Article: The Myth of the "True Fan"

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There is a very sad and offensive title that gets thrown around many fandoms, the "true fan". Sometimes this is intended as a complimentary term, referencing someone's dedication or the scope of their collection. Other times, and more often, this term is used to reference other fans in a derogatory manner. Below I give a bit of history and thoughts about this term from my personal perspective.

I first recall seeing discussions about "true fans" in the 90's, when the introduction of "Beast Wars" caused a seismic shift in the "Transformers" toy line and fandom. The whole point of the series was to reinvent the line (which it did) and distinguish it from all that came before (which it also did).

However, it also caused a huge rift in fans who could not accept Maximals and Predacons in place of Autobots and Decepticons and techno-organic robots in disguise. Conversations (to put it mildly) began to surface about those who liked "Beast Wars" not being "true fans". These debates raged across the old discussion boards online, and they could get pretty nasty, sometimes degrading into name calling and even threats. Being a vehement supporter of "Beast Wars", I personally became a target of these attacks many times over the course of three years and at times it was quite upsetting (especially attacks on my then-girlfriend online).

The Pattern
Generally, the pattern that leads to the use of the term "true fan" is as follows:

  1. Some decision is made by Hasbro or Takara that upsets Person X (it could be making toy they don't like, or a concept).
  2. Person X expresses their utter displeasure at the concept, often utilizing name calling in the process towards Hasbro and anyone who actually enjoys the product they do not.
  3. The label "not a true fan" is applied to anyone who likes something that they don't.

It saddens me to say that I have seen this pattern repeat itself year after year as new toy lines have been introduced since 1996. "You like Beast Wars?! You're not a true fan! Truk not munky!!!", "You like Armada?! G1 forever!" and so on.

The Myth
Here's the problem with the "true fan" label: it's absolutely false. The word "true" in the label indicates that there is some paragon, some exemplar of what being a fan is. As if every time someone gets their first piece of "Transformers" merchandise, a yardstick magically follows them through life holding them accountable to some vague ideal of a "true fan".

The problem with this ideal is: there is no collective agreement on its existence. Ask one fan and he'll tell you anyone who enjoyed "Transformers" toys after the 1984-85 era is not a "true fan". Others will tell you if you enjoyed any part of the Unicron Trilogy, you are not a "true fan". Still others will say that if you enjoy a product they don't (regardless of generation), you are not a "true fan". Such a label is not like say, a mathematical equation where its existence and conclusions are hard, scientific fact. Being a "fan" by its nature involves emotions, and when you're talking about thousands (if not millions) of people enjoying entertainment, it is rare to get them all to agree to a unified label like "true fan".

The Truth
As a long time fan, if I were asked to exercise the term "true fan" and apply guidelines around it, they would include some (but not all) of the following requirements:

  • The person knows what "Transformers" is.
  • The person likes "Transformers" products of some kind (be it a statue, action figure or toothbrush).
  • The person enjoys some aspect of "Transformers" fiction.

However, if the definition of a "true fan" is someone who enjoys putting down other people because they don't like a product, or they feel some sense of pretentious superiority because they feel what they enjoy is "better" somehow to another fan, then "true fan" isn't the appropriate term to use. "Judgmental Fan" would be a more appropriate descriptor.

Being in a fandom is about love. It is about enjoyment of something. "Transformers" is a universe with many facets. We are so very lucky as a fandom to have a toy line and entertainment that is so incredibly expansive and covers many aspects of the line's history and future. Think about other toy lines that could have had that but failed ("He-Man" and "Thundercats" come to mind). They're not around anymore, but the Robots in Disguise are.

Now thirty years old, "Transformers" is a survivor among many failed IPs, and it has thrived. That means we as a fandom have grown and thrived. Using a term like "true fan" in a derogatory manner only serves to separate us and weaken our fandom. We are all of us part of a community who enjoy some aspect of "Transformers", it is my hope that more of us can be happy for each other rather than negatively judge each other for what we like.