And, if I throw out my ideas... I'm afraid it will influence/bias your own. Of course, posting retroactively means I've already been biased by yours, so it's all fun (= It's like classes that are taught entirely in discussion format. If you were to write an essay on a question on yoru own, you would come up with one idea. But when you start bouncing ideas off other people, hearing their thoughts, you open up your horizons, start seeing things in new ways, and it becomes different (not worse, typically better) than what you would've originally thought.
This, for me, is the essence of a fan community. So... in a way I don't really worry about ti because that's what we do. That's what it means to be a fan, no?
Anyhoo. I started answering the questions. I've been pondering a few of them more than others, but I wrote up what I thought for each. It's rambly, not coherent. And yeah. It's been a very long two days.
Here we go:
culture – what is it, what does it mean to be a part of it?
The textbook definition of culture is typically along the lines of shared knowledge that is taught, typically by parents to their children. The shared knowledge being world view, view of reality, belief system, language, history, appropriate behaviors, social skills, etc etc.
For me, this is the essence of culture… having shared interpretations. This doesn’t mean that everybody thinks the same thing when they see something, but they have a common understanding of certain elements in their surroundings. A very simple example is that, on the internet, all capital letters are interpreted as yelling, italics are emphasized words, etc. These interpretations are taught, not outright like rules of the culture or anything like that, but through certain expectations or regulations. E.g. if you type in all caps to someone, they will either hint that you not do it (or say outright), or perhaps they’ll just stop talking to you. You’ll eventually learn.
Also, if you’re a part of a culture, you’ll typically identify as such. Now, with fans, it’s a tricky situation because typically there is a stigma on the idea of being a “fan.” People don’t want to be associated with the stereotypical fanatical (where the word fan comes from, haha) person who must own everything related to the series, have tons of trivial facts about the series, and have no life outside of the series. So, people are sometimes hesitant to identify themselves as a fan. But, they’ll typically agree to the idea of being a fan – they like the series, they enjoy the fan community, they participate in fan works, etc – even if they wont’ outright say they’re a fan.
To be a part of the culture means that you share in these interpretations. This isn’t to say that there aren’t arguments over interpretations. But in general, people agree with certain foundational elements. For Gundam Wing fans, it means that you enjoy the series (or for some, just enjoy the fandom and have never seen the series), the characters, etc. You recognize that you’re a part of that culture (or persist within it despite your denial). Not all GW fans are the same; they don’t all participate in the fan community, read fan fiction, watch message boards, buy GW materials, or anything of the sort. Others do all of it. But, either way, they really enjoy the series, or elements of the series.
History of fan participation
what about being a fan is appealing
There are several things I love about being in a fan community. First off would be that it is a community. There are people who are interested in the same series, the same characters, the same ideas… and you just hit it off with the people, right away usually. And the discussions aren’t always (or even most of the time) about the series or character or pairing. A lot of times, they’ll wander to current events, or just daily lives, etc. And it’s nice to get to know new people. I mean, you meet people in classes or at work all the time, but it’s hard to move past the superficial layer and trivial conversations. When you meet someone who loves the same series as you, that is the launching point to more interesting conversations. And on the internet, your time chatting with that person is not restricted to a certain time or locale. Instead, it is more flexible, allowing you to talk more frequently with the person and develop a friendship.
Even if you don’t necessarily talk with the fans, it is nice to see what they have to say about a particular episode, or pairing, or character. To see their thoughts, their interpretations; it often offers new perspectives that you haven’t seen before. You see new aspects of the series, of the character, and it allows you to delve more into it. It offers a more holistic perspective, adding depth.
And even if their thoughts are in-line with your own, it’s awesome to discover somebody who sees the even the same way you do. And it’s also extremely awesome when you find someone who has the same interpretation as you but is better able to express it, to verbalize it. You read what they say, shouting in your head (or at your computer) Yes! That’s exactly it! For me, I have a hard time expressing exactly what I think, and whenever I type it out, it always falls short of what I mean. It’s always lacking. So I am always ecstatic when somebody is able to say what I never could.
Returning to similar interests, being part of a fan community opens up new series, new characters, or books, or some other media form. Typically, if you find a person who has the same love of the series or character as you do, they can recommend other series. This saves you from having to search for a series, going through many which you don’t really like, before you find the one that really appeals to you. They save all that in between time and just show you the one.