Aca-fandom and Beyond: Karen Tongson, Jayna Brown, and Geraldine Bloustein (Part Two)

Karen Tongson:

What strikes me when I view our opening remarks collectively, is that each of us has such a different orientation to the concept of “cultural studies.” I think I work from a Williamsian genealogy (still very much influenced by literary studies), whereas Jayna invokes the Frankfurt School, and Gerry speaks from the vantage point of Anthropology. These positions clearly have an impact on how we each respond to the notion of “fandom” itself: whether we embrace, disavow, or express some ambivalence to being a fan, let alone an “acafan.”

The capaciousness of the term “fan” (at least for those of us not squarely situated within “fan studies”) reminds me of how the term “queer” used to circulate in the early-to-mid-90s: as irritant and stimulant, as identification and practice, as discipline and unruliness. We, as a trio, are are quite loose with our associations to the terms “fan” and “acafan.” My rather casual embrace of the term “acafan,” I think, has as much to do with seeing it as an adjacent and complementary practice to the other fields in which my work is more readily situated. It’s descriptive of another dimension to my work in queer cultural studies. Do you two feel the same way about the “adjacency” or additive power in the terms “fandom” and “acafandom?”

I was especially struck by the moment in Jayna’s piece when she declared her identification as “a fan,” not in relation to a broader set of cultural objects, but of her nephew’s attachment to Gaga and other pop iconoclasts. Jayna forges a fandom once removed, and practiced through mediation. Instead of thinking this as a disavowal of, or distancing from what “true fandom” and commitment might mean, I am drawn to the possibilities it opens for creating a prismatic approach to affective, intellectual attachments.

I also see something of this in Gerry’s relationship to her research “subjects,” who are her collaborators, as much as they are figures of inquiry and “knowledge acquisition.”

Each of us also seem to find and wind our way into this adjacency or proximity with fandom through music, in particular. In what ways does music, as the object, and as form, bear some impact (or not) on the practice of “acafandom?”

Jayna Brown:

Karen has asked us in her response to consider the ways we may think of acafandom or fandom as additive or adjacent to the fields we work in. Acafandom, if I am using it in the correct way, would seem adjacent in the sense that the skills I learn and develop in my intellectual life are my way of embracing the music and film and literature that I feel passionate about. These skills open up the ‘texts,’ to reveal the shape and texture of my passions. But these skills also help shape what I find interest in, what I am drawn to, or become the object of affection themselves. What strikes me about all three of our opening remarks is just this: the dialogic relationship between our topics and our intellectual training.

Karen also asks a very important question, regarding the ways music impacts the practice of acafandom. Perhaps one of the ways it does so is to require that we become part of, or engage with a mixture of communities. Karen’s remembrances bring me back to my undergraduate years in England, reading the Brontës and Kristeva during the day and dancing to house music and northern soul in the club all night (yes, I am feeling nostalgic today!).

Music could also challenge what we think of as ‘aca’ in the first place, broaden our sense of what that means. If ‘aca’ implies study of and incorporation of influences, so might fandom, as with the ‘homework’ I see my nephew doing into music and cultural movements of the past. The way, as Karen says, Scritti Politti introduced her to Kant is the same way Lady Gaga has introduced my nephew to Dada, Andy Warhol and German Cabaret. This is the same way The Clash’s Sandinista album (my favorite!) got me to find out what dictatorship was and about US cold war policies in Central and South America.

I share with Gerry an appreciation of the ways music blurs the lines between creator and audience; at least the types of music I am drawn to are participatory, collective. Music also impacts the practice of acafandom in that it makes us search for a way to think about the non linguistic, what happens, as Paul Gilroy puts it, at lower frequencies, in different registers.

Gerry Bloustein:

I think Karen’s initial questions about the additive or adjacent nature of acafandom to our own areas pf interest and research are pertinent. On reflection, like Jayna, I realise that my engagement and in fact my immersion with particular areas of popular culture and especially with music does continue to both shape and develop my intellectual pursuits and networks as well as underpin my attraction and love of the activities. So work and play interweave and mesh (how lucky are we acafans!).

Interestingly, one of the young musicians and entreperneurs (one my collaborators with whom I have been working closely for about 10 years!) articulated this dialogic relationship, which Jayne described. He now runs a grassroots and thriving retail hip hop business, including an event management business which supports his own music making and his experiential community and networks. He told me sternly one day in response to a question I asked him about how he saw the blending of his art and commerce, ‘Everyone wants to make money from things they love doing, so why shouldn’t I?’

If you think about the ways in which we as academic fans also make our living through activities we love and from the worlds in which we are embedded, it is a similar story.

And as far as music is concerned yes I think it does underpin so much of what we love and enjoy whatever the subject of our desires and attractions. I was/ am very much an acafan of Joss Whedon’s work (love the writing, the humour, the characterisations) and so loved the clever use of music throughout all of his creations. It is an area that I still am anxious to explore – the role of affect (I think I said this earlier) which is so powerful and can often articulate the unspoken / unspeakable and even the ineffable through music. Any other takers?

Karen Tongson is Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Her book on race, sexuality, popular culture and the suburbs, Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (NYU Press), is forthcoming in August 2011. She is co-series editor for Postmillennial Pop with Henry Jenkins (NYU Press), and is also co-editor-in-chief of The Journal of Popular Music Studies (Wiley-Blackwell) with Gustavus Stadler.

Jayna Brown is Associate Professor in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Riverside. Her book, Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern was published by Duke University Press in 2008 and has won awards. Her current projects focus on utopias and race in speculative fiction and global pop music and black women and postpunk music in Britain.

Geraldine Bloustien is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Hawke Research Centre, Division of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of South Australia (UniSA). She has published extensively and internationally in the areas of cultural identities, youth cultures and on the complexity of effectively using participatory visual ethnography. Her book publications include Girl Making: A Cross Cultural Ethnography of Growing Up Female (Berghahn 2003), Sonic Synergies: Music, Technology, Community, Identity (Ashgate 2008) and Youth, Music and Creative Cultures: Playing for life (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2011).. Her recent research explores the intersections of community media, music, health and Web 2.0 technologies.

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