Despite writing a lot lately about both serious fandom topics and personal stuff, I realise that this blog hasn’t actually had much content about the specific experience of being an older fan. You know, the very thing I set out to blog about in the first place.
In an effort to rectify this, here’s a brief glimpse into the mind of a Fan Of A Certain Age.
1. Am I Too Old For This?
The thought that crosses my mind at least once a day. I always remind myself that it’s okay to keep doing the things that make me happy, and that hobbies aren’t age-restricted. But I definitely find myself seeking out different content than I did ten years ago, and holding back from a lot of interaction with other fans. The fandom activity I see online seems more and more dominated by teenage fans, and it gets harder to find content, both professional and fan-made, that appeals to me. Cons feel like youth clubs, with young fans running around seemingly unaware of anyone else around them, and so often now I see people reacting to things they don’t like by telling older fans, specifically older women, that there’s no place for them in fandom. It’s scary, and I can’t help but wonder about the fans who came before me, and where they all are now.
2. Fans Sure Do Argue A Lot These Days
Fandom drama is nothing new, but now it feels like every single thing has to be debated. Where fans might have once said ‘that’s not my thing’ or ‘that’s just too squicky for me’, now everyone is a self-appointed officer of the Fandom Police, with a mission to call out every perceived offence.
Don’t you get tired of being angry all the time? Sure, some things are worth being angry about, but learn to pick your battles; disagreements over fictional characters are not that important in the grand scheme of things. Save your energy for offline problems. And for goodness’ sake, stop insulting everyone who disagrees with you – no one ever learned their lesson because they were insulted enough.
3. I Miss LiveJournal
Say what you will about it, but LJ’s community-based structure sure made it easier to find fandom friends. If you had a particular interest, you searched for relevant communities, made an intro post, and bam! New friends! If there wasn’t an established community, you made one. I still have online friends I met on LJ about fifteen years ago, and I’ve had romantic relationships that started from meeting people in LJ communities. Now, it feels like you have to be a content producer with a substantial volume of content (or a sizeable collection of curated content) and hope that enough people are following the relevant tags to notice you. It makes joining a new fandom a very daunting experience, if you can even call it ‘joining’, or a ‘community’. Lately, fandoms feel less like communities and more like crowds of people all screaming into the same void.
4. What’s Discord?
I think a key sign of getting older now is when you question whether you actually need a new technological advancement. I felt iffy about having a contactless debit card, and even more so about using my ‘phone for contactless payments. Then I remembered all the older people I see at work who tell me they’ve never used a computer and hate how everything is online these days. I realised that the day I stop keeping up with technology, even for fandom, is the day I get stuck in the past. Still, something about Discord makes me wary. It definitely feels like a young people thing.
5. I Wish I Had More Time To Create
I often joke that my job is mostly to fund my hobbies. Except my job often makes me feel like I have no time or energy for my hobbies anymore! I miss being creative – the excitement of starting a new project, the satisfaction of seeing it take shape, and the anticipation of people’s responses. Now, I have to schedule ‘writing time’ – I literally write it in my planner as an appointment. How sad that, for most of us, creativity becomes a luxury as we get older.
6. I’m Glad I’m Not A Young Person Joining Fandom Now
Twenty years ago, online fandom spaces were still a relatively new thing. I was discovering Yahoo Groups and message boards at the same time that I was still joining fan clubs from ads in the back of paperback novels or SFX magazine. We were figuring out netiquette as we went, based on the idea that everyone wanted to get along and have fun, and that access to these spaces was a great privilege. Our spaces were separate, organised by our shared interests, rather than having to share one giant space with people of hundreds of other fandoms. We discussed things we didn’t like about our favourite books and shows right alongside our discussions about what we did like. Posting a mean-spirited response to someone’s work was frowned on – don’t like, don’t read. Now, I can’t think of a single fan space that hasn’t been subject to hate, or a single show or book that hasn’t been called out for not being 100% unproblematic. As much as I will defend the Internet to technophobes, it really does make it easier for people who enjoy making others feel bad, and if you’re a young person already feeling like an outcast offline, coming online probably doesn’t feel much different.
7. Stop Making Chat Fics!
I’m all for experimentation in fanfiction – playing with format, narrative style and language are essential for anyone who wants to develop their skills as a writer. I’ve read fantastic stories formatted as letters, e-mails and diary entries (and written some too). But chatfics need to stop. They’re not experimental anymore; they’re generally out of character, plotless, and overstuffed with American memes and the writer’s own in-jokes.
8. Being A Geek At Work Isn’t Easy
When you’re in school or college, you can show off your interests and easily find people who like the things you like. But when you have a career-type job, with colleagues and paperwork and meetings, you’re expected to put all that stuff away in favour of ‘grown-up’ interests. Social conversations revolve around things like gardening and kids and cooking. You get asked if you watched that TV show everyone’s talking about, or watched the sportsball. People want your opinions on interior design. It’s not easy to say, “actually I spent my weekend cosplaying and shopping for merch and fan-art at a con, before going home to catch up on this week’s anime and write fanfiction”. You have to find subtle ways to express your geekery, lest you find yourself having to explain Pokemon Go to a room full of middle-managers. I speak from experience when I say this is not a good thing.
9. Merch Is Expensive
When all your income is disposable, it feels okay to save up £50 to buy the latest Nendoroid. But when you have to account for bills and rent or mortgage payments, that £50 equates to more than your weekly food budget. Or maybe you have the £50, but then something breaks down or needs replacing, and what felt like a treat suddenly feels like a reckless indulgence. The number of times I have started to buy stuff online but then emptied my cart at the last minute because the total felt too extravagant are more than I can count.
10. What Would My Life Be Without Fandom?
Every time I start to wonder if I really ought to give up on fandom, I ask myself what else I might be doing. I have little interest in most live-action TV. I don’t have a family or a pet. I don’t care for sportsball or gardening. Maybe I’d be a hardcore crafter, but I’d still be using the Internet to connect with other crafters, and I’d probably still be crocheting amigurumi instead of granny squares. Honestly, the idea of not being an active fan feels scarier than the thought of being an active fan at 40, or 50 or beyond. My tastes and interactions will continue to change – 25 year old me might not have been watching cop shows or blogging about feeling too old for fandom – but fandom will always be my way of connecting with other people.
The fandom experience has been a near-constant part of my life for nearly 20 years, but at the same time, fan spaces have changed so much. I want to say I’m looking forward to revisiting this in another ten years to see what else is different – assuming I’m still involved enough in fandom then.
How has fandom changed since you discovered it? Do you ever wonder if you’re getting too old for fandom, or do you wonder if there is life after fandom? Maybe, like me, you’re a Fan Of A Certain Age wondering where all the grown-ups have gone? Feel free to share your stories in the comments!