The more I go to conventions, the more I see people like this kid on the left doing fandom right. How can you be a good fan? There’s only three rules, and neither of them refer to having seen every episode and knowing every bit of trivia. Here they are:
Define yourself by what you love, not by what you hate.
There are many variations of this maxim on the Internet. I’ve seen “Define yourself by what you love” attributed to Tim Minchin, but it’s a common sentiment. It’s common not because it’s trite, but because it’s true. As an example, I give you the rivalry between Harry Potter and Twilight.
I’m interested in the fact that you love Harry Potter, and I’m not interested in the fact that you hate Twilight. Hating Twilight will not bring you joy. It does not make you smarter or kinder or better in any way.
Incidentally, “Define yourself by what you love” does not mean that the things you hate are exempt from criticism. Calling out things that are problematic can make the world better. Calling out workmanship that is shoddy can make us better creators. When I say, “Don’t define yourself by what you love,” I don’t mean “Keep quiet about what you hate.” Tell us what you dislike about it. But don’t make that your main focus in life, don’t use it as a source of snobbery, and don’t let it define your fandom. You can love Harry Potter and Twilight, if you want to. And you certainly don’t need to love Harry Potter because you hate Twilight. Love Harry Potter for its own sake. Leave the things you hate out of the equation. Define yourself by what brings you joy.
Let your fandom influence your life.
What values attract you? Does Star Trek speak because of its messages of inclusion? If so, bring that into your own life, even if in small ways. Donate $5 to the ACLU, post a cartoon on Facebook, and stand up for the rights of women and people of color in conversations. Maybe what attracts you to Star Trek is the focus on science – so go learn some, and support science programs in schools and elsewhere. Maybe you like the ideals of teamwork and found family, in which case, let Star Trek help make you a better real-life friend and team player. If what you like is the clothes, then perhaps you want to study fashion. I won’t judge. Just let your fandom make you a better friend and a better person in the world.
If you love 50 Shades of Gray, you know what? You rock on with your bad self. It’s not my thing, but who gives a shit about whether it’s my thing or not? Your fandom is about what YOU like, not about what anyone else approves of. As I stated above, I’m free to point out aspects that concern me about the material, but I don’t think you are bad, or stupid, or immoral because you love the work. I encourage everyone to look at what they love critically and learn from both it’s strong points and its weaknesses. I adore Victorian fiction for lots of reasons – that doesn’t mean I support the colonialism and other problems in the material. It just means that there are other aspects of the material that speak to me. Don’t worry about whether I like 50 Shades. If you like it, read the hell out of that thing. Power, sister (or brother).
In closing, here’s a great message from Wil Wheaton about being a fan. “I want you to be kind, and I want you to be awesome.” Beautiful.