We're talking about fandom this week because we all having something to love with abandon.
Nancy Drew led me back to online fandom
The season three finale of Nancy Drew aired last Friday — and the fandom is not okay. I love the collective passion online fandoms bring to my favorite shows and movies (most of the time). When I finally watched the episode on Saturday morning, I knew the fandom had lots to discuss.
A centuries old witch about to destroy the town? Check.
A fake-out alternate timeline where everyone’s OTP finally gets together? Check.
A curse (in reality) which prevents said OTP from being together or one of them dies? Check. Check. Check.
I haven’t belonged to an online fandom for a while — not since high school when I ran a Vampire Weekend tumblr and made all of my friends listen to Ezra Koenig’s rap band L’homme Run (their song about a pizza party is still worth listening to). There was a sense of community around something I loved that not many people in my “real” life loved the same way I did.
Fandom became something not-so-great for a while with people who were gatekeepers to Vampire Weekend's music, among other things. It wasn't something that I wanted to take part in.
So, I dipped out of fandom even though I still loved my indie rock/pop and watched many shows with large online followings. I'm still fandom-adjacent with my faves. I might lurk the subreddits or scroll the hashtag on Instagram and TikTok, but I’m not an active part of the group...until Nancy Drew.
My love for Nancy is no mystery
Nancy Drew’s first season premiered in Fall 2019 on The CW (seasons 1 and 2 can now be found on HBO Max and season 3 is available on the CW app). The show is an adaptation of the Nancy Drew mysteries, whose series span a near century — so there’s both a lot of source material and a built-in fanbase.
Though I wouldn’t say I was ever part of a Nancy Drew fandom before the show, I have been a fan of the character and her adventures since I was in elementary school. In my adulthood, I began collecting rare first editions of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. I loved the 2007 film Nancy Drew starring Emma Roberts and have sought out any kind of Nancy Drew media.
When The CW announced their Nancy Drew adaptation, I was hesitant. The only show on The CW I had ever watched was Supernatural and I quit after season 8. I tried to watch Riverdale because of its association with Twin Peaks, but couldn’t get into that either. I didn’t have high hopes for my all-time favorite fictional character.
So, I sat down to watch that first episode and I was surprised. I loved it. I loved each and every episode that has been released thus far. My love of Nancy’s stories has grown even more since watching the show; I’ve begun reading the books again (from all of the series) and have sought out the original book printings and other vintage copies wherever I can find them.
Finding home in fandom
When the show started, I had no one to watch it with. Most people hadn’t even heard of it — it’s following has always been relatively small — and those who had were iffy on a CW Nancy Drew whose mysteries take place in the supernatural realm.
But, once you start watching the show, it’s hard not to love it.
I started participating in live watches with people on the CW Nancy Drew subreddit, constantly refreshing the thread and adding my thoughts throughout the episode. We theorized about the season’s narrative arc, whether or not Ace is a Hardy Boy (he is), and the true motives of the latest mysterious stranger in Horseshoe Bay.
Reddit was fun, but it had its problems (namely the chat delays). I realized I wanted to be able to chat with a bit more immediacy, so a group of us started a Discord for all things Nancy Drew. We host live watches and rewatches, chat about our lives, and cultivate a community of fans. I reached out to one of my favorite Nancy Drew podcasts, What’s New Nancy Drew, and interviewed them for an early issue of Thursday Matinee. I’m on Twitter everyday looking at fan theories, edits, memes, and #RenewNancyDrew.
We’re bonded by our enthusiasm for the show — and we all need community like that. I love being able to hop on Discord or Twitter to share my thoughts about the Drew Crew with a warm and welcoming fandom (this may be the warmest and most welcoming fandom ever). We love our show, love the actors and writers and producers, love the stories, root for Nace, and hope to God that the show is renewed for Season 4.
What is "real" fiction anyway?
When I was 17, I went to the cinema. I can't tell you anything about the film I went to see (not even its name — it was clearly that unmemorable), but I remember seeing a film trailer where goosebumps appeared on my arm, my eyes widened, my pulse quickened. All the symptoms of falling in love, I later realised. The film trailer? Twilight.
I was swept up with this plain, ordinary girl in a misty school parking lot, and the mysterious boy casting longing glances in her direction. Her audibly loud sharp intake of breath almost mimicked my own: the racing beats of the music matched the beat of my heart as the trailer whipped through a lush, rolling forest, and this girl seeing an entirely new world of possibilities – plus there were vampires. As an overly romantic, dreamy teenager with a penchant for Anne Rice books, I'd somehow never heard of the Twilight books before, but seeing the trailer, I was like a teenager with their first crush.
And I'm not alone. Many of us stumble into stories that resonate with us, exactly when we need them. Sometimes we can remember when or where we found that story, but maybe not how we got there — I genuinely can't remember why I was in that cinema that day. And for many of us, the stories we find that resonate with us are fan fiction.
Twilight is considered one of the most commercially successful pieces of fan fiction, although the jury is out if it actually is fan fiction. Sure, it resembles the feel of fanfic in many ways, but there are blurred lines and nuances between what is "fan" and what is "real" fiction. It used to be obvious that anything on Wattpad was fan fiction, but as producers continuously scour it for the next YA Netflix film, and that story gets published as a book, does it become "real" fiction at that point? I'm no expert in the differences (clearly), but it seems like there's an overlap, a Venn diagram of sorts where some cross into both realms, and maybe fan fiction transitions into what is considered "real" fiction. The important question is, does it matter?
As a teenager, I read a lot, everything and anything I could get my hands on — from clearly Harry Potter fan fiction (warts and all), to branching out into the published series (touted as fan fiction) The Mortal Instruments. It didn't matter how a story was made available to me — online or in a book. Not then. Now I understand more about the publishing and marketing process of books, and writing as a career, and how labels can be damaging to authors (particularly those who self publish), but for us as readers not involved in the publishing process, shouldn't reading be about reading what you want to read? Whether that's unedited fan fiction or something that blurs the lines, like Fifty Shades of Grey. I've moved on from Twilight as I've grown older. Inevitably stalker-ish vampire boys have lost their appeal, but I know that for me, as a reader, it's the story that will always matter most — fan fiction or not.
Of course, online fandom may not always be so nice. Often things can get out of hand, leading to online toxicity. Fans may be angry with the showrunners or directors for “fucking up” their favorite franchise. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi received online vitriol from fans following its release. One of the films stars, Kelly Marie Tran, was incessantly harassed and bullied by fans of the franchise.
Of course, this is not the only example. Stans of celebrities have been known to troll and harass people who criticize their fave. Gatekeeping is still very real.
Know your fandom.