Gladiators and knights, poets and court jesters, athletes and silent movie actors, Jesus - they all had fans. Tracing through history to find the very first fan is impossible, but fandom, a subculture of die-hard enthusiasts, is easier to track. It was born when Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in the 1893 short story The Final Problem.
Conan Doyle felt stunted as a writer and had intended The Final Problem to be the last tale he would write about the famous detective. He knew readers would be upset, so he gave Holmes a glorious, valiant, and noble death, one suitable for such a beloved character. The tactic backfired.
After publication in Strand Magazine, fans took to the streets in public demonstrations of mourning.
Their persistence later pressured Conan Doyle to buckle and write about Sherlock Holmes again for The Hound of Baskervilles (1902) and The Adventure of the Empty House (1903).
Radio brought the country politics, sports, news, and entertainment.
Shows like Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie developed a powerful and loyal following and proved to businesses that fans, especially children, would buy almost anything for that which they were fans of.
Pulp magazines were made of cheap paper, and after the stock market crash of 1929, pulp fiction was born.
Pulp had been around since 1896 but hit its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s.
Though many serious writers wrote for pulps, the genre was known for smutty content. The cheaper the story, the more copies it sold. Successful pulps could sell up to a million copies per issue.
Most of fandom’s roots grew from science fiction. Fans organized the first World Science Fiction Convention (now Worldcon) in New York City in 1939.
Except from 1942 to 1945 during World War II, there’s been a Worldcon every year since.
To the right is the first costumer, Forrest J. Ackerman, in 1939 at the first Worldcon. Ackerman was a sci-fi writer, magazine editor, and founder of sci-fi fandom.
With the help of popular radio programming, organized clubs for children popped up all over the country. Before the TV series, there was a theater-based Mickey Mouse Club. The first one started on January 4, 1930 at 12 noon in Ocean Park, California at the Fox Dome Theater.
By March of that year, 60 other theaters joined the Club, and by 1932 it had 1 million members. The first British club opened in 1933, but Walt Disney began phasing out the program in 1935 to make way for TV.
The Mickey Mouse Club aired on ABC on October 3, 1955. It was a variety show for children that featured a regular cast known as the Mouseketeers.
Due to legal disputes between Disney and ABC, the show was cancelled in 1959 despite the huge profits that were rolling in from merchandising.
The Mickey Mouse Club moved to NBC after the legal dust settled. Today Disney owns ABC.
By the late 60s, the science fiction reader had become the science fiction watcher. Shows like Star Trek spawned generations of dedicated fans whose power to sway network decisions went into hyper-drive.
When NBC cancelled Star Trek in 1968 after only three seasons, disgruntled fans united in protest.
Though the fans lost the battle on that day, the show was syndicated, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, the sequel to the original series, finally aired in 1987.
Fans were also successful protesting the cancellation of Cagney & Lacie (1983), Xena: Warrior Princess (1995), and Roswell (2000).
The growth of technology has made connecting with other fans easy, just a click away. Although franchise and network owners have capitalized on fan loyalty, fan power has never been stronger.
Fans fill stadiums, concert halls, movie theaters, and bookstores. Their devotion can change the tide, and they have the strength to immortalize or demonize at will.
Fans are the true stars in life's arena, and their brilliance is impossible to miss.