Cassettes, CDs, posters, live recordings, pins, VHS tapes, concert tickets, t-shirts, baseball hats, magazine clippings, MTV interviews and music videos…
When I was an adolescent, I had an obsession with the band Bush. For any who may not know, this was Gavin Rossdale’s band in the mid to late 90’s (it was never just about him by the way but the whole band and the music!). Still not sure who he may be? Formerly known as “Gwen Stefani’s husband”. Ugh! Still pains me to have to refer to him as that.
The internet was still in its relative infancy but I could still find countless pictures and references. Fan groups lived and prospered online albeit in primitive stages: chat rooms, pen pals a là email, unsophisticated webpages (anyone remember “angelfire” webhost?). Tweets, blog posts, YouTube videos, Instagram pics, and Facebook pages were distant stars that were light years into the near future.
Fan fiction was something I either wrote or read. Memories of reading a few over the phone with other friends and squealing with delight at the most torrid details still leave an imprint on my memory. The erotic element and the twists and turns of people’s imaginations had no bounds. For some it’s not enough to read a book, watch a movie, or listen to the music; the need becomes an all sensory experience however it can be filled. Reading or writing fan fiction was another way to supply an empty space with fervent gratification.
Then there’s a gap where the cruel jaded so-called mature adult years seep in and swallow the gregarious and bouncy years of hormonal youth. Some people find it again in their young adult lives but I didn’t find it again til recently.
What was it about Outlander that hooked and grabbed me? Let me briefly paint the picture of how I came upon the show: I never read the books and wasn’t even aware of them. Didn’t know anybody who read them. When Mid Season 1 began airing, I noticed small mentions of the show online and in magazines. Noticing buzz words like “feminist” and “time travel” in descriptions, I followed the crumb trail and took the plunge.
At first I was just going along for the ride and I’m not sure exactly when its talons entered my heart and carried me away. As I churned and burned through episodes online its magic subtly built its momentum. Like a time bomb, it was planted in my unsuspecting mind. My curiosity grew and suddenly, BAM! I was hooked and utterly delighted about it (or as one James Fraser might say, “I was completely under your power and happy to be there.”).
[Funny story: As I plowed through the episodes over the course of a few days, I unwittingly watched the mid-season premiere on the day it aired. I wondered why the Next button wasn’t allowing me to watch any more. Thanks to a little internet search I realized the reason. From then on I had to wait a week between each subsequent episode. Sigh.]
Fast forward over a year later and here is a blog! I’ve come from emailing friends chapters of fan fiction from my AOL account in my prurient youth to blogging about my favorite show (and soon to be book series) online and even making a few You Tube videos in the meantime.
In a span of 20 years things have changed dramatically for my generation in terms of sharing their obsessions with others. The Outlander books have a strong and robust demographic of fans who have followed the series since it’s inception. For all of us across generations to connect with each other through this vast, strange, and overwhelming digital age, only multiplies our shared experience. Whether multi-tasking through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, we find ways to connect. Others choose good old-fashioned face-to-face meetings (after initially meeting online of course)! Remember when people first met by using words that came out of our mouths to communicate with others who were physically present? My, times have changed!
Why return to a state of obsession now?
Perhaps the answer lies in passion. Perhaps that word should replace obsession? Don’t get me wrong; obsession doesn’t have to be a bad word but a celebrated one. Passion can spark inspiration. For many, the show (and the books) has ignited a fire in others to write their own stories, create cookbooks, jewelry, art, write music, travel to Scotland, and countless other endeavors. It’s natural to feel inspired to create after experiencing something that alters your inner landscape in some way.
I think the question of why now is not necessary but rather, why not? For Diana Gabaldon to write stories that take on their own lives and don’t just rest on the page but jump out, expand a reader’s imagination, and manifest into infinite and varied ways is a true gift. It knows no bounds and goes beyond age and time. I am one of the many fans that have fallen under its spell and it’s apparent that the TV show adaptation heightens the fandom to a new level. I think that it proves that in its essence, it’s a story that needs to be shared and most importantly experienced.
It doesn’t hurt that both the show and book stimulate intellectual conversation. That’s brain candy for some of us! How many online articles, podcasts, and discussion threads have proliferated and touched on the layered themes, characterizations, performances, and prose. Some of my favorite topics: smartly written and complex female protagonists, strong male relationships, twisting trite genre conventions and archetypes on their head, female pleasure and the female gaze, writing screenplays and the adaptation process.
As a visual medium, I’ve written before what the influence a show of this caliber does to an “industry professional” like myself who aspires to someday create content that is as enriching, engaging, and creative. Although this period is the so-called “Golden Age of Television”, I don’t watch a lot of it! So perhaps I’m biased or narrow-minded? Regardless, for me the show sets a bar and every day when I’m working on a project that sucks the creative life out of me, I pray to the entertainment gods to some day bestow their grace and unveil an opportunity to work on something special like Outlander. Hearing my favorite Producers explain their adaptive and creative choices provides fodder for those like me who see themselves one day in their shoes.
In the meantime, compared to the long-term fans, I know I am not the only fan out there that has only recently discovered this burgeoning phenomenon. Nonetheless we all coalesce and share our love and inspiration in various ways; rising above some of the online voices that choose to hurt and hinder the conversation.
As Season 3 and 4 (eventually 5, 6, etc) are added to our TV or streaming roster, I’m looking forward to all the various ways the fans dig into the deep layers, itch that intellectual scratch, and procure delightful conversations on so many topics. The Outlander fandom is my current example as was Bush when I was younger – I think that these shared experiences among fandoms through the ages harkens to our innate desire as people to connect with other like-minded ones. We find our tribes and follow suit.
Hail to the prolific auteur who started it all, Diana Gabaldon, without whom the creative and imaginative spark would not light and cast all these glowing flames that then ignite others.
A few fun related articles from critics and fans:
You Belong to Me – The fanfiction boom is reshaping the power dynamic between creators and consumers.