How Fan Service Changed Popular Media

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As fandoms become more visible online, creators are catering more of their media directly to them. How has this changed popular media?

You know those times when you watch a movie or TV show, and you think to yourself — they did that for the fans. It could be a clever Easter egg to an earlier movie, a reference to a viral meme, even a nod to fan-ships where fans are dying for two characters to get together.

This type of content is known as fan service and, for better or worse, it’s cropping up in content everywhere.

What Is Fan Service?

Fan service is something in a work of fiction which is intentionally added to please the fans of that work. It’s not a new phenomenon by any means. one of the earliest instances was in Gone With The Wind for fans of the book who noticed the name of Scarlett’s son on screen, even though she didn’t have a son in the movie.

The term itself apparently originates from the anime community. But it’s also used in general popular media as something in a creative work that’s meant specifically for the fans AKA the fandom.

The Rise Of Fandoms

The community of fan culture really picked up speed in the 2010s, with the help of quintessential fandom platforms like Tumblr and LiveJournal. It also coincided with the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and gradual mainstreaming of geek culture. Participating in fan culture used to be a lot more niche, and big events like Comic-Con or the latest instalment of a popular movie were few and far between. 

But as the idea of being part of a fandom became more normalised, that level of fan engagement became the new normal. Terms like ships, Stans, and antis made their way into our vernacular, and with social media, fans had more power than ever.

As fandoms gained traction, the relationship between creators and fans started shifting. It began to evolve from a top-down hierarchy to more like an equal partner.

How Fandoms Changed The Game

One of the biggest shifts in this fan-creator relationship was with the show Veronica Mars. The show starred Kristen Bell as the high school student slash detective, starting in 2004 and cancelled in 2007 after three seasons.

In 2013, the creator of the show launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Veronica Mars movie which was released the next year. Fans were also a big driver for the 2019 Season 4 revival on Hulu.

Another franchise with a huge fandom is, of course, Star WarsWith the first movie released back in 1977, it’s now a huge multimedia franchise that spans across TV, games, theme parks — the list goes on.

The fandom is a huge force — but they have had some controversy too. The Last Jedi, the second movie in the latest Star Wars trilogy, polarised the fandom. Some fans pointed out plot holes and inconsistencies, and some thought the movie strayed too far from what was expected. Infamously, some fans argued that the studio was trying to be too progressive with its casting choices. This developed into some serious online harassment of actress Kelly Marie Tran, the first woman of colour to play a leading role in the Star Wars franchise. She ended up deleting her Instagram then writing about her refusal to be marginalised by her experience in The New York Times.

Fans are undeniably a huge part of creative success. It has evolved from being judged as fringe, niche activity to a normalised part of mainstream media culture. But that doesn’t mean that creating media catered purely to the fans, or even just to shock the fans, is necessarily the best option either. 

It feels like there is some kind of Goldilocks zone where fans are appreciated and rewarded, but creators still have the freedom to take risks.