Fandom as Religion Part 2: The following is an excerpt from the editorial in Hippogryph Issue One, now available for download at DriveThruRPG. You can read part 1 here, or buy the issue and read it in its entirety.
When I was growing up, there were three television networks. There were no video stores. Streaming services didn’t exist yet, because the public internet hadn’t come about. HBO showed other peoples’ movies and was only beginning to venture into original programming. We were limited to what was being broadcast on television. The amount of new science fiction, fantasy, and horror programming was limited. Even if you threw in Saturday morning cartoons, it was all easily consumable. There was time left over to watch non-geek shows, and to catch up on older shows through syndicated reruns.
There were few comics shops in existence, and none in my town. To be a regular reader and collector, you needed to subscribe by mail or hit up newsstands. My areas had three drugs stores with spinner racks, and each carried slightly different titles. I had to hit them all up weekly to get the full range of title I wanted. Two of the shops only carried DC Comics, and the one that carried Marvel had a sparse and inconsistent selection. I might have seen an Amazing Spider-Man comic once every 3 or 4 months.
Roleplaying games were purchased from the local hobby shop. There was one of those, and it had everything from model plane kits to Estes rockets to electric trains in various scales. There was no friendly neighborhood game store. Slowly they started carrying more than Dungeons & Dragons, but the selection never got particularly large.
I’m throwing all of this information out there for context. This isn’t some strange flex for clout, to show that I’ve been around longer and therefore I should have special privileges. My opinions don’t gain weight based on my longevity. This isn’t going to be some crap “good old days” reminiscence either. To make my point, I need you to understand why we needed fandom back in the day, in ways that we don’t today.
You see, because these things were so rare, so far outside the mainstream, it could be difficult to find people that shared your interests. Being called a geek or a nerd was a hurtful epithet, not something you willingly self-identified as. They were othering terms, meant to make you feel less-than. Which is why it was so amazing to have fandom. The letter columns of comics and science fiction magazines let you know that there were more people like you out in the world. Zines allowed us to communicate, learn more, or even to contribute something. Conventions were rare opportunities to actually meet fellow travelers face-to-face.
As a 13-year-old, I knew that within fandom I would not be mocked, harassed, or threatened with bodily harm because I liked weird stuff. Today, I feel that within fandom is where I’m most likely to be mocked, harassed, and threatened with bodily harm. And I say that as a cisgender, heterosexual white male. I cannot begin to fathom what it’s like for queer people, human beings of color, and women. I’ve listened to the stories, and seen the targeted hate. What 13-year-old me didn’t know, and what I now understand, is that it was just as bad or worse for them back in the day. My point being, if I’m feeling it as a person of unearned privilege now, it has to be pretty bad.
Last year Game of Thrones was the most talked about show on television. Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing film in history. The New Yorker, The Guardian, and the Washington Post have all run significant articles about Dungeons & Dragons. People cheerfully self-identify as geeks, nerds, and fans. I don’t know how to break it to some people, but we’re not the minority any more. Fandom isn’t fringe, or counterculture, or an outsider movement. It’s not difficult to find someone to talk about these things with. To be continued…