It’s hard for me to write this article because fandoms have been good to me. Now that some may consider pop culture knowledge sexy and interesting, people like me are able to appear socially functioning without actually being so. Those who were once subject to bullying can now rule cliques simply by sharing entirely too much about their hobby. Based on their growing self-esteem and the skyrocketing number of attendees at comic conventions, most people would assume that fandoms are harmless fun. Nerds are some of the least threatening people in the world outside of the harrowing documentary, Revenge of the Nerds.
This positive image makes it hard to see fandom for what it really is: an addiction that’s been rebooted and given quirky one-liners, Internet forums, and above-average costuming. It’s fueled by capitalism and consumed by boys and girls of all ages. It’s an addiction that wears a disguise. But just as Darth Vader’s mask hides Anakin’s deformed head, the artistic value of fandom hides the vicious disease of behavioral addiction.
Behavioral addiction was recently discussed in a BBC News article written by Mark Griffiths, a gambling studies expert at Nottingham Trent University. “Many behavioral addictions are ‘hidden’ addictions. Unlike, say, alcoholism, there is no slurred speech and no stumbling into work,” said Griffiths. “However, behavioral addiction is a health issue that needs to be taken seriously … Behavioral addictions can be just as serious as drug addictions.”
It’s abundantly clear that our addiction to entertainment is costing us more than that of a drinking habit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends $1,000 on education. In entertainment, we spend almost three times as much consuming movies, television and videogames as we do on learning how to function in the world.
Imagine knowing someone who spends three times as much money on alcohol as they do on his education. Would you call that person an addict or a “beverage enthusiast?” The difference between addiction and enthusiasm “is that healthy enthusiasms add to life, whereas addiction takes away from it,” wrote Griffiths. Thus, has fandom detracted from our well-being?
Let’s examine America’s education lately. One would think that fandoms promote academic achievement, what with all their space-age math and steampunk science, but America has slipped in national education rankings quite a bit. The U.S. is now 26th in math, 21st in science, and 17th in literacy, dropping four places in the past three years. Could it be that our teenagers are spending more time in fantasy worlds than they are in the real one? The spending statistics indicate as much.
Some readers may notice that I’ve only shown a correlation between our entertainment fetish and declining academics, which doesn’t necessarily show causation. It’s true that scientists have yet to find any direct link between fandom participation and academic failure. I’d say that this is because no scientist has tried to find a link yet, but that’s admittedly a lame argument.
Still, there’s enough of a link to be suspicious. One need only look to Comic-Con — the wildly popular media convention held annually in San Diego — to see how deep geeky obsessions run. Over 130,000 attendees wear costumes more elaborate than Victorian-era nobleman and create sequels to their favorite works that are twice the length and half as good as the original. Certain fandom die-hards surgically alter their ears to look more elfin or split their tongues to appear more serpentine. Both surgeries cost upwards of $1,000, adding yet another layer of financial waste to this already frivolous lifestyle. The consequences of being part of a fandom can span anywhere from wasted time and potential to disfigurement. Given that the impact of being part of fandoms can be so drastic, shouldn’t the products that inspire these groups at least come with a warning label?