Fandoms – The Most Visible Form of Culture and Identity
Just like the physical world, the web has a multitude of cultures – each with their own set of beliefs, vocabularies, and, subsequently, identities. In my personal opinion, the most readable/visible example of these two concepts are online fandoms, such as the My Little Pony (MLP) and Creepypasta fandoms I have mentioned in my audio story. But, what exactly is culture? What is identity? And do these concepts appear differently on the online world?
So let’s take a step back, relax, and learn some anthropology! are the practices and beliefs of a group. It is the unique actions, thought processes, and so forth that only those from the community could understand. For the MLP community, one of the biggest cultural diferences the group has is their active change in vocabulary. It’s not “everybody” but “everypony” – reflecting the fandom’s origin being around a show about magical horses. Being an actual “brony”, is the identity part. , is the version of self others perceive one has. By being part of a culture, this version of one’s self becomes more prominent and defining of themselves to others. Bronies, as considered by both the fandom and those outside of it, are men who like a show about ponies. By being part of the MLP culture, the general version, of self members adopt or have imposed on them, is the stereotype of a grown man playing with horse dolls – a “brony.”
Culture is the way of life of a group. Identity is an individual who adopts or partakes is this way of life.
Now, for the last question! Do these concepts appear differently in the online world? I would argue yes, in the sense of extremeness. When you first create an account, or more broadly a presence, online you are defined by, well, nothing! In the physical world, when you make an initial appearance, people can already start assigning you identities and cultures by looking at the color of your skin, your general figure (do you look more masculine or feminine?), and other features.
An identity and a cultural position are already imposed on you in the physical world.
This is not the case digitally – you arrive at the metaphorically party as an unknown! As such, when one starts joining new communities, new cultures, and takes on new identities, there are less preconceived notions to overcome, streamlining the inclusion and adoption of these communities and their ideas. Additionally, by having no initial appearance, you are able to create one from scratch that completely embodies your chosen identities. This depiction doesn’t even have to be human! For the MLP fandom, you ARE a pony! From pony design websites to art commissions, bronies were able to create pony versions of themselves online called ponysonas. They aren’t the only fandoms to do this either – fandoms like the “Warriors” have their members depicted as cats, reflecting the fandom’s origins around the book series.
Now, one would think this ability to be even tighter knit with a community is a good thing! And, in many cases, it is but, there are concerning downsides that must be acknowledged. As stated in my audio story, I felt trapped as an online artist. If I wasn’t a part of something, depicted as some way, I wasn’t anything. The ability to be more intensely a part of something can amplify that feeling of nothing when excluded.
Personally, I believe this ability to more intensely gain and lose identity is contributing to the web’s growing problem of loneliness and need to belong.
The tighter knit we can become in a culture, the more customizable we can make our identity – the more jarring it becomes when we lose it.
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