LHM: I’m Lori Hitchcock Morimoto, and my academically sanctioned biography states that I’m a PhD candidate at Indiana University, working on a dissertation that examines Japanese female fans of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. Normally, I would not include the information that I just now plopped my daughter in front of an episode of Dora the Explorer in order to buy some time to write, but that information – as well as the fact that I’m presently seven months pregnant – turns out to be relevant to the ways in which I’m thinking about female fandom in my dissertation, as well as the ways I’m thinking about academia in my own life. In essence, I’m interested in unruly fans (and unruly academics).
My own fan experiences, like those of the women about whom I’m writing, are very much a product of personal transnationalism. I spent my formative years living in Hong Kong; there, I was a fan of Hollywood blockbusters and took every opportunity to fill Chinese embroidered scrapbooks with movie stills culled from the Japanese movie magazines Screen and Roadshow. Later, I paradoxically ‘discovered’ the unique pleasures of Hong Kong cinema in Japan, and, as a fan, I’ve invested my fair share of hard-earned cash in star and movie memorabilia, quaked with excitement upon realizing that the Hong Kong restaurant I happened to visit was the backdrop of a favorite scene in Peter Chan’s He’s a Woman, She’s a Man, and shaken Leslie Cheung’s hand at a concert in Osaka. This is all by way of saying that fandom, for me, has been – first and foremost – a very personal and highly affective experience. As with many of the female fans I’ve talked with over the years, it stems from passion – for a narrative, for a genre, for a star. The fans with whom I identify are messy – to borrow from Martti Lahti and Melanie Nash, we’re “those girls”: the ones who exceed predetermined parameters of fan/star interaction, who allow our lives and our fandom to commingle to an unseemly degree.
DS: My name is David Surman, and I am founding Senior Lecturer in Computer Games Design at the University of Wales, Newport. Fandom brought me to university, where I studied animation, with a view to working in the games industry. I was chaperoned through childhood by a Sega Mega Drive, and as a teenager I was consumed by an expanded passion for Japanese animation, games and popular culture; I guess I would qualify as one of the first wave of UK game otaku. I was caught up in the cloud of excitement around anime and manga generated by Jonathan Clements and Helen MacCarthy in magazines like Manga Max and Manga Mania, at a time when British and American animation was a dust bowl. Even though retailers sold the limited number of titles available at mercenary prices, over the years I acquired numerous videos with my meager allowance. I came to them knowing something of the controversy but nothing of the pedigree in anime.
My own media mixing put Kaneda and Tetsuo headlong along the same highway as the Gunstar Heroes and Joe Musashi on horseback. Videogames, manga and anime became the counterpoint to boredom at school, and university provided me with an opportunity to deepen those interests in an almost-legitimate way. No sooner had I got there, my interests began to broaden, through a patchwork exposure to film studies and classic film and animation. I found a passion for European experimental and North American limited animation, and these in turn deepened my appreciation of anime. My masters and PhD work followed the path set during the degree; I have sought to bring film studies methods to bear on transnational videogame and animation cultures. I guess, in this process, I have been examining my own fandom. I don’t think that my experience is in many ways idiosyncratic; it always amazes me how many of my students share biographical details, motivations, dreams and desires, having spent their childhood committed to the same mediums as me.
In several recent essays I have vainly vindicated my own abstruse feelings about games fandom. My film studies prejudices come to the fore in the essays on Fable in the Animated Worlds anthology, and on StreetFighter in Videogame/Player/Text. Until relatively recently game studies have tended to focus on matching the sociology of play to the dynamics of gameplay. Along with a few other guilty parties, some of whom have contributed to this gender and fandom series, I am interested in the relationship between game aesthetics and fandom, though I suspect aesthetics is sometimes too weighty a term. Game art, images, advertisements and merchandise fascinate me, in particular when they betray particular cultural and generic assumptions about gender and games.
The ‘Messiness’ of Transnational Fan Culture
Whenever I think, “what am I doing?,” I remind myself of what I consider one of the great fan studies texts, Barthes’ The Language of Fashion. His summary exclamation, ‘The most seemingly utilitarian of objects – food, clothes, shelter – and especially those based on language such as literature (whether good or bad literature), press stories, advertising etc., invite semiological analysis.’
I have tended to work with an emphasis on close analysis within the systems of games representation. Like Barthes I guess, the sum of my interests in games, animation and fandom pass through another lens, sexuality, which shapes my thinking, and my consumption of images and play experiences. I think I qualify as one of your messy fans, Lori. In my recent work I have become interested in female transnational/transmedia character archetypes (phew!), as loci for fan investment, authorial refinement, and cultural commentary.
LHM: Actually, I’m intrigued by your parenthetical “phew!” there at the end of your self-introduction, since it really is a mouthful but, at the same time, something that’s part and parcel of contemporary globalized (or transnational or transcultural), gendered fandom. Since we’ve both written on media fandoms in a transnational context, I think this is something we might be able to talk to in addition to issues of gender. In my own work, I’ve found that the sheer amount of exposition necessary to bring a more general audience up to speed in terms of the specific culture(s) I’m talking about often acts as a barrier to discussing those cultures in terms of broader issues of fandom. In an English-speaking Western conference setting, for example, comparatively little background information is needed for speakers and audience members alike to engage in fairly high-level theoretical discussions of, say, Doctor Who or Lord of the Rings fandom. But in the case of characters like Kaneda and Tetsuo (who I was pleased – and mortified, but only because it dates me – to recognize), theoretical discussion often seems to take a back seat to exposition. My feeling is that, as a result, such discussion tends to get ghettoized or relegated to ‘specialties’ within academic discourse on fan cultures.