The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Casey McCormick & Alisa Perren (Pt. 1).

Casey McCormick

My relationship to fan studies, as with other disciplinary descriptors, is complicated. From an MA in Literature and Theory (with a quick pit stop in Communication Studies), to a PhD in Cultural Studies (in a relatively traditional English department), I feel like I’ve been floating between disciplines for years—something that used to terrify me, but that I now find quite liberating. When you lack a clear disciplinary home, it opens up opportunities for collaboration that might have otherwise remained off the radar, and it makes it easier to identify—and work against—the limitations of any given disciplinary approach.

During my MA at Georgia State University, I met some graduate students who, like myself, were longtime fans of Joss Whedon. They introduced me to the interdisciplinary mix of scholars who make up the Whedon Studies Association (imagine my shock and delight at learning such a thing existed!). The 2010 Slayage conference was the first time I’d seen people talking about TV in an academic context, and it encouraged me to include televisual case studies in my thesis project. There was certainly fan studies work happening at Slayage, but I was not aware of it as a distinct field—and, while I found the fan-based work fascinating, my own approaches remained mostly “literary,” looking at genre, themes, and storytelling forms. In the last semester of my MA, I ventured over the the Communication Studies department and took Alisa Perren’s “Media Industries” course. This experience was no doubt the turning point in my academic career; Alisa introduced me to media studies methods and theories, setting me on a track that would veer away from literary studies in favour of studying television and digital media, considering modes of TV production and consumption alongside textual analysis.

In Fall 2011, I began my PhD in Cultural Studies at McGill University in a department that was not quite the right fit for my new research interests. Before I left Georgia State, Alisa had helped me strategize ways to stay connected to the media studies world, even if my new department wasn’t. At her advice, I attended my first SCMS conference in 2012, where I began to get a better sense of the dynamics of disciplinarity across media studies, especially at the Television Studies and Media Industries SIG meetings. I saw the value of these groups as counterforces to the alienating nature of a large conference, as networks for mentorship, and as platforms for defining your scholarly “brand.” I still wasn’t sure how to describe my own disciplinary situation, but I found myself gravitating towards panels about fans and getting to know the very generous and approachable scholars from that sector the conference.

In Chicago in 2013, several conversations over beers and Twitter brought up the underrepresentation of fan studies work at SCMS—some folks even suggested that fan-focused work was being systematically rejected from the conference due to perceptions of the field as less important and/or rigourous than other forms of media scholarship. At the airport, waiting for my flight back to Montreal, I created a Facebook group for people who supported the formation of a “Fan Studies” SIG. The group quickly gained momentum, but a debate arose: what to name the SIG. While many potential members were dedicated to the title “Fan Studies,” several others argued that “Audience Studies” was a more inclusive and appropriate title. Champions of “Fan Studies” argued back that naming the SIG “Audience Studies” would participate in the same devaluing of fan-focused work that we were fighting against in the first place. I learned a lot from that debate, and looking back on those Facebook conversations, I see my own views on disciplinarity taking shape:

First of all, I agree that the most important thing about this SIG will be what we do, not what we call it. Matt [Hills], when we were initially having this debate, I backed you up on the argument that Fan Studies is still in need of legitimation in the eyes of institutions such as SCMS. But, I think that going the "Fan and Audience Studies" route does not detract from the legitimation that this SIG will help to create for Fan Studies. I also think I disagree that the two fields are "significantly" distinct. Yes, they are different, but as Louisa [Stein] pointed out, Fan Studies (and I would add Audience Studies) are both inherently interdisciplinary fields. I don't really see how including "and Audience" into the SIG title could really hinder anything that we're trying to do in the name of Fan Studies, but it could allow for more interesting, diverse, and interdisciplinary conversations. Those who study audiences have to think about fans, and those who study fans have to think about other kinds of audiences. So, to conclude, while I was initially on board with sticking to "Fan Studies," I think I am now a proponent of "Fan and Audience Studies." Also #FAAS has a nice aural and visual ring to it.

The Fan and Audience Studies SIG held its inaugural meeting at the 2016 SCMS conference in Atlanta. I was deep into my dissertation at that point, and while I was excited to celebrate the establishment of this SIG, it felt clear to me that I was not, after all, a “fan studies” scholar. Out of five dissertation chapters, only one focused specifically on fans (a version of which, thanks to my fan studies mentor, Paul Booth, eventually became my contribution to the Wiley Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies). Overall, my work is more focused on intimate moments of viewing, different modes of viewership, and how these experiences relate to the forms of TV storytelling. Formal analysis is quite often absent from both fan and audience studies, so one of the things my work does is model how attention to textual form can draw out some of the affective stakes of viewing practices. I’ve also extended formal analysis to fan-authored paratexts to reveal a feedback loop of poetic strategies—it’s important to think about how fans make meaning, not only the meanings themselves or the motivations behind them.

Although my interests have pulled me away from a strictly fan studies approach, I remain linked to that community of scholars who welcomed me to the SCMS fold years ago—and co-founding (with Paul Booth) the Fan and Audience Studies SIG is one of my proudest academic accomplishments. Fandom is my favourite subject to teach, and the pace of growth in discipline is exciting. I think that fan and audience studies foster collaboration in ways that rarely exist in other branches of media studies, and this blog series is a perfect example. Here I am, seven years after walking into Alisa Perren’s classroom, engaging in a dialogue with her about the state of a field that I hardly knew existed in 2011.

Alisa Perren


As Casey indicates, it is serendipitous that she and I were matched up for this conversation about our relationship to fan studies. This serendipity comes not only through our prior relationship to each other, but also through our own distinctive relationships to fan studies. Much as Casey came to fan studies through literary studies, my arrival at fan studies came primarily through studying the media industries. I am particularly interested in understanding the evolving ways in which different industry sectors – and different industry professionals – have imagined, cultivated, and interacted with fans.

Although I contributed to Melissa Click and Suzanne Scott’s Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, I typically have not identified myself as a fan studies scholar. (Indeed, I was surprised and flattered to be asked to participate in their collection.) However, my interest in fan studies has expanded both as the media industry’s engagement with fans has increased, and as I have engaged with colleagues such as Casey who have exposed me to new ways of thinking about the field. About ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to have Henry Jenkins (along with Joshua Green) contribute an article to my co-edited collection (with Jennifer Holt), Media Industries: History, Theory, and Method. In their contribution, Jenkins and Green addressed the growing tensions between industrial desires to exploit fan activities and fans’ desires to be heard (but not exploited) by the media industries. Jenkins and Green’s contributions there and elsewhere spurred much of my own preliminary thinking about the increasingly complex relationship between industry and fans, and between industry studies and fan studies. While certain (e.g., white, male) fan communities obviously have been highly valued by the media industries for some time, the economic value of diverse fan constituencies has continued to grow. Of course, the very meaning of fandom has become more elusive (and fraught) at the same time.

Through my contribution to Click and Scott’s collection, I was finally able to delve into exploring industry-fan dynamics more fully. I did so by collaborating with one of the doctoral students in my current department (Radio-TV-Film) at UT-Austin, Laura Felschow. Together, Laura and I were able to survey the (relatively limited) ways that fan studies, industry studies – and another area in which fan-oriented scholarship is thriving, comics studies – had been placed in dialogue in the past. We argued for the importance of more granular examinations of industry-fan relationships – examinations that moved away from constructions of “industry” as a monolithic entity that primarily sought to exploit from/benefit from/harness fan communities. Through case studies of comics publishers DC Comics and Image Comics – and interviews with creatives and executives who worked at each company – we showed how conceptions of and interactions with fans varied based on differences in corporate structures, professional identities, and business models (among other factors). Our hope was that this article helped to push scholars to think beyond the simplistic industry-fan binaries that often dominate both media studies scholarship and popular culture.

My co-authored essay with Laura is but one of many examples of how my thinking on fan studies has developed through collaborations and interactions with colleagues, and in particular, graduate students. As yet one more example, my thinking regarding fans-as-laborers has been aided by current UT-RTF graduate student Lesley Willard’s analysis of how fan work has been incorporated into promotional campaigns for television programs such as MTV’s Teen Wolf. It is humbling to read Casey’s opening statement and see how her exposure to media industries scholarship through my graduate course altered her academic trajectory. Obviously this relationship has gone both ways.


The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Ruth Deller & Lucy Bennett (Pt. 2).

Ruth Deller

Interesting that we have both mentioned representation of sports fans. I can't wait to read your chapter on this-I am guessing a lot of this representation would be of male fans? You may or may not be familiar with Carrie Dunn's work on female football fans but she makes interesting points about not only gender and sexism in sport, but the relationship between sports fandom and family, community etc. It's good that there are some more connections being made between sports fandom and other areas of fan studies (I know Richard McCulloch has a lot of interest in this area too), and I think it is an interesting area to think about from the perspective of gender. It seems to me that there are certain types of masculinity bound up in cultural imaginings of sports fans-which are also tied in with notions of race, class, nationality, local identity etc. It's such a potentially fruitful area that offers a lot of interdisciplinarity. That said, my sporting knowledge is incredibly limited - and mainly relates to the 80s and 90s when I grew up alongside a sports-loving brother and I got into football myself for a little while (Up the Mariners!), albeit in a very limited way.

You mentioned my chapter on older female fans in Seeing Fans. I really enjoyed working on that paper and on previous research projects with Cliff Richard fans, almost all of whom were over 60. I was very inspired by the work of people like C Lee Harrington, Denise Bielby and Andy Bennett on fandom in life course. I think we are at a potentially interesting time in terms of thinking about age and fandom. We have those who became fans in the 50s and 60s continuing their fandoms into older age, as well as young fans whose experiences of fandom are almost entirely defined by social media, streaming and other new technologies. Whilst there is now an increasing amount of work on long-standing fandoms and on fandom and the life course, I think there's still a lot of opportunity here in thinking about these issues.

And to bring this back to where I started this section - sport is one of those areas that's heavily tied into life course, with people often developing fandoms as children, or at pivotal points in life journeys (e.g. joining university sports teams)...

Lucy Bennett

Yes, you’ve guessed it! My work on media representations of fans, which ended up primarily focusing on sports fandom, showed that they were very much male dominated. Females were mainly only visible in terms of media, or other forms of fandom. Most of my life, I had no interest in sports, but in recent years really became interested in athletics, football, and rugby (and this stemmed from a very vibrant experience watching a game in a pub in Cardiff one day!). These interests made me think about how much of this ties into nationality, identity, gender, and so on.. and not only within the self, but, as you point out, within media representations as well. Depictions of emotion and gender is something in particular I would like to explore more fully, since very often it is accepted more in terms of men at sports games (through the notion of it being passion), whereas females at music concerts expressing emotion is more frequently depicted as out of control irrationality. This polarity is something I would like to explore in more depth.

I also find it particularly interesting how sports was the predominant genre of fandom portrayed in the media in the ten year sample I studied, yet it remains at the margins of what I know as the fan studies field, which has focused more on media/popular culture fandom and been markedly divided from sports studies. I hope each year that at the Fan Studies Network conference that we will receive more (or even just some) abstracts on sports fandom, but we don’t receive many. I’m really interested in these different spheres of fan studies converging with media fan studies. To me, it makes the field so much richer.

Work on lifelong fandom, and the course that people take during their lives with their fan objects, is something that also draws me. I’m particularly in interested in how this manifests and develops surrounding music fandom. As I mentioned in Part One, music is a huge passion to me, and there were two pivotal points in my life where I discovered music that had a profound impact on me: when I was 6, and when I was 14. It is fascinating to me how my relationship changes with the music I discovered at these points in my life as I grow older, but also through technology, and, more recently, returning to the material object. I recently purchased a vinyl player, and have been reliving moments and memories from revisiting some of the albums I originally owned on vinyl in the 80s and 90s (luckily I kept them all!). So what compels me at the moment is not only our relations with these fan objects through our lives, but also how medium and/or technology may enhance, guide, or provoke this. 

This leads me to something that I specifically also wanted to discuss with you: what are your impressions of music fandom and related scholarship at the moment? I’ve really enjoyed your projects on mature female music fans in the media, and the work on Cliff Richards fans. Do you have any plans to continue your work in this area?


How do I feel about the state of pop music fandom research? That’s a very interesting question. I think what I notice most is how disparate it is. By that, I mean that research into pop music fans, audiences and subcultures has always been somewhat interdisciplinary. There is a tradition in media and cultural studies, which is often where fan studies sits most comfortably, but there is also work in music studies, youth studies, sociology etc. This means that the scholarship is spread out in terms of its visibility in journals, at conferences and so on. Whilst obviously there are advantages to this and there are historical, discipline-related reasons why this is so, it can be quite frustrating because it feels as though the conversations could be more joined up.

If I go to a fan studies conference or panel, there is a very good chance I will encounter work on sci-fi or fantasy fan cultures. However, I suspect there is a slim chance there will be papers covering grime fans or reggae fans. That research is out there-but it is not necessarily joining up to work that more clearly identifies as ‘fan studies’. I think, to some extent, this possibly touches on issues we’ve already been raising of race, nationality and class, as well as disciplinary backgrounds.

Of course, there are some areas of pop music fandom that are highly visible within spaces clearly marked out as ‘fan studies’ (by this I’m mainly referring to edited collections, conferences and journals that are specifically focused on fandom). One Direction fans, for example, received a huge amount of attention-I see similar occurring with K-pop and, from time to time, work on other popstars (Bowie, Gaga, Beyoncé) or rock music.

I would love to see more interdisciplinary conversations about fandom in general, actually. There is so much history in, for example, subcultural research, yet work on subcultures now seems to have be less visible within fan studies, although it still thrives in other disciplines.  Many subcultures – including sport, to bring it back to our earlier conversation - clearly still have fandom as a core component.

In terms of if I want to work more with older female fans- I’d love to do more in that area. 2020 is the 20th anniversary of my first work with the Cliff Richard fans, for example, so I’m hoping to do a follow-up project with them.  The 10-year study threw up some really interesting results, particularly about the influence of social media, and since then, streaming services have become huge, so I am interested to see if that’s impacted them (as well as the recent controversy involving Cliff, of course). This connects in to your points about technology, I think.  The relationship between age, technology and fandom is fascinating in itself.  Oh, and I just filmed an interview with some Duran Duran fans who are making a documentary about their fandom.  It was fun working with them – they asked more complex questions than I get even from academics!

There seems to be a bit of a media appetite for looking at older fandoms and subcultures. In the UK, the channel BBC Four has made dozens of documentaries on music cultures.  (In fact, there was one on the Bay City Rollers just last week). I suspect there are a lot of audience members and a lot of people working in the media who were part of music scenes in the 60s and 70s, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that there is a huge fascination with the music scenes of that era. Whilst there is some work in fan studies on Baby Boomer fans as well as Gen X/Millennial/'Gen Z' fans, what I would love to see is something that brings together research on fans from various generations, so everything from children to the elderly.

And here I pass back to you for your thoughts before I talk myself into putting an edited collection together on this! (Would people be interested in getting involved in that?)


Yes, the disparateness of music fandom scholarship is quite striking. At times, this can be so beneficial in that it allows many different perspectives, but it also does feel fractured at times. I’ve really enjoyed Mark Duffett’s work on music fandom – his special issues of Popular Music & Society, and the conferences he has organised really pull together some of the corners where music fandom is sometimes dispersed and situated.

I would be absolutely fascinated in seeing your Cliff Richard fan study updated! I think it would make such a valuable contribution to scholarship. There is so much within this fandom that would be compelling – from lifelong fan courses, to adoption of technology, to fan support during acts of controversy. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the 20th anniversary of that! I also hope to one day revisit and update my work on R.E.M. The forum that I studied has now been closed, but I recently did a chapter for Rebecca William’s forthcoming collection on fandom and endings, exploring how R.E.M. fans and their official news channel use social media now that the band have split, especially to piece their collective memories together. It is very interesting as, at times, their news platform is equally, or even more, active than when they were still together! But, returning to a field of study at a much later time period, is something that draws me. We have so many new technical advances, but it’s not clear cut surrounding how fans negotiate these, and so comparative studies across a long period, I think, could be quite a revealing way of unravelling their practices.

Sorry to add to your workload, but I for one would love to see an edited collection on the areas that you mentioned – generational fandom and music would be so compelling! You’re right, there is quite a trend on BBC Four (which I love) on documentaries and programmes that focus much on 60s and 70s music. While I do enjoy these, there is a gap there for explorations of other generations. Being a fan of music when I was so young myself, I would love to see more studies on children and music fandom. I feel that the music I was engaged with then, and the music magazine that I loved (Smash Hits) really worked to forge my identity as I grew older. In a way, the lyrics and sounds I was exposed to, and the interviews I was reading, strongly boosted my internal ideas and senses of what was possible in life. I would like to see work that examines fans at this early age, and others that speak to more mature fans at later stages in life, to explore how looking back on a life may be intertwined with music, fandom, and memory. It’s all such an interesting avenue, and one which offers quite a few areas that have not been interrogated much before in fan studies.

For me, I’m also quite drawn to technology and how this may (nor may not) impact on experiences and behaviours of music fans. I find two polarities quite fascinating: in our contemporary landscape we have a multitude of streaming services, but also a turn now back to the material object, such as vinyl and cassettes, both of which can be steeped in nostalgia. Secondly, we have Twitter and other social media platforms, that offers what has been described as a “direct connection” between musicians (and, obviously, other public figures) and fans, yet often a negotiation has to occur surrounding how can these connections can be maintained and realised, when some individuals have potentially millions of people following them. So I think there is so much within music fandom to explore!

Lastly then, what are you next plans within fan studies research (and even perhaps teaching)? We’ve discussed some of pressing areas that we feel need more attention within the field, but are there any other significant things that you hope are worked towards within fan studies in 2018?


Ha, I was actually thinking about Mark Duffett’s work after sending my last message to you!  I suspect the thing with documentaries will inevitably lead to more on the 80s and 90s as time progresses, though you’re right that it’d be good to see multiple generations’ interests served at the same time. Side note, but I am LOVING the 1980s Top of the Pops repeats we get on BBC Four – that was weekly viewing in my house growing up, and I was also obsessed with Smash Hits!  Kind of a shame today’s kids/teens don’t have those – I would love to see more work with children on how they come to music fandom now, in fact.  I remember being utterly mesmerised seeing Boy George on TOTP in the early 80s and he was probably the first pop star I had any kind of fan attachment to, albeit in a very loose pre-school kind of way!

I would love to see you revisit your work on R.E.M. (and Lady Gaga too, for that matter).  We’re coming up to 30 years of the web (and longer still for things like usenet) so there’s a lot of potential for histories of online fandoms – and technology is really intriguing for me as it relates to fandoms like R.E.M. and Cliff Richard that were forged before the web and thus have been online for a very long time now, across many changes and developments. 

The physical pull to vinyl and cassettes is super interesting, both in terms of nostalgia for those of us that owned them before, and in terms of them being discovered by younger audiences.  Personally I prefer the convenience of having everything available to me digitally – but I still purchase on CD and own most of my old vinyl and cassettes still (save a handful of tapes lost when I had a car stolen) – like many fans, I feel a connection to the artefact as much as to the music itself.  Are you thinking of writing something on this area? 

In terms of my own work in regards to fan studies, I have a couple of things about to come out, a piece (with Stuart Bell) on EastEnders fans in Rebecca Williams’ Everybody Hurts book, and a chapter on ethics in fan studies in Paul Booth’s new edited collection.  I’m also working on trying to bring together some threads from various research I’ve been involved in on gaming fans, beauty fans and soap opera fans around what happens at the intersections between fans, producers and texts.  There are some interesting tensions and challenges around things like fan labour, fan servicing, fan expectations and inter-fan rivalries as well as issues such as customer service, PR and marketing.  I’m still playing around with my data and with the literature to see what I can pull out… but what that will all become is as yet unknown!  I have a few (non-fan studies) projects to put to bed first.  Oh, and now perhaps an edited collection or special issue on music fandom and generations.  You’d have to write something for it though!

It’s been really interesting thinking about these different areas within fan studies with you.  There are still lots of opportunities to explore ground that hasn’t yet been covered enough within fan studies.  For me one thing that comes through from our exchanges has been a sense of wanting more interdisciplinary conversations - e.g. in areas like sport, music and art.  I can see real potential for the discipline to grow more diverse in its ‘figureheads’ (and in the fandoms it covers) in areas such as race, nationality and age.  I think there’s still so much more that can be said about gender and class as well. 

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m down on fan studies though – there’s an amazing variety of work out there now – we see so many nuanced studies and so much methodological richness.  I think fan studies has also been an area where a lot of younger scholars have been finding a space, and long may that continue.  Organisations like the Fan Studies Network and the Organisation for Transformative Works are doing a fantastic job in terms of bringing people together and trying to broaden conversations, and that’s so exciting.  In the 20 years since I began my undergrad studies, I’ve seen the discipline make huge leaps and I think that’s partly because it attracts people who are so passionate about what they do (unsurprisingly!).


Yes, it feels so prominent to me too that from our discussions what has stood out quite sharply is the need for more connective work between certain areas, such as sports, and music, with media fandom. The need for more diverse ‘figureheads’ and more conversations and studies on race, nationality, and age is also crucial. Plus I agree – more interrogation of gender and class and their convergence with fandom should also occur. At least, on the whole, more discussions are occurring, which can often be the first steps towards change.

I’m also absolutely loving the BBC Four Top of the Pops repeats, too! It really takes me back, as many of these, from 1985, I can remember watching at the time. In tandem with the resurgence of material music formats, I find these nostalgic notions (and also, how they may proceed in years to come) really compelling. I also stream a lot of music, but lately I’ve also been buying a hard copy of anything I enjoy that I have found whilst streaming, which I then place onto my iPod! So quite a mixture of formats. Cassettes will also have a huge place in my heart, and it’s wonderful to see so many newer albums being released in this format, too.

With regards to my future work, looking at materiality, fandom, and music is something that stands out to me. I’m launching a new undergraduate module this autumn semester at Cardiff University on Popular Music, Media, and Culture, which is a dream come true for me! I’ve also recently become more immersed in the Cardiff music scene. So I’m hoping all of this will give me further impetus to do more research surrounding music fandom. Aside from the chapter on R.E.M. fandom, social media, and memory that I have forthcoming in Rebecca William’s Endings collection, I have a chapter in Paul Booth’s Wiley Blackwell companion (which takes the form of the media representation of fans study that I mentioned earlier), and an auto-ethnography on never having watched Star Wars, for Billy Proctor and Richard McCulloch’s forthcoming collection.  Otherwise, I plan to do more work on politics and fandom, extending the Lady Gaga work I did a few years ago, in tandem with my non-fan studies work looking at citizens and media. Plus something for your new music fandom and generations collection, of course J!

I’ve really enjoyed our exchanges, and it’s interesting that it’s also been roughly 20 years since I started my undergrad studies too… it’s been fascinating reflecting on together, not only how the fan studies field has developed, but how we have both forged our path and found our way and interests through these 20 years. Although there is some way to go with regards to some areas that crucially demand more conversations and development, I think fan studies is such a vibrant area that I’m so proud and thrilled to be a part of. There is some amazing and inspiring work being done at present. I’m now very excited for the next 20 years – bring it on!





The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Mel Stanfill & Anne Jamison (Pt. 2).


So now I find myself wanting to talk about academic labor and publishing in fan studies. Maybe that’s idiosyncratic, but that was what stood out to me as I read your opening statement. It feels like a place to talk about what fandom can teach us as well.

My first response at 7 discussion sections was horror, but it also points to the ways that, even at elite institutions like Princeton, humanities are undervalued and under-resourced. So then, when you add on top of that studying something that’s not always taken seriously--you mentioned that professional studiers of literature don’t often, and I have heard from academic jobs that they wouldn’t have even considered a fan studies person except for something particular about me (which is flattering and also not)--it can be quite difficult to do the work that we do. There’s a reason that so many of the most vibrant voices in this field are in contingent positions and so few are at the traditionally elite institutions.

It’s also, to your point about academic vs. trade presses, not that easy to get fan studies work published. There are absolutely venues that value fan studies--Transformative Works and Cultures and University of Iowa Press to name a couple--but many of the “mainstream” venues are more skeptical. That can, for those of us in the early stages of building a scholarly reputation, result either in having publications that carry less cachet or or being nudged away from studying fans at all. I don’t think we’re going to solve this in one conversation, but I do want to poke at it a little bit.

So then, what can fandom potentially teach academia? I’m not one of those people who thinks fandom is this awesome egalitarian place without hierarchies, but there is a way that in the absence of formations like the Big Name Fan (and accounting for broader social inequalities from which fandom is not immune), anyone’s contribution to a conversation has the potential to be seen as valuable. I would think it was great if academia could be more like that.


I *wish* fandom would teach academia that interest and intelligence does not necessarily follow rank or prestige. One of the elements I loathe most about my corner of the profession--and now here I’m speaking to literary and cultural studies, not fan studies--is the stratification of conversation even at those big conventions that are designed in part to be “mixers.” Too often the Ivy Leaguers are on their own panels, and East State Teaching University Satellite Campusers are on their panels, and the flow of interest only works in one direction. It’s wrong, anti-intellectual, elitist, and doesn’t begin to take into account the reality of academic labor and hiring right now. There are great, smart scholars at every level, including outside the university structure entirely--this is especially true of fan studies which is both emerging and studying a historically stigmatized culture. One of the things I really value in fan studies is that I feel less of that kind of hierarchical stratification.

That said, part of the reason that my own voice has been amplified on the topic of fanfiction is, ironically, because it wasn’t my training. I have a lit degree from an Ivy and my tenure book was on nineteenth-century poetry. I just finished another one on Kafka. That background makes snobs credit what I say about fanfic because I also write on “real” books. This bothers me, but then I remember that what *really* drove media interest in my direction a few years back was that I had once taught the fanfic that became Fifty Shades of Grey, and that is really what established my reputation-- arguably along with my expertise on My Immortal. So that… acts as an important counter-weight.

Still, I think it’s important for emerging scholars to know that many of us got trained and hired and in my case tenured in established fields and departments. There’s not a Department of Fan Studies. I do think there will only be an increasing demand from students to study what we study because it has been important in shaping their lives and culture. As this happens, I hope and believe that we--whoever we are--who have some institutional clout will work to make sure those future positions are funded, humane, and, if ever and if at all possible, tenure-track. We also need to keep in mind that in a marginalized field like fan studies, scholars from traditionally marginalized backgrounds are even more at-risk from a kind of compounded stigmatizing effect. For a variety of reasons, fan studies scholars are particularly vulnerable to adjunctification. So when we make up panels or invite speakers or review books for publication or in book reviews, we should try our utmost to correct for that.

Power and influence can kind of creep up on you, and it can be startling for a lot of us to recognize that we have any of it at all. I know that was the case for me with teaching, particularly adjunct teaching where I had less economic and institutional power than a Hooters waitress (I checked) but often a really outsized influence on the lives and careers of my students. It is certainly an issue that comes up a lot around teaching and researching fandom and fanworks. But academia has a weird way of producing simultaneous and contradicting interstices of power and disempowerment.

Have you had a learning curve where it comes to navigating the politics, power differentials, and ethics of teaching and studying fandom?


Oh absolutely. I’m kind of a weirdo in fan studies because in my individual research I don’t study fans as people (sometimes I do with coauthors). I don’t do interviews, I don’t analyze fic, nothing of that sort. At least, not anymore. My 2013 article came out of my MA thesis, for which I interviewed fans. And as I sat down to analyze that data and theorize what I saw happening I was so acutely aware of the power I had over these people, even as a master’s student. That feeling never left me, and I do my best only to research laterally to other professionals or “up” to people more powerful than me now. I’m actually tremendously distressed when I see some of our colleagues name and shame fans--even when they’re sexist or homophobic or racist--because we have power over them as the people who are educationally authorized to tell the story.

Though research is the big one for me, I do run into some of these tensions with teaching too. I don’t know if it’s generational or what (I do see it more with just-out-of-undergrad folks), but students often feel that everything on the internet is public and fair game for research. So one thing I have to talk about a lot (and will be focusing specifically on in the social media research class I’m teaching this fall) is the ethics of semi-public data, and the fact that a researcher is not the target audience, and you should not just go around exposing people to unexpected audiences lightly, etc (which all became more urgent after the latest Facebook/Cambridge Analytica news). I have had to have those conversations more than I would have expected.

So then, what does this conversation about power and ethics and inclusion tell us about the future of fan studies?


I think we have a lot of thinking to do, some of it practical, some of it ethical, and most of it a little bit of each. to teach tumblr? There’s so much personal information from kids, it feels weird to me to put it in a classroom, but it’s so important! And where are we fan studies folks on Wattpad? Right now, it is much more diverse, more global, than AO3, but it’s commercial and proprietary and hard for olds to navigate.

I too worry about academics coming down on individual fans, and I almost never say anything negative about a fanwork in my capacity as a professor. But there is a down side to that. It might mean I am tacitly acquiescing to elements I would really want to resist or critique (and I don’t mean grammar). It means I’m saying, take this stuff seriously! But don’t say anything negative about it. I think it’s better than the alternative which as you point out seems very mismatched and unfair, but it’s still a bit off. I agree about not *lightly* exposing people to unintended audiences, but the fact is that without meaning to, today an individual can suddenly reach and influence a lot of people they never imagined they were talking to, and that can be extremely uncomfortable. If it happens, though, it can’t really be taken back and you can’t expect people not to think critically about the forces shaping their world.

As you can see, as soon as I start thinking about digital ethics--which I do so very much of the time--I start channeling Chidi, the indecisive, tortured moral philosopher from The Good Place, and so maybe my personal future of fan studies is writing the fic of that. I hope we get some good fan studies philosophers in the future.






The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Ruth Deller and Lucy Bennett (Pt. 1)

Ruth Deller

I'm a Reader in Media and Communication at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I initially became involved in fan studies doing my undergraduate degree. I was studying a module on popular music with Josie Robson (whose PhD on female fans in the local music scene is well worth a read) and we were able to develop a project of our own choosing for coursework. As a fan on various mailing lists for TV shows and pop bands, I was interested in these online communities.  I analysed and compared 6 e-mailing lists for different pop acts (this was back in 1999-2000) - some artists I was fans of, some not. I forget exactly who they all were, but the two most interesting fan lists were around singer Cliff Richard and group Belle and Sebastian.

I expanded this study in my undergraduate dissertation, looking at these two communities in more detail, as they operated across various sites: email lists, official and unofficial fan forums, newsgroups, fan websites and chat rooms - and offline. I was fascinated by how the populations and community norms altered depending on the platform, the object of fandom and the age of the fans. It was through this that I came across the work of people like Nancy Baym, Lisa Lewis (and everyone in that Adoring Audience collection), John Tulloch, Henry and so on.  When I returned to academia in 2006 to do my MA and PhD (not in fan studies, though they both had audience studies elements), the field had grown substantially!

When finishing my PhD, I wanted to research other areas and was drawn back to fan studies.  It was a decade since my undergraduate dissertation, so I revisited the two fan communities to see how they had changed in the era of social media and streaming. From that, I began to look at fans from a range of different areas - primarily soap opera, games and pop music.  I've also written and presented on more general topics, such as ethics in fan studies (I am a member of the ethics committee at SHU) and the way internet fandoms have changed as social media has developed. I've also taken part as a 'talking head' in a few documentaries about fans, which is quite fun.

My research in general is very broad and I would consider myself a media scholar more than a fan studies scholar.  However, fan studies is something I get asked to write or comment on quite a lot and I love working in this area.  Coming from a British Cultural Studies background, my research and teaching have always been infused with issues of identity, representation, social justice and equality, and that's a big part of what I find interesting about fan studies, particularly as a lot of its ethos has been about de-stigmatisation.   I'm also endlessly fascinated by the ever-shifting dynamics in the relationships between fans/audiences, producers, texts, celebrities and technologies. 

I really enjoyed contributing to your recent edited collection on fan representations, Lucy.  There is still so much to be said about this area, especially as it's so often connected to wider social issues and to identity politics.  It's something I find comes up so much in my teaching - not only on explicitly 'fan' related topics, but when we consider issues such as moral panics and all of the fantastic work in the late 20th century on how panics around things like music subcultures or football violence not only stigmatised fans, but had legal, political and cultural consequences.

As has been a running theme across many of these conversations, I am glad fan studies is acknowledging its history as being incredibly white and largely restricted to a small number of nations. It's good to see more international approaches and work from, and about, people of colour, though I think there is still some way to go here. In particular, I think there's still a lack of visibility of scholars of colour as 'figureheads' in the discipline. Lucy - I'd be interested to hear how you have found handling that issue in terms of the Fan Studies Network and arranging keynotes etc.

Currently, I am thinking a lot about masculinities in fandom. I noticed with my students that, whilst they have become much more accepting of things like female fans shipping male celebrities or characters than they were even five or six years ago, they still have strongly negative reactions to phenomena such as 'Bronies', as well as to the reported male fan outrage over things like the Ghostbusters reboot or Jodie Whittaker's casting in Doctor Who. I was struck by the conversations on this blog about Star Wars recently and Billy Proctor's thoughts on some of the stereotypes of the 'butt hurt' fan boy. And then there are phenomena such as 'GamerGate' and the 'Sad Puppies' that others have mentioned in these conversations.

As has been noted many times, there have been aspects of fandom that have felt very exclusionary towards women (as well as many that have been female centric) and it's brilliant that some of this toxic behaviour is being called out and challenged. I think the wider debate around areas such as #metoo is long, long overdue, as well as there finally being at least a minimal acknowledgement of the way male characters, creatives and performers have often dominated many genres and fields. I am loving the impetus towards more women, people of colour, queer people and people with disabilities being heard and seen.

However, it seems to me that there is a moment of confusion in the media imagining of male fans that I think fan studies could probably speak to.  There are many long-standing stereotypes around male fans: as violent (living in Sheffield, the Hillsborough disaster is never far from my thoughts); as pasty 'sad' bespectacled trainspotters; as weirdos with presumed bizarre sexual fetishes - and now this very familiar idea of the 'butt-hurt fanboy' as these basement-dwelling, ugly and overweight dorks who can't get a girl, have failed at life and want to ruin things for everyone else.

I don't really know what the 'answer' is here, or even if there is one - but I keep thinking about it as I teach and research.  I've been working on a few things recently about social justice and the ways women and LGBTQ+ people have been represented in particular in these areas - but challenging patriarchy and heteronormativity has to be about dismantling and reformulating masculinities as much as making different forms of womanhood or queerness visible.

I'm certainly not suggesting that male fans have it harder than women (look at the number of self-confessed fan boys who are major film directors, screenwriters and show runners, for example), nor that sexist, racist and other forms of toxic behaviour within fandoms should not be called out - it's essential to repeatedly raise these issues until we see systemic change.  However, I think there is also work to be done on really interrogating existing notions of male fandom. And, with no disrespect to my straight, white, male (and often bespectacled!) acafan colleagues, I suspect the voices of gay/queer men and men of colour are vital here in broadening these horizons. 

Oh, and I'm aware I'm raising race, nationality and masculinity in a discussion between two white British women, but this is where my thoughts are taking me lately!

Lucy Bennett

Like you, Ruth, I also had my interest in fan studies sparked when I was an undergraduate student. I was lucky enough to have been taught by Will Brooker, who was then a PhD student, writing his thesis on Batman. Having that exposure to a popular culture text being examined in such a way really set the course for me, and my understandings of what was possible. Initially, my ambition was to become a music journalist. I had become a big fan of music when I was six years old (Madonna and Wham! were my clear favourites), and even back then I was an avid reader of music magazines, such as Smash Hits.  However, through studying my BA and Masters degrees, I realised that academic writing was the path that resonated most strongly with me. It also helped that for my Masters I was supervised by Matt Hills, who was then about to publish his book, Fan Cultures. This also led me to Henry’s Textual Poachers, which also opened up a wonderful whole new world for me. I haven’t looked back since!

It was during my Masters in Journalism Studies (and doing my dissertation on R.E.M.) in the early 00’s, that I realised that I could still write about music, my biggest passion, but from an academic angle. And the convergence between music fandom and digital culture in particular was something that really captivated me. There was such an exciting feeling that the new technology, and the Internet in particular, was having quite a curious and largely unknown impact upon both musicians and fans. Undertaking my PhD a few years later, I chose to expand some of the areas that I had explored during my Masters dissertation, and focus my thesis on the band R.E.M. and their digital fandom. They were (and still are) my favourite band, and I was already a crew member/moderator of their unofficial forum, Murmurs. I wanted to examine in particular how the community maintained normative standards online, and how members who did not fit these standards (in other words, the “right” way to be a fan in the community) were approached and regarded. I really enjoyed doing this, and was hugely inspired by work from Nancy Baym, Mark Duffett, and Daniel Cavicchi. All three writers still impress and excited me with their scholarship on music fans.

After my PhD I consciously made the decision to study a fan subject and culture that I was not a fan of. Although it was beneficial in many respects studying a band I had an emotional connection to and deep knowledge of (and also had met many occasions personally), I wanted to be free from this affective pull, which had arose for me in particular during the publication process. In 2012 I decided to undertake a study on Lady Gaga fans and political and activist engagement, which I found extremely interesting. Entering a fan culture as an outsider was not without its difficulties and limitations, but was still a refreshing change! Since then, I have furthered my music fandom studies, focusing on the use (and rejection) of digital technology during live concerts, the use of Twitter by musicians and fans, and collective remembering via social media. My next steps within fan studies will aim to continue the focus on music fandom, and also political engagement and fandom.

In 2012 I started the Fan Studies Network, together with my co-chair, Tom Phillips, and receive support from board members Bertha Chin, Bethan Jones, Richard McCulloch, and Rebecca Williams. I really like to help people as much as I can, and I had had a dream for many years to start a network that would forge connections between people around the world, and somehow make people feel less alone.  We’re having our sixth annual conference this summer in Cardiff, and it’s an academic environment I’m so happy and fortunate to be a part of.

I’m currently working as a lecturer at the school of Journalism, Media, and Culture at Cardiff University, Wales, UK. I started in this permanent position October last year, after seven years of being hourly paid and on very short-term contracts. It was very difficult at times, but focusing on something like the Fan Studies Network, and being inspired by so much fantastic work being produced in the field, really helped keep my spirits up.

Like you, Ruth, I also view myself as a media scholar, rather than just fan studies. Fan studies will always remain hugely important to me, but In the last couple of years, my work has expanded to focus not just on fans, but also citizens and the media, and how they engage with public opinion, and are represented – for example, through letters to the editor pages in newspapers. To me, it is not such a huge leap from fans to citizens, since very often there is a key issue or person there being discussed (for example, in letters – which could be about issues such as elections or politics) that can provoke affective responses.  Thinking more squarely about fans and the media, there have not been many studies that explore how fans are represented, especially in the newspaper media. This is what sparked the interest of myself and Paul Booth to edit Seeing Fans. I found your chapter in the collection so compelling, Ruth. I’d not read a study like this before, which not only documented media coverage of fans, but of older female fans. It really interests to me to see how certain discourses and images become circulated in the media, as they can often give some compelling insights into society. I recently did a study for Paul Booth’s forthcoming Wiley Blackwell companion, examining ten years of coverage of fans in the British newspapers. Sports fandom dominated and it fascinated me to see how this form of fandom was covered, as the fans in those instances were portrayed as quite powerful individuals – being able to express their anger physically at events, and often discussed by managers and players as individuals they did not want to let down. It definitely opened up a new area of fandom that I had not considered so strongly before, and I do wish there was more dialogue between sports and media forms of fandom. 

Moving on from, but still connect to my above point, the insular aspects of fan studies has been something that has been on my mind very much. I agree that it is critically important, and much needed, to see more work from and about people of colour, and I’m utterly with you on the factor that much more needs to be done here. We do need more scholars of colour, and more diverse voices, as figureheads. To me, it is concerning that many of the fan studies figureheads are white males (however brilliant they are!), when that does not accurately reflect the overall, and growing, dynamics of the field.

It is something that the Fan Studies Network is conscious of, as we want to give opportunities to those that would really benefit from it, especially in a keynote slot, and try to help broaden who is seen as a figurehead. Most years we have had two keynotes, with one always being female. For us, the main issue is funding, since we have none! The event each year funds itself and covering international travel is not possible. However, it is something that we seek to address. That is one of the beauties of running a yearly conference -  a new crop of voices and keynotes each year.

Finally, your thoughts about masculinities and fandom I found very interesting. This is something that has been on my mind lately also. Last semester I taught a module called Media and Gender, that touched upon these issues, mainly from a feminism and media standpoint. I was lucky to have really excellent students who engaged with the material well, and we had some fascinating discussions about the convergence of gender and the media. Although there is much obviously to be said about femininity and the media, I do agree that masculinity is also compelling and needs more unravelling, especially in the current landscape we are in. Just as female fans are placed into their rigid confines, we can often view similarly restrictive representations of male fans. I find it fascinating. In the media content analysis that I mentioned above that I undertook, male fans were portrayed with a stronger negative slant that female fans, who were presented as more dimensional. However, the female fans were simultaneously more invisible and absent. So we have an interesting landscape where gender is quite restrictive across a breadth of areas. Whether it’s invisibility, or a one-dimensional voice. I think either factor does not help. Consequently, I would like to see more research in this area. More interrogation of our restricted understandings or notions of gender, race, and perhaps even what are constituted as fan objects worthy of analysis (I think it could be much broader). Overall, I think fan studies is producing some amazing work, and has come so far, but there is still so much yet that demands exploring. And this makes me very excited.





How Do You Like It So Far? Episode: Nonny De La Pena on Ready Player 1 and the Ethics and Aesthetics of Virtual Reality

Nonny de La Pena has been called the "godmother of Virtual Reality." You will get a sense of why in this Ted Talk where she describes and demonstrates some of her work. She is currently completing a degree through the MAP program at the  USC School of Cinematic Arts, where I have been lucky enough to have her as a student in my classes.

As we shift out attention from Black Panther to Ready Player 1, we are reaching out to folks in our network who are working on the cutting edge of the kinds of technologies and technological practices that film represents -- virtual reality, world building, and games-based learning. As with our other interviews, we use the film as a springboard for large discussions.

This past week, Colin MacClay, my co-host, went to the movies with De La Pena, and then both raced back to record the episode. The donut quality is a bit off --they ended up recording their impressions using the voice memo functions on their cellphones and Sean Myers,, our gifted producer, was able to knit the sound back together again.

In this far-reaching discussion, the two talk about the strengths and the limits in how the film represents the virtual world, the ethical potentials of virtual reality, the most likely directions that the interface will take, and how we can use virtual reality to enhance rather than escape from the current state of the world.  La Pena often speaks as the conscience of the virtual reality realm that she has helped to promote through her artistic and documentary practice,, and here, we  hear the depth of her passion and insight about this emerging realm. Enjoy!

The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Lincoln Geraghty & Nicholle Lamerichs (Pt. 2)

Lincoln Geraghty

Affect is the key word here, absolutely Nicolle. Thinking about fandom through this lens can tell us much about what fans get out of texts, characters, objects, performances and communities. Not only in the past and present, but also in the future of fandom you discuss. If we do see a time where AI characters become part of the fan experience then we will most definitely need to understand the affective relationships people share with technology, their VR avatars, even other cyborg fans?! Indeed, much of science fiction film and television has shown us the potential pros and cons of scientific and technological advancements in these areas. But I also agree with what you say about remediations of the past, how old media pops up and reappears in intriguing and diverse ways. These then inspire new forms of fandom and a whole new generation of fans. For sure, new platforms allow for new forms of fan media production – memes, gifs and videos that symbolize the bricolage of texts to which fans relate. They are shared within and between communities we would call fandom but they also resonate on that personal and individualized level you highlight: the micro fandoms, the more personal fandoms. I suppose looking back on those childhood memories of playing with my Star Wars figures in the snowwhat I was really interested in – the affective practice I was participating in – was the imaginary world Star Wars and those toys allowed me to create and enter into.

Fan communities and community fan practices have dominated the field but perhaps what we might also need to consider is how the individual fan, micro fandom, interacts and connects with media texts and the likes of those characters you wanted to get to know better when you were a kid: Janeway and Giles. Fandom is clearly based on varied degrees of imagination: the imaginary worlds of science fiction and fantasy texts, the imagined spaces fans occupy (whether conventions or tourists locations), the different characters that cosplayers imagine and recreate through costume and play. And, of course, every fan will have a different image of the text or character in their minds when they revisit and recreate them. The challenge for scholars will be how to study and understand these very personal and individual relationships fans have with their fan imaginary – what we have with our imaginary. It is certainly a challenge for the big franchises like Marvel and Star Wars to keep up with how fans imagine their associated transmedia worlds and characters. Recent debates about the authenticity and canonicity of The Last Jedi or Star Trek Discovery highlight the troubling phenomenon of popular culture texts being hijacked to defend conservative and often prejudiced views, but they also demonstrate that fandom is emotive, personal andextremely affective.

Again, drawing on some of my own fan experiences, I am fascinated with what motivates people’s individual fandom. Playing what is ostensibly a social mobile game – Pokémon Go(yes, it’s still popular!) – I join a group of fellow players in physical locations to catch rare pocket monsters to add to my virtual collection. But once the moment comes to interact and catch the pokémon in the game I revert to a very individual mode of engagement: I focus on my phone, I’m either successful or fail in achieving my goal, everyone’s experience at that moment is different. Some players catch the shiny Pikachu, or, as in my case, it runs away and I frustratingly miss my chance… again! I can only imagine what it would have been like to be one of the other lucky players who caught it. Then the game becomes social again as we look to find our next target and agree the next course of action. One example shows us just how much fandom is changing like you said: small and personal, located on a different platform (the mobile phone). Technology and affect, the social and the personal, community and the individual.

Nicolle Lamerichs

Fandom studies should indeed pay more attention to affect, both positive and negative. Affect indeed is highly individual, and this individuality poses methodological challenges. To research what is deeply private and interior is difficult, and qualitative methods do not entirely elicit the depth of these emotions.

Affect is not only positive. Today, the rise of (professional) trolling has made us aware of toxic online communities, which display fan behavior and modes of operandi, but are essentially about spread hate. Anti-fandom and negative emotions are entwined with fandom today, and though they are not necessarily the same behavior, this communication requires much more investigation.

The enormous backlash to The Last Jedithat you mention brings many of our themes come together here – negative affect, nostalgia, childhood, rewriting of traditional stories and myths, and the hierarchies between fans and official authors. Personally, I have a complex (affective) relationship with the film as well. I went to see it in cinema three times, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. While I truly hate some parts of the film, I could relate deeply to characters like general Holdo, and wondered about her history and motivations for weeks. I would find it hard to capture the affective trajectory that I go through each time that I see the movie. I keep finding new things in it, but there also parts of it that I find cheap, disgusting, or a cop-out. I could talk about it at length, have seen it multiple times, and it has been on my mind a lot. However, I would not necessarily call myself a fan.  

Researching fan identity, and how we identify ourselves as fans, poses challenges. How do we deal with the highly individual moments that you and I describe? In practice, we move between the negative and positive, between a scala of emotions, and between the social and individual.  Fandom is tricky and multi-faceted. Similar to your Pokémon Go experiences, I love being part of online communities and game communities while doing my own thing. We don’t always feel the need to interact or play with others. Similarly, I could never truly put my experience of The Last Jedi into words, or how deeply I can relate to some of the characters.

Online wars such as the backlash of The Last Jedi seem deeply related to the technologies that we use as well. Social media are low-key and create a sense of openness and transparency. This is where such debates take place, and where hatred is fueled. What might start as an individual opinion becomes highly spreadable, shareable, and amplified. This is also the danger of memes and we saw this in politics (e.g. the USA presidential campaigns) as well. The personal might be the start of something bigger that we hadn’t foreseen and that spreads, not in a good way, but as a disease. 

I wonder if we even have a methodology that does justice to this individuality? You and I resort to our own personal histories, and perhaps this is the only way out. To integrate deep auto-ethnographic reflections, and our own experience from fandom, to identify the gaps. I think we go far by doing even more, and deep, qualitative studies on people’s personal histories in fandom. Oral history can also be a valuable tool in this sense to examine our lived histories as fans.

We need to look forward, but also dive deep into the past, and mine it. Our data bases, our histories, our sources are valuable collections. We live fandom studies in the now, but we need to visit the past and future to truly examine the messy affective process that is being and becoming a fan. This requires innovative methods that are deeply inward and ethnographic, and perhaps a move away from texts. If fandom is personal and intimate, our methods need to adjust accordingly.

Lincoln Geraghty

Oh yes, that reaction to The Last Jedi was messy – and opened up so many avenues for fan scholars to probe at the same time. Oral histories are an intriguing proposition; recording and then analyzing fan interactions with favorite media texts and other fans within the wider community offers us plenty to work with. I suppose the big question would be how to gather that information and then which methods we choose to go about studying them – oh, the memories of those methodology discussions during the PhD! That sort of brings me right back to where I started during my first forays into fan studies, studying Star Trek fan letters. I found the epistolary of fandom fascinating: reading what fans had written, unprompted, about their love of the show – how it inspired them, what they got out of it and when. On one level it was easier to go to the physical letters and analyze what was there. I remember travelling to the Gene Roddenberry archives at UCLA and seeing first-handthe letters fans had written and sent to him in the 1960s. Then working on some valuable personal testimonies from fans and fan clubs proved illuminating as to how they had grown up alongside the series over the decades. Moreover, after attending a big Pasadena Star Trek convention during the PhD research trip it became very apparent to me that to understand fandom and those affective relationships I had to listen to what fans were saying, how they spoke about their personal fandom to others in a public setting. What they were willing to share voluntarily. During one Q&A session with Nichelle Nichols a number of fans were prepared to stand up and share what Star Trek meant to them, how Nichols was a figure of lifelong inspiration. This oral history was clearly very important, told me a lot about affect and emotion in fandom, but not being prepared in this live situation it went unrecorded – documented only through my memory and retelling. But these are the important moments fan scholars should be studying and writing about – I think.

What you say about auto-ethnography and fan personal histories is spot on Nicolle. These are things that interest me when I teach, research and write about fandom. And, of course, it doesn’t just have to be positive or celebratory fan histories. The more conflicting moments of fandom can tell us so much about the affective investment fans put into popular media texts. I’m reminded of another convention moment, this time at San Diego Comic Con. Sitting in a packed Hall H my wife and I were waiting to see the Doctor Who panel and enjoyably listening to some of the panels that came before. Despite warnings to the contrary in the program and during the panels a number of fans got up for the Q&A to request that some of the cast of Supernatural, The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory and Doctor Who sign something, wish them happy birthday or even give them a hug. Such individualized and personal requests were handled with the typical caution and humor you’d come to expect from media professionals: the cast of Supernatural seem to be the experts in handling the strangest and most obscure requests. I was interested mostly in how fans in the audience reacted to these so-called “selfish” fans who were wasting questions and time on their own personal wishes. Murmurings and whispers I can’t repeat hear displayed a real animosity to fellow fans who were flouting the rules, taking the chance to get just that bit closer to their objects of affection – perhaps beating them to it? How does one record this, quantify this, even study it? Is it toxic or anti fandom, antagonism or rivalry? It certainly seemed like the physical version of what we see online in professional trolling and the internal policing of fan communities. It was evidence of people’s personal fandoms coming into conflict with each other in a public space, a space created meant to bring fans together to celebrate popular culture. How fans end up using and orating those spaces needs further work for sure.

Nicolle Lamerichs

I love it that you include some experiences of fan conventions. I love researching these spaces in different cultures ethnographically, and seeing how different fan localities and cultures make sense of their fandoms. The striking differences that I saw between these cultures (e.g. Germany, Japan, Netherlands) kept surprising me. Indeed, conventions are a beautiful moment to meet our favorite stars, to dress up and embody our fandom, and to engage with our favorite professionals in new ways.

Speaking of The Last Jedi, my latest affective encounter also centred around this.  I just came back from SXSW where Ryan Johnson and Mark Hamill discussed The Director and The Jedi, the documentary about the production process of the film. I lined up early to see them in real life. Their discussions about the character Luke echoed those within the fan community. Who does Luke belong to? How should he be portrayed? Does the director, as an author, really have the final say in this? Both professionals constantly pushed the boundaries in this process. They also spoke about the cast itself – what it meant to them to lose Carrie Fisher. How she herself felt, growing old and being cast in a film again. How she couldn’t cope with seeing herself as an older woman on screen. Of course, I cried.

Closure is important in fandom. Losing Carrie meant a lot to all of us, and it affected us in deep ways. We mourned. Endings are important in fandom – fiction ends and our idols eventually pass away. At some point, we inevitablyhave to say goodbye to our favorite characters and stories. Like Mark Hamill said at the event: ‘We’re never getting the band together again’. Affect does not only mean hate, or love, but it can also relate to these processes of mourning.

I feel like we are only at the start of exploring this intimacy and the encounters in fandom that you and I describe. These are formative, affective moments that shape who we are. New methods open new opportunities for sure, and so does the combination of methods. In my work on cosplay I often interlace interviews, auto-ethnography and analysis of costumes and characters themselves. This helps me dive deep into these histories, and I would say it’s a must.



The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Mel Stanfill & Anne Jamison (Pt. 1)

Mel Stanfill

I feel like I tell my origin story for fan studies a lot, but it starts with Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. They famously thought media controlled the minds of audiences (kind of unsurprisingly, since they had fled Nazi Germany where mass media was used to great propagandistic effect). An excerpt from their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, called 'The culture industry: Enlightenment as mass deception, was assigned in my undergraduate Literature and Popular Culture course. And it made me have this moment of “Nuh-uh, Xena got gayer because of fans, so clearly it’s not just all industry controlling audiences. It goes both ways at least sometimes.”

In some ways, the contours of that moment describe me to this day in fan studies. The two places where I feel like I’ve contributed the most to the field are a) the intersection of fandom and industry and b) the role of social inequality in fandom. On the fandom-industry side, I’ve published on how the history of sampling in hip-hop can help us understand how media industries tend to think fans aren’t adding any value to their products but rather stealing from them, I’ve written about the relationship of fandom and labor, I’ve talked about how to make sense of the way fans share around their fanworks freely with each other but don’t want industry to extract them out of fandom. Most recently, I wrote about how moves to publish fan fiction in the formal economy like Kindle Worlds can be seen as a bid to redefine fandom as docile and useful.  With regard to inequality, I’ve also published work on the ways fandom is constructed as a practice of heterosexual white men, the ways some media are slashier than others, and the ways the whiteness of fandom as a population and fan studies scholars as a population need to be reckoned with. At the intersection of the two threads, I have a forthcoming article about how TV fans use hashtag campaigns to contest the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people. Terms like labor, copyright, whiteness, and heteronormativity run through my whole body of work.

And it may just be because it seems that way from where I stand, but I also think what I’ve said above points to two important directions in fan studies: 1) fandom and industry, and 2) identity, but specifically race, since gender and sexuality are actually fairly well studied. Of course, that work has been going on for a few years now—I’m certainly not the only one who has been doing it—but I think that is what has been lacking in fan studies up to this moment, and there’s still a lot to be explored.

Anne Jamison

 I feel like I also tell my story a lot, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that I came to this a bit differently from a lot of other fan studies folks. I stumbled onto internet fandom in a kind of teaching desperation. I was a TA for a course on musical theater, and I had seven sections. That’s a lot of discussions—even about the Buffy musical episode, which I love. I was a single mom with a messy divorce and a dissertation, and I felt completely out of ideas and energy. I found both on fandom discussion boards. I dreamed of getting my students to care as much about close reading as these fans cared. At Princeton, I was immersed in a culture that heavily prioritized achievement over process and pleasure in learning and so I think I was primed, as a reader and writer and lover of all kinds of texts, to be captivated by what I saw going on in fandom. After all, I had always thought there was something really fun about picking apart texts and movies and here I found people who agreed with me. None of my engagement was at all systematic or anything I even considered research at the time, but I became more and more interested.

I began to realize that vastly more fiction was being written as fanfiction than for commercial publication—let alone what was actually being commercially published. I wasn’t finding many people who did what I did (studied literature professionally) who were writing about fic, and I thought that was a big oversight. I began by incorporating fanfic in my classes in part because it seemed appropriate to think about collective fictional activity in a collective way, a structure I also insisted on for my book Fic. I was lucky to be able to do Fic as a trade book so fan writers could be credited and paid as authors and contributors rather than appearing solely as topics or subjects, and so fans could afford it (most academic books are incredibly expensive). It does make it quite different from an academic book, though.

As a literature scholar, I’ve been interested in two main questions: a) what is fanfic doing that other kinds of writing are not doing and b) what can fanfic teach us about other kinds of writing, how can it reflect back on them to show us new perspectives? Both questions emphasize collective modes of authorship, writing from sources, and strangely hybrid organic-technological systems of creating and interpreting texts. You might say I’m interested in fiction-media interaction, even fiction-human interaction, especially along axes of power.

It’s interesting that you bring up Horkheimer and Adorno. Although I knew that essay long before I knew anything about fandom, fan practices immediately struck me as a way to push back against its indictment of popular culture as only ever supporting the status quo. But it’s back on my mind recently in a different way, because I think that the relations between entertainment corporations and fans (and the art each produces) are worthy of concern and skepticism even for very positive developments around, for example, diversity in casting, production, storyline. On the one hand, that kind of progress is huge, and important, and powerful. On the other, if one of the products Disney can produce and sell to you is the validation of your own identity, we might really be in a Culture Industry nightmare. It isn’t that I don’t think representation in popular culture is important—I think it’s so, so, so important. But its importance is also scary. One of the things I think those Marxists get right is that power structures aren’t super-motivated to sell us the means by which to topple them.

I think it’s safe to say that I share your interests in corporate/industry-fan relations, including economic and power relations, as well as issues of representation, especially with regard to race. I would add to that a more international perspective on fandom and fan studies.



The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Lincoln Geraghty & Nicolle Lamerichs (Pt. 1)

Lincoln Geraghty

If I were to recall my first fan memories then two things stand out: place and object. I remember living in Calgary, old enough for kindergarten, and playing with my brand new Empire Strikes Back action figureson the front porch. Recreating the Battle of Hoth in the piled up snow made it seem more real to me. The fact that everything I owned had theStar Wars logo, from bedspread to lunchbox,showed I lived and breathed the franchise from an early age. From Star Wars I remember moving to Star Trek, by way of numerous 1980s science fiction films and television series. “My” Doctor was Peter Davison, I had the wallpaper to prove it, and if I wasn’t watching the latest video rental with my dad I was playing with Transformers in my bedroom (saying that, my first robot was Wheeljack). So, being brought up following the somewhat “traditional” childhood path through blockbuster franchises and mass-produced toy lines, it is perhaps no surprise that I am still fascinated by the appeal of popular media entertainment. I remember watching the original Star Trek movies at the cinema (Kirk, Spock and the old gang) and, after seeing The Next Generation on VHS, being bowled over finding out that a whole new crew occupied the USS Enterprise. There was something clearly going on here – making Star Trek for a whole new audience? Who was that audience? What was at the heart of its continued popularity? These sorts of questions (and not just about Star Trek)have framed my interest in fandom and work in fan studies ever since: through the Masters and PhD, and still now as I try (desperately!) to get on with my next book.

Star Trek was the subject of my first foray into the discipline, focusing particularly on the relationship between text and fan. Of course, Henry Jenkins’ work in this area loomed large over what I was attempting to do at the time. I wanted to understand the emotional connection fans were saying they had with the series, what they got out of it and how fiction had a real impact on their daily reality. This is not to say others have neglected the idea of emotion in fandom. What I felt at the time was that perhaps studies of fans and popular media up to that point had not really taken into account my kind of fandom – the sort that characterized those first memories of really liking something, following it, playing with it, watching it. Living with Star Trek was my attempt to grasp how fans “feel” about their favorite text. Coming to the end of that process it became very apparent that in trying to locate where emotion sat in fandom I had to understand the importance of memory, history and the personal. After all, these were the things that were central to my fan identity: memories of childhood experiences with popular media franchises, a history of moving from one text to another, the impact this all had on my life growing up, going to university, deciding on my career path.It didn’t take much of a push to choose the focus for my next research project: fans ascollectors.

I always say to my students, particularly those who are struggling to get into a subject, pick something you like and write about it – in the end, that’s what I did. Cult Collectors wasbuilt on the foundations laid in my PhD and first book. Collecting and the objects fans value as symbols of their long term relationship with popular media texts seemed appropriate and worthy things to study. They give us real insight into notions of fan memory, history and nostalgia. Fans commemorate, curate and create value in today’s ever growing and diverse media culturetherefore I would argue that to truly account for such actions we need to study what fans do and where and when they do this. This is in contrast to the prevalence of important fan scholarship on the how and the why: the former characterized by – and I know I’m being far too simplistic – poaching practices such as fan fiction; and the latter – for the sake of generalizing – in order to subvert or claim ownership of the original text. The work I did in Cult Collectors, and continued ever since, is centered on those three often overlookedfactors. “What” doesn’t just simply mean what media text they follow (eg. Star Wars or Star Trek), for me it’s more about what objects become symbolic markers for that affective relationship (the merchandise, mass produced souvenirs, rare collectables). “Where” involves investigating the places and spaces where fandom takes place: online, at conventions, in familiar locations and fantastic tourist destinations. “When”is about that sense of personal history that certainly informs my sense of fan identity and was clearly so important to the fans I discussed in both Living with Star Trek and Cult Collectors. Narratives of becoming, histories of mainstream and niche media texts, individual and collective memories of fans within a wider community, these are irretrievably connected with feelings and emotions. Fandom wouldn’t be so beloved if they weren’t.

Fan studies is in such a productive period it seems at the moment. National and international conferences, numerous journals devoted to the field; books, edited collections and articles track the most recent and urgent developments in fandom. The ever-expanding means of modern communication (social media and networked platforms) and grassroots creativity (memes, mods and mmorpgs) that inspire such scholarship are clearly important and need studying. Fans are major contributors to the mainstream production of multimillion dollar entertainment franchises, as well as continuing to exist on the periphery as niche subcultures of taste and distinction. However, I would stress the need to look back to the past – just as much as fan scholars are looking forward to the future. Fan histories and histories of fandom still remain unwritten and undervalued. There are more similarities than differences in how fans have engaged with media and participated in the practices associated with being a fan. Moreover, the historical aspects of what, where and when fans engaged with their objects of affection require more attention. While we must look to answer increasingly complex questions about fandom – to investigate the tensions between political and industrial appropriations of fan identities and texts, the transnational and transcultural flow of fandom, toxic fan practices and neglected issues of race, gender and representation – recognizing there is a history to all of them is fundamental. More often than not, as my work over the years has attempted to show, fan histories are personal, evocative and always self-creating.Being a fan is akin to telling a story, if we want to understand that story we need to start at the beginning and resist skipping to the end.

Nicolle Lamerichs

Place matters to me, but so do affect and characters. Like you, Lincoln, my first experiences of fandom were innately tied a sense of space – my teenage bed room with a poster of Seven of Nine, and local fairs where I hunted for merchandise. As a teenager, I saw digital fan spaces emerge – forums, mail lists, personal sites. This encouraged me to get creative as well. I loved to write fan fiction and to create character shrines created in Geocities of my favorites – from Kathryn Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager) to Rupert Giles (Buffy The Vampire Slayer).

Characters were central to my fan experience, and I still write about them today as a scholar. Transmedia storytelling, to me, is not so much about the stories as it is about the characters that shape them. Fan fiction, cosplay and other fan activities were tools for me to get to know these characters in a more intimate way. As a fan, I loved to think about them, and integrate that in my fan creations: How far will Janeway go to bring her crew home? How is Giles shaped by his past experiences as Ripper?

Fan costuming is one of the phenomena that I love exploring most in my studies. When I think about the state of the art of our discipline, I am often surprised by how little we speak of characters, and our love for them. In my PhD thesis and later studies, I tend to foreground transmediality, playfulness and affect, and I see characters as central in these cultural dynamics. I keep going back to reader-response theories myself to see how audiences make sense of characters in unique and individual ways. It strikes me as odd that we have so many studies on different types of fan activities and places, but very few in-depth studies about how characters are received and interpreted. In my own work, which focuses on reception, and is often ethnographic, I see different perspectives on characters emerge. Characters resonate with fans. 

Our work connects on this affective level, and on the level of materiality.Place matters to the both of us, but this is a rich affective space shared by fans, characters, and objects. In fandom, affect circulates between all of these different actors in a complex network. You are interested in figures such as collectors, and their objects of devotion and memorabilia. I have researched conventions and costumes and fashion. This materiality deservesmore attention, but we are doing the groundwork right here and now.

I agree with you that we need to look more at our own personal histories and identity, but also of fandom histories themselves. Methods such as oral history would be fantastic to include more in our discipline, and I am sure that much could come out of this. (I would just love to write an oral history of cosplay, for instance! Bring it on!)

However, we need to look at the future as well. Within fan studies, I believe that we need to forecast more to stay up to date in a rapidly changing society. Fan studies has always been at the forefront of new media studies and the digital humanities with our iconic studies on users, convergence, remixing and more. It is a position that I sometimes think we are losing. I worry that we are not in touch enough with the rapidly changing creative business and industries. We are in a shift towards a platform economy that is driven by users and fans. Produsage is the new black.

As we know, fandom has already gone mainstream in a highly connected convergence culture, but we will soon reach the next level of convergence culture- one where fandom and disruptive technologies, such as AI, come together in a man-machine blend. AI, for instance, will create a new paradigm for remixing, which will no longer be “fannish” per se. Tools such as Jukedeck and AI Music already generate official remixes and covers of beloved songs. Similarly, the bot that wrote a new Harry Potter chapter called The Handsome One accidentally created a cult pastiche.  Remix will soon not be the domain of fans anymore, but partly that of machines. Mashup will be the new normal. How do we define what makes a fan? Can an AI display fannish behavior?

Our small discipline has always been forward thinking, and we need this now more than ever. Fan studies has been at the forefront of new media studies, but if we don’t look ahead, we lose our pioneering position. We have been stuck in particular discourses of identity, belonging and textuality. What I miss is more reflection on visual culture, affect, materiality. Globalization and transcultural discourses should be key, as you state as well. Our attention should widen to arts and crafts, fashion, collectors, and even individual fandom, challenging as that may be. We should bear in mind that the media space is changing fast. We move from an era of mass media to one of platforms and micro-casting, and I expect that fandom will become personal and smaller soon. 

We need to think through the new technologies that are developed right now. This does not mean that the physical and offline do not matter. Remediation is always there and old media continue to resurface in new and unexpected ways. But it would behove our field to behave a bit more like the iconic Doctor Who. We need to travel backwards as well as forward in time.




How Do You Like It So Far? Podcast: Nicholas J. Cull on Black Panther and the Politics of Popular Culture

This week, we wrap up our consideration of the Black Panther phenomenon with an interview of our USC colleague, Nicholas J. Cull, who shares with us some of his experiences watching Black Panther at a conference in South Africa, and more broadly, the ways he thinks about popular narratives as vehicles for thinking about politics and power.  Is there a link between the rise of the superhero film and the disempowerment many Americans felt after 9/11? How might we compare Black Panther to Lion King in terms of Hollywood's representation of Africa? What do Tin Tin and James Bond suggest about the power fantasies informing their countries of origin? And how did James Cameron resituate Titanic for an era of technological enthusiasms?

Nicholas J. Cull is Professor of Public Diplomacy and is the founding director of the Master of Public Diplomacy program at USC. He took both his BA and PhD at the University of Leeds. 
His research and teaching interests are inter-disciplinary, and focus on public diplomacy and -- more broadly -- the role of media, culture and propaganda in international history. He is the author of  two volumes on the history of US public diplomacy: The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989 (Cambridge 2008), named by Choice Magazine as one of the Outstanding Academic Texts of 2009 and The Decline and Fall of the United States Information Agency: American Public Diplomacy, 1989-2001 (Palgrave, New York, 2012).  He is the co-editor (with David Culbert and David Welch) of Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500-present (2003) which was one of Book List magazines reference books of the year, co-editor with David Carrasco of Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border: Film, Music, and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2004).  His publications as a film historian include two books co-authored with James Chapman: Projecting Empire: Imperialism in Popular Cinema(IB Tauris, London, 2009) and Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction in Popular Cinema (IB Tauris, 2013). 

Afterwards, Colin and I reflect more broadly on popular culture as a window into the civic imagination, a theme we have brushed across in several earlier episodes and one that is driving our interests across the podcast series.

Next week, we will begin a series of episodes which use Ready Player One to reflect on the current state of virtual reality, world building as a civic tool, and contemporary perspectives on games-based education. So, subscribe and follow along.

The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Bethan Jones and Melanie Kohnen (Pt. 2)


I think the point you make about how fans may perform in the way industry desires in certain spaces, but engage in different ways outside of those spaces is certainly an important avenue to explore. There seems to be, as Anne Gilbert pointed out in her conversation with Rebecca Williams, the risk of cultural sentiment moving toward “a generalized “everyone is a fan!” perspective, and the inevitable fallout from that – if everyone is a fan, then no one is”. In spaces like SDCC everyone is positioned as a fan because it’s a space aimed at fans. But the fans that space imagines are just one kind of fan. They’re the affirmational, consumerist fan, possibly seeking more knowledge about their fandom (or perhaps confirmation of their existing knowledge). But the kinds of fans actually in a space like SDCC, not least because it’s such a big con!, are multiple and varied. How much are the fans who engage in the more transformational aspects of fandom catered to? And where are the spaces for fic writers or filkers or slash fan artists?  I’d argue that the only kinds of ‘transformational’ fan practices we see, like cosplay, are still bounded by the limitations of the space. And I think you’re right that industry tries to contain fans in the spaces of a convention, but as I’m thinking about this I think it’s also important to note the cultural and societal structures that also permeate fandom within those spaces, and which function to make fans fit into a particular mould within them. So we might see fan art for sale, but we might not see slash or femslash. And the fanwork is also there within this consumerist framework: the art is generally a reproduction of, not a reimagining of. It’s affirmational. Similarly we’ll see cosplay but it’s a replication of the characters on screen (or page) not a reimagining of them. We might see gender-swapping of characters, though that’s generally female versions of male characters not male versions of female characters. But it’s a mimetic fandom even if some of the details are changed. The cultural and societal structures at work reinforce those industry bounds to replicate the affirmational rather than transformational fandom in those spaces. We don’t get queer fan art for sale at cons because to a white, male, heterosexual identity that practice is Other, therefore not allowed. We don’t get male versions of Wonder Woman or Buffy because while of course women would want to be the Doctor, or Sherlock, or Thor, why on earth would a man want to be a woman (to say nothing of other gender identities)...?


What you say about the multiple and varied fans that inhabit the space of SDCC resonates with my own experience. While the overall tone encourages consumption of promotions and merchandise, my research at SDCC and other commercial conventions (NYCC and Rose City Comic-Con in Portland) shows that there is room for transformational fandom in these spaces, especially in the Artists Alley, where fans sell queer and slash fanart. Indeed, much of the fanart for sale in SDCC’s Artists Alley is transformative. I have observed that vendors in Artists Alley are aware of fandom trends and will have pieces for sale that cater to that year’s “hot” fandoms, featuring both canonical and non-canonical relationships. The vendor may not be a participant in that fandom, but they know what will sell and produce art accordingly. Even comics artists who offer commissions at SDCC/NYCC are often open to drawing slash pairings. You can also find self-published queer comics in Artists Alley. Also, at SDCC, Prism Comics, a non-profit organization that supports queer comics and creators, always has a large booth in the small press section of the showfloor. There are also multiple panels as part of the programming that reflect diversity in comics or address fandom issues, like the annual LGBTQ Geek Year in Review. In terms of cosplay, there is such a large variety at SDCC that it’s hard to categorize it as strictly affirmational or normative. Of course these aspects of SDCC do not get mainstream press coverage because they exist outside of the promotional efforts that dominate the industry and entertainment press discourse at SDCC and NYCC, so they are far less visible unless one attends the convention and seeks out the less normative and commodified aspects of SDCC.


If it doesn’t get coverage in the mainstream press, is it fandom? Okay that’s a slightly facetious question because of course it is, but it comes back to what you talked about in your opening statement about the normalisation of fan identities in and by the media, and the privileging of a certain kind of fandom and certain kinds of fans. The cons I’ve been to in the UK have tended to be relatively small (compared to NYCC or SDCC) or show specific (like Walker Stalker) with fewer vendors and panels. My experience of cons has been that there is less space for non-normative identities. There’s less queer fan art and I can’t recall ever seeing zines for sale, much less queer ones. The only exceptions were World Con (which was more comparable to SDCC in terms of size) and Nine Worlds, which was founded on the idea that fandom shouldn’t be restricted by gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, or anything else. There are both fans and conventions pushing back against the kinds of fandom that the mainstream press focuses on and I’m curious at how the con bloggers you’ve researched challenge this as well as how they’re received by the industry. Recent work I’ve done looking at how James Frazier, organiser of the Walker Stalker conventions, polices fans suggests again that certain kinds of fans (respectful, enthusiastic, affirmational - in other words those modelling acceptable behaviour) are rewarded while those who question or criticise are punished. I’m curious about the other ways that industry might try to police these behaviours and approaches.


Con-bloggers are completely affirmational fans, as far as I can tell. Their knowledge production centers on providing advice on how to gain access to SDCC, so their own fannish investments rarely surface in these discussions--I barely know which comics or shows various con-bloggers like, and I have followed their blogs, tweets, and podcasts for years. Instead of debating favorite pairings, they discuss programming flow, room sizes, lining-up procedures, autograph lotteries, etc. I interpret this focus on procedure and space as side-stepping the engagement the industry most desires, i.e. with their products. Of course con-bloggers describe the end goal of all their efforts as buying merchandise and getting a seat in packed panels, but they also frequently emphasize that the journey there and the people they meet along the way are what matters most to them about SDCC. In this sense they are not the transformative or resisting fans that have been at the center of Fan Studies, but they are also not the industry’s ideal fan that has no agenda beyond consumption. The con-blogging scene is largely invisible to the industry and to CCI (Comic-Con International, the organizers of SDCC), but essential to many SDCC attendees.


The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Bethan Jones and Melanie Kohnen (Pt. 1)

Bethan Jones

I talked recently, in an article I co-wrote with Simone Driessen, about my early fannishness and my efforts to actively become-a-fan in the same way my friends at school were. I loved music, but it was the wrong sort of music - Elton John and Meatloaf while the girls at school were talking about Take That or New Kids on The Block. I tried forcing that fannish affect by putting Take That posters on my walls but I felt no connection to them. Try as I might I couldn’t make myself be a fan. In 1993/94, though, I fell into fandom in a big way. 1993 saw Boyzone hit the pop scene and all of a sudden this was the band I’d been waiting for! I fell completely and utterly in love with them and soon I was collecting merchandise, knowledge and experiences.

Then, a year later, The X-Files aired in the UK and I found my second fandom. One of my friends in school also watched the show, and my English teacher loved it, so suddenly I had two fandoms, both shared with other people. In the same way as I had with Boyzone I collected X-Files posters and books, taped the episodes off the telly and made detailed notes about episode titles and air dates. But unlike my music fandom, the engagement I had with The X-Files was somehow more. It was my first acafandom, and certainly the first fandom that introduced me to new ways of thinking about the text. One of my teachers introduced me to fan fiction as part of an English class. When I first used the internet, on a school trip in 1998, the first thing I looked up, on AOL, was The X-Files. There I found groups dedicated to the show and other people, around the world, talking about my favourite FBI agents. When we got the internet at home I joined the BBC cult messageboards where I talked about the series and wrote and posted fanfiction. My fandom waned, to an extent, when I moved away to university although I worked The X-Files into my third year philosophy dissertation. It was when I joined Facebook I really rediscovered my love for the show, and an enthusiastic online fandom. I joined numerous groups, which led me to LiveJournal where I began writing and posting fanfic as well as meta. I went to the London premiere of I Want To Believe in 2008 with friends I’d met on Facebook because of the show, and my involvement in the fandom on LiveJournal – especially writing meta and discussing why fans reacted to characters in certain ways – led me to apply for a PhD.

Initially, like a lot of people who are new to fan studies I think, I was interested in fanfic. In particular I wanted to know why fans treated Diana Fowley one way, and Scully another, when both were treated badly on the show. Fans’ hatred of Fowley led to my growing interest in anti-fandom, and my research has moved away from fanfic, though I’ve published a fair amount on it. Looking at my research over the last 8 years I think anti-fandom, hatred and toxicity have featured predominantly in one way or another. I talk about anti-fandom and links to #gamergate in Paul Booth’s A Companion to Fandom and Fan Studies; Fifty Shades of Grey and anti-fandom as subcultural gatekeeping in Melissa Click’s Hate and Anti-Fandom in the Digital Age; and fanagement of unhappy Walking Dead fans in an upcoming issue of Participations. Increasingly I’m interested in fan/producer relationships and the power struggles that occur between and amongst fans, fans and producers, and fans and other fans. Although I completely understand the need for initial work in fan studies to focus on the positive aspects of fandom, it’s the darker side that really interests me. And I think work on this continues to be necessary. Fandom isn’t all community and sharing. These are a key aspect of it, of course, and on a personal level I’ve made amazing friendships through X-Files fandom and met some of the most generous people. But I’ve also seen the arguments, the breakdowns, the aggression and it’s important for us as researchers to engage in this. I think given the current political climate we also have a responsibility to situate fan studies within a larger social and cultural context. Fans don’t exist in a vacuum and I don’t think fan studies can – or should – either.

Melanie Kohnen

My interest in Fan Studies is Laura Mulvey’s fault. As a grad student, reading “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” left me frustrated because it didn’t seem to have room for queer spectators and “seeing queerly.” I began working on an essay about “seeing queerly” and a friend pointed me toward Television Without Pity’s Smallville board—the rest, as they say, is history. My first-ever publication addressed queer spectatorship in Smallville fandom, and the topic of queer media visibility became the focus of my first book. I’ve remained interested in the intersection of Queer and Fan Studies since then. Currently, I investigate this intersection through a Media Industries Studies lens to better understand how fans and industry wrestle with often divergent ideas about queerness (and gender and race) in the media. I have written about fan-industry relationships from a variety of angles, including the gendered appeals of transmedia marketing campaigns (in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom), the possibilities of “Tumblr pedagogies” in which fans on Tumblr teach each other about social justice and diverse representations in the media (in A Companion to Fandom and Fan Studies), and the parallels in the informal and formal distribution of queer Australian sitcom Please Like Me, which circulated via fans on Tumblr and on the now-defunct U.S. digital cable channel Pivot (in Transformative Works and Cultures). I have also spent the last five years researching San Diego Comic-Con, specifically the blogging culture around SDCC. “Con-bloggers” provide advice on how to gain access to tickets, hotels, and panels. Con-bloggers’ intense focus on strategies for mastering SDCC’s spaces and schedules challenges the idea that fans’ only interest at SDCC is the promotional material provided by the media industry.

Based on my SDCC research in particular, I want to spend more time parsing the normalization of fan identities in/by the media industry and the performance of fan and industry identities. As others have discussed, “being a fan” has been mainstreamed and championed by the media industry in a way that makes previously subcultural fan practices widely available yet also underlines hegemonic identities (white, male, affirmational, consumerist). As this normalization develops, both industry and fans perform specific identities for the other to achieve certain goals: the industry performs a celebration of fans with the end goal of brand loyalty and profit while fans perform affirmational identities in exchange for access and recognition. Yet the fan part of this performance always strikes me as partial and potentially calculated: especially in spaces like SDCC, fans may perform in the way the industry desires, but outside of them, they may engage in practices that are not in alignment with industry goals (refusing the incentive to consume more, for example). I have only begun to think about this, but it strikes me as important avenue for further investigation.


The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Whitney Phillips & Ross Garner (Pt.2)


For the reader, the way we approached this exchange was to write our opening statements independently, without any discussion beforehand about what kinds of threads or points of overlap we might want to explore. This could have gone badly. However here there’s an overarching, immediate connection: focus on the politically-situated body. You can break this down further to talk about the role affect plays in fan engagement, as well as the ways nostalgia can be as politically problematic as it can be illuminating.

It only seems appropriate to dive deeper into this discussion by going personal-theoretically  meta. For me, interest in embodied experience and affect was spurred, first, by theories of feminist epistemology (particularly the work of Sandra Harding)—in a nutshell, that what we see and what we know, or what we think we know, depends on our intersecting raced, gendered, and classed identities, and just as importantly, where we’re standing in relation to hegemonic power. This basic point dovetails nicely with another foundational framework for my work (especially my early work), explored in Barthes’ beautiful and strange reflection on photography, Camera Lucida. Our eyes (and by extension, our hearts) aren’t an accident, Barthes argues. Instead they are fundamentally shaped by culture (I could get into a quibble here about how far Barthes is himself willing to take his conclusion, particularly regarding the allegedly insular punctum, and how far I think it can and should be taken, but that’s a different conversation).

My interest in situated bodies and their situated ways of seeing was further crystalized by and through the work of Ryan Milner (who I ultimately got to write that book about internet ambivalence with; I feel very fortunate to say say that I was a fan of Milner’s before I’d written anything with him). In his very excellent book on the subject, Milner lays out a number of social logics that animate the spread of memetic media, including reappropriation, collectivism, spread, multimodality, and resonance. The last, resonance, is the most critical logic to this conversation—the fact that something broadly connects with somebody, compelling them to share, remix, or variously play with whatever media object (media not restricted to the digital, either; music also counts, artistic genre also counts, swearing also counts, on and on). This connection could be good, it could be bad, it could be ironic, it could be sincere, or anything in between. What matters is that the personal connection is there. In a world overwhelmed by ambivalence, she says, using her best movie trailer narration voice, resonance is something we can actually know. Because otherwise, why would anyone bother watch or smash or recreate or rail against anything?

The idea that something resonates is a pretty straightforward (and immediately verifiable) claim. What becomes very revealing very quickly is the situated experiences that give rise to that resonance; the fact that a body, in the world, has experiences that are, in complex and overlapping ways, both chosen by the person and imposed by their broader circumstances such that certain objects are rendered attractive, certain objects are rendered repellant, and certain objects are simply not noticed. Trying to understand how bodies dictate —or at least power forward and direct— fannish sight becomes, then, the object of highest analytic value—one that is complicated in significant ways, and sometimes outright thwarted, by the limitations imposed by online spaces and tools. But that’s getting off the tracks a bit.

This basic point, though, that we have to look at where someone is coming from—economically, politically, spatially—to fully understand or appreciate their fannish engagement, is something you echo throughout your response, both in terms of your own experiences as a fan and in your call for further research within the field. You’ve already thoughtfully explained how your own personal experiences helped turn your eye towards this line of inquiry (another example of the situated knower at work)— and now I’m wondering if there were any other theories or framings that spurred it on and/or affirmed your hunch? And/or, are there specific theoretical entry points—including particular autoethnographic accounts you particularly like—you think could be integrated into Fan Studies that aren’t currently being used?



These are really provocative thoughts and it’s exciting to be engaging in this dialogue. I’m wondering if we can push them further to develop an account of the structural relations linking ambivalence online, subject positioning and nostalgia. To do this, I’m going to continue the theoretical meta-dive and address the different ‘post-‘s’ which underpin where we’re both coming from.

I agree with the feminist episteme that you’ve mentioned and would layer this with the importance of post-colonialist discourses in autoethnography. Given autoethnography’s roots in anthropology as a method for deconstructing the assumed superiority granted to (typically white Western male) researchers, this necessitates that we demonstrate reflexivity towards our location within, and relationship to, hegemonic power structures. Such an approach has produced fascinating accounts of why popular culture objects resonate across contexts of migration (Knijnik 2015) or gender (Monaco 2010). Crucially, though, autoethnography’s de-centring of the self highlights its fragmentary nature – a point that resonates with your comments concerning a lack of stable meaning online and ambivalence.

Rather than Barthes, I would argue that in this context (and beyond) Fan Studies needs a more thorough integration of an alternative post-structuralist thinker, Michel Foucault, and his arguments concerning power, knowledge and subject positions. It’s Foucault’s arguments in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972) and Discipline and Punish (1977) which are most useful here – specifically his points regarding how knowledge is communicated through discourse and how discourse works upon individuals to produce identity positions. This account moves away from considering power as a monolithic bloc (in the Marxist and neo-Marxist understanding of its manifestations – see also Sandvoss 2005) to instead recognise the diffuse nature of power and its multiple manifestations across institutional, organizational or, by extension, technological contexts.


Oh I agree with all of this! And actually that connects to my primary quibble with Barthes’ claim that the punctum—basically the thing about a photograph that “pricks” one’s psyche with deep emotional resonance—is fundamentally personal, fundamentally idiosyncratic, and/therefore fundamentally separable from culture. This, Barthes argues, is in contrast to the studium, which is all the cultural stuff that one likes (or even just notices) because of it’s culturally familiar. A vague, slippery, irresponsible interest in the things one finds familiar and therefore “all right,” is how he frames it (85). Basically he’s saying that studium-level sight is situated historically, politically, and more broadly culturally, but the punctum is not; through punctum-level sight, Barthes says, ‘I dismiss all knowledge, all culture, I refuse to inherit anything from another eye than my own’ (1981: 51).

As right as Barthes might be about the studium, his perspective on the punctum is, of course, nonsense. Ryan Milner and I underscore this point (both what Barthes gets right about the studium and wrong about the punctum) in another piece on what we describe as the political punctum (included in this edited volume). It couples Barthes’ reflections on photography, Stuart Hall’s (1973) foundational discussion of textual encoding and decoding, and Harding’s (1992) articulation of feminist standpoint theory to explore and culturally contexualize the spread of memetic media—with the #YesAllWomen and “Not All Men” memes (which themselves emerged from/were further amplified by their connection to 2014’s misogyny-fueled mass shooting in Santa Barbara) employed as the primary case study. Regardless of what Barthes believes to be the case about his own eyes (and by extension his own fannish sight), you cannot fully understand punctum-level “I love it!” responses, or any kind of response, even vague, slippery, irresponsible “eh that’s fine” responses, without talking about existing power structures—even as these response may, simultaneously, be highly personal and idiosyncratic.  


I totally agree with your critique of Barthes here and I think we can agree that focusing on issues of power allows researchers to locate subjective identities within broader cultural structures. Developing this stance in relation to your arguments about meaning and ambivalence online, I wonder if this can help us to better understand the online behaviours you’re discussing. Ambivalence is often positioned as a consequence of contemporary postmodern society due to the collapse of metanarratives (following Lyotard 1984). Such accounts are, I would argue, too general and ‘top heavy’ in their understanding of power but combining ambivalence as a contemporary social characteristic with Foucault’s understanding of subject positions may provide useful insights.

For example, in a digital culture we are confronted not only with a fragmentary self-identity offline but also the disparity between online and offline self-performances. What’s more, there’s the possibility that our online performances alter from platform to platform as our Facebook profile might be different to that performed on Twitter or Tumblr. Recognizing this further destabilizes contemporary subjectivity as individuals are required to continually shift position between offline, online, and platform specific selves. The resulting ambivalence this can generate in understanding ‘our self’ generates the need for strategies to negotiate these environments. In other words, the anxieties of knowing ‘who I am’ are multiplied within digital culture and across social media.

It’s here that I think nostalgia comes in and how/why we might need to address it. Although it’s an account I’m complicating in my forthcoming monograph, nostalgia is frequently understood at the social level as a response to feelings of anxiety and ambivalence. That is, when faced with uncertain times and responses, social groups fall back on romanticised constructions of ‘what they know’. This understanding of nostalgia connects with Anthony Giddens’s (1991) arguments concerning ontological security within late modern societies where, when faced with the uncertainty of globally-dispersed systems of power and trust, individuals and groups find a sense of security in having what they know about the world reaffirmed.

The first question I’d pose, then, is whether the ambivalence you’ve observed online – which is frequently underpinned by a nostalgia for an imagined socio-temporal period characterized by fixed employment, gender roles, and textual meaning – relates to the social, cultural, historical and technological structures I’m outlining here; do you think ontological insecurity might be generated by continually-shifting subject positions which are intensified by negotiating between online and offline identities, as well as platform-specific performances?

Secondly, and returning to more immediate Fan Studies debates, do you think that part of the attraction of the ambivalent fan-troll readers (and beyond) you’ve studied online relates to how they appear to provide communities or subcultures where shared, stable meanings circulate? Given the range of readings and perspectives that are accessible online, do groups like the alt-right generate nostalgic spaces for ‘fixed’ interpretations and values like ambivalence, consequently providing ontological security?

Thirdly, returning to the idea of resonance, do you think that a return to Grossberg’s concept of the mattering map is useful? This is something I’ve forwarded in a recent publication (see the aforementioned forthcoming Journal of Fan Studies article; also Proctor 2013) and Grossberg (1992: 58) argues that:

"At different points and places in our lives, we reorder the hierarchical relations among these differences. We redefine our own identity out of the relations among our differences; we reorder their importance, we invest ourselves more in some than in others".

Extending the point connecting nostalgia for shared values, ambivalence, and ontological security, do you think what resonates within these groups is applicable to the idea of mattering maps and how the shared meanings of objects – whether Pepe the Frog or Insane Clown Posse clips – reaffirm shared identities and provide reassurance in the face of multiple perspectives and an ever-fragmenting sense of self?


It’s interesting, the ambivalence you’re describing here—about the fracture of identity online, spurred on by context collapse—butts up against a deeper ambivalence that makes answering your question much more difficult, and sometimes outright impossible, depending on the example. The work Milner and I have done on vernacular online expression (particularly through the lens of mischief, oddity, and humor) does talk about this level of ambivalence; we have a whole chapter on identity play, and within that broad context also explore the kind of nostalgia you’re describing (which we speak to in this exchange, specifically the point about overly romantic conceptions of folklore).

But what adds ambivalence on top of ambivalence is the fact, addressed above, that just because people are doing and saying something online (or offline as well, but particularly in digitally mediated environments where context cues are often minimal), doesn’t mean any of it is sincere; it’s not a leg of the table you can lean on, no matter how much you might want to. This is Poe’s Law in a nutshell, which I mentioned briefly earlier; the fact that sincerity and satire are almost impossible to parse online, particularly once something begins pinballing across social media (here we talk about this process and its implications related to X-Files sparkle hair gifs). In these cases, it’s not just that satirical expression can be mistaken for sincere expression. It’s that expression can be simultaneously sincere and satirical, depending on who might be participating, how the messages might be decoded by cross-pollinated audiences, and what these audiences choose to do in response.

It’s ambivalence all the way down, in other words, which is what makes assessing something like nostalgia—whether employed constructively or destructively, progressively of regressively—so difficult. Something might look like an expression of ontological insecurity. And it may be that, either for the poster themselves or for any number of the people who engage with and further amplify that content. But it may also be a joke (also to the original poster and/or for the people who subsequently engage with it). It may also be a bot (ditto). It may also be a Russian disinformation agent (honestly 2018), or who knows who or what or why. The problem is that, when stepping onto an online platform and observing unfolding behavior, there’s often no way of knowing for sure. Even when you ask participants, who knows if you’re getting the full story, if they even know the full story (individual people aren’t just mysteries to other individual people, individual people are also often mysteries to themselves).  

As for your second question, one of the hallmarks of alt-right shitposting (and really, any other form of targeted online antagonism, even if the specific political message isn’t clear) is that so much of it is done under the banner of irony, or at least the possibility that something could be ironic, which has the exciting bonus of allowing participants to fall back on the “I was just trolling/joking” rhetorical deflection (read: cop-out) if suddenly someone has the audacity to hold them responsible for the things they choose to say and do to others on the internet. So I actually see little use in trying to extrapolate out to what anonymous shitposters “really” mean in terms of nostalgia or anything else by posting dehumanizing messages and generally making things terrible. This isn’t to say that it’s not worth studying, or not possible to study, these communities in depth; it absolutely is. But when confronted by the handiwork of anonymous strangers on the internet, I think the best approach is to cast off discussions of motives entirely, and focus instead on the impact of the behaviors. That’s something we can know, and further, can situate within broader discourses of power—analyses that hold regardless of whether participants cry irony or not. What narrative seeds are recast into the air, and what do those seeds end up growing—that’s what Milner and I advocate focusing on.

This brings us back to your question about resonance. As Milner and I emphasize in our analysis of collective storytelling, people latch onto elements of particular narratives for all kinds of reasons, from love to eh it’s fine to haha awesome this is terrible to everything in between, in the process ensuring that the narratives will live on through further retellings. In many cases, particularly when considering centuries-old narrative tropes (which show up with great frequency in even the most contemporary media), the only thing that can be known for sure is that the narratives resonated at some level with the people doing the sharing. It may not be possible to draw out mattering maps for individual participants (for one thing, you may have no way of knowing who these participants were, just that their recasting of seeds ensured the continued life of a story), but you can draw more broadly cultural mattering maps, which assess how many and what kinds of seeds there are—a point we apply to the preponderance of regressive tropes, from racism to misogyny to classism to ableism, that permeate the most enduring narratives across era and media. Again, this allows you to home in on issues of power and intersectional identity even if you can’t get to the specific articulations of power and intersectional identity in individual participants.

From an analytic, data-collection standpoint, it would be better (of course!) if it were possible to analyze exactly how nostalgia or ontological insecurity factored into individual participants’ motivations and behaviors. Without question, these studium and punctum-level responses factor into people’s media engagement practices, training their eyes in particular ways. But that information is often simply unavailable, especially in anonymous or pseudonymous online environments. And so, sometimes, the best thing you can do is try to map the winds.   


This has been such a rich (if a little intense) discussion and I’ve really enjoyed partaking in it. I’ve got a number of thoughts shooting off in multiple directions (I love the idea of producing cultural mattering maps, and there’s much more to be said about the value attached to constructions of authenticity nowadays) but I’m going to try and keep this focused on a couple of closing thoughts.

Firstly, I’m completely on board with what you’re saying about studying the effects of trolling and ambivalence online. This connects with something I’ve inadvertently and unintentionally encountered whilst researching nostalgia and the Power Rangers franchise for the monograph where one of the lead actresses in a recent series has been subjected to ongoing hate and abuse after splitting up with her rock-star boyfriend (it’s so far led to her posting this YouTube response video; I feel a paper brewing on this in the future). However, as bonkers as it might sound, I think that omitting the intentions and motivations of online trolls risks alienating these people from our discussions. As Cultural Studies scholars, shouldn’t we be trying to work with these (As uncomfortable as this might be)? Although such a stance throws up a minefield of methodological and ethical concerns, is this an area where autoethnography could be useful? I suppose I’m tentatively suggesting a ‘Writing with the Alt-Right’ project where a better understanding of these people’s world-views might be obtained by conducting self-writing projects with such people.*

Secondly, and on a less speculative level, I think what’s emerged from our discussions in terms of Fan Studies is for greater attention to be paid to ‘where fans are situated’ rather than just ‘what fans do’. This would involve thinking about not only how fans are located in relation to, and negotiate, the complex and dispersed manifestations of industrial power that they encounter on a day-to-day basis, but also their positioning in relation to wider social, historical, cultural and technological constructions of power. This might involve ‘going deeper’, as we’ve done here, with a view to teasing out abstract theorizations of fan identities that speak to the current cultural moment.

**Very quick not-enough-space-for-a-full-response response from Whitney: Perhaps, but this assumes, most basically, that the intentions and motivations of these participants would even be possible to discern and assess, which in many cases, simply are not. Second it assumes that these subjects would have any interest in participating in these discussions, or more basically, any interest in not actively trying to thwart critics’ efforts to understand, as is so frequently the case with online antagonists and others looking to disrupt and provoke—a particular hallmark of the irony-poisoned aggressions emanating from the far-right fringe. In short, when you’re talking about good faith participants, I tend to agree, but sincerity is not always something researchers can rely on or even know when they see, and a particular methodology needs to somehow account for—and when needed, to provide workarounds for—that complication.



The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Whitney Phillips & Ross Garner (Pt. 1)


My introduction to fan studies was sideways to begin with, which probably explains my subsequent trajectory in and around the field. It started with the Insane Clown Posse, because of course it did. At the time, around 2010, I was working on my dissertation, which focused on the emergence and evolution of subcultural trolling. (Stop sign: this work, upon which my 2015 book was ultimately based, focused on a particular understanding of a particular kind of trolling; see here and here for some of that history. The trolling thread will pick up again later, so bear with me. For now I’m just waving my arms around to indicate that I am not talking about GamerGate, or the alt-right, or Donald Trump. But I’ll get there.)

These trolls were like most communities, whether online or off, in that they had a recognizable argot, drew from a host of behavioral norms and traditions, and policed the boundaries of what made someone a “good” community member. What trolls did that was more unusual was to affect an explicitly disdainful, antagonistic stance towards many of the things that were, simultaneously, resonant and popular within the community. It wasn’t just that trolls bonded over their shared hate for certain people, places, and texts. The trolls played with those things, and actively enjoyed them—while just as actively undermining, maligning, and in many cases trying to destroy them. That was already pretty weird.


The next layer of weirdness came when one of my research participants casually described trolling as a kind of fandom. I asked him to explain, and he said, well, look at the reaction to the Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles” video. I talk more about trolls’ reaction to “Miracles” in this Spreadable Media contributor essay. The takeaway is that trolls loved “Miracles” and spent countless hours creating countless GIFs and memes and other remixed media because they hated everything the Insane Clown Posse stood for, most especially the band’s fans, known as Juggalos. For my research participant, the overlap between sincerely loathing something, attacking those who actually liked it, and also being joyfully obsessed with that thing (because, again, you hate it so much you can’t stop laughing) was a given.

A troll gave me the idea, in other words, and because I didn’t quite know what to think about the line between fannish love and fannish hate, decided to drop my anchor.

I have since written one journal article and two book chapters on the subject (though none of these pieces address trolling specifically, I had a seperate line of inquiry going for all that). The first was published by Transformative Works and Cultures in 2013. It employs, and complicates, notions of camp, anti-fandom, and the Japanese term kuso (which translates roughly as “haha awesome this is terrible”) to explore the emotional appeal of bad content. Its primary case study is the 1990 masterclass hell thesis Troll 2, a film that, for starters, is not a sequel, and does not feature any trolls. It was in this essay that I first floated the idea that conservatism, manifested through social and economic privilege—not counterhegemonic engagement, as might be expected—is what characterizes “so-bad-it’s-good” fandom. After all, without knowing what the rules of “good” cinema are (the result of cultural exposure, media resources, and leisure time), and furthermore, without caring about those rules (the result of placing faith in institutional norms), one would have no reason to have any reaction, let alone an uproarious reaction, when those rules are broken.

I developed these ideas further in two subsequent book chapters. The first, included in Melissa Click’s edited volume Dislike, Hate, and Anti-fandom in the Digital Age (forthcoming 2018), explores fan responses to the exploifreakment TLC reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (I began writing the chapter in 2013, right after I published the kuso article). As I argue, while audience responses to the show were often outright antagonistic and seemed to align with explicit, even textbook, cases of anti-fandom, they were simultaneously affirmative and hegemonic; not only did these responses align with the network’s branding strategy, they replicated normative assumptions about how “normal” (coded to mean “white middle class”) women in American should look, speak, and behave. Again, you needed to have internalized the rules in order to find it funny, charming, or much more basically, noticeable when the rules were, in the case of Honey Boo Boo, ripped to pieces and fed to a glitz pig. The “anti-fan” framework wasn’t just inaccurate in describing this engagement, I asserted. It foreclosed broader discussions about the cultural circumstances out of which the text, and the community who loved to hate the text, emerged. I advocated, instead, for a framework that would actively embrace the slippage between normal and aberational, derisive and complementary, and of course between “normal” fans and fan with fangs. A kind of ambi-fandom.  

It was through this chapter that I began employing ambivalence—that is to say, strong tension between opposites—as a heuristic in my work, a thread I revisited in another fan studies volume, Routledge’s Companion to Media Fandom, edited by Melissa Click and Suzanne Scott (2018). In addition to (even more) explicitly tethering “so-bad-it’s-good” fan engagement to raced, classed, and gendered identity, and to underscoring the conservative elements of apparently subversive fan behavior, I affirmed the value of studying fan participation that is both this thing (community strengthening, pro-social, creative) and that thing (community decimating, anti-social, and destructive), a perspective my co-author Ryan Milner and I spun off into an entirely new book project focused on the weird and mean and in-between of online folk expression, ultimately titled The Ambivalent Internet (Milner and I did a three-part interview about the book for this very blog).

And then Donald Trump ate the media ecosystem, which loops me back to the first section of this post. The “trolls” associated with the white nationalist alt-right also happened to be some of Trump’s most die-hard fans, even as their motivations (for helping spread the Pizzagate conspiracy, for seeding Pepe the Frog as meme of the year, for taking up the campus free speech crusade) may have been obfuscated by Poe’s Law. The subsequent pro-Trump “shitposting” that emanated from 4chan, 8chan, and parts of Reddit and Twitter, along with the cacophony of false and manipulative pro-Trump messages that subsequently careered across and between online collectives, called pointed attention the ambivalence baked into online spaces, communities, and tools.

What had always been true, but became impossible to ignore in 2016, is that online expression is equally capable of empowering and dehumanizing, making chuckle and making furious, and being both vessel for diverse expression and hindrance to diverse expression, often in the same moment, depending on who might be watching and what ends up happening as a result. Furthermore, this expression can be impossible to classify just by observing, as satires of bigotry look the same as actual bigotry, and good-faith mistakes look the same as deliberate fictions, and simply being wrong about something looks the same as networked propaganda—a point that grows increasingly salient, increasingly bewildering, and at times increasingly dangerous as participatory media is intercepted and amplified by additional unpredictable, and often unknowable, audience members.

This shift to ambivalence may seem to take us away, somewhat, from discussions of fan studies proper. But it doesn’t; rather, it speaks to the fact that fan studies, like all disciplines concerned with the expressive communication of everyday people, must take into account—can no longer afford not take into account—that just because something walks like a duck on the internet, and talks like a duck on the internet, does not mean that it is actually a duck on the internet, or anywhere else. Echoing the famed 1990s adage “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” the internet of 2018 is marked by the much more concerning adage that, on the internet, nobody knows anything. At least, not enough to say, just looking at the networked behavior of strangers, this is what that means.


It probably sounds cheesy but my first experiences of studying fandom at undergraduate level were life-changing. Sure, I’d found studying political economy and political communication rewarding but here was a set of debates that spoke to my experiences of living with (and within) popular culture. Reading John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins’s Science Fiction Audiences (1995), where audience discussions of ‘classic’ Doctor Who stories were non-judgementally deconstructed, provided a sense of validation that had previously been missing.

Despite this ‘affirmational’ (more on that term shortly) experience, neither Science Fiction Audiences, Textual Poachers (1992) or Enterprising Women (1992) aligned with how I’d experienced fandom. As others have indicated in this series of blog posts, there was something uncanny about the experiences under analysis in that whilst some practices seemed familiar, others were distinctly unfamiliar. Adding my own experiences to the discussion with a view to contributing towards a fuller representation of ‘fandom’ remains an ongoing motivation for me.

Although unaware of it until recent self-reflection, experiencing fandom through growing up in a small rural town in Devon in the South West of the UK has shaped my scholarly interests in fandom’s relationship to feelings of nostalgia and its spatial dimensions. For example, living in Devon meant an increasing awareness that I was both geographically and, to a certain extent due to my embodied class position, economically detached from the locations where the practices analysed by early Fan Studies literature took place. Simply put, there were no conventions and the closest organized fan groups were approximately 20 miles away. In terms of consuming a fan object, you lived on the hope that the small local retailers were stocking the new singles by obscure Britpop artists (anyone remember Geneva? Thought not), Doctor Who VHS releases, or copies of Star Wars Magazine. ‘Fandom’ was therefore primarily about consumption of mass-produced, but niche-targeted and, in Devon, hard-to-find, media; in terms of sociality, ‘being a fan’ was about negotiating shared tastes within friendship groups rather than meeting other fans and creating things.

However, my awareness that fandom was ‘out there’ (to quote The X-Files) generated and sustained a subjective longing for proximity to such places, whether these be specialist retailers, concert venues or beyond. It’s unsurprising that I have vivid memories of the excitement felt whilst during a childhood family holiday it was announced that the nuclear power station we were visiting on that day had been used to film Doctor Who during the 1970s. Being at this location was a way of momentarily bridging the felt and enduring lack of proximity to a beloved cultural property.Equally, the exhilaration experienced whenever the opportunity to ride the Star Tours attraction at iterations of Disneyland parks arises works in a similar way.

Some readers may take this overview as rambling, but I’m using it to establish where my interests in Fan Studies fall and where, I would argue, more scholarly attention should be directed. One area that fascinates me is developing our understanding of how constructions of nostalgia structure and guide individual fan identities. Some of my publications have engaged these issues by developing our understanding of fan textualities beyond issues of interpretation (Gray 2003) to instead address affect-based constructions of fan objects (Garner 2018a - N.B. this piece will be in Issue 6.1 of Journal of Fandom Studies). This work, as well as other articles (Garner 2016a), has explored how nostalgic discourses constructed in relation to a fan object are either structured by contextual factors or exist in tension with other, production-located (and therefore ‘official’), constructions of nostalgia.

Exploring these questions gives rise to another – what represents an appropriate methodology? Affect is a notoriously difficult concept to theorize and this leads me to frequently deploy, and argue in favour of, autoethnographic methods (Garner forthcoming in a special issue of JOMEC Journal on Transmedia Tourism). Autoethnography – or ethnography of the self – can provide insights including how an individual fans situatedness amongst socio-cultural structures (of gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality etc.) at particular points in time can (re)generate attachments to, and longings for, particular fan objects (Garner 2018). Such arguments sit alongside your points concerning ‘ambi-fandom’, Whitney. Additionally, autoethnography can be deployed for studying fandom’s spatial dimensions by considering how fans connect with everyday sites that have been used for filming (Garner 2016b). As affect is an integral part of fan experiences, but is something experienced primarily at the bodily level, autoethnography provides a toolkit for capturing the affective charges, as well as disappointments (Jones forthcoming, also in the JOMEC Journal special issue), that characterize fandom.

Of course, my assertions come with caveats that prompt reflection: nostalgia is, for example, frequently associated with ideological conservatism and a regressive disposition (both individually and socially). Although these meanings need to be addressed with sensitivity and critique in relation to the political field (Hello Mr Trump, Mr Farage and other proponents of rampant nationalism), I would argue that this need not result in nostalgia’s wholesale academic rejection. Regarding individualized fan identities, understanding fans’ nostalgic attachments to particular objects represents a largely under-theorized element of these situated and constructed performances and more work is needed to develop this understanding (Stevenson 2009 and Harrington and Bielby 2010 have planted useful seeds, however). Rather than taking a reductive, ideologically-focused reading of nostalgia, greater engagement with how nostalgic meanings are constructed in relation to a fan object at specific points during both an individual and shared biography is required.

Secondly, the self accounts arising from autoethnographic inquiry must always be interrogated thoroughly and self-reflexively. Autoethnography should be neither atheoretical, autobiographical writing nor an exercise in covertly valuing certain objects and approaches to performing fandom over others (I see you, distinctions between affirmational and transformational fandom!). It should instead provide a form of analysis that locates subjective experiences of fandom within the range of social, cultural and historical structures that produce the self and shouldn’t shy away from recognizing how aspects such as consumer culture generate individual fan identities, behaviours and emotional reactions.

Additionally, arguing in favour of autoethnography requires that a diverse range of fan-scholars, representing multiple identity positions, need to engage in these practices. With its connotations of self-indulgent naval gazing, autoethnography implies (white male) privilege given that there are still so many forms of fan identity which the discipline has underrepresented to date. However, encouraging fan scholars who embody non-hegemonic subject positions to write on their affective responses and attachments to fan objects can provide insights into how different forms of nostalgia become constructed and negotiated across the spectrum of subjective identities that Fan Studies includes.



The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Rebecca Williams and Anne Gilbert (Pt. 2)


I think the idea of being a fan of fandom itself is a really interesting one and it certainly resonates with me. I’m an admirer of those who are able to get involved in communities and make those connections, but always from a slight distance. I also think your point about the importance of considering hierarchies here is crucial - there is as you point out a tendency for people to frequently distance themselves from ‘other’ fans, people who are more invested or more involved can easily be positioned as distinct from us. But sites like Comic Cons offer some fascinating opportunities to consider how this works. There’s been a great deal of debate about how far fandom has been ‘mainstreamed’ and it’s clear that companies like Disney and their use of Marvel and Star Wars, for example, have really targeted fans in recent years. But I think we run the risk sometimes of making the argument that everyone is a fan or ‘fannish’ and so I wonder whether this is a potential issue too? If we start to look at people who may not identify as fans per se, but who are clearly behaving in fannish ways, then how can Fan Studies draw a line? Or should we even try? Does defining who fans are and what they do even matter as much any more?


I do think we run the risk of allowing fan studies (and cultural sentiment) to move toward a generalized “everyone is a fan!” perspective, and the inevitable fallout from that – if everyone is a fan, then no one is. But at the same time, I am uncomfortable ascribing an identity to someone who resists it, even when their behaviors indicate otherwise. I don’t have a solid answer, unfortunately, but it is why I try to be clear in my language: I tend to study fan practices or behaviors and I approach the constructs of fannish identities, rather than explore embodied identity. This makes me appreciate even more the research that does explore the experience of a fan identity, and to be sure I think that people who practice fandom but who explicitly resist the title are not necessarily the norm, but this is why I think there is a need for fan studies scholarship to be more explicit when we study practice and when we study the person.

Place is perhaps particularly useful (or challenging?) for this, too, because the behaviors in highly constructed places, like Comic-Con as well as theme parks, are deliberately structured to make everyone behave in fan-like ways. And of course, like you mention, this raises the inevitable specter of Disney. As they add Marvel and Star Wars areas to their parks (to do even more of that targeting of existing fans that you are talking about), it structures behaviors that are “appropriate” for Star Wars and Marvel fans to enact. So how do you distinguish longstanding Marvel fans from ones who were enticed, like you were with Harry Potter, by the visit? How do you distinguish Marvel fans in line at the park from Disney fans in those same lines, or from tired parents who just want their kids to stop begging already? Or do those distinctions matter, from a research standpoint?


I think looking at those spaces like Comic Cons or theme parks is really important. Fan Studies has long tended to explore place in terms of pilgrimage to sites that have importance for specific fandoms (or more than one, as Will Brooker discusses in relation to Vancouver). But places and sites that are deliberately designed to appeal to multiple fan bases and fandoms are clear challenges to this kind of approach. For me, my research into theme parks has been especially interesting precisely because there is such a mix of people in those spaces from parents and children to regular tourists through to dedicated fans of Disney or even the parks themselves. In  a forthcoming piece I’ve written about how Disney has worked to marshall fan practices and behaviours in the parks (in some cases moving from specific fan events more in line with typical conventions towards an everyday fannish-ness) in relation to Star Wars and I’m really interested to see how fans of Marvel and Star Wars start to occupy spaces alongside ordinary tourists and fans of Disney itself. I think there’s a lot of potential for dischord especially since fans are not shy in letting people know when physical immersive experiences don’t live up to expectation. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the theme park space and how it complicates further some of our ideas about fan practices, identities and hierarchies.


I do think there is a lot to be discovered in the mixing of fan groups within physical spaces of fan practice, and I am delighted that more of fan studies seems to be moving in that direction. Another way that I think spaces like those we are discussing can trouble the notion of pilgrimage is as a result of the deliberate design that went into them. When fans tour sites in a city that were locations in a beloved TV show, they are able to ascribe meaning and forge a path that resonates with them, to some degree. Theme parks and conventions, on the other hand, are such heavily constructed spaces that the experiences they offer are likewise deliberate constructs. I fully admit that I am not always comfortable with the degree to which the space, experience, and ideal fan identity at SDCC is first and foremost that of a consumer. However, I think it can be as beneficial to consider how fans move through spaces that may afford them less agency as it is to analyze how fans construct their own practices, communities, and spaces in relation to media texts.


Given your point here about the constructedness of certain spaces, I think one of the questions I’d like to leave us with is whether the existing frameworks for understanding fans’ engagement with place are sufficient. Can approaches built on the concept of pilgrimage really account for examples like Comic Cons? I don’t think so, but I’m not convinced that the notion of tourism works here either (in a way that it might for thinking about theme park spaces, for example). It’s a big question to pose but I wonder whether, if both approaches that draw on concepts of pilgrimage and/or fan tourism prove lacking, what might the future be for expanding our understanding of fan’s relationships with places that are meaningful to them?


It’s a good question, one I think worth grappling with within the discipline. I would also like to link it back to what we addressed at the beginning, the issue of methodology and the unaffiliated fans who may be forming relationships with place but not with other fans. How do we approach a study of a fan’s meaning-making of place that is, methodologically speaking, able to address and include those who bear some affiliation with fandom, but who may not adopt recognizable aspects of fan practice or identity?



The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Rebecca Williams and Anne Gilbert (Pt. 1)

Rebecca Williams

As an undergraduate student, studying a course in Journalism, Film & Broadcasting because I thought I wanted to be a journalist, I remember the moment I realised that Fan Studies existed and that it was something I wanted to do. I was taking an undergraduate course, taught by Matt Hills, and after the very first session headed to the University library to take out the “classic” texts; Textual Poachers, Camille Bacon-Smith’s Enterprising Women, and the edited collection on The Adoring Audience. From this point, in my second year of undergrad study, I had a sense that I wanted to become an academic and that I wanted to study fans. I wanted to see people like me be represented in the field and to work to better understand the often complex connections that we have to different objects.

My trajectory was a fairly linear academic one in the UK. I went from a BA to a Masters-level course, then straight into my PhD where I was keen to look at how fans across different fandoms shared practices and modes of identification and communication. At that point, and I’d argue still, fan studies has tended to be relatively monolithic and remains guilty of often looking at single objects or communities in isolation. Whilst some work has started to look at ideas such as ‘cyclical fandom’ and I’ve considered the concept of ‘interloping fans’ moving into fandoms that are adjacent to a central text, I’d like to see more understanding of how people move across fandoms, and how they move in and out of these in different ways.

My PhD thesis focused on fandoms around three different TV genres – drama, soap opera, and reality television and found that systems of cultural value and hierarchy and discussions of self-identity and narrative were common across each. The work I’ve really focused on since, however, was originally a small part of the study – it just so happened as I was researching fans of The West Wing that the series was cancelled. This opened up a quite unique chance to research fannish responses before, during, and after the cancellation. This was also something that, at the time, was relatively under-researched and which I chose to focus on in my subsequent research. The idea of post-object fandom, looking at what happens to fans and fandoms after the objects of their affection cease to produce new works, has allowed me to really chart the complex ways in which fandom and identity and narrative intersect. I’ve been keen to focus on this largely because I also think that fan studies has over-emphasised fan community at the expense of the more individual experiences of the fan, what I referred to as ‘lone fandom’ in my Post-Object Fandom book.


This is important to me because my own experiences in fandom have been relatively lone pursuits. I’ve dipped my toe in the waters of organised fan cultures but never moved beyond reading other people’s posts, tweets or Tumblr blogs, perhaps occasionally making a comment or two, but never really forming any relationship with those people. I attend fan conventions, and make polite conversation with people in lines but I don’t become friends with them. I’ve always felt in some ways that this has marked me out as quite different within fan studies. I don’t readily adopt the term aca-fan in the same way as others might because I’m often more of an outsider to the fandoms I may study than other scholars are. I think this inside/outside position is something that needs more research and understanding – I think it throws up some interesting and important ethical questions, for example. It also offers different ways to think about how we conceptualise fans and fandom (a debate that has long raged within the discipline). I really like Cornel Sandvoss’ work in Fans for this reason, in his discussion of how whilst many fans draw on community and connection, for others the sense of self-identity (which may be an individual process of negotiation) is the most important factor. I’d like to see Fan Studies pay even more attention to this because lone fans pose methodological challenges. For instance, if we tend to recruit participants via established existing communities for ease, or because we are already community members who have access, how can we contact lone fans to engage them in our research? If, by their very nature, they are not largely engaged in communities, how can we start to understand their engagement in other ways? I’d like to see this discussed and developed more, and to move away a little from the sometimes still overly positive focus on fan community.

On another note, I’ve found myself researching fannish places and locations as a result of a research assistant post I was appointed too straight after I finished my doctoral research. This was not something I had previously considered, but it’s a testament to how we can sometimes almost accidentally become interested in areas we have previously not really focused on. As my experience in fan studies and my role conducting audience research into responses to the use of locations in and around Cardiff in the UK in television shows like Doctor Who came together though, I’ve become much more focused on the different ways that place, fandom, and identity intersect. My current research into Theme Park Fandom has opened up some fascinating questions such as: can we be fans of a place? As I’ve noted elsewhere, “It is thus useful to consider what places can do to visitors who may not bring particular media or fan-specific imaginative expectations with them and yet may respond strongly to a partic­ular place. What aspects of that spatial experience are these individuals responding to? What confluence of affective, emotional and experiential elements may cause them to become fans of that site and its associated texts or cult icons?” (Williams 2018: 104). For example, my own fandom of Harry Potter emerged only after my first visit to the Hogsmeade section of Universal’s Wizarding World in 2011; my interest in those places and my experiences of them were physically rooted, embodied and spatial before they were textual. I’m thus really keen to see studies of fan tourism move beyond the metaphor of pilgrimage and a focus on fan visits to places seen in texts towards more of a deconstruction of how place and fandom intersect in different ways. As always, I think it’s crucial for fan studies to keep moving into new areas of study, whether that is paying more attention to different ‘types’ of fan (e.g. the lone fan. I’d also love to see some proper research into children as fans), or re-thinking some of the established modes of understanding fan practices (such as moving away from a more linear understanding of fan visits to locations being driven by a text towards consideration of how a place may generate fannish attraction and practices.)

Anne Gilbert

At the time I “discovered” fan studies, I had never been in a fandom in my life. I was a film geek and TV junkie growing up, but I was well into my graduate studies before I learned what was involved in fandom – and most of that I learned for the first time through scholarship. My undergraduate degree was in a fairly traditional film & media program, where we studied theory, history, and aesthetics of film, with a little TV thrown in. In the second semester of my coursework toward an MA in film studies, I took a required course in media and culture studies; in this class, I found out that I am more interested in studying what people do to make meaning out of the media they consume than I am in studying media texts themselves. We were assigned, among other things, Henry Jenkins’ “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten” (1988); I was introduced to cultural studies as a means of studying media and what people do with it in their daily lives; and I was hooked.

But again – I was not, myself, a fan. I had never heard of fan fiction or vidding, I had never attended a convention, I had never been much of a joiner at all, much less tempted into a fan community. I was, however, a lurker, and this was the height of Web 2.0. I procrastinated all manner of work by reading comments sections and message boards online, watching how others invested such time and energy into loving (and hating) popular culture. I read every scathing recap on Television Without Pity, and my participation with media became wound up in the productivity of others. In essence, I became a fan of fandom.

Like you, I don’t identify as an aca-fan – it is a term that never really resonated with my own positionality – but I do appreciate the reflexivity involved in the concept. If fan studies was established as a discipline that gave theoretical rigor to the practices of the fan communities in which aca-fans were enmeshed, then it seems we are both arguing for new directions in the field that account for the practices that are more like those in our experiences.

Your concept of lone fandom reflects a good portion of this experience for me, someone more prone to exhibiting my personal fandom through voracious, even obsessive, viewing rather than through connecting with others. As a concept, I think it it speaks to a need to be more explicit in our work in separating fans from fandom. What language, for example, do we have to account for those who are not so much drawn in by investment in a particular text, but rather by the interpersonal connections and camaraderie of the community itself? If you can have a fan without the community, how do we address the fandom that is not based on fannish affect?

I do regular fieldwork at San Diego Comic-Con, where it is quite common for me to interview individuals who disavow or demur a fan identity. When I approach someone in line and ask to talk with them about the convention, they might reply, “Oh, you don’t really want to talk to me. I am not as much of a fan as some of the people here.” And yet, these are people who made the (considerable) effort to get to San Diego for Comic-Con, who are in an hours-long line to see a panel, who spend time and money at the convention to buy exclusive toys or clothes for their favorite things. They do fannish things, but resist calling themselves fans.

Some of this is, of course, self-preservation that acknowledges perceptions of hierarchies and insider/outsider dynamics in fan communities; no one can call you a “fake fangirl” or tell you that you do not belong in a community if you resist membership yourself. In fan studies, we have increasingly paid attention to the ways in which fan communities shore up their shared identity by excluding others, particularly as it comes to gender (see, for example, Suzanne Scott’s work), to intra-fandom hierarchies (both Mel Stanfill and Kristina Busse have excellent discussions of these issues), and to questions of geography, language, and access in transnational fandoms. I am continually drawn to the boundaries, both self-designated and proscribed, that are drawn around fan communities and personal identity, and the ways that fans designate, present themselves, and are viewed by outsiders. As a discipline, I think there is room to take a closer look at the ways in which interpersonal dynamics and identity politics, as much as textual content, frame participation in fandom and the unproblematic adoption of a fan identity.

As you say, this of course presents a methodological challenge. It is about finding those lone fans who do not necessarily affiliate with a community, and it is just as much about finding those who do not identify as fans. For my work, it is about finding those who do not attend San Diego Comic-Con, but who may practice fandom or consider themselves fans in other ways. In short, I see this as an opportunity for more scholarship to define our terms and be explicit in our stakes. When we study fans, are we studying practice or identity, community or individual, or some combination of the above?



Bacon-Smith, C. (1992), Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hills, M. (2005), ‘Patterns of surprise: The “Aleatory Object” in psychoanalytic ethnography and cyclical fandom’, American Behavioral Scientist, 48 (7): 801–21.

Jenkins, H. (1992), Textual Poachers. London: Routledge.

Lewis, L. A. (ed.), The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media. London: Routledge.

Sandvoss, C. (2005), Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Williams, R. (2013), ‘“Anyone who calls Muse a Twilight band will be shot on sight”: Music, distinction, and the “interloping fan” in the Twilight franchise’, Popular Music and Society, 36 (3): 327–42.

Williams, R. (2015), Post-Object Fandom. London: Bloomsbury.

Williams, R. (2018) ‘Fan pilgrimage & tourism’ in Melissa Click and Suzanne Scott (ed.) The Routledge Companion  to Media Fandom, London: Routledge, pp. 98 – 106.




How Do You Like It So Far? Podcast: Reflections on A Changing Times

We continue to experiment with the podcast form. This week, we had no guests and broke with our usual focus on popular media franchises in order to deal with two current events which weigh heavily on our thoughts. For me, the issues have to do with the March for Our Lives and the models the Oakland kids offer us for new forms of activism, a theme which I and my co-authors explored in our recent book, By Any Media N necessary: The New Youth Activism. And for Colin, these concerns have to do with the efforts of President Trump to add a question about citizenship status on the U.S. Census and the ways that this may constitute a new form of voter suppression and contaminate a vital source of national data. We take turns interviewing each other about the significance of these developments and what they tell us about the current state of the American republic. 



The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Tisha Turk & Mark Duffett (Pt. 2)

Tisha Turk

Can you say more about why you describe "issues of performance, personal identity, ideology and subjectivity" as being "out of fashion"?

Mark Duffett

I know there’s a danger in generalizing, and I think fan studies has its own diverse range of scholars and activities. Nevertheless, participatory culture remains, to me, still perhaps the dominant theory in our academic field. It focuses primarily on individual creativity and mentoring, and how such things are established in communities where contributors feel valued. Case studies actualize all that in terms of high ideals - education, democracy, activism - but, ultimately, the focus is on a social process within a technological environment. It is case of tools, skills, communities and feel good results. Fine on the surface, but I think that’s a partial picture of fandom. I don’t see much interest in fans as individuals there, as people beyond their community contributions, as people who operate in the complexity of the social and ethical environments they perpetually negotiate, and their own complexity - not as nodes in communities, but as individuals with complex, multiple identities who constantly make tricky decisions in daily life and the public sphere. I’m not saying nobody has talked about fandom as performance - that would be nonsense: Lucy Bennett’s editorial in the 2015 edition of Transformative Works springs to mind. However, there’s much more to be said about how people publically performance their fandom: understanding when and they they have labelled themselves as fans in specific historical circumstances, for example, because I think that in itself can be conceived of as a kind of individual ethical and political act.

I would go further, as well: I think in some senses the ideas I mention are ‘out of fashion’ across academia, not just in fan studies, as they are a bit out of step with a neoliberal environment where ‘the human’ (and perhaps we should read ‘labour’ there) is gradually being reformulated within a rapid process of social and technology change. In this environment, appreciation of individuals as moral agents now seems to be secondary to processes of public participation which can include collective policing. I’m just thinking of the avalanche of fury on social media unleashed against our colleague Melissa Click; in some ways, you could say that was a ‘participatory culture’ of the worst sort!


 I certainly agree that focusing on fandom as culture or social network leaves out other forms of fannishness; any choice to put something in the foreground puts something else in the background. When we treat fannish creativity as social or communal, we risk downplaying or even erasing the artistic achievements of individual creators, and some of those achievements are pretty spectacular by just about any standard I can think of. Or, if we focus on individual creators of artworks (fic, vids, art, gifsets, costumes, etc.), we may miss the fans who are creating not art but infrastructure—hugely important for many fans’ experience of fandom! And then there’s all the fan activity that isn’t creative in the sense of making-something-new but is still, I would argue, participatory in the sense of engaging with fan-made creations: reading fic, watching vids, commenting on and reblogging fan works of all kinds, and so on.

I’m surprised, though, by your claim that there’s not much interest in fans as individuals. Back in 2007, the editors of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World argued in their introduction that the third wave of fan studies was about, among other things, “the intrapersonal pleasures and motivations among fans”—that the field was “refocusing on the relationship between fans’ selves and their fan objects” (8). In the second edition of the book (2017), they reiterate this characterization of the third wave and even double down on it by calling attention to fan studies research that “has examined the individual psychology of fandom within its wider social context” (8). Do you think this is a mischaracterization of what’s going on in the field?

Personally, I appreciate that Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington acknowledge in the second edition that “the intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions [of fannishness] appear to be complementary” (8). I still think the most sensible statement of this position is Katherine Morrissey’s “Fan/dom: People, practices, and networks” (2013): “Only by studying fans and fandom at multiple levels—looking at fans as individuals, at their collective practices, and at the networks they create—can we more fully understand their positions within today's shifting media environment” [1.4]. It’s a both/and, not an either/or.


 I guess when we are talking about individuals, we are also inevitably talking about them socially, but I think the frames we use to do that - studies of transformative works, participatory culture, community or event case studies, studies of paratexts or spaces, heritage, perhaps psychoanalysis or discourse analysis - could be augmented a bit by more attention to the ethical approaches of actual fans as individuals situated historically and the ideological worlds in which they operate. Of course, yes, understanding fandom is a both/and thing already, and given that is the case, we are always, to some extent, looking at the one thing within the other: the collective in the individual, the public in the private. If we generalize, we miss the actuality of history, and if we examine things that are too personal, there is a danger that we get lost in individual idiosyncrasy (worst of all, our own!). However, there is something stopping that potentially myopic disappearance into the personal. A while ago I was in Moscow, and I began thinking about all those stories of fan interest in western music artists ‘liberating’ those behind the iron curtain. I am sure for many of those citizens, individually for some and in communities for others, enjoying the music of western artists did feel like a liberating experience, a freedom that began in the mind. Such moments suggest that finding a fannish connection can be political, but I would go further: what they indicate is that it is always political, that it applies when we in the west are drawn to more accessible objects.

Even though such objects are easily accessible to us, they are still associated with specific values, and finding ourselves connected to them is always, in that sense, a political act (albeit one that might not be conscious). My claim about fans as individuals was more about therefore understanding them as specific people with values who have participated in public activity in ongoing, living cultures, not necessarily addressing their psychology or community roles. While there is work on fan community leaders, often in relation to specific political issues, there’s less research on celebrities, for example, as prominent individuals with the public sphere who have professed their fandom, sometimes independently of working within a particular fan community. I’ll give a quick example: a while back I did a conference paper on Cornel West’s love of Curtis Mayfield and how he used that to mobilize black college audiences in advance of his protest at Ferguson. To me, that was about him using his personal fan interest in public to make an ethical move, which was not the same as seeing him as someone directly linked to a particular fan community.

I will try and explain the difference:

In the sort of fan cultures I first analysed, Elvis fans in the 1990s, what unified people was not being part of community. The thing that was primary for them was being part of a ‘fan base’ - an imagined collectivity like a notional army, almost: not necessarily an imagined or real community, though it could manifest like that at particular junctures. What located anyone in a music fan base was recognition that they had reached a degree of conviction about the greatness of a particular performer, and they also knew that other individuals had, too. Individuals would have a notional awareness that they were therefore part of a fan base, and for some that would be it. When others entered fan communities, using knowledge that they were part of the same fan base as their ticket, they could have a kind of shock in terms of encountering the specificity of other fans. Some individuals made the leap from fan base to fan community, while others pursued their fan interests alone, or were marginalized by those communities. The communities came with additional ethical tenets too. Due to our methodologies, something we have often missed as fan scholars, I think, is attention to the fans who decide not to be part of such communities, and we have therefore missed something about what being a fan can be about.

When I was younger, I was a huge fan of the post-punk group Magazine, and that was about a decade after they split, and my fandom consisted mostly of collecting records, not talking to other fans or making things. I was pursuing an interest with no strong idea that there were any other fans out there at that point, and I am not sure I would have been especially interested in talking with them either; it was about exploring a personal connection with a group’s artistic work for me. The Elvis fans that I encountered were much more sociable as fans than I had been, but my methodology was orientated to finding fans through existing communities (fan clubs). These fan communities were not necessarily based on their creative contributions either, though such contributions were sometimes apparent.


Yeah, I recognize what you’re talking about here—both the experience of being a music fan and the methodology problem. I’m not a particularly social music fan; I am sometimes a visible fan in that I wear t-shirts and go to concerts when I can, but, as I suggested earlier, my ways of being a music fan are mostly private; they have to do with my personal connections to what I love, not my connections to other people who love the same thing. I’ve never been in an official fan club; I can’t even be bothered to follow most of the musicians I like on Twitter. This type of fan is harder to see and to study; how would a researcher even find us?

When I’ve taught classes on fandom, I’ve learned a lot about what “being a fan” means to my students. Some of them are very much integrated into online fandom and enjoy interacting with other fans whom they would not have met without fandom; others don’t feel a need for those social connections. Many of them are somewhere in the middle: their expressions of fannishness about things they share with friends get integrated into those existing social relationships: going to Marvel movies in a group, making up Percy Jackson stories together, baking and decorating a Harry Potter-themed cake for a friend’s birthday.


The internet has changed that world quite a lot, I think. The word “fandom” has come to stand for a community of fans (“the fandom”) rather than a personal interest (“my fandom”). People talk of participating in “Taylor Swift fandom” rather than being part of “Taylor Swift’s fan base,” but it’s more complicated insofar that fans retain collective nicknames (here “Swifties”) which, in effect, reference a kind of shared identity through collective difference. You could argue that net users are already participants anyway in some sense, even as observers. Such people are always already part of an in general community online, say on Twitter, so that entering that fan community means something less qualitatively distinct than before. Aya Esther Hayashi’s recent thesis on musicking in participatory fandom is also interesting here, in suggesting that community participation is itself a kind of ethical or rhetoric frame from which particular fans online now may depart.


The terminology that scholars use for fans—and that fans use about ourselves—interests me too. I do use “fandom” to mean a group of people sharing a set of interests or occupying a shared affinity space. (I know many people use the term “community,” and I’ve certainly experienced fandom as a community at times, but I tend to agree with James Gee that “the word ‘community’ carries a rather romantic connotation” that isn’t always appropriate for fandom or other affinity spaces.) For me, the terms “fannish” and “fannishness”—which I’ve used several times in this conversation already!—are important precisely because they don’t imply anything about groups, networks, or participation.

Fan studies scholars sometimes talk past each other on this point, I think. I was quite surprised, when I read Gray et al’s introduction to the new edition of Fandom, to see them describing Francesca Coppa’s “Fuck Yeah, Fandom is Beautiful” as “seeking to enforce a narrow definition of fandom and opposing broader sets of questions about

a wider set of fans” (8). To me—I can’t speak for Coppa—those are very different things, and the writers misrepresented her argument by conflating them. I’m not interested in policing the definition of “fan” or the legitimacy of any fannish practice; anyone who wants to self-define as a fan is a fan, as far as I’m concerned, which means that there are lots of ways of being a fan, or being fannish, or performing fannishness, or however one wants to describe it—and I’m all for scholars finding ways to study those fans and their many forms of fannishness! At the same time, I think it makes sense to acknowledge that one of those forms of fannishness is the social form—the set of practices—called fandom, and that’s what the scholars of the first wave set out to study. 

So maybe that is “enforcing a narrow definition of fandom,” but to me that only makes sense; it is a narrower term. Everyone in fandom is a fan, but not all fans are, or want to be, in fandom. Studying fans who aren’t “in fandom” is a totally legitimate thing to do, but it is a different thing than studying fandom—which was, I thought, Coppa’s point. (I continue to think that the Fandom anthology should be titled Fans, which would make much more sense.) My perspective on this issue is informed by my own experience: As someone whose fannishness has taken many different forms, I prefer terminology that acknowledges those differences to terminology that erases them.


Your chosen ‘sensible statement’ mentions “today’s shifting media environment.” To what extent do you think it would be fair to say we have a kind of presentist bias in fan studies, that it fixes us on a kind of ‘now time’ of fandom? What duties do we have to the present?


I suppose there might be a presentist bias, though I admit I haven’t thought about it in those terms before. If as a field we do have that bias, then perhaps one of our duties to the present is to keep records of past fannish interests, identities, experiences, practices, and communities—to not only record what’s going on now but preserve what we know about where we came from. Certainly the field has scholars who have done and are doing historical and archival work. I’m not a historian myself, either by temperament or by training, so I’m very grateful to those who are—including the people who contribute historical material to Fanlore.

My own research interests have to do with processes—how do fans, and specifically vidders and vidwatchers, do the things we do?—and part of what I’m interested in is how those processes are affected by shifts in the media environment, including technological changes; but I’m also interested in which processes aren’t affected, or are less affected, by those shifts. What’s contingent on the environment, and what seems to be more durable?


Those are complex questions. When I’ve been to the Fan Studies Network UK conferences, the field, with some exceptions, seems to be largely composed of young, female scholars analysing their online fandoms. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, and I agree that part of what fan studies can do is to create its own historical record by reporting from the present on an ongoing basis. However, I find myself a bit tangential to that for a couple of reasons.

The first is that as you get older and the fandom or community you focused upon recedes into the rear view mirror of history, then, for some scholars curating something that’s past becomes part of what they do. Perhaps you reach a point where the past becomes more accessible than the present, because the present is a young person’s game and you are no longer as immersed in it.

The second is that in recent years the past has never been quite over and done with. I began by studying a living culture of fandom that thrived by sharing a deceased icon as its focus. It was not exactly, to borrow Rebecca William’s term, a post-object fandom. Elvis had been dead for two decades, but his record release schedule and fan following were very much alive. I was always looking at something that was in some ways nostalgic, but also a living culture, something that was perpetually still developing. I think anyone studying, say, Star Wars fandom would be in a similar predicament.

I also think there is a degree of tail-chasing and unnecessary repetition involved when it comes to the urge to keep reporting contemporary things, especially in an era which uses technological novelty to close down vital resources and possibilities that could be used to create stronger understandings. To put it another way, if you understand that a situation is unprecedented, then you do not look to the past to help explain it, but that seems to be the very time you should look to the past, precisely to ask how we got here, how we might understand it, and what might be done about it. If we are always seeking to keep on top of the new, our expertise becomes based on having lived through and thought about a series of experiences, but that is quite narrow. I suppose the issue for me is that in cultural studies in general, theory is basically a persuasive constituent of political storytelling. As we mature as scholars, I think we have a duty to bring a wider and wider focus to what we are examining, to tell more ambitious stories. That means understanding contexts and make connections that were not as visible as when we first started studying the subject. There are some big, big questions out there, particularly around the implication of fandom in much larger social and cultural processes. I’ll give you an example: How was music fandom for specific acts implicated in the changing geopolitics of the Cold War period? Were there connections during the period between fan cultures and wider contexts? What about the way that race became such a defining domestic issue in American popular music? How did such things related to humanism, and perhaps therefore to America’s global role at the time? Such questions can be hard, at first, to even see, let alone address. Disciplinary boundaries can sometimes obfuscate them. Maybe they can only be partially addressed, through case studies, but I think they lead to greater insights.

I’m interested in your distinction between environmentally contingent and more durable elements. Isn’t that a case of positting something almost transcendent? If so, is that transcendence in the empirical environment or in the space of theory? In other words something durable about how fandom has worked or about how we perceive it?


 I do think that some fannish interests and behaviors transcend this historical moment. Humans have a long history of commenting on things that interest them and creating stories and art about things that are important to them—including other stories and art!—and that impulse to comment and create shows up in many, many different contexts, including fannish contexts. But how that impulse gets expressed by a particular person or group of people depends on a great many social, cultural, historical, economic, geographic, legal, and technological factors, not to mention individual priorities and aesthetic tastes. So I don’t presume going in that “how fandom has worked,” or how fans do what we do, is what’s durable; I think some parts of the how are likely to be quite mutable! But the why, and even in some cases the what—we do have some evidence that those things persist over time.


Yes - I am often struck by the way that fan objects can be different, but fannish motivations or behaviours can be similar.


If we’re talking about fiction, we can go back a pretty long way: Shannon Farley’s scholarship on the history of rewriting provides some interesting insights into the ways in which, for example, rewritings of Homer—starting with Vergil’s Aeneid—both are and aren’t like fan fiction. If we’re talking about vidding, we’ve got a much shorter history to work with and a different set of technological factors; the process of making vids on a computer doesn’t look much like the process of vidding on two VCRs, let alone making a slideshow. The technical elements of the process have changed, to say the least. It’s less obvious what has or hasn’t changed about why fans make and watch vids, how we learn to make and watch vids, how we choose and evaluate the music used in vids, and so on. But I do see continuities.

Those how and why questions are complicated, because there’s never going to be a single monolithic answer to any of them; the short answer is always “it depends”! At the same time, it’s neither accurate nor useful to say “Well, it’s just completely personal and idiosyncratic.” So the point of the research is to look for patterns and then interpret them—which is arguably the definition of research in a nutshell, really.



The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Tisha Turk & Mark Duffett (Pt. 1)

Tisha Turk

Henry asked us to start by talking about our backgrounds in fandom and fan studies, so I’ll start by saying: I’ve been fannish my whole life, but until my mid-twenties I was fannish in essentially private ways. I re-read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings until my copies fell apart, wallpapered my college dorm rooms with R.E.M. posters, and clipped magazine photos of and feature stories about other favorite musicians. Because I was a pretentious English major, I actively avoided watching TV until my final year of college, when I started watching with housemates while we practiced knitting.

It wasn’t until early 2000, when I was halfway through grad school, that I found online media fandom. I got serious about X-Files and started lurking on online forums; shortly after that I started watching other shows as well, and within a couple of years I was not only reading episode recaps and fan analysis but also writing my own posts, watching vids, and, eventually, making my own vids.

I originally started vidding because it seemed so similar to the textual analysis and close reading that were my favorite parts of being a grad student, and yet at the same time it was so different because of the different medium. Text was my day job; expressing myself with video and music instead of words felt like a breath of fresh air.

I kept vidding because of the people I met. I became close friends with a group of women who had begun watching and making vids around the same time that I did: we posted on the same mailing lists, read each other’s LiveJournals, watched each others’ vids and, eventually, drafts of vids. These women thought about vids in some of the same ways I did, but many of them approached vidding in ways that would never have occurred to me. I loved learning from them; I loved the discussions we had about our aesthetic values and creative processes. That mutual support and sense of community, which ended up extending way beyond fandom, were and are hugely important to me. It’s largely because of those women that vids and vidding and vidders, as much as any particular show, became my fandom. I’m a fan of us—our talent, our creativity, our artworld.

Almost ten years after I started vidding, I started writing about vids and vidding for academic audiences. That academic work grew out of an impulse that’s central to transformational fandom, the same kind of impulse that gave us the AO3, the Organization for Transformative Works, the journal Transformative Works and Cultures: if we want a thing that doesn’t exist, we make it ourselves. I looked at what was being written about vids, and it seemed to me that there were some important ideas and experiences missing from the conversation. So I started to think about what I might be able to bring to the party.

Most recently, I’ve contributed to two fan studies anthologies. For the Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, Francesca Coppa and Alexis Lothian and I had a conversation about vidding in relation to the film industry, feminism, whiteness, creativity, fair use, queerness, cultural critique, and female pleasure. And for the Companion to Fandom and Fan Studies that Paul Booth edited, I branched out a bit and wrote about interdisciplinarity in fan studies—or, really, the lack of interdisciplinarity in fan studies. As someone with a PhD in English literature, a lasting affection for narrative theory, and a job that draws mostly on my background in composition studies, I get tired of approaches to fan studies that treat the field as a subset of media studies. I mean, obviously media studies has a lot to offer fan studies, but—spoiler alert—there are other approaches to thinking about fans, fannishness, fandom, and fan works.

So, as I think about what I want for fan studies going forward, disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity—including what interdisciplinarity might look like in our classrooms—are very much on my mind; my own thinking about the topic is a work in progress, and I’d love to learn more about how other fan studies folks are grappling with this issue. I also take seriously the arguments of Rukmini Pande and Rebecca Wanzo that fan studies scholars need to do more thinking about race and especially about whiteness (what a contrast to all the attention we’ve given to gender!); their work has encouraged me to think about how whiteness structures fandom and fan studies and helped me start examining how investments in whiteness play out in ‘ship vids and fan responses to them.

The other thing I find myself thinking about is how fast fandom is changing. This is an ongoing phenomenon for fans and researchers alike—one that presents both opportunities and potential difficulties. I suspect it’s not coincidental that the great flowering of fan studies scholarship about the corner of fandom that I know best happened during the LiveJournal era: a great many fans were more or less in one place and more or less in public for a significant chunk of time. Fannish activity is much more scattered now. (That in itself isn’t new, obviously; before widespread broadband access, fandom was often a weekend-only world, as Henry and others have described.) There are so many points of access, so many platforms, so many ways to engage. That’s not a criticism; I think it’s good that more people have more ways to do fandom and express fannishness, and I think it’s exciting that annotation and recirculation are easier than ever. But it does create challenges for scholars. There’s so much fannish activity out there that it can be hard for us (and academic publishing timelines) to keep up!

Mark Duffett

My personal voyage into the study of fandom began in 1995, when I embarked on a PhD on at the University of Wales. I wanted to understand the mysteries of music fandom and chose to explore the Elvis fan culture. At that point, my knowledge of popular music research and cultural studies was still emerging. Coming from a basically pre-internet background in human geography, I had no idea that fan studies existed. So in my own work I started by thinking about gender. When I realized that Elvis’s popularity was so central to his fans’ perceptions, I knew I also had to consider power. Partially influenced by Fred Vermorel’s book Starlust (1985), I began to ask why fans with diverse connections to the same icon behaved in similar ways. I thought about stardom, the fans’ sense of collectivity, and the way that they shared a kind of mythology about Elvis (particularly that he was exploited by the music industry). My early research was very empirical. I struggled to match it to theory, until 2009, when I found a close fit to Durkheim’s notion of totemism. That was quite embarrassing, as I had previously argued that fandom was not a religion, and I would still maintain that. Durkheim’s work applies to totems in a wider sense, and I maintain it can offer significant insights into celebrity fandom as a shared, ideological, psychosocial process. In 1999, I began teaching at the University of Chester. Matt Hills suggested that I write a textbook of fan studies, which Bloomsbury released in 2013 as Understanding Fandom. This critical survey summarized some areas of fan studies, sold over 1000 copies in its first year, and was adopted by Henry Jenkins and others in the field. In a sense, it made my name in the fan studies, when previously my work was positioned more like a minor adjunct to popular music studies. Career highlights since then have included being invited to speak at a conference in Moscow on participatory culture, and giving the keynote, later this year at the UK Fan Studies Network conference. In a friendly sense, however, I remain a bit critical of the transformative work and participatory culture paradigm; I greet it with “fascination and frustration” not least because I think it offers a kind of partial picture when fan studies could and should be so much more. In my own work, that has meant an interest in media representations of fandom, and more recently celebrity professions of fandom in the public sphere. What has it meant historically for a particular person to get up and identify as a fan in public? Obviously the question has different resonances in different eras and contexts, but it opens up on to issues of performance, personal identity, ideology and subjectivity—issues that can be marginalized, in some ways, I think, when one looks primarily at communities of practice. So I guess I am proudly out of fashion, in both an academic and fannish sense.




The State of Fandom Studies 2018: Jillian Baez & Kristen Warner (Pt. 2)


 Jillian, you were talking earlier about the hardships of locating Latina/o media fandoms and that when you do, the conversations are often expressing negative affect about being continually rendered invisible. How for you does that intensify or complicate your work to what is already established in fan studies?


 Part of the issue stems from there being little research on Latina/o audiences, let alone studies of Latinx fandom. Up until recently there have been few dynamic representations of the Latinx community in mainstream media. As such, earlier studies of Latina/o audiences were not locating Latina/os as fans. However, what was overlooked is that Latina/os do find some media extremely pleasurable. In particular, many Latina/os are fans of Spanish-language and alternative forms of media. For example, in my essay in Melissa A. Click’s and Suzanne’s Scott’s edited volume The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, I talk about how Latinx fandoms are understudied in fan studies, partly because the pleasurable media texts are in Spanish and/or they are part of specific Latinx subcultures (e.g., Chicana/o Morrissey fans, telenovela viewers, Selena drag queens, or salsa dancing fans). Latinx fandoms are also overlooked because of the medium and genre. For example, there is quite a bit of literature on Latinx music listeners and dancers. However, these scholars do not necessarily identify their work as fan studies, largely because most of fan studies focuses on television and film and not music.


 I’m intrigued by this idea of “self-tropicalization” and think an analogy is how Black women navigate the notion of ratchetness as one of the pleasures of watching reality television. What do you find Latina fan communities do with those texts?


 That’s a great analogy. I think it’s a way of reconciling stereotypes and also a move away from a politics of respectability. For example, in my chapter in Elana Levine’s edited volume From Cupcakes to Ladyporn, I found that Latina fans of Lifetime’s Devious Maids series (2013-16) enjoyed the show’s Latina cast despite the backlash it received from Latina/o media advocacy organizations and scholars. Critics of the show viewed the series as merely reproducing the Latina archetypes of the spitfire and the maid. On the other hand, Latina fans were excited about the first-ever cast of five Latina leads on television. Fans also found immense pleasure in the maids talking back to their employers (something they felt they could not do in real life) and being cast as morally superior to the white characters.

What aspects of black women’s fandom would you like to explore next? Also, are you noticing differences between fans of reality television and scripted television (not that reality TV isn’t somewhat scripted)?


That’s a good question. Honestly after completing the Iris West article for The Routledge Companion of Media Fandom, I think I’ve said my peace on Black women’s fandom for now. What I think I’m interested in thinking about are more macro questions about how fandom has evolved over the years splintering into what I see as at least two different versions of itself: a more traditional kind of closed fandom and what I call the transparent labor economy whereby being a fan is a means to some sort of clear (and sometimes not so clear) cut way to a neoliberal end. I think the transparent labor economy cuts across all kinds of fandom race, gender, and sexuality demographics and impacts the way we understand how participatory cultures function.

Then again, I witnessed some true fan girling at Essence Festival last year in New Orleans when a crowd of Black women squeed for their lives when Queen Sugar’s Ralph Angel appeared on stage so...maybe they’ll be a return, lol.

But to your second question, it’s interesting to me that there isn’t that much of a distinction between how fans talk about reality television and how they talk about scripted. The routes that are used to discuss issues that each format puts on the table regarding community topics like relationships, friendship, finances, and respectability, feel similar in both modes.