Fandom is a wonderful thing. For many years now, I have been championing one cause very close to my heart: to bring to light what an important role popular culture has in our lives. Not to entertain us, not to tickle our scandal-bone, but to give us something to talk about.
Personally, I gravitate towards what I only half-seriously call 'intelligent' fiction: I have explored the ways in which we use sci-fi as a lens through which to examine ourselves and our society, as well as how fantasy fiction provides us with metaphors for complex current issues. But I'm not a snob; even the trashiest of trash TV has the purpose of giving people a common interest. An interest which transcends traditional social classes and circles of acquaintances; which transcends education levels and financial means. Because let's face it, we've all watched the odd episode of The X-Factor, and we all have opinions about it.
What is fantastic about the internet (okay, one of several things) is that now, even more barriers have been broken down: these geographical. Your scope of interaction is now no longer limited to those physically close to you; you don't have to be alone with a quirky passion or feel left out because you don't subscribe to the status quo, because you can find people just like you online! From all over the world, people gather on message boards and in chat rooms, and many have chosen to select their "new friends" based on what they consider a key passion in life. For some it's a cause, for some it's a political persuasion, but for many, it's a fandom.
My first internet venture was way back in the day, when I set up my first Friends fansite at the age of 12. Back then, communication between fans happened via guest books and by bestowing home-made 'awards' to fellow sites. Bonding over a common interest. Forums would soon follow and I can't count the hours I spent on the Dark Mark Harry Potter forums, making friends while analysing every aspect of my favourite book series of all time. Wasting time, you say? Well, looking back at the timid little Danish girl who hardly spoke English and would otherwise have lost herself in loneliness reading these books in her room alone, I would say absolutely not.
The friends you make based on something you love are more than just acquaintances, too, they are companions who most likely see the world the same way you do (and even if they don't, nothing breaks down a politics discussion like comparing parties to Hogwarts houses), and who don't judge you on physical appearance or popularity. Forming communities that transcend age, social status and physical location are such a beautiful thing, and one of the ways in which the internet has changed the world for the better.
How, then, could the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) bill destroy the fandom utopia? "Curtailing the pirating of U.S. intellectual property abroad" sounds like a good thing, that everyone who loves music, film and TV should all be 100% in favour of.
But here is the injustice: across the world we already share a lot of things completely legally: we share news, sporting events and music, and to some extent movies and literature (at least in the original language. Not everyone teach themselves English by reading Friends fanfiction, after all). But not dramatised television, which because of its weekly schedule and serialized nature is one of the most talked-about subjects online. No, in theory the shared enjoyment of TV series is still geographically restricted, and there is nothing worse than being a fan of a show, but because one "happens" to live in a different country, they must put up with having their viewing experience completely ruined by spoilers if they want to partake in online discussions before the episode in question airs (anywhere from two weeks-two years (or never) later, depending on where you live). Some, like myself, have accepted this fact, but others choose to find alternative ways to keep up with the American (or British) schedule.
Now, I know that each country has its own TV licensing code. I know that everyone needs to make money. But I also know that if the SOPA bill intends to cut off the world from being able to participate in fandom, in the discussions of what they love, legal alternatives need to be presented. I want to clarify that I myself am absolutely opposed to piracy; whoever put money and effort into producing something we consume need to be properly compensated. But then allow us to DO that! Make episodes of television available to purchase online immediately after they have aired in the US or the UK.
Don't shut down these vital links between people across the world, who form international communities irrespective of gender, religion and race around something which they share a love for. Let's use the internet for something good and unite the world, not further marginalize based on border lines.