I have a strange relationship with fandoms and struggle to find words to describe how I feel. The best representation I have ever seen of fandoms is in Alice Oseman’s works, particularly I Was Born For This and Radio Silence. I co-read Radio Silence with a few friends recently and we all decided to write a different post celebrating Alice and her work (which we obviously all love!). I decided I had to write about the portrayal of fandoms – it’s a topic I’m very passionate about and I couldn’t wait to write down my thoughts.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the two books, I’ll give a quick summary of them and how fandoms play a large part in the stories before discussing them more indepth later in the post. I Was Born For This is told from two perspectives; Angel Rahimi (a dedicated fan of pop-rock band, The Ark) and Jimmy Kaga-Ricci (a member of The Ark). They end up crossing paths and we see the way the two of them deal with overwhelming situations. In Radio Silence, we follow Frances as she struggles with being an overachiever and the prospects of what her future holds – one of her biggest loves is a podcast called Universe City and we see this way she involves herself in the fandom and how the creator deals with it.
This post will have spoilers for both books so if you haven’t read them be warned! I try to keep spoilers out but it’s kind of impossible for this post.
A little info on my mixed relationship with fandoms – I used to be very active in some when I was around 18-21 years old. I had a couple of fandom Twitter accounts, wrote fic and was fairly involved in parts of the communities. I met some amazing people through this and made some brilliant friends! I loved chatting theories about the shows/books/films I was in the fandoms of, I loved seeing people’s fan art and reading good fics. However, I also became easily overwhelmed. This is partly due to my own personality and mental health but also due to some fans. I found fandoms to be very cliquey and there were often people who were condescending and sometimes cruel to others. I felt uncomfortable at the boundaries people crossed – with actors, writers etc. I also felt pressured to keep up with all the updates in the fandom which was too much for me. This made me ignore fandoms all together for a long time as I couldn’t enjoy them anymore and just found them to be anxiety inducing and they brought more negativity to me than anything else.
Something general I adore is that Alice manages to capture all of this – the good, the bad and everything in between that fandoms have to offer. Fandoms can be wonderful things to be a part of but they can also be really damaging. This isn’t just me speaking from personal experience either – I speak to people quite a lot about this and many others have said similar.
The way Alice writes how teenagers/young people speak is insanely accurate. Internet slang can often be done badly, in a very cheesy, exaggerated manner and it just feels forced and unrealistic. Reading her novels feels like you’re actually just chatting to others online or to other young people in real life. Even if I don’t speak a certain way and used certain phrases, it’s easy to recognise from using social media. This is hands down the most realistic way I have ever seen internet slang used and to be honest, I can’t imagine finding something more accurate.
I Was Born For This is a great example of how close knit friendships can be built online. Angel and her friend Juliet met online and shared a lot about themselves. They became close not only because they both adored the same band and loved the members so much but because they trusted each other and felt they could share personal things too. We see the awkwardness they have when they first meet – it’s strange interacting with someone in person for the first time when you know them so well from online conversations. Their pure excitement about seeing and meeting The Ark is infectious. As the reader, you can hardly contain your excitement for them. They are very heavily involved in the fandom which is where, for me, the feeling of being overwhelmed would kick in. They know so many details about the band members’ personal lives – they are so involved and wrapped up in them that at times they themselves feel like they know the bandmates personally.
This is where Jimmy’s perspective is so interesting and brilliant! We see his side of the brilliance and the hard parts of being famous and having a huge fanbase. He feels uncomfortable at times with how much the fans know yet of course thinks they are amazing too because they do amazing things. Rowan (another member of the band) probably has the biggest issue with boundaries in the fanbase. It causes problems in his relationship and he feels uncomfortable about people aggressively shipping the bandmates together. It’s when people send hate to his girlfriend he is really not okay with it. This is something I am uncomfortable with personally in fandoms – shipping is all well and good but if you attack a person for it, spam the famous person or refuse to believe things about their lives because it ruins an illusion, that can be super damaging to the person and I don’t think this is thought about enough. Jimmy’s perspective is a fantastic portrayal of what this could feel like for celebrities who deal with this. Fan interaction can be so wonderfully heartwarming for both parties but when fans refuse to accept boundaries and pry too much, it becomes a problem.
Radio Silence also portrays this – very differently but just as effectively. Frances is a massive fan of the podcast Universe City and does freak out internally when she realises that her new friend Aled is the creator but she also respects his boundaries – and did even before meeting him and knowing the creator’s identity. The Universe City fandom is presented as such a homely and wonderful fandom to be a part of. It’s quite niche to begin with with not too many followers so it gives the impression of being quite tight knit and everyone knows everyone. It’s a place for people to talk theories, discuss each episode and just be excited together! Frances loves creating her fan art and people love seeing it. It’s a secret passion she harbours, not showing it to anyone she knows in real life. The Radio Silence fandom offers her a creative output and a place to be herself.
A small few however start to piece things together bit by bit which is when things spiral – when Frances starts doing artwork for the podcast, people begin to figure out her identity and in turn, Aled’s. It becomes vicious, beginning with people asking harmless questions but quickly developing into people finding out their full names, where they go to school and then bombarding them with hate and questions. It brings about a huge amount of stress for them both, particularly Aled who has a lot going on in his personal life that complicates things too. Aled can’t believe people love his show and loves that he has fans but he grows resentful and upset when there are photos taken of him without his knowledge and uploaded online for all to see. It shows a truly dark side of what some fans (admittedly, a small amount) can be like and how actions have consequences and can deeply affect others.
I don’t know what else to write other than say Alice’s depictions of fandoms are truly brilliant and have caught my attention enough to write this and also discuss my thoughts on it with others! It’s just one of the reasons I love her books so much and I highly recommend them!
A final note on fandoms: though they can be brilliant places full of friends, fun and amazing conversations they can also be overwhelming and a lot to deal with at times. It can be easy to forget that someone you idolise so much is actually just another human being like you and I think it’s so important that people remember this when in fandoms and just generally in life!
What’s your favourite book of Alice’s? And how do you feel about fandoms?