Being part of a fandom used to mean just consuming more of the consumption. It meant corporate licensing of endless merch, fans begging for official spinoffs and sequels. Obviously, there are certainly fans who expressed their passions in original and creative ways, but most fandom was top-down, not bottom-up.
The face of fandom has changed with the interconnectivity of the internet. Modern-day fandoms reflect the new media landscape, where we're now able to directly interact with the media we consume. With the help of the internet, we've become active participants in fandoms instead of passive consumers.
So, "Firefly" was cancelled after one season. Now what? Many people turn to fan fiction. Writing a fanfic allows you to explore the what-ifs of a story, with the "canon" (the official version) as a base. What if Rachel hadn't gotten off the plane? What if all the Harry Potter characters swapped genders? What if Walter White had been Canadian?
(Okay, bad example. There's not much that could happen after "You have cancer, but don't worry. You have insurance.")
Fan fiction isn't a new thing; it dates back a few hundred years. Fans of the "Sherlock Holmes" book series would write their own stories based off Doyle's originals — just like fans of the BBC adaptation (arguably, a fanfic in itself) do now. But what's new is how easy it is to find and share pieces and for fans to reach mass audiences. There are hundreds of websites dedicated to hosting fan fiction, and Amazon even has a service dedicated specifically to fanfics called Kindle Worlds. Fan-created works are exploding, sometimes even becoming media with their own fandoms — "Fifty Shades of Grey" started as "Twilight" fan fiction, after all.
The internet has also made it easier for fans to interact directly with media creators. Instead of having to write a letter to the studio and hope it makes its way to your favorite comic author, you can now tweet at them. Instead of holding up a giant sign at a concert, we can comment on our favorite band members' Instagram photos. We have the ability to send messages directly to our favorite authors' Tumblr inboxes. Even if they don't always reply, we can typically figure they read what we say — and when they do reply? OMGWTFBBQ it's the coolest thing ever.
Merchandising and spinoffs and franchises totally still exist. But the new media landscape has given fans more control over how they relate to the things they love, allowing us to actively participate instead of passively consume. So go forth and create, nerds.
Jess Ryan is a community manager and CU grad. She writes about nerdy things once a week for the Colorado Daily. On Twitter: twitter.com/JessicaLRyan