There are very few parts of fandom that I am reluctant to talk about but the BNF (Big Name Fan) is not something I’m particularly excited to discuss. I probably would have avoided the topic if it weren’t for the number of questions I’ve received about it (from both inside and outside fandom). Despite my misgivings I’ll do my best to explain this phenomenon just for you lonely reader… don’t ever say I don’t do things for you.
To be honest I’m not entirely sure where to start with this topic. The simple answer is probably the best. A BNF is something that is famous within fandom for being a fan. The definition of a Big Name Fan according to fanlore: “a well-known fan, either in an individual fandom or in the fannish community as a whole.” So yeah basically it does what it says on the box.
People rise through the ranks of fandom for a variety of different reasons but whether you like them or not BNFs are usually pretty legitimate. A BNF could be a fantastic artist or they might have written a popular fic or maybe they just contribute intelligent and interesting meta to the conversation. Sometimes they reach the title of BNF for being incredibly motivated and always being the one to organise fan activities.
For whatever reasons, legitimate or not, these fans are well known within a particular fandom. People seek out their opinion and their thoughts tend to be given more clout than those of those of lesser-known fans. Sometimes BNFs can be demonised and that sucks because in generally they are just fans like everyone else but unfortunately it’s just a side effect of notoriety.
Of course there are those that let the power go to their heads – people have been known to take their status as BNF and use to build a cult like fandom. There are even those that manufacture their popularity. Most of us that have been part of fandom for sometime have seen at least one so-called BNF turn to the dark side. Well with great power comes great responsibility and not everyone has the morals to handle any kind of fame – even if it is just within a small subculture.
Generally the title of BNF is not one that people actively seek (Nobody Ever Admits They’re a BNF). It just happens when a subset of the fandom decides that someone is worthy of recognition and then said person is thrust into the spotlight and expected to deal with both the positive and negative aspects of this position. In reality the only difference between BNFs and everyone else is that more people listen to the BNFs. Yes they are talented, but fandom is full of incredibly talented and intelligent people and I can guarantee you that for every popular fic or artwork there are a bunch of other lesser-known works that are just as good.
It’s not that I hate BNFs - I have nothing against them because they are generally just really good at fandom and that’s not really something I can fault. It’s the culture I have an issue with. Like I said it’s not the individual that lifts themselves about the others – it’s the masses and I honestly don’t understand why fandom feels the need to give certain fans more clout than others.
It’s not really fair to the individual or the group. Not only are the opinions of BNFs considered better than others, which can result in interesting ideas that stem from other sources being ignored but also the BNFs are often excluded from the fandom that they once loved just because a bunch of other people decided they were different.
It’s totally cool to respect someone’s opinion more than others because there are always going to be some people you agree with more than others. It’s fine to ask this person their thoughts on something you are interested in. It’s cool to love someone’s fanwork (art or fic). It’s also okay to like the same artists or fan fic writers as everyone else. They are usually popular for a reason. Go ahead get excited when your fav author writes a new fic or a great artist posts something new just don’t by into the mythology that BNFs are somehow essentially better than others.
There is an assumption that BNFs know something you don’t know. That they are privy to secrets that no one else is allowed to know but I can tell you that’s bullshit. The only way they could possibly know something you don’t know is if they are part of – or around – the creative process (and that doesn’t count because they can’t legally tell us anything we are not allowed to know). BNFs do tend to have good connections and a vast network of informers but that’s usually the result of hard work (logistically the longer you have been a fan the more likely you are to have the right connections).
I am, of course, ignoring the other nuances that create the Big Name Fan because it’s naïve to think it’s purely the result of hard work and talent. They have to be blessed with a certain amount of charisma and they usually have to have the right friends. Truth is, people that are friends with BNFs are more likely to become BNFs themselves. BNFs have usually been fans since the beginning because fandom still holds onto the ridiculous idea that the longer you have liked something the more of a fan you are. I’m not saying any of these things are bad – I am just pointing out that they are contributing factors in the creation of BNFs.
Right so BNFs are a thing but only if you let them be. You shouldn’t worship at the alter of anyone – not even our illustrious creators or the wonderful actors that bring our favourite characters to life – but especially not fellow fans. You can show your support for people that you like or that you think are talented, just don’t hate them because they are more popular than you and don’t idolise them either. They’re just fans after all.
I hope that answers your question lonely reader because I really don’t want to have to revisit this topic. If you need further clarification then hit me up in the comments or here.
You can’t read more fangirl lessons here. Next time I’ll be talking about fandom and entitlement.