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[QUOTE] From Who Are Millennial Fans?: An Interview with Louisa Stein (Part One) See also @millennialfandom

The mainstreaming of fandom into millennial culture is a chosen stance of fans to represent their modes of engagement as more than only niche and subcultural. Fans choose to post about their fan engagement in the public spaces of Tumblr rather than the locked communities and friends-only journals of the late 1990s and early 2000s. They may perceive these fan spaces as intimate publics, as I’ve written about elsewhere, yet they choose to allow for the possibility of visibility, for a default public culture, albeit one with intimate semi-private pockets. Indeed, the social activism of, for example, what some refer to as Tumblr feminism is part of—or at least deeply connected to—this fan performance of fandom as an expansive mode of engagement with something important to share and spread.

Who Are Millennial Fans?: An Interview with Louisa Stein (Part One)

See also @millennialfandom

[QUOTE] From Forrest Phillips, Captain America and fans’ political activity

When the Tea Party rose to national prominence in 2010, the movement’s cosplay of American icons, including the Founding Fathers, immediately made news (Walsh 2010). One of the most remarkable costumes worn by Tea Party demonstrators was that of the Star-Spangled Avenger. As Nicolle Lamerichs (2011) argues, when fans cosplay they are expressing their fondness for, identifying with, and making statements about the narrative associated with the character whom they are playing. The statement made by political Captain America cosplayers is that Cap would agree with their point of view. For instance, at a 2011 Tea Party rally, a man dressed as Captain America personalized his shield with a bumper sticker that read “Please don’t tell Obama what comes after a trillion” as a way to assert that his support of limited government is the sole authentic American perspective (White 2011b). Similarly, the Star-Spangled Avenger waved the star-spangled banner at a March 24, 2011, rally in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Shelly 2012).

While in both these cases Captain America’s iconography was used to support right-wing causes, his use in political action transcends partisan boundaries just as the character does in the comics. In October 2010, the Sentinel of Liberty showed his support for “reasonableness” at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (Calhoun 2011). A year later he defended labor unions at a protest in Madison, Wisconsin (Mills 2011). Furthermore, Cap’s iconography has been used at multiple Occupy rallies: one protestor wore a makeshift Cap costume and flashed the peace sign while another attached a figurine of the Star-Spangled Avenger to the top of a sign bearing a handwritten anticorporate slogan (Moscamaurer 2012; jamie nyc 2011). Additionally, an activist advocating for homeless veterans addressed Occupy Oakland clad in the costume of the Sentinel of Liberty (addio33 2012).


While Captain America was first created as a fervent nationalist who wanted American children to “free our country of our traitors” (Yanes 2009, 58), he has developed into a very different character. Fans have embraced the modern incarnation of the Star-Spangled Avenger because he is one of the few embodiments of an Americanness that encompasses a wide swath of the nation’s political spectrum, from the most conservative Tea Party member to the most liberal Occupier (Johnson 2010; Mroczkowski 2011). This near-universal American appeal renders any political use of his image inherently divisive and questionable, yet makes his political appropriation irresistible.

Forrest Phillips, Captain America and fans’ political activity

[META] I Know I’m Still Thinking About Wisconsin

The latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, “Transformative Works and Fan Activism,” is now available for your reading pleasure. There’s so much great content here to peruse, much of it offering context for ongoing debates among fan activists, many of which speak to still-unfolding current events. Just last week, for example, Andrea Horbinski and Alex Leavitt updated readers on the latest developments surrounding the Metropolitan Tokyo Youth Ordinance, whose implications they had explored at length in their article. The piece I first clicked on when I accessed the issue, however, was on an issue closer to my immediate context and long-term concerns: Jonathan Gray’s moving Symposium piece, “Of snowspeeders and Imperial Walkers: Fannish play at the Wisconsin protests.” This piece describes the morale-boosting role played by fannish signs and chants at protests, and argues for their incalculable contribution to the large-scale registering of political dissatisfaction.

The topic of activism is inherently emotional, which is part of why I think that its union with transformative works is so illuminating. Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova begin their editorial introduction to the issue with two quotations that speak to this point, one by Liesbet van Zoonen, from her book Entertaining the Citizen, and one from Stephen Duncombe’s own Symposium piece on More’s Utopia, and his own relationship to that concept, such as it has emerged in his own experiences with fandom and activism. There is a clear thread that ties each piece in this issue to the rest, as well as tying the issue as a whole to a long series of debates, online and off-, about those most seriously critical, and thus, seriously hopeful energies within fandom, and how these intersect with those same energies in activist movements, often within the same subjects. From my own standpoint in the Midwestern United States, no single recent event has filled me with as much hope, and then disappointed me so strongly, as the fannishly-inflected 2011 Wisconsin protests against Scott Walker and his union-busting legislation, which, sadly, did not in the end lead to his replacement.

That aside, I think that Gray’s piece archives much of what was exciting about the 2011 protests, which moved so many people, and were so misrepresented by the mainstream media, first by not being represented at all, and then, worse, being mischaracterized as “riots,” as Gray describes:

As the protests continued and as they drew national media attention, for many protesters, and for the organizers especially, it became important to ensure that the protests remained peaceful and upbeat, countering Fox News’ images. The fannish signs aided this mission, offering reasons to smile and laugh amidst the anger and angst, and often inspiring discussions between fellow fans.

Gray is, of course, careful not to reduce the protests to a momentary fannish community-building exercise, although he is just as careful not to subordinate fannish caontributions to countable actions such as petition signatures, absolutely. Instead he inhabits the ground of the short-form social archivist, who witnessed positive social and political actions bolstered by fannish energy and tactics, and wishes to record it alongside the ultimately disappointing political verdict on Walker.

Gray’s piece exemplifies what I love about the Symposium section of Transformative Works and Cultures. The author guidelines for the Symposium section read as follows:

Parallel to academia’s tradition of compact essays, often published as letters, fandom has its own vibrant history of criticism, some of which has been collected at the Symposium archive. In the spirit of this history, TWC’s Symposium is a section of concise, thematically contained essays. These short pieces provide insight into current developments and debates surrounding any topic related to fandom or transformative media and cultures. Symposium submissions undergo editorial review. (1,500–2,500 words)

And indeed, in just over 2000 words, as well as photographs of six different fannish signs seen at the Wisconsin protests, he articulates a material intersection of fandom and activism, and one that will likely ring true, both for those of us who anxiously followed the protests as they happened, and for those who take pleasure in memes well-executed. He fleshes out the experience of the protests with memorable details, some of which speak to us quickly and generally, like his description of the protests’ occurrence “in the middle of a characteristically long Wisconsin winter,” while other descriptions speak to perceptions specific to the fan activist’s worldview. I love the idea that, “when the Capitol Square was covered in snow, it seemed distinctly Hothlike,” because it’s that level of observation that invites the reader into the process of forging lasting connections between different spheres of her life.

From Gray’s piece, the reader might move on to Aswin Punathambekar’s essay, “On the ordinariness of participatory culture,” which offers a different national context for the intersection of fandom and activism, namely, the Indian context, as well as a different kind of activism, namely how, in response to Indian Idol 3, “people in the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya had cast aside decades-old separatist identities to mobilize support for Amit Paul, one of the finalists.” The issues at stake here are very different than those in Wisconsin, but Punathambekar’s argument in fact shares much with Gray’s, although he uses a slightly different critical vocabulary. Punathambekar summarizes his argument as such:

We need to develop accounts of participatory culture that take the sociable and everyday dimensions of participation in and around popular culture more seriously while remaining attuned to the possibility that such participation might, in rare instances, intersect with broader civic and political issues and movements. Using Indian Idol 3 as a case, I want to suggest that sociability should be as fundamental to our analyses of participatory culture as civic/political engagement.

Like Gray, Punathambekar argues that we should make sure to value those moments of sociability that are often subordinated to specific political activity, as they share much with the energy that is needed to enact large-scale change and, ultimately, to create better societies. Both authors’ arguments are at home in the Symposium section, because it is a space in which this subtlety of individual and social experience can be articulated, and preserved alongside more long-form academic analyses of phenomena within fandom.

We are actively seeking Symposium submissions for upcoming issues, and all readers of this post, this blog, Transformative Works and Cultures, and other sources of fandom analysis to consider submitting. Thank you!

[LINK] Transformative Works and Fan Activism

Frequently when academic journal articles are written about timely research topics, the authors are unable to update their audience regarding more recent developments. In the current issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, guest edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, Alex Leavitt and I wrote about the Metropolitan Tokyo Youth Ordinance (also known as Bill 156), (“Even a monkey can understand fan activism: Political speech, artistic expression, and a public for the Japanese dôjin community”). The bill could potentially curtail artistic expression in the name of keeping fictional characters under the age of consent (hence the bill’s popular nickname, the “Nonexistent Crimes Bill”) out of “harmful situations.”

In our article we looked at fan activism against the bill, which passed at the end of 2010 and went into effect in summer 2011, after our article had gone to press. Developments since then have been somewhat mixed.

Although creators feared that the highly ambiguous language of the bill would allow government censors virtual impunity, a recent high-profile ruling found that a scene depicting incest between two young characters did not violate the bill’s provisions, because it was subject to previous standards rather than to those introduced by Bill 156. Although this was hailed as a victory, there have also been reports of publishers self-censoring manga content even before the bill’s provisions went into effect, and that manga series have been cancelled outright in response to it. Still, some publishers, like Kadokawa Shoten, have spoken out against Ishihara’s remarks.

From here on, it’s unclear what path fannish activism will and should take. Although 80% of Tokyo residents were reported in early 2011 to oppose the bill soon after its passage, an anticipated boycott of the Tokyo International Anime Fair by manga publishers and the ensuing publicity largely fizzled after the 2011 Tokyo Anime Fest was cancelled due to the March 2011 earthquake. At roughly the same time, a suit alleging that Bill 156 was unconstitutional was denied by the Japanese courts, a decision that has been appealed.

Individual creators, however, have continued to engage in various forms of protest. Akamatsu Ken, the creator of such well-known manga as Negima! and Love Hina and more recently founded of manga download website J-Comi, is now offering the infamously banned-under-Bill-156 comedy manga Oku-sama wa shôgakusei (My wife is an elementary school student) on the premium section of the comic site.

Official concerns about the potentially socially destabilizing power of manga were also evident in the minutes of a meeting of Miyazaki prefecture’s Youth Healthy Development Council last fall, in which members characterized boys’ love and womens’ comics as “dangerous,” saying that “if there are more depictions where women lead [in sexual encounters], it will encourage the tendency toward homosexuality.” These manga would not normally fall under the provisions of Bill 156 in Tokyo, but the idea that fiction can provide a space to explore alternatives–and that imagining alternatives to the status quo are a powerful part of what motivates activism–certainly lies at the heart of the potential of fannish activism, as Jenkins and Shreshthova acknowledge in their introduction. Fandom is fundamentally participatory, and politics increasingly (though it always had) hinges on participation. As Melissa M. Brough and Sangita Shresthova argue in this issue, there is much more work to be done in analyzing these networks and connections; as several articles acknowledge, that participation does not necessarily guarantee success.

Overall, the contents of the Transformative Works and Fan Activism issue tell a story that is broadly similar to the story of Bill 156 and the efforts against it: mixed but hopeful, and suggestive. Regarding fandom’s activist potential, I always think about what Gandalf says about the Ents: when they wake up, they will find that they are strong. What separates devoted fans from those who just casually enjoy something is action, and activism means taking that next step, from consumer engagement with media to civic engagement around it.

–with Alex Leavitt