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Fan Culture

September 8th, 2009 (01:20 pm)

"'The fan is consistently characterized (referring to the term's origins) as a potential fanatic.  This means that fandom is seen as excessive, bordering on deranged, behaviour' (9).  Jenson suggests two typical types of fan pathology, 'the obsessed individual' (usually male) and 'the hysterical crowd' (usually female).  She contends that both figures result from a particular reading and 'unacknowledged critique of modernity' in which fans are viewed 'as a psychological symptom of a presumed social dysfunction' (9).  Fans are presented as one of the dangerous 'others' of modern life.  'We' are sane and respectable; 'they' are obsessed or hysterical."
~ p.124

"Fans are conceived as the passive and pathological victims of the mass media.  Whereas 'you' and 'I' can discriminate and create distance between ourselves and the objects of our pleasure (and thus stay 'normal'), fans cannot."
~ p.124

"In other words, fandom is a visible (pathological) symptom of the supposed cultural, moral and social decline which has inevitably followed the transition from rural and agricultural to industrial and urban society.  At its most benign, fandom represents a desperate attempt to compensate for the shortcomings of modern life."
~ p.124


“Official or dominant culture produces aesthetic appreciation; fandom is only appropriate for the texts and practices of popular culture.”

~ p.125


“Finally, whereas most reading is a solitary process, performed in private, fans consume texts as part of a community. Fan culture is about the public display and circulation of meaning production and reading practices. Fans make meanings to communicate with other fans. Without the public display and circulation of these meanings, fandom would not be fandom.”

~ p.128


“As stated already, fan communities are not just bodies of enthusiastic readers. Fan culture is also about cultural production. Jenkins (1992: 162-77), for example, notes ten ways in which fans rewrite their favourite television shows. (1) Recontextualisation: the production of vignettes, short stories and novels which seek to fill in the gaps in broadcast narratives and suggest additional explanations for particular actions. (2) Expanding the Series Timeline: the production of vignettes, short stories and novels which provide background history of characters, etc. not explored in broadcast narratives, or suggestions of future developments beyond the period covered by the broadcast narrative. (3) Refocalisation: this occurs when fan writers move the focus of attention from the main protagonists to secondary characters. For example, female or black characters are taken from the margins of the text and given centre stage. (4) Moral Realignment: a version of refocalisation in which the moral order of the broadcast narrative is inverted (the villains become the good guys). In some versions, the moral order remains the same but the story is now told from the point of view of the villains. (5) Genre shifting: characters from broadcast science-fiction narratives, say, are relocated in the realms of romance or the Western, for example. (6) Crossovers: characters from one television programme are introduced into another. For example, characters from Doctor Who may appear in the same narrative as characters from Star Wars. (7) Character Dislocation: characters are relocated in new narrative situations, with new names and new identities. (8) Personalisation: the insertion of the writer into a version of their favourite television programme. For example, I could write a short story in which I am recruited by Dr Who to travel with him on the TARDIS on a mission to explore what has become of cultural studies in the twenty-fourth century.  As Jenkins (171-2) points out, this subgenre of fan writing is discouraged by many in the fan community. (9) Emotional Intensification: the production of what are called ‘hurt-comfort’ stories in which favourite characters, for example, experience emotional crises. (10) Eroticisation: stories which explore the erotic side of a character’s life. Perhaps the best-known of this subgenre of fan writing is ‘slash’ fiction, so called because it depicts same-sex relationships (as in Kirk/Spock, Bodie/Doyle, etc).”

~ p.129


“‘Fans are defined in opposition to the values and norms of everyday life, as people who live more richly, feel more intensely, play more freely, and think more deeply than “mundanes”’ (268). According to Jenkins, ‘Fandom constitutes…a space…defined by its refusal of mundane values and practices, its celebration of deeply held emotions and passionately embraced pleasures. Fandom’s very existence represents a critique of conventional forms of consumer culture’ (283).”

~ p.130


“What Jenkins finds particularly empowering about fandom is its struggle to create ‘a more participatory culture’ from ‘the very forces that transform many Americans into spectators’ (284).”

~ p.130


“Perhaps Fiske (1992b: 46) is right in his assertion that the real difference between a fan and an ‘ordinary’ reader is ‘excess’ – the fan is an excessive reader of popular culture.”

~ p.131


Storey, J. 1996, Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture: theories and methods, University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia, USA.

Texts referenced: 

Jenkins, H. 1992, Textual Poacher, Routledge, New York.

Jenson, J. 1992, ‘Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization’, in Lewis, L. (ed.) 1992, The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, Routledge, London.