Fan activism

Rachel Wood

Column by Rachel Wood, contributing writer

When I was in middle school, I’ll admit I was a bit of an annoying superfan; I was obsessed with TV shows, video games, bands, books, basically anything that had a fan following. While I think I’ve mellowed out (at least a little bit) since then, I’m reminded that, sometimes, superfans do some awesome things.

Two weekends ago, I had the incredible opportunity to see Panic! At the Disco on their “Death of a Bachelor” tour. The whole show was amazing, of course – probably one of the best I’ve ever been to. But I think my favorite moment by far was one fans put together themselves.

If you’ve seen any photos from the tour, you’ve probably seen pictures of crowded arenas of fans holding their phones’ flashlights against colored paper hearts during the band’s performance of “Girls/Girls/Boys,” creating a multicolored light show in support of the LGBTQ community. At first, this seems like something the band’s stage designers would put together to be on par with things like Taylor Swift’s music-synced wristbands, but this project was created from the ground up by fans.

At each tour stop, groups of fans have been getting together, cutting out thousands of paper hearts, and posting themselves around the arena to hand them out — all because they’re passionate about the band and what they stand for. This is especially awesome to see during this particular song, as it is a physical representation of the acceptance that Brendon Urie is singing about.

I think these kinds of acts are far cooler than any light show the stage crew could’ve put together.

These acts certainly aren’t limited to showcases during concerts, of course. In fact, I think some of the best charities and movements are started by people who are superfans; they want to support creators and their ideals simply because they want to spread the impact a creative work has had on them.

The Harry Potter Alliance is one of my favorite examples of these fan-led projects. In its almost 15 years of existence, the Harry Potter Alliance has used stories and characters from the beloved franchise as a starting point to teach people about activism: spreading literacy to rural communities, fighting net neutrality, even encouraging Warner Bros. to ensure the Harry Potter brand chocolate meet Fair Trade guidelines.

The Alliance has chapters on almost every continent, full of people of different ages, races, genders and sexual orientations – all of whom are united by their love of Harry Potter. For some people, these campaigns are their first real look into the world of activism; using a fanbase as a common ground makes activism more accessible to a wider (yet still enthusiastic) audience.

Fanbases have an amazing way of connecting strangers through mutual interests, then using those interests to inspire others to make a difference. Whether it’s raising awareness for an issue or raising money for research, linking fans together through the things they love certainly can have quite the impact. These groups can become places for support and inspiration, using various creative outlets to begin to teach real lessons about creating change.

So, maybe you are inclined to roll your eyes at the teenagers who can’t stop squealing about their favorite bands or TV shows. But, remember, those same teenagers can use that shared passion to make a real difference.