On November 30, 2017 the University of Wollongong hosted the first Fan Studies Network Australasia conference. OTW staffer and Media Studies student Angelique Jurd went along, so here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what’s hot right now in Fan Studies.
Matt Hills, Professor of Media and Film at the University of Huddersfield (UK) and author of – among others – Fan Cultures (Routledge, 2002) and Doctor Who: The Unfolding Event (Palgrave, 2015) kicked things off with the first keynote in which he reconsidered the very concept of fan cultures. During an intense and interesting, not to mention entertaining ninety minutes, Hills invited delegates to consider the idea of specialist, traditional, and brand fans in the context of “fan worlds”, using Becker’s art worlds framework. From there Hills explored the ways in which fan studies are starting to engage with implicit fandom, such as that found in theatre fandoms, and how these groups intersect and interact with explicit fandom and more importantly, how they may in fact be engaging in behaviour usually seen in “fandom”, without either identifying, or being identified, as fans.
Day Two started with an equally fascinating keynote from Dr Ika Willis from the University of Wollongong on the subject of fannish worldbuilding. Fans, she argued, first engage with fictional worlds as they are presented by the author – the world that is in fact constructed by the author and their text. They then engage with it through the assumptions made by a text or a genre around the way the world is. Drawing on popular examples from television (Poirot and Game of Thrones), as well as film and literature (the Harry Potter Universe), Willis looked at the ways in which fans use their own real-world assumptions and ideas to not only understand fictional worlds but also expand them.
Feminism and Fandom
One of the morning panels on Day One, Feminism and Fandom, was an immensely enjoyable one, notable for the diversity of the content. Naja Later from Swinburne University spoke about the social stigma that still revolves around transformative media, examining it through the lens of gendered monstrosity. Later argued that the reception and response to transformative media in wider discourse is rooted in both monstrosity and misogyny and that producers of fan media are marginalised and viewed as monstrous in specifically female frameworks, whether those producers are male or female. As markers of the female – hair, blood, tears, mucus – are both held in disgust and desire, so too is fan-produced media.
Following Later was Charlotte Allen from the University of Wollongong. Equally as passionate, Allen examined feminism as presented in the television show Parks and Recreation. Examining the ways in which the show presents feminist practices, Allen invited the audience to go beyond the obvious text and subtext and to see the ways in which Parks and Recreation uses conventional tropes in an unconventional manner to defend feminism. As someone who has never seen Parks and Recreation but who has a teenage daughter who loves the show, I found Allen’s work to be informative and more than a little reassuring.
Slashbaiting vs. Queerbaiting
Joseph Brennan from the University of Sydney was perhaps the highlight of the conference for me personally. Brennan has spent considerable time analysing online discussion of the homoerotic nature of the television show Merlin. The accepted opinion is that the homoerotic elements in Merlin are queerbaiting, inherently negative and exploitative. However, Brennan found that across more than 700 responses, homoeroticism in Merlin was viewed not only in a celebratory manner but was considered fan service, thus supporting the term “slash baiting”.
I found Brennan’s presentation both exciting and informative. Partly, it is helpful in my own research around how fan-produced media inform the television show Supernatural. It also showed a positive framework within which a source text might be able to at least address fan-produced text.
FSNAusAsia 2017 was my first Fan Studies conference, and I hope won’t be my last – there is nothing quite like being in a room of people discussing seven different ships and worlds, and the only thing anyone finds unusual is that nobody has yet mentioned an eighth. Equally, I hope the conference grows in future years and continues to provide a focus for the Fan Studies community in the Southern hemisphere.
You can find the full programme of FSN AusAsia 2017, including abstracts of all papers presented, here.