I’m not kidding when I say I’ve genuinely considered giving up fandom as I get older.
The pressure comes from different places. Sometimes it’s when I get asked about my personal life by well-meaning colleagues simply trying to get to know me better. Other times, it’s from my family, who roll their eyes if I suggest that a choice bit of anime merch would make a great birthday present and then give me craft kits or clothes instead. And sometimes it’s a specific fandom experience.
I do actually have some ‘grown-up’ hobbies. I love crafting, and I dabble in photography. I’ve done a fair bit of am-dram acting, and I’ve always enjoyed writing. I enjoy all of those things. But I enjoy fandom just as much.
So the problem, when I examine it, doesn’t come down to being able to trade one hobby for another. Rather, what troubles me is why some hobbies are acceptable ‘grown-up’ hobbies and some are things you’re expected to grow out of.
Last summer, I chaired a panel at Nineworlds Geekfest about the process of building fan-spaces, and the conversation turned to what makes an interest geeky or mainstream. We compared the concept of ‘standard nerds’ to football fans, who collect trivia and stats, attend events, create their own AUs in the form of fantasy leagues, and even have a form of cosplay. Why is it acceptable to be a football geek at any age, but not a sci-fi geek or an anime geek once you’re an adult?
We discussed the level of involvement in the activity – watching a Marvel superhero film doesn’t feel like a ‘geek’ activity anymore, not when you can walk into Primark and buy Avengers T-shirts or pick up a Funko Pop at several shops on the high street. But writing Avengers fanfiction or drawing fan art or making your own cosplay from scratch would be seen as geeky by most people. But compare that with the afore-mentioned fantasy football leagues and people who knit scarves in their team colours or buy a new replica kit each season, and it’s still hard to reconcile why one interest is okay and the other gets you funny looks when you mention it at work.
One suggestion was the association with childhood activities. A child might draw a picture of their favourite footballer, but if an adult draws Cristiano Ronaldo for fun people think it’s weird. (And yes, I absolutely had to google ‘top football players’ to write that sentence.) The only exception is people who make money from their fan-art – be it seaside caricature artists or newspaper cartoonists. Apparently fandom creativity is only valid if it’s monetised.
Geek culture is becoming more prominent in popular culture, but the idea of being a geek still carries a stigma in some circles. I could tell my colleagues that I’m a fan of avant garde film, or that I admire the work of a particular photographer or know a thing or two about fine wine, and I’d come off as sophisticated. If I tell them I’m a fan of anime and that I write fanfiction and essays about it, we’re back to funny looks and being seen as childish.
Maybe it’s that old media stereotype of the geek as the socially awkward manchild or the wallflower girl who needs to learn how to act like a real lady. And yes, I am socially awkward, and live alone because it’s easier to talk to people through a computer than in real life sometimes. But I don’t think being a geek makes me socially awkward; I think being socially awkward led me to geek culture. In my fan-spaces panel, we talked about how geekdom attracts marginalised people because we’ve been excluded from the mainstream spaces we’re supposed to aspire to. If you grew up not playing sportsball or not being interested in pop music or age-appropriate heartthrob idols, then you sought out other spaces, and interests like sci-fi or cartoons gave you spaces where you could explore other options. What did it matter if you didn’t succeed in the real world if you could imagine yourself in a futuristic utopia, or in a cartoon world where no one looked like a real human anyway.
After sixth form, I did my undergrad degree in Broadcasting Studies, where I first established myself as an Anime Fan. After graduating, I talked myself on to a post-grad teaching course by arguing that the skills I’d learned studying TV programmes were exactly the same skills literature students had learned, just with TV instead of books. Being a grown-up geek feels, to me, no different from being a football fan or an opera fan or an avant garde film fan. I do the same things, just with my lens aimed in a different direction.
So I’m going to stay a grown-up geek. The stuff I watch might change over time – I rarely watch the school-based drama or sports anime series now, because teenagers just don’t feel relatable anymore. But I still have tons of horror and sci-fi and comedy and soft gentle slice-of-life shows and whatever the hell ‘Sarazanmai’ is. I’ll keep collecting seiyuu trivia the way a racing fan follows a horse’s form. The art on my wall might be fan-art, but it makes me happier than a printed canvas from Ikea would, and the figurines on my shelves might be action figures rather than vintage pottery, but it’s what I like.
I’m a grown-up, and I like fandom. So fandom is for grown-ups.
Have you had to defend your fandom hobby to someone who thinks it’s kids’ stuff? Have you felt the call to leave fandom behind as you get older? I’d love to hear your stories about being a Fan Of A Certain Age.
Social norms are so weird. Keep doing what you love!