Given the nature of television at the present time, it is difficult to determine what being a ‘fan’ entails. Henry Jenkins takes a strong stand on what a fan is. I was going to make the disappointingly ignorant statement that his work on fandom is outdated (simply because he has been writing on fans for decades!), but then I found his blog. It’s so hard to call a man ‘outdated’ when he posts more on his blog than I do. However, can I build upon Henry Jenkins’ incredible work on his blog and in ‘Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture’ (2006)? Can I use my own knowledge of young people, and what I see on social media to create a different idea of a ‘fan’?
Because you see, I don’t think fandom is exactly a black and white thing. You can be a ‘fan’ of anything really, without having to submit to the stereotypes of being a hardcore fan. In his book ‘Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture’ Jenkins uses the example of Star Trek fans and how they have been portrayed as
‘… “kooks” obsessed with trivia, celebrities, and collectibles; as misfits and “crazies”; as “a lot of overweight women, a lot of divorced and single women”; as childish adults; in short, as people who have little or no “life” apart from their fascination with this particular program’. (pg. 11)
We all know this stereotypical view of intense fans, but do we really see it? At first, I thought no. Then I watched the following short documentary, and took note of the “Bronies”:
I have a few random friends on Facebook that are into Cosplay and post new strange pictures of themselves every now and again, but here in Australia I don’t feel like fandom is displayed through massive conventions and dressing up as characters. Fans of TV shows watch webisodes, make funny memes, write fan fiction, make parodies and share their adoration via the internet. I would say that transmedia fuels fandom in some ways among my age group.
With the rise of social media, transmedia spread is more effective than ever. Television programs can have their own Facebook pages through which people can access webisodes, artwork, memes, comments, forums and other websites, all just by pressing a ‘like’ button. We barely have to go searching for the extra material that makes up the immersive world of our favourite shows – it comes to us.
And so, I would like to float the idea that being a ‘fan’ is more mainstream due to this transmedia revolution. What is being a ‘fan’ after all?
a person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular sport, art form, or famous person : football fans | I’m a fan of this author.
fandom |ˈfandəm| noun
ORIGIN late 19th cent. (originally U.S.): abbreviation of fanatic .
Therefore, we do not necessarily have to go to the extremity of attending conventions and dressing up as characters from our favourite shows to express out admiration or interest in them.
I will use an example of a show I have recently become a fan of: Doctor Who. (Please see my post on this.) This show obviously has a large following – extremely large actually. There are Doctor Who fans clubs for every state of Australia, and so many websites dedicated to forums and fanfiction. I highly doubt, however, that every Doctor Who fan is like this:
It is also interesting to see the rather amateur state of the official Doctor Who fan club of Australia, compared with the Doctor Who page on Facebook. There is a post on this page every few hours, always up to date and always on interesting new things such as pictures, webisodes, and even Doctor Who related recipes??!!! It would be easy for a fan to get all the latest news and facts on this one page, while also having the option to engage in discussion by commenting.
Before the latest season of Doctor Who aired a few weeks ago, the Doctor Who Facebook page posted a link to a BBC mini-series called ‘Pond Life’, as a teaser leading towards the next season. These webisodes actually added vital information to the text, revealing the disintegration of Amy and Rory’s relationship before the shocking revelation in the first episode of season 7 that they were filing for a divorce. To fans that have liked the Facebook page, or looked to the BBC website for extra material, this allowed them to know extra information about the lives of the characters, further immersing audiences in the text. It is important to note how transmedia allows for this to happen, even though following a link that pops up on your Facebook news feed may not seem like fan-like behaviour.
By contrast with Jenkins’ earlier view of the stereotypical fan, I want to note that in his book ‘Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture’ he states:
“I wanted to construct an alternative image of fan cultures, one that saw media consumers as active, critically engaged, and creative.” (pg. 1)
This goes against the view of fans being unintelligent, ‘crazy’ and misfits. Much of Jenkins’ work surrounds participatory culture, and how media audiences are active and engaged, and seek out fan culture in order to contribute to the construction of television shows, not simply seek an alternative reality and become lost in the fantasy of another world. This, I think, is exactly what I am trying to prove by highlighting how fans are active on Facebook: they can interact with television shows and immerse themselves in the texts alongside other fans, without having to drastically alter their regular lifestyles and routines.
To finish up, I want to align this idea of Jenkins’ – that fans can be active and creative – with Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory. Fans are, ultimately, the ideal representation of the ‘active’ audience. They read into texts, immerse themselves in the worlds they follow and construct for themselves, and contribute to this by creating their own fanfiction, analysing the text and even just making a simple comment on Facebook.
Jenkins, Henry (2006). Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York University Press.
Jenkins, Henry (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. Studies in culture and communication. New York: Routledge.
Henry Jenkins’ Blog: http://henryjenkins.org/
Doctor Who Club of Australia: http://www.dwca.org.au/
BBC Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/