Popular Fandoms & Stories
Many of the favorite fandoms, stories, and authors from the survey will be of no surprise to those active in fan communities in 2008. Harry Potter, Stargate (SG1 and SGA), and Supernatural appear right at the top of the list. Take a look at the numbers, however. The Harry Potter fandom had about triple and Stargate double the amount of recommendations that other fandoms had. Clearly, these were two areas of very heavy reading activity during this time. Beyond the top six fandoms (Harry Potter, Stargate, Supernatural, Doctor Who, the Joss Whedon Buffy and Angel fandoms, and J.R.R. Tolkien fandoms) the reading numbers start to level off dramatically.
Generally, while dozens of fandoms are represented in these survey results, a heavy amount of reading consolidated around certain authors and works of fan fiction. There were several overwhelmingly popular stories and authors, many of stories written by authors who are prolific writers, often producing work in more than one fandom. The majority of popular stories (the pieces of fan fiction which participants identified as their favorites) were almost all focused on romantic relationships. Significantly, most of these stories featured slash pairings. This differed somewhat from the broader reading practices reported by fans (see the engagement section for more). When asked about their reading generally, most participants reported that they read a combination of het, slash, and gen stories, with a smaller group of readers expressing interest in femslash. While fans may be open to reading across pairing categories, the most popular individual stories, the ones readers identified as stories they return to and remember, generally included or focused entirely on male/male (m/m) romantic pairings.
Tallying the Supernatural recommendations was a challenge and this set a precedent for how different fandoms and sub-fandoms are organized within the survey results. Participants used a variety of key terms to identify their fandoms. For example, terms like "Supernatural," "Supernatural RPS," and "CW RPS" were all used interchangeably on the same stories. A similar pattern occurred with fan fiction related to J.R.R. Tolkien, various Joss Whedon shows, Queer as Folk, and the many celebrities/musical groups associated with Bandom.
As much as possible, the categories I've used to organize stories here follow the lead of the survey participants. If fans saw these stories intersecting as part of a larger fandom, the categories have been merged accordingly. This has the curious effect of linking readers who may not want to be connected. For example, in the case of Supernatural fans, different reading interests now overlap under the umbrella of "supernatural fandom." The actual readers of these different sub-categories may not want to be associated. In the Supernatural fandom, some fans enjoy stories about the show's two lead characters being in a relationship together (Dean/Sam or Wincest). However, since these two men are brothers, Sam/Dean is a reading category that not all Supernatural fans are comfortable with.
Clumping all Supernatural-related fan fiction together under the umbrella of one fandom combines readers of gen fan fiction along with the readers of Sam/Dean, heterosexual romances involving Sam and/or Dean, as well as mixing in readers of real person fiction focused on the actors (i.e. J2 or CWRPS). Clustering these different reading interests together and identifying them as one unified fandom (in this case, Supernatural) may create links between fans who do not actually share the same reading interests. It's possible the same phenomena is occurring in many of the various fandoms listed here.
This gets at an issue I struggle with in Fan Studies and part of the reason why my research is interested in looking beyond individual fandoms themselves and looking instead at the romantic and thematic connections in fan fiction. When talking about fans and fan practices, we often use a show, film, game, or franchise as the label for fans. (And, of course, fans self-identify in this way as well.) However, when we do this we are prioritizing the product in how we organize and conceptualize fan activities. This has the effect of positioning consumption as the organizing principle for fan culture. A move which may limit our view of fan networks. This model seems to become particularly strained when it comes to fan fiction. What the 2008 survey results tell me is that while many fans use fandom titles as a keyterm they can tag content with, input into user profiles, and search databases for, fans do not cohesively and harmoniously organize themselves within these clusters. Some fans of Supernatural may read slash, gen, het, and RPS fic interchangeably, but many of them stick to the story category they are most interested in instead. Indeed, fans of one type of story may have no interest at all in other types of stories within that fandom.
More than half of the 2008 survey respondents were participating in multiple fandoms at a time. This raises the possibility that many fans are seeking out various types of stories across multiple fandoms. Each time we identify one of these "multi-fannish" fans as solely a Harry Potter fan, a Doctor Who fan, etc. we're framing the fan experience in a way that a) risks distorting how these individuals are participating in fan cultures and b) leaves us blind to the broader and highly complex networks connecting fans to each other and to fan works.
Since fans often rely on their social networks to help them find new stories, many fans' social networks are built around broader cross-fandom interests, in addition to any preferences specific to a single fandom. In terms of a fan's overall experience, the "-dom" in fandom may be far less tied to a media product/franchise and far more tied to a character archetype, a kind of relationship, a mode of content, etc. Clearly, slash is one example of this broader view of fan culture, one that fans are well aware of. Slash has long operated as both a pairing category within individual fandoms and a larger interest area organizing fans socially across fandoms. But, here's where this might get more complicated: Slash fans have had sense of a larger group identity for some time, but slash itself has experienced a great deal of stigma over the years. It is a reading category that, until recently, was harder to find in commercial literature. These are some of the many reasons why being a "slasher" might carry a stronger sense of cross-fandom group identity in ways that other reading interests do not.
What do you think about fandom labels? Do you prefer to identify your interests by fandom? Pairing? Favorite character? Do you find yourself sticking to one fandom at a time or do you seem to seek out similar types of stories, characters, or relationship dynamics across fandoms? Share your thoughts about this in the comments section below.
Fun With Charts!
Below are a few tables outlining the most popular stories and authors identified by fans in the 2008 survey. What do you notice here? Any particular fandoms, stories or authors surprise you? Anything unsurprising here?
|Top Fandoms||Number of Favorite Stories in Fandom|
|Stargate (SG1 and SGA)||2369|
|Joss Whedon (Buffy and Angel)||841|
|J.R.R. Tolkien (Films & Books)*||520|
|Bandom (MCR, FOB, PatD)*||353|
|Queer as Folk (UK and US)||222|
|Full Metal Alchemist||172|
|* includes real person fan fiction|
|#||Story Title||Author||Fandom||Relationship Type|
|1||Written by the Victors||Speranza||Stargate Atlantis||Slash|
|2||Farm In Iowa||Sheafrotherdon||Stargate Atlantis||Slash|
|3||Freedom is Just Another Word||Synecdochic||Stargate Atlantis||Mixed*|
|4||Stealing Harry||Copperbadge||Harry Potter||Slash|
|5||Drop Dead Gorgeous||Maya||Harry Potter||Slash|
|6||A Beautiful Lifetime Event||Astolat/Shallott||Stargate Atlantis||Slash|
|7||Shoebox Project||Dorkorific and Ladyjaida||Harry Potter||Mixed**|
|8||Bound Prince Series||Slashpervert & Sayingsorry_hh||Harry Potter||Slash|
|10||Cartographer's Craft||Copperbadge||Harry Potter||Slash***|
|11||Bell Curve or: Ladies' Night at the Boom Boom Room||Rageprufrock||Stargate Atlantis||Slash|
|12||Retrograde (series)||Martha Wilson||Stargate Atlantis||Mixed****|
|14||After the End||Arabella & Zsenya||Harry Potter||Het|
|15||Underwater Light||Maya||Harry Potter||Slash|
|16||Marriage Stone||Josephine Darcy||Harry Potter||Slash|
|19||Things to do in Denver when you're dead||Speranza||Stargate Atlantis||Slash|
|* gen w/slash back-story
** unfinished story w/developing slash plot line
*** w/additional het pairing
**** primarily gen series w/slash and het side stories
|Harry Potter||Stealing Harry||Copperbadge||Slash|
|Stargate Atlantis||Written by the Victors||Speranza||Slash|
|Torchwood||Shades of Ianto||Sarcasticchick||Slash|
|Buffy the Vampire Slayer||Necessary Evils||Barb Cummings||Het|
|J. R. R. Tolkien||Greenleaf and Imladris (Series)||Eresse||Slash|
|Naruto||Diplomatic Relations||Maldoror||Slash (Yaoi)|
|Bandom||Forever Now||Harriet Vane||Mixed (Real Person)*|
|C.S.I.||Casa Caliente (series)||Cincoflex||Het|
|Final Fantasy||Mascot-verse (Series)||Sleeps With Coyotes||Slash (Yaoi)|
|Due South||Chicago's Most Wanted||Speranza||Slash|
|Full Metal Alchemist||Adventures of Roy Mustang: Sex Ed Teacher||Sky Dark||Slash (Yaoi)|
|Smallville||Conflict of Interest||Rageprufrock||Slash|
|Gundam||Ion Arc (series)||Sunhawk||Slash (Yaoi)|
|* predominantly gen with some light slash subtext and a slash sequel|