The Fannibal Phenomenon

In 2005, I was one of the last of my peers to get a home computer and Internet. As a result, I was probably also the last person to learn about fandoms. Despite the delay, I like to think I received a solid education on the topic because the first (and actually the only) realm I entered was the Harry Potter fandom. At that time, fandoms didn’t have cutesy names like everything is prone to have now. This business of mashing up two words together is a recent trend, and one that I sometimes wish would fade away. No, it was just called “being a Harry Potter fan,” and I was hooked.

I have no memory of how I got there, but one day I found myself in a mystical land called Mugglenet. Here was this world of people just as obsessed with something as I was. They even spent their spare time trying to convince other people to feel what they felt. It was heaven. When the last book came out, and finally the last movie, it was as though a piece of me had been ripped out and thrown away. I had loved Harry Potter for ten years and now it was over. In a figurative sense, I essentially shut off the computer and walked away. I never joined another fandom. Maybe I didn’t feel drawn to any one world enough to want to share it with others, or maybe I didn’t have time once I started college, but the experience felt closed to me after that.

Since then, fandoms have become a new beast. It used to be a large group of passionate people who, despite the occasional heated argument, always held a modicum of respect for everyone. For the most part, it was friendly place. In present day, some fandoms are so intense I can barely tell the difference between fans and gangs. Many of them, and particularly the large and very popular fandoms, are extreme in their loyalty and willingness to defend their interests, sometimes against their own peers. That’s why, when I wandered into the Hannibal fandom six months ago, I was so pleasantly surprised.

When Hannibal premiered on NBC in 2013, I almost peed myself in my excitement to watch the first episode, but I still can’t quite recall why. I was only a casual fan of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, having appreciated the performance as an astounding example of acting. I had never read the Thomas Harris novels, nor had I ever seen any other film interpretation of the character outside of Hopkins.

Nonetheless, I devoured season one with a devotion I hadn’t felt since I was 15. By the time season two started, I was so in love with the haunting beauty of the show that I felt driven, after so many years in solitude, to share my adoration in a community. I found myself reactivating my rusty twitter account and warily searching the Hannibal hashtag for fellow devotees. I certainly did not have to look for long.

Now, I hadn’t been involved in a fandom for years but it was because I was willfully removed, not ignorant. I’d heard stories of bullies, irrationally abusive fights and other terrifying behaviors. I prepared myself for the craziest people I could imagine, you know, given that it was a fandom devoted to a cannibal. What I did not expect to find were the human equivalents of puppies: exuberant, hilarious, and welcoming. I tiptoed around everyone for about five seconds before I was swept up into the tide of conversation. Everyone seemed like they’d been friends for years and I briefly worried I would feel like an outsider. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Sure, there were apparent cliques and inside jokes. What was unique, though, was the willingness of all these fans to include me without making me feel like “the new girl.” It was the Internet’s version of a giant group hug, really.

The more time I spent getting to know everyone on twitter, the more I realized that this fandom of “Fannibals” was truly exceptional. I wasn’t experiencing an isolated moment in time, and the people weren’t a minority group misrepresenting the whole. These individuals were genuinely kind and open. Everyone I came across appreciated the artistic value that Hannibal offered and wanted to share that appreciation, whether other fans agreed with a specific interpretation or not. And the Fannibals weren’t just kind; they were also creative, many of them artists themselves. The stunning fan art was endless, each piece more breathtaking and inventive than the last. More remarkable was that the geniuses making Hannibal were just as friendly and accessible as the fans. Producers, writers, and even a few actors were interacting with us and unwisely encouraging our raging imaginations.

During the fight to get Hannibal renewed for season three, a group of Fannibals designed and executed a Twitter campaign to trend #RenewHannibal. Without the aid of a network, a producer, or a production company, hundreds of Fannibals across the world spent two hours simultaneously pleading with NBC to have mercy and renew the show. It was assumed during the planning process that we would focus our tweets on reasons the show deserved to be renewed: stellar writing, incredible design, off the charts special effects, groundbreaking attention to the psychological journey of viewers and characters alike. But within minutes of the campaign start, it became apparent that we were all going to spend the next two hours sobbing about how much the show meant to us.

Instead of logically presenting arguments to NBC, Fannibals began spilling their guts (figuratively) about the bonds that they’ve formed together because of the show. For many of us, Hannibal was not only an artistic masterpiece, but also the vehicle that brought us meaningful friendships. As we blistered our tweeting thumbs during the campaign, messages rapidly changed from pleas of renewal to declarations of love and appreciation. We weren’t tweeting to keep a show on the air. We were crying out to the network to see that a television show about loss and murder and identity had brought people together. We were a family now. And as the final minutes of our planned campaign came to a close, there came the confirmation: #RenewHannibal was a United States trend. buy prednisone canada Fans did that.

Twitter Fannibals have formed a bond that is unique because it is kind. And while that’s a sobering thought, it comforts me to know that kindness does still exist. We have spilled across the borders of our Hannibal obsession and come to know and care for each other in the context of life in general. Only a handful of our number has met in “real life” and yet these online friendships dominate our time more than many of our face-to-face relationships. They fill the hours of each day with hysterical laughter and absurdities, with inside jokes and shared fixations. Now that we are on HeAteUs again, waiting out the agonizing months until season three airs, we’ve begun to branch off into other interests. We are learning about other things we have in common and discussing new territories we can explore. Hannibal brought us together and now that the show is temporarily gone, it is harder to remain in touch. But if my experiences with the Fannibals have taught me anything, it is that you can never underestimate the power and allure of people obsessed with a cannibal. Our family will never die.

 

this article was written by former Staffer Taylor Walker

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