MC: How do we proceed in fan studies–what do we agree belongs in this category, and what should be left out? There seems to be an agreement (if only a reluctant one) among folks in this discussion on the idea that the category “fan” should be broadened. Concern has been expressed, however, that if we make it too broad, it will lose its meaning. Could we begin to try to nail it down by suggesting the ways “audience” and “fans” might be different?
JG: I’m really interested in this question as I think complicating the term “fan”, and its use, can help us to start to understand how ideas about the audience itself is being transformed by the participatory moment that has arisen. This discussion has offered up a good range of ways to account for fandom that run the gamut from structures of feeling to productive consumption via a spectrum of viewing intensity (and the comments even offered up “fanatic” at one point). Theoretically pragmatic personally, I drew a lot from Anne Kustritz and Derek Johnson’s deconstruction of fans as an object of study that can be generalized about, challenging the notion of the fan as necessarily determined by community, socialization, productivity, consumption, engagement, or outsider status. Their ultimate conclusion seemed to be that the fan as an object of study needs to be understood as a multiplicitous social construction and contextualized within historical and cultural specificity. That said, they also draw upon the notion of the fan as a sort of cultural logic used to describe particular categories of consumption for the purposes of patrolling ‘normal’ behavior. This is a classic position for the fan, historically positioned as atypical or anomalous in ways that permit the delimitation of acceptable media consumption and engagement habits.
In the current moment, however, where non-fan audiences (apologies for the clunky language) are bring increasingly described if not constructed through discourses of production, the fan seems to have been drawn back in somewhat from the edge. As the television industry, especially, attempts to make sense of the impact of inviting viewers to participate, losing control over the contexts of consumption, and realigns itself in an environment that seems likely to privilege multiple separate opportunities to view content, certain elements of the fandom look very tantalizing as models of audience practice worth encouraging. Of course, this is not unproblematic, and the industry seems mostly interested in promoting the depth of engagement and what I would characterize as the structures of feeling of fan engagement and hopefully not having to deal with the politics of ownership and production that emerge from fandom. But the fan as a model of a passionate consumer, a loyal consumer, a willing participant, a word-of-mouth marketer (or what Sam Ford regularly refers to as a proselytizer), an active participant in expansive storyworlds, and even a producer of additional textual elements (whatever sanctioned or tolerated form they might take), seems to be having an impact on the model of ‘regular’ audienceship, particularly as the behaviors once considered anomalous (such as archiving content, to pick up on Derek’s own example) are wrapped into revenue models or normalized through cultural practice.
MC: I should confess (in case it’s not yet obvious) that I’m in agreement with the folks who keep saying that they think there’s something useful in studying audience members who do not behave as fans have typically been defined–as communal producers of materials that “rewrite” media texts. I support this perspective because it speaks to my experiences as a fan–and I find it useful in terms of understanding the activity I have seen in my study of Martha Stewart fans.