Fan Labor Back in the Golden Age
Back during the Golden Age of Hollywood, some of the first fan clubs were created and with them fan labor. In Samantha Barbas’ book, Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (2001), she explains the beginning of fan clubs and fan contributions as early as 1910 through to the 1940s. She shares the account of silent movie star Rudolph Valentino (arguably the first fan heartthrob) and the fans that mourned his untimely death; critics at the time were upset that the coverage on his death took precedence over the death of then Harvard President Charles Eliot (Barbas, 2001). Fans became more than just celebrity watchers, they actively became contributors and gave their advice to the studios and dollars to the fan clubs, some fans even creating activities and events, devoting a better part of their daily lives to their passion (Barbas, 2001). This early fan involvement indicated that fans refused to accept fan culture passively; they became actively involved in their favorite entertainment.
Barbas believes the reason why those first fans participated as they did was because of what she calls their “search for authenticity” (Barbas, 2001, p. 5). She shares the theory that fans wanted to know exactly what was happening behind the scenes. Fans in early Hollywood were fascinated by moving pictures, and they wanted to know if what they were watching on film was real or not. The fans wanted verification that what they were seeing on screen could be the real thing, so they devoted as much of their time to find out what went on behind the cameras. Fans barraged the studios to find out more about how they created their films and just who those celebrities acting on the big screen were, off screen. By 1915 magazines and newspapers were realizing the draw of fans wanting to know more and created the first movie fan magazines (Barbas, 2001).
Fandom, according to Barbas, was a “quest for authenticity, influence, and involvement – in other words, an attempt to understand, control, and participate…” (Barbas, 2001, p. 6). Fans became important to Hollywood, and what the fans did was more purposeful than Hollywood power players had once thought. They learned that without fans and their labor, they could not function as an industry so a new culture began, that of Hollywood or entertainment fandom and with that a new kind of “participatory culture.”
Barbas, S. (2001). Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity. Falgrave Publishers. New York, NY. Softbound Book.