Navigating fandom is a vulnerable experience, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. We become attached to characters, relationships, and shows because they resonate with us in someway. Sometimes it’s a theme that speaks strongly to us. Other times, a character or relationship provides an example we wish to follow. More often still, at least in my experience, we find a character with whom we are able to relate on some level.
I love this quality of fiction. I love that each person brings their own set of experiences and biases to a work and interprets it in their own unique way. There are certainly overlaps in the way we see things, but no two people will ever see every aspect of fiction in exactly the same way. And that’s exciting! But this quality of fiction that I love so much is also the quality that seems to cause the most hurt.
There are very few people who are naturally comfortable with being vulnerable. It’s an important component to connection but it’s not without risks. Vulnerability opens us up to hurt and that is especially true when we aren’t aware we’re doing it. So when someone views a favorite character in a way that is contrary to our own thoughts, it can make us mad. It can make us want to jump to defend them. I spent a lot of energy in high school arguing with a classmate about Sara Sidle from CSI because I related to her so strongly but wasn’t able to identify or articulate those feelings.
When we jump to anger first instead of introspection, we put up a barrier between ourselves and others to prevent any potential hurt. It’s not inherently a bad reflex. There will always be people who aren’t willing to listen and accept our vulnerability and we never have any obligation to be vulnerable around such people. We don’t have to open ourselves up to people who only intend to criticize or dismiss our emotions. But using that same anger as a weapon to strike out against others neither serves our own personal growth nor contributes to the fandom experience, for ourselves or others. It creates a cycle of attack and defense that quickly leads to a fractured and negative fandom environment. It creates a culture where the act of loving something is seen as an attempt to undermine the feelings of others who disagree at best or an act of hate toward others.
But when we use our emotional reactions as an opportunity to look more closely at ourselves and learn what’s driving that reaction, we are then better equipped to share our insights and a piece of ourselves with positive results. This planned and intentional vulnerability is given the opportunity to lead to something truly beautiful. It is through this shared vulnerability that we are able to form connections that go far deeper than a mutual appreciation for a show or character and lead to profound and long-lasting friendships. Through the filter of our favorite things, we share details about ourselves that we might be hesitant to bring up on our own. We may not talk about the walls we put up to protect ourselves when talking solely about ourselves, but we feel more free to bring it up when talking about the ways Kate Beckett or Emma Swan or Maya Hart inspire us. We don’t always talk about the self-doubt that plagues us despite our best masks, but we can talk about what it meant to us when Raven confided her worries of being broken to Sinclair. Continue reading Let Yourself Be Seen: Vulnerability and Fandom