This is the second in a series of meta essays from Keidra and Raizel about fandom. We don’t have a name for it yet. But we are dedicating this part to Louise Belcher’s fandom of Boyz 4 Now.
by Raizel Liebler
Like Keidra, most of my early fandom was solitary. Whether it was music or books, I mostly was thoughtful in thinking about what is now called “the media” that I liked. I went through obsessive phases in tandem, but I didn’t classify them as fandom, just as what I liked. To me, there was no difference between my need to read every Madeline L’Engle book, the summers where I read only mythology books, and enjoying Miami Freestyle girl groups.
My family only presented directly what was was viewed as appropriate culture for kids (read: PBS), so opera was just as outre as Star Wars, yet my exposure to mainstream pop culture likely was no different than any other kid of the time. Despite its distinct “inappropriateness”, I was Princess Leia for Halloween one year. Likely the same year I was obsessed with Depeche Mode!
I liked what I liked, and it didn’t matter to me whether or not others also liked what I did — as long as they weren’t mean about it. I was friends with a girl who was obsessed with Monty Python long before I even saw it, complete with trying to explain the Dead Parrot skit and our play therefore centered far away from whatever my interests were at the time as well!
Unlike kids of today, where their fandom has an element of being passed down from their parents, that wasn’t true for me. Even for my first true complete musical obsession, the Beatles, it was from discovery on my own. The entry point was from listening to Beatles records in the house, but I was the first person in the family to buy Beatles fandom items, including the t-shirt that I wore to threads in sixth grade.
Of course, some elements of fandom as a girl are seemingly inescapable, such as being assigned to “like” a member of boy bands, when being brought into the group solely to receive such an assignment! The assignment thing likely started in the era of the Beatles, but it likely reached its American peak between New Kids on the Block, New Edition, and NSYNC — with a resurgence with 1D. I never cared about who I was assigned to like, considering it was a way to have something in common with others — at a point where I would have preferred listening to Queen or New Wave.
The episode of Bob’s Burgers where Louise discovers Boyz 4 Now is the closest cultural example of the boy band assignment for who to like and root for: based on the number of members, the lead girl picks the hottest/most popular guy, her second picks the “cute one”/ “bad boy”, the third girl picks the “not as cute” one “because no one likes him”, and everyone else is assigned by the leader. I think this helps to explain the sizes of some kpop boy bands, where in a friendship circle, there need to be enough members to assign to everyone: the chubby one, the intense rapper, the sad/pensive one, the “he writes his own material” one, the really good dancer, the actually good singer, the one that wears the most eyeliner, the one that has learned how to say “I love you” in the language I speak” etc.
But even within what are frequently viewed as closed-off fandoms, like comics, I found acceptance within my first kinda shared/ quasi-shared fandom. But it really was quasi-shared; boys would share comics with me if I would talk to them about those comics. I was picky — mostly sticking to Thor (mythology yay!) and X-Men. At the time, I didn’t see this as participating in a fandom; instead this was no different than anything else I read or listened to — but with comics I had someone to talk to about my shared interest. At that point, similar to discussions about Transformers and She-Ra, most of the discussions were one-on-one, detailing character development and plot points. Within the comics universes I learned about, I was viewed as a peer — despite never having time for the “who would win in a fight between  and ” and bluntly avoiding those conversations.
These comics conversations prepared me for some of my later fandoms, such as metal, where discussions of past arguments, feuds, what is truly “legendary” and artistic merit were generally friendly — but to discuss one needed to be prepared! And my comics knowledge from tweendom, while not broad has been deep enough to help me win several “well, actually” discussions regarding … mostly the X-Men family tree or x-exes.
I enjoy the object d’fandom for fun, not to be stressed.
So this causes me to have patterns of both drop the focus of fandom and avoid fandoms. When I really like something and then when it annoys or angers me, I have been known to drop it completely. Of course, there have also been many more fandoms that I have drifted away from without deliberate purposes, ranging from mythology, to French history, to anime.
My complete done-with-this approach to fandom has been helpful in dropping out of fandoms from racist musicians, to Lost, to Buffy. Usually there is a compelling singular event that causes me to throw the book across the room or its equivalent. I describe this as the midway point between someone who dips their toe in and someone who is a completist. If something causes my like to turn to ewwww strongly enough, that’s it for me, such as a particular interaction during Buffy, leading me to turn off the television and literally never watch it again. On the other hand, I liked the Sun and Jin storyline on Lost enough that I read books while watching the show, only paying attention during two storylines.
But unlike the present state of fandom for many, when I drop a fandom or interest, I don’t deny its potential interest or value for others, including fans — it just no longer works for me. Also, there are definitely elements of not just being a fan, but also being in a fandom that I like — the ability to share experiences and to delve into the weeds. But there have also been fandoms that have so much in-fighting and bitterness that I haven’t even bothered with it.
I’m glad that I was able to move through many interests and fandoms to get to where I am now. But I’m not the person I was when Sailor Moon meant so much to me — and that’s fine. But I’m grateful to have had my former fandoms that I’ve moved on from because, for example, when Sailor Moon would be of interest to someone else I can wholeheartedly suggest it to them!
And I also know that I will also always be the person that is specifically avoiding watching Reign, about Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, because the inaccuracies I learned about during my French history stage, would drive me up the wall.