Idols, Steven Universe, and the Power of Fandom
This a spoiler-free post.
I saw an episode of Steven Universe that made its fan community go wild. I don’t follow the show religiously (I’ve only completed season 1), but sometimes I like to live vicariously through the die-hard fans and their excitement with huge reveals. So when the latest episode “Change Your Mind”premiered, I watched and I wasn’t disappointed (how can you be, with a guest-animated scene by legendary artist James Baxter)?
All of this made me think of how large and sprawling the Steven Universe fandom truly is. There are hour-long videos on Youtube dedicated to this show and to the theories that had sprouted up about the characters over the years. I don’t doubt that, had I been younger, I would have been all over this cartoon, as well as the other show worked on by Rebecca Sugar, Adventure Time.
Such as it is, with a busy work schedule, an unreliability of streaming services in Canada (Really? Netflix couldn’t snag this one?) and an unwillingness to shell out the funds to rent the episodes à la carte or purchase the box sets, I unfortunately let this fandom pass me by. But I am still fascinated by it.
Aside from excessively long Youtube videos, people go all out dressing as the characters and defending the plot’s twists and turns. It’s intense, it’s amazing, and I love it.
I am in awe of the fandom the show had created, and I intend to investigate why it resonates so strongly with its audience. This is because I want a similar audience to read the YA novel that I’m penning; I want the late teens-early 20s female crowd that Sugar has enamored so well. Maybe I should attempt to watch the show again, if only for valuable research.
I’d also watched an interesting documentary that sheds light on the idol craze in Japan. In the 2017 documentary Tokyo Idols, fandom is presented as a crutch that keeps a downtrodden Japanese society afloat when the economy is poor.
The viewer mainly follows the story of two individuals: Rio, and amateur idol attempting to break into the music industry, and Koji, the 40-something, unofficial leader of the Rio fanclub.
There are some very odd moments in this doc (the most cringe-worthy come when the movie turns its focus to an idol group of young “undeveloped” girls and their obsessed fanbase of middle-aged men old enough to be their fathers). But the real meat of the story stems from her Rio and her devoted base of superfans.
In some ways, I felt like I related to both Rio and Koji. I had been on the superfan side; for 20 years I was a devoted fan to the 90s cartoon Hey Arnold!, going as far as to write fanfiction, purchase commissioned fanart, and even produce my own podcast about the show. Some may watch the documentary and question what a man like Koji could possibly get out of following Rio, but I absolutely understand. Koji wanted to see Rio succeed, just like I and many of the Hey Arnold! fans wanted the show to succeed in getting a proper conclusion. Koji is single and unmarried, but he found a community of like-minded individuals to whom he could relate. Similarly, the Hey Arnold! fandom on the Internet is tight-knit and offers community to those looking to share their love of the show.
On the other side of the coin, there’s Rio herself — the aspiring singer that works hard to please her fans, but is fully aware of the “expiration date” on her role as an idol (to many, 17 is considered old in the Idol world, and at the start of the documentary, Rio is already 19). I found the end of the film very bittersweet; after Rio finally succeeds in fulfilling her dream, she rejects the title of “Idol”, essentially abandoning the group that endeavoured so hard to help her succeed.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, sacrifices must be made on the path to becoming a better writer. At the start of 2019, I made a vow to leave behind my childish, fanciful obsession with Hey Arnold! so that I may focus more clearly on reaching my goal of becoming a published author.
In the context of Tokyo Idols, at first I was the fan, blindly following my passion. Now I want to be the artist, following my dreams with the utmost of intention.
What about you? What side do you find yourself on? Are you still in superfan territory, writing fanfiction and worshipping something you could never truly possess? Or are you the artist, the one striving for success, enduring failure and disappointment to eventually come out the other side with something you truly want to share with the world?
♩ ♪ ♩ ♪ ♩ ♪ ♩ ♪
Sylvie Soul is a recovering fanfiction writer on the path to writing her first novel. When not deliberating over plot holes and negotiating extra-lean word counts, she hopes to use her years of experience teach other aspiring writers to follow their dreams and pursue their writing journey. Check out Sylvie’s Twitter page or visit her website at sylviesoul.com.
SIGN UP for my mailing list to be the first to read my posts!