By Matthew Cicci
Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Composition at Alma College
Alma College can offer you a way to study fandoms — a form of culture study that touches on everything from “Harry Potter” to Luke Skywalker to the NBA.
In my ENG 280: Fan Cultures spring term course at Alma College, students and I explore all the ways that fandoms — communities centered on media objects or hobbies — impact society. We examine how fans use fan objects to form their identities, how they form social groups, and how those social groups interact and influence the broader world.
But before I scare you off with these big questions, let me stress: We also revel in the joy of being a fan and sharing that experience.
If you find yourself relating to any items on the list below, you should join us!
You’ve got an eye for detail
Whether it’s identifying which issues of “Amazing Spider-Man” influenced the film version of his suit or picking out which Jonas Brother is attempting to hide his face from the cameras (because you know that Harry has a penchant for high-waisted pants), you pay attention to the aesthetic details of your fandom — you know, the little things most people might miss.
You don’t need Wikipedia
Who was Luke Skywalker’s uncle? Who won the NHL’s Conn Smythe Trophy in 1997? What does “THAC0” mean? You know the answers. You don’t need to look it up. By virtue of immersing yourself in a fan culture, you’ve picked up all kinds of deep knowledge on the subject. These things come easy to you. (By the way, the answers are: Owen Lars, Mike Vernon and “To Hit Armor Class Zero.”)
You make time
Your team is playing? Well, you schedule things around that. Your favorite show is released on Friday? Well, weekend plans can wait until you watch. Comic Con is in two months? Well, multiple nights a week until then, you will be crafting your most exceptional “Mass Effect” cosplay in the meantime. If you find yourself setting your clocks and calendars in an effort to align with your fandom, you should probably join us.
You might have a digital clubhouse
“Star Wars” Reddit. Comic Vine. NBA Twitter. Pitchfork music reviews. You know where to go to stay up to date with the content you are a fan of. You’re part of a bigger community — social media, YouTube shows, podcasts — you know not only how to find your fan object, but also the people who constitute your fandom, so you can tap into the broader conversation.
The above are just a few symptoms of being a superfan. But being a fan of something is so ubiquitous that this list is not close to being definitive. For some, fandom is an opportunity to engage in big social gatherings and online communities. For others, it’s a secret little joy just for them…
These and many other varieties are explored in ENG 280: Fan Cultures, as we think critically about our engagement with these fandoms. We question that sliding scale of communal to individual, we question what it means that fans make time for their fan objects, and so much more.
Oops … there is the professor in me going off on all the fascinating, deep questions again. Don’t worry, though — the fan in me is definitely here to simply enjoy the experience. That’s what being a fan is all about.
Matthew Cicci is an assistant professor of digital rhetoric and composition at Alma College, in Alma, Michigan. If you’d like to learn more about the ways Alma College can help you dive deep into interesting subjects like fandoms, check out our spring term course catalog.