Sunday, August 24, 2008

I second that devotion …

Following the content of my last post, I've been doing some digging around ... and it does seem that Star Wars fans don’t seem to be able to agree on a single collective noun. There are Jedi, Rebellion and Imperial Stormtrooper fangroups. And there’s a Star Wars Chicks website for female fans. It appears the Star Wars universe is just too big to contain within a single pronoun, although suggestions online include Skywalkers, Lucasites, Starwarsians, Jedians or Starwoids. Thank you too for your own excellent suggestions.

Fans and fandom. What a fascinating subject this is. What makes a person latch on to a particular team, band, film or TV show? At what point does a passing interest become a fixation and then an obsession? And there are obsessives out there, from the mildly eccentric who will pay a fortune to complete a set of trading cards, to the bonkers stalker who feels that they and the object of their obsession should 'be together'. Eek. I personally suspect it's a tribal thing. The world may be becoming a global village but we're still hard-wired to be small collectives of hunter-gatherers. We need to be in a gang to feel whole. It's no coincidence that, as society becomes more fragmented, kids are finding solace in banding together. It may also explain why - even though there are many female fans - collecting, hobbies and fandom do seem to be male dominated.

The word ‘fan’, when used in the sense of an ardent follower or devotee, is around 100 years old and has its origin in the word ‘fanatic’ which was originally the term for an orgiastic temple maniac or frenzied religious devotee. It's not a new phenomenon by any means. We tend to mostly associate the term - and the resulting derivative terms like fanclub, fansite, fanzine etc. - mostly with followers of cult TV and films. These are people who so enjoy a particular show or film that they watch the episodes over and over again, collect the merchandise and attend conventions. And yes, some of them like to dress up. I've never got to the dressing-up stage (although I wouldn't rule it out) because I've never been fixated to any degree on any one show or film. I suppose Doctor Who comes closest ... and my mum did once knit me a very long scarf. But that was a long time ago and I never wore it anywhere in public. But I do enjoy conventions. It's great to meet the stars and the people behind your favourite shows. And most of the people at conventions feel the same. It's that tribal business again; the feeling that you're with people who understand you. If you want to know what these conventions are like but are afraid to go in case to catch a dose of nerd flu, check out Bob Fischer's excellent new book Wiffle lever to full! Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy-Eyed Nostalgia at the Strangest Sci-Fi Conventions. It's a very funny, affectionate look at these events. I highly recommend it.

If nothing else, the book points out that not all fans are as odd as my rather cruel stereotyped cartoon (at the head of this post) suggests. Fandom is a broad church. Devoted fans of sports, rock stars, plays, hobbies and books also have their own rituals and rules ... and some of them dress up too. However, wearing your team colours to show your support for a particular football team is still seen is slightly less weird than dressing up as Plastic Man. I can't imagine why.

Fans sport a bewildering range of collective names, which is the proper subject of this post. I went looking for them and found hundreds. I started with rock and pop. Back in the 1980s, fans of neo-punk New Romantics Adam and the Ants were called Antpeople. ‘Sex music for Ant people!’ was their rallying cry. Aerosmith’s fan base are known as the Blue Army due to them usually dressing in denim. Kiss meanwhile has the Kiss Army. Grateful Dead fans are called Deadheads and are immortalised in the lyrics of Don Henley's ‘Boys of Summer’ in which he sees a ‘Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac’.

But it is in the worlds of cult TV and film that we find the very best and most inventive names. Here are some of the ones that I've found:

Babylonians or Fivers or Lurkers (Babylon 5)
Batfans (Batman)
(Beauty and the Beast)
or Flans (Firefly and Serenity)
Buffistas or Scoobies or Watchers (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Digifans (Digimon)
Dwarfers or Smegheads (Red Dwarf)
Fang Gang or Team Angel (Angel)
Gateheads (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis)
Holmesians/Sherlockians (Sherlock Holmes)
Leapers (Quantum Leap)
Lostralians, Lostaways, Losties (Lost)
Potterites or Potheads (Harry Potter)
Scapers (Farscape)
Fargaters (Farscape fans who've followed Ben Browder and Claudia Black over to Stargate SG 1)
Peak Freaks (Twin Peaks)
Questarians (Galaxy Quest)
Ringers (Lord of the Rings)
or Springfielders (The Simpsons)
(The Sarah Jane Adventures)
Superfans (Superman)
Transfans (Transformers)
Webheads (Spiderman)
(The West Wing)
Whosers (Whose Line Is It Anyway?)
Woodies or Jack-Offs(!) (Torchwood)
X-Philes (The X Files)
Xenites (Xena: Warrior Princess)

Star Trek fans are often called Trekkies (and if you ever get the chance to see the documentary film of the same name, do so. It's brilliant), but the true Trek fan calls him/her/itself a Trekker. One fan told me ‘Trekkies are just older Shatner groupies’.

Doctor Who fans are Whovians and have a magazine called the Whovian Times. Back in the 1970s and early 80s I was a member of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) and met Peter Davison on the set of Time Flight, and John Nathan-Turner - the then producer - on many occasions. No one called us Whovians back then so it must be a new-ish title.

But the award for best name goes to fans of 1960s cult series The Avengers. They’re apparently called Steedophiles. Their website is called Steedophilia. Oh dear.


Chris Hale said...

Stevyn, old chap! Thank you for your most comprehensive list.

Here is your next project; collective names for fans of non sci-fi programmes. Here's a couple of my own making to start you off. "The Billious Collective" for lovers of The Bill; and "Coronati" for devotees of Coronation Street. I suppose I could have called them "The Corries" but I think it's been done. Oh, and apologies in advance to those of your American readers who haven't the faintest idea what I'm talking about.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - A good start! I always felt that Doctor Who fans should be called 'Whonatics' or 'Whoonies' ... but no one took me up on my suggestion. It seems that there is a subset of fans who simply fancy the pants off the current incumbent of the TARDIS. I guess we'd call them 'Tennants'.

Eastenders fans could be 'Albert Squares' I guess. And fans of Last of the Summer Wine can be caled anything you like as they are nonagenarian, deaf, mentally ill or brain-dead.

Chris Hale said...

No great opinions on the merits of LOTSW, then? I suppose we could just call them "Winos"? Seems quite appropriate to me.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Bugger. Was it that obvious?

I just think that the show had some merit when it started - about 70 years ago wasn't it? Or does it just feel like that? - but is now just a dribbling, arthritic, bandy-legged old dog of series that the BBC is too fond of to put it out of its misery. And has there ever been a show where so many of the actors have died 'on the job', as it were?

(Oh, for my US chums, 'Last of the Summer Wine' is a curious long-running sitcom about the aged and eccentric inhabitants of a small Northern town apparently enjoying one last go at life before they go into the ground. Most of the show's long list of stars have died while still on the show and many are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. It celebrates its 30th year on air next year.

Read more here:

Debby said...

Actually, I watch the Last of the Summer Wine here from time to time. It is part of the BBC comedies series that PBS airs. I guess that I must be watching the old ones, because I enjoy it although I'm not such a wino that I'd drop everything and run for the TV at 7:30 each evening. I do that for As Time Goes By. I've watched that through twice. I hate it in the middle when she's tangled up with Alistair and her daughter is with Lionel, but I do enjoy the sweetness of it. Now my children have a name for fans of that show: They call me 'bore'.

Janet said...

You've taught me something else today. Didn't realize I was a "Steedophile" - or could that be a "Peelophile". (My god, THAT sounds even WORSE!)


Stevyn Colgan said...

Janet - Urk. No, I'm not sure which is worse either.

Slight change of subject ... I laughed when I was in the USA recently and saw a pedometer for sale. Handy item to have if you have kids I guess! But don't Americans find that dropping the dipthong 'ae' makes it confusing telling the difference between Latin-originated words? Over here, there's a distinct difference between 'pedo'(pertaining to feet) and 'paedo' (relating to children).


Janet said...

Hope you weren't expecting a very intelligent or extended discussion, Stevyn. I didn't even realize that we Americans were missing the "ae" until I moved over here. Sometimes we pronounce the words slightly differently, but generally it's strictly by context.

It's a bit like the answer I got from my French teacher - years ago - when I asked her how you'd know whether an "advocat" was a fruit or an attorney.

I DO find "English" a bit more confusing and complicated here in its area of origin.


Stevyn Colgan said...

Janet - Ha! No, I wasn't questioning it it all. Just a comment. I think it was Pitman who tried to introduce a distinct US English of which only a few rules ended up being used (such as dropping the extraneous U from words like colour and valour). And I seem to remember George Bernard Shaw advocating something similar; a simplified Engish where everything wuz speld funeticly. His argumant - which has some validity - is that English is a mongrel tongue formed from bits and pieces of many other tongues ... but now it had reached a kind of stability, why not reorganise it and make it unique? It's a fascinating subject.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Sorry - I meant 'argument' ... that wasn't a suggested alternate speling!