The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Lincoln Geraghty & Nicholle Lamerichs (Pt. 2)

Lincoln Geraghty

Affect is the key word here, absolutely Nicolle. Thinking about fandom through this lens can tell us much about what fans get out of texts, characters, objects, performances and communities. Not only in the past and present, but also in the future of fandom you discuss. If we do see a time where AI characters become part of the fan experience then we will most definitely need to understand the affective relationships people share with technology, their VR avatars, even other cyborg fans?! Indeed, much of science fiction film and television has shown us the potential pros and cons of scientific and technological advancements in these areas. But I also agree with what you say about remediations of the past, how old media pops up and reappears in intriguing and diverse ways. These then inspire new forms of fandom and a whole new generation of fans. For sure, new platforms allow for new forms of fan media production – memes, gifs and videos that symbolize the bricolage of texts to which fans relate. They are shared within and between communities we would call fandom but they also resonate on that personal and individualized level you highlight: the micro fandoms, the more personal fandoms. I suppose looking back on those childhood memories of playing with my Star Wars figures in the snowwhat I was really interested in – the affective practice I was participating in – was the imaginary world Star Wars and those toys allowed me to create and enter into.

Fan communities and community fan practices have dominated the field but perhaps what we might also need to consider is how the individual fan, micro fandom, interacts and connects with media texts and the likes of those characters you wanted to get to know better when you were a kid: Janeway and Giles. Fandom is clearly based on varied degrees of imagination: the imaginary worlds of science fiction and fantasy texts, the imagined spaces fans occupy (whether conventions or tourists locations), the different characters that cosplayers imagine and recreate through costume and play. And, of course, every fan will have a different image of the text or character in their minds when they revisit and recreate them. The challenge for scholars will be how to study and understand these very personal and individual relationships fans have with their fan imaginary – what we have with our imaginary. It is certainly a challenge for the big franchises like Marvel and Star Wars to keep up with how fans imagine their associated transmedia worlds and characters. Recent debates about the authenticity and canonicity of The Last Jedi or Star Trek Discovery highlight the troubling phenomenon of popular culture texts being hijacked to defend conservative and often prejudiced views, but they also demonstrate that fandom is emotive, personal andextremely affective.

Again, drawing on some of my own fan experiences, I am fascinated with what motivates people’s individual fandom. Playing what is ostensibly a social mobile game – Pokémon Go(yes, it’s still popular!) – I join a group of fellow players in physical locations to catch rare pocket monsters to add to my virtual collection. But once the moment comes to interact and catch the pokémon in the game I revert to a very individual mode of engagement: I focus on my phone, I’m either successful or fail in achieving my goal, everyone’s experience at that moment is different. Some players catch the shiny Pikachu, or, as in my case, it runs away and I frustratingly miss my chance… again! I can only imagine what it would have been like to be one of the other lucky players who caught it. Then the game becomes social again as we look to find our next target and agree the next course of action. One example shows us just how much fandom is changing like you said: small and personal, located on a different platform (the mobile phone). Technology and affect, the social and the personal, community and the individual.

Nicolle Lamerichs

Fandom studies should indeed pay more attention to affect, both positive and negative. Affect indeed is highly individual, and this individuality poses methodological challenges. To research what is deeply private and interior is difficult, and qualitative methods do not entirely elicit the depth of these emotions.

Affect is not only positive. Today, the rise of (professional) trolling has made us aware of toxic online communities, which display fan behavior and modes of operandi, but are essentially about spread hate. Anti-fandom and negative emotions are entwined with fandom today, and though they are not necessarily the same behavior, this communication requires much more investigation.

The enormous backlash to The Last Jedithat you mention brings many of our themes come together here – negative affect, nostalgia, childhood, rewriting of traditional stories and myths, and the hierarchies between fans and official authors. Personally, I have a complex (affective) relationship with the film as well. I went to see it in cinema three times, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. While I truly hate some parts of the film, I could relate deeply to characters like general Holdo, and wondered about her history and motivations for weeks. I would find it hard to capture the affective trajectory that I go through each time that I see the movie. I keep finding new things in it, but there also parts of it that I find cheap, disgusting, or a cop-out. I could talk about it at length, have seen it multiple times, and it has been on my mind a lot. However, I would not necessarily call myself a fan.  

Researching fan identity, and how we identify ourselves as fans, poses challenges. How do we deal with the highly individual moments that you and I describe? In practice, we move between the negative and positive, between a scala of emotions, and between the social and individual.  Fandom is tricky and multi-faceted. Similar to your Pokémon Go experiences, I love being part of online communities and game communities while doing my own thing. We don’t always feel the need to interact or play with others. Similarly, I could never truly put my experience of The Last Jedi into words, or how deeply I can relate to some of the characters.

Online wars such as the backlash of The Last Jedi seem deeply related to the technologies that we use as well. Social media are low-key and create a sense of openness and transparency. This is where such debates take place, and where hatred is fueled. What might start as an individual opinion becomes highly spreadable, shareable, and amplified. This is also the danger of memes and we saw this in politics (e.g. the USA presidential campaigns) as well. The personal might be the start of something bigger that we hadn’t foreseen and that spreads, not in a good way, but as a disease. 

I wonder if we even have a methodology that does justice to this individuality? You and I resort to our own personal histories, and perhaps this is the only way out. To integrate deep auto-ethnographic reflections, and our own experience from fandom, to identify the gaps. I think we go far by doing even more, and deep, qualitative studies on people’s personal histories in fandom. Oral history can also be a valuable tool in this sense to examine our lived histories as fans.

We need to look forward, but also dive deep into the past, and mine it. Our data bases, our histories, our sources are valuable collections. We live fandom studies in the now, but we need to visit the past and future to truly examine the messy affective process that is being and becoming a fan. This requires innovative methods that are deeply inward and ethnographic, and perhaps a move away from texts. If fandom is personal and intimate, our methods need to adjust accordingly.

Lincoln Geraghty

Oh yes, that reaction to The Last Jedi was messy – and opened up so many avenues for fan scholars to probe at the same time. Oral histories are an intriguing proposition; recording and then analyzing fan interactions with favorite media texts and other fans within the wider community offers us plenty to work with. I suppose the big question would be how to gather that information and then which methods we choose to go about studying them – oh, the memories of those methodology discussions during the PhD! That sort of brings me right back to where I started during my first forays into fan studies, studying Star Trek fan letters. I found the epistolary of fandom fascinating: reading what fans had written, unprompted, about their love of the show – how it inspired them, what they got out of it and when. On one level it was easier to go to the physical letters and analyze what was there. I remember travelling to the Gene Roddenberry archives at UCLA and seeing first-handthe letters fans had written and sent to him in the 1960s. Then working on some valuable personal testimonies from fans and fan clubs proved illuminating as to how they had grown up alongside the series over the decades. Moreover, after attending a big Pasadena Star Trek convention during the PhD research trip it became very apparent to me that to understand fandom and those affective relationships I had to listen to what fans were saying, how they spoke about their personal fandom to others in a public setting. What they were willing to share voluntarily. During one Q&A session with Nichelle Nichols a number of fans were prepared to stand up and share what Star Trek meant to them, how Nichols was a figure of lifelong inspiration. This oral history was clearly very important, told me a lot about affect and emotion in fandom, but not being prepared in this live situation it went unrecorded – documented only through my memory and retelling. But these are the important moments fan scholars should be studying and writing about – I think.

What you say about auto-ethnography and fan personal histories is spot on Nicolle. These are things that interest me when I teach, research and write about fandom. And, of course, it doesn’t just have to be positive or celebratory fan histories. The more conflicting moments of fandom can tell us so much about the affective investment fans put into popular media texts. I’m reminded of another convention moment, this time at San Diego Comic Con. Sitting in a packed Hall H my wife and I were waiting to see the Doctor Who panel and enjoyably listening to some of the panels that came before. Despite warnings to the contrary in the program and during the panels a number of fans got up for the Q&A to request that some of the cast of Supernatural, The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory and Doctor Who sign something, wish them happy birthday or even give them a hug. Such individualized and personal requests were handled with the typical caution and humor you’d come to expect from media professionals: the cast of Supernatural seem to be the experts in handling the strangest and most obscure requests. I was interested mostly in how fans in the audience reacted to these so-called “selfish” fans who were wasting questions and time on their own personal wishes. Murmurings and whispers I can’t repeat hear displayed a real animosity to fellow fans who were flouting the rules, taking the chance to get just that bit closer to their objects of affection – perhaps beating them to it? How does one record this, quantify this, even study it? Is it toxic or anti fandom, antagonism or rivalry? It certainly seemed like the physical version of what we see online in professional trolling and the internal policing of fan communities. It was evidence of people’s personal fandoms coming into conflict with each other in a public space, a space created meant to bring fans together to celebrate popular culture. How fans end up using and orating those spaces needs further work for sure.

Nicolle Lamerichs

I love it that you include some experiences of fan conventions. I love researching these spaces in different cultures ethnographically, and seeing how different fan localities and cultures make sense of their fandoms. The striking differences that I saw between these cultures (e.g. Germany, Japan, Netherlands) kept surprising me. Indeed, conventions are a beautiful moment to meet our favorite stars, to dress up and embody our fandom, and to engage with our favorite professionals in new ways.

Speaking of The Last Jedi, my latest affective encounter also centred around this.  I just came back from SXSW where Ryan Johnson and Mark Hamill discussed The Director and The Jedi, the documentary about the production process of the film. I lined up early to see them in real life. Their discussions about the character Luke echoed those within the fan community. Who does Luke belong to? How should he be portrayed? Does the director, as an author, really have the final say in this? Both professionals constantly pushed the boundaries in this process. They also spoke about the cast itself – what it meant to them to lose Carrie Fisher. How she herself felt, growing old and being cast in a film again. How she couldn’t cope with seeing herself as an older woman on screen. Of course, I cried.

Closure is important in fandom. Losing Carrie meant a lot to all of us, and it affected us in deep ways. We mourned. Endings are important in fandom – fiction ends and our idols eventually pass away. At some point, we inevitablyhave to say goodbye to our favorite characters and stories. Like Mark Hamill said at the event: ‘We’re never getting the band together again’. Affect does not only mean hate, or love, but it can also relate to these processes of mourning.

I feel like we are only at the start of exploring this intimacy and the encounters in fandom that you and I describe. These are formative, affective moments that shape who we are. New methods open new opportunities for sure, and so does the combination of methods. In my work on cosplay I often interlace interviews, auto-ethnography and analysis of costumes and characters themselves. This helps me dive deep into these histories, and I would say it’s a must.

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Mel Stanfill & Anne Jamison (Pt. 1)

Mel Stanfill

I feel like I tell my origin story for fan studies a lot, but it starts with Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. They famously thought media controlled the minds of audiences (kind of unsurprisingly, since they had fled Nazi Germany where mass media was used to great propagandistic effect). An excerpt from their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, called 'The culture industry: Enlightenment as mass deception, was assigned in my undergraduate Literature and Popular Culture course. And it made me have this moment of “Nuh-uh, Xena got gayer because of fans, so clearly it’s not just all industry controlling audiences. It goes both ways at least sometimes.”

In some ways, the contours of that moment describe me to this day in fan studies. The two places where I feel like I’ve contributed the most to the field are a) the intersection of fandom and industry and b) the role of social inequality in fandom. On the fandom-industry side, I’ve published on how the history of sampling in hip-hop can help us understand how media industries tend to think fans aren’t adding any value to their products but rather stealing from them (https://muse.jhu.edu/article/579661/summary), I’ve written about the relationship of fandom and labor (http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/593), I’ve talked about how to make sense of the way fans share around their fanworks freely with each other but don’t want industry to extract them out of fandom (http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/530). Most recently, I wrote about how moves to publish fan fiction in the formal economy like Kindle Worlds can be seen as a bid to redefine fandom as docile and useful (https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-Media-Fandom/Click-Scott/p/book/9781138638921).  With regard to inequality, I’ve also published work on the ways fandom is constructed as a practice of heterosexual white men (http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/256), the ways some media are slashier than others (http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/959), and the ways the whiteness of fandom as a population and fan studies scholars as a population need to be reckoned with (https://www.amazon.com/Companion-Fandom-Fan-Studies/dp/1119237165/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1519133818&sr=1-1&keywords=9781119237167). At the intersection of the two threads, I have a forthcoming article about how TV fans use hashtag campaigns to contest the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people. Terms like labor, copyright, whiteness, and heteronormativity run through my whole body of work.

And it may just be because it seems that way from where I stand, but I also think what I’ve said above points to two important directions in fan studies: 1) fandom and industry, and 2) identity, but specifically race, since gender and sexuality are actually fairly well studied. Of course, that work has been going on for a few years now—I’m certainly not the only one who has been doing it—but I think that is what has been lacking in fan studies up to this moment, and there’s still a lot to be explored.

Anne Jamison

 I feel like I also tell my story a lot, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that I came to this a bit differently from a lot of other fan studies folks. I stumbled onto internet fandom in a kind of teaching desperation. I was a TA for a course on musical theater, and I had seven sections. That’s a lot of discussions—even about the Buffy musical episode, which I love. I was a single mom with a messy divorce and a dissertation, and I felt completely out of ideas and energy. I found both on fandom discussion boards. I dreamed of getting my students to care as much about close reading as these fans cared. At Princeton, I was immersed in a culture that heavily prioritized achievement over process and pleasure in learning and so I think I was primed, as a reader and writer and lover of all kinds of texts, to be captivated by what I saw going on in fandom. After all, I had always thought there was something really fun about picking apart texts and movies and here I found people who agreed with me. None of my engagement was at all systematic or anything I even considered research at the time, but I became more and more interested.

I began to realize that vastly more fiction was being written as fanfiction than for commercial publication—let alone what was actually being commercially published. I wasn’t finding many people who did what I did (studied literature professionally) who were writing about fic, and I thought that was a big oversight. I began by incorporating fanfic in my classes in part because it seemed appropriate to think about collective fictional activity in a collective way, a structure I also insisted on for my book Fic. I was lucky to be able to do Fic as a trade book so fan writers could be credited and paid as authors and contributors rather than appearing solely as topics or subjects, and so fans could afford it (most academic books are incredibly expensive). It does make it quite different from an academic book, though.

As a literature scholar, I’ve been interested in two main questions: a) what is fanfic doing that other kinds of writing are not doing and b) what can fanfic teach us about other kinds of writing, how can it reflect back on them to show us new perspectives? Both questions emphasize collective modes of authorship, writing from sources, and strangely hybrid organic-technological systems of creating and interpreting texts. You might say I’m interested in fiction-media interaction, even fiction-human interaction, especially along axes of power.

It’s interesting that you bring up Horkheimer and Adorno. Although I knew that essay long before I knew anything about fandom, fan practices immediately struck me as a way to push back against its indictment of popular culture as only ever supporting the status quo. But it’s back on my mind recently in a different way, because I think that the relations between entertainment corporations and fans (and the art each produces) are worthy of concern and skepticism even for very positive developments around, for example, diversity in casting, production, storyline. On the one hand, that kind of progress is huge, and important, and powerful. On the other, if one of the products Disney can produce and sell to you is the validation of your own identity, we might really be in a Culture Industry nightmare. It isn’t that I don’t think representation in popular culture is important—I think it’s so, so, so important. But its importance is also scary. One of the things I think those Marxists get right is that power structures aren’t super-motivated to sell us the means by which to topple them.

I think it’s safe to say that I share your interests in corporate/industry-fan relations, including economic and power relations, as well as issues of representation, especially with regard to race. I would add to that a more international perspective on fandom and fan studies.

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Lincoln Geraghty & Nicolle Lamerichs (Pt. 1)

Lincoln Geraghty

If I were to recall my first fan memories then two things stand out: place and object. I remember living in Calgary, old enough for kindergarten, and playing with my brand new Empire Strikes Back action figureson the front porch. Recreating the Battle of Hoth in the piled up snow made it seem more real to me. The fact that everything I owned had theStar Wars logo, from bedspread to lunchbox,showed I lived and breathed the franchise from an early age. From Star Wars I remember moving to Star Trek, by way of numerous 1980s science fiction films and television series. “My” Doctor was Peter Davison, I had the wallpaper to prove it, and if I wasn’t watching the latest video rental with my dad I was playing with Transformers in my bedroom (saying that, my first robot was Wheeljack). So, being brought up following the somewhat “traditional” childhood path through blockbuster franchises and mass-produced toy lines, it is perhaps no surprise that I am still fascinated by the appeal of popular media entertainment. I remember watching the original Star Trek movies at the cinema (Kirk, Spock and the old gang) and, after seeing The Next Generation on VHS, being bowled over finding out that a whole new crew occupied the USS Enterprise. There was something clearly going on here – making Star Trek for a whole new audience? Who was that audience? What was at the heart of its continued popularity? These sorts of questions (and not just about Star Trek)have framed my interest in fandom and work in fan studies ever since: through the Masters and PhD, and still now as I try (desperately!) to get on with my next book.

Star Trek was the subject of my first foray into the discipline, focusing particularly on the relationship between text and fan. Of course, Henry Jenkins’ work in this area loomed large over what I was attempting to do at the time. I wanted to understand the emotional connection fans were saying they had with the series, what they got out of it and how fiction had a real impact on their daily reality. This is not to say others have neglected the idea of emotion in fandom. What I felt at the time was that perhaps studies of fans and popular media up to that point had not really taken into account my kind of fandom – the sort that characterized those first memories of really liking something, following it, playing with it, watching it. Living with Star Trek was my attempt to grasp how fans “feel” about their favorite text. Coming to the end of that process it became very apparent that in trying to locate where emotion sat in fandom I had to understand the importance of memory, history and the personal. After all, these were the things that were central to my fan identity: memories of childhood experiences with popular media franchises, a history of moving from one text to another, the impact this all had on my life growing up, going to university, deciding on my career path.It didn’t take much of a push to choose the focus for my next research project: fans ascollectors.

I always say to my students, particularly those who are struggling to get into a subject, pick something you like and write about it – in the end, that’s what I did. Cult Collectors wasbuilt on the foundations laid in my PhD and first book. Collecting and the objects fans value as symbols of their long term relationship with popular media texts seemed appropriate and worthy things to study. They give us real insight into notions of fan memory, history and nostalgia. Fans commemorate, curate and create value in today’s ever growing and diverse media culturetherefore I would argue that to truly account for such actions we need to study what fans do and where and when they do this. This is in contrast to the prevalence of important fan scholarship on the how and the why: the former characterized by – and I know I’m being far too simplistic – poaching practices such as fan fiction; and the latter – for the sake of generalizing – in order to subvert or claim ownership of the original text. The work I did in Cult Collectors, and continued ever since, is centered on those three often overlookedfactors. “What” doesn’t just simply mean what media text they follow (eg. Star Wars or Star Trek), for me it’s more about what objects become symbolic markers for that affective relationship (the merchandise, mass produced souvenirs, rare collectables). “Where” involves investigating the places and spaces where fandom takes place: online, at conventions, in familiar locations and fantastic tourist destinations. “When”is about that sense of personal history that certainly informs my sense of fan identity and was clearly so important to the fans I discussed in both Living with Star Trek and Cult Collectors. Narratives of becoming, histories of mainstream and niche media texts, individual and collective memories of fans within a wider community, these are irretrievably connected with feelings and emotions. Fandom wouldn’t be so beloved if they weren’t.

Fan studies is in such a productive period it seems at the moment. National and international conferences, numerous journals devoted to the field; books, edited collections and articles track the most recent and urgent developments in fandom. The ever-expanding means of modern communication (social media and networked platforms) and grassroots creativity (memes, mods and mmorpgs) that inspire such scholarship are clearly important and need studying. Fans are major contributors to the mainstream production of multimillion dollar entertainment franchises, as well as continuing to exist on the periphery as niche subcultures of taste and distinction. However, I would stress the need to look back to the past – just as much as fan scholars are looking forward to the future. Fan histories and histories of fandom still remain unwritten and undervalued. There are more similarities than differences in how fans have engaged with media and participated in the practices associated with being a fan. Moreover, the historical aspects of what, where and when fans engaged with their objects of affection require more attention. While we must look to answer increasingly complex questions about fandom – to investigate the tensions between political and industrial appropriations of fan identities and texts, the transnational and transcultural flow of fandom, toxic fan practices and neglected issues of race, gender and representation – recognizing there is a history to all of them is fundamental. More often than not, as my work over the years has attempted to show, fan histories are personal, evocative and always self-creating.Being a fan is akin to telling a story, if we want to understand that story we need to start at the beginning and resist skipping to the end.

Nicolle Lamerichs

Place matters to me, but so do affect and characters. Like you, Lincoln, my first experiences of fandom were innately tied a sense of space – my teenage bed room with a poster of Seven of Nine, and local fairs where I hunted for merchandise. As a teenager, I saw digital fan spaces emerge – forums, mail lists, personal sites. This encouraged me to get creative as well. I loved to write fan fiction and to create character shrines created in Geocities of my favorites – from Kathryn Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager) to Rupert Giles (Buffy The Vampire Slayer).

Characters were central to my fan experience, and I still write about them today as a scholar. Transmedia storytelling, to me, is not so much about the stories as it is about the characters that shape them. Fan fiction, cosplay and other fan activities were tools for me to get to know these characters in a more intimate way. As a fan, I loved to think about them, and integrate that in my fan creations: How far will Janeway go to bring her crew home? How is Giles shaped by his past experiences as Ripper?

Fan costuming is one of the phenomena that I love exploring most in my studies. When I think about the state of the art of our discipline, I am often surprised by how little we speak of characters, and our love for them. In my PhD thesis and later studies, I tend to foreground transmediality, playfulness and affect, and I see characters as central in these cultural dynamics. I keep going back to reader-response theories myself to see how audiences make sense of characters in unique and individual ways. It strikes me as odd that we have so many studies on different types of fan activities and places, but very few in-depth studies about how characters are received and interpreted. In my own work, which focuses on reception, and is often ethnographic, I see different perspectives on characters emerge. Characters resonate with fans. 

Our work connects on this affective level, and on the level of materiality.Place matters to the both of us, but this is a rich affective space shared by fans, characters, and objects. In fandom, affect circulates between all of these different actors in a complex network. You are interested in figures such as collectors, and their objects of devotion and memorabilia. I have researched conventions and costumes and fashion. This materiality deservesmore attention, but we are doing the groundwork right here and now.

I agree with you that we need to look more at our own personal histories and identity, but also of fandom histories themselves. Methods such as oral history would be fantastic to include more in our discipline, and I am sure that much could come out of this. (I would just love to write an oral history of cosplay, for instance! Bring it on!)

However, we need to look at the future as well. Within fan studies, I believe that we need to forecast more to stay up to date in a rapidly changing society. Fan studies has always been at the forefront of new media studies and the digital humanities with our iconic studies on users, convergence, remixing and more. It is a position that I sometimes think we are losing. I worry that we are not in touch enough with the rapidly changing creative business and industries. We are in a shift towards a platform economy that is driven by users and fans. Produsage is the new black.

As we know, fandom has already gone mainstream in a highly connected convergence culture, but we will soon reach the next level of convergence culture- one where fandom and disruptive technologies, such as AI, come together in a man-machine blend. AI, for instance, will create a new paradigm for remixing, which will no longer be “fannish” per se. Tools such as Jukedeck and AI Music already generate official remixes and covers of beloved songs. Similarly, the bot that wrote a new Harry Potter chapter called The Handsome One accidentally created a cult pastiche.  Remix will soon not be the domain of fans anymore, but partly that of machines. Mashup will be the new normal. How do we define what makes a fan? Can an AI display fannish behavior?

Our small discipline has always been forward thinking, and we need this now more than ever. Fan studies has been at the forefront of new media studies, but if we don’t look ahead, we lose our pioneering position. We have been stuck in particular discourses of identity, belonging and textuality. What I miss is more reflection on visual culture, affect, materiality. Globalization and transcultural discourses should be key, as you state as well. Our attention should widen to arts and crafts, fashion, collectors, and even individual fandom, challenging as that may be. We should bear in mind that the media space is changing fast. We move from an era of mass media to one of platforms and micro-casting, and I expect that fandom will become personal and smaller soon. 

We need to think through the new technologies that are developed right now. This does not mean that the physical and offline do not matter. Remediation is always there and old media continue to resurface in new and unexpected ways. But it would behove our field to behave a bit more like the iconic Doctor Who. We need to travel backwards as well as forward in time.

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How Do You Like It So Far? Podcast: Nicholas J. Cull on Black Panther and the Politics of Popular Culture

This week, we wrap up our consideration of the Black Panther phenomenon with an interview of our USC colleague, Nicholas J. Cull, who shares with us some of his experiences watching Black Panther at a conference in South Africa, and more broadly, the ways he thinks about popular narratives as vehicles for thinking about politics and power.  Is there a link between the rise of the superhero film and the disempowerment many Americans felt after 9/11? How might we compare Black Panther to Lion King in terms of Hollywood's representation of Africa? What do Tin Tin and James Bond suggest about the power fantasies informing their countries of origin? And how did James Cameron resituate Titanic for an era of technological enthusiasms?

Nicholas J. Cull is Professor of Public Diplomacy and is the founding director of the Master of Public Diplomacy program at USC. He took both his BA and PhD at the University of Leeds. 
His research and teaching interests are inter-disciplinary, and focus on public diplomacy and -- more broadly -- the role of media, culture and propaganda in international history. He is the author of  two volumes on the history of US public diplomacy: The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989 (Cambridge 2008), named by Choice Magazine as one of the Outstanding Academic Texts of 2009 and The Decline and Fall of the United States Information Agency: American Public Diplomacy, 1989-2001 (Palgrave, New York, 2012).  He is the co-editor (with David Culbert and David Welch) of Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500-present (2003) which was one of Book List magazines reference books of the year, co-editor with David Carrasco of Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border: Film, Music, and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2004).  His publications as a film historian include two books co-authored with James Chapman: Projecting Empire: Imperialism in Popular Cinema(IB Tauris, London, 2009) and Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction in Popular Cinema (IB Tauris, 2013). 

Afterwards, Colin and I reflect more broadly on popular culture as a window into the civic imagination, a theme we have brushed across in several earlier episodes and one that is driving our interests across the podcast series.

Next week, we will begin a series of episodes which use Ready Player One to reflect on the current state of virtual reality, world building as a civic tool, and contemporary perspectives on games-based education. So, subscribe and follow along.

The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Bethan Jones and Melanie Kohnen (Pt. 2)

Bethan

I think the point you make about how fans may perform in the way industry desires in certain spaces, but engage in different ways outside of those spaces is certainly an important avenue to explore. There seems to be, as Anne Gilbert pointed out in her conversation with Rebecca Williams, the risk of cultural sentiment moving toward “a generalized “everyone is a fan!” perspective, and the inevitable fallout from that – if everyone is a fan, then no one is”. In spaces like SDCC everyone is positioned as a fan because it’s a space aimed at fans. But the fans that space imagines are just one kind of fan. They’re the affirmational, consumerist fan, possibly seeking more knowledge about their fandom (or perhaps confirmation of their existing knowledge). But the kinds of fans actually in a space like SDCC, not least because it’s such a big con!, are multiple and varied. How much are the fans who engage in the more transformational aspects of fandom catered to? And where are the spaces for fic writers or filkers or slash fan artists?  I’d argue that the only kinds of ‘transformational’ fan practices we see, like cosplay, are still bounded by the limitations of the space. And I think you’re right that industry tries to contain fans in the spaces of a convention, but as I’m thinking about this I think it’s also important to note the cultural and societal structures that also permeate fandom within those spaces, and which function to make fans fit into a particular mould within them. So we might see fan art for sale, but we might not see slash or femslash. And the fanwork is also there within this consumerist framework: the art is generally a reproduction of, not a reimagining of. It’s affirmational. Similarly we’ll see cosplay but it’s a replication of the characters on screen (or page) not a reimagining of them. We might see gender-swapping of characters, though that’s generally female versions of male characters not male versions of female characters. But it’s a mimetic fandom even if some of the details are changed. The cultural and societal structures at work reinforce those industry bounds to replicate the affirmational rather than transformational fandom in those spaces. We don’t get queer fan art for sale at cons because to a white, male, heterosexual identity that practice is Other, therefore not allowed. We don’t get male versions of Wonder Woman or Buffy because while of course women would want to be the Doctor, or Sherlock, or Thor, why on earth would a man want to be a woman (to say nothing of other gender identities)...?

Melanie

What you say about the multiple and varied fans that inhabit the space of SDCC resonates with my own experience. While the overall tone encourages consumption of promotions and merchandise, my research at SDCC and other commercial conventions (NYCC and Rose City Comic-Con in Portland) shows that there is room for transformational fandom in these spaces, especially in the Artists Alley, where fans sell queer and slash fanart. Indeed, much of the fanart for sale in SDCC’s Artists Alley is transformative. I have observed that vendors in Artists Alley are aware of fandom trends and will have pieces for sale that cater to that year’s “hot” fandoms, featuring both canonical and non-canonical relationships. The vendor may not be a participant in that fandom, but they know what will sell and produce art accordingly. Even comics artists who offer commissions at SDCC/NYCC are often open to drawing slash pairings. You can also find self-published queer comics in Artists Alley. Also, at SDCC, Prism Comics, a non-profit organization that supports queer comics and creators, always has a large booth in the small press section of the showfloor. There are also multiple panels as part of the programming that reflect diversity in comics or address fandom issues, like the annual LGBTQ Geek Year in Review. In terms of cosplay, there is such a large variety at SDCC that it’s hard to categorize it as strictly affirmational or normative. Of course these aspects of SDCC do not get mainstream press coverage because they exist outside of the promotional efforts that dominate the industry and entertainment press discourse at SDCC and NYCC, so they are far less visible unless one attends the convention and seeks out the less normative and commodified aspects of SDCC.

Bethan

If it doesn’t get coverage in the mainstream press, is it fandom? Okay that’s a slightly facetious question because of course it is, but it comes back to what you talked about in your opening statement about the normalisation of fan identities in and by the media, and the privileging of a certain kind of fandom and certain kinds of fans. The cons I’ve been to in the UK have tended to be relatively small (compared to NYCC or SDCC) or show specific (like Walker Stalker) with fewer vendors and panels. My experience of cons has been that there is less space for non-normative identities. There’s less queer fan art and I can’t recall ever seeing zines for sale, much less queer ones. The only exceptions were World Con (which was more comparable to SDCC in terms of size) and Nine Worlds, which was founded on the idea that fandom shouldn’t be restricted by gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, or anything else. There are both fans and conventions pushing back against the kinds of fandom that the mainstream press focuses on and I’m curious at how the con bloggers you’ve researched challenge this as well as how they’re received by the industry. Recent work I’ve done looking at how James Frazier, organiser of the Walker Stalker conventions, polices fans suggests again that certain kinds of fans (respectful, enthusiastic, affirmational - in other words those modelling acceptable behaviour) are rewarded while those who question or criticise are punished. I’m curious about the other ways that industry might try to police these behaviours and approaches.

Melanie

Con-bloggers are completely affirmational fans, as far as I can tell. Their knowledge production centers on providing advice on how to gain access to SDCC, so their own fannish investments rarely surface in these discussions--I barely know which comics or shows various con-bloggers like, and I have followed their blogs, tweets, and podcasts for years. Instead of debating favorite pairings, they discuss programming flow, room sizes, lining-up procedures, autograph lotteries, etc. I interpret this focus on procedure and space as side-stepping the engagement the industry most desires, i.e. with their products. Of course con-bloggers describe the end goal of all their efforts as buying merchandise and getting a seat in packed panels, but they also frequently emphasize that the journey there and the people they meet along the way are what matters most to them about SDCC. In this sense they are not the transformative or resisting fans that have been at the center of Fan Studies, but they are also not the industry’s ideal fan that has no agenda beyond consumption. The con-blogging scene is largely invisible to the industry and to CCI (Comic-Con International, the organizers of SDCC), but essential to many SDCC attendees.

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Bethan Jones and Melanie Kohnen (Pt. 1)

Bethan Jones

I talked recently, in an article I co-wrote with Simone Driessen, about my early fannishness and my efforts to actively become-a-fan in the same way my friends at school were. I loved music, but it was the wrong sort of music - Elton John and Meatloaf while the girls at school were talking about Take That or New Kids on The Block. I tried forcing that fannish affect by putting Take That posters on my walls but I felt no connection to them. Try as I might I couldn’t make myself be a fan. In 1993/94, though, I fell into fandom in a big way. 1993 saw Boyzone hit the pop scene and all of a sudden this was the band I’d been waiting for! I fell completely and utterly in love with them and soon I was collecting merchandise, knowledge and experiences.

Then, a year later, The X-Files aired in the UK and I found my second fandom. One of my friends in school also watched the show, and my English teacher loved it, so suddenly I had two fandoms, both shared with other people. In the same way as I had with Boyzone I collected X-Files posters and books, taped the episodes off the telly and made detailed notes about episode titles and air dates. But unlike my music fandom, the engagement I had with The X-Files was somehow more. It was my first acafandom, and certainly the first fandom that introduced me to new ways of thinking about the text. One of my teachers introduced me to fan fiction as part of an English class. When I first used the internet, on a school trip in 1998, the first thing I looked up, on AOL, was The X-Files. There I found groups dedicated to the show and other people, around the world, talking about my favourite FBI agents. When we got the internet at home I joined the BBC cult messageboards where I talked about the series and wrote and posted fanfiction. My fandom waned, to an extent, when I moved away to university although I worked The X-Files into my third year philosophy dissertation. It was when I joined Facebook I really rediscovered my love for the show, and an enthusiastic online fandom. I joined numerous groups, which led me to LiveJournal where I began writing and posting fanfic as well as meta. I went to the London premiere of I Want To Believe in 2008 with friends I’d met on Facebook because of the show, and my involvement in the fandom on LiveJournal – especially writing meta and discussing why fans reacted to characters in certain ways – led me to apply for a PhD.

Initially, like a lot of people who are new to fan studies I think, I was interested in fanfic. In particular I wanted to know why fans treated Diana Fowley one way, and Scully another, when both were treated badly on the show. Fans’ hatred of Fowley led to my growing interest in anti-fandom, and my research has moved away from fanfic, though I’ve published a fair amount on it. Looking at my research over the last 8 years I think anti-fandom, hatred and toxicity have featured predominantly in one way or another. I talk about anti-fandom and links to #gamergate in Paul Booth’s A Companion to Fandom and Fan Studies; Fifty Shades of Grey and anti-fandom as subcultural gatekeeping in Melissa Click’s Hate and Anti-Fandom in the Digital Age; and fanagement of unhappy Walking Dead fans in an upcoming issue of Participations. Increasingly I’m interested in fan/producer relationships and the power struggles that occur between and amongst fans, fans and producers, and fans and other fans. Although I completely understand the need for initial work in fan studies to focus on the positive aspects of fandom, it’s the darker side that really interests me. And I think work on this continues to be necessary. Fandom isn’t all community and sharing. These are a key aspect of it, of course, and on a personal level I’ve made amazing friendships through X-Files fandom and met some of the most generous people. But I’ve also seen the arguments, the breakdowns, the aggression and it’s important for us as researchers to engage in this. I think given the current political climate we also have a responsibility to situate fan studies within a larger social and cultural context. Fans don’t exist in a vacuum and I don’t think fan studies can – or should – either.

Melanie Kohnen

My interest in Fan Studies is Laura Mulvey’s fault. As a grad student, reading “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” left me frustrated because it didn’t seem to have room for queer spectators and “seeing queerly.” I began working on an essay about “seeing queerly” and a friend pointed me toward Television Without Pity’s Smallville board—the rest, as they say, is history. My first-ever publication addressed queer spectatorship in Smallville fandom, and the topic of queer media visibility became the focus of my first book. I’ve remained interested in the intersection of Queer and Fan Studies since then. Currently, I investigate this intersection through a Media Industries Studies lens to better understand how fans and industry wrestle with often divergent ideas about queerness (and gender and race) in the media. I have written about fan-industry relationships from a variety of angles, including the gendered appeals of transmedia marketing campaigns (in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom), the possibilities of “Tumblr pedagogies” in which fans on Tumblr teach each other about social justice and diverse representations in the media (in A Companion to Fandom and Fan Studies), and the parallels in the informal and formal distribution of queer Australian sitcom Please Like Me, which circulated via fans on Tumblr and on the now-defunct U.S. digital cable channel Pivot (in Transformative Works and Cultures). I have also spent the last five years researching San Diego Comic-Con, specifically the blogging culture around SDCC. “Con-bloggers” provide advice on how to gain access to tickets, hotels, and panels. Con-bloggers’ intense focus on strategies for mastering SDCC’s spaces and schedules challenges the idea that fans’ only interest at SDCC is the promotional material provided by the media industry.

Based on my SDCC research in particular, I want to spend more time parsing the normalization of fan identities in/by the media industry and the performance of fan and industry identities. As others have discussed, “being a fan” has been mainstreamed and championed by the media industry in a way that makes previously subcultural fan practices widely available yet also underlines hegemonic identities (white, male, affirmational, consumerist). As this normalization develops, both industry and fans perform specific identities for the other to achieve certain goals: the industry performs a celebration of fans with the end goal of brand loyalty and profit while fans perform affirmational identities in exchange for access and recognition. Yet the fan part of this performance always strikes me as partial and potentially calculated: especially in spaces like SDCC, fans may perform in the way the industry desires, but outside of them, they may engage in practices that are not in alignment with industry goals (refusing the incentive to consume more, for example). I have only begun to think about this, but it strikes me as important avenue for further investigation.

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Whitney Phillips & Ross Garner (Pt.2)

Whitney

For the reader, the way we approached this exchange was to write our opening statements independently, without any discussion beforehand about what kinds of threads or points of overlap we might want to explore. This could have gone badly. However here there’s an overarching, immediate connection: focus on the politically-situated body. You can break this down further to talk about the role affect plays in fan engagement, as well as the ways nostalgia can be as politically problematic as it can be illuminating.

It only seems appropriate to dive deeper into this discussion by going personal-theoretically  meta. For me, interest in embodied experience and affect was spurred, first, by theories of feminist epistemology (particularly the work of Sandra Harding)—in a nutshell, that what we see and what we know, or what we think we know, depends on our intersecting raced, gendered, and classed identities, and just as importantly, where we’re standing in relation to hegemonic power. This basic point dovetails nicely with another foundational framework for my work (especially my early work), explored in Barthes’ beautiful and strange reflection on photography, Camera Lucida. Our eyes (and by extension, our hearts) aren’t an accident, Barthes argues. Instead they are fundamentally shaped by culture (I could get into a quibble here about how far Barthes is himself willing to take his conclusion, particularly regarding the allegedly insular punctum, and how far I think it can and should be taken, but that’s a different conversation).

My interest in situated bodies and their situated ways of seeing was further crystalized by and through the work of Ryan Milner (who I ultimately got to write that book about internet ambivalence with; I feel very fortunate to say say that I was a fan of Milner’s before I’d written anything with him). In his very excellent book on the subject, Milner lays out a number of social logics that animate the spread of memetic media, including reappropriation, collectivism, spread, multimodality, and resonance. The last, resonance, is the most critical logic to this conversation—the fact that something broadly connects with somebody, compelling them to share, remix, or variously play with whatever media object (media not restricted to the digital, either; music also counts, artistic genre also counts, swearing also counts, on and on). This connection could be good, it could be bad, it could be ironic, it could be sincere, or anything in between. What matters is that the personal connection is there. In a world overwhelmed by ambivalence, she says, using her best movie trailer narration voice, resonance is something we can actually know. Because otherwise, why would anyone bother watch or smash or recreate or rail against anything?

The idea that something resonates is a pretty straightforward (and immediately verifiable) claim. What becomes very revealing very quickly is the situated experiences that give rise to that resonance; the fact that a body, in the world, has experiences that are, in complex and overlapping ways, both chosen by the person and imposed by their broader circumstances such that certain objects are rendered attractive, certain objects are rendered repellant, and certain objects are simply not noticed. Trying to understand how bodies dictate —or at least power forward and direct— fannish sight becomes, then, the object of highest analytic value—one that is complicated in significant ways, and sometimes outright thwarted, by the limitations imposed by online spaces and tools. But that’s getting off the tracks a bit.

This basic point, though, that we have to look at where someone is coming from—economically, politically, spatially—to fully understand or appreciate their fannish engagement, is something you echo throughout your response, both in terms of your own experiences as a fan and in your call for further research within the field. You’ve already thoughtfully explained how your own personal experiences helped turn your eye towards this line of inquiry (another example of the situated knower at work)— and now I’m wondering if there were any other theories or framings that spurred it on and/or affirmed your hunch? And/or, are there specific theoretical entry points—including particular autoethnographic accounts you particularly like—you think could be integrated into Fan Studies that aren’t currently being used?
 

Ross

 

These are really provocative thoughts and it’s exciting to be engaging in this dialogue. I’m wondering if we can push them further to develop an account of the structural relations linking ambivalence online, subject positioning and nostalgia. To do this, I’m going to continue the theoretical meta-dive and address the different ‘post-‘s’ which underpin where we’re both coming from.

I agree with the feminist episteme that you’ve mentioned and would layer this with the importance of post-colonialist discourses in autoethnography. Given autoethnography’s roots in anthropology as a method for deconstructing the assumed superiority granted to (typically white Western male) researchers, this necessitates that we demonstrate reflexivity towards our location within, and relationship to, hegemonic power structures. Such an approach has produced fascinating accounts of why popular culture objects resonate across contexts of migration (Knijnik 2015) or gender (Monaco 2010). Crucially, though, autoethnography’s de-centring of the self highlights its fragmentary nature – a point that resonates with your comments concerning a lack of stable meaning online and ambivalence.

Rather than Barthes, I would argue that in this context (and beyond) Fan Studies needs a more thorough integration of an alternative post-structuralist thinker, Michel Foucault, and his arguments concerning power, knowledge and subject positions. It’s Foucault’s arguments in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972) and Discipline and Punish (1977) which are most useful here – specifically his points regarding how knowledge is communicated through discourse and how discourse works upon individuals to produce identity positions. This account moves away from considering power as a monolithic bloc (in the Marxist and neo-Marxist understanding of its manifestations – see also Sandvoss 2005) to instead recognise the diffuse nature of power and its multiple manifestations across institutional, organizational or, by extension, technological contexts.

Whitney

Oh I agree with all of this! And actually that connects to my primary quibble with Barthes’ claim that the punctum—basically the thing about a photograph that “pricks” one’s psyche with deep emotional resonance—is fundamentally personal, fundamentally idiosyncratic, and/therefore fundamentally separable from culture. This, Barthes argues, is in contrast to the studium, which is all the cultural stuff that one likes (or even just notices) because of it’s culturally familiar. A vague, slippery, irresponsible interest in the things one finds familiar and therefore “all right,” is how he frames it (85). Basically he’s saying that studium-level sight is situated historically, politically, and more broadly culturally, but the punctum is not; through punctum-level sight, Barthes says, ‘I dismiss all knowledge, all culture, I refuse to inherit anything from another eye than my own’ (1981: 51).

As right as Barthes might be about the studium, his perspective on the punctum is, of course, nonsense. Ryan Milner and I underscore this point (both what Barthes gets right about the studium and wrong about the punctum) in another piece on what we describe as the political punctum (included in this edited volume). It couples Barthes’ reflections on photography, Stuart Hall’s (1973) foundational discussion of textual encoding and decoding, and Harding’s (1992) articulation of feminist standpoint theory to explore and culturally contexualize the spread of memetic media—with the #YesAllWomen and “Not All Men” memes (which themselves emerged from/were further amplified by their connection to 2014’s misogyny-fueled mass shooting in Santa Barbara) employed as the primary case study. Regardless of what Barthes believes to be the case about his own eyes (and by extension his own fannish sight), you cannot fully understand punctum-level “I love it!” responses, or any kind of response, even vague, slippery, irresponsible “eh that’s fine” responses, without talking about existing power structures—even as these response may, simultaneously, be highly personal and idiosyncratic.  

Ross

I totally agree with your critique of Barthes here and I think we can agree that focusing on issues of power allows researchers to locate subjective identities within broader cultural structures. Developing this stance in relation to your arguments about meaning and ambivalence online, I wonder if this can help us to better understand the online behaviours you’re discussing. Ambivalence is often positioned as a consequence of contemporary postmodern society due to the collapse of metanarratives (following Lyotard 1984). Such accounts are, I would argue, too general and ‘top heavy’ in their understanding of power but combining ambivalence as a contemporary social characteristic with Foucault’s understanding of subject positions may provide useful insights.

For example, in a digital culture we are confronted not only with a fragmentary self-identity offline but also the disparity between online and offline self-performances. What’s more, there’s the possibility that our online performances alter from platform to platform as our Facebook profile might be different to that performed on Twitter or Tumblr. Recognizing this further destabilizes contemporary subjectivity as individuals are required to continually shift position between offline, online, and platform specific selves. The resulting ambivalence this can generate in understanding ‘our self’ generates the need for strategies to negotiate these environments. In other words, the anxieties of knowing ‘who I am’ are multiplied within digital culture and across social media.

It’s here that I think nostalgia comes in and how/why we might need to address it. Although it’s an account I’m complicating in my forthcoming monograph, nostalgia is frequently understood at the social level as a response to feelings of anxiety and ambivalence. That is, when faced with uncertain times and responses, social groups fall back on romanticised constructions of ‘what they know’. This understanding of nostalgia connects with Anthony Giddens’s (1991) arguments concerning ontological security within late modern societies where, when faced with the uncertainty of globally-dispersed systems of power and trust, individuals and groups find a sense of security in having what they know about the world reaffirmed.


The first question I’d pose, then, is whether the ambivalence you’ve observed online – which is frequently underpinned by a nostalgia for an imagined socio-temporal period characterized by fixed employment, gender roles, and textual meaning – relates to the social, cultural, historical and technological structures I’m outlining here; do you think ontological insecurity might be generated by continually-shifting subject positions which are intensified by negotiating between online and offline identities, as well as platform-specific performances?

Secondly, and returning to more immediate Fan Studies debates, do you think that part of the attraction of the ambivalent fan-troll readers (and beyond) you’ve studied online relates to how they appear to provide communities or subcultures where shared, stable meanings circulate? Given the range of readings and perspectives that are accessible online, do groups like the alt-right generate nostalgic spaces for ‘fixed’ interpretations and values like ambivalence, consequently providing ontological security?

Thirdly, returning to the idea of resonance, do you think that a return to Grossberg’s concept of the mattering map is useful? This is something I’ve forwarded in a recent publication (see the aforementioned forthcoming Journal of Fan Studies article; also Proctor 2013) and Grossberg (1992: 58) argues that:

"At different points and places in our lives, we reorder the hierarchical relations among these differences. We redefine our own identity out of the relations among our differences; we reorder their importance, we invest ourselves more in some than in others".

Extending the point connecting nostalgia for shared values, ambivalence, and ontological security, do you think what resonates within these groups is applicable to the idea of mattering maps and how the shared meanings of objects – whether Pepe the Frog or Insane Clown Posse clips – reaffirm shared identities and provide reassurance in the face of multiple perspectives and an ever-fragmenting sense of self?

Whitney


It’s interesting, the ambivalence you’re describing here—about the fracture of identity online, spurred on by context collapse—butts up against a deeper ambivalence that makes answering your question much more difficult, and sometimes outright impossible, depending on the example. The work Milner and I have done on vernacular online expression (particularly through the lens of mischief, oddity, and humor) does talk about this level of ambivalence; we have a whole chapter on identity play, and within that broad context also explore the kind of nostalgia you’re describing (which we speak to in this exchange, specifically the point about overly romantic conceptions of folklore).

But what adds ambivalence on top of ambivalence is the fact, addressed above, that just because people are doing and saying something online (or offline as well, but particularly in digitally mediated environments where context cues are often minimal), doesn’t mean any of it is sincere; it’s not a leg of the table you can lean on, no matter how much you might want to. This is Poe’s Law in a nutshell, which I mentioned briefly earlier; the fact that sincerity and satire are almost impossible to parse online, particularly once something begins pinballing across social media (here we talk about this process and its implications related to X-Files sparkle hair gifs). In these cases, it’s not just that satirical expression can be mistaken for sincere expression. It’s that expression can be simultaneously sincere and satirical, depending on who might be participating, how the messages might be decoded by cross-pollinated audiences, and what these audiences choose to do in response.

It’s ambivalence all the way down, in other words, which is what makes assessing something like nostalgia—whether employed constructively or destructively, progressively of regressively—so difficult. Something might look like an expression of ontological insecurity. And it may be that, either for the poster themselves or for any number of the people who engage with and further amplify that content. But it may also be a joke (also to the original poster and/or for the people who subsequently engage with it). It may also be a bot (ditto). It may also be a Russian disinformation agent (honestly 2018), or who knows who or what or why. The problem is that, when stepping onto an online platform and observing unfolding behavior, there’s often no way of knowing for sure. Even when you ask participants, who knows if you’re getting the full story, if they even know the full story (individual people aren’t just mysteries to other individual people, individual people are also often mysteries to themselves).  

As for your second question, one of the hallmarks of alt-right shitposting (and really, any other form of targeted online antagonism, even if the specific political message isn’t clear) is that so much of it is done under the banner of irony, or at least the possibility that something could be ironic, which has the exciting bonus of allowing participants to fall back on the “I was just trolling/joking” rhetorical deflection (read: cop-out) if suddenly someone has the audacity to hold them responsible for the things they choose to say and do to others on the internet. So I actually see little use in trying to extrapolate out to what anonymous shitposters “really” mean in terms of nostalgia or anything else by posting dehumanizing messages and generally making things terrible. This isn’t to say that it’s not worth studying, or not possible to study, these communities in depth; it absolutely is. But when confronted by the handiwork of anonymous strangers on the internet, I think the best approach is to cast off discussions of motives entirely, and focus instead on the impact of the behaviors. That’s something we can know, and further, can situate within broader discourses of power—analyses that hold regardless of whether participants cry irony or not. What narrative seeds are recast into the air, and what do those seeds end up growing—that’s what Milner and I advocate focusing on.

This brings us back to your question about resonance. As Milner and I emphasize in our analysis of collective storytelling, people latch onto elements of particular narratives for all kinds of reasons, from love to eh it’s fine to haha awesome this is terrible to everything in between, in the process ensuring that the narratives will live on through further retellings. In many cases, particularly when considering centuries-old narrative tropes (which show up with great frequency in even the most contemporary media), the only thing that can be known for sure is that the narratives resonated at some level with the people doing the sharing. It may not be possible to draw out mattering maps for individual participants (for one thing, you may have no way of knowing who these participants were, just that their recasting of seeds ensured the continued life of a story), but you can draw more broadly cultural mattering maps, which assess how many and what kinds of seeds there are—a point we apply to the preponderance of regressive tropes, from racism to misogyny to classism to ableism, that permeate the most enduring narratives across era and media. Again, this allows you to home in on issues of power and intersectional identity even if you can’t get to the specific articulations of power and intersectional identity in individual participants.

From an analytic, data-collection standpoint, it would be better (of course!) if it were possible to analyze exactly how nostalgia or ontological insecurity factored into individual participants’ motivations and behaviors. Without question, these studium and punctum-level responses factor into people’s media engagement practices, training their eyes in particular ways. But that information is often simply unavailable, especially in anonymous or pseudonymous online environments. And so, sometimes, the best thing you can do is try to map the winds.   

Ross

This has been such a rich (if a little intense) discussion and I’ve really enjoyed partaking in it. I’ve got a number of thoughts shooting off in multiple directions (I love the idea of producing cultural mattering maps, and there’s much more to be said about the value attached to constructions of authenticity nowadays) but I’m going to try and keep this focused on a couple of closing thoughts.

Firstly, I’m completely on board with what you’re saying about studying the effects of trolling and ambivalence online. This connects with something I’ve inadvertently and unintentionally encountered whilst researching nostalgia and the Power Rangers franchise for the monograph where one of the lead actresses in a recent series has been subjected to ongoing hate and abuse after splitting up with her rock-star boyfriend (it’s so far led to her posting this YouTube response video; I feel a paper brewing on this in the future). However, as bonkers as it might sound, I think that omitting the intentions and motivations of online trolls risks alienating these people from our discussions. As Cultural Studies scholars, shouldn’t we be trying to work with these (As uncomfortable as this might be)? Although such a stance throws up a minefield of methodological and ethical concerns, is this an area where autoethnography could be useful? I suppose I’m tentatively suggesting a ‘Writing with the Alt-Right’ project where a better understanding of these people’s world-views might be obtained by conducting self-writing projects with such people.*

Secondly, and on a less speculative level, I think what’s emerged from our discussions in terms of Fan Studies is for greater attention to be paid to ‘where fans are situated’ rather than just ‘what fans do’. This would involve thinking about not only how fans are located in relation to, and negotiate, the complex and dispersed manifestations of industrial power that they encounter on a day-to-day basis, but also their positioning in relation to wider social, historical, cultural and technological constructions of power. This might involve ‘going deeper’, as we’ve done here, with a view to teasing out abstract theorizations of fan identities that speak to the current cultural moment.

**Very quick not-enough-space-for-a-full-response response from Whitney: Perhaps, but this assumes, most basically, that the intentions and motivations of these participants would even be possible to discern and assess, which in many cases, simply are not. Second it assumes that these subjects would have any interest in participating in these discussions, or more basically, any interest in not actively trying to thwart critics’ efforts to understand, as is so frequently the case with online antagonists and others looking to disrupt and provoke—a particular hallmark of the irony-poisoned aggressions emanating from the far-right fringe. In short, when you’re talking about good faith participants, I tend to agree, but sincerity is not always something researchers can rely on or even know when they see, and a particular methodology needs to somehow account for—and when needed, to provide workarounds for—that complication.

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Whitney Phillips & Ross Garner (Pt. 1)

Whitney

My introduction to fan studies was sideways to begin with, which probably explains my subsequent trajectory in and around the field. It started with the Insane Clown Posse, because of course it did. At the time, around 2010, I was working on my dissertation, which focused on the emergence and evolution of subcultural trolling. (Stop sign: this work, upon which my 2015 book was ultimately based, focused on a particular understanding of a particular kind of trolling; see here and here for some of that history. The trolling thread will pick up again later, so bear with me. For now I’m just waving my arms around to indicate that I am not talking about GamerGate, or the alt-right, or Donald Trump. But I’ll get there.)

These trolls were like most communities, whether online or off, in that they had a recognizable argot, drew from a host of behavioral norms and traditions, and policed the boundaries of what made someone a “good” community member. What trolls did that was more unusual was to affect an explicitly disdainful, antagonistic stance towards many of the things that were, simultaneously, resonant and popular within the community. It wasn’t just that trolls bonded over their shared hate for certain people, places, and texts. The trolls played with those things, and actively enjoyed them—while just as actively undermining, maligning, and in many cases trying to destroy them. That was already pretty weird.

 

The next layer of weirdness came when one of my research participants casually described trolling as a kind of fandom. I asked him to explain, and he said, well, look at the reaction to the Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles” video. I talk more about trolls’ reaction to “Miracles” in this Spreadable Media contributor essay. The takeaway is that trolls loved “Miracles” and spent countless hours creating countless GIFs and memes and other remixed media because they hated everything the Insane Clown Posse stood for, most especially the band’s fans, known as Juggalos. For my research participant, the overlap between sincerely loathing something, attacking those who actually liked it, and also being joyfully obsessed with that thing (because, again, you hate it so much you can’t stop laughing) was a given.

A troll gave me the idea, in other words, and because I didn’t quite know what to think about the line between fannish love and fannish hate, decided to drop my anchor.

I have since written one journal article and two book chapters on the subject (though none of these pieces address trolling specifically, I had a seperate line of inquiry going for all that). The first was published by Transformative Works and Cultures in 2013. It employs, and complicates, notions of camp, anti-fandom, and the Japanese term kuso (which translates roughly as “haha awesome this is terrible”) to explore the emotional appeal of bad content. Its primary case study is the 1990 masterclass hell thesis Troll 2, a film that, for starters, is not a sequel, and does not feature any trolls. It was in this essay that I first floated the idea that conservatism, manifested through social and economic privilege—not counterhegemonic engagement, as might be expected—is what characterizes “so-bad-it’s-good” fandom. After all, without knowing what the rules of “good” cinema are (the result of cultural exposure, media resources, and leisure time), and furthermore, without caring about those rules (the result of placing faith in institutional norms), one would have no reason to have any reaction, let alone an uproarious reaction, when those rules are broken.

I developed these ideas further in two subsequent book chapters. The first, included in Melissa Click’s edited volume Dislike, Hate, and Anti-fandom in the Digital Age (forthcoming 2018), explores fan responses to the exploifreakment TLC reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (I began writing the chapter in 2013, right after I published the kuso article). As I argue, while audience responses to the show were often outright antagonistic and seemed to align with explicit, even textbook, cases of anti-fandom, they were simultaneously affirmative and hegemonic; not only did these responses align with the network’s branding strategy, they replicated normative assumptions about how “normal” (coded to mean “white middle class”) women in American should look, speak, and behave. Again, you needed to have internalized the rules in order to find it funny, charming, or much more basically, noticeable when the rules were, in the case of Honey Boo Boo, ripped to pieces and fed to a glitz pig. The “anti-fan” framework wasn’t just inaccurate in describing this engagement, I asserted. It foreclosed broader discussions about the cultural circumstances out of which the text, and the community who loved to hate the text, emerged. I advocated, instead, for a framework that would actively embrace the slippage between normal and aberational, derisive and complementary, and of course between “normal” fans and fan with fangs. A kind of ambi-fandom.  

It was through this chapter that I began employing ambivalence—that is to say, strong tension between opposites—as a heuristic in my work, a thread I revisited in another fan studies volume, Routledge’s Companion to Media Fandom, edited by Melissa Click and Suzanne Scott (2018). In addition to (even more) explicitly tethering “so-bad-it’s-good” fan engagement to raced, classed, and gendered identity, and to underscoring the conservative elements of apparently subversive fan behavior, I affirmed the value of studying fan participation that is both this thing (community strengthening, pro-social, creative) and that thing (community decimating, anti-social, and destructive), a perspective my co-author Ryan Milner and I spun off into an entirely new book project focused on the weird and mean and in-between of online folk expression, ultimately titled The Ambivalent Internet (Milner and I did a three-part interview about the book for this very blog).

And then Donald Trump ate the media ecosystem, which loops me back to the first section of this post. The “trolls” associated with the white nationalist alt-right also happened to be some of Trump’s most die-hard fans, even as their motivations (for helping spread the Pizzagate conspiracy, for seeding Pepe the Frog as meme of the year, for taking up the campus free speech crusade) may have been obfuscated by Poe’s Law. The subsequent pro-Trump “shitposting” that emanated from 4chan, 8chan, and parts of Reddit and Twitter, along with the cacophony of false and manipulative pro-Trump messages that subsequently careered across and between online collectives, called pointed attention the ambivalence baked into online spaces, communities, and tools.

What had always been true, but became impossible to ignore in 2016, is that online expression is equally capable of empowering and dehumanizing, making chuckle and making furious, and being both vessel for diverse expression and hindrance to diverse expression, often in the same moment, depending on who might be watching and what ends up happening as a result. Furthermore, this expression can be impossible to classify just by observing, as satires of bigotry look the same as actual bigotry, and good-faith mistakes look the same as deliberate fictions, and simply being wrong about something looks the same as networked propaganda—a point that grows increasingly salient, increasingly bewildering, and at times increasingly dangerous as participatory media is intercepted and amplified by additional unpredictable, and often unknowable, audience members.

This shift to ambivalence may seem to take us away, somewhat, from discussions of fan studies proper. But it doesn’t; rather, it speaks to the fact that fan studies, like all disciplines concerned with the expressive communication of everyday people, must take into account—can no longer afford not take into account—that just because something walks like a duck on the internet, and talks like a duck on the internet, does not mean that it is actually a duck on the internet, or anywhere else. Echoing the famed 1990s adage “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” the internet of 2018 is marked by the much more concerning adage that, on the internet, nobody knows anything. At least, not enough to say, just looking at the networked behavior of strangers, this is what that means.

Ross

It probably sounds cheesy but my first experiences of studying fandom at undergraduate level were life-changing. Sure, I’d found studying political economy and political communication rewarding but here was a set of debates that spoke to my experiences of living with (and within) popular culture. Reading John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins’s Science Fiction Audiences (1995), where audience discussions of ‘classic’ Doctor Who stories were non-judgementally deconstructed, provided a sense of validation that had previously been missing.

Despite this ‘affirmational’ (more on that term shortly) experience, neither Science Fiction Audiences, Textual Poachers (1992) or Enterprising Women (1992) aligned with how I’d experienced fandom. As others have indicated in this series of blog posts, there was something uncanny about the experiences under analysis in that whilst some practices seemed familiar, others were distinctly unfamiliar. Adding my own experiences to the discussion with a view to contributing towards a fuller representation of ‘fandom’ remains an ongoing motivation for me.

Although unaware of it until recent self-reflection, experiencing fandom through growing up in a small rural town in Devon in the South West of the UK has shaped my scholarly interests in fandom’s relationship to feelings of nostalgia and its spatial dimensions. For example, living in Devon meant an increasing awareness that I was both geographically and, to a certain extent due to my embodied class position, economically detached from the locations where the practices analysed by early Fan Studies literature took place. Simply put, there were no conventions and the closest organized fan groups were approximately 20 miles away. In terms of consuming a fan object, you lived on the hope that the small local retailers were stocking the new singles by obscure Britpop artists (anyone remember Geneva? Thought not), Doctor Who VHS releases, or copies of Star Wars Magazine. ‘Fandom’ was therefore primarily about consumption of mass-produced, but niche-targeted and, in Devon, hard-to-find, media; in terms of sociality, ‘being a fan’ was about negotiating shared tastes within friendship groups rather than meeting other fans and creating things.

However, my awareness that fandom was ‘out there’ (to quote The X-Files) generated and sustained a subjective longing for proximity to such places, whether these be specialist retailers, concert venues or beyond. It’s unsurprising that I have vivid memories of the excitement felt whilst during a childhood family holiday it was announced that the nuclear power station we were visiting on that day had been used to film Doctor Who during the 1970s. Being at this location was a way of momentarily bridging the felt and enduring lack of proximity to a beloved cultural property.Equally, the exhilaration experienced whenever the opportunity to ride the Star Tours attraction at iterations of Disneyland parks arises works in a similar way.

Some readers may take this overview as rambling, but I’m using it to establish where my interests in Fan Studies fall and where, I would argue, more scholarly attention should be directed. One area that fascinates me is developing our understanding of how constructions of nostalgia structure and guide individual fan identities. Some of my publications have engaged these issues by developing our understanding of fan textualities beyond issues of interpretation (Gray 2003) to instead address affect-based constructions of fan objects (Garner 2018a - N.B. this piece will be in Issue 6.1 of Journal of Fandom Studies). This work, as well as other articles (Garner 2016a), has explored how nostalgic discourses constructed in relation to a fan object are either structured by contextual factors or exist in tension with other, production-located (and therefore ‘official’), constructions of nostalgia.

Exploring these questions gives rise to another – what represents an appropriate methodology? Affect is a notoriously difficult concept to theorize and this leads me to frequently deploy, and argue in favour of, autoethnographic methods (Garner forthcoming in a special issue of JOMEC Journal on Transmedia Tourism). Autoethnography – or ethnography of the self – can provide insights including how an individual fans situatedness amongst socio-cultural structures (of gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality etc.) at particular points in time can (re)generate attachments to, and longings for, particular fan objects (Garner 2018). Such arguments sit alongside your points concerning ‘ambi-fandom’, Whitney. Additionally, autoethnography can be deployed for studying fandom’s spatial dimensions by considering how fans connect with everyday sites that have been used for filming (Garner 2016b). As affect is an integral part of fan experiences, but is something experienced primarily at the bodily level, autoethnography provides a toolkit for capturing the affective charges, as well as disappointments (Jones forthcoming, also in the JOMEC Journal special issue), that characterize fandom.

Of course, my assertions come with caveats that prompt reflection: nostalgia is, for example, frequently associated with ideological conservatism and a regressive disposition (both individually and socially). Although these meanings need to be addressed with sensitivity and critique in relation to the political field (Hello Mr Trump, Mr Farage and other proponents of rampant nationalism), I would argue that this need not result in nostalgia’s wholesale academic rejection. Regarding individualized fan identities, understanding fans’ nostalgic attachments to particular objects represents a largely under-theorized element of these situated and constructed performances and more work is needed to develop this understanding (Stevenson 2009 and Harrington and Bielby 2010 have planted useful seeds, however). Rather than taking a reductive, ideologically-focused reading of nostalgia, greater engagement with how nostalgic meanings are constructed in relation to a fan object at specific points during both an individual and shared biography is required.

Secondly, the self accounts arising from autoethnographic inquiry must always be interrogated thoroughly and self-reflexively. Autoethnography should be neither atheoretical, autobiographical writing nor an exercise in covertly valuing certain objects and approaches to performing fandom over others (I see you, distinctions between affirmational and transformational fandom!). It should instead provide a form of analysis that locates subjective experiences of fandom within the range of social, cultural and historical structures that produce the self and shouldn’t shy away from recognizing how aspects such as consumer culture generate individual fan identities, behaviours and emotional reactions.

Additionally, arguing in favour of autoethnography requires that a diverse range of fan-scholars, representing multiple identity positions, need to engage in these practices. With its connotations of self-indulgent naval gazing, autoethnography implies (white male) privilege given that there are still so many forms of fan identity which the discipline has underrepresented to date. However, encouraging fan scholars who embody non-hegemonic subject positions to write on their affective responses and attachments to fan objects can provide insights into how different forms of nostalgia become constructed and negotiated across the spectrum of subjective identities that Fan Studies includes.

———

 

The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Rebecca Williams and Anne Gilbert (Pt. 2)

Rebecca

I think the idea of being a fan of fandom itself is a really interesting one and it certainly resonates with me. I’m an admirer of those who are able to get involved in communities and make those connections, but always from a slight distance. I also think your point about the importance of considering hierarchies here is crucial - there is as you point out a tendency for people to frequently distance themselves from ‘other’ fans, people who are more invested or more involved can easily be positioned as distinct from us. But sites like Comic Cons offer some fascinating opportunities to consider how this works. There’s been a great deal of debate about how far fandom has been ‘mainstreamed’ and it’s clear that companies like Disney and their use of Marvel and Star Wars, for example, have really targeted fans in recent years. But I think we run the risk sometimes of making the argument that everyone is a fan or ‘fannish’ and so I wonder whether this is a potential issue too? If we start to look at people who may not identify as fans per se, but who are clearly behaving in fannish ways, then how can Fan Studies draw a line? Or should we even try? Does defining who fans are and what they do even matter as much any more?

Anne

I do think we run the risk of allowing fan studies (and cultural sentiment) to move toward a generalized “everyone is a fan!” perspective, and the inevitable fallout from that – if everyone is a fan, then no one is. But at the same time, I am uncomfortable ascribing an identity to someone who resists it, even when their behaviors indicate otherwise. I don’t have a solid answer, unfortunately, but it is why I try to be clear in my language: I tend to study fan practices or behaviors and I approach the constructs of fannish identities, rather than explore embodied identity. This makes me appreciate even more the research that does explore the experience of a fan identity, and to be sure I think that people who practice fandom but who explicitly resist the title are not necessarily the norm, but this is why I think there is a need for fan studies scholarship to be more explicit when we study practice and when we study the person.

Place is perhaps particularly useful (or challenging?) for this, too, because the behaviors in highly constructed places, like Comic-Con as well as theme parks, are deliberately structured to make everyone behave in fan-like ways. And of course, like you mention, this raises the inevitable specter of Disney. As they add Marvel and Star Wars areas to their parks (to do even more of that targeting of existing fans that you are talking about), it structures behaviors that are “appropriate” for Star Wars and Marvel fans to enact. So how do you distinguish longstanding Marvel fans from ones who were enticed, like you were with Harry Potter, by the visit? How do you distinguish Marvel fans in line at the park from Disney fans in those same lines, or from tired parents who just want their kids to stop begging already? Or do those distinctions matter, from a research standpoint?


Rebecca

I think looking at those spaces like Comic Cons or theme parks is really important. Fan Studies has long tended to explore place in terms of pilgrimage to sites that have importance for specific fandoms (or more than one, as Will Brooker discusses in relation to Vancouver). But places and sites that are deliberately designed to appeal to multiple fan bases and fandoms are clear challenges to this kind of approach. For me, my research into theme parks has been especially interesting precisely because there is such a mix of people in those spaces from parents and children to regular tourists through to dedicated fans of Disney or even the parks themselves. In  a forthcoming piece I’ve written about how Disney has worked to marshall fan practices and behaviours in the parks (in some cases moving from specific fan events more in line with typical conventions towards an everyday fannish-ness) in relation to Star Wars and I’m really interested to see how fans of Marvel and Star Wars start to occupy spaces alongside ordinary tourists and fans of Disney itself. I think there’s a lot of potential for dischord especially since fans are not shy in letting people know when physical immersive experiences don’t live up to expectation. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the theme park space and how it complicates further some of our ideas about fan practices, identities and hierarchies.

Anne

I do think there is a lot to be discovered in the mixing of fan groups within physical spaces of fan practice, and I am delighted that more of fan studies seems to be moving in that direction. Another way that I think spaces like those we are discussing can trouble the notion of pilgrimage is as a result of the deliberate design that went into them. When fans tour sites in a city that were locations in a beloved TV show, they are able to ascribe meaning and forge a path that resonates with them, to some degree. Theme parks and conventions, on the other hand, are such heavily constructed spaces that the experiences they offer are likewise deliberate constructs. I fully admit that I am not always comfortable with the degree to which the space, experience, and ideal fan identity at SDCC is first and foremost that of a consumer. However, I think it can be as beneficial to consider how fans move through spaces that may afford them less agency as it is to analyze how fans construct their own practices, communities, and spaces in relation to media texts.

Rebecca

Given your point here about the constructedness of certain spaces, I think one of the questions I’d like to leave us with is whether the existing frameworks for understanding fans’ engagement with place are sufficient. Can approaches built on the concept of pilgrimage really account for examples like Comic Cons? I don’t think so, but I’m not convinced that the notion of tourism works here either (in a way that it might for thinking about theme park spaces, for example). It’s a big question to pose but I wonder whether, if both approaches that draw on concepts of pilgrimage and/or fan tourism prove lacking, what might the future be for expanding our understanding of fan’s relationships with places that are meaningful to them?

Anne

It’s a good question, one I think worth grappling with within the discipline. I would also like to link it back to what we addressed at the beginning, the issue of methodology and the unaffiliated fans who may be forming relationships with place but not with other fans. How do we approach a study of a fan’s meaning-making of place that is, methodologically speaking, able to address and include those who bear some affiliation with fandom, but who may not adopt recognizable aspects of fan practice or identity?

————

 

The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Rebecca Williams and Anne Gilbert (Pt. 1)

Rebecca Williams

As an undergraduate student, studying a course in Journalism, Film & Broadcasting because I thought I wanted to be a journalist, I remember the moment I realised that Fan Studies existed and that it was something I wanted to do. I was taking an undergraduate course, taught by Matt Hills, and after the very first session headed to the University library to take out the “classic” texts; Textual Poachers, Camille Bacon-Smith’s Enterprising Women, and the edited collection on The Adoring Audience. From this point, in my second year of undergrad study, I had a sense that I wanted to become an academic and that I wanted to study fans. I wanted to see people like me be represented in the field and to work to better understand the often complex connections that we have to different objects.

My trajectory was a fairly linear academic one in the UK. I went from a BA to a Masters-level course, then straight into my PhD where I was keen to look at how fans across different fandoms shared practices and modes of identification and communication. At that point, and I’d argue still, fan studies has tended to be relatively monolithic and remains guilty of often looking at single objects or communities in isolation. Whilst some work has started to look at ideas such as ‘cyclical fandom’ and I’ve considered the concept of ‘interloping fans’ moving into fandoms that are adjacent to a central text, I’d like to see more understanding of how people move across fandoms, and how they move in and out of these in different ways.

My PhD thesis focused on fandoms around three different TV genres – drama, soap opera, and reality television and found that systems of cultural value and hierarchy and discussions of self-identity and narrative were common across each. The work I’ve really focused on since, however, was originally a small part of the study – it just so happened as I was researching fans of The West Wing that the series was cancelled. This opened up a quite unique chance to research fannish responses before, during, and after the cancellation. This was also something that, at the time, was relatively under-researched and which I chose to focus on in my subsequent research. The idea of post-object fandom, looking at what happens to fans and fandoms after the objects of their affection cease to produce new works, has allowed me to really chart the complex ways in which fandom and identity and narrative intersect. I’ve been keen to focus on this largely because I also think that fan studies has over-emphasised fan community at the expense of the more individual experiences of the fan, what I referred to as ‘lone fandom’ in my Post-Object Fandom book.

 

This is important to me because my own experiences in fandom have been relatively lone pursuits. I’ve dipped my toe in the waters of organised fan cultures but never moved beyond reading other people’s posts, tweets or Tumblr blogs, perhaps occasionally making a comment or two, but never really forming any relationship with those people. I attend fan conventions, and make polite conversation with people in lines but I don’t become friends with them. I’ve always felt in some ways that this has marked me out as quite different within fan studies. I don’t readily adopt the term aca-fan in the same way as others might because I’m often more of an outsider to the fandoms I may study than other scholars are. I think this inside/outside position is something that needs more research and understanding – I think it throws up some interesting and important ethical questions, for example. It also offers different ways to think about how we conceptualise fans and fandom (a debate that has long raged within the discipline). I really like Cornel Sandvoss’ work in Fans for this reason, in his discussion of how whilst many fans draw on community and connection, for others the sense of self-identity (which may be an individual process of negotiation) is the most important factor. I’d like to see Fan Studies pay even more attention to this because lone fans pose methodological challenges. For instance, if we tend to recruit participants via established existing communities for ease, or because we are already community members who have access, how can we contact lone fans to engage them in our research? If, by their very nature, they are not largely engaged in communities, how can we start to understand their engagement in other ways? I’d like to see this discussed and developed more, and to move away a little from the sometimes still overly positive focus on fan community.

On another note, I’ve found myself researching fannish places and locations as a result of a research assistant post I was appointed too straight after I finished my doctoral research. This was not something I had previously considered, but it’s a testament to how we can sometimes almost accidentally become interested in areas we have previously not really focused on. As my experience in fan studies and my role conducting audience research into responses to the use of locations in and around Cardiff in the UK in television shows like Doctor Who came together though, I’ve become much more focused on the different ways that place, fandom, and identity intersect. My current research into Theme Park Fandom has opened up some fascinating questions such as: can we be fans of a place? As I’ve noted elsewhere, “It is thus useful to consider what places can do to visitors who may not bring particular media or fan-specific imaginative expectations with them and yet may respond strongly to a partic­ular place. What aspects of that spatial experience are these individuals responding to? What confluence of affective, emotional and experiential elements may cause them to become fans of that site and its associated texts or cult icons?” (Williams 2018: 104). For example, my own fandom of Harry Potter emerged only after my first visit to the Hogsmeade section of Universal’s Wizarding World in 2011; my interest in those places and my experiences of them were physically rooted, embodied and spatial before they were textual. I’m thus really keen to see studies of fan tourism move beyond the metaphor of pilgrimage and a focus on fan visits to places seen in texts towards more of a deconstruction of how place and fandom intersect in different ways. As always, I think it’s crucial for fan studies to keep moving into new areas of study, whether that is paying more attention to different ‘types’ of fan (e.g. the lone fan. I’d also love to see some proper research into children as fans), or re-thinking some of the established modes of understanding fan practices (such as moving away from a more linear understanding of fan visits to locations being driven by a text towards consideration of how a place may generate fannish attraction and practices.)

Anne Gilbert

At the time I “discovered” fan studies, I had never been in a fandom in my life. I was a film geek and TV junkie growing up, but I was well into my graduate studies before I learned what was involved in fandom – and most of that I learned for the first time through scholarship. My undergraduate degree was in a fairly traditional film & media program, where we studied theory, history, and aesthetics of film, with a little TV thrown in. In the second semester of my coursework toward an MA in film studies, I took a required course in media and culture studies; in this class, I found out that I am more interested in studying what people do to make meaning out of the media they consume than I am in studying media texts themselves. We were assigned, among other things, Henry Jenkins’ “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten” (1988); I was introduced to cultural studies as a means of studying media and what people do with it in their daily lives; and I was hooked.

But again – I was not, myself, a fan. I had never heard of fan fiction or vidding, I had never attended a convention, I had never been much of a joiner at all, much less tempted into a fan community. I was, however, a lurker, and this was the height of Web 2.0. I procrastinated all manner of work by reading comments sections and message boards online, watching how others invested such time and energy into loving (and hating) popular culture. I read every scathing recap on Television Without Pity, and my participation with media became wound up in the productivity of others. In essence, I became a fan of fandom.

Like you, I don’t identify as an aca-fan – it is a term that never really resonated with my own positionality – but I do appreciate the reflexivity involved in the concept. If fan studies was established as a discipline that gave theoretical rigor to the practices of the fan communities in which aca-fans were enmeshed, then it seems we are both arguing for new directions in the field that account for the practices that are more like those in our experiences.

Your concept of lone fandom reflects a good portion of this experience for me, someone more prone to exhibiting my personal fandom through voracious, even obsessive, viewing rather than through connecting with others. As a concept, I think it it speaks to a need to be more explicit in our work in separating fans from fandom. What language, for example, do we have to account for those who are not so much drawn in by investment in a particular text, but rather by the interpersonal connections and camaraderie of the community itself? If you can have a fan without the community, how do we address the fandom that is not based on fannish affect?

I do regular fieldwork at San Diego Comic-Con, where it is quite common for me to interview individuals who disavow or demur a fan identity. When I approach someone in line and ask to talk with them about the convention, they might reply, “Oh, you don’t really want to talk to me. I am not as much of a fan as some of the people here.” And yet, these are people who made the (considerable) effort to get to San Diego for Comic-Con, who are in an hours-long line to see a panel, who spend time and money at the convention to buy exclusive toys or clothes for their favorite things. They do fannish things, but resist calling themselves fans.

Some of this is, of course, self-preservation that acknowledges perceptions of hierarchies and insider/outsider dynamics in fan communities; no one can call you a “fake fangirl” or tell you that you do not belong in a community if you resist membership yourself. In fan studies, we have increasingly paid attention to the ways in which fan communities shore up their shared identity by excluding others, particularly as it comes to gender (see, for example, Suzanne Scott’s work), to intra-fandom hierarchies (both Mel Stanfill and Kristina Busse have excellent discussions of these issues), and to questions of geography, language, and access in transnational fandoms. I am continually drawn to the boundaries, both self-designated and proscribed, that are drawn around fan communities and personal identity, and the ways that fans designate, present themselves, and are viewed by outsiders. As a discipline, I think there is room to take a closer look at the ways in which interpersonal dynamics and identity politics, as much as textual content, frame participation in fandom and the unproblematic adoption of a fan identity.

As you say, this of course presents a methodological challenge. It is about finding those lone fans who do not necessarily affiliate with a community, and it is just as much about finding those who do not identify as fans. For my work, it is about finding those who do not attend San Diego Comic-Con, but who may practice fandom or consider themselves fans in other ways. In short, I see this as an opportunity for more scholarship to define our terms and be explicit in our stakes. When we study fans, are we studying practice or identity, community or individual, or some combination of the above?

 

References

Bacon-Smith, C. (1992), Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hills, M. (2005), ‘Patterns of surprise: The “Aleatory Object” in psychoanalytic ethnography and cyclical fandom’, American Behavioral Scientist, 48 (7): 801–21.

Jenkins, H. (1992), Textual Poachers. London: Routledge.

Lewis, L. A. (ed.), The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media. London: Routledge.

Sandvoss, C. (2005), Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Williams, R. (2013), ‘“Anyone who calls Muse a Twilight band will be shot on sight”: Music, distinction, and the “interloping fan” in the Twilight franchise’, Popular Music and Society, 36 (3): 327–42.

Williams, R. (2015), Post-Object Fandom. London: Bloomsbury.

Williams, R. (2018) ‘Fan pilgrimage & tourism’ in Melissa Click and Suzanne Scott (ed.) The Routledge Companion  to Media Fandom, London: Routledge, pp. 98 – 106.

 

 

 

How Do You Like It So Far? Podcast: Reflections on A Changing Times

We continue to experiment with the podcast form. This week, we had no guests and broke with our usual focus on popular media franchises in order to deal with two current events which weigh heavily on our thoughts. For me, the issues have to do with the March for Our Lives and the models the Oakland kids offer us for new forms of activism, a theme which I and my co-authors explored in our recent book, By Any Media N necessary: The New Youth Activism. And for Colin, these concerns have to do with the efforts of President Trump to add a question about citizenship status on the U.S. Census and the ways that this may constitute a new form of voter suppression and contaminate a vital source of national data. We take turns interviewing each other about the significance of these developments and what they tell us about the current state of the American republic. 

 

 

The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Tisha Turk & Mark Duffett (Pt. 2)

Tisha Turk

Can you say more about why you describe "issues of performance, personal identity, ideology and subjectivity" as being "out of fashion"?

Mark Duffett

I know there’s a danger in generalizing, and I think fan studies has its own diverse range of scholars and activities. Nevertheless, participatory culture remains, to me, still perhaps the dominant theory in our academic field. It focuses primarily on individual creativity and mentoring, and how such things are established in communities where contributors feel valued. Case studies actualize all that in terms of high ideals - education, democracy, activism - but, ultimately, the focus is on a social process within a technological environment. It is case of tools, skills, communities and feel good results. Fine on the surface, but I think that’s a partial picture of fandom. I don’t see much interest in fans as individuals there, as people beyond their community contributions, as people who operate in the complexity of the social and ethical environments they perpetually negotiate, and their own complexity - not as nodes in communities, but as individuals with complex, multiple identities who constantly make tricky decisions in daily life and the public sphere. I’m not saying nobody has talked about fandom as performance - that would be nonsense: Lucy Bennett’s editorial in the 2015 edition of Transformative Works springs to mind. However, there’s much more to be said about how people publically performance their fandom: understanding when and they they have labelled themselves as fans in specific historical circumstances, for example, because I think that in itself can be conceived of as a kind of individual ethical and political act.

I would go further, as well: I think in some senses the ideas I mention are ‘out of fashion’ across academia, not just in fan studies, as they are a bit out of step with a neoliberal environment where ‘the human’ (and perhaps we should read ‘labour’ there) is gradually being reformulated within a rapid process of social and technology change. In this environment, appreciation of individuals as moral agents now seems to be secondary to processes of public participation which can include collective policing. I’m just thinking of the avalanche of fury on social media unleashed against our colleague Melissa Click; in some ways, you could say that was a ‘participatory culture’ of the worst sort!

Tisha

 I certainly agree that focusing on fandom as culture or social network leaves out other forms of fannishness; any choice to put something in the foreground puts something else in the background. When we treat fannish creativity as social or communal, we risk downplaying or even erasing the artistic achievements of individual creators, and some of those achievements are pretty spectacular by just about any standard I can think of. Or, if we focus on individual creators of artworks (fic, vids, art, gifsets, costumes, etc.), we may miss the fans who are creating not art but infrastructure—hugely important for many fans’ experience of fandom! And then there’s all the fan activity that isn’t creative in the sense of making-something-new but is still, I would argue, participatory in the sense of engaging with fan-made creations: reading fic, watching vids, commenting on and reblogging fan works of all kinds, and so on.

I’m surprised, though, by your claim that there’s not much interest in fans as individuals. Back in 2007, the editors of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World argued in their introduction that the third wave of fan studies was about, among other things, “the intrapersonal pleasures and motivations among fans”—that the field was “refocusing on the relationship between fans’ selves and their fan objects” (8). In the second edition of the book (2017), they reiterate this characterization of the third wave and even double down on it by calling attention to fan studies research that “has examined the individual psychology of fandom within its wider social context” (8). Do you think this is a mischaracterization of what’s going on in the field?

Personally, I appreciate that Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington acknowledge in the second edition that “the intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions [of fannishness] appear to be complementary” (8). I still think the most sensible statement of this position is Katherine Morrissey’s “Fan/dom: People, practices, and networks” (2013): “Only by studying fans and fandom at multiple levels—looking at fans as individuals, at their collective practices, and at the networks they create—can we more fully understand their positions within today's shifting media environment” [1.4]. It’s a both/and, not an either/or.

Mark

 I guess when we are talking about individuals, we are also inevitably talking about them socially, but I think the frames we use to do that - studies of transformative works, participatory culture, community or event case studies, studies of paratexts or spaces, heritage, perhaps psychoanalysis or discourse analysis - could be augmented a bit by more attention to the ethical approaches of actual fans as individuals situated historically and the ideological worlds in which they operate. Of course, yes, understanding fandom is a both/and thing already, and given that is the case, we are always, to some extent, looking at the one thing within the other: the collective in the individual, the public in the private. If we generalize, we miss the actuality of history, and if we examine things that are too personal, there is a danger that we get lost in individual idiosyncrasy (worst of all, our own!). However, there is something stopping that potentially myopic disappearance into the personal. A while ago I was in Moscow, and I began thinking about all those stories of fan interest in western music artists ‘liberating’ those behind the iron curtain. I am sure for many of those citizens, individually for some and in communities for others, enjoying the music of western artists did feel like a liberating experience, a freedom that began in the mind. Such moments suggest that finding a fannish connection can be political, but I would go further: what they indicate is that it is always political, that it applies when we in the west are drawn to more accessible objects.

Even though such objects are easily accessible to us, they are still associated with specific values, and finding ourselves connected to them is always, in that sense, a political act (albeit one that might not be conscious). My claim about fans as individuals was more about therefore understanding them as specific people with values who have participated in public activity in ongoing, living cultures, not necessarily addressing their psychology or community roles. While there is work on fan community leaders, often in relation to specific political issues, there’s less research on celebrities, for example, as prominent individuals with the public sphere who have professed their fandom, sometimes independently of working within a particular fan community. I’ll give a quick example: a while back I did a conference paper on Cornel West’s love of Curtis Mayfield and how he used that to mobilize black college audiences in advance of his protest at Ferguson. To me, that was about him using his personal fan interest in public to make an ethical move, which was not the same as seeing him as someone directly linked to a particular fan community.

I will try and explain the difference:

In the sort of fan cultures I first analysed, Elvis fans in the 1990s, what unified people was not being part of community. The thing that was primary for them was being part of a ‘fan base’ - an imagined collectivity like a notional army, almost: not necessarily an imagined or real community, though it could manifest like that at particular junctures. What located anyone in a music fan base was recognition that they had reached a degree of conviction about the greatness of a particular performer, and they also knew that other individuals had, too. Individuals would have a notional awareness that they were therefore part of a fan base, and for some that would be it. When others entered fan communities, using knowledge that they were part of the same fan base as their ticket, they could have a kind of shock in terms of encountering the specificity of other fans. Some individuals made the leap from fan base to fan community, while others pursued their fan interests alone, or were marginalized by those communities. The communities came with additional ethical tenets too. Due to our methodologies, something we have often missed as fan scholars, I think, is attention to the fans who decide not to be part of such communities, and we have therefore missed something about what being a fan can be about.

When I was younger, I was a huge fan of the post-punk group Magazine, and that was about a decade after they split, and my fandom consisted mostly of collecting records, not talking to other fans or making things. I was pursuing an interest with no strong idea that there were any other fans out there at that point, and I am not sure I would have been especially interested in talking with them either; it was about exploring a personal connection with a group’s artistic work for me. The Elvis fans that I encountered were much more sociable as fans than I had been, but my methodology was orientated to finding fans through existing communities (fan clubs). These fan communities were not necessarily based on their creative contributions either, though such contributions were sometimes apparent.

Tisha

Yeah, I recognize what you’re talking about here—both the experience of being a music fan and the methodology problem. I’m not a particularly social music fan; I am sometimes a visible fan in that I wear t-shirts and go to concerts when I can, but, as I suggested earlier, my ways of being a music fan are mostly private; they have to do with my personal connections to what I love, not my connections to other people who love the same thing. I’ve never been in an official fan club; I can’t even be bothered to follow most of the musicians I like on Twitter. This type of fan is harder to see and to study; how would a researcher even find us?

When I’ve taught classes on fandom, I’ve learned a lot about what “being a fan” means to my students. Some of them are very much integrated into online fandom and enjoy interacting with other fans whom they would not have met without fandom; others don’t feel a need for those social connections. Many of them are somewhere in the middle: their expressions of fannishness about things they share with friends get integrated into those existing social relationships: going to Marvel movies in a group, making up Percy Jackson stories together, baking and decorating a Harry Potter-themed cake for a friend’s birthday.

Mark

The internet has changed that world quite a lot, I think. The word “fandom” has come to stand for a community of fans (“the fandom”) rather than a personal interest (“my fandom”). People talk of participating in “Taylor Swift fandom” rather than being part of “Taylor Swift’s fan base,” but it’s more complicated insofar that fans retain collective nicknames (here “Swifties”) which, in effect, reference a kind of shared identity through collective difference. You could argue that net users are already participants anyway in some sense, even as observers. Such people are always already part of an in general community online, say on Twitter, so that entering that fan community means something less qualitatively distinct than before. Aya Esther Hayashi’s recent thesis on musicking in participatory fandom is also interesting here, in suggesting that community participation is itself a kind of ethical or rhetoric frame from which particular fans online now may depart.

Tisha

The terminology that scholars use for fans—and that fans use about ourselves—interests me too. I do use “fandom” to mean a group of people sharing a set of interests or occupying a shared affinity space. (I know many people use the term “community,” and I’ve certainly experienced fandom as a community at times, but I tend to agree with James Gee that “the word ‘community’ carries a rather romantic connotation” that isn’t always appropriate for fandom or other affinity spaces.) For me, the terms “fannish” and “fannishness”—which I’ve used several times in this conversation already!—are important precisely because they don’t imply anything about groups, networks, or participation.

Fan studies scholars sometimes talk past each other on this point, I think. I was quite surprised, when I read Gray et al’s introduction to the new edition of Fandom, to see them describing Francesca Coppa’s “Fuck Yeah, Fandom is Beautiful” as “seeking to enforce a narrow definition of fandom and opposing broader sets of questions about

a wider set of fans” (8). To me—I can’t speak for Coppa—those are very different things, and the writers misrepresented her argument by conflating them. I’m not interested in policing the definition of “fan” or the legitimacy of any fannish practice; anyone who wants to self-define as a fan is a fan, as far as I’m concerned, which means that there are lots of ways of being a fan, or being fannish, or performing fannishness, or however one wants to describe it—and I’m all for scholars finding ways to study those fans and their many forms of fannishness! At the same time, I think it makes sense to acknowledge that one of those forms of fannishness is the social form—the set of practices—called fandom, and that’s what the scholars of the first wave set out to study. 

So maybe that is “enforcing a narrow definition of fandom,” but to me that only makes sense; it is a narrower term. Everyone in fandom is a fan, but not all fans are, or want to be, in fandom. Studying fans who aren’t “in fandom” is a totally legitimate thing to do, but it is a different thing than studying fandom—which was, I thought, Coppa’s point. (I continue to think that the Fandom anthology should be titled Fans, which would make much more sense.) My perspective on this issue is informed by my own experience: As someone whose fannishness has taken many different forms, I prefer terminology that acknowledges those differences to terminology that erases them.

Mark

Your chosen ‘sensible statement’ mentions “today’s shifting media environment.” To what extent do you think it would be fair to say we have a kind of presentist bias in fan studies, that it fixes us on a kind of ‘now time’ of fandom? What duties do we have to the present?

Tisha

I suppose there might be a presentist bias, though I admit I haven’t thought about it in those terms before. If as a field we do have that bias, then perhaps one of our duties to the present is to keep records of past fannish interests, identities, experiences, practices, and communities—to not only record what’s going on now but preserve what we know about where we came from. Certainly the field has scholars who have done and are doing historical and archival work. I’m not a historian myself, either by temperament or by training, so I’m very grateful to those who are—including the people who contribute historical material to Fanlore.

My own research interests have to do with processes—how do fans, and specifically vidders and vidwatchers, do the things we do?—and part of what I’m interested in is how those processes are affected by shifts in the media environment, including technological changes; but I’m also interested in which processes aren’t affected, or are less affected, by those shifts. What’s contingent on the environment, and what seems to be more durable?

Mark

Those are complex questions. When I’ve been to the Fan Studies Network UK conferences, the field, with some exceptions, seems to be largely composed of young, female scholars analysing their online fandoms. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, and I agree that part of what fan studies can do is to create its own historical record by reporting from the present on an ongoing basis. However, I find myself a bit tangential to that for a couple of reasons.

The first is that as you get older and the fandom or community you focused upon recedes into the rear view mirror of history, then, for some scholars curating something that’s past becomes part of what they do. Perhaps you reach a point where the past becomes more accessible than the present, because the present is a young person’s game and you are no longer as immersed in it.

The second is that in recent years the past has never been quite over and done with. I began by studying a living culture of fandom that thrived by sharing a deceased icon as its focus. It was not exactly, to borrow Rebecca William’s term, a post-object fandom. Elvis had been dead for two decades, but his record release schedule and fan following were very much alive. I was always looking at something that was in some ways nostalgic, but also a living culture, something that was perpetually still developing. I think anyone studying, say, Star Wars fandom would be in a similar predicament.

I also think there is a degree of tail-chasing and unnecessary repetition involved when it comes to the urge to keep reporting contemporary things, especially in an era which uses technological novelty to close down vital resources and possibilities that could be used to create stronger understandings. To put it another way, if you understand that a situation is unprecedented, then you do not look to the past to help explain it, but that seems to be the very time you should look to the past, precisely to ask how we got here, how we might understand it, and what might be done about it. If we are always seeking to keep on top of the new, our expertise becomes based on having lived through and thought about a series of experiences, but that is quite narrow. I suppose the issue for me is that in cultural studies in general, theory is basically a persuasive constituent of political storytelling. As we mature as scholars, I think we have a duty to bring a wider and wider focus to what we are examining, to tell more ambitious stories. That means understanding contexts and make connections that were not as visible as when we first started studying the subject. There are some big, big questions out there, particularly around the implication of fandom in much larger social and cultural processes. I’ll give you an example: How was music fandom for specific acts implicated in the changing geopolitics of the Cold War period? Were there connections during the period between fan cultures and wider contexts? What about the way that race became such a defining domestic issue in American popular music? How did such things related to humanism, and perhaps therefore to America’s global role at the time? Such questions can be hard, at first, to even see, let alone address. Disciplinary boundaries can sometimes obfuscate them. Maybe they can only be partially addressed, through case studies, but I think they lead to greater insights.

I’m interested in your distinction between environmentally contingent and more durable elements. Isn’t that a case of positting something almost transcendent? If so, is that transcendence in the empirical environment or in the space of theory? In other words something durable about how fandom has worked or about how we perceive it?

Tisha

 I do think that some fannish interests and behaviors transcend this historical moment. Humans have a long history of commenting on things that interest them and creating stories and art about things that are important to them—including other stories and art!—and that impulse to comment and create shows up in many, many different contexts, including fannish contexts. But how that impulse gets expressed by a particular person or group of people depends on a great many social, cultural, historical, economic, geographic, legal, and technological factors, not to mention individual priorities and aesthetic tastes. So I don’t presume going in that “how fandom has worked,” or how fans do what we do, is what’s durable; I think some parts of the how are likely to be quite mutable! But the why, and even in some cases the what—we do have some evidence that those things persist over time.

Mark

Yes - I am often struck by the way that fan objects can be different, but fannish motivations or behaviours can be similar.

Tisha

If we’re talking about fiction, we can go back a pretty long way: Shannon Farley’s scholarship on the history of rewriting provides some interesting insights into the ways in which, for example, rewritings of Homer—starting with Vergil’s Aeneid—both are and aren’t like fan fiction. If we’re talking about vidding, we’ve got a much shorter history to work with and a different set of technological factors; the process of making vids on a computer doesn’t look much like the process of vidding on two VCRs, let alone making a slideshow. The technical elements of the process have changed, to say the least. It’s less obvious what has or hasn’t changed about why fans make and watch vids, how we learn to make and watch vids, how we choose and evaluate the music used in vids, and so on. But I do see continuities.

Those how and why questions are complicated, because there’s never going to be a single monolithic answer to any of them; the short answer is always “it depends”! At the same time, it’s neither accurate nor useful to say “Well, it’s just completely personal and idiosyncratic.” So the point of the research is to look for patterns and then interpret them—which is arguably the definition of research in a nutshell, really.

 

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Tisha Turk & Mark Duffett (Pt. 1)

Tisha Turk

Henry asked us to start by talking about our backgrounds in fandom and fan studies, so I’ll start by saying: I’ve been fannish my whole life, but until my mid-twenties I was fannish in essentially private ways. I re-read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings until my copies fell apart, wallpapered my college dorm rooms with R.E.M. posters, and clipped magazine photos of and feature stories about other favorite musicians. Because I was a pretentious English major, I actively avoided watching TV until my final year of college, when I started watching with housemates while we practiced knitting.

It wasn’t until early 2000, when I was halfway through grad school, that I found online media fandom. I got serious about X-Files and started lurking on online forums; shortly after that I started watching other shows as well, and within a couple of years I was not only reading episode recaps and fan analysis but also writing my own posts, watching vids, and, eventually, making my own vids.

I originally started vidding because it seemed so similar to the textual analysis and close reading that were my favorite parts of being a grad student, and yet at the same time it was so different because of the different medium. Text was my day job; expressing myself with video and music instead of words felt like a breath of fresh air.

I kept vidding because of the people I met. I became close friends with a group of women who had begun watching and making vids around the same time that I did: we posted on the same mailing lists, read each other’s LiveJournals, watched each others’ vids and, eventually, drafts of vids. These women thought about vids in some of the same ways I did, but many of them approached vidding in ways that would never have occurred to me. I loved learning from them; I loved the discussions we had about our aesthetic values and creative processes. That mutual support and sense of community, which ended up extending way beyond fandom, were and are hugely important to me. It’s largely because of those women that vids and vidding and vidders, as much as any particular show, became my fandom. I’m a fan of us—our talent, our creativity, our artworld.

Almost ten years after I started vidding, I started writing about vids and vidding for academic audiences. That academic work grew out of an impulse that’s central to transformational fandom, the same kind of impulse that gave us the AO3, the Organization for Transformative Works, the journal Transformative Works and Cultures: if we want a thing that doesn’t exist, we make it ourselves. I looked at what was being written about vids, and it seemed to me that there were some important ideas and experiences missing from the conversation. So I started to think about what I might be able to bring to the party.

Most recently, I’ve contributed to two fan studies anthologies. For the Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, Francesca Coppa and Alexis Lothian and I had a conversation about vidding in relation to the film industry, feminism, whiteness, creativity, fair use, queerness, cultural critique, and female pleasure. And for the Companion to Fandom and Fan Studies that Paul Booth edited, I branched out a bit and wrote about interdisciplinarity in fan studies—or, really, the lack of interdisciplinarity in fan studies. As someone with a PhD in English literature, a lasting affection for narrative theory, and a job that draws mostly on my background in composition studies, I get tired of approaches to fan studies that treat the field as a subset of media studies. I mean, obviously media studies has a lot to offer fan studies, but—spoiler alert—there are other approaches to thinking about fans, fannishness, fandom, and fan works.

So, as I think about what I want for fan studies going forward, disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity—including what interdisciplinarity might look like in our classrooms—are very much on my mind; my own thinking about the topic is a work in progress, and I’d love to learn more about how other fan studies folks are grappling with this issue. I also take seriously the arguments of Rukmini Pande and Rebecca Wanzo that fan studies scholars need to do more thinking about race and especially about whiteness (what a contrast to all the attention we’ve given to gender!); their work has encouraged me to think about how whiteness structures fandom and fan studies and helped me start examining how investments in whiteness play out in ‘ship vids and fan responses to them.

The other thing I find myself thinking about is how fast fandom is changing. This is an ongoing phenomenon for fans and researchers alike—one that presents both opportunities and potential difficulties. I suspect it’s not coincidental that the great flowering of fan studies scholarship about the corner of fandom that I know best happened during the LiveJournal era: a great many fans were more or less in one place and more or less in public for a significant chunk of time. Fannish activity is much more scattered now. (That in itself isn’t new, obviously; before widespread broadband access, fandom was often a weekend-only world, as Henry and others have described.) There are so many points of access, so many platforms, so many ways to engage. That’s not a criticism; I think it’s good that more people have more ways to do fandom and express fannishness, and I think it’s exciting that annotation and recirculation are easier than ever. But it does create challenges for scholars. There’s so much fannish activity out there that it can be hard for us (and academic publishing timelines) to keep up!

Mark Duffett

My personal voyage into the study of fandom began in 1995, when I embarked on a PhD on at the University of Wales. I wanted to understand the mysteries of music fandom and chose to explore the Elvis fan culture. At that point, my knowledge of popular music research and cultural studies was still emerging. Coming from a basically pre-internet background in human geography, I had no idea that fan studies existed. So in my own work I started by thinking about gender. When I realized that Elvis’s popularity was so central to his fans’ perceptions, I knew I also had to consider power. Partially influenced by Fred Vermorel’s book Starlust (1985), I began to ask why fans with diverse connections to the same icon behaved in similar ways. I thought about stardom, the fans’ sense of collectivity, and the way that they shared a kind of mythology about Elvis (particularly that he was exploited by the music industry). My early research was very empirical. I struggled to match it to theory, until 2009, when I found a close fit to Durkheim’s notion of totemism. That was quite embarrassing, as I had previously argued that fandom was not a religion, and I would still maintain that. Durkheim’s work applies to totems in a wider sense, and I maintain it can offer significant insights into celebrity fandom as a shared, ideological, psychosocial process. In 1999, I began teaching at the University of Chester. Matt Hills suggested that I write a textbook of fan studies, which Bloomsbury released in 2013 as Understanding Fandom. This critical survey summarized some areas of fan studies, sold over 1000 copies in its first year, and was adopted by Henry Jenkins and others in the field. In a sense, it made my name in the fan studies, when previously my work was positioned more like a minor adjunct to popular music studies. Career highlights since then have included being invited to speak at a conference in Moscow on participatory culture, and giving the keynote, later this year at the UK Fan Studies Network conference. In a friendly sense, however, I remain a bit critical of the transformative work and participatory culture paradigm; I greet it with “fascination and frustration” not least because I think it offers a kind of partial picture when fan studies could and should be so much more. In my own work, that has meant an interest in media representations of fandom, and more recently celebrity professions of fandom in the public sphere. What has it meant historically for a particular person to get up and identify as a fan in public? Obviously the question has different resonances in different eras and contexts, but it opens up on to issues of performance, personal identity, ideology and subjectivity—issues that can be marginalized, in some ways, I think, when one looks primarily at communities of practice. So I guess I am proudly out of fashion, in both an academic and fannish sense.

 

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Jillian Baez & Kristen Warner (Pt. 2)

Kristen

 Jillian, you were talking earlier about the hardships of locating Latina/o media fandoms and that when you do, the conversations are often expressing negative affect about being continually rendered invisible. How for you does that intensify or complicate your work to what is already established in fan studies?

Jillian

 Part of the issue stems from there being little research on Latina/o audiences, let alone studies of Latinx fandom. Up until recently there have been few dynamic representations of the Latinx community in mainstream media. As such, earlier studies of Latina/o audiences were not locating Latina/os as fans. However, what was overlooked is that Latina/os do find some media extremely pleasurable. In particular, many Latina/os are fans of Spanish-language and alternative forms of media. For example, in my essay in Melissa A. Click’s and Suzanne’s Scott’s edited volume The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, I talk about how Latinx fandoms are understudied in fan studies, partly because the pleasurable media texts are in Spanish and/or they are part of specific Latinx subcultures (e.g., Chicana/o Morrissey fans, telenovela viewers, Selena drag queens, or salsa dancing fans). Latinx fandoms are also overlooked because of the medium and genre. For example, there is quite a bit of literature on Latinx music listeners and dancers. However, these scholars do not necessarily identify their work as fan studies, largely because most of fan studies focuses on television and film and not music.

Kristen

 I’m intrigued by this idea of “self-tropicalization” and think an analogy is how Black women navigate the notion of ratchetness as one of the pleasures of watching reality television. What do you find Latina fan communities do with those texts?

Jillian

 That’s a great analogy. I think it’s a way of reconciling stereotypes and also a move away from a politics of respectability. For example, in my chapter in Elana Levine’s edited volume From Cupcakes to Ladyporn, I found that Latina fans of Lifetime’s Devious Maids series (2013-16) enjoyed the show’s Latina cast despite the backlash it received from Latina/o media advocacy organizations and scholars. Critics of the show viewed the series as merely reproducing the Latina archetypes of the spitfire and the maid. On the other hand, Latina fans were excited about the first-ever cast of five Latina leads on television. Fans also found immense pleasure in the maids talking back to their employers (something they felt they could not do in real life) and being cast as morally superior to the white characters.

What aspects of black women’s fandom would you like to explore next? Also, are you noticing differences between fans of reality television and scripted television (not that reality TV isn’t somewhat scripted)?

Kristen

That’s a good question. Honestly after completing the Iris West article for The Routledge Companion of Media Fandom, I think I’ve said my peace on Black women’s fandom for now. What I think I’m interested in thinking about are more macro questions about how fandom has evolved over the years splintering into what I see as at least two different versions of itself: a more traditional kind of closed fandom and what I call the transparent labor economy whereby being a fan is a means to some sort of clear (and sometimes not so clear) cut way to a neoliberal end. I think the transparent labor economy cuts across all kinds of fandom race, gender, and sexuality demographics and impacts the way we understand how participatory cultures function.

Then again, I witnessed some true fan girling at Essence Festival last year in New Orleans when a crowd of Black women squeed for their lives when Queen Sugar’s Ralph Angel appeared on stage so...maybe they’ll be a return, lol.

But to your second question, it’s interesting to me that there isn’t that much of a distinction between how fans talk about reality television and how they talk about scripted. The routes that are used to discuss issues that each format puts on the table regarding community topics like relationships, friendship, finances, and respectability, feel similar in both modes.

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Jillian Baez & Kristen Warner (Pt. 1)

Jillian

It is such a delight to be in conversation with Kristen Warner after crossing paths with her various intersections in our career. We were introduced to each other and our work at the Race and Media Conference in Madison, Wisconsin in 2014. Since then both us have contributed to several of the same anthologies.

I enter into fan studies through a background in feminist audience studies and Latina/o media studies. I am not formally trained as a fandom scholar, and although when  I did learn about fan studies in graduate school it was solely through the pathbreaking work of Henry Jenkins. While I certainly was trained in the “active” camp of the passive/active audience debate, in my graduate training in the mid 2000 aughts, fan studies was presented as on the margins of audience studies, and field of media studies as a whole. was largely viewed as a less rigorous field largely because the scholars that studied fandom tended to be fans themselves. While feminist audience studies has included germinal studies of fandom (here I am thinking of the work of Angela McRobbie, Janice Radway, and Constance Penley, for example), formal fandom studies are only beginning to emerge in Latina/o Studies.

One of the major reasons why fan studies of Latina/os or Latina/o media are so rare is that Latina/o audiences tend to have an ambivalent relationship to mainstream English-language media and transnational Spanish-language media. Instead of experiencing pleasure in the form of escapism or fantasy, scholars like Viviana Rojas and Angharad Valdivia argue that Latina/o audiences more often feel anger, disappointment, and frustration due to in/visibility in media. Rebecca Wanzo also noted that African American audiences have a similar relationship to media, making it difficult to identify African American fans. Like other marginalized groups, Latina/os encounter what Gaye Tuchman coined 'symbolic annihilation' which includes underrepresentation and misrepresentation in media. What complicates this further is that Latina/os not only experience symbolic annihilation in English-language, mainstream media, but also in Spanish-language media. Although Latina/os are the target audience, Spanish-language media tends to privilege whiteness and neutral Spanish and in doing so marginalizes most of its audience in the U.S.

In order for Latina/os to enjoy a media text they have to deploy what Stuart Hall calls a negotiated reading—an interpretation that understands its dominant reading, but also reads it somewhat against the grain. bell hooks argues that this is primary way that Black audiences engage with mainstream media. Otherwise, there would be no pleasure in media consumption since it is not produced by or for Blacks and supports white patriarchal capitalism. In my book, In Search of Belonging: Latinas, Media, and Citizenship I build on this idea and argue that Latina audiences deploy a distinct “Latina gaze” when encountering images of Latinas. This gaze is a negotiated reading that understands how they are situated in the eyes of mainstream media and audiences, but also seeks pleasure wherever possible in a text. It also takes into account how they interpret Spanish-language media; texts which the Spanish-language industries claim is for them, but does not capture the dynamic reality of their identities and daily lives. For example, some Latinas audiences might engage in “self-tropicalization” where they embody and play with stereotypes of Latinas, such as the spitfire.

Kristen

I am glad to be talking with you as well, Jillian! It’s really just been a matter of time that we talk about fandom together because we always end up in the same sections of fandom anthologies! So it was bound to happen because part of the reason that we often end up in trailing one another is because our work connects fandom to explicit questions of marginalized groups--an area of fan studies that has been overlooked since its very inception. But I didn’t realize the dearth of work on race and fandom until I began researching for the article I wrote on Scandal and Black women fans. It surprised me as a researcher but not necessarily as a member of a fandom. Having participated in online fandoms since the glory days of General Hospital’s Sonny and Brenda ship sailed in 1997 I was accustomed to feeling that the spaces I obsessed about my love objects were populated with people who did not look like me. In those days it was something you navigated and managed. I loved my ships and didn’t think about my own identity in relation to them. But then came graduate school and coursework on race and identity and the space to actually consider how such a defining area of my life like fandom that taught me so much about ethics and gender and affect could also be so tone deaf on conversations about how those markers intersect with race.

Fast forward to the article I wrote for Elana Levine’s Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century. I had so many assumptions about the field of identity being covered in the research that I was stunned to see it had not. And that is why the first half of my article is pretty much trying to establish that race and fandom, and more specifically, Black women and fandom, is deserving of being made visible and understood. Fan studies had done itself a great disservice in its haste to run past identity in its search to flatten fandom to the space where everyone could be a fan. That the last extensive project on Black women as fans was Jacqueline Bobo’s 1995 classic Black Women as Cultural Readers indicated So I’m extremely proud of the Scandal article because I was given an opportunity to showcase the beauty and complexity and specificity of Black lady fandom and explore how savvily obsessed these women, who may have often been fans in normative fan spaces like me were able to find a text imperfect as it was, latch on to it with all their might, and transform it into something that felt recognizable and resonant.

That quest to make Black women unknowingly shaped the core of my research to this point. Writing about The Flash’s Iris West and The Vampire Diaries’ Bonnie Bennett’s defense squads  as well as Black women fan communities around reality television Love and Hip Hop and Real Housewives of Atlanta opens fan studies back up to consider that there is still much to be understood and explored about race and identity in these consumptive areas. Black women being seen as agents who desire, who discipline, who obsess, and who angst over their love objects is still so new in fan studies so I look forward to seeing how it will progress--assuming that it will progress. Of course, the work done contemporarily in fan studies around participatory cultures and fan economies is excellent and so important. Tethering that research with the a reconsideration of how raced fan communities negotiate those spaces can serve as really insightful case studies on the ways these concepts impact groups and sub-groups.

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Edmond Ernest Dit Alban & Hilde Van Den Bluck (Pt. 2)

Joint Statement

Discussing our respective work, it appears that similar questions are articulated and comparable issues are raised that are worth exploring and could be productive research paths for fan studies to go down in the coming years. 

The first common issue is that of “locality” and how it is manufactured by industries or emerges from certain practices -and sometimes a bit of both.

In the case of “recycling practices” (both remix cultures like fanzine and actual media second hand economies),we can look at the places of such practices to map “locality” as an ensemble of routes of fan circulation and media production. This can range from local venues where fans come together, over online communities to physical or virtual trade places. In part, this taps into existing work on fandom. However, the work of Ôtsuka Eiji also points in another direction, emphasizing how, in the case of otaku culture, publishing companies in the 90s became aware of urban space and pedestrian mobility. Manufacturing and controlling fan mobility therefore becomes an important part of the production of media, evolving from the merely creation of products to the very environment selling them. As a result, particular expressions of local/locality-based fandom can be the result both of fan initiatives and of marketing practices. It appears there is a need for a sound historical framework to understand this, and for an understanding of how both fan practices and their history may vary in different location while also responding to the development of Fan Cultures in more general terms as the assimilation of minor lifestyles. There are certainly indications that local celebrity fandom at the same time takes inspiration from and goes against general Fan Culture.

Second, there is a long way to go to better understand local fandom as it relates to local celebrity cultures and local media ecologies.

At some level it can be studied in opposition to globalized fandom, ranging from actively resisting to ignoring and even not being aware of global tendencies. Several cases of local Flemish celebrity fandom, for instance, are not so much about ‘fighting’ global fan culture but simply existing next to it, creating its own meanings. Situating it in the global-local nexus, therefore, is not necessarily a productive inroad into understanding the local nature of these fan activities. The stakes involved in “projects of space” (Lefebvre, 1974) to support the need for a locally specific cultural production are not necessarily to be understood against the background of the global. For instance, Japan’s fan sanctuaries feel as a different problematic inscribing fans in (trans)local circulation and everyday life consumption on a large network of small interconnected places. It is more of an invasion of certain urban spaces through the circulation of subcultures/fan cultures that is not necessarily related with a so-called “national” project or the expression of pre-constructed communities. Otaku “local” communities tend to rapidly evolve, transform and reinvent themselves. Because of the immanence and perpetual re-composition of these pedestrian social bodies the stable elements become similar routes of pilgrimage forming the territories of sanctuaries, rather than a spectrum of specific fan identities. This plasticity of otaku spaces allows multiple groups to fluctuate while keeping a certain visible environment. This points to the relevance of mapping the territories of fan cultures, as can be found in the work of Marta Boni from the University of Montréal geolocalizing the fandom of TV series.

The local seems to give its own slant on the physical and the materiality of fandom. In the case of Flemish local celebrity fandom, this is related to the actual physical presence of the object of fandom (the celebrity) in the lives of fans, as they can see them regularly at gigs (in the case of musicians) or events (in the case of sports starts), meet and greats and even “in the street”. Objects related to this (from having their picture taken with them to collecting water bottles cyclists throw away while competing), therefore, feature centrally, in their fandom, as well as the location of these events in their own right. In Japan the media mix strategies (Steinberg, 2012 of both fans and niche industries, 2015) imply a large variety inside of the media commodities’ network. As such, manga, novels, animé, video games, straps, badges, towels, cards, plush toys (and other) form the core material environment that enables a para-sociality through the exchanges of second economy (aka as Latour might put it the objects themselves have a certain importance in the coherence of social groups). Once more, the material circulation of media and its specific techniques of expression make sense of certain territories; all these media use specific techniques of moving images and animation (Lamarre, 2009).

Lastly, There is the urgent question of fan agency/citizenship -even activism. There is a need to unravel the efficiency of the (in)visibility of fan action on local ecosystems. Becoming a pedestrian (obvious and mobile) is a way to become one with the local landscape. The “obvious” penetration of fan cultures into the everyday life consumption is however unequal around the world and within particular cultures.This can be interpreted and elaborated on in various ways. One aspect relates to fans claiming their position in the field of cultural experiences. Despite authors (Lash, 1999) heralding the arrival and acceptance of the cultural omnivore (Peterson &Kern 1996), cultural hierarchiesappear more persistent (if changing) thanassumed, as communitiesdevelop new hierarchieswithin the field of popular culture (Gans 1999), with certain fandomsbecoming more readilyacceptedthanothers. In thiscontext, fan activismrevolvesaroundrecognition and aspace to experiencea particularfandom.Anotherway of looking at itis by understanding how this tells us something about a potential accountability and agency of fans over their local environment. Agency, here, would be understood within the work of Karen Barad asking how specific media, texts, or practices might “matter” (make real) a certain experience emerging from fan cultures. In Japanese otaku sanctuaries, the mere presence of local communities has been given more social agency. This brings about a range of questions. Can fan groups move from a simple state of being there to a certain citizenship-like level of accountability? What makes the negotiation between cultural consumption and political representation possible? An important point here revolves around the dialectics in between exploitation of fans by the local industry and the relative freedom and agency fans demonstrate by building a place for their own, as is illustrated by women/girls’ communities in Ikebukuro.

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How Do You Like It So Far? Podcast: Define American's Julian Gomez on fan activism around Black Panther

 

This week, How Do You Like It So Far? continues our examination of the Black Panther phenomenon, with a look at the fan activism the film has already inspired. Julian Gomez is a young activist who my research team met when we were working on By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism.

He was then making videos for the Harry Potter Alliance and generated a lot of discussion when he came out as undocumented in a confessional video, Why I Can't Go to Leakycon.  

 

A second video discusses the fan response and how Leakycon became an opportunity to educate Harry Potter fans about the debates around immigration reform and in particular, the Dreamer movement.

 

Today, Gomez is part of the core team at Define American, a organization focused on activist storytelling around immigration rights. Partnering with Fandom Forward (an off-shoot of the Harry Potter Alliance) and UnDocuBlack Network, Define American has been developing a study guide and tool kit around Black Panther which uses the film as a resource to reflect on borders, refuges, immigrants, and environmental justice. You can find the study guide here. 

 

In this podcast, Colin and I talk with Julian about his experiences and about the new project, and then Colin and I have an intense conversation about how fan activism works and what it offers as a model for political mobilization.  Much of what I have to say there draws on insights from my collaborators on By Any Media Necessary: Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman. 

 

 

The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Edmond Ernest Dit Alban & Hilde Van Den Bluck (Pt. 1)

Edmond Ernest Dit Alban

Hi Hilde! My name is Edmond, last name Ernest dit Alban. I am a PhD candidate at Concordia University and Paris Saint-Denis University where I am currently working on fan sanctuaries in Japan (otaku no seichi). I have no particular background in Fan Studies — I graduated in Japanese studies and entered a Film and Moving Images program afterward. My approach is therefore centered on the observation of “otaku” (let’s say manga, anime and video-game-based) media in Tokyo. I mostly worked on girl’s media circulation, such as Yaoi fanzine, Boy’s Love manga (“Slash” or “shipping” would be adequate translations) and Otome Games (reading video games for girls) in East Ikebukuro. My attempt is to retrieve the spatial practices, imaginaries and structures (a method inspired by Lefebvre’s the production of space) of current otaku culture through the mapping of its urban territories. My advisor Marc Steinberg helped me editing and polishing a first chapter on the subject (forthcoming in A Companion to Fandom and Fan Studies volume edited by Paul Booth) where we try to present both the specificities and history of urban otaku sanctuaries. I do tend to differentiate rural sanctuaries because of their resemblance with Northern American fan sites such as locations figured in shows and movies, a phenomenon resembling fan pilgrimage (Brooker, 2004) (also see Okamoto Takeshi’s work on otaku tourism [2013]). My interest therefore lies in the everyday consumption and dispersion of otaku media and the emergence of pedestrian ecosystems.

But what is a “pedestrian ecosystem” and why should we care about such a thing when looking at fan cultures? I believe that urban otaku sanctuaries possess specific local entanglements in cities because of specific recycling practices. What I call recycling practices is a conjunction of reusing mobile images and content as in “media mix,” the Japanese equivalent to transmedia (see Steinberg, 2012), remix and fanzine cultures with actual media recycling in second-hand shops. On the one hand, Ikebukuro’s space highlights various zones of used shops and barter trade, while on the other hand, the local media amateur and official production is recycling famous character images to build new media commodities. As such, the urban ecosystem of otaku cultures is maintained by a complex ecology sustained by both fan and industrial recycling practices that communicate with one another in the construction of sanctuaries.

However, “moving images” and recycled commodities do not move by themselves. They are transported by consumers through exchanges, or they are altered or sometimes thrown away. In order to make sense of the media circulation of otaku’s feminine culture, I try to historically tie the convergence of fan and official otaku tendencies in sanctuaries through a pedestrian approach by retracing consumer routes and geographies of stores. Insisting on the pedestrian (walking in cities and being utterly be noticeable) aspect of otaku culture both highlights the question of the penetration of fan cultures into our lives, but also the potential communal power it can take over urban space. How can we occupy, shape or redesign cities from fan consumption? How does the industry and the consumer agency collide, negotiate or confront in spatial terms?

As a film scholar, my approach tend to be focused on moving images as techniques of animation that synchronizes images, commodities and bodies into a specific production of space. I interrogate otaku agency (simply put, it is a complex term used by Karen Barad [2007] to describe how objects and subjects can produce new “measurements” and orderings of the world) through its capacity to create new social rhythms. As with most fan cultures, otaku culture has been labeled as a bunch of sick weirdoes since at least the eighties. However, the forces of recycling practices have maintained certain routes of consumption and pilgrimage, resulting in the perpetuation of the temporary occupation of urban infrastructures during conventions, events and festivals. Although it is debatable if the otaku had a political background (I prefer infra-political as it had no clear leader or party affiliated), many native “Acafans” tend to highlight the generational proximity of post-1968 student movements with the emergence of anime and manga subcultures. Therefore, I believe that the agency provided by the techniques of moving images might have helped to build both imaginaries and “real” spaces for these communities. The remaining question then lies in the potential social accountability of such an agency is sociopolitical terms.

Because of this research, I would say that one potential urgent area for the future of Fan Studies could be a comparison of various urban entanglements of fan practices and their political (or infra-political?) stakes. As fan activism becomes a more evident theme for the field, I tend to be uneasy with the lack of spatial occupation of fan cultures in certain regions of the world. After living in Paris and Montreal it has become clear that consumer/fan cultures have rather different infrastructures and spatial entanglements: if most fan experiences are driven by the consumption of series across multiple platforms, none of the cities I have been to tend to have one, or multiple, fan mecca. Japan’s case is obviously not reducible to Tokyo; even in smaller cities the conjoined forces of the industry, fans and local authorities are starting to build sanctuaries and subvention fan performances. Can we turn fan cultures into urban planning? What would that even mean as a social construction? A last example can enlighten these questions. As the public space and social space of fan cultures tend to be more and more eaten alive by digital technologies, where is the space and weight of Netflix’s communities? What agency do they have on their local environment ? The recycling practices of otaku cultures show a deep entanglement within local, trans-local, regional and national routes of fan, images and media circulation. In conclusion, I wonder at the dialectics (tensions in between different agendas) of fan circulation in general and how we could influence the production of social space and cities from fan cultures.

Hilde Van Den Bluck

Hi Edmond. My name is Hilde and I am a professor of communication studies at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. My interest in fan studies developed out of my work on local celebrity cultures. In this, I start from the notion of celebrity as a construct that results from ongoing, negotiated relationships between the person wanting to be/remaining famous, as well as media and audiences. As it is impossible to understand one without understanding other actors in the celebrity apparatus, I started to research fans. I define fans broadly, following the idea that fandom is part of everybody’s life. In my work, I try to build bridges between Social Science and Humanities-based approaches, combining empirical rigour with critical interpretation. To pay due respect to the peculiarities involved in fandom, depending on the type of fan-text it is geared to, I focus mostly on celebrity fandom rather than fans of other types of cultural texts, such as games, sport teams, TV shows or, indeed, manga. However, I believe our respective bodies of research can inspire each other.

Following Ferris’ and de Kloet, and van Zoonen’s appeal to pay more attention to local dimensions of fan and celebrity studies, my focus is on local fandom. Indeed, people worldwide use mediated communication to follow and engage with global celebrities’ lives almost in real time, while local communities create their own celebrities. They tend to be of local fame and adored by local fans but unknown internationally. While not highly visible in the global popular culture arena, local fandom has considerable significance and relevance in the lives of millions. I aim at a better understanding of local fandom and how it may differ from fandom in the global celebrity arena.

So far, I have identified three areas that help me in this endeavour. For one, the specifics of local celebrity fandom are related to the characteristics of the local media ecology. In Flanders (the Northern, Dutch speaking part of Belgium I focus on) and in many other places, the local media landscapes tend to lack the peculiarities of tabloid cultures, such as those found in the media ecologies of the US and UK (that produce the majority of global celebrities), presenting local fans with different inroads into the lives of their object of fandom. Closely related is the observation that local fandom is deeply rooted in the cultural specificity of local popular cultures, including the appreciation of various types of celebrities and their fans, reflective of wider held values and norms in the local community.

A final aspect of local fandom – that brings our work closer together – is related to the notion of proximity and geographical locality. A key factor in the relationship between fans and celebrities is the notion of ‘near yet so far’, a distance that the fan is fascinated by yet tries to overcome through mediated communication. The one-sidedness of the para-social relationship, in essence, is built on this: the fan knows ‘everything’ about the celebrity who, from a distance, knows the fan only as part of a statistic (record sales, Instagram followers…). However, my own research suggests that local (more than global) fandom is affected by various forms of (physical) proximity. Local fandom allows for more direct access to other fans and the fan community, using e.g. concerts as a means to maintain social relationships and a social life. Concerts provide a space to meet people, to chat and gossip, about the celebrity and each other, affecting the fandom as well as the dynamics of, and hierarchies in, the fan community. Beyond that, local fandom allows fans to have more (regular) physical proximity to the celebrity who, in turn, often takes time to talk to the fans, sometimes on a monthly or even weekly basis. In these moments, the mediated, para-social, virtual relationship meets the real, unmediated, physical world of the fan, affecting the fan-celebrity relationship. If anything, it allows for the validation of the para-social relationship and of the image that fans have of the celebrity. The para-social relationship in local cases is less virtual and one-sided than in the case of global celebrity and fandom.

While this may seem far removed from your work, it centrally revolves around the situated nature of a local celebrity, allowing for exchanges with the fan text that venture between the para-social and the social, and between the virtual-mediated and the real, creating additional meanings for fans. This, I believe, is a point where our work connects. I certainly found inspiration in the budding research (which you also refer to) that looks at the growing trend of ‘fan tourism’, seen as the result of intensifying fandom, location marketing efforts and the growth in paid or bartered ‘location placement’ in fictional production, as Beeton explains. While I think you move beyond this work by focusing on the dynamics in an urban/pedestrian context and on the potential of fan activism, their approach of thinking of these situated encounters as both a multi-million business and a key example of cultural (activist) encounters, to me, is very productive. Furthermore, some of the work in this field, especially by Reijnders, elaborates on the concept of lieux d’imagination: the assumption that every person develops and maintains a cohesive but constantly adjusted mental concept of places. This includes the natural geography as well as ideas of the material and ideational culture, of values, beliefs, narratives, people and identities projected on the space. As such it takes account of the physical/geographical as well as the ideational, of the double force of economic interest and cultural roles, of the fan as consumer and cultural creator. I think fan studies can further explore this. 

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The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Bertha Chin & Aswin Punathambekar (Pt. 2)

Bertha

 I see a lot of overlap in both our opening statements, even if we may be approaching it from very different perspectives. The first thing that occurred to me reading through your statement, Aswin, is how the institution frames our research and our role as scholars is to diversify our approaches. Whether this is done through citational practices via the inclusion of scholars who are working outside the North American/Western academe or studies that focus on non-Western/American contexts; or situating fan studies frameworks beyond higher education institutional constraints into the everyday.

In a sense, I can see the way forward is to incorporate the study of alternative systems beyond that of the US (and along with it, UK, Europe and Australia/New Zealand). Through this, I believe, we can go back to the question of how a fan is constructed (by the media industry, fandom as well as academia), by deeming who is on the inside or outside, or whether one is being an appropriate fan. But beyond that, we can also look at how fandom and fan practices are conceptualised across transcultural and transnational borders – for instance, one of the things I'm always struck by is the ways in which the term 'fan service' is conceptualised. Conversations with K-pop fans suggest this is viewed as actions by K-pop celebrities that reward fans for their loyalty (through physical hugs, conversations with fans during meet-and-greets, playing to fans' shipping ideals with another band member in K-pop). In the Western context, 'fan service' often leads to discussions of fan pandering, and is often seen as a calculating move to ensure high viewership ratings or to attract a particular group of fans and reading.  

In your statement, you talk of how the development of telecommunications may have signalled a corporatisation of fannish practices, but it also gave way to political activism utilising gifs, memes and pop cultural references. Indeed, we only need to look at the creative ways Chinese netizens are participating in the #MeToo campaign to circumvent state censorship, and the viral spread of the social media campaign to the Korean film industry despite East Asian's predilection to a culture of silence.  

Aswin

I couldn’t agree more. The account you provide here of how your move into a different institutional context shaped the way you approach fan studies is illuminating. I’m eager to hear more about “creative ways of engaging with fan studies’ theoretical frameworks.” The cultural and political contexts of fan participation in some East Asian contexts does seem to call for an understanding of fan labor that isn’t just a straightforward application of ideas of “free labor,” for instance. To be sure, there is wholesale commoditization of fan and audience practices in powerful media ecologies and China, for example, is no exception. But that is only a small part of the story. And here, trans-cultural fandom becomes a particularly interesting point of entry.

I had a chance to spend about ten days in China last year (Hangzhou and Shanghai), and virtually every conversation I had with students and scholars there would turn at some point to the topic of Chinese fandom surrounding Bollywood. A couple of Aamir Khan films (Dangal and 3 Idiots), I was told, had resonated deeply with audiences in China and there was clearly a vibrant fan community as well. I was introduced to karaoke shows on which young Chinese fans were singing the songs (in Hindi, no less!) and radio programs that routinely featured various Bollywood songs. Not surprisingly, Bollywood producers are viewing all this with great interest and as a wonderful addition to their imagination of lucrative overseas territories. But as one young fan told me, her affection for these films and attempts to learn the songs had opened a conversation with her grandmother who knew Hindi film songs from the 1950s! Of course, these are the sorts of stories and anecdotes that media scholars are always on the lookout for, and I was thrilled to hear about this inter-generational link - one that connected 1950s socialist-themed Hindi films and songs (see this compilation) to the current moment. Your stress on working out more carefully the trans-cultural aspects of fandom is a key one and given our current multi-polar media world, fan studies would do well to pay more attention to this area.

Bertha

 Indeed, your experience in China, and Chinese fans’ interest in Bollywood is utterly fascinating! It certainly speaks to the complexity of transcultural fandom, and I think you mentioned it in your opening statement, of the importance of looking beyond logics of cultural affinity, but also paying attention to those that may defy them (and concepts of cultural proximity). I can’t help but wonder if there was a particular trajectory with how these texts are circulated?

It also makes me think about how fandom, certainly in the Malaysian (or perhaps even Southeast Asian context, but I’m hesitant to generalise here) context is very much ‘performed’ along racial and class logics. I do remember spending afternoons watching Bollywood films on the terrestial television when I was younger, and how my parents would speak fondly about sneaking into the cinema to watch classic Bollywood films as they could not afford to pay for cinema tickets. But as media fragmentation became the norm with the introduction of satellite television in the 1990s in Malaysia, media content from the Indian subcontinent faded from the mainstream, relegated to specialised channels that require extra subscription (as opposed to Korean and Japanese language channels, which are offered as part of the main subscription package). In cinema advertisements too, trailers for Hindi and Tamil films are glaringly absent even as Korean and Chinese film trailers are commonly shown prior to Hollywood film screenings. Certainly, I think the market itself creates a division along racial and class lines that warrants more investigation, and how access and distribution may influence the ways fandom is identified and performed. This is why I think Rukmini Pande’s work is important in pointing out the postcolonial nature of fandom.

You also asked about whether I can speak a bit more on how I have found creative ways to engage with fan studies’ theoretical frameworks. Here, I was thinking more along the lines of my identity as a fan studies early career researcher who was -- is -- essentially culturally displaced in Borneo (despite having grown up here). I find that there was a tension between my openness in embracing the fan studies scholar and the institution’s needs for both a social scientist and English language expert (the latter, I am not formally trained in) so there was this constant tension and negotiation over the expectations of the kinds of value I can bring to the university. As such, there is constant gatekeeping over what is and isn’t acceptable scholarship to publicise, and what to keep private (clearly, the expectations were that the fan studies part was to be kept private). But this privacy, this silence, only applies to some media texts and issues. Commercially successful media franchises like Star Wars, Game of Thrones and the Marvel supherhero films are acceptable as they provide ample information about audience engagement and fan loyalty that are translatable to consumer loyalty and engagement -- insights that a fan studies scholar will no doubt have abundant understanding. But issues on gender and racial representations, on how fan culture inspires political and social activism are best kept private.

This institutional gatekeeping and identity negotiation is what I meant when I speak of finding creative ways to resist the expectations to conform. For instance, I have recently become fascinated with specialty coffee culture, as I observe the goings-on at my local coffee shop where I write. Conversations with the owners and some of the baristas revealed that some of them accrue fans through the ritualised performance of brewing coffee, where information and conversation are often exchanged. This interaction between barista and coffee drinker, for some, incur what we in fan and celebrity studies have observed as parasocial interaction. I visited a specialty coffee shop in Kyoto once, where the barista’s brewing station is bathed in stage-like lights, specially designed to afford him a stage within the coffee shop space to perform for his fans (mostly young ladies who cheered like they were attending a private concert). While there is no special lighting staged to bath the baristas in a celebrified glow at my local coffee shop, there is certainly some producer/fan exchanges to be observed, whereby access to the more popular baristas potentially means access to the equally popular owners or an opportunity to accumulate (fan or perhaps this could be reframed as coffee connoisseur) social and cultural capitals.

 

Aswin: Thank you for the detailed response, Bertha. And your points about institutional gatekeeping as well as the perils of embracing an aca-fan identity are well taken. It is surprising that we are still fighting for legitimacy when it comes to the kinds of ‘texts’ that are deemed worthy of careful scrutiny and it is deeply frustrating that commercial success remains the benchmark across the world. That said, there is also a lot of ambivalence on display. Even as media spaces have opened up for fan expression surrounding popular culture, major industries like Bollywood have recently begun reflecting on the figure of the ‘fan’. There has been quite a robust discussion amongst film scholars about the implications of a global star like Shahrukh Khan plays both star and fan in a recent film (Fan, 2016), and the pitfalls of trying to shore up stardom by playing on the anxieties of being a fan.

I also want to say that I admire the courage with which you have navigated your move into a different academic context, and the creative ways in which you are now bringing fan studies scholarship to bear on coffee culture! Perhaps we are at a moment when we can and should take the insights from fan studies into other domains of culture (especially when it involves connoisseurship) and see how social rituals and of course, powerful norms of class, gender, and other identity categories get reworked. With so many scholars having done the hard work of bring a wealth of social and cultural theory to bear on fandom, perhaps it is time for more ambitious work that takes fan studies insights seriously as a theoretical starting point for understanding other sites of fannish consumption.

Bertha

Agreed wholeheartedly, Aswin! Fan studies has a lot to offer, and even as we continue to explore how we define fans, as well as the boundaries of the field itself, I think it is time to acknowledge that we can use fan studies as a theoretical starting point for understanding other modes of consumption which may translate into fannishness. The idea of transcultural fandom was to provide an alternative insight and perspective from the largely white, middle class and Western engagement of fan practices, and I believe we can take this further — already seen through the works of scholars like Lori Morimoto, Rebecca Wanzo and others I have mentioned before in this conversation, but also through works on theatre fandom by Kirsty Sedgman and theme park fandom by Rebecca Williams, for example — to expand the reach