It may seem silly to a lot of people, but I simply cannot speak of my recovery through the hard-hitting times of my depression without giving a shout out to my Fandoms. Though fantasy worlds and monsters don’t actually exist, so much of what they convey translates over into the real world, into facing our own monsters, the ones that live within our minds.
Of course, this is not the only reason I love these books and shows. The characters are so real that they feel like good friends greeting you each time you crack open a book or start an episode; the story lines always leave you desperate for more. For better or for worse, I know that like a good friend, my favorite pop-culture nerdy fandoms will always be there for me, especially when I need them the most.
I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a while, and wasn’t sure how to go about it because I’m not sure if anyone on here can relate, or if it would seem “over the top”. Whatever, it’s how I feel; And I’m sure many fellow nerds can relate. So here’s the story behind how each of my fandoms helped me through difficult times and good times, and what they taught me:
Probably my very first *obsession level* fandom throughout middle school. During middle school, I was bullied tremendously. I was a shy, nervous, awkward kid. I had been put ahead so I was younger than my classmates, and I was the Brainiac kid who sometimes would do the “cool” kids’ homework for them, if they promised not to humiliate me in front of the whole building later on. I was also less wealthy than the rest of my tiny school (it was already a factor at that age); my parents’ divorce was well known and other girls’ used it as an excuse for my being miserable because obviously “it was about my parents, they weren’t bullies or anything”; and most of the other girls’ families were wealthy Italians who basically owned this shit hole of a town, renting out condos to poor immigrants and cheating them out of money; then complaining about how the poor are lazy… I never received the same horrid treatment in camp or other public institutions, (I went to a private Catholic school); I made friends easily outside of the tiny bubble of hierarchy of the rich snobs of this town. Anyway, I digress. The bullying led to severe bouts of depression and suicidal ideation at the ages of 12 and 13. Through it all my greatest comfort was going home and reading; especially reading the Harry Potter books. Harry was a misfit in his own world too, but it didn’t mean there was anything wrong with him; it meant he had a destiny. When I started starving myself because kids at school were calling me “fat”, (Which ended in a bout in a hospital) I remember, through recovery, sometimes literally thinking, “Would Hermione do something like this? Is it looks that matter the most? No, she cares much more about love, and friendship, and fighting for what’s right, and so should I”. I grew to love the characters, to feel close to them, to feel like maybe I wasn’t some freak. Maybe not fitting in with the girls who were obsessed with The OC and Abercrombie didn’t mean anything was wrong with me. Narrow-mindedness and judging a person based on how much wealth they have or how they looked were the exact things the books were standing up against; and they were my passion and a great comfort at a dark time in my young life. I made a lot of friends on online fan-platforms. If I hadn’t had the books and the fandom to go home too, I might have given up, might have truly believed that my life was somehow worth less and I deserved to be beat up at recess because I didn’t straighten my hair and wear Abercrombie. But these books were there for me, and I am eternally thankful for that.
Harry Potter Taught Me:
About Social Justice; To Choose What is Right Over What is Easy:The Harry Potter fandom was also my first exposure to social justice and to the idea that just because something was issued by the government or other authority figures doesn’t mean it is automatically right; and that there is a call to stand up against an unjust system even if it means risking your life. That the way things are is not the right way to be, and that we must “Choose between doing what is right, and what is easy”. Examples include the entire premise of the book, which is basically prejudice of magical people towards people with non-magical blood and the idea of “purifying” a race of people so that only those with “pure blood” remain. This seems to be on the extreme level of Hitler (Voldemort ideals were based off of Hitler’s) but the truth is we STILL have this kind of ignorance and hate in the world today. There are still people who think whites are somehow purer, better; even if racism is thinly veiled as the ignorant comment “I don’t believe in xxx group of people’s lifestyle choices” …Guess what? It’s not your damn life and you have no place to judge. Inherent discrimination or underlying fear or hate of people of a different color, creed, or sexual orientation translates to the same kind of militant extremism and disgustingly prejudiced rhetoric that fuels hate crimes, wars, and even government policy today. Look no further than Donald Trump, who J.K. Rowling herself declares worse than Voldemort.
Other examples of social justice, of organizing against oppression, are countless throughout the series. One example is Hermione’s organization S.P.E.W. – the Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare; which is mocked because Elves are seen as lesser beings and therefore should be slaves in the mind of the wizarding world. Another example is the defiance of governmental authority that tries to limit access to education; aka the defiance of Umbridge in The Order of the Phoenix. That same kind of limitation of education based on political interests happens in many schools around the United States today (like, teaching fundamentalism rather than science), and like the students of Hogwarts, we have a duty to stand up to it.
That everyone has a complex story and background and the folly of judging at first sight; i.e. Snape, Sirius, Dumbledore, and countless other characters in the series.
That “It is our Choices, that show who we truly are, far more than our Abilities.“ The emphasis that everyone has light and dark inside of them, made literal by the fact that Harry is a Horcrux, but that all that matters is what one chooses- that was the most comforting thing when going through my darkest moments, because it didn’t matter how weak I was at that moment, I could always choose to keep going, choose the side of the light.
And this one needs no explanation: Harry Potter taught me that “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”.
Doctor Who: I struggled through my first three years of college, dealing with a fear of not knowing what I was going to do after school, relationship issues, and leftover trauma after something that happened my freshman year. Oftentimes I felt worthless or like everything that went wrong was my fault and thought, “why couldn’t I just get my shit together?” At these times, Doctor Who was not only a comfort but a reminder that everyone is important, and what really matters is that we fight to do good, that we focus on where we are going, not where we’ve been.
Doctor Who Taught Me That:
Every single person is important: “In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important”. (The Doctor, Season 6 Christmas Special) Every little thing we do, even the most seemingly insignificant action (like turning left or right at a stop sign) can have a profound impact on the way the rest of the universe reacts. Even though we are tiny and should not over estimate our place in the Universe, we are endlessly important when it comes to the choices we make.
To take the Good with the Bad: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” This was an especially important reminder through some of my darkest times to keep going.
Life shouldn’t ever lack adventure; that following the straight and narrow, mediocre path is not the way to live: “When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all…. Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Life isn’t measured in years but in experiences: “Some people live more in 20 years than others do in 80. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person.” (The Doctor, Season 3, Episode 6)
And lastly, to never underestimate the power of books: “You want weapons? We’re in a Library! Books! The best weapons in the world!” (The Doctor, Season 5, Episode 1)
Merlin: Merlin was perhaps the biggest cheer-me-up fandom I could’ve gotten into while home last spring. I was off for a semester last Spring to work on myself, and I ended up falling in love with Merlin and Arthur. Slowly I stopped lying in bed all day being down on myself; and started looking at life afresh, as an adventure, enjoying it. I don’t think I could have if it weren’t for the brightness and perseverance of the characters; and the message of love and loyalty against giant odds.
Merlin Taught Me:
The Importance of Loyalty: Merlin is unfailingly loyal and devoted to Arthur, even when they drive each other crazy. He knows that devotion isn’t just loyalty to someone’s best version of themselves, but rather, loyalty to all parts of them, the good and the bad. That to truly care about and love someone is to love them fully; through the good and the bad; to completely let them be them, to not want them any other way.
That life itself is a kind of magic: “You are a son of the Earth, the sea, the sky…Magic is the fabric of this world and you were born of that magic…you are magic itself” Talk about a power quote. The truth is if we look at every day, at life itself, as magic (It really is when you think about it-not in the hocus pocus way but in the fact that this world exists) the world just starts to make sense.
“Love that binds us is more important than the power we wield”: The fate of the world ultimately hangs on what comes first- power, or love? I think we know what the answer is.
That we are powerful beyond measure, even when others can’t see it: It’s hard to be invisible; especially when you are trying to do good and no one knows it. Merlin deals with this frustration all the time: “It’s lonely to be more powerful than any man you know and have to live like a shadow…to be special, and have to pretend you’re a fool”(Merlin) This quote is a strong reminder that the true heroes in life often go unnoticed; that when someone makes a difference in the world, it is much more important that they did what was right than that they were acknowledged for doing it.
That Choice and Destiny are not enemies: “In life you always have a choice. Sometimes it’s easier to think that you don’t.” (Gwen). In a show that is focused around the idea of “destiny”, characters are called out for their choices. Destiny doesn’t mean actions don’t include consequences. Even the smallest kindness or aggression can have a profound impact on the way things play out. ((Quoted from a tumblr post by merlin-gifs.tumblr.com and colinmorfan.tumblr.com)
Yet again; good and bad is not a black and white issue; our behavior towards others can create or destroy evil; that fear and hate of an entire group of people leads to all the issues in this world: Morgana is the most prime example of this. In the classic legends and eventually in the BBC series, she is the villain that has to be defeated. But she starts out a friend to everyone in Camelot. Her change from one side to the other is not only explained but understood. If Uther hadn’t killed so many people for their magic, hadn’t villainized anyone who had magic, sent away those she loved, Morgana would not have turned on him when she realizes she has magic. The line between good and bad is even more wobbly, as the one thing that is keeping magic-fearing Camelot going is a boy who is actually using magic. Neither side comes off as good or evil, rather both are foolish for declaring the other the enemy based on the actions of a few in the past.
Supernatural: Where do I even begin? I hated this show when I started watching because it was so violent and dark. But I grew to love it because despite everything, despite the biggest obstacles in the world (Apocalypse take 2, anyone); Sam and Dean keep fighting- not just for each other but for free will and what they believe in. The actor’s personal involvement with the fandom and Jared’s Always Keep Fighting campaign against depression, where he came clean about his own struggles, made me realize that the best of us struggle and can still go on and do amazing things; at a time when I thought I would have to give up all of my dreams because of my depression. The show itself taught me that no matter how messed up you are; no matter what you’ve done or seen or been through, there is always, ALWAYS a reason to go on. The show deals with both character’s contemplations/implications of suicide as well and somehow they always overcome not only all the dark, nasty things that go bump in the night but also the darkness within themselves. If that isn’t a strong message of hope, I don’t know what is.
Supernatural Taught Me:
To Always Keep Fighting: Jared Padelecki’s Always Keep Fighting fundraiser for awareness and research on depression came out at the time I was most struggling in my life, last spring; when I was going through intensive outpatient treatment. His message gave me hope. The fact that one of the most admired actors in the U.S. had gone through exactly what I was going through gave me so much hope. I wasn’t useless, I didn’t have to give up on my dreams (he sure didn’t; and he made it) and spend the rest of my life as a recluse because of my depression; it was OKAY TO HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS.
That it’s Okay to not be Okay: Going off of that, Sam and Dean are rarely “okay”. There are several cracks throughout the show of what a therapist would say if one got his/her hands on the two. Yet they are heroes. They’ve been through literal hell (metaphorical hell being depression); dealt with Satan (who is the best metaphor for anxiety I have EVER seen; he just won’t shut up about all the things you should be worried about and gets really upset when he doesn’t have your attention); they’ve seen terrible things happen to the people they loved; they’ve been through death and torture. And they CARRY ON. Why? Because. Just because. They have each other. They want to do better. It is that desire to keep going that matters; and we love them for it.
That We All have a dark side; but that does not define us: Sam, Dean, and Cas are barely what one would call your typical heroes. Sam becomes a junkie for demon blood, hooks up with a demon, and does anything (at the expense of others) including making a man sell his soul to hell to save his brother. Dean actually becomes a demon. Sam accidentally starts the apocalypse. Cas unleashes Leviathan and ends up killing a good chunk of angel-kind. Yet none of them wanted anyone to get hurt, and none of them saw beyond their love for their family; they thought they were saving someone when in reality the price was way too high. We make mistakes, and often we don’t mean bad. Often the worst acts are done “For the greater good”; the evil characters in the show often make their intentions clear, they think they are bettering the world. Sam, Dean, and Cas, are similar. They are just trying to be the best that they can. Does that excuse hurting and killing innocent people? Hell no, and a lot of the show is about the torture of guilt both brothers feel. But the intention is always to help, not to hurt. People make mistakes, The road to (literal) hell is paved with good intentions, and sometimes we don’t know the consequences of our actions.
The importance of Family going far beyond blood: “A wise man once told me, ‘Family don’t end in blood’, but it doesn’t start there either. Family cares about you. Not what you can do for them. Family is there, for the good, the bad, all of it. They got your back. Even when it hurts. That’s family.” (Dean) This quote made me realize that I didn’t need to be related by someone by blood to be “family”- that family is anyone who will accept and stand by you. It also made me realize the importance of other people in my life, of not always having to go it alone.
“Monster” is not easily definable; the line between good and evil is a wobbly one; they are opposite sides of the same spectrum: “He/She’s a monster, and we kill monsters”– a recurring line in the series, and the most debatable one. Again, a warning not to base anyone’s goodness on the actions of others of the same (in this case) species (in real life, group of people). Vampires are monsters and all need to die, right? Until you meet Benny, or Annie /Alex. God and angels are good, right? Turns out they’re actual dicks. Sam’s childhood girlfriend, Amy Pond (yes, yes, Supernatural often does Doctor Who tributes) needs to die because she is a Kitsune and therefore a monster, according to Dean (who kills her); when the audience really finds out she never hurts or feeds on humans and is good. Judgement based on species or race is always faulty.
Sometimes, Good people do bad things and bad people do good things: So many ambiguous characters. You love them and you hate them. Crowley tortures and kills people for fun but he also helps Sam and Dean and shows a whirlwind of emotions, fans can’t help loving him. Sam and Dean do terrible things but we can’t hate them; they are our heroes. There is always a reason behind the way someone behaves, often we learn about “monsters” tragic pasts. Good and bad isn’t black and white.
Commentary on how the upper levels of society engineer war for profit: In Season 10 the Styne family, a wealthy family (originally the Frankensteins) that has been around for about a thousand years, claims to have engineered various wars and disasters throughout history such as: creating disease, destabilizing markets, helping the Nazis come to power, manipulating the Tudor monarchy into conquering Ireland, and in modern times helping orchestrate 9/11 and the Arab Spring. Why? According to the Eldon Styne, because “Chaos breeds fear, fear breeds panic, and panic breeds desperation. And there’s always profit to be made from desperation” (Eldon Styne (Frankenstein), The Prisoner, Episode 22 Season 10). In reality, it has been proven time and again that governments and corporate powers engineer war in order to create profit. This is a clear commentary on how our world actually works.
Commentary on how the corporate system and media can enslave us in order to use us for profit: Making a similar point is the story of ‘big bad’ Dick Roman, head of Sucrocorp Corporation, a massive agribusiness that creates most of the United States’ high fructose corn syrup, which is, as Sam and Dean realize, in EVERYTHING. Eating the processed foods that contain this not only make humans sick but also ripen them for the picking- what the Leviathans, headed by Dick, want. The food that Sucrocorp produces is heavily advertised especially through the fast food chain Biggerson’s. Commentary on corporations, agribusiness, and the mind washing of Americans through television and advertising, much?
Free Will is far more important than Heaven, Hell, or religious ideology: It seems that it would be a disappointment that heaven is just as nasty and messed up as hell, but it’s not. Hell represents total chaos and unleashing of angry, negative emotions; whereas heaven represent bureaucracy and strict order. Both are equally as bad because they take away human agency and will; thus Team Free Will is created and they become the heroes of our story.
Dogmatism is dangerous: Supernatural, despite being about supernatural stuff, takes quite a swing at religion and dogmatism. Faith healing, mega-churches, abstinence education, even the Westborough Baptist Church, are mocked and critically charged for their hate and hypocrisy throughout the show. The worst crimes of the show are done in the name of God or Satan; not one or the other, they are both equally as bad, because what is truly bad is blind devotion to an idea and not thinking critically on one’s own.
I’m sure there’s a lot more that I could say about each of these fandoms, but I’ve been writing for three hours now and its time that I proofread and be on my merry way. Also important to me through hard times have been The Hunger Games, the Divergent Series, Sherlock, Marvel series, and The Hobbit movies, so I won’t let those go unnoticed.
So the next time you question the importance of a Fandom or why something like a book or a show can bring so many people together, be so important to someone, think of this. Think of how important stories are and what they teach us in our own lives…. Because “We’re all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?”– The Doctor.