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

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?

Thinking Through Feels

One of the amazing perks of my job is that I often get to read, review, or blurb fan studies work in progress, so I can give you a sneak peek of books that are forthcoming. One of these is Jessica Hautsch’s Mind, Body, and Emotion in the Reception and Creation Practices of Fan Communities (Palgrave, released August 2023; link goes to Googlebooks, which has a substantive excerpt available for perusal), which takes approaches to fandom derived from the disciplines of cognitive psychology and performance studies.  The book’s subtitle is Thinking Through Feels, an upfront declaration of the book’s interest in feelings and embodied emotions (keysmash!). Hautsch looks to the body as a place of thinking, making the feminist, performance-based case that emotion and analysis are not oppositional—certainly not in fandom! Her central idea is “critical closeness” (as opposed to our old friend, “critical distance”); she defines critical closeness as “a mode of reading and response that is deeply emotional, embodied, and communal.” In this way, Hautsch’s work vibes with those strands of literary theory that are trying to develop new, more emotion-based theories of reading. But perhaps because of her interest in the body, Hautsch is not interested only in fic:  this book also has a refreshingly broad approach to fanworks, with chapters on GIFs, fancasting, and vids. 

Here’s a sample from the introductory/theoretical chapter, in which Hautsch lays out her arguments and contexts:

The bodily and emotional traces of fan reception can be tracked through the fanworks posted to sites like Tumblr, YouTube, and AO3. Fic, gif sets, and vids are not evidence of thinking, but acts of thinking. These fanworks form part of the cognitive system of fandom; when we read fic, look at gif sets, and watch vids, we are not just looking at examples of what other fans have thought, but are invited to participate in a dynamic exchange, encouraged to think with and through these fanworks. Thinking is not something that happens in the disembodied mind of the individual fan, but is an embodied, emotional, and communal act that emerges from fans’ interactions with media texts, technological interfaces, and fan collectives. By posting fanworks, by commenting on and reblogging them, fans form networks, create and engage with communities, and generate and shape the cultural environments in and through which they think. Research in the cognitive sciences—arguing that our minds are extended, embodied, and distributed—can help us to understand how fans construct communities of practice and rehearse critically close strategies for engaging with and responding to texts.

–Francesca Coppa, fanhackers volunteer

Fan production of counterknowledge through set reporting

Fans challenge the informational, brand control of media producers by discovering and circulating unofficial news, gossip, rumours and photos of on-set filming. [Matt] Hills discusses the phenomenon of fan “set reporting”, whereby audiences tweet, blog and upload their photos and videos of location filming. In discussing franchises such as Twilight, Doctor Who and Sherlock, which have all had to contend with this new digital mode of fan productivity, he argues that far from dematerialising the importance of location, this new fan practice combines immediacy with hypermediation, granting authenticity and status to “being there” and to documenting activities of media production. Socially networked fandom thus both reinforces the symbolic centrality of filming sites (e.g. Cardiff for Doctor Who) and brings fans into conflict with producers in novel, pre-textual ways. Hills contends that, far from being a mysterious, shut-away process, location filming has become an increasingly transparent, fan-mediated event, with “citizen-fans” placing the elite activities of popular media production into the subcultural public spheres of fan knowledge, debate and speculation, somewhat akin to the activities of citizen-journalists.

Geraghty, L. (2015) ‘Introduction: Fans and Paratexts’. Popular Media Cultures: Fans, Audiences and Paratexts. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fanfiction and Assemblage

“A commercially published novel is multiply produced—editors, agents, designers, marketers, literary sources, and market demands, all have their parts to play—but it comes to readers as a discrete book‐shaped entity with a single authored name. It is Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Its multiple influences are not readily apparent on the face of it. By contrast, all the popular understandings of fanfiction I’ve referred to here rely heavily on multiple relations—text to source, text to legal right, writer to writer, writer to community, fanfiction to other fanfiction—and fanfic texts themselves often announce these relationships on their front pages. This relationality—these multiple sources, influences, and participants—is something we immediately understand as intrinsic to fanfiction rather than something we might gradually become convinced of by delving into French theory or studying the publishing process. The “we” of Western reading culture, however, do not primarily think of literature as an assemblage, and while we are likely well aware that books are things that must be assembled at some point and that websites must be coded for display on complex devices, this material assemblage is not what we have in mind when we think of “literary composition,” whether digitally or codexically disseminated. For most readers and writers, the work of literary composition is the work of the author, and this way of thinking about authors and their works is conditioned by Enlightenment notions of individuality, genius, aesthetic value, and art. Fanfiction both challenges and owes its existence to these same notions.”

jamison, anne. 2018. “Kant/squid (the fanfiction assemblage).” in A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies, P. Booth (Ed.).

Fictional People Fandom Show (RPF)

(It) is interesting to note that both FPF and RPF writers are considered part of the fandom of the fictional work (e.g. Supernatural), as if the actors have little significance for RPF writers outside of the media work for which they are known.


That is definitely a pattern I have observed when looking at RPF related to media creators and to some degree, when it is related to musicians. Even when it comes to political figures, the fascination might be with the events itself, rather than the actual people. What are some nuances when it comes to different RPF fandoms? Do we base these observations on the paratext, on the way communities treat their fiction or on the text of the fiction itself?

“Teaching trans studies through fan fiction in college English classrooms,” by Peizhen Wu

Quote from Peizhen Wu's article "Teaching trans studies through fan fiction in college English classrooms." The quote reads, "It turned out that students believed that these three fan fiction pieces did a much better job of trans representation than Loki. "

This excerpt is from “Teaching trans studies through fan fiction in college English classes” by Peizhen Wu. It can be read for free on Transformative Works and Cultures!

Wu argues that trans studies should be taught widely, not just in courses explicitly about gender (like gender studies courses). Fanfiction and fan studies classes, Wu suggests, might be good avenues to explore that kind of teaching.  

This article synthesizes the results of Wu’s teaching an undergraduate fan studies course with a three-week unit on gender studies. Students discussed gender fluidity in Loki, fanfiction with trans representation, and Omegaverse. Wu concludes, “Although this is a course about fan fiction instead of trans studies in the social sciences, adding reading materials such as timely news about current trans situations alongside fan fiction and theory-related materials might help students situate themselves better in the discussion of trans topics.”

The Classics of Fan Studies: Henry Jenkins – Textual Poachers

“Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk.”

Today we’re continuing our exploration of the classics of fan studies with an early work that is still regarded today as one of the most important of the field: Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins. Jenkins is generally considered to be the first scholar to also define himself as a fan, becoming the first aca-fan (academic fan) before the word had even been invented. 

The work of John Fiske, that I talked about in my last post, is often cited in Textual Poachers where the idea of viewers having an important role in the meaning-making process is very important. But Jenkins also distances himself from the old-fashioned way of studying television viewers that often overlooked fan culture and fan activities.  

The central argument of the book is that transformative fans shape their perception of a text by “poaching” elements from it. In other words, they create their own interpretation by picking and choosing meanings that fit into it. This is a collaborative process that takes place within the fan community:

Fan reading, however, is a social process through which individual interpretations are shaped and reinforced through ongoing discussions with other readers. […] For the fan, these previously “poached” meanings provide a foundation for future encounters with the fiction, shaping how it will be perceived, defining how it will be used.

This also means that the fans are resistant to the authority of the original author(s) and have the power to subvert the intended meaning and reclaim ownership of the text:

From the perspective of dominant taste, fans appear to be frighteningly out of control, undisciplined and unrepentant, rogue readers. […] Undaunted by traditional conceptions of literary and intellectual property, fans raid mass culture, claiming its materials for their own use, reworking them as the basis for their own cultural creations and social interactions.

For Jenkins, fanworks are thus inherently resistant to the dominant reading. The intentions of the author are not necessarily ignored, but they are powerless against the fans’ ability to create their own meanings. 

Though some people have later come to nuance, or even oppose, Jenkins’ ideas, his work is still considered by most to be foundational in fan studies. What do you think?

The End Of Reading (?)

There have been a lot of academic books and high-journalism opinions about the end of English Literature as a discipline or, even more alarming, the end of Reading itself.  As both an English professor and a fan studies person, I take these claims with a grain of salt.  Regarding literature as a field – well, there might be fewer English literature majors, but most students still want to take literature courses as part of their undergraduate degree, and I think many people still want to be guided in their reading towards stuff that is good.  And capital R-Reading, from what I can see, isn’t in as much jeopardy as people think. 

In his recent article, The Reading Crisis, A.O. Scott agrees, explaining that people have always worried about the state of reading, particularly where the kids are concerned:

Nowadays parents and other concerned adults worry that young people don’t read or love reading enough. Their counterparts in the 18th and 19th centuries were apt to fret that the young loved reading too much. 

And as someone who’s spent much of my life in fanfiction reading and writing communities, I’ve never been worried that young people aren’t reading. They may be reading different things than people expect, but let’s face it: most people aren’t reading Paradise Lost (or at least not every day) and most stuff on the NY Times Best Sellers List isn’t anything particularly thought provoking or improving (the NYT Book Review of the same week as Scott’s essay is topped by the likes of James Patterson and John Grisham etc. I personally find fanfiction–or at least, the fanfiction stories I finish reading, which isn’t all of them–infinitely more thought provoking and improving!) 

Scott concludes his essay by wandering into fannish territory, using D&D to describe some different ideas of reading and readers:

If you’ll forgive a Dungeons and Dragons reference, it might help to think of these types of reading as lawful and chaotic. Lawful reading rests on the certainty that reading is good for us, and that it will make us better people. We read to see ourselves represented, to learn about others, to find comfort and enjoyment and instruction. Reading is fun! It’s good and good for you.

Chaotic reading is something else. It isn’t bad so much as unjustified, useless, unreasonable, ungoverned. Defenses of this kind of reading, which are sometimes the memoirs of a certain kind of reader, favor words like promiscuous, voracious, indiscriminate and compulsive. Those terms, shadowed by connotations of pathology and vice, answer a vocabulary of belittlement — bookworm, bookish, book-smart — with assertions of danger. Bibliophilia is lawful. Bibliomania is chaotic.

I am both a lawful and chaotic reader–though chaotic reading is the most fun, isn’t it? 😀

–Francesca Coppa, Fanhackers volunteer

Fandom, Paratext, Authorship

Though we have long reserved the title of “author” for a single nominated figure associated with the film, television show, book, videogame, or other media product, authorship is multiple, and when paratexts can change meanings, at times profoundly, then we must acknowledge how trailer editors, poster designers, book cover artists, fan producers, DVD producers, and so forth are all authors in their own right. And to acknowledge them fairly as authors is to acknowledge that authorship is a fractured process, spread out over time, not simply preceding the work or product in question. Anything authored can be re-authored, and paratexts will be the primary means of re-authoring. 

From this observation about authorship follow a series of other observations about textual power. Authorship, after all, is about power, about determining who has the ability and the right to speak for the text, and who gets to speak with the text. Authorship is authority, a position of power over a text, meaning, and culture. Hence, paratextual re-authoring assures that this power to speak is shared among many, and it disallows any text the ability to speak in one way continuously, unabated. Hopefully, we might note the degree to which this situation denies any text too much power, for with smart and careful paratextual engagement, we can always re-author texts, negating past meanings and uses. Practically, though, this situation should invite us to realize how content producers have regularly aimed to control the paratextual field precisely to shut down alternate readings and to maintain authorship, authority, and power. Indeed, if following Umberto Eco, all texts are “open,” paratexts are key tools for managing what any given text is at a specific moment in time, and it is through paratexts that various stakeholders may work to limit how open a text can truly be at specific moments. 

Gray, J. (2016) ‘The Politics of Paratextual Ephemeralia’. The Politics of Ephemeral Digital Media: Permanence and Obsolescence in Paratexts. New York: Routledge. 

An Intimate Sound–Podfic and Confluence

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about podfic, i.e.., audio versions of fanfic, read out aloud. Podfic, as an audio-based medium, sits at the confluence of disability accessibility, performance, and of course, simply being a new form of narrative text.

In the first ever published article on podfic, Olivia Riley states:

“Audiobooks, another auditory predecessor of podfic, share podfic’s emphasis on fictional narrative and vocal performance as well as other qualities typical to all the audio mediums so far discussed, including portability and ease of access. The comparison of podfic to audiobooks is particularly important because in my investigation I ran across numerous instances of listeners explicitly comparing the podfic experience to that of an audiobook, while only one referenced podcasts in relation to these audio narratives; thus, we must take into account how fans theorize their own texts and experiences.”


This particular comparison between audiobooks and podfics interests me; podcasts, whether fictional or non-fictional, arguably may be more intimate, in so much as we may get to listen to the speakers’ personal opinions, thoughts, ideas, etc. And yet, podfic finds itself standing more with audiobooks, despite sharing half its name with podcasts. I’d like to complicate this further, drawing from my own experience of both running zines with audio components, as well as interacting with fellow fans who make podfic, and who have had podfic made off their own work: fans are sometimes hesitant to provide permission to have their work read out aloud, concerned about the voice and audio work “exposing” perceived flaws in their written texts.

There’s a certain intimacy involved in the process, certainly, more than just that of getting a work beta-ed, or proof-read. It’s similar to the collaborative nature of fanart for fanfic, except fanart is welcomed with a lot less hesitance.

In the same article, Riley further goes on to explore this very intimacy:

“The audio performances of podfic produce a queer network of relations between the performer, the text, and the listener. To begin with, the text itself is an actor in podfic. All the podfics examined for this article were explicitly queer in their content, featuring queer(ed) characters, queer themes, romance, and often explicit sexuality. The characters in these podfics carry variously transformed and reimagined genders and sexualities. These podfics are palimpsests of many texts and authors, including the fan fic being read aloud, the source text the fan fic was inspired by, the contemporary fanon and fan community that shaped the fic’s production, the various music and sound effects often used in these recordings, and the labor of all the creators who made these media. Further, through the reader’s performance, listeners receive a unique interpretation of the fan fic being read, conveyed through the intonations and other subtleties that emphasize and elide various textual significances. This profusion of overlapping and sometimes contradictory layers of meaning impact how a listener understands a character’s gender and sexuality, refusing the simplicity of heteronormative binaries.”


There is, then, a definite sense of vulnerability in getting podfic made off one’s work. But podfic, I’d argue, is almost the most celebratory fan-object fandom has ever produced—it sits again on a confluence, not just of medium and accessibility, but of multiple creatives, all of whom have a singular contribution in making the final product. Podfic is, in many ways, a community object, more so than most fan-objects, simply by its nature of needing multiple inputs. 

What are your thoughts on podfic?