The Power TV Can Hold When Fandoms Become Family
By: Danielle Cox
They tell you it’s only a TV show, that it’s not real. They say you shouldn’t become so attached to it or to its characters. Maybe you’ve seen people, friends and loved ones, give you strange looks for talking so passionately about someone who, in reality, doesn’t exist. I’m sure many of you have felt ostracised before, just as I have, for caring so much for people who aren’t technically real and I’m sure every single one of you out there has a favourite character, someone you can relate to on a personal level. Maybe you see a part of yourself in this character or maybe you just admire a strong role model to look up to. For a lot of us, fiction is much better than reality. We turn to these characters because we don’t feel represented in our own lives, in the real world and we’re tired of the constant discrimination we face every single day. For a lot of us, fiction is an escape, a chance to see ourselves represented and we cling to it. A character may be just a fictional person, made up by creative minds and portrayed by an actor for our entertainment, but the essence of who they are is completely, one hundred percent real. It is this essence of a character that makes us fall in love with them. We see something in these people that we can connect to on an emotional level and that is a very powerful thing.
Take a moment and think about just how many people worldwide have access to a TV. Millions of people, from all regions of the world, have access to a TV and the same TV shows that you do in your own country. That’s billions (if not more) of people seeing and hearing the same things you are. The same messages you are getting from a show you can bet they are, too. The power of TV to reach out to people of different ideals, opinions and cultures is underrated. This is a platform on a global level and when done right, it can spread positive and inspiring messages to people everywhere. It can bring hope to people where there was none. It can show people that it is ok to be who you are, freely and without shame. It gives viewers the chance to see life from someone else’s perspective and that could be all you need to open someone’s mind to accepting things they hadn’t before. Good storytelling leads to loyalty from fans all over the world, a loyalty that springs from their positive reaction to these messages writers are putting out into the world. TV shows, like “Wynonna Earp” and their long list of strong, female characters, promote an equality that we don’t often see and viewers (known as “Earpers” react to this and they gain popularity and exposure because of it.
On the flipside, there are shows that doesn’t promote positivity and inclusion to the world and this is the side we most prominently see in TV series. Take “The 100” for example. This is admittedly a dark, post-apocalyptic world they live in so viewers couldn’t expect sunshine and rainbows, but they could expect their communities, their identities, to be treated with respect. Fans flocked to this show after Commander Lexa (Alycia Debnam Carey), the openly lesbian leader of the Grounders, was introduced because of the message that sent out to the world; you can be female, you can be a lesbian and you can still be an intimidating, fearless leader to your people. In a time when the LGBTQ+ community still needs to fight for their rights, this was a great moment and a great image to be showing the world. It was made even better by the relationship between Clarke (Eliza Taylor), the bisexual lead character and Lexa. This relationship touched so many lives, worldwide, because it showed people that it is ok to love who you want, that love isn’t weakness and so many people needed that reminder in their lives. Then, March 3rd 2016, that was all taken away when Lexa was so violently ripped from our lives by a stray bullet very reminiscent of Tara (Amber Benson) in “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” furthering the “Bury Your Gays” trope we have seen too often. This is when the power of TV can work against us. The same way positive messages spread worldwide, this kind of incident spreads negativity. It sends the message that LGBTQ+ people don’t get a happy ending and people lose hope. They feel more ostracised and discriminated against than they did before. Both of these reactions; however, brought people together in very different but equally powerful way. Even when it has been done wrong, TV is still a powerful tool in the world.
When fandoms become one, when they become a family, they have the power to influence change in TV. After Lexa died, “Clexakru” came together and supported each other through their grief and decided that something good was going to come from this awful situation. Fans took to social media to spread their message that queerbaiting and tropes need to be taken seriously and they affect people’s lives. They created a movement that has been seen and reported on worldwide. People who had no idea who Lexa or “The 100” were now very aware. Fans rallied together to raise money for The Trevor Project, a charity that is focuses on helping LGBTQ+ youth and they raised over $137,000 in honor of this disrespectful loss on “The 100.” As if that isn’t amazing enough, they also inspired a vow known as “The Lexa Pledge” wherein writers pledge that significant or recurring LGBTQ+ characters will have significant storylines, they will consult with sources within the LGBTQ+ community and refuse to kill a queer character solely to further the plot of a straight character. This is significant progress in the industry that couldn’t have happened without the Clexakru fandom. They inspired hopeful change from devastation and proved that their family is powerful when united.
At the same time this was happening, the Earpers fandom was just beginning to form, but in a short amount of time they have become just as formidable a family as Clexakru. Thanks to the brilliant work of showrunner Emily Andras, they haven’t had to face devastation from “Wynonna Earp.” In fact, it was quite the opposite. Andras quite positively put the Bury Your Gays trope to bed by having not one, but two queer characters get shot and survive. This led to an amazing response from fans. It is work like this from Andras and the cast that fuelled this fandom into overdrive, or as we Earpers like to call it “NO CHILL.” This fandom took to social media, writing letters to networks Syfy and IDW, raising their voices to be heard to renew “Wynonna Earp” for a second season and it worked. The movement they created was heard and the show was indeed renewed. It’s early days for this fandom, but I am so excited to see what this family can achieve in the future. If fandoms are the family we choose then I choose to be part of these two fandoms, proudly so.
Shows that resonate with us in a profound way make us drawn to other likeminded people – individuals who love the show and characters just as much as we do. This is when fandoms are created and can even be a force to be reckoned with. For me, personally, it’s about the love and acceptance I feel from my fellow fans. I feel free to be myself, without judgment and so many fans that I interact with are individuals I have never met in person, but feel like a have known forever. It’s that sense of comradery, the sense that you’re not alone and you have people you can turn to when needed. When I posed that same question on Twitter, the response I received was phenomenal and unanimous. I had so many responses that my account froze, but each answer I received was the same: love, unity, support, trust and positivity. You receive an unconditional love from your fellow fans regardless of who you are, what you like or who you love and it is so important for people to feel that in any aspect of their lives, especially these days. These fandoms have united and become a family we can rely on and it is these kinds of fandoms that are the most powerful. It is these fans that can create change in the world, through social media and TV and they have already started.
People underestimate the power that TV can have in the world when it is done right, when it brings people together. We need a world where there is more positive representation in TV shows so we can promote a more accepting, equal place that inspires change worldwide. Just imagine what could happen if TV and fandoms work together for positive change. Fandoms, keep doing what you’re doing – it’s working!