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 I was going to make the disappointingly ignorant statement that his work on fandom is outdated (simply because he has been writing on fans for decades!), but then I found his blog. It’s so hard to call a man ‘outdated’ when he posts more on his blog than I do.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/
I have a radical idea to put forward: each person that watches and experiences a TV show will read it in a completely different way. Essentially this is Stuart Hall’s main argument with his Reception Theory of communication: the encoding/decoding model. Sounds like a pretty obvious thought, really. How, then, can we have words that box these viewers into generic stereotypes, like ‘fans’? Williams is on to something when he suggests that there is no such thing as ‘masses’, only ways of seeing people as masses. (Williams, 1960).
We are all unwillingly thought of as ‘masses’, particularly by advertisers, scholars, broadcasters, producers and others who see us as ‘the audience commodity’. To them, what matters about a television show’s success, is not necessarily its particular reception, but how its rates. Jenkins points out that
‘ratings reflect only a narrowly chosen segment of the television audience – a “commodity audience” – which can be sold to national advertisers and networks, but which reflects neither mass taste nor the taste of an intellectual elite’ (Jenkins, 1992, pg. 29).
For example: the first episode of Dancing With the Stars (season 1 Million, or whatever we are up to) might have high ratings, but does that mean it is considered by “the public” to be a “good” show? Chances are, no. In fact, Myles McNutt points this out in a blog post:
Kate O’Hare, who writes for Zap2it, was discovered to be a fan of Dancing with the Stars: accordingly, one of the comments that made it onto her review before she shut down comments suggested that
“Once you said you watched trash like dancing with the stars, your opinion became worthless.”
Some shows, like this – and often it is reality TV shows – are really looked down upon. I don’t know how they survive. To quote my friend Gareth:
“People need to get over reality TV. It needs to go away.” (Fishwick, 2012)
Point is: ratings do not equal success. And they do not indicate taste whatsoever. Taste is where things change a little, and where people really just can’t get placed into a ‘fan’ box. What is the line between regular viewer and ‘fan’ anyway? Who decides what is fan-like activity? Particularly in today’s society, in which the Internet and television are such important parts of our lives. Doing a little more research on TV shows is normal, as is engaging in conversations through social media and becoming more ‘immersed’ in the following of the show. You don’t have to go out of your way to watch webisodes or read reviews, it is simple enough to just stumble across them. Surely happening to stumble across something on the Internet relating to a TV show is not fan-like behavior. Or perhaps it is true that being a fan is more mainstream now. Maybe we all join in the following of our favourite programs just because it is so easy to do so and because television is an integral part of how we live.
Back to the subject of taste. As Brian pointed out this morning, there is always a hesitation regarding our particular tastes. We are all a bit concerned about how our tastes will align with those of others. It is a personal thing, and I think this is what I was a bit wary of when I wrote my first post on this blog. I was just so self-conscious about the fact that I watch Dr. Who, Once Upon a Time and How I Met Your Mother. It really shouldn’t matter, and people obviously don’t care that my tastes are different to theirs! But still, there’s that worry that because our taste coincides with our identity, there will be some judgment from others.
Perhaps this is what reviewers struggle with when they start discussion on a new TV show. Game of Thrones, for example. I can imagine the mental tension that would have ensued, particularly for a female, having watched the show and then deciding how to write it up. How much can you trust your own taste? Do you go by your initial impressions alone? Or do you have to take into account the history of television, genre and gender? It is hard to say whether Gina Bellafante was expressing her own views on her review of Game of Thrones, or whether she just wanted to get a good reaction. Which she did.
Taste, as we can see from the hysterical responses to Bellafante’s review, is not dependent on gender or genre. On female blogger put it like this:
“the growing numbers of modern female fantasy fans might suggest that the genre is heading in the right direction… A cursory glance of the blogosphere shows there are many female fantasy fans.”
There are women who enjoy fantasy. There are men who are not so into it. There are some that may love fantasy but don’t like Game of Thrones! So on and so forth… Taste is not subject to preconceived presumptions about audiences, because we all read and experience texts differently. RIGHT STUART HALL????!!!
Yet somehow there is still a general overall assumption that taste can be collective. I think this is all related to how audiences are viewed as ‘masses’, and as a commodity in themselves. Raymond Williams points out:
“It is worth noting, finally, that the idea of taste cannot now be separated from the idea of the CONSUMER. The two ideas, in their modern form, have developed together, and responses to ART and LITERATURE have been profoundly affected… by the assumption that the viewer, spectator or reader is a consumer, exercising and subsequently showing his taste.’ (Williams, 1976, pg. 315)
Williams, R. 1976. Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gina Bellafante, ‘A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms’, The New York Times, 15 April 2011.
Williams, R. 1960. Culture and Society. Doubleday & Company Inc.
Jenkins, H. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Psychology Press.
Myles McNutt, Cultural Learning Blog
geekgirlDIVA, ‘To Ginia Bellafante REgarding Your “Review” of Game of Thrones’, geekgirlDIVA blog, 15 April 2011
‘Game of Thrones: Girls want to play, too’, The Guardian