Books, TV shows, bands, and other media forms in popular culture often draw a large devoted following. People are able to connect with each other more easily when they both watch the same show or are interested in the same movie, drawing people within a society together. The wide fan base of some of these shows is proof of their mass appeal – the recent premiere of the new season of Game of Thrones reached 6.6 million viewers. However, it is one thing to be a fan, and something completely different to be part of a “fandom.” A resurging phenomenon in the world of pop culture, a fandom is a hardcore following whose devotees are up on the latest facts about their show or character, spend hours and hours watching re-runs, dress up like characters in their fandom for “cosplay” (costume reenactment), write their own fan fictions, and just generally obsess about all things regarding their fandom. Fangirls (and boys) become fast friends since they already have so much in common, creating their own dedicated sub-culture.
While fandoms unify the people who are a part of them, they tend to isolate those who are not part of the group. Those on the outside are often confused by said fan culture and sometimes feel out of the loop when confronted with the obsessive behavior of die hard fans (have you ever missed a reference and felt the pang of remorse?) For those of us who may be in that category, take a look at the following ten popular fandoms–from an outsider’s perspective. While any number of fandoms could have chosen, the list below reflect a variety of the most popular ones. See if these descriptions help explain a bit of the quirks, and some of the intrigue, of these “cults.”
10. Downton Abbey
Ever fascinated with all things British, the airing of Downton Abbey caught on quickly in the US. This popular British period drama chronicles the life of one well-to-do family, the Crawleys, in a fictional village in the early 1900s. Each series includes different events that took place during that period in history and shows the effect they had on the family and society. Appreciated for its clever wit and Austen-esque flair, the series has also been criticized for being too much like a soap opera. Whether that’s true or not is for you to decide. One things is clear–the clash between characters of different mindsets, and the ever-present goal of marrying-off the women have propelled this show into its fifth season.
9. Mad Men
This American period drama is set in the 1960s and centers around the elusive head of an advertising agency, Don Draper. Begun in 2007, the show plays on the personal and social upheaval of America in the 60s to provide a rather accurate historical drama. As such, it lends itself to deep, complicated analysis, which the elite group of fans revel in. The show is credited with an surging national interest in the fashions and norms of the period. The seventh and final season will be released in two parts during 2014 and 2015.
With the rising success of Benedict Cumberbatch, who stars not only in this TV series (based off classic character of the Sherlock Holmes books), but makes appearances in such movies as The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and Star Trek Into Darkness, this fandom encompasses both an obsession with the detective character, as well as an enthusiasm for Cumberbatch himself. Though he doesn’t strike you as someone who would garner so much attention, one fan said “he grows on you,” and his superb acting abilities are unmistakable. Fans are said to be “Sherlocked” when they become hooked on the show.
7: One Direction (1D)
We’ve all seen it before — young girls getting hooked on a teenage boy band and going crazy for them. If there’s one demographic that gets the whole “fandom” thing, it’s this one. Between the t-shirts, selfies, youtube videos, and their whole product line, these guys are hard to miss. Fan culture revolves around social media sites, where images of the band members are captioned with phrases like “Imagine if Niall woke up next to you every day” and the like. Their albums “Up All Night,” “Take Me Home,” and “Midnight Memories” have all been wildly successful, and most pre-teens could tell you which band member is their favorite.
6: Star Trek
One of the most pervasive and long-standing fandoms out there, Trekkies are a devoted base who take part in many of the aspects of fan culture: costuming, fan fiction, watching the plethora of spin offs from the original series, and even learning the language, Klingon. Inside jokes and references abound, and the iconic split-finger greeting has almost become mainstream. This cult phenomenon has been around for decades and is even credited with inspiring the invention of the cell phone. The show follows the adventures of a humans and aliens aboard a sci-fi spaceship as they navigate through difficult situations.
5: Dr. Who
This series has been on TV since 1963 and takes the cake for longest running sci-fi TV show on record. Produced by the BBC, this show tracks the travels of a Doctor aka Time-Lord through time in his blue police box (TARDIS). A lot of the fan culture revolves around discussing the way actors have presented the Doctor, who has been played by eleven different actors over the years. There was a lot of hype surrounding the Christmas special, the 50th anniversary, and the transition from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi, the newest doctor this past year. Oh, and there’s something about a screwdriver.
4: Lord of the Rings (LOTR)
The Lord of the Rings series is another deeply rooted fandom, with the groups divided between the older version of the film and the newer versions (the final part of the Hobbit, “There and Back Again” set to be released in 2015). Fans debate over the decisions made by the producers of the films, and how closely they resemble the book series. The most extreme fans dress up like characters, learn Elvish (J.R.R. Tolkien created the language, which is extremely intricate), and even visit New Zealand where the movies were filmed.
3: Harry Potter
Potterites, Potterheads, or Muggles are all terms for the fan base for this book and movie series that has gripped young people almost since the first book’s publication in 1997. Consisting of seven novels, the storyline follows the main character, Harry, and his friends, who are students of wizardry at Hogwarts. Fans identify themselves as members of the one of the four Houses of Hogwarts (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin), play a real-world version of Quidditch (played with brooms), and write intense amounts of fanfiction.
2: Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence
Following in the wake of the Twilight books, the Hunger Games was poised to be the next big young adult series. It proved to be much more than that. Although the majority of the fan base is teenage girls, people of all ages have gotten involved with the series, especially watching the movies. The 2012 movie was wildly successful and starred the much-loved Jennifer Lawrence. Though her selection was debated at first, she has her own loyal fan base, who is attracted to her down-to-earth style and realistic body image. Fans call themselves Tributes and definitely have an opinion on the Gale vs Peeta controversy.
1: Game of Thrones (GoT)
Based off a bestselling fantasy series by George R.R. Martin, A Song of Fire and Ice, this fandom possesses enthusiasm and verve because of its immediacy–the story is still unfolding. The series currently spans 5 books, and the TV show is in it’s fourth season. The plot revolves around nine families who vie for power of the land of Westeros. It is filled with murder, intrigue, and scandal galore. Fans enjoy cooking food that is served on the show, learn to speak the Dothraki language, and wait in anticipation for the release of the next book.