The next work in our exploration of the classics of fan studies is Camille Bacon-Smith’s Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. It was published in the same year as Textual Poachers and the two have often been put against each other for their different approaches to studying fandom. Indeed, contrary to Jenkins, Bacon-Smith decided to take on an ethnographic approach and study Kirk/Spock fans from an outsider’s point of view.

Nevertheless, Enterprising Women is largely positive toward slash fans and dismisses many of the clichés that circulated around them at the time. For instance, Bacon-Smith refutes the idea that the popularity of m/m pairings is solely the result of women wanting to write about attractive men having sex with each other and argues that the lack of strong female characters in media plays an important role in what fans will write:

“The visual media, still overwhelmingly controlled by men, send out a clear message to women: female heroes don’t have satisfying sexual relationships unless they learn to take second place in their own adventures.”

However, the book was also criticized by a number of fans who did not feel accurately represented by her analysis. Some believe that her detached ethnographic approach makes it impossible for her to fully grasp the complexities of fandom and that she fails to truly understand why so many women are interested in slash. More recently, people have also pointed out that her portrayal of slash fans as a group of heterosexual women does not reflect the wide variety of genders and sexuality present in fandom. To learn more, you can have a look at the Fanlore page to read some of the many negative and positive reviews left by fans over the years. 

Despite its flaws, this book is an interesting read to understand the status and practices of fans at the time and to learn about the genesis of fan studies. What do you think of Camille Bacon-Smith’s approach?

The Classics of Fan Studies: Camille Bacon-Smith – Enterprising Women
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