"Do you like fandoms? When I was a kid we didn't have those. All we had were spankings, and shitty Atari games." -- Andrew Hussie
"Fandom" as a term has been around quite a while. In the previous write-up, written a seventh of a century ago, the definition given covers the basics of what fandom is, but the full connotations of fandom have evolved and expanded to a degree hard to describe. A good deal of this growth has been in the past five years or so. Much of it has been due (like almost every social change of the past 15 to 20 years) to the internet.
One of the ways that I realized the importance of "fandom" was by noticing something else that was conspicuous by its absence: any trends or artists in popular music that have caught the ear of the younger generations, and managed to confuse and annoy the old people. Not that there isn't new popular music that has gained attention, but I can't imagine Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber being called The Voice of a Generation. Call Me Maybe is not a youth anthem that will change everything. For about forty years, making and listening to music was how young people collected together, learned about the world, and defined themselves and their beliefs. And recently, music has lost this role. And what has replaced it has been fictions: fiction in writing, fictions in movies and television, fictions in gaming, and even in a development that will probably confuse marketers and entertainment executives when they find out about, a one man radio drama that has become one of the most popular shows on the internet: Welcome to Night Vale. The viewing, production and above all discussion of fiction has become one of the major elements of youth culture.
But much as we don't call "music" a sub-culture, it would be slightly inaccurate to call "fandom" a sub-culture. Fandom is more a mode that works across sub-cultures. While many fans are fans of "everything", mixing their Star Trek, Sailor Moon and Jane Austen together, there are probably distinct subcultures within fandom as a whole. Of course, this is liable to change, since fandom is still developing and evolving. There are certain attitudes, opinions, hobbies and demographics that are common across fandom, but there is also much diversity.
One of the most important ways that fandom has transformed in the past decade or so is that it has demographically shifted from being mostly male to mostly female. Where science fiction was once largely the province of men, and often socially marginalized men, science fiction and fantasy have become regular avenues of interest for young women. Much of this has to do with the release of high production superhero movies such as the X-Men and The Avengers, as well as original science-fiction movies like Avatar. There have also been many popular science-fiction television shows, such as Doctor Who and Supernatural. And some productions, such as Sherlock, are not "science-fiction", but still have the air of adventure and action of a science-fiction show. And of course, the contribution of the Harry Potter series to engrossing a generation of children with fantasy tropes has to be mentioned. But fandom is not based around science-fiction, with much of the appeal of fandom coming from the discussion of the relationships between characters, either platonic or romantic. The habit of imagining and debating these relationships is called "shipping", and can lead to some quite fierce discussions.
Interactivity is an important part of fandom. This is especially curious for me because for most of my life, television was seen as the most vacuous and passive of cultural activities, whereas now a fan of a television show doesn't just watch: they discuss, write their own fanfiction and make cosplay costumes of their favorite characters. Of course, none of that is new, but it used to be only the most dedicated fans of the most esoteric shows that went to these lengths, whereas now it is much more common.
I don't know what to make of fandom as a phenomenon. While some of its excesses are silly and tacky (internet flame wars about which Doctor Who companion was the Doctor's true love), and some of its slang (such as "the feels") makes me chuckle, and it could be argued (as it is always argued) that it is an escape from reality, in general I think that fandom, as a way to explore human motivations and relationships, as a way to discuss and critique culture,as an outlet for creativity and as a way to form relationships with others, is a positive force, and can help to transform our culture.