Once again, Aymar Jean Christian has written something thought-provoking that I feel an immediate need to write about myself. I know I shouldn’t be surprised that this emerging leader in Web Series Studies keeps publishing brilliant and timely thoughts on the medium’s rapid and fruitful expansion into every possible corner of contemporary culture, but his latest article in TWC is seriously excellent reading. In “Fandom as industrial response: Producing identity in an independent Web series,” Christian argues that the Web series, The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, is worthy of attention within fan studies specifically, as well as media studies more broadly, both because it is in itself a storyworld born of fannish engagement, on the part of the producers, with the Sex and the City franchise, as well as because of its success at re-imagining the relationship between the labor of cultural production and identity in a new media economy.
Full disclosure: I had not watched an episode of The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else before I read Christian’s article. There are so many great Web series right now, and there is so much mainstream media content I’m following, that it’s difficult to keep up. That said, once I read Christian’s article, I realized that there was really no excuse for me to have missed this one. After all, like the producers of Real Girl’s Guide, I was once a serious fan of Sex and the City, primarily because of its extended focus on my very favorite theme: women’s friendships. Sadly, as Christian outlines as he situates Real Girl’s Guide as a frustrated (even anti-fannish) response to the direction Sex and the City took with the feature film sequels to the television show, I, along with many others, look back with embarrassment at the series’ missed opportunities to deepen the celebration of women’s friendships by taking seriously the ways in which the category of “woman” intersects with other social categories, including race and sexual identity.
Having watched the first few episodes now, I can personally highly recommend Real Girl’s Guide. Go watch the first episode right now. From the very first episode, I find myself agreeing with Christian’s claim that this seems like an example of fannish critical practices transformed completely into cultural production on the same playing field as SATC. But I also retain my automatic nervous response to any scholarly attempt to locate a telos for fandom, especially one that isn’t my telos, or that of most fans I know. Christian makes clear that many Web series producers “create shows both for commercial reasons (though few make money or get sponsors) and, more importantly, to correct mainstream representations and of the industry in general.” (1.4) Already, these are goals not shared by many fans, particularly when it comes to money-making. So, while I agree with Christian’s insistence that we find modes of understanding that are “rich and appropriate for their objects of study,” and which thus must change as the cultural landscape changes, I want to step back from his implicit desire to get beyond fannish activity “produce[d] solely for affective communities.” (5.5, emphasis mine)
After all, I am a member of several intersecting “solely affective” fan communities, including fan communities whose primary text is a Web series. I agree that fan studies and media studies more broadly should take note of the changing industrial landscape, but I’m not sure about the extent to which fans themselves need to be asked to do this. Some will be interested, but others will focus entirely on the stories, the characters, the dialogue, or even an individual actor. And to relegate this engagement to the sphere of the “solely affective” provides fodder for those who devalue fan practice in its own sphere, as a half-formed mode of engagement with contemporary culture.
My ideal is for the industrial landscape to change in such a way that enables the greatest possible range of people to work as full-time cultural producers, telling the stories that audiences, who I like to understand as potential fans, could truly grow to love, and in which they could recognize the world they live in. One side of that coin is industrial change. But the other side, one which cannot be abandoned, insists on valuing the full range of reading practices that enable fans to maximize their engagement with, enjoyment of, and even pleasurable frustration with, their chosen sourcetexts. Those who do not wish to become professional cultural producers ought not to have to see their mode of critique as lesser or contingent on another step in order to be complete. In other words, while I am excited by Christian’s provocative exploration of new intersections of the industrial and the fannish, I am more excited still to become a fan in my chosen way of the fictional storyworld that is Real Girl’s Guide, and so, I’ll take Christian’s article as a recommendation in that spirit.