When fandom meets community

There’s zero real chance of ever meeting my favorite TV and movie stars, but YouTubers? I could totally meet them. Not only that, I feel like I already kind of know them.

Two days ago, I saw a post from We Own the 8th about their monthly meeting. I’d heard about the Los Angeles Asian American arts collective (because it was partly founded by Dante Basco, aka Prince Zuko, aka my favorite Angsty Boy) and my boss and I went after work. That night featured some short films from locals in the community, a talk from resident Pokemon Go expert Trainer Tips, and a special first episode screening of Wong Fu Production’s new YouTube Red series “Single By 30.” During a Q&A session with Philip Wang and Wes Chan of WongFu afterwards, I started thinking more about new media celebrity and community.

With new media today, anyone could sit down with their smartphone, record some footage, and throw it up online. For the really artsy types, they use actual cameras and film editing software to tell compelling stories, but it all ends up on the same place: the internet. Most commonly, YouTube. So when IMSOFAMOUS with over 1 million subscribers is also Billy Bob from down the street, it kind of takes away the Hollywood mysticism and brings IMSOFAMOUS down to earth. Within possibility of social interaction for the casual fan. This crossing of celebrity with community is when it gets interesting.

I’ve met, or more accurately, been in the same room as, WongFu a handful of times before. Wes came to Boston for the Boston Asian American Film Festival, then Chris came the next year and then I saw them all when they came to Harvard to tour their movie. They did a long Q&A session and genuinely seemed like they wanted to talk to the people who came to see them. Wong Fu was there to be celebrities, but the YouTube kind who were totally chill and nice to fans and had to sell their own merch out of suitcases.

But that night at We Own the 8th wasn’t about celebrities and fans. It was a focus on community, a side you don’t see when YouTubers are on tour. The room was more like an open mic or small concert at a friend’s house than a screening. Dante Basco was there, along with the other 8th directors AJ Rafael and Beau Sia, and those three kept encouraging all the artists in the room to keep creating, working together and supporting each other. Not too many screaming teenagers, autographs, or selfie requests. Not too much overt networking for the sake of connections. Mainly artists, media makers, and fans getting a chance to talk to each other.

When my boss introduced me to Dante Basco afterwards (after telling me to be cool on the car ride over) and told him I was a writer, Basco started talking to me about possibly writing for the 8th. I gave Dante Basco my business card! Eighteen year-old Lily would never have believed that, much less 8 year-old me. That kind of outreach meant way more than any badly lit selfie. All “celebrity” aside, it was amazing to see a part of the community come together like that. Seeing people that I watched on my computer talk to each other and the others in the room on a real level blew my mind. When a YouTuber says, “Look! I’m just like you!” fans believe it. Something about how easy YouTube is for anyone to record and put out content takes down a little bit of the traditional barrier between celebrity and fan.

I’m always star struck when I meet a YouTuber. At We Own the 8th my boss had to tell me to calm down after I noticed WongFu was there and kept fidgeting. Being in the same room as Dante Basco, WongFu, AJ Rafael, and Beau Sia will always be a big deal. Both as a longtime fan and an Asian American trying to make it in the media. From Nigahiga, to Kevjumba, to WongFu, to ISAtv, to Kollaboration — if not for an elaborate path of connections, I wouldn’t be sitting here blogging in Los Angeles. Going beyond the surface level of fandom is key to being a part of the community and finding inspiration like WongFu Productions, platforms like Kollaboration and communities like We Own the 8th.

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