Earlier this year, in my Final Fantasy XIV video, which I still think is really good and you should go check it out and comment and like it and tell me I’m a good good internet boy, I deployed the term blorbo. Coined first in 2021 on Tumblr (best source I could find), it was used to refer to a habit for how Tumblr behaviour often involves a kind of public conversation (dare I say discourse) that often involves such shredding of available context that things look incoherent, without the faintest anchoring detail. Blorbo is a word that didn’t seem to exist until December last year but it so perfectly encapsulates a concept that has been omnipresent since two fans were able to bicker over their opinions of a god, and having it available presents an enormously useful way to discuss a fandom behaviour agnostic of a particular fandom.
When I described a blorbo in the video I referred to them as ‘a term for how fandom terminology looks like from the outside.’ And while yeah, you can low-key use blorbo as a way to make fun of people’s particularly weird fandom discourse, it can serve as a useful example for the consideration of how fandoms necessarily compartmentalise, how the nature of these spaces is to develop language and concepts that are specialised for operation within that fandom space.
Take for example, decknames in the Legacy forrmat of Magic: The Gathering. You have a bunch of different deck names in this space and there is thankfully a trend towards them being sensibly structured like the name of a key card or combo in the deck and the colours of the deck, but there used to be a festival of names like Maverick, Tin Fins, 8cast, ANT, Oops! All Spells!, Cephalid Breakfast, Eggs, Nic Fit, Czech Pile, Stax, or Deadguy Ale, where where the entire meaning of the name is based on a joke that makes sense if you’re at best forty. A name like ‘RGU Minsc And Boo’ may be pretty complicated but it’s a complicated name that tells you the colours of the deck and the most important part of ist strategy, how it finds its footing, right?
On the other hand, Czech Pile? I have no idea. I can’t explain Tin FIns to you even though I do know what a Tin Fins deck is. I understand how Cephalid Breakfast works but I don’t know why it’s Cephalid Breakfast.
Then by comparison consider the way that The Terror fandom talks about the characters in The Terror. If you’re not familiar, The Terror is a heightened historical drama story about the real world historical event of the failed 1845 attempt to uncover the Northwest Passage. Oh, spoilers for real world history I guess. In this particular historical event, there was an immense number of things that went wrong and could go wrong, including things like technical failures on the boat, bad winter conditions, tainted food supplies, malnutrition, diseases and paranoia, and the historical drama about it is mostly a tense, painful masterwork of watching a group of about a hundred guys fail and die.
But if you browse Tumblr talking about The Terror, you can watch as the entire dialogue around this show fixates on talking about characters in terms that leave you completely unaware of what kind of show it is, what kind of things happen in it, and that that is the point. A portion of the discourse, and indeed, the related comedy that helps temper the extremely dark nature of it, the way you can recontextualise the characters in it and imagine them in a better situation, a more fun situation. Ie, any situation, because the situation they’re in sucks.
But that’s part of Blorbo, as a concept. A blorbo, you don’t know what it is, why it is, but you know, and get to know, that someone has a deep emotional connection to it, and that emotional connection is clear only to the ingroup.