Fans were as influential in 2023 as the things they loved

Fandom might be something people participate in during their spare time, maybe in the privacy of online communities or convention halls, but it undoubtedly has an impact on the wider world. In the past few years, the types of strategies deployed by politicians and those leading social movements have increasingly started to look like those used in fandom. This is particularly true of tactics pioneered within the digital and physical fan spaces in order to increase visibility and impact. All the while, fandom itself is continuing to change and evolve.

Powered by passion, fans make things happen. Sometimes those accomplishments are only important within each individual fandom — producing a zine, making a character or celebrity trend, starting a new meme. But other times they reach further than expected, outside fan spaces, and make things really move.

Taking a look at the accomplishments of fandom communities this year is a good way to get a bird’s-eye view of what exactly fandom is, at a time when more people engage in fandom than ever. In 2023, fans showed up and made their voices heard. They launched projects, saved shows, supported strikes, and even rescued historical figures from obscurity. Here are just a few of fandom’s most impressive accomplishments from this year.

Fans on strike

When the Writers Guild of America announced that its members would be going on strike in May of this year, fans took the news in stride. Of course, it was disappointing to hear that production on many fan-favorite shows, like Stranger Things, would be pausing thanks to the strike action. But it was more important that fans supported the actions of the WGA, and later SAG-AFTRA, which were necessary for writers and actors to earn protections and fair wages in their industry.

Though some troll posts led people to believe that fans were against the strike, that couldn’t have been more untrue. It was precisely the opposite: Fans worked hard to spread information about how best to support the striking writers and actors. Independent, fan-run blogs like sagwgastrikeupdates and fans4wga consistently communicated the latest news on the strikes and answered questions about how best to avoid crossing the picket line with fan activity.

And while some fans were sad that shows that came out during the strike, like fan favorites Good Omens and Our Flag Means Death, never got traditional actor- and writer-centric press tours that fans could obsess over alongside the new episodes, fans put their feelings aside in support of fairness. OFMD fans showed up in person to picket lines and were rewarded, when the strike ended, with a deluge of behind-the-scenes content that stars like Vico Ortiz and Leslie Jones shared on TikTok.

A plaque for Hester Leggatt

West End comedy musical Operation Mincemeat has fostered a fandom of Mincefluencers ever since its off-West End days at Riverside Studios. It’s an oddball show, which, much like the Broadway hit Six, was written and developed by a company of Fringe Festival stalwarts. And like Six it was also inspired by real history. Like the Colin Firth film of the same name (which it otherwise shares no connection with) Operation Mincemeat was inspired by real events during World War II, when a group of MI5 operatives successfully diverted the Nazis by planting false information on a corpse.

The musical’s main characters are based on real historical figures, including Hester Leggatt, a secretary at MI5. She contributed to the wartime operation by helping create the false identity of the corpse, writing love letters to “Bill Martin” that were planted on the body. In the musical this work is immortalized in the tearjerker song “Dear Bill.” In the song “Useful,” Hester thinks that instead of a statue she might like to be recognized by “just a small plaque / Something tasteful and small.”

Unlike the male protagonists of the story, about whom biographical details abound, little was known about the real Hester Leggatt — just enough to create her character in the musical. But fans went much, much further, digging up biographical records at the National Archives and London’s Imperial War Museum in order to illuminate details of Leggatt’s life. Fans found census records, exam results, and handwriting samples that matched the real letter to “Bill.”

Finally, their research culminated in a letter from MI5 confirming Legatt’s employment, which had been classified information up until then. A plaque honoring Leggatt is set to be unveiled outside the Fortune Theater, where Operation Mincemeat is playing, on Dec. 11. Hester Leggatt is finally getting the recognition she long deserved, thanks to fans’ hard work uncovering her story.

Save the sapphic show

Fan campaigns aren’t new, but their persistence year after year is a demonstration not only of fans’ ability to self-organize and persevere, but the continued divergence of studios, networks, and streaming platform priorities from the desires of passionate fan communities. In 2023, the shows that fans rallied behind included animated show Star Trek: Prodigy and the CW’s Supernatural prequel The Winchesters. But the most notable fan campaigns have been behind the canceled shows A League of Their Own and Warrior Nun.

Passionate fans hungry for queer representation have helped rescue shows like Sense8; fans have also banded together to campaign for The 100 to change certain plotlines. A League of Their Own was renewed only to be un-renewed by Amazon in August of this year, and fans immediately started organizing, seeing that it was worth the effort to push back against this cavalier treatment. Fan campaigners behind accounts like @ALOTOHomeRun have kept the show trending, hoping for a second season that will continue to explore the queer and Black characters that made the show a powerful adaptation of the original 1992 film. They have kept the show trending on X (formerly Twitter), and in return the showrunners have promised that they’re still trying to find a way forward for the show.

Fans’ impressive show of support for Warrior Nun began late last year, when Netflix confirmed the beloved drama about an ass-kicking nun (played by Alba Baptista) would not return for a third season. After creating a Discord server called Sapphics in Pain, the fans began to organize — and didn’t stop. Well into 2023, they were spending hours of volunteer labor on professional-level analytics research papers and strategic analysis, aiming to prove conclusively to network stakeholders that their beloved show was well worth picking up for a new season. Their hard work was rewarded when executive producer Dean English announced the series would return as a trilogy of feature films — though, because of the lack of involvement of the original series’ writers, it’s a cautious victory for the hardworking fans.

Swifties united

A picture of a popcorn bucket at the “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” movie premier. Photo: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

Thanks to the kickoff of the ubiquitous Eras Tour, and the steady (re)releases of Taylor’s Version albums, Swifties consolidated their power and emerged as an unshakeable and unstoppable bloc in 2023. Swifties are behind trends like trading friendship bracelets and wearing glittery boots, but there’s more to it than aesthetics — the huge community of Taylor Swift’s die-hard fans have also used their influence to attempt to create visible change and move the needle on issues that are important to them.

In early November, Swifties in Argentina spoke out against the right-wing political candidate Javier Milei, forming a group called “Swifties Against Freedom Advances” to try and convince other fans not to vote for him. However, in the end it wasn’t enough to move the needle, and he ended up winning.

Other Swifty fan efforts in South America are ongoing. A fan, Ana Clara Benevides Machado, died at one of Swift’s Brazilian shows during an extreme heat wave. Fan outcry after this event was widespread, but American-language media was slow to report on the incident beyond Swift’s initial statement about the tragedy. Fans rose to the occasion in order to translate Brazilian news stories regarding the timeline of events and venue issues, and even raised money for the family of the fan who passed. This culminated in Swift paying for the family to come from their rural home to see her concert, where they posed for a picture with her wearing shirts with Ana’s face on them.