[Guest Post] My Gen-Z Journey Through Fandom

The most interesting thing for me to realize was how many fandoms I’d been a part of since I was a child, without even noticing that I was doing so, without even knowing that this is how I was expressing my fandom. I grew up an only child, in a quiet household, and my Indian parents discouraged me from creating accounts online. Truthfully, I never found a need for that kind of Internet interaction. This is a trait that carried through my adolescence to the present-day in how I engage in fandom and express my fanning.

The first fandom I can really remember myself getting into came about from growing up in the late 2000s. This, of course, was loving the Disney Channel shows and Disney Channel Original Movies (salute to DCOMS!) of the late 2000s. I remember checking the channel guides waiting for new episodes of Hannah Montana, getting all the fun associated merch, and going to see Hannah Montana: The Movie in theaters in 2009. I listened to the official Radio Disney station for years, listening to all their playlists and am proud to say I’m still in possession of Radio Disney Jams 10, featuring a video performance of the evergreen Nobody’s Perfect. My early-day fanning was pretty much just me, with the sometime-resignation of my parents.

I was there for the premiere of High School Musical 2, I remember seeing a rerun of Cowbelles, and when Wizards of Waverly Place: the Movie came out I spent months on the Disney website looking through all the promotional soundtracks and clips and games. (Aly and AJ’s version of Do You Believe in Magic!!) The Cheetah Girls 2 and One World were my ultimate excitements, and the thing I remember most clearly is having little gaggles of classmates to chatter about it with.

That was the extent of it, growing up with childhood shows sans internet to talk about what everybody was watching at the moment, and all before the ripe age of 10. It took lots more years after me becoming an avid internet user in middle school (disclaimer, I’m part of Gen Z) to even think to look up all the videos and content I hadn’t kept up with through the years. Finally doing so filled in the gaps for me, and also caught me up on the real-life strings behind things; because my particular brand of fandom at the time was solely focused on the shows and movies.

I knew nothing about what Miley Cyrus was doing outside of Hannah Montana, I had no clue about Selena Gomez’ personal life, and so on and so forth. Because so much of this early childhood fanning was off the internet, I knew nothing about media plays, and I didn’t follow along with the real-life figures and actors and creatives the way I do now as an adult and the way consumers of media at large in general do. They were just shows to me, of which I knew every interior detail, but nothing of the outside.

Just before I turned ten, I moved across the country and was living in the same town as my cousin. She and I got to spend a lot of time together and she introduced me to the TV shows that she loved, which were Power Rangers. All of the seasons (up to that point) and the two theatrical movies were on Netflix, so she and I freely marathoned and made up games based on our favorite seasons and teams.

We even made what I realize now was fanfiction, creating extra Rangers with their own cool powers, and putting together our own season of Power Rangers with team names and power-ups and everything. There are decade-old powerpoints and word documents and character descriptions that, looking back, were the products of hours and hours of devoted work, for weeks and months at a time. So much time was spent on these made-up extensions of the Power Rangers world.

“Fandom” was literally just me and my cousin, but it was and still is such a thing that drives how close we are in the present day. We’re still super close because creating these additions showed us we could collaborate, and we still work together on each other’s writing as a result. This small personal duo that made up fandom was outmatched solely by the solo way in which I was now prepared to go fandom-ing.

I have loved classic movies since I was a little kid, since 2012/2013, and I got into the “fandom” by finding the musical Top Hat, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, completely randomly at the library, being entranced by the Art Deco poster, and taking it home.

Low-res image of original poster for the film Top Hat (1935), featuring stars Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire Corporate author/original rights holder: Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corp./Radio Pictures Inc. 

And this is the most interesting point; the internet was a crucial part of my fandoming, because I’m completely alone in this regard: my family doesn’t watch classic movies, I have no friends who like them except one at college – which is such a new feeling after 9 years of this. I became and still am a firm devotee of Turner Classic Movies and their extensive online database.

I watched these films when they came on cable at all hours of the morning. Once, I got up at 3am to watch a string of Olivia de Havilland movies during her centennial and I woke up at 8am for a rare airing of the really obscure adventure film Frenchman’s Creek. I pored over articles, signed up for the TCM virtual newsletter, watched movie introduction clips on YouTube, and I knew all of the rotating hosts.

When Robert Osborne – a marvelous movie historian who was the first main host of TCM – passed away in 2017, I felt the loss acutely, but by myself. I started my movie collection and I have that encyclopedic knowledge of films, and I read to this day a lot of great classic movie blogs online, from pre-code.com to Shadows and Satin, as well as Self-Styled Siren, Comet Over Hollywood, The Blonde at the Film, and Immortal Ephemera.

 A lot of these websites also engage in serious scholarship about the time period, acknowledging the problems seriously extant in them, racism, sexism, homophobia, the really problematic Hays Code and particularly how it had rules against miscegenation. I learned to look all of these films through these lenses as well, (queer-coding started here!) and to still really love all the genres of classic movies, from film noir to musicals and appreciate the good in them. I am (much like Stitch!) of the belief that critiquing something is a way of showing your love and with classic movies – which is a love I have been really isolated in – that has certainly been the case and the viewpoint shared by those who love them along with me, who are a really diverse community.

Classic movies, as I got older, became the doorway where the fandom outlets I had when I was younger started to come back in a more online, social way. The movie blogs I was reading inspired me to look up blogs for Power Rangers, blogs analyzing old Disney movies, and retrospective blogs about the Disney Channel shows I loved so much.

This process of re-discovery, of finding out what people had written on the internet, enabled me to view some of my childhood interests in a new light. In some cases, with series like  Avatar: the Last Airbender, I appreciated more the subtleties and messages that I had taken for granted as part of the feel-good nature of the show. In other cases, they showed me how messed up some media was. The biggest example was how, through googling and reading Tumblr blogs in my first year of college, I came to realize that Rick Riordan’s works had continued to be problematic – largely due to how characters of color are portrayed in his books – long after I’d grown out of them.

Rick Riordan had been, as a small child, my introduction to the worlds of Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology, and I had seen his Magnus Chase series as this super cool, ultra-diverse take on Norse mythology that was truly modern. Then, the “rr crit” tag on Tumblr led to literally dozens of blog posts detailing the ways in which his books had done so much wrong and had just gotten worse, and made me really critically look at his books, realizing how badly they were done, and how badly the stereotypes were portrayed. Just one example is how in the Heroes of Olympus series, Piper, an Indigenous character, is introduced as having been sent to boarding school as a punishment, the extremely problematic implications of which are discussed here, with more historical context here. It taught me how important it is to continuously evaluate the media we consume.

This method of consuming, and becoming aware of potential failings in what we like, is easier in the internet age when so much information is now at our fingertips, ready to be found.

This has shown itself in my most recent fandom, K-pop, where I’ve been listening to music from BTS, Twice, and EXID among so many others and consuming music videos, award show performances and variety show episodes from early 2020. As the first fandom that I become part of as an adult, I can see so much clearer the difference between this and earlier fanning for me: how everything has become really really digital in terms of interactions. My friends send me TikTok videos, Instagram posts, and tweets all the time. I had to learn to look up hit tweets from certain accounts using Twitter’s search bar, and look at certain accounts to see their reactions. Even without having accounts of my own on social media, I still come into contact with fandom on social media much more frequently, and the much-larger time I’ve spent on the internet fuels me, making up a much bigger part of how I engage with K-pop content (e.g. YouTube videos, going through my texts and emails to rewatch TikToks and compilations).

K-pop fandom for me, however, is still made up of people I met in real life; I knew them first in real life from school, and then they got me into K-pop. We talk about our favorite artists for hours on end when we meet up in person, watch videos together, and do random dance challenges when we’re physically together. Though it’s easily my most digitally-focused fandom, the people I interact with the most about K-pop are not from social media. Rather, funnily enough, we’re already IRLs and they bring the social media to me.

My personal history and methods of fandoming have led me to this point, where it’s kind of the inverse of the norm: sans social media, my experience of fandom’s been very small in scale, but really big in terms of the bonds I’ve formed and the impact they’ve had on my sense of community. It has also led me to do as much as I can, in these various fandom spaces that are predominantly Indian, to apply the work of correcting biases and prejudices in my small circle as well, and thus do my part in making fandom as inclusive and safe as possible, for everyone.

In real life, especially, that kind of everyday work is just as important as on social media, and I am glad that, despite existing outside of the social media sphere of fandom and public opinions, I have grown to engage in fandom in these critical ways.

Robin is a devoted Indian film song-lover and kpop fan who enjoys reading, good food, and going through TV Tropes for every movie, classic and modern, she’s ever watched. Loves writing about everything she observes in the world, currently working towards a more equitable one. 


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