Your favorite band releases a new album. A new game from your favorite developer, another season of your favorite TV show. No matter the medium, you can understand the initial joy of new material from your favorite artists.
Then something happens. Suddenly, you’re seeing T-shirts for the band in Hot Topic or Pop! figures of your favorite characters. People you never would have considered a part of the fan base start posting your fandom’s memes on their Facebook profiles.
And it’s all just a bit disheartening. Suddenly, something you held so dearly feels ripped away from you, shamelessly thrown to the mainstream. It’s okay to feel that way, but there are constructive and destructive ways of handling it.
An important distinction to make before describing constructive and destructive fan behavior is that this scenario assumes that there is not a significant change in the art.
The focus of this article is not on the hipsters who feel one of their favorite bands changed their sound too much (I am a prime example of this type of hipster). This is about the territorial hipsters who hate when a large influx of new people comes into their fanbase because it means dealing with people that are uninformed or, in some cases, “trying too hard to be cool” by trying to be a part of their fanbase.
In all fanbases, there’s a natural segregation into groups of more casual fans and devoted fans.
Many new fans will stop at a surface level, perhaps only listening to a band’s radio singles or recording a show week-to-week and catching up at their convenience. Other fans will devote themselves to the media, doing everything from making fan art to writing stories to covering their favorite songs.
When there’s an influx of new fans, they all start with very little knowledge of the work that old fans may have spent months or years researching.
It’s easy for old fans to look down on new fans due to their initial lack of knowledge, and it’s easy to project a dissatisfaction with the newfound popularity of the artist on the new fans of that art. Some go as far as to leave the fanbase completely, with a mentality of “I used to like them, but then they got popular.”
These behaviors all stem from a negative view of an artist’s new popularity. For a fanbase to be successful, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how old fans view an influx of new fans: not as an inconvenience, but as an opportunity.
When something starts becoming popular, even if only for a moment, the initial influx of new fans may be very large. Of course, not all of those people are going to stay, and time will sift out the casual, passing fans and let the new devoted fans trickle into the same channels the old fans inhabit.
This process will most likely feel drawn-out and frustrating to old fans—those who tire of getting memes spouted at them when they want to talk about their favorite game or deal with what feels like an infestation of excitable high schoolers at their concerts. The process may not feel worthwhile in the beginning, but it will eventually allow the number of devoted fans to grow while the casual fans slowly disperse after the artist’s spike in popularity levels out.
What’s most important, though, is that the old fans are welcoming to new people interested in joining their community. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been watching a show from Season 1 or just started on Season 4. New fans can come to just as deep an appreciation as the old fans, and the process can be more efficient if old fans are willing to help.
This leads to new fans finding something they love, old fans having more people to talk to about their favorite things and an overall healthier and less polarizing fan culture.