Wizard World Philly: “Fandom Saves Lives” Highlights the Power of Media

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A community can bring about discussions, debate, humor, ideas, but most importantly, in that togetherness that fandom can bring healing and comfort. As creative individuals, we look to art for inspiration, confidence, encouragement, and connection. Artists create characters we aspire to, from Batman to Optimus Prime. In their struggles, victory, and defeat, we see ourselves and relate their stories to our own. That connection has the potential to save lives. At Wizard World Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to attend a panel, titled “Fandom Saves Lives” for Project Fancare , a special organization created by Dr. Lynn Zubernis, Ph.D.,  and Christine Killmer.

In geek fandom and subcultures, the desire to belong to a community is strong, as are the positive emotional feedbacks to belonging to one. The website you are reading this article on is a geek community. One made up of writers and podcasters who share various interests and enthusiasm across various fandoms. It is a community that embraces its diversity, in both persons and ideas. A community that can discuss the psychological profile of Thanos, The Mad Titan, as well as the necessity for subtitles and accessibility in Spyro The Dragon: The Re-ignited Trilogy.

Project Fancare is a traveling organization that seeks to recognize the power of fandoms, the positive influence of television shows, and their ability to heal audiences through the recognition of struggle and strength.  Killmer and Dr. Zubernis have gone through their own personal struggles but found a form of healing and perseverance through the shows that they watched. For Killmer, these shows, namely Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Supernatural, saved her life during the darkest of moments.

Diagnosed with CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), Killmer found strength through the Buffy episode, ” The Wish” as well as the community of Supernatural, as they used the themes of the show to pursue  a positive difference in real-world issues For the Buffy episode, “The Wish”, the episode demonstrated the perseverance of hope against insurmountable darkness, a theme that resonated with her tremendously.

Dr. Zubernis, is an author and a clinical professional at West Center University in Philadelphia, with over 15 years of clinical experience. She has written articles and profiles of the psychology of fandom and its effects, contributing regularly to media with heir observations. Dr. Zubernis is a huge fan of the show Supernatural, having reviewed every episode on her website, fangasmthebook.com. Additionally, she wrote Family Doesn’t End With Blood, a book that focused on Supernatural, featuring excerpts from lead actors of the show, exploring their characters. But, most importantly, the book candidly describes their own coping with the struggle of anxiety, depression, and other irregularities of mental health.

The panel at Wizard World Philadelphia explained the connections of fandoms and the themes they explore, bringing forth coping and healing. Killmer showcased a clip from “The Wish”, and also mentioned how Steve Rogers helped exemplify the spirit of fighting for what is right, even when getting beaten by a bully, emphasizing the famous words “I can do this all day.” Dr. Zubernis also brought up the significance of connecting to others in fandom. Each person has a different feeling and form of expression to certain shows and their themes. Connecting with others that can share the same interests and fears can be a strong foundation for coping.

One of the strongest features of Project Fancare is that the panelists didn’t just talk but also allowed those in attendance to share their stories, and even stayed behind to talk about how fandom impacted them. Several members talked about how certain shows and mediums helped them cope with trauma, abuse, and other distress. It was a unique panel experience, one that brought to Earth the importance and gravity of communities.

Seeing this encouraged me to bring up my own experiences and how I continue to cope with anxiety and distress. Growing up in a dysfunctional household, I had trouble coping with areas of stress and unease. I’d freak out or have outbursts, and that left me vulnerable to being picked on and teased, with not a whole lot of friends. I’d say things out of anger and outrage. I saw a psychiatrist, but I found the process redundant and wasteful. I’d speak to a professional for an hour, regarding all my feelings and insecurities, and I’d feel like nothing was accomplished.

Some of these issues persisted during high school, though I was much more social. However, despite having gone to a Catholic High School, praying to the Lord every morning, encountering truly terrible people was a daily occurrence for four years. College started out rough, including befriending those who would turn out to be fake. In all these instances, there was a penetrating feeling of worthlessness I coped with on a daily basis. Anger, anxiety, depression were all exacerbated. However, I stayed true to my interests and my artistic talents. It helped me find a small, but passionate community.

I spoke up at the panel, sharing my fondness for the great animated classics like Superman The Animated Series and Kingdom Hearts. The series, animated by the legendary Bruce Timm, featured a classic Superman in a modern setting, with great designs and takes on classic Superman heroes and villains. The show happened to also be the first time I witnessed defeat in a character. During the episode “Apokolips……NOW!”, Superman and the city of Metropolis fight in a desperate struggle to stop Darkseid’s invasion of Planet Earth.

Detective Dan Turpin fights hard alongside Superman to defend the city. Darkseid defeats Superman, parading a bloodied Man of Steel for the city to see. Dan Turpin defies Darkseid vocally, rallying the city to fight, with their bare hands if they have to. Orions’ forces arrive and threaten retaliation if Darkseid continues his invasion. Standing down, Darkseid retreats into the boom tube back to Apokolips, but not before sending Omega Beams and killing Dan Turpin, muttering the words “Every victory has its price.” Unable to pursue, Superman falls into a grieving rage, destroying Darkseid’s tank and falling to his knees. A funeral eulogy concludes the episode with Superman stating that “In the end, the world didn’t need a super man, just a great one. ”

While I was only a child, I recognized that Superman didn’t necessarily win. He suffered a defeat and his best friend was slain fighting to protect the innocent. He suffered a loss, but he would persevere and continue. Even the episode ” For the Man Who Has Everything” in Justice League: Unlimited, highlighted a vulnerability to the Man of Steel in that he will feel a sense of regret in being the last of his kind. That regret is exploited and nearly defeat him and the Justice League but he perseveres and overcomes, vowing never to forget.

For me, Superman taught me that there are nobility and honor in doing the right thing. You will be made fun of by someone. Impressing everyone is impossible, but there is the strong, positive influence of doing the right thing, making a difference in the lives of others. That impact cannot be taken away. Every life changed, saved, or influenced positively is forever. But most importantly, it is okay to be mortal. It is okay to feel. And even for a Kryptonian, being human is the most important thing you can be.

As for Kingdom Hearts, the story and quest of love and friendship at the end of the universe, coupled with the magical world of Disney, wove the aforementioned themes into me at a critical time in my life. I was in high school, trying to learn what kind of person I wanted to be growing up. The long, intricated, and complex story aside, being able to battle for friend int he faces of great evil left a lasting impact. It is through that fondness of adventure and magic that got me to be passionate about video games and the gaming community.

Kingdom Hearts is a whimsical journey and I have found what could arguably be lifelong friends because of the game, and its themes. There are plenty of other games and shows that helped me out, but Superman and Kingdom hearts helped me out the most. It helped me find a community, and people to share my interests, my faults, and still, be accepted. It even encourages me to keep my thoughts in check, as I see a social worker to cope with my mental conflicts.

I greatly respect and appreciate Project Fancare. I even picked up a t-shirt from them to show my support. It felt good, sharing my own experience in a small room of other attendees, and perhaps, that was the goal of the mission of Project Fancare’s panel since it’s possible to be at a convention and feel like one doesn’t fit in. Seeing Project Fancare and its mission is most profound, and I hope that many others have an opportunity to see this panel as they travel the country spreading the mission. Connecting is important, and it takes others to help establish one.

Thank you, Christine Killmer and Dr. Lynn Zubernis, Project Fancare can be reached here, all proceeds go toward their travels and panel expenses.