40,000 Stars in the Evening

  • An article about what “fandom” means today, and my brief reflections on science fiction fandom;
  • Fringe items about blaming the devil, why only Christians should hold political offices, book banning, what Trump’s “best people” have said about him, and an incoherent speech that Trump’s fans applauded;
  • R.E.M.’s “Texarkana.”

I said I would downplay political and religious items on my daily posts, but this item today is as much about culture as politics per se, and it seems to relate (I haven’t read it yet) to an idea of the kind of ‘fandom’ that has always been part of the science fiction community. I’ll discuss that more depending on what this article says…

Vox, Aja Romano, 18 Jan 2024: If you want to understand modern politics, you have to understand modern fandom, subtitled “You don’t just vote for Trump. You stan him.”

Which causes me to immediately wonder: does this mean “modern fandom” is just another set of tribes? Communities connected via modern social media, rather than physical communities living in proximity to one another? Let’s start reading. It’s about six screens long.

It’s a common observation that modern-day politics increasingly resembles fandom: Both feature communities created around and united by passion, and both are often heavily fixated on a single public figure. Many pundits are now calling right-wing voters “the Trump fandom,” as though there’s little difference between a Trumpist who flocks to a political rally and a member of the Beyhive snapping up seats to Coachella.

Drawing general parallels between the two movements can seem easy, even simplistic, but when we look closer, what we find are mutually thorny, mutually complex ideological ecosystems with telling overlap. In both subcultures, the rise of social media echo chambers has fomented toxicity, extremism, and delusional thinking. For instance, you may not think there’s any link between QAnon and the belief that this Chinese actor is a hologram, but they both arise from the same basic problems: disinformation and zealotry serving to distort and fracture our shared sense of reality, all in the name of what devotees believe to be a higher cause.

So no, I don’t think this resembles SF “fandom.”

Fandom and politics both depend on big shared narratives

Passionate enthusiasts have existed throughout human history, but fans who identify as “part of fandom” move within larger communities of other actively engaged fans. The word “fan” came into popular use in the late 1880s, with “fandom” surfacing around 1903. The concept flourished in niche geek and sports communities throughout the 20th century, and finally found its way into the mainstream in the aughts and ’10s thanks to the rise of the internet.

SF fandom would be one of those “niche geek” communities that arose in the 20th century. The meaning of the word “fandom” has evolved. The article explores this vein a bit, then veers into what fandom means in the 21st century.

That communal narrative is crucial connective tissue between politics and fandom; it unites people around not just a shared sense of identity, but a shared story and the idea that they’re building that story together. These narratives aren’t just entertainment. To their proponents, they have a higher moral purpose, whether it’s “draining the swamp,” rooting for your favorite characters in a series to get together, or freeing Taylor Swift from the oppression of the closet. Big fandom narratives often segue into big political ones:…

And so on. The article explains the derivation of the word “stan,” from an Eminem song about “a stalker fan whose obsession goes too far.” This was enabled by social media. Then about how “emotions shape how we view reality” and how grand narratives emerge.

Our emotions increasingly shape how we view reality and what we’re willing to do to preserve that view

Applying the concept of a shared narrative to political activism imbues that activism with all the heady intoxication of a fantasy role-playing game, whether it’s a fantasy of progress or a fantasy of extremism. In his recently republished 2007 book Dream: Reimagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy (now retitled Dream or Nightmare), author Stephen Duncombe observed that Trump won the 2016 election not based on facts — he lied often — but upon his ability to create fantasy masked as truth. “Facts, it seems, are not things that are verifiably true or false, merely components in a story,” Duncombe notes. “Over the past decade, right-wing populists from Israel to India, all throughout Europe and the UK, have been inventing facts to fill in fantasies of national greatness, and imminent destruction, in their rise to power.”

“We understand our world less through reasoned deliberation of facts, and more through stories and symbols and metaphors” says one commentator. The article goes on; its themes are familiar, just told in different terms.


The idea of “fandom” in science fiction was nothing like the cultish modern fandoms that venerate the likes of Donald Trump — or Taylor Swift. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia has this entry about fandom, which I’m not reading just now. Instead I’ll sketch very briefly my own understanding. Science fiction, as a genre, began in cheap magazines published in the 1930s. At that time, there were many newsstands in every town and city that sold these and many other magazines, and newspapers. (These are virtually nonexistent now; close are the magazine racks in Barnes & Noble.) Readers of the SF magazines would write letters back, and the magazines would publish those letters. Some of these readers eventually contacted each other and organized and gathered in hotels in New York City or Philadelphia for “conventions,” held over a weekend These events grew in size over the years. The one calling itself the “World Science Fiction Convention,” moving around from city to city each year, established the Hugo Awards in the 1950s. Other conventions began locally in other cities, again usually meeting annually. The entirety of the fans who attended these conventions, who wrote letters to the professional magazines (pro-zines) or who published their own cheap mimeographed magazines (fanzines) in runs of a few hundred copies, amounted to SF fandom. As readership of SF has grown over the decades, and conventions have multiplied, fandom has splintered into many groups, with many conventions devoted to subtopics, and no one able to keep track of it all. (There was a time in the 1950s, maybe the 1960s, when a devoted fan could read every new SF book published. It hasn’t been true since then, any more than one TV or movie fan, these days, can watch all the TV shows or movies released each year.)

When I discovered science fiction in the late 1960s, as a teenager, I didn’t have the wherewithal to attend conventions, until they were very close to me: a Star Trek convention at LAX in the ’70s, a Worldcon in 1984 in Anaheim. I’m not naturally a sociable person, and never figured out how to “hang out” with fellow fans. It wasn’t until I began writing for Locus, in the late 1980s, that I felt I had license to attend the big conventions and actually meet writers I admired — rather than hanging out with other “fans” — because they’d read my reviews of their works that I’d reviewed positively. And so on. I’ll write more about my personal history with SF fandom another time. My point is — political fandom in the 21st century seems to have become something like a cult, something SF fandom has never been.


Today’s fringe items.

OnlySky, Adam Lee, 16 Jan 2024: Blaming the Devil is a lazy excuse

When you denounce your enemies as allies of the Devil, it excuses you from the necessity of treating them as human beings with rights. That murderous logic has been used by Christians against Jews through the centuries, and now it’s arising to justify Israel’s war on Gaza.

Everyone thinks God is on their side, and their enemies are surely inspired by the Devil. The smart ones figure this out. Non-theism 101.


Joe.My.God, 18 Jan 2024: Oregon GOP State Rep Declares That “Godless” Atheists And Muslims Should Not Hold Elected Office [VIDEO]

Only people of his own religion can be trusted.


LGBTQNation, 18 Jan 2024: Bill O’Reilly is outraged that the book ban law he supports caused his own books to be banned, subtitled “I can’t look up the definition of ‘ironic,’ because Florida banned dictionaries.”


NY Times, Sarah Longwell, 18 Jan 2024: What 17 of Trump’s ‘Best People’ Said About Him

Long interactive post. Either Trump is an extremely bad judgment of character, or he’s just an extremely bad person.


Boing Boing, Jason Weisberger, 18 Jan 2024: Trump’s appearance is a meandering stream of incoherence; the crowd cheers

With video. Watch for yourself. Why does anyone admire this guy?


Today’s R.E.M. song, from their album OUT OF TIME, which includes what is surely one of their best/most famous songs — “Losing My Religion”, which perhaps I will explore another time. But this is the other great song on this album that I’ve rediscovered, in all the years since I listened to these albums regularly.

An upbeat song about ambitions and the expectations of failure. No one can do it all. We depend on others.

Twenty-thousand miles to an oasis
Twenty-thousand years will I burn
Twenty-thousand chances I’ve wasted
Waiting for the moment to turn

I would give my life to find it
I would give it all
Catch me if I fall

Walking through the woods, I have faced it
Looking for something to learn
30,000 thoughts have been wasted
Never in my time to return

40, 000 stars in the evening
Look at them fall from the sky
40, 000 reasons for living
40, 000 tears in your eyes

I would give my life to find it
I would give it all
Catch me if I fall
Catch me if I fall, catch me if I fall …

(Some of these lyrics’ sites are inaccurate; some say 40,000 in that middle verse.)

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