Hidden in the corners and hushed whispers of the Internet lingers the home of thousands of superfans, people obsessed with analyzing and interacting with their favorite TV shows,
movies, bands, novels, and more. In these spaces, Julianne George, Dean Giorgio, and Becky
Sabetta finds their place in fandoms, and are free to post their art, their writing, or to just interact with others. For Becky, the fandoms she interacts with are a place to make friends and enjoy new content for things she already loves. But for Dean, fandom can make a huge difference in a person’s mental health and how they see themselves in the world around them.
Fandoms are defined as a community of fans that share a common interest. Maybe they
all listen to My Chemical Romance. Maybe they obsess over the CW show “Supernatural.”
These fans take to online spaces and create more content for the source material they’ve been given. They write their own stories with the show’s characters, called fanfiction. They create artwork of book characters, or fanart. They create gifs, fan songs, animatics, and anything else you can think of, and they post it to fandom friendly sites like Tumblr, Wattpad, Fanfiction.net, or, the queen jewel of the fanfiction community– Archive of Our Own (AO3). It’s hard to fathom how much fan-made content exists for something as small as a stand-alone novel like “Red,
White, & Royal Blue,” or something as large as “Star Trek.” On AO3 alone, over 52,940
fandoms are represented, and over 10,000 fanfictions have been written for a single couple from
“Supernatural.” But it’s not just the fanfiction and art that keeps people like Julianne, Dean, and
Becky coming back for more. It’s the life-changing community that goes along with the fandom.
It’s all of the people that create the content and how they interact with each other.
“If I was talking to a writer,” said Becky Sabetta, 21 years old and member of the “Cute Mutants” and Batfam fandoms. “I would compare fandom to an open mic, where you go up and
perform in front of people. But it’s like an open mic where anyone can walk into the room and
leave at any time they want to, if they really like your stuff or if they go into the room and they
don’t really like what you’re reading, then they just leave and don’t say anything.”
“It’s just like, ‘Hey you like this?’” said Julianne George, 19 and member of the “Wings of Fire” and “Minecraft” fandoms. “‘Yeah, you like this?’ Yeah, and then you know, you either become friends or you have a very lovely chat and forget each other’s existence the next day.”
They describe fandom as a magical thing and something that can have a lasting positive impact on people. Through commenting, kudos, and interacting with other people in the fanbase, it is easy for people to make lasting friendships and find a place for themselves in an online space dedicated to something they love.
“I can’t imagine not being in a fandom,” said Julianne. “Just something fun and positive
to do and I don’t know, it brings a sense of community with people based off of their interest.”
“My two best friends only happened because of Supernatural, so I’d be lonely without them, the
fandoms and my friends. They bring meaning to life,” said Dean Giorgio, 23, of the
“Supernatural” and Marvel fandoms. And in many cases, the fandom bond goes beyond average friendship. While some fandoms are better than others about fostering a healthy, positive community, there are a few communities that stick out as so close-knit that the online community, and the one you find in person, has become a family. “I think I build little families in them, like I have a group of friends in the Batfam fandom and we’re all just really really close, but I also love the entire fandom,” said Becky.
“If I was on the side of a road,” Dean said. “Like if my car broke down and I wanted a fandom to save me, it would be a Supernatural fandom person, because we travel in packs.” Out
of all the fandoms, “Supernatural” has the strongest family reputation of taking care of their fandom and the people involved in it, to the point where multiple charities, originating from both the actors and fans, have been started in order to help fans with mental health struggles. Named
after a character on the show, a fundraiser called The Castiel Project has currently raised over $71,000 for the LGBTQ nonprofit the Trevor Project, showing that fandoms aren’t just about chatting online about the latest episode– they can also create a huge impact for good causes, and create a home for fans.
Interacting with the creators of the fandom source material, or in person with other fans, can also be a life-changing experience for people involved in fandoms. Julianne frequently attends fan conventions, where she and others are free to dress up as their favorite characters and have one of a kind interactions with people that would otherwise be strangers.
“This happened at a con once, where I dressed up as Ruby,” Julianne said. Ruby is the
title character from one of Julianne’s favorite fandoms– an anime called “RWBY.” “There was one guy who dressed up as her uncle, Uncle Crow, and one year that guy walked up to me and said he was doing photos where he gave every single Ruby a piggyback ride, so we took a photo where he gave me a piggyback ride.” In any other context, the idea of a stranger offering to give you a piggyback ride would be absurd, but in the context of fandom, it’s not. At conventions, fans look out for each other amongst the chaos of panels, and if the character you’re dressed as has a relationship with the character another person is dressed as, like a John Watson cosplayer finding a Sherlock, it’s normal to form a relationship with that person, if only for the day. The bond found between fans is something that cannot be found anywhere else, and getting to interact with creators, authors, and actors of the fandom’s source material is life-changing to a fan.
“Meeting them, seeing what they’re like backstage definitely gave the fandoms a lot more of a positive feel,” said Julianne. Julianne George with fellow cosplayer.
“I don’t think I stopped internally screaming for like five days,” said Dean, after merely receiving a social media message from a creator. “that someone that I have dressed up as and
admired and overwhelmingly looked up to for so many years actually responded to me– I
shriveled as a person. There is no other feeling that you can get in the world besides that. That it
feels so fulfilling; like you could work at your career for a very long time and just not get that feeling. You could be a lawyer and maybe you do get that feeling, I don’t know, but I just do not see myself getting that feeling with anything else. But getting to meet the people that you look up to for the most ridiculous reasons? It’s amazing.”
The interactions, both with fellow fans and with creators, are what sticks with the fans,
and something as simple as a like on an art post or a comment on a fanfiction can make all the
difference in the world.
“Sharing your work with other people, just putting it out there,” Becky said, “You don’t know who’s going to find it, but you hope that when they find it, they’ll really enjoy it, and for the most part they usually do. It’s kinda like sticking your story up onto a bulletin board full of other stories, and if you’re lucky someone will be bored and stop by the bulletin board and look over the stories and then they’ll take a little sticky note out of their pocket and draw a little heart to show they like it, or just write a little message and just stick it on the side and forget about it and go about their day. And sometimes they’ll take a picture of the story and they shove it into
their pocket, and every so often they pull out their phone and look at it and they’re like “Yeah,
that’s a good story,” and they’ll put it away again.”
Sharing your works with a fandom, or simply taking in the source material, can be a
major confidence boost to fans. When a show or a book means so much to you, it’s only natural that it will have an impact on how you see yourself.
“It lets me live my inner child and my inner fantasies, and it inspires my writing,” said Dean. “Supergirl gave me a lot of confidence, and now with Marvel, when I watch Ms. Marvel
or Gal Gadot, it just radiates confidence so much that it instills confidence in me.”
“I think when people interact with whatever I put out, it makes me feel like I belong,”
said Becky. And it’s not just about confidence. Fandoms can be a source of comfort for people, a
cozy escape from the difficulties of the world that makes them feel happier and safer than they
would without it.
“When I’m feeling down or something, I can look at fandom content to feel better,” said Becky. “Like, I’m getting over a cold right now and I literally just watched a fandom video on
YouTube last night to make me forget for like twenty minutes that I had a cold, so that was nice.
I think it’s very fun, very uplifting a lot of the time.”
“I’ve got my comfort animes,” said Julianne. “Either when I’m bored or anxious, just flip on Ouran Host Club, because it’s impossible to feel sad while watching Tamaki make a fool out
Fandoms can have a huge impact on fans’ mental health, and while providing comfort and escapism is one side of the coin, the other can be more difficult to explain. For some
communities, it is easy to get very attached to the source material. When the community is a
family, when every person is so close-knit to each other and to the work, it can be difficult to
pull oneself away. Many fans don’t want to, as they embrace the closeness of the fandom, even when every episode is impacting their mental health. A prime example of a fandom being both an extremely positive community and a place where you can get in too deep, is the
“Supernatural is the worst for your mental health.” Dean declares. “There are some shows you can watch that will make you feel better about yourself. I don’t know which ones, but
I’ve heard that some people are happy in their fandom. It’s like being in a house, like a Hogwarts
House, and one of them is not depressing, but you don’t know which one.” Even though the
“Supernatural” fandom is a close family, the source material and the fandom by extension, can have a lasting impact on the fans and their mental health. Fans become attached to the source material, until the characters are so real that what happens to them affects fans the same way it would if it happened to their family in real life. People grieve fictional characters just as hard as
they do any other loved one. They form a bond with the characters, become their friend until
their story is so intertwined with the fan’s own that it’s hard to know where one ends and another begins.
“I am just getting over Supernatural.” Dean said, and it’s hard for him to get the words out. “And I feel like it’s been long enough where I can look at a picture or a TikTok or a video or
whatever of Dean and Sam and not want to cry. My breath still shudders, but I’m getting there.
I’m close to being–saying– I’m okay.” At this point, fandom is no longer about simply enjoying the show or liking the music– it’s about being a part of something greater than yourself. People
become attached to the community they interact with, and by extension to the content that fuels the fandom. Suddenly you have to watch every new episode, or you won’t understand what’s
going on, you must like the latest album or defend your opinion to the masses. Fandom has
become a way people express themselves, a way people find themselves, and, sometimes, a place where people use that vulnerability to tear people down.
“For a long time it just made me feel like, I don’t know, like it was a homey feeling,”
Dean said about “Supernatural.” “It was just so comforting to be in pain with everyone that was watching that show and to just… it was my thing. And it ended. And now I have nothing to
Dean Giorgio, in cosplay as Dean Winchester from “Supernatural.” (Photo/Dean Giorgio)
For Becky, fandom is a balancing act. “I think if you know how to navigate it safely,
then it can be fun. It’s like drinking alcohol, you know? It can be a good experience in
moderation. As long as you know how to balance it, you can have a pretty fun time.”
But regardless of whether you get in too deep or not, fans agree that fandoms are something worth keeping around and supporting, so that others might experience the same lifechanging community they have.
“Support AO3,” Becky said simply. “Because AO3 deserves all the love, because AO3 is a fan-run, volunteer-run site. They take donations to keep it running and it literally is an archive of everything. When a fandom archive goes down, you put the fics on AO3 so someone can still find it…Just respect the fandom side of the internet, regardless of whether you’re a fan, because
without it there won’t be a fandom online.”