I have been reading Camille Bacon-Smith’s Science Fiction Culture, which is a little old at this point (it was published in 2000), but a lot of the norms still hold true, so you can expect some discussion of it for a while.
Today I’m looking at fandom wars. She describes fandom wars as being something that arises when the fandom isn’t large enough to support entirely separate subsets for every schism in the fandom. If the sides of a schism can go off and have their own communities, they will do so, but the ones that can’t have the most intense fandom wars, because the survival of the fandom as a community means that they have to stay in close proximity to each other, and therefore they keep arguing.
There’s a thing that puzzles me about this idea, though, and that’s Harry Potter. Admittedly this book was published before Pottermania hit its peak, but the concepts of fandom should still be the same. However, the Harry Potter shipping wars were extraordinarily intense fandom conflicts which didn’t simply separate into new schisms, but kept arguing with each other and having flamewars, often very violently. At the peak of online fan participation, there were enough people actively participating in every major ship that they could have *easily* ignored all ones that didn’t fit with their preferred ships and still had a good-sized subcommunity. And while you will find fanfiction archives dedicated to particular pairings, the wars that large portions of the fandom kept having are legendary.
So what happened with the Harry Potter fandom to make it different from the patterns in the rest of sci-fi and fantasy fandom? Possibly it was the fact that many Harry Potter fans hadn’t previously been a part of the greater orchestration of Fandom. Harry Potter had a much broader appeal, and so there were suddenly many more people coming in at once than the existing fandom could enculturate through the usual ways of integrating new people. It also had broader appeal– there are people who read Harry Potter and partake of the online communities who get involved in no other aspect of Fandom, something that’s very unusual and suggests that something like Harry Potter which has broader appeal also takes in people who are fundamentally different kinds of people from the usual assortment of people who join Fandom.
That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, by the way; it’s just a thing. I’m making an observation. I don’t understand what would drive someone to partake in a flamewar at all, but then there’s a reason I’m posting on a blog under a pseudonym rather than in a community somewhere.