Perhaps only a fan can appreciate the depth of feeling, the gratifications, the importance for coping with everyday life that fandom represents. Yet we are all fans of something. We respect, admire, desire. We distinguish and form commitments. By endeavoring to understand the fan impulse, we ultimately move towards a greater understanding of ourselves.
Lisa A. Lewis, The adoring Audience
Continuing our series on the classics of fan studies, today we’re having a look at The Adoring Audience which was edited by Lisa A. Lewis in 1992. As we’ve seen before, 1992 was a very important year for the emergence of fan studies with the publication of Textual Poachers and Enterprising Women. Just like these two books, The Adoring Audience helped pave the way for the growth of fan studies as an academic discipline.
Lewis’ work is a collection of contributions from various scholars written with the goal of breaking away from the stereotypes that surrounded fans and fandom at the time and painting a more accurate portrayal of fan culture.
Personally, I really enjoy John Fiske’s chapter about the cultural economy of fandom which demonstrates that fans are producers as well as consumers and that the texts they produce “are often crafted with production values as high as any in the official culture”.
Though the research in The Adoring Audience can feel a bit dated at times, it is still worth a look in order to understand the workings of fandom before the internet took over and drastically impacted fan culture as a whole.
Fans’ archive building and archive maintenance constitute attempts to prove to the future that particular queer and female ways of being and making existed. If fan archivists did not carefully assemble such proof, women and queer fans’ digital collective actions would almost certainly be forgotten, go unlearned, or simply be, as Mbembe puts it, the subjects of doubt, of disbelief that they ever were. In part this forgetting or doubt would result from the ephemerality of digital production, against which all digital archivists must tirelessly work, but it would also arise from the tendency of hegemonic discourse to elide and ignore what it cannot incorporate.
What I have said here of women and queer fans can be said of every non- and counterhegemonic group that forges a community online and seeks to archive its communications and cultural expressions. Rogue archival efforts are political efforts, for, as Derrida argues, “There is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and the access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation” (Derrida 1995, 11). Those on the edges of power, in real life and in virtual life, continually invent new cultural forms and genres online, prolifically generate and actively spread their digital productions, and establish digital archives, first of all, in order to demonstrate that their cultures and their creations exist and deserve the status and recognition of being, and second, to refuse those at the center of power complete “control of the archive.” Rogue archivists insistently pry open “the archive”—digital cultural memory writ large to include their idiosyncratic repositories, and thus foist some measure of democratization onto the field of contemporary archival practice.
DE KOSNIK, A. (2016) ROGUE ARCHIVES: DIGITAL CULTURAL MEMORY AND MEDIA FANDOM. CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS: THE MIT PRESS.
The editorial reflects on the directions the journal intends to take. To us, Fanhackers, one sentence inmediately seems relevant.
(…) we continue to resist the tendency within fan studies’ spaces, both casual and academic, to speak about fandom as if it’s a contiguous whole rather than encompassing an enormous variety of people, cultures, practices—and conflicts.
Fanhackers’ own mission is to connect fandom studies that is casual with the one that’s academic. The journal’s focus falls not necessarily connecting these discussions but to expand what academic fandom studies can cover by
(speaking) with potential authors over the past year, including especially those who may not think of what they do as fitting into the field because of who and what they are studying
In the editorial, this expansion is related to an important statement.
It is not uncommon to hear or read words such as “fandom has a whiteness problem,” or “fandom has a race problem,” but neither of those statements are true. There are and have always been Black fandoms, and Indigenous fandoms, and Latinx fandoms, and Asian fandoms, and fandoms of and for people whose identities exist outside of Western-dominant racial formations. Fandom does not have a whiteness problem. White fandoms have a whiteness problem.
I like, therefore, to say that it is white fandom studies that has a whiteness problem, oftentimes, though, discussion doesn’t name fandom studies as such and scholarship that doesn’t center whiteness the same way might not be included in histories of fandom studies. Then, this expansion needs not only to include new scholarship but by rethinking what our scholarship includes.
In this, the efforts of fandom and fandom studies should be connected.
As a professor, I often supervise undergraduates who are interested in fan studies topics, often as independent studies or senior theses. Some of these students want to go on to do graduate work in fan studies–but that can be complicated, because fan studies is such an interdisciplinary subject. So I ask them: do they just want to continue studying fandom in an organized way, or are they considering grad school because they actually want to get a job / earn a living as a scholar or teacher? Let’s ignore the state of the market in higher ed (many ugh, much gross) for the moment, and talk purely about the intellectual issues involved in studying fandom.
Like, for instance, there really aren’t fan studies departments per se (and few institutions even have television studies) and hiring is still overwhelmingly a departmental thing. (That’s changing, but academia isn’t known for its lightning-fast pivots.) So what department would you looking to be hired into? Students often don’t know–they like literary study, they like media and communications, they like television and film, they like anthropology. So I ask them the question another way: if you got hired as a professor, what introductory courses do you think you’d enjoy teaching? Are your bread and butter courses going to be, say, Intro to British Literature I and II or Media and Society? Or maybe it would be Intro to Anthropology or Intro to Film Studies. Maybe it would be some form of Rhetoric and Composition. It might also be Intro to Marketing–some of the people most interested in fandom studies are business or economics professors, looking to better understand consumer behavior.
But the larger point is: few professors get to teach their exact areas of specialization all the time, and most professors teach one or more of their department’s intro courses. (You might also end up teaching high school: how does your fan studies interest overlap with a high school’s curricular needs?) So don’t just think about your research interest when you’re considering graduate schools and departments: think about how your research interests fit into and overlap with the broad knowledge base that you’ll need for a degree and a career.
Achille Mbembe states that archives confer status on their contents, and on the culture and society that produced those contents: “The archive … is fundamentally a matter of discrimination and of selection, which, in the end, results in the granting of a privileged status to certain written documents, and the refusal of that same status to others, thereby judged ‘unarchivable.’ The archive is, therefore, not a piece of data, but a status” (2002, 20). The status that the archive awards is, first of all, according to Mbembe, the foundational status of existence, of a person or a culture having existed: “The archive becomes … something that does away with doubt, exerting a debilitating power over such doubt. It then acquires the status of proof. It is proof that a life truly existed, that something actually happened. … The final destination of the archive is therefore always situated … in the story that it makes possible” (20–21). Fans, fan fiction, and fan communities have historically been granted incredibly low status in cultural hierarchies (Jenkins 1992, 9–23; Coppa 2006b, 230–233), and online archives of fan works will not likely alter that ranking. But Mbembe illuminates the power of digital communities’ self-made archives to award those communities with the minimal status of having truly existed, of their individual and collective cultures having actually happened, and therefore of making possible their insertion into history. In the absence of archives of their work, female and queer uses/users of the Internet would risk disappearance and erasure; their cultures would remain unknown and unknowable to subsequent generations, as the existence of so many women’s and queer people’s cultural expressions in earlier eras have been excluded from the historical record.
Fans who found and operate their communities’ digital archives do not guarantee that they or their works will be remembered, but they create the conditions of possibility for persistence and recollection. Perhaps the last quarter-century of digital fan archiving will matter to no one a quarter-century from now; but perhaps digital fan productions made between 1990 and 2015, and many genres of user-generated Internet content from the same time period, will be widely regarded as critically important forms of early digital networked culture, just as silent films hold a venerable place in cinema history and amateur ham radio operators are understood to be the direct ancestors of the broadcasting industries. Maybe successive generations of girls and women and LGBTQ people will benefit from the first twenty-five years of fan archiving; maybe future historians will value the ability to access evidence of what it was to be female and queer online in the first wave of mass Internet use. Fan archivists cultivate this chance, this may-be.
DE KOSNIK, A. (2016) ROGUE ARCHIVES: DIGITAL CULTURAL MEMORY AND MEDIA FANDOM. CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS: THE MIT PRESS.
(Fan) cultures have not traditionally work like media industries, since they have their own production dynamics, being much more a “shadow cultural economy” (Fiske, 1992); the constant search for alternative models of creation and circulation, as well as practices between consumerism and resistance are traits and conditions in the history of fan cultures (Hills, 2002).
Fiske, J (1992) The cultural economy of fandom= L.A. Lewis (ed.): The adoring audience: fan culture and popular media, new york: routledge, 30-49. Hills, M. (2002) Fan cultures, London and New York: ROutledge. Daros, O (2021) Have fan forums been swallowed by social media companies?=academia letters https://doi.org/10.20935/AL1683
I almost didn’t write this post for fear that you guys will think I’m even more of an old than I even am, but a) fuck it and b) there’s a way in which everything old is new again, so bear with me. *takes deep breath* OK, so when I was a young fan, a lot of my fannish life happened over the RADIO. Yes, RADIO, that–I was about to say, that weird looking box with dials on it, but you probably don’t even have a radio. (*Shut up, shut up, I can’t hear you, la la I am going to live forever!*) But you probably listen to something like radio on Spotify, or you listen to podcasts, or you might even use an app to listen to some great legacy radio station in your area. So imagine you had a dedicated box just for that.
Anyway, in the before-times, radio then–like podcasts now–was a way to do fandom. Music people know this of course, but I’m both a fan and a theatre person, and man, radio theatre was the best, and fannish radio theatre even better. Britain had and still has a really strong radio drama tradition, which is smart because it lets them produce new plays by new writers for a fraction of the cost of a staged production. But NPR in the US used to do radio drama too–they had a show called NPR Playhouse / Sounds of Theatre which I was devoted to.
I have two particularly strong fannish memories from this era. First, the joy of hearing the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on radio. Douglas Adams wrote Hitchhikers for radio and radio is the best way to experience it – I mean, Zaphod having two heads and three arms is radio joke if there ever was one, and then all these poor TV and film people had to figure out how to actually get an actor with a second head. (Footnote 1). I backtrack here to say that if you don’t know what I’m talking about, never read or saw any version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, click on the link and have yourself a whale of a time (or a bowl of petunias of a time.) (Sorry, the whole Hitchhiker’s thing makes me instantly 12 years old FOREVER. My whole world is Hitchhikers, Star Wars, and Doctor Who– Five.)
Moving on: the second great fannish radio experience was NPR’s dramatized version of Star Wars, which had Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels playing their original roles, and Perry King as Han Solo – Perry King, you will remember (who am I kidding, you will absolutely not remember, but anyway), became a fan-favorite for a show called Riptide, so that was okay, too. And they expanded the text! And added new scenes! I can remember Mark Hamill giving an interview talking about how different it was to play the part for radio; he talked about how you had to sort of put movement in your voice at all times: “I’m–grunt–putting on my–harumph–jacket!” But he was great at it–obviously, since he’s become such a famous voice actor since. And it’s wonderful that podcasting has brought theatre and fandom back into the medium of sound – podcasts are the obvious new media version of all this.
Okay, so bring this back to fan studies, these personal fannish reminiscences (and awesome links—you’re welcome!) are brought to you by Martin Cooper’s book Radio Legacy in Popular Culture: The Sounds of British Broadcasting Over the Decades (Bloombury, 2022, excerpt available at the link). Make no mistake, this is a fannish book in its way – Cooper is interested not just in radio but in artistic works that are in some way about radio, which he regards explicitly as fanworks about radio:
In the case of fandom it could be alternative storylines; in our case of radio listening, it can be a reinterpretation of what has been heard on the airwaves. Hence, it is plausible to think of the responses I analyse in the chapters that follow as reinterpretations and critiques of radio listening; that they have been produced by professional writers and musicians makes them less of a subculture and more of a series of transformative texts that extend the meaning and understanding of the medium of radio. They are portrayals of the everyday action of listening to the radio: of paying attention to the programmes, the discussions, the documentaries, the dramas, the daily shows and the DJs.
Note that the book has a specifically British focus, but British music and drama have influenced fandoms all over the world. I mean, Radio, Radio; Video Killed The Radio Star; Oh Yeah (There’s a Band Playing On The Radio), Radio Clash –Cooper frames all these songs as part of a British transformative fannish response to the medium. Radio on!
–Francesca Coppa, fanhackers volunteer
(1) I got the chance to meet Mark Wing-Davey, who played Zaphod Beeblebrox both on the original radio show and on the BBC show–he’s a big-shot theatre director now, but I honestly could not keep my inner 12 year old under control: I basically had my fists stuffed in my mouth because OMG Zaphod Beeblebrox!!! my heart!! and finally I just kind of choked out, “sorry, I can’t–excuse me” and fled the dinner. *facepalm*
Sedgwick wrote on the transformative potential of queer reading practices in ways that, to me, also describe fannish modes of attachment:
“I think that for many of us in childhood the ability to attach intently to a few cultural objects, objects of high or popular culture or both, objects whose meaning seemed mysterious, excessive, or oblique in relation to the codes most readily available to us, became a prime resource for survival. We needed for there to be sites where the meanings didn’t line up tidily with each other, and we learned to invest those sites with fascination and with love.”
In the same passage, she writes of “a visceral near-identification with the writing I cared for”: not with one or more of the characters, but with the writing; “on the level of sentence structure, metrical pattern, rhyme.” This fannish merging with the text – with its aesthetic form – was “one way of trying to appropriate what seemed the numinous and resistant power of the chosen objects.”
Meanwhile, Carolyn Dinshaw, a medieval scholar and one of the founding co-editors of the journal GLQ, was writing about the “queer … touch across time”: the intense affective attachments, including identification, which produce queer – that is, oblique, resistant and desiring – relationships to the medieval past, which exceed and refuse normative trajectories and linear histories, and find in medieval pasts and texts that “numinous and resistant power” that makes certain art objects, for their fans, potent “resources for survival.” Finding in the distant past another way of organising sexuality, selfhood and experience, which we somehow recognise, which we somehow need – the “defiant and confused” feeling of knowing, without knowing how we know, that this book, this person, this artwork, is “one of ours,” as Alison Hennegan describes in “On Becoming a Lesbian Reader.” The queer touch across time retrieves though this is too passionless a word – it rescues artworks and archives from the dustbin of history, resonating with Taylor J. Acosta’s characterisation of fandom as “a historiographic approach in the Benjamanian tradition, not as an explicit critique of history, with its pretences to critical distance, total understanding, and specificity, but rather as an alternative practice in which an art produced of love and affect can function historically.” The queer or fannish touch across time produces “worthless knowledge”: knowledge that has no value that can be registered by neoliberal-capitalist metrics and that is for that reason invaluable.
(It strikes me that my desire to quote from these texts, to show them to you, is itself fannish. Look! Look at this thing that I love! It says something to me that cannot be said in any other form. Does it speak to you too? What does it say?)
Willis, I. ‘Afterword: Fan Theory/Theory Fan Or I Love This Book’. FANDOM AS METHODOLOGY. LONDON: GOLDSMITHS PRESS.
“While it might seem self-evident that online patterns are repeated in offline spaces, it is vital to note that these exclusions occur within spaces already marked by the language of representation and inclusion. That is, queer fans of color are often called upon to support such spaces and movements through such labor as supporting hashtags, creating fanwork, and contributing to campaigns to buy billboards as well as through their emotional investments by the promise of representation. However, when they find these spaces to be, once again, structured by the logics of white supremacy, their discomfort and disappointment are seen to be the problem within the fannish space. These logics are highlighted only in moments of conflict but must be seen as a constant context within which fans of color have to operate even as they seek modes of contingent and tenuous representation.”
Pande, Rukmini, and Swati Moitra. “Whose Representation Is It Anyway? Contemporary Debates in Femslash Fandoms.” In Fandom, Now in Color, 151-163. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2020.
These excerpts are from Fabienne Silberstein-Bamford’s article, “The ‘Fanfic Lens’: Fan Writing’s Impact on Media Consumption,” which can be read for free here!
Silberstein-Bamford writes that the internet has allowed people to move from solely passively consuming to also participating (for instance, through fanfiction). This article examines in what ways being a fanfiction writer shapes one’s engagement with media. For example:
– Consuming as a potential future fan (e.g., thinking about what kind of fanfiction you can write while reading/watching/consuming the canonical thing)
– Predicting the fandom’s nature (e.g., thinking about which characters or tropes will be popular in the fandom or what the fandom culture will be while consuming canon)
– Evaluating narrative structures (e.g., evaluating media in fanfiction terms, like identifying tropes)
– Creating distance through recognizing agency (e.g., seeing reader interpretation as equally as valid as the author’s, like through fix-it fics)