Well, so far I have introduced crowdfunding and fandom and shared a couple of case studies on fan labor and agency within the platform of Kickstarter. Now I want to discuss Fandom, participatory culture, and share a few more case studies on fan agency and labor within those fandoms. Fans participate in just about any way possible when it comes to their favorite media object and I hope to explain why.
What or who is a fan? Here’s the brief definition of a “fan” – Someone who is devoted to a particular object, be it a celebrity, artist, genre, book, movie, TV show, etc..
The fan is part of a bigger culture known as a Fandom. Fandoms have been around for quite some time. The first noted fandom involved British writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his character of Sherlock Holmes in 1887. Fans of the book were known to write their own fan fiction and even mourned after Holmes was killed off in 1893. The fans of the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, were the first recorded fandom (Wikipedia, 2015). From Sherlock came the Western modern science fiction fandom, which started around the 1930s with the first science fiction convention in 1939 (Wikipedia, 2015). The 1970s gave way to media fandom, which split from science fiction to other mediums focusing more on the characters within movies and television shows, such as Star Trek or Dark Shadows, and the characters of Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, or Barnabas Collins. Fan art, as well as fan fiction, also came about at this time because of the fan’s idea of how their favorite characters should be depicted in these mediums. Western culture was not the only one building up fandoms; in Japan there was a huge following for Anime and Manga as far back as the early 60s (Wikipedia, 2015).
So why does one become a fan and join in on a fandom? Katherine Larson and Lynn Zubernis are two college professors; they are intelligent, strong empowered women who have a love for a TV show called, “Supernatural.” They loved being fans so much, they wrote a book about it. In their book, “Fangasm, Supernatural Fangirls,” they explain why a person becomes a fan and joins a fandom. First and foremost they found a community, a place where they could share their love of all things “Supernatural.” Secondly, they were accepted for their self-expression and were able to find kindred spirits who shared the same love. Most importantly they realized that being a fan was not just about being accepted for differences, but also receiving validation for those differences (Larson, K., & Zubernis, L., 2013).
Fandom has grown quite a bit since Sherlock Holmes’ day. Today we have all kinds of fandoms and some even overlapping each other. We have Brony’s – grown men who like My Little Pony, Potterheads – fans of Harry Potter, Whovians–fans of Doctor Who, and yet again another growing fandom for Sherlock Holmes who call themselves “Sherlockians” from the BBC television series called, Sherlock.
Fandoms are an organized subculture, a participatory culture involving people who enjoy and share the same likes of a particular medium. What exactly is a participatory culture? In the Henry Jenkin’s edited book “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education in the 21st Century” it states, “A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices” (Jenkins, et.al., 2014, p.22).
The 21st century offers participatory culture in a new way, online. The positives of participatory culture are the sharing of knowledge, creativity and learning that takes place. Some fandoms offer substantial creativity and learning, such as the online fandom of Homestuck.
Homestuck is an online webcomic that is rather lengthy (compared to the book “Ulysses”) and very much a fandom that requires interactivity with its fans. Fans help create storylines, add characters, and offer ideas for the author, Andrew Hussie. Hussie’s stories are reader driven. Within his story Hussie also offers little games and quizzes that the participant has to unlock before moving on. Homestuck fans are young with most still in high school (Hussie, 2011). The fans of Homestuck are creating art, developing strong literacy skills as well as creating interactive medium ideas of their own. One of the most poignant of Hussie’s ideas is that of inclusion and offering characters who have disabilities or other issues that young people in the real world can relate and also contribute to. Some of the negatives about participatory culture online is that the focus of a person can be narrowed and all their efforts go toward that one particular medium, and not toward the real world and their life outside of the Internet (Jenkins, et. al, 2014).
Fandoms are like any other culture, they are rife with attitudes, opinions, and yes – even some of their own controversy and politics. There is a hierarchy in fandoms; there are those fans that hold a lot more importance than others. One can be merely a member of a fandom, but there are those fans that wield more power, those fans are called “BNF’s” (Big Name Fans). These fans receive more perks and are usually closer to their media objects than other fans. BNF’s are given more notice than the average fan of any particular medium (Wikipedia, 2015). With the exclusions I mentioned for fans and crowdfunding campaigns in an earlier post, there is a hierarchy of fandom and the BNF’s are the ones who get special notice during crowdfunding campaigns and usually get more perks than the average fan, I liken it to high school popularity. BNF’s are those fans; usually the ones who are planning and creating the most for those fandoms, the ones that are the most involved who tend to be the BNF’s. BNF’s are celebrities in their own fandoms as well, with other fans seeking them out and even wanting autographs. Many of these BNF’s may want to be noticed by the other fans and of course by their favorite media object. Most other fans have ambivalent feelings toward these BNF’s and the BNF’s themselves do not want to be deemed arrogant or self-important (Wikipedia, 2015).
*Sidenote: Believe it or not there is a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign going on for the creation of a BNF magazine, check it out here. So far the campaign only has two backers and has earned 11 dollars of the $6000 it is asking for. The campaign has six days to go.
Next time I’ll be discussing some interesting case studies about fan labor issues from the fandoms of Firefly/Serenity and Supernatural, so come back to find out more.
Enjoy this video on how fandoms work:
Hussie, A. (2011). Homestuck. Retrieved from http://www.mspaintadventures.com
Jenkins, H. (Ed.), et. al., (2014). “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning). Kindle Edition.
Larsen, Katherine. and Zubernis, Lynn S. (2013). Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. (Kindle Edition)
Novaonline (2015). History of Anime and Manga. Retrieved from http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/his135/events/anime62/anime62.html
Wikipedia (2015). Big Fan Names. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Name_Fan
Wikipedia (2015). Fandom. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fandom