Once upon a time, it was a hard thing to be a geek. We were bullied for our love of things many viewed as childish, we were banished to small corners of our cities and towns, and we were viewed with derision. Comic book shops, game stores and arcades became our safe spaces and we would gather together in small cliques, cautiously whispering about the latest issue of the X-Men or our wishes for what Star Wars might become.
For many, it seems hard to remember that we no longer live in the shadows.
Genre entertainment has taken over the pop-culture world. The top box-office hits are adaptations of comic book stories or familiar fantasy/science fiction franchises. Successful broadcast and streaming TV shows are similarly bringing us these familiar characters and worlds. Comic book stores are ubiquitous.
Why, then, is there a rift between these older, more well-read fans, and the new fans pouring in from the mainstream? Why do many of us in the community still act as though we're the cultural underdog?
You'll see memes spread across the internet chiding fans of a movie to stop pretending that they're fans at all, that the original fans are the real fans. But what is a real fan? Why are there levels to simply liking something a lot?
Star Wars might be a case of the one of widest fandoms. The Force Awakens grossed more than $2 billion worldwide, making it the third most successful release ever. It did almost $1 billion dollars domestically alone during its theatrical run. That works out to be more than 100 million tickets sold for that film, which means as much as a third of the U.S. population counted themselves as Star Wars to an extent that they would make the seventh installment of the franchise such a powerhouse. If only real fans saw the movie, would it have made half as much? One-tenth? Or is it the notion that we're all fans that caused it to break box-office records?
What about The Avengers? The films sell 10 times as many tickets as the comics sell individual issues. Do you have to be a fan of both to be a fan?
I don't think so.
Being a fan of something is largely self-determined. We decide that liking something is a club we want to be in. I can't rate someone else's enjoyment of a thing, and I can't see how that level of enjoyment compares to all of the other things in their life. What I might qualify as passive fandom for myself might well border on rabid in a different person.
I get it, though. I remember the dark times. I got beat up at school for liking nerdy things. I got made fun of and bullied. We carved out our safe spaces through these stories to make ourselves feel comfortable. Those days are over, though. We need to stop thinking of all of these new fans as encroaching on our small safe space, and realize that it's all a safe space now. We need to make the whole of that space as welcoming as we wished the world was when we were becoming fans of things.
I know it might seem trivial, but the culture is ours now. No one should feel awkward about admitting they like something, even if they don't know everything there is to know about it. Instead of getting upset about how much these new fans don't know, act as an ambassador. Share your passion and help them discover the things you know they'll like. Instead of gaining an adversary or someone to roll your eyes at, maybe this way you'll find a friend.
The geeks have inherited the culture; maybe that's part of the reason the mainstream culture has shifted so dramatically over the past decade. But what good will any of it do, if we simply spend all of our time measuring the length of one other's fandom?
Cut it out. If somebody is a fan of the movie rather than the source material, introduce them to the source material. But don't act like you're better than they are. You're just someone who can help open a door.