Every month the OTW hosts guest posts on our OTW News accounts to provide an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom. These posts express each individual’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy.
Stacy Lee Kong is a writer, editor and the founder of Friday Things, a weekly newsletter that delivers smart takes on the week’s biggest pop culture stories —- or at least, the ones she can’t stop thinking about. She’s been thinking about fandom since approximately 1997. Today, Stacy talks about celebrity fandom and how it’s different in our present time.
How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?
I don’t remember exactly how I discovered fanworks, but I know fanfiction was the first type of fanwork that I discovered. I remember reading a lot of fanfic about boybands—especially Backstreet Boys and O-Town. From there, I got really into stories based on TV shows, movies and books. I read a lot of fanfic about Harry Potter, Dawson’s Creek, Roswell, Dark Angel…
You know that feeling when you’ve read or watched something and you’re just not done with the universe? For me, fanfiction was a way to remain in that universe a bit longer. And then I began to see it as a way to fix plotholes, dig into themes that the creator didn’t necessarily think of or to explore what-ifs. Discovering that there was a wide swath of types of stories that were being told, and that writers weren’t restricted to filling in missing moments or retreading an existing plotline was so fun because it felt like you could endlessly play in that universe or with those characters; your only restriction was your imagination.
What first made you want to write about issues connected to celebrity culture?
I have always been interested in both serious politics and pop culture and entertainment—like, I think, a lot of people. But I’ve been a journalist for 15 years and at the beginning of my career, those felt like very separate things. At the time, I don’t remember seeing serious pop culture analysis in mainstream publications the way it is now. Instead, it was mostly reviews, recaps, profiles, that kind of thing.
The first piece of pop culture criticism that I remember reading and thinking, ‘Yes, this is what I want to cover, too’ was a 2014 New York magazine article about the 2000 rom-com Love & Basketball by Anupa Mistry, who’s also from Toronto. It contextualized the film, explained why it remained so popular more than a decade later, and touched on bigger issues like race, gender, ambition and representation. A few years after that, I was working at a women’s magazine in Toronto that had pivoted from fashion to entertainment and I got to not only edit (and sometimes write) articles that tackled pop culture in the same way, I also got to see how well they did, and how hungry audiences were for this kind of content. When I decided to start Friday Things, it made sense to focus on an area that I understood how to navigate, knew people were interested in and had a lot to say about.
Celebrity fandom has a very long history. Is there anything about it today that you think might be new or unique to our time?
I think what is new or unique to our time is social media. We have so much more access to celebrities now, which makes it easier to develop fandom, I think. We now have so many more hints of their personal lives—we know what their houses look like and what their voices sound like. They tell us about their major life events, and increasingly they tell us about the things that they struggle with.
Fandom stems from a perceived point of connection, and the more personal information that we know about people and get access to their ‘real selves’ (or the version they present on social, anyway), the easier it is to feel that connection. It’s also easier to become a fan of much smaller or niche public figures. You can find a fannish community on TikTok or via a newsletter or on a Discord channel—and you can follow that community into new fandoms. I definitely read fanfic for shows I didn’t watch religiously because a Harry Potter writer posted a fanfic about it and I liked their work.
What are some topics you think don’t get discussed enough regarding fandom?
Anything that’s not stan culture! I think stans are the most fascinating aspect of fandom for non-fandom people because they seem so extreme, but fandom is such an interesting social space beyond that.
How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?
I actually first heard of Archive of Our Own. I remember when it launched because at the time, my perception was that it would be higher quality fanfic than what you would find on Fanfiction.net, so I was excited about that. But I didn’t really know anything about OTW until I was contacted for this post.
What fandom things have inspired you the most?
I didn’t create very much in the way of fanworks, so I don’t know that there was a direct inspiration, but I definitely got the most enjoyment out of fanfiction. I don’t read as much fanfic as I used to, but there are some fics that I still revisit from time to time, the same way I might revisit a favourite book. And they still hold up, whether they’re Pacey/Joey AUs or Draco/Ginny multi-chapter epics. And thinking back, I probably did become a better writer in general, just by virtue of reading so much and developing a sense of the styles I liked and those I didn’t.