With the rise of the COVID-19 era and the increasing restrictions worldwide forcing everyone behind the locked doors of their homes, most people have also felt an increase in loneliness, stress, and deteriorating mental health in general, and the way that some people have chosen to cope with these issues might be surprising: internet-based fandom.
Anna J. Pruess
Watching shows and movies that have been on their watch list for ages, finally picking up that book from the shelf, or listening to that K-pop group that’s been trending lately, and then discussing it in detail with other fans online are activities that have helped lots of people deal with their loneliness and escape from the crazy real world into a fictional world built from someone else’s imagination.
Why are fandoms so attractive to people nowadays? Part of the reason is that in the hectic world of today, everything is always changing. One may lay down to sleep at night not knowing if they’ll be allowed to go to school tomorrow. Their parents might wake up in the morning and prepare to go to work when they see a headline in the morning paper that tells them they’ll have to stay at home that day. The personalities and lives of fictional characters, though, only change when the plot demands it, and the stability that these stories and characters offer are something that modern individuals crave and deeply need. The goals of popular anime characters like Izuku Midoriya from My Hero Academia or Shōyō Hinata from Haikyū!! are unchanged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are still firmly set on their path to becoming the Number One Hero or the world’s best volleyball player. Stories completed in the past, like the world-famous Harry Potter series or the original Star Wars movies have an even smaller chance of changing, offering even more stability to fans, especially those who had read or watched the series before and know exactly what is going to happen next.
Escaping into a fictional world isn’t the only way fandom helps people cope. Since social interaction is extremely limited now, many people, especially those who are extroverted, are starving for a chance to connect with others and have interaction with someone besides their immediate family or their dog. Internet-based fandom is a way to get that. Technology has developed so much in recent years and fans have been supporting it every step of the way, even creating websites of their own like the popular fanfiction site, Archive Of Our Own, commonly nicknamed “AO3” among fanfiction writers and readers and to which an average of 16,465 new fanfiction stories were added in the year of 2020. Fans have been increasingly active on platforms like Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube, posting fanart and fanvids (a type of video also known as an AMV – which stands for Anime Music Video-, “edit,” or “tribute” that consists of clips from the original source material – be it a live-action movie, cartoon, or anime – edited and synchronized with a song, usually including visual effects and transitions) of their favorite stories, characters, and even celebrities. The internet is a great outlet for fans’ creativity and is an easily accessible platform for interacting with others who share the same interests and passions, something that many people cannot do in person because of pandemic-related rules and restrictions.
Creators of fanworks, which include, but are not limited to, fanart, fanfiction, and fanvids, use the internet as a way to connect and communicate with the consumers of their works, and build up small fanbases of their own, forming communities within communities and creating safe spaces for anyone and everyone who has anything to say about the things they love.
The creators of fans’ favorite source material, though, are struggling to create more material for their fans to consume because of the coronavirus-related restrictions. The Japanese anime community, especially, has suffered from this, with the releases of anime episodes being indefinitely postponed and the art and sound quality of shows dropping. Hundreds of animators are needed to create one episode of an anime, and when most of those animators are not able to come to work because of their country’s restrictions, the animation process is slowed down. Music creators have also experienced difficulties performing music for their fans, since concerts have now been deemed illegal by the restrictions put into place by many governments, but they have found ways around that, holding virtual concerts and releasing new music on YouTube and Spotify instead of performing it first at a live concert. The popular Korean girl group BLACKPINK, which is also the first Korean girl group to ever perform at Coachella and is one of the most popular female music groups in the world, recently held a virtual concert on YouTube, and around 280,000 fans, who call themselves “BLINKs,” tuned in to watch them perform. The pandemic has been no excuse to leave fans starving for more material, and they are definitely grateful for that!
Even in a world full of chaos and uncertainty, where social interaction is limited and mental health has been negatively impacted, fan communities thrive and grow as more and more people turn to fandom as a way to cope with lockdown-induced anxiety and stress. They use movies, shows, books, and music, as well as the creation of fanworks, as a way to escape the constant craziness of the modern world and as a way to find certainty in a time where there is none. They use online fan communities as a way to reach out and to foster connections they so desperately need, and that trend is not slowing down any time soon.