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Lithium The irreverence of the fancam

Jan. 18, 2021
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Scrolling through Twitter on any given day, one can encounter the delightful internet creation that is the fancam: video clips of celebrities mashed together with a sparkly filter and a Megan Thee Stallion song, a rapid succession of celebrity images, one-second scenes from films edited in whatever order the creator desires. Originating from K-pop culture, the subject of these viral videos has widened from K-pop idols to nearly everything and everyone. Some more strange and viral fancam subjects include Kim Jong-un’s sister (when everyone thought she might replace the dictator), Chris Cuomo (during election coverage), and the state of Georgia (also during election coverage). These fancams seem to be made with more irony than sincerity, as comments indicate more amusement in the creation of a fancam for such subjects rather than the fancam itself.

Most common outside of the K-pop sphere is the celebrity or TV/film character fancam. These are more closely associated with the type of idolization that is central to fandom. Many tweets read “stan [name of celebrity]” followed by a fancam of the celebrity, aiming to (in sometimes competitive ways) promote the celebrity they stan. The fancam has so thoroughly saturated fandom culture on Twitter that nearly every video on the site is a fancam, rather than the edits, film scenes, or viral interview clips that prevailed in a pre-fancam world. Search any celebrity name on Twitter, and without fail, a fancam should pop up.

Internet audiences often enjoy the most outrageous subjects—from the smallest detail to the least important character. Fans of HBO’s Succession have particularly pushed television fancams to another level, with videos for nearly every character, including background characters like intern Jess. The niche subjects of these fancams allow a wider, shared enjoyment of a niche and, once again, play with the humor of making a video for such a specific and unlikely subject.

While the fancam pays homage to and is made in worship of something, it also has little reverence for the original source. I came across a fancam of Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk in A Woman Under the Influence, and found none of the themes of the film or Rowlands’s distressed acting in it. Rather, it was a collection of mostly happy clips, worlds away from the frenetic shouting in the original film. Although the fancam was made out of love for the film, I wondered how director John Cassavetes, father of American indie films, would feel about his work being deconstructed and reconstructed—and rendered essentially meaningless—in such a way.

On the other hand, as meaningless as they seem, fancams can mean a lot to viewers who love the original work. It might bring back memories or emotions of watching the film, even heightening those emotions with editing and music. More emotional, sincere fancams veer closer to the age-old “edit,” a fan video that also alters the original work. While many edits tend to dramatize and evoke emotions, fancams do the opposite by taking works and altering them in a less reverent way. Nothing is sacred; anything is up for grabs to be edited, filtered, chopped, and set to Cardi B’s “WAP.” Even in their praise of celebrities, fancams tend to be less reverent, using fun effects and music, with no discernible logic behind the curation of the clips and images used. Fancams are often an exaggerated, sometimes even ironic form of worship.

I’ve viewed and enjoyed countless fancams myself, but at the risk of sounding cranky, I sometimes yearn for the days when internet fandom was filled with more meaningful videos, content of actual substance that does more than rely on the memories and sentiments of viewers. Watching a fancam doesn’t give me anything new: it’s a repetition of popular clips and editing trends. Of course, there’s no harm done by them. They are a natural extension of fandom and the internet, and pose no real threat to the original work. Like any other fan creations, they don’t significantly alter or overshadow my perception of the original work. If anything, they prolong the lifetime of the original work by creating viral or niche videos that people can collectively watch and share. I’ve found my memories of certain shows jolted because of fancams that have come across my timeline, or I’ve searched for them after I’ve finished watching something (the Fleabag hot priest and Aubrey Plaza Happiest Season fancams were particularly exciting).

Fancams tap into an essential part of fandom that no other fan creation does so explicitly: it makes being a fan fun. In an age when memes and funny tweets are gold currency and humor is the favorite coping method, fandom has centered itself on creating laughter, and with that laughter, appreciation. Sacrificing the seriousness or the quality of the original work allows the fancam to be malleable to humor. Even the most depressing of films or television could make for a fun, lighthearted fancam, perfect for watching over and over again. What fancams do—honoring the original work and altering it into something more meaningless on the surface—is an essential and consistent part of fan culture. So while it’s not entirely revolutionary, the fancam is an addition to the irreverent worship inherent to fandom, and its form and usage bring that duality to the fore like no other fan creation has.  

Illustration by Damien Jeon