What’s in a (Fandom) Name?

Posted: June 23, 2015 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , ,
Anna Bulbrook of the unusually-named The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

Anna Bulbrook of the unusually-named The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Ryan Macchione.

By Yules

In today’s world, there is nothing so actively sought out as a sense of self-identity. Especially amongst the youth, there is a desperate drive to know oneself, to feel accepted or to defy society through self-identification, and to be one of a group, alliance, or team. There is an insatiable hunger for knowledge, for a name, for fellow tribe-members, even and more so in today’s media-savvy, fast-moving world.

“He who knows himself is enlightened,” said ancient philosopher Lao Tzu. As humans, we demand an identity, as both individuals and members of groups, of self-proclaimed families. Our faiths, genders, sexualities, even personality types – and I’m not even going to start on the number of star-sign posts on Tumblr – all demand to be known and to be named. Surely, there ought to be – must be! – a word, a term, a neologism, for every aspect of ourselves.

A friend of mine is an avid Sherlockian, a Whovian, a Potterhead, and a fan of just about every fantasy series (bar Twilight and any of that dark romance stuff) out there. Another friend fangirls avidly over YouTube celebrities. A third blogs about bands, and loves every one of her musical fan-families.

Music fandoms are no stranger to names, it seems. Take some popular artists today and you’ll find that they have names a plenty – Directioners, Swifties, Lovatics… (Of course, there are many more – those are just the first few I thought of.) Names have often become a symbol of one’s pride and identity even here and now.

Which brings me to the question – what do you call a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event?

I’ve heard a few terms thrown around. ‘TATE fans’ is there, just plain and simple. A fair few female fans are proud of their ‘mermaid’ status – a strong contender for a name, as much as it seems to be a more feminine title. I even recall making a joke about being a ‘virgin bride’ (as a silly play on ‘Airborne virgin,’ a title I gained and lost) just before my first show.

Asking around led me to discover another name, ‘Los Toxicos,’ supposedly used by some long-time fans of the band – but it’s a little known, rarely used title. ‘Drones’ was another alternative, derived from “Missy” but this, again, hasn’t caught on.

Apart from that – and I can’t say for sure, since I’ve only been a fan for a relatively short time – it doesn’t seem like the community has a fan name.

…A further question – do we need one?

Yes, a name is a symbol of identity. It’s a sign that you exist, that you are not a ‘reject’, that others accept that and agree that there must be a word. New words and terms emerge all the time, aided by all forms of the media. ‘Selfie’ was added to dictionaries in 2013. ‘Blog’ appeared in the 1990s. Technology spurs us onwards, as does popular culture. The world changes, words change; we stopped speaking like Shakespeare hundreds of years ago.

However, that’s not to say that it’s impossible to live without one. Take words like ‘schaudenfreude,’ ‘paparazzi,’ a phrase like ‘a certain je ne sais quoi.’ Supposedly there is no perfect translation for the Russian word ‘toska’ which adequately expresses its blend of misery, melancholy and longing. Here we have evidence that English does not always have the right words.

There is also the danger that a name can too easily become a label, a limit. For some, once they have chosen the most fitting label, there is a pressure to behave in the way specified by that label, even if it means repressing the part of them that goes against the label. Maybe that ‘goth’ wants to wear pink frilly dresses sometimes. Maybe someone decides to identify as strictly one sexuality or gender or any other type of identity, but finds themselves leaning in unexpected ways.

There is that downside of supposedly being a ‘nothing,’ an unidentified thing, should you refuse a label. For some, that is the opposite of what they most desire – to not be alone. But sometimes, being unlabelled can be exactly what people seek – to be liberated.

After my first show, I remember being told, “You’re one of us now.” At that moment, I didn’t care that I had no name for this side of myself. It was the last thing on my mind, if it was even there at all.

There’s no shame in being nameless. Maybe we don’t need a name; much like the idea of being ‘nameless in the arms’ of creation, there’s some kind of significance about being having no name. Sure, for convenience purposes, we stick to being TATE fans, Airborne fans, whatever you may call us… but perhaps the anonymity is part of that identity we have. It’s what makes us different from some and similar to to others and unique in our own way.

If having no fandom name is part of our identity as fans, it could be linked to the band’s own relationship with its name.

The name is also kind of a big middle finger to the idea of names. Like, who cares what your name is? Lets call ourselves this odd thing. Mikel

I like the idea of our name. Id like our band to be like that — an event… Just this thing, this event, that happens, and what it means isnt entirely clear at first. Something that intrigues you and grows in meaning the more you think about it. Steven

Two quotes, two aspects, two points.

First, if the name itself is a kind of rebellion against the idea of names, then why fuss over a name at all?

And secondly, we all develop our own thoughts about the band’s unusual title, about its image, its symbol: the bleeding bird. To me, it flies on despite the shock and the pain and the risk of a fall. To others, it’s something else altogether. Similarly, we all develop our thoughts and ideas in our own ways. What looks like X to one person is Y to another. It’s an event indeed – one that we are affected by in different ways, and much like historians analysing the past or political thinkers examining the present, we all come to different conclusions.

In our case, it’s possible that not having a strictly defined fandom name helps. We are united by our enthusiasm and yet remain individuals. We’re a flock of a thousand different kinds of birds, all colours, all sizes. Some bleeding. Some bandaged. Some healing, some healed, some never wounded. Some barely fledged, others flying for many long years.

We call ourselves whatever we want to be. We’re fans of a band, and we are many other things too. We’re ‘everything’ and ‘something’ and ‘a little bit’ and whatever those things, whatever our identities mean.

Whether we have a name or not, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t change us as people.

In the end, it’s just a name.

(And honestly, what’s in a name?)

  1. Tim de Monkey says:

    Nice thoughtful piece, Yules.

    Paper cutting, sushi, writing…where do your talents end? 🙂


  2. Kelli P. says:

    Beautifully written Yules!


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