One of the biggest impacts fandom has had on my life, besides the amazing friends I’ve made along the way, has been becoming a driving focus for doing good.
At the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel at Denver Comic Con moderated by sociology professor Tanya Cook and clinical psychiatrist and professor Kaela Joseph, panelists Riley Santangelo, Anita Moncrief, and Charlotte Renkin commented on the amazing things fandom has done and continues to do with charities and as unique groups making impacts globally and within their local communities.
Riley Santangelo is a graphic designer who is one of the women behind Wayward Daughters, which started as “Wayward Daughters Academy” with the objective of showing The Powers That Be the fanbase’s desire for better female representation on the CW show Supernatural and has taken off due to the Wayward AF t-shirt campaigns, raising money benefiting charities such as Random Acts and New Leash On Life.
Wayward Daughters has openly discussed the need for dynamic female characters and realistic depictions of female relationships in media, but as a group, the Wayward Daughters community has become much more.
Like most social movements, it started a conversation. Members of the community on twitter, spurred on by Supernatural actresses Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster, started sharing their stories on what made them wayward. Taking ownership of the word, fans started viewing aspects of themselves or their lives that are dismissed or simply not talked about as a symbol of strength. Overcoming body image issues and eating disorders, fighting cancer, leaving an abusive relationship, and winning over addiction were deemed #WaywardAF, a hashtag that conveys a sense of pride and overcoming adversity. The actresses opened up with their own struggles with life such as overcoming drinking problems, troubles and joys of motherhood, and dealing with impostor syndrome, which created an open dialogue regarding societal pressures and working toward becoming your best self.
In May of 2015, Wayward Daughters had designed pre-made postcards to be sent to the producers of Supernatural asking for a spin-off including the characters Jody Mills (played by Kim Rhodes) and Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster). Then in March 2016, Wayward Daughters asked Supernatural fans how interested they would be in a Wayward Daughters spin-off. An overwhelming majority, 88% of respondents, voted “Heck yes!” When a backdoor pilot called “Wayward Sisters” was announced in 2017, you could practically hear the excited screams across social media.
The Supernatural fandom was told it was being listened to, and that meant something. Santangelo felt the Wayward spin-off was a “direct result” of the Wayward Daughters campaign – and she’s not alone. After current Supernatural show runner Andrew Dabb spoke on the long-time coming of this spin-off at San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), fans and pop culture news sites continued to congratulate the grassroots movement of fandom for making the possibility of a Wayward Daughters show a reality. “I’m in awe every single day with Wayward Daughters and the fan community that has been created,” Santangelo said in June at the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel. Talking with friend Betty Days, Santangelo recognized the importance of this emerging social movement. “Large companies try to capitalize on fandom more and more,” Days told Santangelo. But fandom is grassroots – something companies just don’t seem to grasp. “We’re gonna use our fandom for good we want to see.”
Santangelo partnered with Stands, Rhodes, and Buckmaster to put out the first shirts. “As individuals we feel like our actions don’t mean very much,” Santangelo said. When people start to come together in something like Wayward Daughters, they feel like they’re making things happen. “The fervor just increases,” Santangelo said with a smile.
Fan Fic 4 Flint
Anita Moncrief was astounded as the media moved on from covering what was happening in Flint, Michigan. “They thought the crisis was over,” Moncrief said. A community organizer for over 17 years, Moncrief went into Flint as a consultant and now goes in monthly for water drops “to let the people know they aren’t forgotten.”
After seeing the 200th episode of Supernatural, the setting of which was in the disparaged city, she had the idea to link fandom with Flint. Moncrief started Fan Fic 4 Flint, a contest for writers and artists in the Supernatural fandom to raise money and awareness for Flint residents. After synopses are submitted at $10 each, a writer will be given the opportunity to produce a script for Supernatural: The Play, inspired by the one depicted in the 200th episode, to be performed in Flint as a benefit for the community. Artists will have a chance to have their work featured on social media, t-shirts, posters, and other merchandise – the sales of which will go directly to the citizens of Flint.
Moncrief hopes that the collective voices of the Supernatural fandom can return attention to the on-going crisis happening, not only in Flint, but in towns and cities across the nation. She stresses that this is bigger than the city that inspired the movement – it’s an infrastructure problem. “It starts in Flint, but it doesn’t end there.”
Fan Fic 4 Flint is delivering water, toys, diapers, and other necessities to Flint residents and reports news regarding updates to the water crisis on their website. It’s not only adult fans who are helping out; fandom social movements call out to the young fans and local community youths to get involved as well. Younger teens have a difficult time getting started in activism because they don’t know where to start. Earlier this year, she had 15 kids in Flint doing water drops. They “want to get involved, but don’t know where to look,” Moncrief said. It starts with social media, but Moncrief says these movements go from “online to offline engagement.”
Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance
Charlotte Renkin is a filmmaker and cosplayer who is a member of Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance. These two groups are the embodiment of mixing nerds with community action. Members of Nerdfighteria are fans of Hank and John Green, the Vlogbrothers who have extended their YouTube footprint to educational videos in their Crash Course series, SciShow, The Art Assignment, and Sexplanations. No matter what you’re interested in, chances are, Nerdfighteria has a place for you. Renkin describes the group as “close knit” and “the size of a small country.”
Renkin wasn’t exaggerating when she said, “Fans are a force to be reckoned with.” Nerdfighteria’s goal is to decrease world suck, and how they are achieving that goal is through widespread education and activism. On YouTube, Project For Awesome raised over 2 million dollars for charities in 2016. The lending site Kiva has been a platform for Nerdfighters wanting to help small business owners get on their feet in an effort to stimulate local economies around the world since 2008.
Harry Potter has taught us many lessons, but perhaps the most relevant is that standing by and being complacent in the face of ignorance and tyranny is unacceptable. The Harry Potter Alliance is a similarly global group wanting to engage young people in activism and increase access to books by building libraries, and implementing book drives with the hope to make literacy education services possible. Why are Harry Potter fans so interested in creating global change? Renkin says that the reason these fans are so invested in the social and political climate is that they can see the parallels in Harry Potter to our world and want to help make the world a better place.
How could these relatively small groups cause so much good to be put out in the world? Santangelo explains that we’re looking at an extremely proactive community. “Fandom represents the marginalized of society.” These fandom movements are made up of women, LGBTQA, neuroatypical, and minorities who band together in order to help not only each other, but anyone who is disadvantaged.
Being a part of something bigger than yourself is something a lot of people want to accomplish, and fandom is a conduit for this kind of action. “It’s really about acceptance,” Moncrief said. The shared interests and values that members of a fandom share are what keeps the fire going to fight for the rights of others. “It takes courage to step out there – to take that leap of faith and say I can do this.”
Fandom isn’t one movement – it’s many. The actions of fans and actors on these shows alike stir up involvement in a way that continuously moves toward betterment of families and communities. “It’s not just one superstar,” Moncrief said. “It’s regular people….it’s going to start showing up in our neighborhoods and our school boards.”
Underestimating a group of people who are, well, fanatical in their beliefs is short sighted. They’re an inspirational force of do-gooders whose efforts are paying off and starting to get noticed. Not only are these fans writing academic papers regarding their shows and fandoms, blogging about representation in media, and kicking ass in Geeks Who Drink trivia, but they are out there on social media and in the community actually making a difference and leaving a positive impact on the lives of others.
Maybe one person really can change the world. Especially if they have a few fandom friends.