In the end, I got the most responses from Asia (36%), followed by North America (31.7%) and Europe (27.6%). There were several responses from South America (4.5%) as well!

I broke down fandoms into categories to see which were the most popular. The most popular fandom type was for books and book series at 75.4% of responses identifying as members of those fandoms. Following that were television shows at 74.1%, musicians and bands at 72.2%, and movies or movie franchises at 70.9%.

In this graph, we see the breakdown of what types of media people are fans of.
Fandoms by Type

The least popular fandom type was sports or sports teams at 7.9%, although my assumption here is that fans of sports and sports teams don't tend to identify themselves as part of a fandom (which is interesting, and makes me wonder why they believe that those communities are different from traditional fandoms).

A whopping 80.3% of responders interacted with fanworks of some kind, with 63.4% of responders saying that they created fanworks, the majority of which were written works (50%), followed closely by visual art (40.5%).

When asked why they consumed or created fanworks, answers ranged from simply finding them to be a fun outlet, to finding a sense of community and camaraderie with other creators and fans. Some responders mentioned using fandoms as a way to cope with and work through real-life stress, saying that it brought them a sense of escape from their own lives. Many also commented on the quantity and quality of fanworks, saying that they extended the experience of the main media once its canon was finished.

"People create a lot of visually stunning art and the fanfics are often a lot better written than most books in my library."

What I found most interesting were the responses that I got when I asked people what fandoms contributed to their lives.

The community associated with fandom and the sense of belonging it provides was the most universally recognized benefit, at 82.3% of responses checking it from the options I gave. Fandom was also seen as an important creative outlet by 80.2% of responders and as a source of emotional support for 76.3%.

I also asked what drawbacks people saw to being in fandoms, and from the list of suggestions I provided, controversy and infighting within fandoms were seen as significantly detrimental by 70% of responders, followed closely by controversy with those who were not in the community at 59.7%. 48.2% of responders also listed unrealistic expectations for reality as a drawback to fandoms.

I asked responders if they considered fandoms a part of their identity, and got some pretty interesting results.
Fandoms as an Identity

A majority of responders, at 65.5%, said that they felt that fandoms were important to their identities. When asked why there was a wide range of answers. Some said that being a fan of something and interacting with that community made them feel more in touch with their own personalities and values. Some said that their favorite works had shaped how they viewed the world, and it was good for them to find others who shared those views. It helps some people feel happy and safe in their identities, giving them a place to feel valued.

"With fandoms come art, and art has always been a way to influence others, to make them see things from your perspective."
"When you're surrounded by something so huge and something in which you put parts of your soul, it has a greater impact on you."

I think my favorite comment throughout the survey was this one, pulled from the question where I asked about identity, as it sums up how I've always felt about stories.

"The greatest stories are the ones that people still talk about. There are Aesops and morals to be learned from any great story if you look closely enough. After all, don't we all want to be like our heroes?"

These people see fandoms as important. They think of themselves as parts of a family of people bonding over creation and the shared experience of a story. Whether it's giving them somewhere to belong or something to believe in, for those of us that count ourselves as part of them, fandoms are more than just a pastime for teenagers. They're communities around the world full of people who want nothing more than to share with others the things that they love, and in that way, they're beautiful.

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