On Anti-Fans and Paratexts: An Interview with Jonathan Gray (Part One)

If you are interested in Lost, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, Star Wars, Fan Studies, or Transmedia Entertainment and you are not reading the work of Jonathan Gray, then you aren’t doing it right! And let’s face it, if you weren’t interested in at least one of the above, then you probably have simply stumbled onto my blog by mistake.

Given that I am interested in all of the above, I keep stumbling onto Gray’s work and each time I do, I come away a little better educated than I did before. Gray has got to be one of the most productive — and provocative — writers working in media studies today. This guy really is an extratextual! And he’s someone I’m finding myself working with more and more. He’s a member of the Convergence Culture Consortium network of scholars; he’s edited several books where my essays have appeared; and he’s been working behind the scenes to help pull together our Transmedia, Hollywood events this month. And he’s now teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I did my PhD.

So, it’s a pleasure to share this interview with you. The first installment covers everything from his recent work on parody, popular culture, and politics to his long-standing interest in fans and anti-fans. Mostly, Part Two focuses around his significant new book, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (NYU Press, 2010). I wrote a blurb for this book, so I got to read it months ago, but it is just now hitting the shelves and starting to have a real impact on how we theorize and criticize everything from movie trailers to action figures.

Jonathan, you are a highly prolific writer who has published books on a broad range of topics. What do you see as the unifying theme(s) running through your work?

One of my key interests lies in how audiences operationalize media, or, in simpler terms, how meaning is created between items of media and their audiences. More specifically, I’m intrigued with how meaning for something can be created outside of that thing itself. Thus my first book was about how parody aims to “hijack” the meanings of various other genres, recontextualizing how we make sense of them. And the recent book, Show Sold Separately, is about how all those things that surround a film or television show, from DVD bonus materials to ad campaigns, merchandise to fan-created texts, actually play a key role in creating meaning. Satire TV, meanwhile, was in one sense a book about how politics and the news come to make sense in entertainment television. Television Entertainment was a little different, but is most clearly indicative of another central and intersecting strand of my work, which involves exploring the social, cultural, and political uses of media entertainment.

One of your primary contributions to the space of fan studies has been to focus attention on “nonfans” and “antifans.” Why have these groups been neglected in audience research for so long? How do they relate to older categories like negotiated and oppositional readers? And what do they add to our understanding of fan culture?

Functionally, fans tend to be easier to study, at least from a cultural studies, qualitative perspective. When one is going to spend a portion of one’s life sitting down and chatting with people about their media consumption, or reading their postings online, it’s understandable that one would gravitate towards those audiences who are most literate about their subject, and most excited. “Snowball” sampling tends to pick up more fans too, since they can often be keen to be interviewed. Theoretically, a lot of qualitative audience research was motivated in part by a desire to show media consumers as not so hopelessly lost in the system as some suggest, and thus it was rhetorically important to make that case with fans.

But along the way, the risk has developed that fans stand in for audiences in general, when many audiences aren’t fans, or define their fandom in very different terms. A particular danger here is that fans tend to know the whole object, and they tend to be very close to it. But what about those audiences who, for instance, know they hate something, even though they haven’t ever watched it, or have only seen bits? They also have a relationship to the text, and it’s created meaning for them, but it’s a relationship that we’ve not studied too closely. Hence my interest in anti-fans. And then somewhere in the middle are those people who might watch semi-regularly, who have opinions on a show, and to whom the show means something, but who miss episodes and who have poor knowledge of background information. Surely much media consumption is casual and “meh”-ish: non-fans. But what is the show to them, and how do they construct it?

I’d see fandom, non-fandom, and anti-fandom as a completely different dimension from oppositional, dominant, or negotiated readings. After all, as fan studies have shown, some fan readings are deeply oppositional, some are dominant. Similarly with anti-fans and non-fans. As to your final question about what studying such viewers would add, they’ll allow us to understand how affect works more clearly. Fandom involves anti-fandom (think of the Star Wars fan who hates Trek, since his galaxy isn’t big enough for both franchises, or of X-Philes who hated the addition of the Terminator in the final seasons), and vice-versa (many haters are performing a love for something else). So just as we can’t truly understand a concept like gender without interrogating both “masculinity” and “femininity,” we won’t truly get how affect works generally, or even how fandom works specifically, till we explore anti-fandom a little more.

Some critics have argued that news parody programs cheapen political discourse, trivializing important matters, and represent the further shift away from hard news and towards “news entertainment.” Your Satire TV book takes a different perspective. What impact do you think such programs have on civic engagement and democratic participation?

That complaint, that The Daily Show and its colleagues take viewers away from hard news, always seems to forget that very few satiric shows actually compete with the news in timeslot. It also seeks to blame satire for the failings of the news. If people aren’t watching the news, it’s not because Jon Stewart is doing magic tricks in the circus tent down the road: it’s because the news is often a seriously debased entity, reporting in a slack, half-ass way, addressed to an older white male audience, often with little interest in others, in a manner that is often the true circus act. So first off, I’d respond to that criticism by saying that if satire TV is so often being compared to the news, that’s because the news is doing something wrong. And if people are trusting Stewart more than many newscasters, the productive question would be what is the news doing wrong and what is Stewart doing right, not how is Jon Stewart responsible for the fall of democracy.

But if we move away from comparing them, and consider the shows in and of themselves, their contributions are many. On one level, they’re not afraid to be critical or to ruffle feathers. They also speak in a language that many understand, inviting us in, not just using “inside the Beltway” lingo. When successful, they encourage many of us to care about politics in the first place, and they encourage us to be savvy, attentive, critical citizens, watching and listening to politicians and newscasters with our guard up. They are media literacy teachers, while also being voices that empower us to be citizens, rather than cajole us or guilt trip us into caring about politics.

Satire TV mostly focuses on the role such programs played under the Bush administration. We are now a year into the Obama administration. How has his presidency changed the relevance and tone of The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and other such programs? Why are there not shows about Obama in the same way that Lil Bush made fun of his predecessor?

Satirists aren’t going after Obama as much, as you note. Which is a pity, since every person in power needs to be subjected to a satirist’s sting. I’m a big fan of the medieval Fool model. But we’re in a two party system, and therein lies the problem, since too often it requires a binaristic way of looking at politics, whereby criticism of one “side” becomes, whether it wants to be or not, support for the other. On one hand, then, if your job is to make fun of stupid things said and done by people in power, how could you be expected to see the Democrats when at times you need to look through Rush Limbaugh is encouraging people note to donate to Haitian relief since it’ll only embolden Obama, when Rudy Guiliani and Dana Perino are claiming there were no terrorist attacks under Bush, when Glenn Beck is being Glenn Beck, when Jonah Goldberg is saying the Na’vi should’ve been Catholic in Avatar, when Sarah Palin thinks universal healthcare is a secret Nazi “death panel” plot, and when Dick Cheney is doing his best Emperor Palpatine impression? As they did under Bush, the Republicans just give way too much A-grade material to satirists. And on the other hand, if your sympathies lean left, as most satirists’ do, it must prove hard to focus on Obama when it means supporting the Birthers and the Tea Baggers as a result.

I’m not someone who feels it’s impossible to satirize Obama. But satirists go after crazy politics, and until the Republicans find a way to instill a semblance of sanity in their ranks, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and co. will likely continue to focus on the Republicans. While that takes the eye off the presidency – which worries me – it’s still a vital task.

You’ve written about “news fans” and I find myself returning to this concept in trying to think about the cult that currently surrounds Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh. Are we at a moment where reactionary politics is fueled as much by the fan followings of talk show and news personalities as it is by Washington-based leaders?

It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity on the right are all doing pretty well. And I’d bet that more folk on the left identify with Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann than with many politicians. Rumor has it that Lou Dobbs is even planning a presidential run [shudders]. Granted, few other fan objects get the chance to “cover” their fans on a weekly basis, so there is something of an echo chamber effect. But the more that we find political mobilization looking like fandom, the more that we need to think seriously about the connections. Liesbet Van Zoonen has an excellent book called Entertaining the Citizen in which she broaches the topic, Cornel Sandvoss has done some thinking about this, and you have too. But sadly the folk who study fans and the folk who study politics and journalism have been so successfully segregated from one another in most instances that there’s nowhere near enough analysis along those lines.

Jonathan Gray is Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he researches and teaches on various aspects of television, film, and convergent media, including satire, comedy, audiences, and textuality. His most recent book is Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (NYU Press, 2010), though he has also written Television Entertainment (Routledge, 2008) and Watching With The Simpsons: Television, Parody, and Intertextuality (Routledge, 2006), and is co-editor with Jeffrey P. Jones and Ethan Thompson of Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era (NYU Press, 2009), with Robin Andersen of Battleground: The Media (Greenwood, 2008), and with Cornel Sandvoss and C. Lee Harrington Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World</em>. He also blogs at The Extratextuals and Antenna: Responses to Media and Culture.


  1. Dear: Mr. Jenkins

    My name is Frank Casas, and I am peruvian. I am journalist and actually, I am studyng a master of Political Science. Well, for me is a great pleasure read your blog because is really interesting. You are one of the best professionals in Communications Science that I know.

    My questions are two.

    1. Is possible to use fans and anti-fans research into politics topics? For example, to prepare politic campaign.

    2. Are political fans than entertainment fans different?


    Frank Casas

    PS: Excuse me. My English is not very good.

  2. I’m glad to see that people are concerned with ethics in the media. I think the media plays an important role in our society and Influence the behavior of our generation. I liked the topics and I agree with the issue on the internet, you have to fix some limits to young people online. I think it’s time to realize that we all have a responsibility and discuss it is the way to find a common sense.

  3. I’m wondering if this idea of Transmedia is just a transient marketing scheme, or if it is hear to stay.

    Best regards, Sofia, CEO of iscsi mirror

  4. marytray says:

    I’m not sure why but this web site is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

    Ariat boots

    Skechers Shape Ups

    Bearpaw boots

    Skechers Shape Ups


  5. markweee says:

    I must be aware doe to traffic enhancement Accelerated Degree AND Earn Degree AND Accredited Degree

  6. markweee says:

    Transmedia Entertainment keeps getting more and more buzz these days — and so over the next handful of installments, I am going to be sharing with you a range of different perspectives on the concept. College Degree AND Prior Learning

  7. health articles says:

    great article, love all your posts. I am so glad to have come accross a blog that is so great and i can spend much time on.

  8. have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorites blog site list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my site as well and let me know what you think.

    Child Behavior Problems

    Potty Training Boys

    Potty Training Tips

    Potty Training Regression

  9. welcome great web for shopping text to speech and rolex replica

    Shop and find the lowest prices on products from louis vuitton outlet. Price comparison shopping, product reviews, and armani watch – all the tools to help make wow gold simple

  10. yangrui says:

    If not, performance shopping is found at two of chanel sunglasses the biggest names in entertainment, Disney and Universal Pictures. Set between mbt discount Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure theme parks, the shops and restaurants at Downtown Disney in Anaheim are all about mac eyeshadow having fun, whether buying sports merchandise at the ESPN Zone, listening to jazz as you dine at House of Blues, purchasing Disney memories at World of cheap christian louboutin Disney, being amazed at the Lego Imagination Center or creating a new persona at Sephora. Universal City Walk at the entrance to replica gucci handbags Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles claims 65 cool things to do, from finding native American arts and crafts at Adobe Road, to dressing like a “hog” at the Harley Davidson store, to finding Southern California skateboard fashions at Skechers, to unearthing rare video games at EB Games, or to being amused by the rock and roll memorabilia as you chow down on a burger at the Hard rock Café Hollywood.

  11. mortgage refinance says:

    great article, love all your posts.Heloc rates and bad credit mortgages

  12. The same may be said for the difference between materials released to the web before we encounter the film or television series, which often are designed to help us manage the complexity of an unfamiliar world or an ensemble-centered narrative, and those which come later in the unfolding of the franchise.

    Invest in Ireland

  13. THis is so great informations. I will come back

    If you have free time, please visit:

    Notebook News

    Laptop News

    HTC Android Smartphone

    Slim Digital Camera

    Android News

    Moto Droid

    Gadget and Tech news

  14. lawrenceemily says:

    On Anti-Fans and Paratexts: An Interview with Jonathan Gray (Part One)

    I just love the interview section.Florida villas

  15. Concerning the quality of the material, synthetic Synthetic Lace Wigs are thought as a first choice with a most of the people. If you’re a regular user of synthetic wigs, then you would know the reason well that why such wigs are thought to be irresistible. You can style the lace according to your personality and needs. You are able to curl them or even straighten them whenever you want. The quality still remains to be exactly the same. Undergo online Custom Wigs for sale shops for any quick glance about the features of cheap lace front wigs. Buy a wig of your liking after dealing with its details at length.

  16. I’m not sure why but this web site is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.Prada Outlet Bags zoe natural sleep remediessdlv belt xiao sleep remedies

  17. blogging says:
  18. I’m not sure why but this web site is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

    Bankruptcy lawyer NY

  19. Highly helpful thank you, There's no doubt that your followers would possibly want significantly better afrika mangosu written articles like that maintain the excellent work.tütüne son klavis panax nanomatik orjin krem

  20. Very intresting and little crazy video moliva ömer coşkun gülhatmi balı gülhatmi balı