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KAREN HEALEY

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Screen 49:3 Autumn 2008 & The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Screen. All rights reserved. doi:10.1093/screen/hjn045

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Why study fans? Fandom is ubiquitous, with everyone appearing either to be a fan or acquainted with someone who is. As this thought-provoking collection of original essays suggests, it is because of fandom’s ubiquity that the study of its practices, performances and communities is of value. Fan studies is not (as it is sometimes comically suggested) restricted to the deviant practices of socially maladjusted outsiders, but the source of excellent work on the performance of identity and the construction of community in mainstream society. If everyone is a fan, then the study of fan culture has fascinating things to say about everyone. The essays are divided into six broad sections: aesthetic and legal judgments of fan-objects and fan texts; fandom ‘beyond pop culture’; imagined and physical spaces of fandom; fan audiences worldwide; an inspection of fan cultures; and a focus on the various discords located within fandom, presented in the person of the anti-fan. Like fans themselves, the essays are not always amenable to strict classification. Instead, the themes from one section may be reflected in an essay from another – possibly confusing for those who like everything in its place, but entirely appropriate to the book’s ethos. Since studies in fandom have overwhelmingly concentrated on western fandoms and fan texts, particularly those originating from the USA and UK, the collection’s interest in non-western fandoms is very welcome. ‘Global fandom/global fan studies’, by C. Lee Harrington and Denise D. Bielby, largely concludes that among fan scholars there is a ‘notable lack of clarity regarding the existence and/or nature of global

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Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss and C. Lee Harrington, Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2007, 406 pp.


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fandom, and thus, about the possibilities for global fan studies’ (p. 196). However, if the other essays in this section are any indication, a lack of consensus on the nature of global fandom is not necessarily a barrier to good work; they all make compelling arguments to ‘go global’ – albeit with caution and the awareness that accepted western models of fan culture theory may not be universally applicable. The collection also makes a point of including thoughts on western audiences that have usually been ignored or presented as laudably untainted by the middle-class, media-obsessed stereotype of fandom. Music culture, gamer culture and sports culture are here investigated as fan cultures. Sports fandom is particularly well represented, with essays on the marginalization of women in soccer fandom, the progress of wrestling’s ‘smart fans’ to backyard wrestlers and the anti-fan within the fan identity of those who follow two Athenian soccer teams. ‘High culture’ fandoms, which have been almost entirely excluded from fan studies, are here represented by four essays that cover fandoms as diverse as news audiences, Chekhov lovers and Bach devotees. The highlight of this section, and possibly the book, is Alan McKee’s essay ‘The fans of cultural theory’. Beginning with an OED definition of ‘theory’ and smugly concluding that ‘theory fans’ are complicit consumers of the commodified culture they claim to resist, McKee’s initial mini-essay is a poker-faced demonstration of his real point; that ‘simply demonstrating an imbrication within commodified culture doesn’t exhaust the potential interest of fan culture’ (p. 95). Instead, he argues that theory fans sometimes forget that they are fans and proceed as if ‘our cultural pleasures are rational and our ideas are genuinely challenging to capitalism, while the cultural pleasures of others are emotional and their ideas don’t genuinely challenge the system’ (p. 96, italics in original). In their separate essays, Cornel Sandvoss and Matt Hills make similar cases for abandoning academia’s traditional attachment to a false belief in its own neutral rationality that denies the impact of aesthetic judgment. Anti-fans (those who are characterized by a negative affective bond to their fan-object) are also investigated. Fandom includes essays on fans and anti-fans of Martha Stewart; on ‘the power-laden discursive struggles [that] play a constitutive role in structuring the fan–text – producer relationship’ in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s season six; antifandom as an aspect of the performance of a sports fan identity; and a study of two families, one conservative and one liberal, whose anti-fan behaviour towards various television shows is intriguingly presented as responses to ‘the hurts of history’ (pp. 286, 354). Anti-fandom itself is demonstrated in Jeffrey Sconce’s essay ‘A vacancy at the Paris Hilton’, in which Hilton’s image and antics are presented as the ultimate triumph of Baudrillardian hyperreality. Interesting in its application of theory, this piece may demonstrate why studying fans appears to hold more appeal for researchers than studying anti-fans; peppered with statements such as ‘What beautiful


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The Organization for Transformative Works. URL: http://transformativeworks.org/

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about/ [accessed 10 January 2008].

actress would really be humiliated by the exposure of a famous and well-compensated bosom?’, I found the essay’s spite for its supposedly vacuous subjects ultimately unenjoyable (p. 333). It is curious that creative fandom is almost entirely absent from Fandom. Rebecca Tushnet’s intriguing essay on the legal standing of fanworks will be of interest even outside academia, especially in light of the recent establishment of the Organization for Transformative Works, which ‘[envisions] a future in which all fannish works are recognized as legal and transformative and are accepted as a legitimate creative activity’.1 However, aside from Lawrence B. McBride and S. Elizabeth Bird’s successful argument for backyard wrestling as a fan production, the producerly aspects of fandom are hardly considered. Since the production of fanworks has proved crucial to many fans’ performance of fan identity and the formation of fan communities, this critical absence is somewhat problematic. Despite this absence, Fandom’s otherwise broad inclusivity and gestures towards exciting new directions for fan studies make it an essential text for any scholar of fan cultures or media audiences. Appropriately, fan studies godfather Henry Jenkins closes with an afterword entitled ‘The future of fandom’. Fandom, he observes, is increasingly pushed towards the mainstream by cultural bodies and appropriated by producers eager to take advantage of fandom’s potential profitability. He argues that as ‘As fandom becomes part of the normal way that the creative industries operate, then fandom may cease to function as a meaningful category of cultural analysis’, and concludes that ‘Maybe, in that sense, fandom has no future’ (p. 364, italics in original). If this book is any indication, the future of fan studies is assured. Those with fannish and/or academic interests will certainly find something of value in this well-selected and challenging collection.


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