Over the next few weeks I’ll be crossposting pieces of the Fandom Then/Now webproject here. I’ll be moving in order through the site, starting with information about the project and ending with some of my ongoing questions. I’ll link back to the site in each post. Please consider commenting here using the #fandomthennow tag or posting on the site to share your thoughts and ideas. This week we’re onto popular fandoms and stories.
In the past few posts I’ve been talking about popular stories from the 2008 survey and the fandoms they were connected to. Today, I want to continue discussing some issues I had when I began compiling popular stories by individual fandoms.[This post picks right up on my previous one which you can read here.] [My previous post] gets at an issue I struggle with in Fan Studies and part of the reason why my research is interested in looking beyond individual fandoms themselves and looking instead at the romantic and thematic connections in fan fiction. When talking about fans and fan practices, we often use a show, film, game, or franchise as the label for fans. (And, of course, fans self-identify in this way as well.) However, when we do this we are prioritizing the product in how we organize and conceptualize fan activities. This has the effect of positioning consumption as the organizing principle for fan culture. A move which may limit our view of fan networks.
This model seems to become particularly strained when it comes to certain forms of fan fiction. What the 2008 survey results tell me is that while many fans use fandom titles as a keyterm they can tag content with, input into user profiles, and search databases for, fans do not cohesively and harmoniously organize themselves within these clusters. Some fans of Supernatural may read slash, gen, het, and RPS fic interchangeably, but many of them stick to the story category they are most interested in instead. Indeed, fans of one type of story may have no interest at all in other types of stories within that fandom.
More than half of the 2008 survey respondents were participating in multiple fandoms at a time. This raises the possibility that many fans are seeking out various types of stories across multiple fandoms. Each time we identify one of these “multi-fannish” fans as solely a Harry Potter fan, a Doctor Who fan, etc. we’re framing the fan experience in a way that a) risks distorting how certain individuals are participating in fan cultures and b) leaves us blind to the broader and highly complex networks connecting fans to each other and to fan works.
Since fans often rely on their social networks to help them find new stories, many fans’ social networks are built around broader cross-fandom interests, in addition to any preferences specific to a single fandom. In terms of a fan’s overall experience, the “-dom” in fandom may be far less tied to a media product/franchise and far more tied to a character archetype, a kind of relationship, a mode of content, etc. Clearly, slash is one example of this broader view of fan culture, one that fans are well aware of. Slash has long operated as both a pairing category within individual fandoms and a larger interest area organizing fans socially across fandoms. But, here’s where this might get more complicated: Slash fans have had sense of a larger group identity for some time, but slash itself has experienced a great deal of stigma over the years. It is a reading category that, until recently, was harder to find in commercial literature. These are some of the many reasons why being a “slasher” might carry a stronger sense of cross-fandom group identity in ways that other reading interests do not.
What do you think about fandom labels? Do you prefer to identify your interests by fandom? Pairing? Favorite character? Do you find yourself sticking to one fandom at a time or do you seem to seek out similar types of stories, characters, or relationship dynamics across fandoms?
problem area: can organizing fan activities by fandoms be a problem?