Before I had the chance to properly watch the Disney/Pixar movie, Turning Red, I came across the following tweet:
With in a few hours, this tweet went viral with thousands of people sharing the summaries and links of the original novels, fanfiction, and fanart that helped to shape their preteen/teen years. People shared other fun, but unglamorous shenanigans that were apart of their teen experience like trying amateur witchcraft or forming wolf packs or creating new languages. As someone who was a fangirl in the late 90’s/early ’00s (with the fanfiction.net account to prove it), this tweet was confirmation that Turning Red was a film that I would relate to on a visceral level. I may not be Chinese or Canadian or turn into a big red panda when I get emotional, but I did have a diverse group of friends with whom I traded manga, attended Renaissance Faires and went anime conventions with during my teen years. Feeling shame for my interests and/or joys at time, was not apart of my vocabulary.
Being that the film was set in 2002, a time before social media took over the world and when TRL was EVERYTHING, I was definitely hit with waves of a nostalgia for the time period. But also watching the girls of Turning Red going through epic and creative lengths to see their favorite band live, I was also hit with sense that this movie captured the experience of fandom in its purest, most joyful form.
It’s hard to remember a time when fandom wasn’t so heavily commodified. When the MCU didn’t take over our lives, releasing new media at rate nearly impossible to keep up with and everything wasn’t its own cinematic universe. A time when access to your favorite celebrities or writers was restricted to magazines and possibly an autographed picture if you were lucky. This also coincides with the period of time where being called a “geek” or a “nerd” was still considered an insult instead of a badge of honor. That was the fandom era that raised me and the era the Turning Red takes place in. Even though the massive events were often well-attended at the time, as observed in the movie, it was the day-to-day, smaller in-person and online interactions that really kept the fandoms going.
In the Interspectional season 1 finale episode, “Building Communities in Fandom”, I speak to Bianca Hernandez-Knight of The Jane Austen Universe and Virtual Jane Con, Jaycee Dubyuh of GAPOC: Gaymer Allied People of Color and Neisha Mulchan, MPH of Diversely Geek. Each one of my guests are leaders in their own fandom communities, but before we got to that part of the conversation, I talked to them about their fandom experience. I asked them questions like: “What was it like to met your first friend in fandom?” “How did it feel to read something you really connected with?” They each gave answers that centered around the experience of feeling seen and not being alone. Connecting to a piece of media that describes an experience that you don’t have the words for or that tells you a story that you need hear can be a revelatory experience. Also the ability to connect with others in a small group based on a shared interest can give us the chance to build life-long friendships and be with people who see us without the weight of familial or societal expectation (as we see with Mei’s friendships in Turning Red).
It can give us the freedom to be joyfully ridiculous without being mocked or made to feel unworthy of care or respect. While fandom is most often based on a commodity, this friendship-focused, non-commercial aspect of fandom is something that I think can get missed in our modern of age of helicopter parent-like corporate involvement and the millions of opinions we have access to on social media. In a world where fandom has become identity and livelihood for many people, it can be easy to forget why and how we got involved in this culture in the first place, especially when trolls start coming out the woodwork or things just start getting too intense. Sometimes, it seems like we forget that fandom is supposed to be fun.
Now joyful fandom engagement doesn’t mean ignoring the things in a piece of media that you might find harmful or problematic. We can love something with all of our hearts and still admit that could be better. Or that possibly something that was just part of the lexicon of its day was just not right and is less so now. One cannot underestimate the influence of media as whole because media shapes people’s opinion about life, society, love, people whom they’ve never met and even how they think life should be. Books, movies and television shows are essentially cultural artifacts and as such, they do deserve to be examined, analyzed, placed in a cultural context and dissected as a reflection and/or critique of the society that birthed it. It’s important that look at the ideas that a piece of media reinforces and the new ideas that it promotes. I, for one, try to come at things through an anti-racist, gender-inclusive, lgbtqia+ inclusive, disability informed lens because these are the folks who have been excluded or marginalized in media presence and perspectives for decades. The critical eye can still be loving one, it just means that we see the rose and the thorns and realize that the picture is incomplete and inaccurate if you don’t acknowledge both.
So as I look nostalgically at Turning Red as it very closely reflects my 2002 world at me, I also have to acknowledge that this piece of media could only have created within the past 3-5 years. Only recently could studio executives believe that the story of a Chinese-Canadian girl could be successful which wouldn’t have been possible without the success Crazy, Rich Asians (2018), Shang-Chi (2021) and other projects with diverse, culturally specific casts that have premiered over the past few years. I have admit that with the movie’s presentation of a culturally diverse Toronto, a diverse friendship circle and even a diverse boy band, Pixar’s 2002 is a lot more inclusive and welcoming than what I grew up with. And that could have only been done with a joyful and critical look at the past.
So in this age where fandom is SERIOUS business, BNFs (Big Name Fans) can have a lot of power and there’s more direct access to creators than ever before, I want to remind you to have fun. I want to remind you that you don’t have post everything you sketch or write. Some things can be just for you. And the fandom joy that you get from talking to a friend about a movie that came out 15 years ago is just as valid a form of fandom as influencers that get to go on the red carpet. It’s all about the unabashed joy and the connection that you feel to the work that has been put out there. So go be “cringe” with pride, because we all deserve that kind of freedom. I want just to leave you with these final bits of advice about (positive) fandom.
1. Embrace your fandoms and healing hobbies
2. Find positive communities
3. Celebrate without fear.
4. And when things get intense, remember the family (found, birth, online and otherwise) that love you, just the way you are.
Best of luck out there. I’m rooting for you!
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