Infinity War and the Evolution of the Indian Fan

Pop Culture

Infinity War and the Evolution of the Indian Fan

Illustration: Akshita Monga

T

he Infinity War is upon us. It is a historic moment, one that has been 10 years in the making and has the entire Avengers fandom across countries waiting with bated breath. My many WhatsApp groups are buzzing – literally – in anticipation, frantically exchanging information about ticket availability while simultaneously plotting elaborate strategies to remain spoiler-free in case a Friday viewing is impossible. Early morning shows are being booked, office leaves are being planned, and an unprecedented en masse social media boycott (to avoid spoilers) is expected.

And why not? As my brother keeps reminding everyone who seems to be wondering what the fuss is about – it is not just a movie, it is a momentous event. Along with the Avengers, the fandom has assembled.

No longer can this popular cultural force be relegated to the dusty fringes of society. There’s derivative advertising and mass-factory merchandise everywhere. Every other advertisement on our televisions and our social media timelines seems to have an Infinity War reference. For once, people outside the fandom have been sidelined, forced to look on in horror and annoyance as Marvel fans spread their wings and take on the world.

Being a fan, however, wasn’t always as cool and mainstream as it might seem to post-millennials. For a long period, the idea of being a fan was an alien concept confined to spectacle-wearing, video-game-loving, comic-book-crazy nerds and geeks who were pretty much beyond the understanding of “normal” society. In India, the only image the word “fan” evoked in our heads was the crowd that thronged Mannat or Pratiksha, waiting for hours to get a mere glimpse of their superstar. The idea of being a fan in India implied an inherent insanity – manifest in building temples, chanting made-up mantras, marrying inanimate posters, and writing letters in blood.

All this changed with the swish and flick of Harry Potter’s wand.

Fans came spilling into the streets, rooting for a book they claimed had “changed their lives,” and displayed their devotion in ways that was previously unheard of. The very idea of being a fan was suddenly redefined. It was no longer about dwelling on the either extreme of supreme nerdhood or inexplicable insanity. Harry Potter mainstreamed the idea of being a fan, normalising the concept of perfectly sane people standing overnight in lines to grab a copy of a book or tickets to a show, muggles walking around in robes, debating about Gryffindor and Slytherin. Infinity War is merely the latest milestone of a phenomenon that has now been around for years.

In India, the only image the word “fan” evoked in our heads was the crowd that thronged Mannat or Pratiksha, waiting for hours to get a mere glimpse of their superstar.

I’ve been a proud fan of several pop-culture phenomena, including BBC’s Sherlock, Supernatural, Harry Potter, and of course, most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve spent hours scrolling through Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube and wherever else the fandom was colluding. Within the depths of these fandoms, I have discovered exciting insights, alternate interpretations, wild theories about characters arcs that still make sense, and beautiful fan fiction (often, unsurprisingly, laced with erotica) that are often better than a lot of mainstream writing, boldly tackling themes and ideas that largely remain untouched in conventional works.

As fandom evolved, so did the meaning and idea of being a fan. Not everyone who watched the “first day, first show” of every Avengers movie was a true fan. In the post-internet era, a true fan is a term reserved for the special category of devoted individuals who squander away hours and days of their lives, thinking and reading and watching and analysing and obsessing over their favourite stories and characters.

And just being a geek is not enough.

It doesn’t matter if you can point out the exact volume of the comic from which the Captain America: Civil Wars story was derived, and can bore someone with a half-hour lecture about the genesis of the storyline. If you didn’t start sobbing like a fool (and reported it on Twitter via frantic live tweets) when Tony reminds Steve that he was his friend too, you, my friend, are no true fan.

Yet, fandoms are powerful spaces that are so much more than a bunch of nerds talking gibberish about imaginary people. It is a place where people across ages, nationalities, genders, orientations, and races find a sense of belonging, a kinship, a safe space. And while toxicity is an unavoidable fall out of being on the internet, most fandoms still maintain a sense of community where issues like mental health and abuse are a subject of routine discussion.  

Indian Fan

Harry Potter mainstreamed the idea of being a fan, normalising the concept of perfectly sane people standing overnight in lines to grab a copy of a book or tickets to a show, muggles walking around in robes, debating about Gryffindor and Slytherin.

Image credit: Shams Qari/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Ultimately, fandoms are those special places where lifelong bonds are formed based on things as diverse as shared trauma of an abusive childhood, being gay, loving porn or in some remarkable cases, being an utter and absolute nihilist. The running thread, the one that ties everything together, are of course imaginary stories and superheroes that offer not just an excuse to bond over but also a rare catharsis that is often unavailable to us in real life.

The beauty of being in a fandom is to know that you are not alone. There is always someone out there who’d know why Snape’s “Always” still makes you cry, why you can’t talk to strangers, and why you’re still embarrassed over that thing you said 10 years ago. Sometimes, that sense of community alone is enough to help someone make it through the day. And for that alone, being a fan is worth it.

And if that is not enough to convince you of the value of the fandoms, always remember – Dumbledore is gay because enough of the fandom believed him to be. That’s why we now have a new black girl as Iron Man.  

In the age of the internet, it’s the fans who make the world go round.

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