Gender and Fan Culture (Round Seven, Part Two): Kristina Busse and Cornel Sandvoss

COMMUNITY AND INDIVIDUAL CTD.:

Kristina: Moreover, I worry that it’ll be impossible to talk about the subcultural phenomenon that I would define as fandom if that term is already used for a much broader, less intense engagement.

Cornel: I would argue the answer already lies in what you are saying here though: if we want to talk about subcultural phenomena, let’s call them precisely that: subcultures. On many occasions fan cultures and subcultures correspond, even become interchangeable, but there are clearly also fans and aspects of fandom that do not fit into a subcultural mold. So I fail to see the benefit in equating subculture and fan cultures a priori.

Kristina: I do understand that the psychological engagement with a text can be very intense, even in the absence of others to share that particular affect, that obsessional focus. Moreover, both community interaction and this affect exist on a continuum (changing between different people and even within a person over time). And I understand that it is important to study the individual and how emotional investment in a text gets created, played out, shared. I think it’s important to look at the range of fannish engagement and affect, but why can’t we do so with the community rather than the individual at the center? If I look at the lonely fan reading/watching/enjoying their text, I think of them as fannish because they’re participating in an imagined community of other fans. [The best example in my area would be lurkers, who do not actively interact and are thus not part of the community per se, but who very clearly often think of themselves as part of the community–I guess we could think of it as parasocial relations with other fans?]

Cornel: If we speak about psychological categories such as affect, pleasure and fantasy, these are of course by definition constituted on the level of the individual. This doesn’t mean that there cannot at least potentially be a communal context to the constitution of fan pleasures but ultimately it is manifested on an intrapersonal not interpersonal level.

Kristina: I don’t want to sound like I want to forego the study of the individual fan in favor of a sole focus on the community, because that’s not really what I’m saying here. What I’m worried about in terms of research focus is actually the fan academic parallel to what I’m worried about in terms of definitions of fandom: focusing on the more mainstream, more palatable fan may risk the erasure/ignoring of the less easily acceptable or explainable one.

Cornel: I understand and share your concern, but I just wonder what’s more palatable here. Within the context of media and cultural studies, the study of the ‘mainstream” (whatever that exactly may be) seems to me in fact much rarer and more adventurous as it appears to be often irreconcilable with dominant paradigms and ideological positions in the field. Where, for example, are those studies of Britney Spears fans, those of Hello and other celebrity gossip magazines or of Hollyoaks (a painful teen soap on British Channel 4 that lends itself rather less to forms of cultural appreciation than say, Dawson’s Creek)? Or to hammer home the point, studies of fans of the various call-in quiz channels that have mushroomed in Europe in the past five years?

Kristina: Likewise, I fear that studies of the individual fan and his affect may eclipse those of fan communities, especially when the former may focus on male fans and the latter on females; especially when the affect in the former is individual and personal and in the latter is collective and communal (and, in collectivities that form around responses not valued by the dominant culture, may quite often become political as a result); especially when the former is done by male academics with status in the academy and the latter by females more likely to not have that status.

Cornel: I really don’t see the need to compare or benefit in thinking about one eclipsing the other – this would imply a strange scarcity of spaces of academic debate. And I don’t think this reflects any sort of structural and gendered power differences with higher education. I think we are hard pressed to find many people engaged in fan studies with any particular status in the academy in any case. And I know you are not suggesting it, but just to be categorical about this: I think it would more than insulting if anyone suggested that male scholars in our fields would disregard the work by female colleagues. Of course there are academic fashions which come and go in circles but I would suggest that we can’t explain them in terms of gender, nor is work on fan communities being marginalized. On the contrary, I think following Henry’s work, it still very much shapes the canon of the field.

Kristina: I’m only beginning to look into the role of affect and its potential political agency, but my friend Alexis Lothian, with whom I just finished writing an essay (together with Robin Reid) on slash as “queer female space,” has been influencing my thinking on the social and political implications of shared/sharing affect. She argues, for example, “that communal articulations of affect, where reactions are shared and discussed, might be locations where the political implications of affect can get hashed out.” In that vein, we are rethinking, for example, how “squee”–all too often seen as infantilizing–can actually be a site for embracing one’s emotional responses, especially for women who’ve always prided themselves in their analytic abilities, maturity, etc. Especially when looking at fandom as a space for articulation of non-mainstream ideas and emotions, the role of affect intersects with the political. And I wonder whether it can be so on a purely personal level or whether subcultural characteristics are already communal and community-focused.

In particular, then, I am interested in the way affect functions in conjunction with others, either by sharing one’s emotional investment in the text with the community or, even more interesting, I think, the way the community filters, increases, and shapes the text and the fannish affect. (In other words, watching a new episode for me gets affected by my knowledge that I will have others who may also have seen a particular moment and I will be able to share it. Moreover, it is in the analysis and talking and squeeing about it, in the rewriting and the iconing that the text itself becomes *more*, and it is via this shared discussion and shared emotional engagement that the text itself changes.]

Cornel: I don’t disagree here….but let’s come back to that when looking at texts.

HEIMAT

Kristina: One of the most often heard narratives in my corner of fandom (i.e., slash media fandom) is that of coming home. I like the way you’ve established the notion of Heimat in Fans, but I think I’d like to add that a sense of “coming home” quite often is intimately tied up with other fans (i.e., I feel like coming home often occurs in the finding of likeminded people–even if that community is totally imaginary). Moreover, I’d consider Heimat by definition a thing of some permanence, so that the narratives I’ve told and heard is by fans who are FIAWOL, who have found their tribe, so to speak and know they won’t leave.

In my essay on the topic I linked to above, I connect being a fan to identity politics, and I think it could be useful to look at the debates in other areas that have had to face the theoretical and personal issues connected to identity politics. In the essay, I was mostly concerned with matters of inclusion and exclusion (are you a fan because you say you are/others say you are/what is gained and lost by declaring that identity/ etc.), but here I’m wondering whether the identity construction of being a fan may in and of itself create an affective space of belonging.

And I think it is that space that I may be vigorously protecting here. I fear that by expanding the terminology of fan to include virtually everyone (whether by including all sorts of fannish behavior as Jenkins does or by redefining it to focus on individual behavior so that most passionate textual engagements become “fannish”), the danger may be that ‘real’ fans are marginalized yet again. In other words, by focusing on what Rebecca Tushnet has called “normal-folks-with-benefits,” I see my own more involved and more invested community fully overshadowed (as has happened with vidding vis a vis machinima) or be redefined as outcasts yet again. That latter fear is what I tried to describe in my short paper for Flow:

As media texts are more widely disseminated and construct their audiences in ever more fan-like ways at the same time as fannish activities become both more visible and more legitimate, the distinctions between creators and viewers, between casual viewers and fans is changing. It would be easy to see these changes as having the potential to create an idyllic convergence playground. The fannish community, however, would have to disavow those parts that do not please the owners of the media product (J.K. Rowling, George Lucas). Certain groups of fans can become legit if and only if they follow certain ideas, don’t become too rebellious, too pornographic, don’t read the text too much against the grain. That seems a price too high to pay. (source)

Cornel: I agree with your instance on fandom as a space worth defending from commercial interest – even if this might be ultimately a futile struggle. However, I would also add that Heimat is an ambivalent term. It is of course not only ‘home’, but an imagined space, a vision of belonging – ultimately a fantasy, if one that is indispensable in creating a necessary sense of security; and hence it is ultimately a fantasy that therefore, even if constructed in a communal context, is an inherent individual act of imagination. But what matters more – and here I would point to Dave Morley’s recent work over the past decade in particular – home and Heimat are also always rooted in forms of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion, of creating an (imagined) Other, which is excluded from the space we call home. And it the potential lack of engagement with the textual Other in fandom, which I am interested in Fans: The Mirror of Consumption.

FANTEXT

Kristina: The other term that really drives home to me just how different our approaches and goals are is the concept of the *fantext*. In fact, it was upon reading your definition of the fantext and comparing it to mine that it suddenly occurred to me why I felt like we disagreed at a most basic level even though I’d nod along when reading Fans most of the time. I think our object of study is ultimately different, or rather, the focus of what we find central is different: you are interested in the individual and his/her relationship to the text while I’m interested in individuals as members of a community and their relationship to that community.

In a way, then, the source text has shifted emphasis and moved into originary (in some cases, only catalyst) function whereas fan discourses and interaction are what continues to sustain the fannish investment and affect. And I’m beginning to wonder, if we’re somehow looking at two related (and clearly intersecting) groups that nevertheless differ not only in modes of engagement but also objects of affect. A solitary fan, after all, remains attached to the source text itself only. A community may do so as well, but added to that are the investment in other fans, the shared affect with its increased feedback loop (i.e., shared squee tends to be louder).

At the most extreme end, then, is the fan I’m most interested in, who’s ultimately more invested in the community than the source, the fan who defines herself as a slash fan rather than a show specific fan, the fan (like me?) who’ll take the fanfic rather than the show on the island. It’s those fans I’ve studied in my research on popslash where I’ve argued that it is the fan-fan interaction and friendships rather than the para-social interaction between fan and celebrity that is central in popslash fandom(“I’m Jealous of the Fake Me”). As such, I view the community as a social network that encourages fans to explore their identities, desires, and sexualities, more so in relation with one another than with the star himself.

So, while I’m really interested in what you say about affect, to me the investment in the community must always be acknowledged (even if that community is virtual or the interaction wholly one-sided) alongside the involvement with the source text. [Because I’m not sure one would exist without the other, i.e., I’m not sure if we could conceive of fans if all we ever saw were individuals. Or, said differently, while a specific fan’s engagement may only be in accessing web sites, reading spoilers, etc., someone who more than likely *is* more community connected created those web sites, found and shared those spoilers.]

Cornel: I am not sure I follow your conclusion in the last paragraph. I think you are right that we have focused on different segments of the fan spectrum, but I don’t, for example, have a sole interest in atomised fans. Moreover, I think whatever the levels of communal engagement are in an individual’s fandom, there are communalities that mean that the term ‘fan’ has conceptual currency across the spectrum and the process of reading, crucially, is one of them. This leads me to one what I see as a central challenge of contemporary fan studies and indeed audience studies as such (and this is a point on which I think we agree): the need to reconceptualise the notion of texts and textual boundaries in mediated communication. Slash and fan fic you mention are of course texts as well, whether we call them paratexts or give them a different term (indeed as you suggest they often replace the urtext as the focus of fans’ reading. Jonathan, for example should be credited out for a range of insightful articles and chapters on how we can conceptualise and address (fan) texts in intertextual space of (mass) media consumption and I should mention others here such as Matt Hills, Chris Scodari, etc. In many ways I think reconceptualisng the text as object of fandom in the triangle of individual, its social networks and different media is the real challenge we face – gender of course shapes and informs this triangle but I don’t think it is the single outstanding theme at heart of understanding contemporary fandom and fan cultures.

On that note, having opened with an unashamed plug, I will end with yet another one: It would be great to continue these insightful and lively discussions online as well as offline and I would like to use the opportunity to invite individual papers and panel proposals on this and related fields for the next conference of the International Communication Association in Montreal in May 2008 for which I am the programme planer for the Popular Communication Division. The number of sessions available to us will as always depends on the number of division members we have, so to all those who are ICA members already and those considering joining (you get not only cheaper conference registration but an awful lot of journals for your bucks!) please join the Popular Communication division or renew your division membership if you already are a member. Included in the annual fee of $8 is also a free online subscription of Popular Communication. I hope both the division and the journal will provide additional spaces for these debates – helping to makes sure that rather than feeling that different foci and traditions in the field of fan studies need to compete with each other, we create a forum in which different and diverging voices are heard.

Kristina: Thanks, Cornel, for responding in depth to what was, in effect, a monologue on my part (though hopefully engaging with your previous writing). I am very much looking forward to having a dialog with both you and the readers in the blog/LJ comments. I do want to complement your plug with another, however: many of us–be they grad students, independent scholars, or fan scholars not actually affiliated with academia at all–cannot afford conferences. What many of us have and are doing instead is use the Internet and its ability to connect and allow us to have these conversations and debates. In fact, to me these summer debates have been doing exactly that–connecting people, and I hope they’ll continue to do so and that these unconnected spaces we’ve been inhabiting will continue to merge.

Comments

  1. Jonathan Gray says:

    I don’t know if my last post (on part one) fell through Henry’s filters, but I wanted to add a bit, and I might reiterate in case the earlier one disappeared into the void:

    It seems there are three gendered issues we’re talking about here:

    (1) which fans behave how;

    (2) who studies what and how; and

    (3) gender divides that limit women’s advancement in the field

    But I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with how those who challenge the nature of (1) and who don’t see (1) or (2) as operating in a neat binary are being accused of being blind to, or worse yet perpetuating, (3). There’s been the tendency (amongst some, not all of course) to sharpen the pitchforks for those guys who reject or challenge the degree of gendering in (1) or (2), on the assumption that this in and of itself represents an ignorance of gender, and therefore guilt of (3).

    This bothers me, not only because they’re separate (albeit linked) issues, but also because it’s blind to the individuals being accused. For instance, I know Cornel to have been *wholly* supportive of and an advocate for many women in academia and of their scholarship, including many on this list. Just because his take on the gendering of fan practices doesn’t agree with some others, can we please avoid the implicit suggestions that he and other guys are being sexist, anti-feminist prats?

    I’d also make a plea for the place of the empirical here — many on this list have done comprehensive studies of fans, so let’s look at them for gendered practices. The spoiler study that Jason and I did for instance was notable for the lack of gendered divisions in practices (and we really did look for them). When Cornel speaks of football fandom being communal and male (and if a bunch of soccer fans painted up for a game aren’t biologically and theoretically male, I dunno who is), this is based on empirical work he’s done. Now I’m also sure that empirical work will start to show divides where some of us have been denying them, but let’s give some privilege to the empirical, rather than just keep the evidence at the level of what each of us and our friends do (valuable as that may be).

    My final, somewhat disconnected point (sorry, a repeat of before, but I think the earlier post got lost), is a direct reply to Kristina’s point about there being biological male/female divides and theoretical ones. My problem with this division is how you’re evaluated them: the women get to be communal and friendly and sociable, while the guys are isolated and individualistic. And there’s a rather nasty but easily made connection then (especially given dominant discussion of fan community practices as active and rebellious) between “female” fandom as socialist and subversive, and “male” as capitalist and hegemonic. Which means that the male side and the simple practice of really liking a show without necessarily being in a community with others gets coded as somehow “bad” … making the “fanboy” role the obviously politically suspicious and problematic one, and the “fangirl” the victorious, “Fight the Power” side. Can’t I fight the power AND study non-communally involved fans? (who might, after all, later join different communities informed by their [not quite]fandom)

  2. Robin Reid says:

    Jonathan, I’m linking to a response I made to Cornel over in the LJ community where I don’t have to wait to be moderated even if I had to break it into four parts. Since some of your comments made both here and to the part 1 thread mirror some of his, I figure I won’t spend time re-writing for you:

    Click here.

    Since he accused me (us) of being petty, prescriptive, McCarthyites in his comment, and you’re adding “pitchforks” to the rhetoric (?? I have two frames of reference for that–shoveling manure on a farm–I grew up in Idaho, we had four horses, and I shoveled a lot of shit–and Satanic–and as a pagan living in conservative Texas, I’m leery about that as well) to it all, I am trying not to raise the level of acrimony. I am sure that language is coming from you because you all feel attacked.

    However, I can only say, that there is clearly miscommunication going on, and if you all feel you are not being heard/understood, I hope you’ll understand that the feelings on the other side are not only similar but have been building, in some cases, for several years. dIf as you say, men in this group have worked so much to support women in academia, I’m surprised at the, well, lack of awareness and acknowledgement of the problems that do exist, as a context for the scholarship. Note the response to Cornel’s info on the conference when Kristina noted how many at lower levels cannot afford to attend confernces–that can apply to male graduate students, junior, faculty, etc., but I strongly suspect that, as with many things, women as a group are more affected by the economics–and that’s leaving out the issue of child care which, let’s be upfront about, academic conferences except for some feminist ones generally do not give a damn about).

  3. Bob Rehak says:

    Jonathan, your points are reasonable, and I appreciate the desire to sort through and clarify the terms of what we’re all (trying to) discuss in this beautiful, ungainly, ongoing experiment of collective head-knocking.

    But *I’m* growing increasingly uncomfortable at the frequency with which some contributors — seemingly all of them male, and yes, I know that’s a loaded assertion — to circle the wagons and strike back at what they perceive as criticism, rather than finding ways to listen and respond that actually move the conversation forward. If we’re really to have an open discussion about gender (in its many manifestations, biological, psychological, ideological, etc.), then we — as men! — are going to be challenged to rethink many assumptions about our personal and professional identities. In such circumstances, it’s easy to feel bruised or even victimized; our cherished notion of ourselves as (I assume) good, aware, feminist, multiculturalist thinkers might come in for sharp questioning — particularly if we work from the assumption that everything is shaped by power, and that power is mobilized, both in society and in the weird microcosm that is the academy, along lines of patriarchal privilege.

    (A personal note here: my wife works in social services and domestic-violence counseling. She tells me that, when she speaks to professional groups and college students about the charged issue of gendered power, she often gets more [and angrier] responses from the men in the room than the women. The majority of the men protest in aggrieved tones, “But I’m not like that!” Presumably, they are genuinely good individuals with genuinely good intentions. But, ironically, they end up dominating the discussion, recentering the debate on their own feelings of injustice. Consequently they both raise the temperature of the debate *and* squeeze out the very voices that are attempting to be heard.)

    I know an analogy is not a proof, and that in saying all this I am doing my own share of paternalistic soapboxing. (Just another man holding the floor, refusing to give up the microphone …) My point is that “sharpening the pitchforks” works both ways, and that the conversation might flow more freely if we stop putting our own wounded egos at the center of it. (The difference between Henry’s blogspace and the LiveJournal mirror seems to be that, in LiveJournal, people don’t have to read continual screeds explaining that we male scholars really aren’t that bad!) More to the point, phrases like “rather nasty but easily made connection[s]” subtly reinscribe the idea that one group here is under attack by another. I don’t think it’s that simple; I don’t think any of the voices on the “other side” have claimed it’s that simple; I suspect the simplicity creeps in when we polarize the debate around some alleged “agenda” on behalf of an undifferentiated other.

    Me, I’m OK with sitting quietly and contemplating the idea that “female” fandom tends toward the socialist and subversive, and “male” fandom tends toward the capitalist and hegemonic. (It certainly seems true of the hardware-oriented Star Trek fan cultures in the 1970s that I’ve been studying.) To reiterate a point that I made in an earlier response to Cornel, I think the same binary (and I do confess to liking binaries as conceptual tools) can and often does extend to fan scholars, as evidenced in these very debates. Hell, even the empiricism/theory split you bring up might be readable in terms of a gender divide. Why not at least toy with the idea of pervasive gender inequity — and its structurally inescapable blind spots, symptoms, and cathexes — in the name of increased wisdom?

    Rather than we manly scholars getting our hackles up, let’s consider the idea that we may be bearers and beneficiaries of privilege without even knowing it. Let’s, in other words, put our own gender temporarily under erasure, so that it stops myopically monopolizing a much vaster, more colorful, more egalitarian field of possibilities.

  4. Bob Rehak says:

    Kristina, I didn’t notice the following passage until my second readthrough:

    In that vein, we are rethinking, for example, how “squee”–all too often seen as infantilizing–can actually be a site for embracing one’s emotional responses, especially for women who’ve always prided themselves in their analytic abilities, maturity, etc. Especially when looking at fandom as a space for articulation of non-mainstream ideas and emotions, the role of affect intersects with the political.

    … just wanted to say, thanks for this. Without realizing it, I’ve been hungry for an exegesis of “squee” that would resituate it as something un-annoying — the first several times I encountered it (on Television Without Pity’s Battlestar Galactica & Lost fora), it made me grit my teeth. I had similar reactions to other neologisms and unique usages like “Hee,” “snrk,” and the use of exclamation points (“Chip!Baltar”). But I totally get how “squee” and its ilk are valuable precisely for the way in which they break with language & the Law of the Father — you mentioned having a Lacanian streak, yes? — and constructing an alternative expressive space. (Something similar to the recuperation of gossip as an alternative social network whose power inheres in its “illegitimacy” or “illegibility”?)

    It also sheds a useful new light on my involuntary squeamish reactions to language-play and how such reactions might be based on discomfort with a certain, shall we say, pronounced affective signature (read: scared of strong emotions, averse to conflict, etc.). An emotional gag reflex?

    I’d love to see this mode of interpretation extended to the l33t-speak derivatives to be found on imageboards like 4chan (“this thread is made of smiles and win,” “every repost is a repost repost,” “long cat is looooooooooong”).

    So, thank you for taking “Squee” back so productively! Now, what do we do with “Wow. Just … wow.”?

  5. Jon, I raised this point over at the other post, but I want to raise it on this one as well, since the conversation may be spilling onto the second round. My questions are exactly how socially isolated many of the behaviors discussed here really are. In wrestling fandom, it seems that the “fanboy” way of evaluating texts were to create fantasy wrestling federation or fantasy booking, in which the fan plans out shows, plans what THEY would do for Wrestlemania, or how they would organize the buildup for it, etc. Or, conversely, they would involve archiving. “Fangirls” primarily wrote fan fiction. I don’t mean these to be divided among actual gender lines, but rather as modes of fan behavior previously descirbed. However, the fanboy “archiving” and “fanstasy booking” behaviors were not anti-social at all but were often done explicitly FOR sharing it with others. The mode of engagement is definitely quite different than the fan fiction communities in the way they treat the text, but it doesn’t mean one is more communal than the other.

  6. Jonathan Gray says:

    First can I say that I hate you all. Yes, all of you, men and women. I could be watching tv right now, or working on something boring, but instead you had to get me all interested and piqued on 15 different levels at once. You and this Detente are like the Death Star sucking me in. ;-) Seriously, though, …

    Bob (and others). I posted very aware that I would sound like I’m circling wagons. But please know that I am friends with Cornel, Will, and Matt, and the image that is often presented of them (especially when absent, and not just on this blog) isn’t one I recognize. I’m defensive, yes, but of them not men in academia (of whom I know too many stinkers to want to bother defending them all) and I know all 3 can handle themselves and are well toilet-trained, etc., but I’m invested in my pals. And that goes for female pals too.

    And please don’t get me wrong — my point is not at all to say that gender isn’t rife in much of what’s being discussed. My concern and uncomfort came simply (or simply, I thought) from the notion that some comments on a specific issue (for instance, whether a man felt fandoms could be divided into two types based on gender) were being read as comments on another (namely, that there is no division between men and women in academia or media studies). Here, then, I respond too to Robin, since you’re completely correct that women face many obstacles that men don’t, or don’t always, so I don’t dispute that, but I DO dispute how, for instance, exactly what Cornel said in his initial post denied that — since it seemed to me like he was discussing gender divides in fan practice.

    While addressing Robin, sorry if I misread the intent of your list. And the correction re: Lee wasn’t meant to suggest you didn’t do your homework. I didn’t post initial titles, nor did I read them, so you’ll have to ask Henry why they were included.

    And back to Bob,yes, we have much to listen to, and though I guarantee you I am listening, I’m also thankful that you jumped in there and reiterated it. And I don’t want it assumed that since I have issues with how some comments are being refracted that I don’t think gender privilege works in insidious ways in our field. I know for a fact that in my current position, being a man is a massive blessing.

    But if listening means not talking too (which you didn’t say. I’m straw-man’ning), there I have some issues. Since when I listen to Kristina’s (somewhat moved on from) point that male fandoms and female fandoms are distinct, my own experience of studying several fandoms doesn’t agree. That said, as the discussion has waged on, I’m convinced there are gender divides, just significantly more complex (and I think this is Kristina’s current position?), and I’m keen to be part of an active discussion that moves towards working this out, especially since I think I’m a fan, but very much on the individual end of the scale, so my contributions from Point Loner may help (I hope).

    Towards that end, and to respond more directly to Kristina and Alexis (and Sam?), my sense is that in a very general sense you must be right. After all, in a patriarchal society, a male needn’t read against a text as much as a woman, thereby making a female reading more likely to be subversive than hegemonic (though even then, sadly a lot of women aren’t feminists), and vice versa. And even once we overlay the communal/individual dimension, it makes sense that a subversive reading would be more subversive if it had conspirators. But once we add other identity markers to the picture, the male-female divide can’t be pinned down as well. Working class football fans, say, or hip hop fandom, seem to be quite markedly communal, and are often (rightly or wrongly) heavily male in coding. The fanboy distinction may survive here, since fanboys tend to be coded as white, but the maleness of this isn’t so certain any more. I also see numerous situations where the communal is arguably more hegemonic, and the individual may be subversive. Or, more to the point, conflicted. Two examples:

    1) As far as I have been told, many Trek fans loved Gene Roddenberry, as do many Potter fans love JK Rowling. Now for those who do, their love, as a community, is both hegemonic (in following the cult of the author, and in often allowing the author to serve as shield for certain industry moves), and potentially subversive (in that the love may ensure a displacement of whoever owns the rights to Trek)

    2) Or consider the jerkoffs who drove by bookstore lines last year yelling at Potter fans who died in the book. The fans, as community out together, are in many cases lining up dutifully to hand over their money for the latest book at the time that Scholastic sees fit to let them get it. Nothing too rebellious there: quite happy capitalism. The jerkoff is quite subversive on one level, since he (in most stories it was a he) is an individual, but fighting the whole notion of how one should read a book, and acting out against it. His behavior, though, may also conform to nasty uber-masculine notions of control over the feminized Others.

    In both cases, the individualist and/or communal aren’t so easily attached to a political spectrum.

    Indeed, to come back to Bob, and to wrap up, this is why I felt the connection “nasty” in some way, not because I think the people making it are nasty (and apologies if that’s how it read. Upon reflection, it certainly does read that way), but because it’s a devious connection of its own accord (ie: I’m personifying it) that might run over other identity markers or issues at play. This is why I’d be very interested to hear about how class, race, nationality, etc. play in this debate: in some senses, we’re having this discussion in a vacuum — a bunch of mostly white, Anglo-Americans, many/all middle-class, discussing gender. But how do the divisions hold up once other identity markers get thrown in, and once we get intersections of privilege, hegemony, and marginalization (black men, poor white women, etc.)? And I ask that question without personally intending any defensiveness against the proposition.

    Sorry for taking so much space!

  7. robin reid says:

    Corrected link back to thread in LJ fandebate (I hope):

    Let’s try just the URL and no fancy a href command, shall we?

    http://community.livejournal.com/fandebate/3190.html?thread=147830#t147830

  8. Bob, I’m so excited you addressed the issue of affect, because I’m quite fascinated by the concept. Again and again, when I talk to other fans (women my age, often quite earnest and professional otherwise) who gleefully celebrate their fascination with boybands or share their lustful thoughts over this or that television actor, it becomes obvious that a lot of us refused to engage in “teen” behavior *as teens*. Personally, I rather discussed existentialism at 16 than the teen pop group of the day, and many of us were too invested in appearing (or being) grown up to read (or admit to reading) the type of generic writing that we now embrace. Moreover, especially for those of us with literary training, the full-on embrace of what many of our colleagues would consider low-brow is kind of a purposeful stand for pleasure and against supposed values we’ve long internalized.

    As I pointed out, Alexis, in particular, has started to make interesting connections between affect and political agency, esp. in terms of queer studies, and my own work on ephemeral traces of actual collectively experienced performances likewise draws from queer theory to apply to fan studies. I like how you connect this to other (seemingly offensive) linguistic inventions; I was just discussing the portmanteau naming of pairings that quite often are incomprehensible to anyone not in the know, thus performing a variety of (wonderfully creative) community functions of inclusion/exclusion.

    Jonathan, I really appreciate your thoughts: after all, what we’re all hoping to accomplish here is to begin to think outside of and beyond the known and familiar. I’ve had to learn to question my neat male/female fan behavior dichotomies and hope I was already including some of that new awareness into the conversations above. Likewise, I can tell listening to a lot of you that everyone *is* thinking about gender issues, and I like how we’re expanding into other systemic “-isms” and what effects they have on the different levels we’re discussing. Thus, I think Cornel’s dismissal of subcultural might have been too fast–even given his own fields of study. As you point out, Jonathan, the communal engagement of working class football fans may function along similar lines as the re-envisioning of the romantic lives of our heroes; the collective intelligence of soap fans or wiki contributors may indicate an agency all of its own. And yet all of these are always infiltrated/circumscribed/contaminated by the commercial power of the source text, which has the power to take away our beloved object and/or sell it to us at a premium (though Cindy may speak more about Man From Uncle fandom’s ability to sustain itself nearly in the *absence* of the commercial text).

    I’m too much of a postmodernist and deconstructionist to easily divvy up the world into hegemonic and subversive, but the question remains what aspects of our fan behaviors (whether affected by race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.) contribute to or detract from the hegemonic forces of the fannish objects and the powers behind them, and how to negotiate that fine line (b/c even the most ardent of subversive, anti-hegemonic, queered and aggressive counter-readers tend to prefer their object to continue to exist…and if that means buying the DVDs, for example, they’ll use their collective powers to do so [though, frankly, TPTB’s attempts to tap into/steer such viral marketing appears often more offensive than not, I think]!)

  9. Jonathan Gray says:

    Kristina, if I may mix and match bits from your first and last two paragraphs, let me just throw in a small addition that resisting a text, individually or communally is never automatically a good thing. I’d want to argue, for instance, that certain episodes of The Simpsons need not be read actively, but can be enjoyed quite passively. In Henry’s Intensities interview with Matt Hills, he reflected upon how some of Textual Poachers was rhetorical, but a continuing danger with the Poachers/Reading Romance/TV Culture position’s long shadow is that it encourages us to automatically see resistance as a noble act, and subversion as laudable. But neo-Nazis “actively” viewing Schindler’s List as amusement, for instance, is something we’d all be horrified at (or the spoiler in the story above is a jerk). Extreme example, but the point is that as fans, of all people, we should also be able to make the argument that sometimes the beloved text is beloved because, well, it rocks. (Indeed, I’ve made the argument that, ironically, active audience-ism, in extreme form, has quite a lot in common with Adorno, Gitlin, MCMiller, etc. in starting with the assumption that all texts desperately NEED to be resisted). Since watching TV to a degree IS work, I’m especially fond of shows that I feel let me be a passive viewer.

  10. robin reid says:

    Bob: I only am skimming today (have assignments from two online courses to evaluate), but given your comments on your changing ideas about squee, I want to recommend the following LJ community to you (you may have seen it referenced a while ago when Henry connected to his post there): it’s LOLtheorists. LOL speak is a new interest of mine. We have LOLcats, LOLbriarians, and LOLtheorists over on LJ!

    http://community.livejournal.com/loltheorists/

    Another point in regard to “squee”: I remember being an undergrad and grad during the seventies and being taught in a variety of ways that open expression of enthusiasm over the literature was Not The Thing To Do (I made one professor very nervous by reading biographies and histories of Byron voraciously and cornering the poor man to babble at him–looking back, I can say I was a Byron fangirl to the max)! Finally, during the nineties, a feminist professor of mine validated the enthusiasm as a Good Thing.

  11. Bob Rehak says:

    Kristina: I’m glad we share this interest in affect; as a quick followup, I’m struck by the way in which webtext environments force/enable the translation of paralanguage (according to good ol’ Wikipedia, “the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion … may be expressed consciously or unconsciously, and it includes the pitch, volume, and, in some cases, intonation of speech”) into both textual and graphical equivalents. The way in which paralanguage provides an expressive space beyond prescriptive/policing language policies, and the way in which this in turn interacts with fandom (as a space of pleasure), the social (as a space for the sharing and amplification of pleasure), and gender (as a realm in which expressions of pleasures are highly overdetermined and densely “read”) seems a great site for academic investigation.

  12. Jonathan, I think I may continue to disagree (and I’m fearing this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship pattern here : ): for me reading is *never* passive, and I’m having trouble ever thinking of audiences or consumers as passive by default. (I think we had this discussion with Robert during his and Louisa’s discussion). I may be a bit too hardcore Fish right here, but I do believe that audiences co-create texts and their meanings, and I’m not sure that even addresses the active/passive model as much as it presupposes a certain level of agency in *all* viewers (whether progressive or reactionary, resistant or compliant).

  13. Jonathan Gray says:

    Kristina — I’m with you probably 85% (nah, let’s say 87.3%) of the way there. It points to real problems with that binary of active and passive, problems that much of my work on textuality hopes to take a swing at, since all reading is co-creative. But where I think Fish got it wrong (in 1980 — he was cool in the 70s) is in suggesting reading is PURE creation, not CO-creation, as I still believe that texts can and do say determinate things (even if not all readers will get those things). Hence, I use active and passive above somewhat by force, since those are the terms often used, but meaning them in terms of resisting a text or going with it. Perish the thought that The Simpsons is passive reading (if it is, the central premise of my book is wrong) in the sense of an audience member not co-creating, but above I mean passive reading in the sense of not feeling I need to subvert the text’s politics (by, say, reading against Lisa’s privileged position, or seeing Burns as a maligned genius, etc.). So, as a individualist Simpsons fan, I’m going along with the text, and I’d argue that many of the ensuing political positions are “better” than if I resisted it.

  14. robin reid says:

    Jumping into Jonathan’s and Kristina’s discussion re active/passive, compliant/resistant:

    Jonathan said, in response to Kristina: “that The Simpsons is passive reading (if it is, the central premise of my book is wrong) in the sense of an audience member not co-creating, but above I mean passive reading in the sense of not feeling I need to subvert the text’s politics (by, say, reading against Lisa’s privileged position, or seeing Burns as a maligned genius, etc.). So, as a individualist Simpsons fan, I’m going along with the text, and I’d argue that many of the ensuing political positions are “better” than if I resisted”

    I know none of us are wedded to binaries (heavens forfend), but we do tend to start out with them, and really, let’s admit right up we know so little of how “reading” is done, even after decades of theorizing, that we’re all sort of blindly stumbling around the mugwump in the room.

    On one hand, I’d argue that the very active fan debates over what is canon/correct characterization, with every possible side claiming to be “right” which I see as a similar process to literary criticism, btw!, with critics coming at a text from every possible slant of interpretation, is support for the impossibility of claiming a single/determinate ‘message’ for a text that can be resisted or complied with (after all, I can resist some elements of “The Simpsons” while appreciating others–it’s not either/or).

    Any community of readers–having been a teacher and a reader and a fan for decades, I’ve never seen anything regarding any sort of clear communal consensus on even the majority of points in a text (that could just be me creating it, in terms of teaching and choice of fan friends).

    I know, this stance is heretical in my field (I refuse to “profess” a favored interpretation of a text in my classes to my students’ frustration). I only teach the occasional literature class (mostly introductory and specialized–women writers mostly) since I am not truly a “lit” prof (I teach more creative writing and critical theory). And I think all lit profs should have to sit in on a creative writing workshop (or read all Tolkien’s early drafts! ha, fourteen volumes) to see just how problematic any idea of a “single” intent or message in a text is. I heard a great story in my first graduate program about what happened when manuscript study of Moby Dick was done and all the “brilliant” quirks of spelling that the critics had spent years analyzing turned out to be….printer errors!

    It’s a nice fiction we construct, looking at our reading of a finished text, and I am not saying all readings are equal (again, to my students’ frustratino). We can create stronger readings by supplying a range of evidence from the text, and there are weaker readings.

    But I have real problems with mapping subversive/resistant onto active reading, and compliant onto passive, or valorizing certain types of readings (though I know I, and my profession, do it all the time). The idea that slash is this wonderful subversive feminist genre was around earlier in the scholarship, but it’s been very much moderated since (and by the fans themselves, many of whom critique that attitude).

    Like Kristina, I ascribe a great deal of agency in creation to the readers (probably more than Jonathan would be comfortable with), but that agency and active reading to create meaning in no way presupposes any one political/ideological stance. Setting aside the only purely passive reading I can think of, which I’ve done myself when I’m tired/bored (eyes moving idly over text without taking anything in at all–my response when faced with IRS directions and other forms), I see most reading as active to varying degrees(there is a whole spectrum/matrix).

    Now, resistant reading–which I would argue that I did as a girl reading sf/f as well as other texts in Idaho in the sixties and seventies might be the favored focus among some of us these days, but the idea of resistant reading as being more creative/active than “compliant” reading (is there any way to get out of the negative connotations of that other term) bothers me. So, Jonathan, we share problems with the terms active/passive.

    I find your examples to be somewhat extreme–useful rhetorically perhaps–but hard to deal with. Let me give some of my own: I loved Tolkien’s LOTR (reading it 100 times between age 10 and 17–I no longer know how many times I’ve read it–but I documented those early readings and drove my family to read in self defense–my mother confirms the number as does my old reading diary). Yet I was a very resistant reader in some ways (re my queer reading of Eowyn for a recent conference–she was a Major (proto) Feminist hero for me when I was younger–I hated that she married Faramir–and few would argue Tolkien “intended” that message). In terms of the major issue of religion in Tolkien’s work, I have talked to and taught devout Christians who attribute a huge part of their religious development to Tolkien. I have talked to and taught devout pagans who do the same. They are sometimes shocked talking to each other to find they have read the “same” text (or, have they)?

    And now I must get back to work….

  15. Lee Harrington says:

    Sorry I am plugging in so late to this; indeed, I’ve been on vacation for 3 of the past 4 rounds (including my own with Sam) and this is my first foray into the comments sections.

    I anticipated Kristina and Cornel to be a thought-provoking match-up and am not disappointed (understatement!!). The discussion is much too far along for me to respond to everything so a few brief (personal) points only…..

    Jonathan, thanks for correcting my bio information on Henry’s initial listing. I tried to do that directly when it was first published but it was when Henry was having web/email trouble. My email bounced back and I never re-sent. The only relevant additions to my bio, given this discussion, is that I’m a 43-year old feminist, working poor by origin now comfortably middle-class (the economic rewards of full professorship and being chair), have been teaching women’s studies and sociology courses for close to 20 years, and from Round Six, my work is in one of the most female-identified and maligned areas of pop culture (soaps).

    I’ve really appreciated this discussion of gendered scholarship, gendered fandoms and gendered privilege, and I think (hope) we’ve all learned something by it. I’m also appalled, quite frankly, by what does indeed read as a personal attack on Cornel. As someone who has co-presented with him on panels and has had the pleasure of co-editing Fandom (and now Popular Communication) with him and Jonathan, let me simply echo Jonathan’s commment above — the image of Cornel presented here is a stranger to me. As a feminist sociologist (and there are 1000 different definitions of feminism, of course), I am always glad to meet male colleagues who are gender-aware, understand the power of social location and intersecting power relations, and engage feminist scholarship seriously — I am happy that Cornel is one of those people in my professional world.

    Jonathan, thanks for your efforts to identify the 3 different discussions that have been happening here (we could probably add 1 or 2 to the list)….I agree that things have gotten snarled and un-snarling them where possible is probably in all our best interests–Lee Harrington.