Fans, Fandom and Participatory Cultures

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.53.56 PM
Fan Art

Another interesting aspect of Crowdfunding is that it is a type of “participatory culture.” People have to participate in order for the campaigns to succeed. No campaign can work without the crowd.

Why should we discuss participatory culture? Because one must understand how people in a fandom participate within its culture to really understand why fans give of themselves so much. Fans participate in just about any way possible when it comes to their favorite media object and I hope to explain why, but first let’s talk about the fans.

What or who is a fan? The brief definition of a “fan” is: someone who is devoted to a particular object, be it a celebrity, artist, genre, book, movie, or TV show. The fan is part of a bigger culture known as a Fandom.  This video below explains just what fandoms are and how they work:

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). Fans are joining fandoms all over the globe.

So why does one become a fan and join in on a fandom? In a nutshell, fans join for a place to belong. 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 that they wrote a book about it. In their book, Fangasm, Supernatural Fangirls (2013), 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).

internet-fandom_5029116a6b4f3_w1500

Fandom has grown quite a bit since Sherlock Holmes’ day. Currently, there are all kinds of fandoms and some even overlapping each other. We have Bronyies – grown men who like My Little Pony, Potterheads – fans of Harry Potter; and Whovians– fans of Doctor Who. There’s also a growing fan-base for the MTV produced television show called Teen Wolf, and yet again another growing fandom for Sherlock Holmes who call themselves “Sherlockians” from the BBC television series called, Sherlock (Moffat, 2010). All of these fandoms provide a participatory culture.

What exactly is a participatory culture? Fandoms are an organized subculture, a participatory culture involving people who enjoy and share the same likes of a particular medium. In the Henry Jenkin’s edited book Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education in the 21st Century (2014) 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, for example the online fandom of Homestuck.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.02.11 AMHomestuck is an online webcomic that is rather lengthy (it’s compared to the book Ulysses) and very much a fandom that requires interactivity with its fans. Fans help create storylines, add new characters, and offer ideas to the author, Andrew Hussie. Hussie’s stories are reader driven. Within his story, Hussie also offers little games and quizzes that the participant must finish 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 that have disabilities or other issues that young people in the real world can relate to.

Along with participation, there is a hierarchy in fandoms; there are those fans that hold a lot more importance than others. Fandoms are like any other culture; they are rife with attitudes, opinions and yes – even some of their own controversy and politics. One can be merely a member of a fandom, but there are those fans that wield more power, those fans are called “BNFs” (Big Name Fans). These fans receive more perks and are usually closer to their media objects than other fans. BNFs are given more notice than the average fan of any particular medium (Wikipedia, 2015).

I liken BNFs to high school popularity. They are the cheerleaders, working and campaigning for their favorite team. Like the cheerleaders, the BNFs are the ones who are usually planning and creating the most for those fandoms, they are the ones that are the most involved. BNFs are celebrities in their own fandoms as well, with other fans seeking them out and even wanting autographs from them. Most other fans have ambivalent feelings, to put it mildly, toward these BNFs, and the BNFs themselves do not always want to be deemed arrogant or self-important (Wikipedia, 2015).

BNFs are extremely devoted and see themselves as benefactors to the rest of their participatory culture. They may not necessarily vie for attention from the other fans, or want popularity within their culture, but they do want notice from their favorite media object. The higher the fan is in their culture, the more likely they will receive more from the media object, and I believe most BNFs know this. The important take-away here is that participatory culture and the hierarchy of fandom is an important factor to know when studying fans and why they give so readily to favorite media objects. Once a person discovers why a fan gives, it brings about a better understanding of who those fans are and essentially what makes them tick. Therefore, understanding fans and their culture will also bring about awareness and tolerance of those who are fooled by certain types of crowdfunding campaigns and may give too much.

*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.

 

References:

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

 

Crowdfunding and Fandom: An Introduction Part II

PS fitted Crowdfunding

In my research I have discovered that there are different models of crowdfunding. The platform wasn’t always called “crowdfunding.” In the early days (2005), it was called “crowdsourcing,” dully named by journalist Jeff Howe in an article he wrote for Wired Magazine (Wikipedia, 2015). The initial definition of crowdsourcing was “the process of obtaining needed services” (Wikipedia.com, 2015, p.1). From there it has grown to several models of crowdfunding. The gift-based models are the most popular with fans. Here again, much like the old days of broadcasted telethons, there seems to be a reward system in place.

Kickstarter is one of the first and most successful platforms, but new, and even improved, kinds of funding platforms are gaining notoriety. GoFundMe, for example, is for the average person. Kiva is a platform that actually lends money for donations but expects a return. These new sites for crowdfunding, along with fandom, fan labor, and exploitation will also be reviewed as part of my research and case studies.

Other questions I hope to answer are – what drove the fans to fund such crowdfunding campaigns? Does participatory culture, and the hierarchies within fandoms perpetuate fans to offer their services? Don’t get me wrong, I think as a whole, crowdfunding serves a good purpose, but with fan-based funding, there seems to be a cost both financially and emotionally for the fans.

I have read books and articles on either crowdfunding or fandom and have only found a small amount of them on how they both affect one another. I hope to explain the “fan affect”that is created by fandom and crowdfunding in more depth in a future post. In a nutshell it is an affect that is an emotion, one that a person cannot put a name to when they have that “OMG” moment when meeting their favorite media object.  Because there is little written about this study, I decided there should be a place online where people/fans can go to become more informed and aware of just what crowdfunding and fandom is, and how they support or fail each other.

I believe it is important for consumers to understand and make an informed decision about how they donate their money and time to a certain crowdfunding campaign. This is partly the reason why I have created my website; of course it’s for my capstone for school, but it’s also a place where fans and just about anyone can come to gather information about fandom’s culture, and crowdfunding platforms.

 

References:

Lewis, J. (Producer), & Lewis, J. (Director). (1973, September 2). The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon (Television Broadcast) Las Vegas, NV. American Broadcasting Company.

McMillan, G., (2013). Veronica Mars KickStarter Breaks Records, Raises Over $2M in 12 Hours. WIRED. (13, March 12). Retrieved November 26, 2014, from   http://www.wired.com/2013/03/veronica-mars-kickstarter-record/

Thomas, R. (Producer). (2004). Veronica Mars (Television Series). Hollywood, CA: United Paramount Network/Central Broadcasting Service and Warner   Brothers

Veronica Mars (TV Series 2004-2007) – Trivia. IMDb. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412253/

Wikipedia.com (2015). “Crowdsourcing.” Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing

Crowdfunding and Fandom: An Introduction Part I

Jerry_Lewis_Telethon_1970's
Jerry Lewis Telethon 70s logo

As a young girl I remember staying up late to watch the celebrities come out and perform on the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon (Lewis, 1973) on television. Every year Mr. Lewis took two days on a national television station, and all their affiliated stations, to air this telethon to earn money for a debilitating disease known as Muscular Dystrophy. I was fascinated with the idea of those big Hollywood stars of the time like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and John Wayne coming out to perform and answer phone calls just to collect money for “Jerry’s Kids.” I would watch as each star was introduced and led by Jerry to go and sit down at a table full of phones and wait by those phones for someone to call and pledge their money for the cause. I loved John Wayne and really thought I’d get to talk to him if I called in. I was young, only 11 at the time, and very impressionable. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get to talk to John Wayne. I called in to the local number they had on the screen, and instead of Mr. Wayne, a volunteer operator took my call and my donation. I was a bit deflated, but it was for a good cause, so I was okay with it.

Actor/Comedian Jerry Lewis was collecting donations around the country for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and using the airwaves of television.  He used his celebrity status to send his message across the nation for funding purposes (Lewis, J., 1973). ). As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that this was a version of crowdfunding.

Television is not the only medium for such charitable organizations. Currently, people, namely fans, are giving their hard-earned dollars and, often, their time willingly to entertainment crowdfunding campaigns online on websites such as Kickstarter.com. From those early telethon days, we have come into the 21st century where crowdfunding for the film industry has been growing in popularity over the years and has been helped by the growing fan base for certain types of film, music, and television projects. While film and television are not the only industries seeking an audience with its fans, they are the most prominent.

A good example of this is the 2004 television series, Veronica Mars (Thomas, 2004), which aired on the UPN/CW network from 2004 to 2007. In 2013 the cancelled series was going through a facelift and a new home on the big screen (imdb.com, 2014). The creator, Rob Thomas, wanted the network to help him turn the show into a movie, but the network didn’t think it had the viewership to become successful at the box office, so they passed. The fans wanted a movie, and at their urging, Thomas started a Kickstarter campaign to see if he could get the project off the ground. Because of the fans, the Kickstarter campaign was the most successful yet for the site. The campaign earned 2 million dollars (Thomas’ original goal) within the first 12 hours. The most interesting aspect of the campaign was the fact that it was completely funded by fans. The final tally for the movie campaign was 5.7 million, and it became the first big successful campaign for Kickstarter (McMillan, 2013).

The fans for Veronica Mars were singular in their determination and surprised the network and Rob Thomas with their loyal following. Surely, the movie’s success was a fluke? With this case, I realized something important – were all the entertainment and fan-based campaigns that successful and if so…why? I have been trying for a while now to understand this kind of fan loyalty. I want to know why fans give. Many campaigns have come and gone since Veronica Mars. My research blog will focus on the entertainment-based crowdfunding campaigns, and how they possibly fool the fans into helping them promote their campaigns. I plan on sharing several case studies on fan labor, agency, and exploitation, including more details on the Veronica Mars movie. I will also show how the hierarchy of fandom and the devotion of those fans plays a part in why fans give of their time and money and how crowdfunding has created a new and more tangible way in which fans can contribute.

 

 

References:

Lewis, J. (Producer), & Lewis, J. (Director). (1973, September 2). The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon (Television Broadcast) Las Vegas, NV. American Broadcasting Company.

McMillan, G., (2013). Veronica Mars KickStarter Breaks Records, Raises Over $2M in 12 Hours. WIRED. (13, March 12). Retrieved November 26, 2014, from   http://www.wired.com/2013/03/veronica-mars-kickstarter-record/

Thomas, R. (Producer). (2004). Veronica Mars (Television Series). Hollywood, CA:United Paramount Network/Central Broadcasting Service and Warner Brothers

Veronica Mars (TV Series 2004-2007) – Trivia. IMDb. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412253/

Wikipedia.com (2015). “Crowdsourcing.” Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing