People have always been drawn to others who share their tastes and preferences, but it seems like the last few years have seen a pretty remarkable expansion of the whole “fandom” concept. Between social media (especially Twitter and Tumblr) and fan fiction, fans of shows, movies, books, authors, actors, and characters can interact with those alternate worlds in a completely new way. Transmedia projects, which go beyond standard episodic formatting and tell parts of their stories using social media platforms, are increasingly successful, and storytellers of all kinds have taken to social media to build communities around their work.
I think fifteen years ago, if you’d had a dream about two brothers who live 1800 miles apart turning their weekly life-update-style videos into a wildly successful educational YouTube video series, an extremely popular conference for web-content creators, and a community of a couple million smart, curious millennials who’ve not only put one brother on the New York Times bestseller list several times, but who’ve funded dozens of charitable projects around the world — including wells, wildlife sanctuaries, and at least one school… well, I think you would have dismissed it as a really cool (and weirdly specific) dream that could never, ever happen. And yet John and Hank Green have almost a million subscribers on their Vlogbrothers channel, half a million each on their CrashCourse and SciShow channels, and 150,000 on Hank’s update of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries; they helped raise close to half a million dollars last December for their charity Project For Awesome; John’s book sales have numbered in the millions. Oh, and they’ve added vocabulary to the American vernacular, coining the terms “nerdfighter” and “nerdfighteria” and making the phrase Don’t Forget to be Awesome common enough that the President referenced it in his post-State of the Union fireside hangout on Google+.
That’s a crazy extensive fandom right there: an empire, one might say. But not a media empire in the traditional sense — this isn’t Ted Turner cosseted in some downtown panelled office calling shots and fighting to dominate a timeslot, it’s an interactive, participatory, collaborative, extremely postmodern empire that celebrates the other fandoms of its own fans. In a recent sold-out appearance at Carnegie Hall, for example, John and Hank brought other well-known YouTubers onstage — people who, in a different era, would have been seen as competitors, not potential collaborators. They frequently give shoutouts to other fandoms, and are avid Whovians, Potterheads, and Sherlockians themselves.
I’m interested in where we go from here. What happens to the traditional content distribution model for movies and television when the Starkid generation, that grew up on Twitter and fanfic sites and Tumblr and meme generators and charlieissocoollike and transmedia and YouTube adaptations of classic literature and Vlogbrothers and CrashCourse, starts making decisions about a household budget and decides that cable is stupid and pointless? How are networks and moviemakers going to adapt to customers who are demanding a more immersive experience and more responsive content creators? And, most importantly, how can I convince you to watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? IT IS SO GOOD, YOU GUYS.
That’s all I’ve got for today on this topic. Watch this space for upcoming Big Scary Series on feminism. Peace out.