It has been two years since I last donned my ‘academic’ head, and, through my job, my writing skills have been reduced to the ability to write impactful 140-character length tweets, so please bear with me as I attempt to re-establish myself in the flow of this blog.
I’ve always been a fangirl, I find that I fall in love easily – but not with people. With books, films, music, TV shows and more. This love turns into passion and overwhelming enthusiasm, and that is where I fangirl hard. (Bless you Tumblr.)
Fandom, unfortunately, gets a bad rep in the media. It is not possible to pin down why exactly, but the press seems to take great pleasure in emphasizing the reported origin of the word ‘fan’ as ‘fanatic’ and its negative connotations. Apparently, we are all crazed, obsessive stalkers or shrieking, simple teenage girls. Educate yourselves, fools. Fans come in all shapes and sizes and are highly intellectual, thoughtful and creative people.
Let’s face it, though – we are all fans of something. Do you have a favourite band? An author whose every book you buy? Do you support a football team? See, you’re a fan. We just all exhibit a passion for our fandom to differing degrees, and that should be respected. Check out this recent blog by Selina Wilken on the shaming of Harry Potter fans to see what I mean.
Just over a month ago, I noticed a fan-led movement beginning to emerge in the Gillian Anderson fandom. Whilst appreciative of Gillian’s profound acting abilities and a supporter of her work, I am not a member of her fandom myself. This was brought to my attention through their engagement with Childreach International’s #TaughtNotTrafficked campaign – of which I manage online and of which Gillian is a supporter.
This movement, known as #AllHeartGillian, was mobilising fans to donate and volunteer as a collective birthday gift to their favourite actress.
Led by Rebecca (27, Missouri), Lauren (38, Florida), Ashley (29, Washington), Emaleigh (32, Philadelphia) and Kaela (22, Arizona), the ladies behind the movement were kind enough to come together across their different time zones to join me for a Skype chat to discuss the motivation behind the movement and the impact that fan activism can have.
Q. How and when did you join the Gillian Anderson fandom?
Lauren: I have been a fan of the X Files since it first came out. I was about fourteen or fifteen. So I’ve been a fan pretty much most of my life. Only in the last six months did I really get into the fandom and it was because I went and saw ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ [Streetcar] in New York and I was like, ‘uh! I forgot how amazing she is!’ The revival of the X Files has, I think, awoken her fandom again.
Rebecca: I started X Files only a few years ago. I binged watched it. I knew what it was but I hadn’t watched it when it was on. I was alive, but I was pretty young. But the same as with Lauren, until the revival I wasn’t really paying attention to everything that was going on with Gillian. But when I first watched X Files I went through her whole IMDB credits and watched everything too. I heard about the play [Streetcar] and thought, ‘oh that would be really cool to go to.’ I saw people posting on Tumblr, which I never used before. So I made my own account and I got really into it, and it was then I heard about the play. I decided to go and when I did, I met Ashley. And now I’m here!
Ashley: We found out we were both going through Twitter first
Rebecca: Yeah. We found out we were going on the same day so we thought we should say hi to each other.
Ashley: I watched X Files growing up. But not completely because I could only ever watch them at my dad’s house, so I only got to watch about half of the episodes. I definitely love Gillian Anderson through that. But I didn’t begin to pay attention until I watched The Fall and then I was like ‘What?! Where has she been and why have I not been watching everything she’s been in?’ I got on Twitter for some reason about a year ago, and I followed a bunch of Gillian fans, and X Files and I realized that this was out of control, and hilarious. When I decided to go and see Streetcar I posted ‘Hey! Is anyone going on the same day? I’m going by myself. I’m coming all the way across the country and I will literally be in New York for 26 hours. Rebecca and I messaged and then we hung out all day.
Kaela: I’ve been a fan for about three years now. I started off in some other fandom’s and one of my other friends told me if you like the show you’ve got to watch the X Files. I’d heard of it, of course, and I watched it. It was nice to understand what everyone was talking about on Twitter. I went to see Streetcar, which was amazing, and I’ve been hooked. It’s been great.
Emaleigh: I watched X Files a lot as a teenager. I refer to this as the ‘dormant fandom’ because I was a super fan when I was young. It’s not that I grew out of it, but I was no longer ordering magazines off of EBay anymore. But I was still following Gillian Anderson’s work specifically because she is the best. Then around the time of the revival it awoke – all I wanted to do was talk about the XFiles. But no friendship group of mine was that hyper-obsessed about it. I’ve been using Twitter since the beginning, so I started looking on Twitter and thought ‘holy shit, the fandom is on the internet now.’ So I got back into that way, in the last year around the time of the revival, to the degree where I had to make myself a separate Twitter account for talking about XFiles. I use my other account for work, so I needed a fan account. That’s how I got back into it. I decided to go see Streetcar and I made deeper connections with fans leading up to Streetcar. I actually thought Streetcar was a really interesting gel for folks. Everyone that I know now in the fandom are all people that I talked to about Streetcar with and it grew from there… I’ve been jokingly referring to it as the ‘second coming of Gillian Anderson’ because it just seems like endless now. It’s like project, and project, and OMG it’s all amazing. There’s The Fall, there’s the XFiles again, there’s American Gods coming up, we got to see Streetcar – what else is going to happen?
Many academics have commented on the boom in the accessibility of fandom since the emergence of the Internet. Most notably Henry Jenkins and his notion of ‘Convergence Culture.’ He describes this as, “where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media and the power of the consumer interact in unpredictable ways.” The Internet considerably eases the sharing of creative works of fandom (fan fiction, art, gifs and more). Internet sites such as Tumblr, Archive of Our Own and LiveJournal have created safe-spaces where fans can feel free to explore their fandoms as deeply as they choose without fear of being judged. Whether or not this is the case is subject for another blog… With the Internet, fans are now able to immediately connect with others who share their passion, regardless of where they are on the planet.
Q: At what point did you decide to start the #AllHeartGillian movement?
Rebecca: It kind of had to do with Streetcar, and we gave Gillian all of these gifts. I thought about it, and thought ‘what the hell does she DO with all this stuff?’ It’s great that people give her stuff, and she appreciates it – I’m sure. Someone said ‘we should do something for her 50th birthday’. If we were to do anything, I think that the thing should like be something to do with charity. Something like that.
Ashley: On Twitter people started talking about it, and then we started a group, fans were giving ideas and then it got kind of crazy. More people were being added to the group and we actually reached Twitters limit. There was just so many people giving ideas at once, it was crazy.
Emaleigh: You can’t really organize anything
Ashley: A lot of people had the idea that we should do something for her 50th birthday. And we thought ‘why wait two years?’ I mean, who knows where we’re going to be in two years? Let’s do something now, what can we do that Gillian would actually appreciate? I think that was how we started to branch off.
Lauren: What happened was, there was a lot of enthusiasm in that group chat, a lot of talking, but what I think really happened was there were people who really bubbled up to the top to become the leaders. So what we did was use that small group as a focus group, and then throw ideas back into the larger group – voting on names, on design. We made sure that they felt included but, at the end of the day, you need leaders. I think all of us came together because we all have different skills that just sort of melded and worked… As our idea developed, we started throwing out names of other people in the fandom, and Kaela, who has done a lot of design and runs a website for another fandom and has stuff on red bubble, we thought ‘wow, she’s such a great designer lets bring her on board. She was all over it. Kaela came on board and she’s the one who designed the logo and the look… We didn’t really set out to make a brand, but I think through our work we have, in a way!
Emaleigh: There was a lot of buy in and weigh in from other folks. It wasn’t like what we were already online chatting about, it was not just about Gillian, it was about looking inward and doing other good work. She talks so much about how do charity work and philanthropy has impacted her mind, body and spirit, and worldview. That may actually be one of the whole ways in which most of her fandom can relate to this super-star actress. By doing that type of work and reaping the rewards from it. It’s very relatable.
Lauren: There are a lot of very creative people in this fandom, and a young crowd who has joined the fandom because of the revival and because of Netflix to binge watch the show that started probably before they were born – in a lot of cases. It’s really important for this message to be heard by teenagers and people in their early twenties and, what Emaleigh said, it’s more than just doing something because you love an actress. It’s giving back, it’s feeling good about yourself. There is a fantastic quote, a letter that Gillian wrote to her sixteen year old self, that says something along the lines of ‘I’m signing up to do all this volunteer work, because you’re bigger than what you think you are and you can do more than what you think you can.’ I read that and thought, ‘wow’. If I could have done that my sixteen-year-old self and knocked the stupid out of my head then I would have!
Q: Were there any other influential factors that inspired the #AllHeartGillian campaign?
Rebecca: I don’t know if this answers the question, but I remember there was a day when Gillian tweeted about two or three things that were charity related and this guy commented on it saying ‘uh, ANOTHER charity?’ or something like that. And I thought, ‘excuse me?’ I didn’t start a fight or anything with him, but I thought, well what do you want her to do? Talk about makeup and hair? That’s not her. It just made me think about how much she does. She not only tweets about different charities, but different causes, bills, laws and it’s not just like ‘hey, watch me in The Fall!’
Ashley: I personally like that she uses her celebrity for good, and she can. That’s really inspiring and it’s awesome. I think that part of the reason [for this campaign] is when she’s doing an auction, a lot of the fans are young or don’t have enough income to win an auction. This campaign is brilliant because you don’t HAVE to give to a charity that Gillian supports, including #TaughtNotTrafficked, you can do something in your own community and that can be just as meaningful. That was definitely part of it. Gillian’s not saying ‘you HAVE to support MY charities if you’re going to do charity work’. We’re thinking how can we inspire people based off of her inspiration to actually find something where they want to give back. They can absolutely give to one of her charities if that is something they’re passionate about.
Lauren: I think Gillian uses her stardom and star power in a way that is powerful because she tweets about more than what she’s doing. She tweets about real causes that mean something to her. Her brother, who passed away from neurofibromatosis – she’s now a big supporter of that cause. That doesn’t affect me but I think that the way that she is passionate about that is, in its self, inspirational and everything else she supports. You see a lot of stars out there today, especially young stars, who have these huge, massive fandom’s who, I don’t think, know how to harness that power or message as well as she does it. So we’re just hoping to inspire a fandom to give a little bit more of them. You don’t have to give money, but we all have time. So we hope to encourage people dedicating that time to something other than yourself, and in the end it will be more rewarding than anything else you could possibly do.
Ashley: This started as a birthday thing for Gillian. But now it’s not at all about her birthday. It’s about encouraging people to give back and be their best selves in the community, find something their passionate about, to volunteer regularly and not just for the seven days that our campaign says. So even though it started as a birthday thing, and still is, it’s now more than that.
Lauren: I think the dates of her birthday have just become symbolic. That’s when we’ll ask for the postings and the hashtags and the images but we designed this campaign from the beginning to be evergreen, to be able to do it annual and focusing around her birthday dates. The idea is that we will continue it for as long as we can, hopefully it catches on.
Emaleigh: I would add, to what it is that inspires me about her, that something that has always interested me is the consistency of her charitable work. She’s not just a drop-in giver. Throughout her whole career I have heard about her causes, from the beginning. I think that is a powerful message in and of its self because she is living it. Through her channels she is outspoken and comfortable with being outspoken, which is admirable too.
Ashley: I think that another thing that is really cool and inspiring is that she does all this charity work and tweets about it and goes to all these events. But she also swears a lot and she doesn’t have to be this uppity, perfect person all the time. She seems to be this normal person, like I would totally be friends with her because I feel like we would actually get along. She’s someone I relate to not just someone I look up to as a Mother Theresa. She does all this great stuff but can also be herself.
Gillian Anderson is not alone in successfully leveraging her celebrity status for positive change. Angelina Jolie is a very recognizable figure in the fight for human rights for refugees. But it is not only A-Listers regularly supporting charitable causes. Jared Padalecki (star of long-running series Supernatural) has run several campaigns to raise awareness of depression and mental wellbeing, encouraging his fans to ‘Always Keep Fighting.’ This has struck a chord with the fandom, and has seen them taking it in their stride to share the same messages.
As with the example of #AllHeartGillian, fans have also been known to take it upon themselves to generate charitable campaigns. The Harry Potter Alliance was born from a group of fans that wanted to channel the talent of the fandom to positive change. “Just as Dumbledore’s Army wakes the world up to Voldemort’s return, work for equal rights of house elves and werewolves, and empowers its members, we: the world to the dangers of global warming, poverty and genocide. We work with our partners for equal rights regardless of race, gender and sexuality. Encourage our members to hone the magic of their creativity in endeavouring to make the world a better place.” The Harry Potter Alliance is an example of fan-led cause that has grown in scale and popularity to form a registered US charity.
Q: How big do you see this campaign growing, and what are your hopes for it?
Emaleigh: We have a goal this year to have 100 people pledging their support, to volunteer or donate.
Rebecca: We wanted people to pledge. We have a pledge sign up on the website. It’s hard to gage sometimes if someone is just thinking this is a good idea in theory and then they don’t actually do it.
Lauren: We’ve sold 100 items on our website already. This really wasn’t our intention to raise money that way but it happens to be raising money for charity that way. The original plan was to get people motivated to give time, but…
Emaleigh: People want stuff!
Lauren: Yeah. If you compare Gillian’s following on Twitter she’s on a couple of hundred thousand, compared to the superstars on are on a couple of million. I mean, how big is this gong to get if we keep it Gillian Anderson related? I don’t know. Maybe one day we can expand that.
Emaleigh: But if you think about it, I know 100 people participating may not sound like that much, but 100 people volunteering and influencing so many different issues – that’s huge! What bigger gift could we give to Gillian for her birthday? There are a lot of other charity groups, and an easy way to make money is to do charity auctions but that is only for people who can afford to participate. That is not at all what this is about. It was built to run its self.
137 people pledged to volunteer or donate during the #AllHeartGillian campaign, and it is believed that even more took part. The hashtag was used 850 times, reaching 980,000 people. Gillian herself even expressed her gratitude to those taking part on her birthday. You can see all those who took part in the TagBoard. This has been a truly admirable campaign, and I look forward to seeing how it grows and develops in the future.