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Likemindedness is the new proximity is a phrase I stumbled across in an infographic demonstrating social media’s influence in advertising. The graphic cites our high rates of Internet connectivity and how we’re all more likely to trust a friend’s review than a critic’s. One word-of-mouth recommendation, it claims, is as powerful as two hundred TV ads. But it doesn’t actually talk about proximity, or how the Internet has mostly erased its importance.
Fandom has so very little to do with proximity. Where you are matters hardly at all; the important thing is what you like. Fans feel “close” to friends who live timezones, continents, and oceans away. We talk and think and laugh and create together through the Internet, producing a new kind of proximity—one born from sharing a love of characters and stories and kinks rather than a space. The buzzword for online interactions used to be “virtual,” and of course we still joke about the divide between “real life” and fandom. But when it comes to the relationships, alliances, communities, and causes grown from fandom, it’s all very real, and there are no borders. Fandom is the new proximity.
I grew up in a pretty little city on the shore of Lake Michigan and was raised on a steady diet of too much television. I was among the first generation of students who had computers in their elementary school classrooms and, as high schoolers, signed in to AOL on dial-up Internet access after school to hit the chat rooms. With the exception of some limited reading of fanfic on Geocities webrings during the summer of 1997, it wasn’t until late in college—and after the introduction of wifi—that I encountered Internet media fandom. I earned a bachelor of science in media studies (emphasis in mass communication) at Northern Michigan University, followed by a master of arts in English (emphasis in writing). Immediately after graduation, I began putting my degree to use by writing fanfiction. In recent years my academic interest in fandom has had an outlet in pop culture and media studies conferences, which I attend as an independent scholar, while my fandom participation continues to broaden. Though I remain a proud Midwesterner at heart, I currently live on the East Coast, where I work as proofreader with a small desktop publishing team. I still watch too much television.