About a week ago, I was in the city grabbing a quick bite to eat when I came across a group of guys, likely in their 20s, dressed up in medieval period costume.
One of them was wearing a Viking-type helmet and another one was carrying a shield as they casually made their way through the Melbourne Central food court and sat down with their lunch.
Perhaps there was a fandom convention on in Melbourne that weekend- after all, it is the time of year for it.
The thing that intrigued me most was not how or why they appeared that way, but rather the lack of reaction from others. Those sitting close by continued to eat their meals and chat away without battering so much as an eyelid. I was not phased in the slightest.
So, have fandoms and popular culture become the societal norm?
Popular culture or pop culture, is a cultural phenomenon typically associated with activities or commercial products.
It is considered a contemporary lifestyle that brings the likings of a group (often referred to as fandoms) together to celebrate film, television series, music, comics and fashion.
There has long been a list of stereotypes associated with those that choose to partake in fandom culture.
Introverts. Geeks. Teenage girls lining up for hours to catch a glimpse of their favourite pop star and squealing in excitement. Borderline stalkers.
Often, there is a stigma surrounding the age of those partaking in fandoms.
Are fandoms just for the young?
Or can people of all ages engage in fandom-related activities such as cosplaying?
“As someone in the 30 plus age group, yes, I really think there is,” says avid fandom member, Kendall.
“Sometimes I see younger people in fandoms being very quick to judge older fans and it amuses me.”
Kendall, was eleven years old when she first started participating in fandom-related activities.
Back then, Kendall and her school friends didn’t refer to themselves as members of a fandom, however, they did write stories about their favourite television series, The X-Files, and share magazine clippings with one another.
“The meaning for me has changed over the years and now it’s more about connecting with other people over a shared interest,” says Kendall.
Writing stories about your favourite film, book or television series is known in pop culture as fanfiction.
There are three major fanfiction sites accessible on the internet- FanFiction.net, Archive of Our Own and Wattpad.
Today, there are over 10 965 stories archived on FanFiction.net about the X-Files, fifteen years after the series originally finished.
The sense of camaraderie that Kendall speaks of is not uncommon in fandoms.
Connecting with others over like-minded interests will often spark a new friendship and this is evident in many fandoms.
Distance is no barrier, with relationships flourishing between fans across different continents.
“I’ve made friends both here and overseas and those friendships are the most important thing to have come out of it,” says Kendall.
Social media has played a significant role in the fandom community and has in many cases, been utilised as means for communication.
Microblogging and social networking site, Tumblr, remains a favourite for fandoms, with users contributing a mix of fan-related content including artwork, fanfiction and fanvids- reproduced videos including footage from the fan’s favourite film or television series.
Members of a fandom will often follow and share one another’s content, as well as having the opportunity to engage in discussions through the site’s messaging features.
Tumblr Fandometrics is a blog by the popular social networking site that contains a database collecting and tracking fandom activity.
Statistics are published each week, analysing the most talked about television shows, anime and manga, movies, video games and ships.
Ships, in fandom lingo, refer to the relationships portrayed in popular culture, often those in films and television shows.
Cosplay, the practice of dressing up as a character from a film, book or video game- is also popular amongst fandom communities.
Lexie Summers, 24, has been cosplaying for the past four years and enjoys attending pop culture conventions in her costumes.
“Not only does it add to enjoying my favourite characters by having the opportunity to portray them for a day, but it’s a wonderful creative outlet as well. There are endless amounts of arts and craftsmanship involved,” says Lexie.
Lexie had her first fandom experience when she was five or six years old and continues to enjoy it almost two decades later.
“Being in a fandom to me is no different than enjoying any other hobby or interest. It creates a sense of community and serves an opportunity to form new and amazing friendships.”
I asked Lexie if she had ever experienced any stigma surrounding age in pop culture.
“Certainly, not as much as there used to be. In this day and age, geeks run the world! So, in turn, it’s become more socially acceptable and cool for middle-aged people to enjoy cartoons and collectables compared to ten, twenty years ago.”
Like Kendall, Lexie also believes that social media has played an integral part in the rise of fandoms.
“We are lucky to live in a time where social media allows us to share our thoughts and feelings on an unlimited number of topics. This, of course, leads to meeting like-minded people and bonding over common interests,” says Lexie.
The rise of pop culture has also sparked several major conventions in Australia and overseas, where fandoms can come together, cosplay and have a chance to meet their favourite stars.
Oz Comic-Con is held annually in capital cities across Australia and will be in Melbourne again this July.
With many fandom icons in attendance at conventions overseas, it is not surprising to learn of some Australians flying across continents to meet their idols.
Kendall and Lexie both agree that cost plays a major factor in attending overseas conventions.
“I have travelled to places I’ve desperately wanted to visit since I was a child, and have been fortunate enough to incorporate conventions into my travels. This has allowed me to travel with and meet friends as well as actors, which has been incredible. But would I travel to a place just for a convention? No- not unless it was interstate somewhere that I have friends or family that I could also catch up with. Definitely not for overseas conventions,” says Kendall.
“If there was a chance to also have an awesome holiday and con experience, sure, why not! Meeting them would just be a bonus,” says Lexie.
Pop culture is undoubtedly on the rise, and fandoms are becoming a societal norm.
So unleash your inner geek!
You might even make a new friend along the way.
Oz Comic-Con will be held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre July 1-2.