Church of Star Trek: Fandom as a religious experience

 
Aicha Lasfar. (Courtesy of Aicha Lasfar)

Aicha Lasfar. (Courtesy of Aicha Lasfar)

 
Jennifer Croome with "Ylvis" duo, Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Croome)

Jennifer Croome with "Ylvis" duo, Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Croome)

 
 

In the fall of 2013, a YouTube video called The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) went viral. What seemed to be a silly song came from the minds of an accomplished Norwegian comedy duo called Ylvis. Aicha Lasfar, 25, was one of the 600 million viewers. 

“I was really interested in Scandinavian culture,” she says about when she happened upon the video.

After watching The Fox, she “wondered what the pop culture was like today in Norway,” researched more about Ylvis, created a remix video of their works and published it on YouTube.  Her video was a hit.

“One of admins of the big [Ylvis] Facebook groups reached out to me,” she says.

Lasfar is Muslim, lives in Calgary and is a stay-at-home mother. When she joined the Ylvis Facebook page, she became part of a diverse online community, collectively referred to as the Ylvis fandom.

There are fans of shows and characters and then there are people who are involved in fandom. These individuals eagerly await news of their favourite character or story, join groups to discuss their likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams. It’s this connection that often mirrors that of religious experiences. In many instances, millennials are more active in their fandom of choice than any traditional religion.

Dr. Catherine Tosenberger, 41, is an award-winning folklore professor at the University of Winnipeg.  She majored in religion for her undergraduate degree and her PhD thesis is about fan culture that surrounds Harry Potter.

"Both religion and fandom...are ways of interacting with stories," she says.

"Both religion and fandom...are ways of interacting with stories," she says.

Tosenberger lived in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to Winnipeg in 2008.

Tosenberger became “obsessed with Greek mythology” at a young age and learned about Paganism and Wicca. Since she was 16, she has identified as Pagan.

Listen to Dr. Tosenberger thoughts on the intersection of fandom and religion.

Listen to Dr. Tosenberger talk about the Marvel Universe and Paganism.

“Traditional religious institutions and narratives have...historically failed people in so many ways, particularly women, people of colour, First Nations people, queer people, LGBT people,” Tosenberger says. “Dominant religious forms, like Christianity, have so long been used to control and oppress, it’s not surprising that young people would turn to other types of narratives to engage.”

One of those young people is Jennifer Croome. Harry Potter is one of her favourite fan cultures.

Croome, 30, is Roman Catholic, works full-time at Tim Hortons and lives in Burlington, Ont. Her introduction to fan culture was watching Star Trek with her dad. She likes to contribute to fandoms such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings through fan-written works and by travelling to events.

Listen to Jennifer Croome share about watching Star Trek with her father. 

“People do call it a religious experience,” Croome says of fan culture. “Being with a bunch of people in one place to come around one idea or ideal is very similar.”

 Croome thinks it’s the communion with others that draws people to fandom.

“It’s very powerful. There’s a certain amount of energy when you’re in a room with a couple other hundred people who are all there for the same reasons,” she says.

 Like Lasfar, Croome is also part of the Ylvis fandom. She was one of the first to see the duo when they performed in Canada.  She enjoys the connections she’s made because of the group.

“We meet up in Toronto about once a year around Christmas time back when [the Ylvis brothers] were more active and doing book signings and stuff,” Croome says.

Connection is important for both Croome and Lasfar. Lasfar says when “you have no support” for things you love and believe in, “it can be very hard."

“When people find something that they perceive to be the truth, and on top of that, they have a good relationship with people in their community, it’s like bingo,” she says.

“When people find something that they perceive to be the truth, and on top of that, they have a good relationship with people in their community, it’s like bingo,” she says.

Fandom isn’t without its own drama. Online, Lasfar says that arguments are not uncommon when it comes to discussions about Islam and what is and isn’t permissible. Lasfar had a bad experience on the popular social media platform, Tumblr, with some Ylvis fans in 2015.

 “They got the wrong impression of me and I was like, ‘I’m misunderstanding,’” she says. Lasfar says there was a “bit of drama” and soon she had to delete her Tumblr account for a few months.

“Eventually I came back,” she says. “And I was like just forget all those people.”

Through fan works, such as fan-fiction, millennials explore their beliefs about the world with their fandom of choice as the operating foundation.

Tosenberger explains that fan-fiction relies on previous knowledge on a topic.

“[It] interacts with a pre-existing text and requires the reader to have an extensive knowledge of that text, that pre-existing text in order for that secondary text to make sense.”

Tosenberger confirms that with the Internet, young people have more access to tools that allow them to express themselves in multiple ways about what they love. Users explore sexuality through stories written about their favourite characters. Minorities can make themselves the heroes of narratives that might have traditionally uplifted voices and perspectives.

When you visit fanfiction.net or archiveofourown.org, both popular places for stories written by fans, it isn’t unusual to find a story like Cinderella and Snow White falling in love and ruling a kingdom together.

It is on content sites like Archive of our Own and Tumblr that popular interracial couple, Michonne and Rick of The Walking Dead, garnered attention.

“[It’s not surprising] when we see so many examples of the fail state of these religions,” Tosenberger says. “When we see fundamentalism and violence and bigotry … being promoted…people are going to turn their hunger for stories in different directions.”

“When we see fundamentalism and violence and bigotry … being promoted…people are going to turn their hunger for stories in different directions.”

- Dr. Catherine Tosenberger

Tosenbeger acknowledges that what separates religious stories from fandom works is sacredness.

“As a folklorist, the way I define a myth is that it’s a sacred narrative,” she says.

Croome is more adamant about the distinction.

 “I wouldn’t contribute to my religion the way that I contribute to fandom,” Croome says. “I wouldn’t be writing fan-fiction of the Bible or things of that nature. That’s pretty separate for me and I would find that pretty disrespectful to do that.”

Aside from the dramas that can accompany it, the Internet makes fan interaction borderless and instantaneous. However, for Lasfar, there are boons to experiencing fandom in Canada.

“Being Canadian…you can really feel like you can be whatever mishmash of things that you want to be,” she says. “There’s no reason why I can’t be Muslim and also really enjoy this particular thing.”

 

Originally appeared in "TANDEM," a magazine featuring discussions with Canadian millenials about religion. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ylvis" fan art. (Art by janechangdoodle)

Ylvis" fan art. (Art by janechangdoodle)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Golden Trio, "Harry Potter" fan art. (Photo by Loquacious Literature)

Golden Trio, "Harry Potter" fan art. (Photo by Loquacious Literature)