Over the past couple of years, a type of YouTube video essay exploring fandoms has become popular. Take, for example, Izzzyzzz’s insight into the history of Neopets controversies. Maybe you remember the virtual pet site or spent hours there when you were a kid. You may not yet be aware of some of the weird activities on the site Izzy digs into, like the black market for rare Neopet designs, her multiple giant data breaches, or her ties to the Church of Scientology. .
Izzy is one of many YouTube, TikTok, and Tumblr creators who combined nostalgia and education to explore the history of the web and fandoms of the 2010s. Through these videos, creators re-embraced the concept of cringe and encouraged viewers not to be ashamed of their fandom, past or present.
“I collect fandom and internet stories,” Izzy said. In a series of viral YouTube videos, they chronicled moments like crossover fandom Rise of the Brave Tangled Dragons or the history of internet chain letters and copypastas.
With 420,000 subscribers and many videos surpassing one million views, Izzy is sharing these stories with a large, curious audience. These can be topics that viewers have never heard of before, giving them something new to learn about the history of the internet. Or the videos can address situations the creators were once involved in, allowing them to share how their experiences fit into the bigger picture. A number of these creators grew up online, spending time on sites like Tumblr in the early to mid-2010s. And they tap into that vast knowledge base to make their videos.
“[That] was such a unique and specific time,” said Sarah Z, a YouTube creator who applies her background in sociology to exploring fandoms as subcultures. (Izzy and Sarah prefer to use only their first names online for privacy reasons.) Sarah, with the help of their co-writer Emily Bray, also makes videos about fandom history and media criticism that regularly exceed 1 million views. Their most popular video, A History of the Onceler Phenomenon, describes how an obscure character from the children’s film The Lorax became very popular on Tumblr. They’re also using it as a springboard to explore which characters are getting more widespread fandom attention, and why that might be the case.
While Tumblr still has a thriving, albeit smaller, user base for 2010s teens, it was an absolute haven for community and fandom. And many of them come back to appreciate the spaces they inhabited earlier in their lives online by watching these videos. Sarah describes the comment sections on their most nostalgic videos as similar to a high school reunion.
“No matter where someone is in life, we all came together for this weird time in internet history, and we can all come back to it now and talk about the good and the bad,” they wrote. declared.
It makes sense that accounts like these will also take off on Tumblr itself. Heritage Posts is resurrecting old content that went viral on the site when it was posted. (Similar accounts have popped up for specific fandoms.) Original Heritage Posts have only two rules for the content they will share. First, posts must be prior to 2018; and two, the posts “must be sufficiently cursed/evoke some sort of negative emotion.”
In other words, it should make you cringe. Being embarrassed by your teenage self is common and perhaps natural, but the creators I spoke to are more interested in reclaiming and taking fandoms seriously that others might find goofy. And their videos help others do the same.
“After any time when people are incredibly passionate about any interest, there will be a chill period when people are incredibly embarrassed,” Sarah said. “But over time that all starts to fade, and at a certain point when there’s been enough distance, I think you can largely appreciate that you were having fun and caring about something. . I think we’re starting to approach that point for a lot of really dedicated Tumblr ex-kids.
TikToker Berklie Novak-Stolz actively encourages this in several of his videos – and it seems to work. “There are so many people who constantly tell me that they are less ashamed now,” she said. Novak-Stolz found his audience after TikTok was inundated with Omegaverse content after Muslim fans, starting with a user called omarsbigsister, began exploring what would happen during Ramadan in that universe.
“I had made a video making a joke about explaining the Omegaverse to my mom,” Novak-Stolz recalled. “And then someone said, ‘Well, can you explain it? And I was like, ‘Yeah, no problem.'” She had a joke in her bio: “Ask me about the time I faked my death on fanfiction.net.” did, and the story exploded, kicking his account into the algorithms of nostalgic fandom and curious fandom.
These deep dives into 2010s internet culture are helping adults who once thought they’d grown old out of fandom to re-embrace fanfiction, community discussions, and generally being excited about their favorite characters. “Just [rediscovering] simple joys and realizing that they don’t have to feel guilty,” Novak-Stolz said. The change may have been spurred by the pandemic as many people spent more time online, perhaps returning to nostalgic memories for comfort. Fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own saw big spikes in traffic in 2020, for example.
At the same time, many people are getting into fandom for the first time. This is partly because fandom is more widely spoken outside of dedicated online platforms. Over the past 15 years or so it has gone from something of a secret to something that is talked about in the media and by celebrities. For example, award-winning director Chloe Zhao publicly saying that she reads and writes fanfiction is something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
But this expansion means there are potential new members of the fandom out there looking for tips and lessons on exactly how it all works. “There are certain expectations [in fandom]said Novak-Stolz. We have our own way of talking to each other, a sociolect. She often explains fanfiction tags found on Archive of Our Own, which can be obscure inside jokes that are important to know. “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat,” for example, is a warning that a fic may include something a reader finds in poor taste, and shouldn’t click through just to appease their curiosity. But since it is based on a Development stopped jokingly, its meaning might not be immediately obvious to someone new to fandom.
With its content, Novak-Stolz wants to make it easier to adapt to this subculture, keeping it open to everyone. “It’s honestly a huge honor and privilege for me to know that I can do this for so many people,” she said.
Izzy and Sarah’s YouTube videos strike a balance between explanation for the curious viewer who has never heard of, say, MordeTwi or Mormor, and the broader context of the platform and fandom for the people who recognize the events in question.
“It’s a little difficult sometimes,” Sarah said. “I want to give enough background and context in my videos for people who may not be very familiar with them, while not wanting people who were already there to feel like they’ve been sitting around for 30 minutes. useless. contextualize.”
The public nature of their work has led these creators to engage with each other, while their different perspectives, platforms and pressures mean they don’t always agree. But more than anything, they all take fandom seriously, rather than using it as a way to put on a fan show. They use fandom dives to discuss broader topics, like digging into the Sherlock fandom to talk queerbaiting, and unpacking “how fan theories can become popular, [and] how certain personalities can become the defining voices of the canon,” Sarah said.
Sarah focuses on the events they had a personal connection to, which sheds some light on exactly why fans were so excited. That’s how they approached a video at DashCon, the famously disastrous Tumblr convention of 2014. Sarah’s experience as a “bullied teenage girl who came to [Tumblr] because they felt they were with like-minded people” gave them insight into why the teens involved were so excited to have a real space to express themselves.
Izzy also foregrounds their understanding of what it’s like to be a teenager online. “I try to approach it from a point of view, it’s cringe, but I was as much if not more cringe as a kid,” they said. “And I also laughed at the squeaky stuff I did as a kid. So I hope there is an understanding that this is coming from a place of love.
The internet history of the 2010s, especially Tumblr and fandom in general, is a space where nostalgia and modern sociological interest collide. New fans learn to navigate fandom, while older ones understand their place in larger systems of online platforms and media production. And for those 20-year-olds who once shivered thinking about their fandom teenage years, embracing that grimace and inviting others to do the same can be healing.
“Fandom has always been the place where people who don’t fit in elsewhere for whatever reason come to fit in with a group of like-minded people and bond over their shared enjoyment of any media “said Novak-Stolz. “When I talk about things I want to make sure we can laugh about it, but I never want anyone to feel ashamed.”