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.