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Becoming a Member of a Fan Community

Over the course of the last years, fan communities have been located on the Internet, which is not a surprise, given the extent to which it has integrated into people’s lives. This has influenced the nature of fan communities greatly, for now, they are not limited by any regional boundaries; they receive newsletters via e-mails, communicate in chat rooms, share photos, videos, music etc. online. Nowadays, fans from all over the globe can cooperate and contact immediately, and it seems that even language is no longer a problem.

Wiatrovski argues that there are a number of reasons why people create online fan communities. Of course, the Internet makes it more convenient, than, for example, organizing “physical” meetings as it used to be some years ago. Secondly, this is the way of expressing communal identity – this position is taken by most researches. Finally, they want to establish control over the subject of their admiration and be closer to it. To understand any technologically based community, one must possess a thorough knowledge about the community itself and the place of an individual in it. This knowledge is important to understand who is “insider” and who is “outsider”.

The community under analysis is Leonardo DiCaprio Fan Club on Facebook. At the time of the analysis, this fan page had approximately 4.5 million members. Generally, this group can be called a fandom. A current vehemently discussed topic is a new film with the actor The Great Gatsby (based on the novel by Fitzgerald). The principle of sharing the experience is as follows: the moderator posts some information and the members discuss it. The posts are predominately pictures and videos. Actually, if a person is an outsider, he or she just has to watch the video, an interview, for example, and then share his or her opinion. Additionally, the fan page has a famous nowadays system of “likes” – if one likes a piece of information, he or she cliques a button “like”. Interestingly, a number of likes is usually considerably bigger than the number of commentaries. Consequently, the popularity of a film, photo, gossip, etc. is measured by the number of likes it has. This is quite convenient for the outsiders, for if they want to become familiar with the subject of the admiration, they can look through the posts with the biggest numbers of likes and get the basic information needed to understand the community. Apart from that, one can also like someone else’s comments. This reminds an actual face-to-face conversation, when someone says a phrase and other interlocutors agree and support it.

Participation in chat rooms is an integral part of any online community. However, as in any real conversation, one has to be familiar with the subject of the discussion to put forward his or her ideas. Fans have a common set of values, vernacular language, and experience. Usually, one discussion is dedicated to a particular subject, but it might also happen so that the topic changes completely. At any rate, the majority of discussion abandon in phrases which demonstrate the level of someone’s admiration. Frequently, fans address DiCaprio himself, saying how much they love him, in hopes one day he might read the message. Apart from that, every member has his or her own inbox, so they can text each other privately, too. There are also the most active members whose posts can be seen the most often. In many fan clubs, such members are privileged – they might have some special sign on their avatar, for instance.

There are no special requirements to those who want to join the community, so basically, anyone can do it. The same happens with the participation in the discussions and commentaries. The majority of phrases in the posts are aimed at praising the actor and his works. For instance, when discussing The Great Gatsby, people say how much they like it and why; there are also people who have not seen it yet, and they are obviously looking forward to going to the cinema to share the experience. Thus, it is in a way similar to going to the cinema together to watch a movie, and then share the thoughts.

Another thing, which can be done at a fan site, is cooperating to achieve a common goal. Leonardo DiCaprio is an avid fan of nature, and it is no wonder his admirers are, too. For instance, they spread the information about the animals on the brink of extinction and urge others to act. All the members of the community can, for example, sign a petition against killing elephants for the ivory bones, or donate some money to support a sanctuary. It is worth mentioning that such campaigns might be initiated by the fans or a celebrity himself – he might participate in a campaign, and ask his fans to support him. On the other hand, fan page members can ask for help, too – they might ask to support their own sites or help them win a poll, etc. In any case, participation makes the fans feel closer to the subject of their admiration. Such events are important for the online communities, for they help the members feel themselves a part of a team – they work together, and celebrate together if the action is successful.

Apart from that, the member can post their own works of art dedicated to the celebrity – pictures, songs, videos, genre fiction and so on. Doing so, they expect others to share their opinions about the work and put “likes”. They can also conduct polls about which movie featuring the actor they liked the most, or what role would fit the actor. On this site, such polls are anonymous – one can only see the results, but members can comment their choices later. Very often, there appear a number of groups preferring one or another option, and they compete. Interestingly, online fan communities might cooperate with other communities, usually those sharing the interests. For instance, fan club of Leonardo DiCaprio might share the links of Titanic fan club. Different fandoms can take part in the poles organized by some other sites. For example, there might be a contest for the position of the most popular male actor, and fans of each participant choose the winner. Usually, the majority of the fans vote to prove that their preferred actor is the best. Voting online is the same as in the real world, and voting on a fan sites is a demonstration of the sense of identity both as an individual and a member of the group. Health of a community depends on the activity of its members and moderators %u2012 healthy communities provide their users with reliable information (references included), engage them in various activities, hold discussions, etc. The members of the analyzed community are very active – there appear new posts every day, and the discussions are held regularly.

On the other hand, however, communities might suffer from the decline. In their study, Angeletou and Row (2011) call this phenomenon “churn” (Angeletou). It appears when a community gradually loses its members. This might happen due to various reasons, mainly because the community does not meet its members’ requirements –new information is not posted; few people participate in the discussions, etc. However, another factor, which influences the health of the community or leads to its churn, might be the popularity of the subject of admiration. Leonardo DiCaprio is a successful actor who appears on the TV regularly, so the number of his fans, and consequently, the number of the fan community’s members, does not fall.

Thus, online fan communities are very similar to actual communities, which have their geographical borders. According to Wiatrowski, these are the communities which are “represented by both its social imaginary and its empirical reality that functions in traditionally expected modes with the notable modification that the communal experience is often hyper-mediated” (Wiatrowski 5). Wiatrowski describes fans as “fanatical, out of control, frantic and frenzied” (Wiatrowski 5). Therefore, in the dominant culture, they are considered to be different from the mainstream. To some extent, the description is quite accurate: within their community, they live a different life; they have their own preferences, traditions and issues to discuss. Moreover, their sense of identity is very strong, and as can be seen from online contests among fandoms, they effectively cooperate to achieve a common goal.

Some researchers, Putnam in particular, claim that people’s growing interest in online fan communities indicates a decline in social capital (Stilwell 9). He says that, with the development of technologies, people substitute their social life with more primitive forms of entertainment. However, this point of view is not particularly true. As it can be seen from the analysis of the fan site, its members use the Internet to discuss their interests, share the experience and communicate. Online fan community does not necessarily replace traditional communities; they have simply become their integral part. Meeting in online chat rooms is different from meeting in a café, for example, but it is not less important. As Stilwell says, social capital on the Internet is “not necessarily less meaningful than the social capital found in a geographically situated community” (Stilwell 9).

In conclusion, the online community chosen for the analysis is Leonardo DiCaprio fan page on Facebook. Online communities are similar to traditional communities, and their social capital is also very important. The members of the analyzed site, actively communicate, share the same system of values and have a strong sense of identity. The level of activity varies within the groups – there are people who participate in most events, and those who are more passive. Probably, the behavior pattern in other communities is different from that discussed in this essay. However, the majority of the characteristics are common for each community because their functioning principle is the same. Future study could address the issues which make members leave their online communities and lead to churn.

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