How finding my first fan community saved my life

Contributed by
Jan 29, 2018

I wouldn't be diagnosed with depression and anxiety until my late 20s, but they were always there. I've always been scared, in general, and I didn't know that could be a disease. I was terrified of letting people down, of being embarrassed, of both being noticed and being ignored. I've always been both overwhelmed and too paralyzed by the very idea of how overwhelmed I was to do anything about it. And, sure, I had friends, but I hadn't yet found the kind of friends I could talk about this stuff with, and the idea that I might never even occurred to me.

So I had TV, and I had movies. They were the therapy I didn't know I needed—distractions from whatever weird form of pain I was feeling. And my favorite distraction, my favorite TV show of all time, was Mystery Science Theater 3000. Two solid hours of laughter, of confusion and bewilderment at these bad movies, of silliness and a low-budget feel that made me think I could do it myself maybe, for once not feeling like I was stupid for even considering I was capable of something I so idolized. 

But, still, there was a void no television show could possibly fill. 

Depression is a beast, one that makes you too weak and tired to slay it. So it bats you around and tears you apart, both all at once and slowly, agonizingly over time. Anxiety, on the other hand, is quicksand. Once you fall in, it eats you, suffocates you, envelopes you whole. Without someone to pull you out of the pit, or to fight off the dragon when you can't, what hope is there? 

My online community, my friends who lived in the computer, became that someone. 

In 1997, Mystery Science Theater 3000, cancelled by Comedy Central, premiered on what was then known as the Sci-Fi Channel. I'd watched off and on over the years, too young to understand it, thanks to my aunts who were fans, but when it started on Sci-Fi, I was in from the start. Every Saturday, it would air in the afternoon and at night and I would watch the same episode twice every week. I would—to use the term we in this long-ago before time used—"tape them" off TV and watch them again and again. It was around that time Rhino Entertainment began releasing some individual episodes from its Comedy Central run on VHS. I would go to Suncoast Video at the local mall (this is unintentionally the '90s-est set of sentences I've ever written and perhaps unintelligible to anyone under 25, by the way; that said, it also didn't make much sense to people my age at the time) and buy whatever I could. But like anyone who finds their fandom, I wanted more. 

The late 90s for sure weren't like today, where finding a fandom is as simple as a Tumblr search, but it was the start of the accessible fandom, now shifting away from Usenet groups and into their own websites. Sci-Fi would promote its website—which it called The Dominion—during commercials, offering a "Caption This!" section where users could mock images just like Mike (previously Joel) and our robot friends, as well as its "Bboard," named for what was at the time known as a BBS, bulletin board system, akin to what we've more recently seen in web forums. This is what the homepage looked like at the time, a bit of a far cry from the syfy.com you see today:

And it was on that Dominion Bboard that I found, for the first time, people who understood me, who liked the same things I liked, who made me feel seen and special and unalone. 

For the first time, I wasn't terrified.

Finding this group, these people, meant everything. Not only could we discuss—at agonizing length and detail—our favorite show, but after a while we could talk about anything. They thought I was funny, while the kids at school didn't laugh at or even get my jokes. No one on the board mocked me for reading too much. They didn't think my taste in music made me weird or "gay." And in the late '90s, for a kid who knew she was different for a lot of reasons, that meant the world. Across the sexuality, gender, racial, ability and any combination therein spectrum, we were drawn together by this thing, and that thing allowed us to expand our worlds.

We exchanged addresses. We wrote each other letters and shared hard-to-get episodes of our favorite show. We moved to separate forums. And many of us, to this day, are Facebook friends. I've gone from the 13-year-old kid sister of the group to watching all of us grow up, have kids and still jump for joy when our beloved MST3K has a reunion event, or gets a new season on Netflix. 

In fact, it was this fandom, this love of this show, that made me a writer. 

After MST3K went off the air, many of us followed our heroes onto their other projects, ultimtely culminating in Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic, and with them their respective fan forums. Many new faces (well, web handles) joined but it still felt like us "old timers," the veteran guard from the Dominion days (yes, I was maybe 22 at this point, and still considering myself an "old timer" and "veteran") were holding strong. The comfort I had in these forums and engaging with my friends meant comfort engaging with the occasional MST3K cast member. One of them, Bill Corbett, who played Crow T. Robot and Observer during the Sci-Fi days, saw something that resembled talent in me. And that's how one of my heroes gave me my first-ever paying job, writing for my heroes. I got to write for Rifftrax. I got to meet these people who shaped me and shaped the people who shaped me on those boards dedicated to their work. 

Without that web fandom, I can't imagine getting through junior high or high school. And without writing, something Bill and other MST3K writers gave me the courage to believe I could do as a career, I can't imagine getting through adulthood. I can't imagine being here today, writing for you. I know I wouldn't be the person I am now, the mother I am, the friend. It was in those boards I was forged, my heart and soul in its manual HTML code. And I'm forever grateful.