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In Defense of Fans via Fractured Fandom

In defense of fans and fandom, I want to make clear that I would not argue that fractured fandom happens all the time or involves a majority of the population of any particular fandom. What I would say about fractured fandom is that it reflects a larger social and cultural issue, in the United States at least. An issue that involves a problem of an increasing inability to “listen first, talk second” when people interact with one another — especially with someone to whom they are opposed for some reason, be it ideological, value, or behavior. An issue that involves the collapsing of traditional identities and identity boundaries, which can be seen by some as an opportunity while others will see it as causing confusion and uncertainty and even fear. These are very real, very serious issues about the human condition in our post-modern, 21st century world, and they are issues reflected in our very human interactions in our fandoms.

So, to me, as a fan of many things for as long as I can remember — I must remember to tell you my stuffed Ewok toy story — I am not saying that the presence of fractured fandom means a fandom, and its fans, are wrong in some way, that they are poor reflections of the human condition. Indeed, they are just human, just as much flawed and wonderful as everyone.

But the issue of fractured fandom is about a need to be aware of such issues and problems at work within a fandom, amongst fans. Only with awareness can we work out what we are doing good, what we are doing poorly, and what we could do to make things better. Only with awareness of the fractures within a fandom, and what is happening to create and/or perpetuate them, can fans work together to address the problems they experience.

And I do think this has to be about fans working together within a fandom to address their own fractures. It cannot be about people outside of the fandom trying to impose new values, codes, and behaviors within the fandom. I do believe that fans may be more likely to listen to other fans than to anyone else. Because I believe that, it means we need to start a focus on dialogue, on communication, on respectful listening there. We as fans need to improve our social literacy skills and focus first on understanding a situation, on understanding others, and from there work together to address problems.

Hopefully, by doing so within any fandom, what is learned about addressing a fractured fandom could be applied to other areas of life. Hopefully by addressing fractured fandom, we could better address how these issues and problems are impacting the various public arenas of U.S. society and culture.

Fan Privilege and Fractured Fandom

Lately, almost every day reveals another story that could be related to a phenomenon I have been discussing on this blog: fractured fandom. Just within the past week, we have had stories about Men’s Rights Activists being misogynists in video gaming communities (here and here), a consideration of how the generation gap is causing problems on the convention circuit, and how sexual threats against video game critic Anita Sarkeesian forced her from her house. Many stories circulate online, but how many more do we not know? How many people are being physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally threatened and abused because they dare to love something that, perhaps, was not traditionally targeted at them? And why? Why feel so threatened by others enjoying something you like, or asking for that thing to be more inclusive?

I’ve talked about how men can feel threatened by the influx of women into the various geek and nerd fandoms, and perhaps that helps us understand people like the MRA men who do not want to have to change how they do things. I’ve talked about misperception and cognitive dissonance and perhaps this psychological approach can help us to understand the mindset of those who would perpetuate tensions and problems in the fandoms. But I think we can go one step further and consider a topic that has been discussed in many places of our public discourse lately: the phenomenon of “privilege.”

whiteprivilege_knightAccording to this sociological concept, some individuals have an advantageous position in society simply because of the race, gender, class and other demographic categories to which they are born. This does not mean that such people do not work hard to succeed, only that the social, cultural, political, and economic systems are set in such a way that helps to remove barriers to their success in those systems. Advantages are built into these institutions, consciously or unconsciously, overtly or covertly, that give certain people a leg up on others simply due to the group they belong to due to birth.

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An Autoethnography of Collegium – Day Three

Day 3: Monday, June 23rd

The reason I came to Collegium is for a specific purpose, one that could potentially help my university.  So it is interesting that what I have gotten out of it so far has been more relevant to a research project that has been in the back of my mind for years.

At my university, I have been helping to develop a sense of how to approach online and blended learning for our students, as well as to help faculty develop their online and blended courses.  One of the issues that we have discussed in this process has been the extent to which we are able to translate the research-centered teaching we have been honing on campus from the face-to-face learning environment to the online environment.  Part of this is to be able to maintain a quality of our institution’s educational experience that makes us distinct in the area.  Another part of this is to be able to maintain a commitment to a Dominican and Catholic approach to higher education.  As part of this process, I was awarded a fellowship to further investigate how to translate the Catholic ethos of higher education to an online learning community.

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An Autoethnography of Collegium – Day Two

Day 2: Sunday, June 22nd

On the topic of mass…

I am still uncomfortable joining in on the spiritual sessions and Catholic Eucharist ceremonies that are scheduled for this colloquium.  I feel like an intruder, an interloper, a negative presence.  There is nothing that anyone here has said or done that has made me feel this way.  In fact, I appreciate their willingness and desire to offer a blessing to those who beseech it, such as those other other religious affiliations who would like to experience the ritual.  And they offer many different spiritual discussions that I am sure can be seen as less denomination than the sacramental rituals.  But I would feel disingenuous in being blessed, as it would have no impact on me.  I do not believe, that is the simple truth of it all.  Perhaps before the end of this week, I will venture into one session, just to listen, which appears to be my main goal here, as I cannot partake in conversations about religion.

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Comics Adaptations Causing Fractured Fandom

We are now full swing into the summer blockbuster season for Hollywood, and let’s take a tally of movies that are currently out or soon to arrive that originate from the pages of comic books.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Hercules.  Guardians of the Galaxy.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.  Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Big Hero 6. 

I am so looking forward to this one.

I am so looking forward to this one.

All of this, without mentioning the big hitters coming soon, such as the second Avengers movie, or the one that finally brings Wonder Woman to the screen while pitting Batman v. Superman.  All of this, a range of titles for the young to the mature.  And these are only Hollywood films.  Consider all of the movies made from comic books around the world, and the numbers are staggering.  The top ten comic book adaptation movies have grossed around $4.05 billion dollars in just over a decade, proving their dominance at the box office in the United States and around the world.

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Problems with Perceptions in Fandom

Part of the process of understanding the phenomenon of fractured fandom is to gather stories that thematically reveal its nature, such as my ongoing analysis of how My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans reacted to the feature film Equestria Girls and its soon-to-be sequel Rainbow RocksThe more stories we can gather, then the more we can learn (tweet your stories with #fracturedfandom, whether the fandom is pop culture, sport, literary, religious, political or otherwise). 

Another part of the process is to theorize from these stories the reasons for the fractures.  The session I attended at C2E2 on sexist tensions in geekdom is only one of a multitude of places in which we can have such discussions.  In my post responding to that session, I focused on answering this “why” question by examining what we could consider to be masculine anxieties about their fandom including women and feminine fan activities.  In this post, I want to add upon what was discussed at that session by bringing in a more psychological approach to attempting to answer the “why” question.

Essentially, I want to consider the issue of perceptions — and misperceptions — people have as fans, about fans, about themselves, and how these views of the world can impact how they make sense of it and act within it.

If we consider the idea broadly, then we can think of a perception as a layer between our inner self and the outer world.  We have a range of bodily sensations (i.e. touch, taste, sight, sound, smell) that are our way of knowing what is outside of use (and sometimes what is happening inside of us, such as a growling and rumbling hungry stomach or a sweaty palm of embarrassment).  However, we do not just take in these sensations to know the world unfiltered.  If you were not able to filter out what you were listening to while walking down the street, then you would not be able to listen to music and talk to someone simultaneously.  We can select what we attend to, what we filter out, in order for our sensations to not overwhelm us and thus allow us to cope in the world.

Sometimes we consciously choose what we want to attend to — i.e. your lover’s declaration of love over the football game on the television — while at other times such attention is more unconsciously determined.  I think the only reason I do not bump into more students on campus with their eyes glued to their smart phones is because, unconsciously, they are attentive enough to their surroundings so as to look up mere moments before such a collision would occur.  All of this means is that sometimes we are aware of the reasons we have for directing attention as we do, while at other times that reason may not be directly available for us to recall.  There can be a multitude of reasons for our selective attention (seriously, see all the psychological studies).  And beyond just determining what we may attend to, these reasons can also impact how we attend to them.

That is to say, the reasons can impact how we perceive of these sensations, of what is happening in the world around us or even in our own bodies.  We may perceive a sensation in such a way that it helps us to make sense of ourselves, of others, of the world.  We can interpret this thing we are attending to in a certain way given some way of thinking or feeling — some attitude — we have about that thing.  If we believe the thing to be good, then our perception will be different than if we believe it to be bad.  How we attend, perceive, interpret, make-sense of that thing will impact what we do about it.  If we perceive grilled meat to be a good thing, then the smell of it could make us hungry; if we perceive eating meat as being ethically wrong, then the smell will turn us off.

All of which is to say that, psychologically speaking, how a fan perceives other fans, the fandom, and even the object of affection can impact how they act with other fans, and thus could be implicated in causing fractured fandom.

Not exactly a positive perception of fans at work here.

Not exactly a positive perception of fans at work here.

According to the panel discussion at C2E2, there remains a misperception by those in fandom that the identities of “geek” and “women” are not compatible.  Apparently the perception in fandom, which perhaps reflects the larger social and cultural perception, is that being geeky is unfeminine, or that more feminine you are the less of true geek you are because fandom is a guy thing.  And this is not just occurring within pop culture fandoms — this assumption has long been the perception in sports fandoms, which have been positioned traditionally as areas of masculinity.  So based on this perception of fandoms as masculine, women assume that to fit in they have to diminish their femininity so as to not get shit for participating in it.  And based on this perception of the larger culture/society that fandom is feminine, that might be why we have male nerds/geeks pushing back by asserting their masculinity so as not to feel threatened by the influx of female nerds/geeks (see previous post).

Additionally, perception can come in through this concept that was discussed called “imposter syndrome,” a term to describe the feeling a person will get if he or she does not feel that she is worthy of the position s/he is in.  It is the fear of being “found out” that one is not as smart or as creative or as tough etc etc as the people with whom we are working.  Which means it is a perception about ourselves and about others, and about how others are better than ourselves.  Since we perceive ourselves as not as good as those around us, we may set a higher bar for ourselves to achieve the goal because we feel we are not as worthy as those around us.

How this relates to fandom goes back to the perception that the fandom is intended as a masculine space, and that the texts and activities that constitute the fandom are directed at men.  A women then might perceive that is not like these men, is not part of the target community of the fandom, and thus may feel like an imposter in their midst.  This could mean that she is afraid of doing more in the fandom because she is afraid of being found out as an imposter.  As discussed at the panel, this perception that is the imposter syndrome can also involve and/or lead to internalized sexism, racism, etc, as the perceive perceives the difference and comes to accept it as “normal.”  Overall, this perception results in a potential shutting down of dialogue on the problems that can lead to a fractured fandom, which thereby leads to a perpetuation of the sexism, racism, and other -isms that fracture fandoms.

Many potential solutions to the issues of sexism in fandom were discussed at the panel, from the need to get members of target community, allies, to step in with their voice and power to having these allies help make marginalized voices louder by moderating online spaces to become dialogic discursive places (such as this mentioned example). The idea being that there needs to be improved empathy, identification, and perspective-taking among those of the target community who may be unwittingly perceiving the women as imposters and treating them as such.  At the same time, the panel discussed the need for more and better enforcement of anti-harrassment policies at conventions.

However, as was mentioned, push-back to such policies does exist as people don’t think the policies are necessary — perhaps because do not perceive that there is a problem, or they do not want to perceive there is a problem.  Those pushing back may not not like to think that their favorite spaces need such policing.  Fans do not want to see other fans as problematic because we are all fans, which has been increasingly positioned as a positive, as something to celebrate.  And then there is also a defensiveness as people perceive themselves as the target while they do not perceive themselves that way: “I am not that guy, so why imposing on me?”

Which brings up another perception that could be causing push-back — the perception that proving harassment could be entirely one-sided, “he-said she-said,” meaning that a woman could perceive harassment where none was intended, making the case be one of his word versus her word.  We see the same argument, the same perception, in the public discourse over rape.  And while I would never say it all comes down to misperceptions, it may be possible for such misperceptions to play a role — and if men in particular perceive the role of misperceptions, well, then they could play a big role in the push-back to these policies, and indeed to the way they treat women in fandom in general.

In the paper I heard at PCA on fake geek girls, one reason for why it occurs mentioned the idea of a compulsory heterosexual discourse.  In a sense, men see women engaging, particularly, in cosplay where they wear revealing costumes and perceive these women as wanting sexual attention from men.  The men would then believe the actions of these women allows them to objectify the women and not take their interest in the fandom seriously.  Therefore, the men may be misperceiving the reason the women cosplay, and this misperception could be impacting how the men view female fans and thus how they act towards them.  It is that old standard of “she was asking for it” that permeates and perpetuates rape culture and misogynistic extremism.

Finally, perception can work in a trickier way than what I have already discussed.  In psychology, there is a concept called cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance is the idea that sometimes a person will have an attitude — a belief and a feeling — about something but then act in a way that completely contradicts what they believe and feel.  Say you know that eating too much bacon is bad for your health, but you still order bacon every chance that you get.  Well, there is the chance then that you might feel cognitive dissonance — you may feel guilty about ordering and eating so much bacon.  That negative feeling of guilt is the dissonance — it’s the feeling bad that could also manifest in shame, embarrassment, sadness.  It is a negative state of being that we humans do not like being in.

Because cognitive dissonance is not a nice state to be in, we will find ways to alleviate it.  If you keep order and eating that bacon, then you may do an activity to alleviate the guilt, such as going to the gym every day you eat bacon.  Or you might change your beliefs and rationalize how the amount of bacon you eat is not actually all that bad for your health given how young you are.  There are a number of strategies you could employ to help you feel better about your guilt, such as stopping eating pork bacon all together.  All of this is to say that while we do not like feeling bad when our behaviors do not match our attitudes, we humans have developed many ways of changing how we perceive things in order to deal with the dissonance.

And this concept of cognitive dissonance could be applied to explain the sexist tensions in geekdom.

For example, consider how men react to women who cosplay.  The men may be attracted to the women but may think that the women do not want them so the men will objectify and belittle the women.  The contradiction is in wanting to be near the women but then acting in a way that ensures such closeness will not occur.  The resulting dissonance could then be handled by rationalizing the women ultimately do not matter or that the women are asking for such demeaning treatment.

For another example, consider how men react when women, especially, demonstrate the sexist representations of women in the texts of the fandom.  The men may be (one can hope) agreeing that sexualization and sexist representations are bad, but then they also like the sexualization because they find it attractive, meaning they also like the text with the sexualization and want to continue to engage with text.  The contradiction is in how they view the sexualization and how they want to engage with it.  Ultimately, to deal with this dissonance, they may vehemently disagree that the sexualization is bad (that is, change their belief) or they may attack and belittle those arguing it is bad to sexualize (that is, enact a specific behavior) in order to belittle the argument itself, so as to not have to consider it any more.

Overall, I want to reiterate that these are just theories and ideas for how psychology and the science of perception could be causing the types of sexist tensions in geekdom that in some way cause fractures in fandoms.  Whether it is just basic misperceptions or more complicated cognitive dissonance, I do not think the psychological angle is enough to explain everything that is happening.  I think a social and cultural psychological angle could help, as we look to understand how the society and culture in which the fans exist are determining how they are making sense of their fandom.  Because the perceptions we have about ourselves and each other are often informed by what our society and culture says our beliefs and feelings should be.  They are inextricably woven together.  And in order to fully address the “why” question of fractured fandom, we will need to be able to look at this woven tapestry of, for example, cultural and social messages about gender appropriateness and our own sexist perceptions of people.

Sexist Tensions in Geekdom: Why? Just, Why?

The title of this blog post could well have been “______ Tensions in Geekdom: Why? Just, Why?”, but I think that would’ve messed with the URL and broken the WWW.  Honestly, tho, “sexist” could just as well be “racist” or “ageist” or “homophobic” or any other “-ism” relevant in our divided and catalogued world.  It could have also been “stupid” or “silly” or “pointless,” because I think that is what this whole topic boils down to.  Not that the issue of a fractured fandom, of how these “-isms” are hurting people, is stupid — far from it!  No, what is stupid, silly, and pointless is the idea that these fractures exist — that in an area of life dedicated to those things we love, so much hate is overtaking and destroying it.

Being a fan is about loving something so much that it goes beyond the basic consumption of use and move on.  Being a fan means sticking around with something, delving into its depths to understand its secrets, demonstrating one’s affection through speech and activity, and spreading that love so as to find others who love it just as much.  A person does not take the time and spend the money on activities unless those activities mean something to him or her — and such activities only mean something out of love, not out of hate.  Hate can motivate us for short bursts of action, but love sustains us through thick and thin, ups and downs, prequels and sequels.

Fandom = Love.


The range of fandoms is unparallelled in history. We truly have a lot of things to love. (C2E2 2014)

So why do fans sometimes really seem to hate each other?

We can see the disagreements in discussions of a continual lack of prominent women in the new Star Wars cast.  We can see the negativity in the arguments of whether or not a rape scene in Game of Thrones was consensual.  We can see the displeasure over the casting choice of Michael B. Jordan for Johnny Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot.  We can see the mantra of “love and tolerance” be disregarded for “hate and cruelty” in the actions of My Little Pony fans.  We can see the ongoing lack of proper responses to the perception of the “fake geek girl” and the issue of needing harassment policies at conventions.  We can see the problems of “brocoders” and “brogrammers” actively shutting women out of lucrative industries.

Over and over again, we can see these problems.  Of people being trolled and receiving threats of physical harm — even death — for expressing their opinion.  Of people attacking one another for having a difference of opinion, or belief, or behavior.  Of people being turned away or forced out of fandoms and industries because of the negativity.

This is not what fandom is.  For years we scholars have been celebrating fandom.  We have researched and written about these positive activities of fans as a way to demonstrate the power of the media consumer to act with or against the seemingly overwhelming power of the media producers to decide what we think and feel.  We celebrated fans’ alternative readings of texts, their forming of communities online and offline, their creation of works that provide their own interpretation of the text, their ability to organize as activists to create change, and their growing influence over the media producers we scholars had feared were controlling them.  We scholars, as fans ourselves, wanted to show that being a fan was okay — wanted to change the public discourse and perception on fandom away from the idea of fans as social outcasts and misfits.  And given the rise of pop culture — given the importance of fans in a niche media market — given the financial power of fans — that perception has been eroded.

Geek = Chic.

But in so celebrating the fan, we must not overlook the problems of fandom.  The increasing fractured nature of fandom, in general, and all the specific fandoms.  We must turn our scholarly attention to describing these fractures, to understanding what is happening, to explaining why it is happening.  To look at the way the “-isms” are dividing what should be friends into enemies.  To look at the psychological, sociological, cultural, economic, and political reasons for and repercussions of such fractures.  We cannot blindly celebrate “being a fan” when so many fans are being flamed, trolled, bullied, harassed, threatened, and worse.

Batfans and their negative reception and reaction to Ben Affleck as the next Batman. (C2E2 2014)

Batfans and their negative reception and reaction to Ben Affleck as the next Batman. (C2E2 2014)

So, again I ask, why do fans sometimes really seem to hate each other?

Earlier this month, I presented a paper on the fractured fandom of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic at the national Popular Culture Association conference in Chicago.  The paper was part of a panel on the fans and their reception of the series, and it followed two great presentations that sought to help us understand the fascinating cross-gendered nature of the fandom: the bronies, and how their being fans of a “girlie cartoon” indicates something important about the current crisis of masculinity in the United States.  I followed these positive notes with my own work that seems to be indicating just how poorly the fans are receiving the bronies; how the audience for the series mirrors the public discourse and unease about grown men engaging and loving such a media text.

But the lively conversation that followed our presentations was not as negative toward my idea as I had feared.  Indeed, in the previous day, the same group of people heard a wonderful presentation on the phenomenon of the “fake geek girl,” and thus they were primed to have this conversation about the fractured as well as cross-gendered nature of the fandom.  In the conversation that followed, one interesting idea was discussed for why such fracturing occurs.  A woman suggested that the bronies were bringing into the MLP:FIM fandom expectations and behaviors that they practice in other fandoms, ones that are traditionally dominated by men.  The idea being that in these more masculine fandoms, the behavior of in-fighting is to be expected, and this behavior is normalized.  Thus, the bronies would expect to be engaging in the same type of behavior in a feminine fandom — perhaps as a way to make themselves feel comfortable within such a fandom, or perhaps, as it was suggested, as a way to colonize it and make it theirs.

As far as explanations go, I think there could be some truth in it.  I see it happen often with my partner when he is engaging with his friends, his community of film fans, that the men will often joke and josh with one another.  He warned me that if I wanted to become a part of such a community, that I would need to be ready for such taunting, teasing, and “good-natured ribbing.”  I am sure we can think about many times we have seen men engaging with one another in a friendly way with their homosocial bonding involving such teasing, and there is research that will discuss how such acts are deemed as socially and culturally acceptable ways for men to bond, as a “true man” trying to live up to hegemonic masculine ideals cannot be emotive the way a woman can.  Add to that the trait of competition often seen as a part of this hegemonic masculine ideal, and we could easily see how such behaviors that seem to be designed to push people apart are really a way to bring men together.

Thus, men crossing a gendered boundary into a fandom that is not explicitly meant for them could be bringing in these expectations and behaviors of “good-natured ribbing” not because they are mean people, but because they believe such to be the normal way of expressing affection.

But I think we can find more explanations.

My partner and I with former professional wrestler, current comic book author, and all around social activist, Mick Foley. (C2E2 2014)

My partner and I with former professional wrestler, current comic book author, and all around social activist, Mick Foley. (C2E2 2014)

Later in April, my partner (who writes on matters of pop culture and masculinity at his blog) and I attended C2E2 in Chicago for our third straight year.  As with the previous times, we had a blast.  Being big nerds, geeks, and fans of many media and pop cultural texts, there was a lot for us to do.  From meeting former professional wrestler Mick Foley to seeing some truly amazing cosplay, we were happy to spend the time crammed into small spaces with other lovers of fandom like us.

One of the panels we attended was part of a series at the convention intended to bring a focus on these issues of fractured fandom and how to develop more inclusive fandoms.  They even offered a “Diversity in Nerdery C2E2 Raffle” to encourage attendance to the panels.  But, for the one we attended, I do not think there was a need for such an incentive; the room was packed, with men and women of all ages and ethnicities.  At this panel, “Glass Ceilings, Missing Stairs, & Gatekeepers: Geeks Still Deal with Sexism,” many stories of and reasons for such sexism occurring were discussed by the panelists, along with methods for dealing with this ongoing problem.  In regards to the latter, methods for dealing with the problem ranged from making visible the problem on a wider scale to promoting more women producers of content to calling out the abusers to empowering more allies, i.e. men, to speak out against such abusers and abuses.

More women producers are necessary to produce content to counter such sexualization. (C2E2 2014)

More women producers are necessary to produce content to counter such sexualization. (C2E2 2014)

Early in the panel, my partner and I had a thought that became one of the last ideas discussed during the Q&A session.  As the panelists discussed early on in the session, in the United States society and mainstream culture, there has been, and to an extent remains, the idea that pop cultural fandom and geekdom are unfeminine because these spheres have for so long been dominated by men.  The argument is that the more feminine a woman is, then the less of a true geek she is perceived to be (i.e. creating the perception of the fake geek girl).  Because such fandom and geekdom is perceived to a “guy thing,” women may feel the need to diminish their femininity to fit in and to not get harassed for participating.

However, my partner and I had a different thought at the time that was basically validated by the end of the panel.  Instead of seeing such fandom and geekdom as a masculine sphere, we believe that it has been and is seen by general society and mainstream culture as a feminine sphere.  The men who participate in such activity are not seen as representing this hegemonic masculine idea, either physically or mentally, and are thus positioned as outside of masculinity.  Because in our country we view gender as a binary, whatever is outside of masculinity would be positioned as feminine, and given the patriarchal nature of the country, this positioning would be seen as the weaker of the two.  Thus, for most of their lives, and the recent history of fandom and geekdom, such male fans would have been positioned as inferior to the hegemonic masculine ideal, which puts them in a precarious and anxious position of wanting to be accepted by the “true men” and not seen as similar to the “weak women”.

In this tenuous and insecure state, such fans, nerds, and geeks may be pushing back against the current influx of women — of the feminine — into their fandom because they feel threatened.  They feel that such an influx will fully reveal that their fandom is feminine, as they have feared all along due to how they have been positioned as outside of the hegemonic masculine ideal.  To put it another way, at the end of the Q&A session, this issue was brought up for discussion, and the panelists agreed to the idea that for so long these men have been excluded from positions of power by other men because of not embodying this hegemonic masculine ideal.  They have been cast out of the primary positions of power in our country, but they have created within their own fan communities perceptions of power based on being a superior fan — one who knows a lot, or owns a lot, or does a lot.  Because they still want to be accepted by the “true men” and gain those positions of power, they do not want to have women undermine what power they have gained by coming in and taking over their fandoms.  In a sense, then, the negative and fractured fandom could be the men policing the boundaries of their communities and asserting what power they feel they do have as a way to maintain this power and perhaps gain more.  They police through harassment in order to keep a fandom that is purely of their own type of masculinity — because while it may not be the ideal, at least it is theirs.

With issues of fake geek girls and cosplay not equaling consent, how do we deal with the dynamics seen in this picture between female cosplayers and male fans? (C2E2 2014)

With issues of fake geek girls and cosplay not equaling consent, how do we deal with the dynamics seen in this picture between female cosplayers and male fans? (C2E2 2014)

Do these explanations work?  They are theories that could help us to understand what is happening and why, but they are only theories, in need of study and testing.  And these could be theories that only work to explain this particular “-ism’s” impact in creating a fractured fandom.  The fandom tensions between men and women could boil down to larger tensions of masculine and feminine, and of modern men and traditional hegemonic masculinity.  While these theories could explain sexism in fandom, what of fractures due to racism or agism, or fractures that occur between different shippers, or between slashers and non-slashers?

I have some more ideas on those matters, but I would love to hear your ideas as well.  I am also collecting stories of these problems fandoms are facing on Twitter with the hashtag #fracturedfandom.

I hope to hear from more people on this topic, because the only way we can truly get back to celebrating fandom is when these problems no longer hurt fans.

Fractured Fandom

The full version of this article first appeared at the Clearance Bin Review.  Given the importance of the concept, fractured fandom, to my work on Doctor Who and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I am bringing the specific elements from the article here.

Now, first and foremost, let it be said that I think these thoughts we have been sharing could apply to any fandom that exists in the world.  We have been speaking in particular to pop culture fandoms, but it could apply just as well to sports fans, patriots, and even religious followers.  I say this because at the core of fandom — at the core of being a fan — is this affection a person has towards some object, which could be anything in reality.  If you love trying new foods, then you are a foodie.  If you love Catholicism, then you are a fan of Jesus Christ.  If you are in a fantasy football league, then you are a sports nut.  We have all kinds of terms for these various peoples, but at their core is their affection, which can border on obsession, with someone or something in their lives that in some way gives meaning to their lives — from bringing joy to bringing hope to bringing company.  Being a fan of something may be just a condition of being a human.

From, trying to stop the fandom feuds.

With that said, if you are not a member of a particular fandom — if you do not have the same affection of those that do — then you may have the tendency to think fandoms as monolithic communities of people who get along just because they are fans.  As an outsider, we look at a group and see it holistically, where the differences between people do not matter so much because of how unified they are with the commonality, the affection they all share.  As outsiders, we tend to see a fandom and label them as Whovians (Doctor Who fans), Trekkies (Star Trek fans), Twihards (Twilight fans), foodies, Catholics, sports nuts, etc.  We focus on that overwhelming characteristic and stereotype all members of that fandom as being the same because of their commonality.  We often do not feel the need to look deeper, to understand those within the fandom for their differences, for what makes them  unique.  We see them as the “Other”, not like us.  Given the fandom, and our stance towards it, we may start giving them other labels: stupid, obsessive, childish, immature.

We may think that the one defining characteristic is enough to understand exactly how the entire fandom will act, what their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, behaviors are.  We may make the logical assumption that: given the commonality they share, they must share other characteristics as well.  As scholars, we study a sample of Whovians, and argue it extends to the entire fandom.  As marketers, we determine the buying habits of several foodies, and see it extending to all foodies.  As politicians, we determine how one Protestant congregation will vote and believe all followers will do likewise.

However, to reason as such is a logical fallacy.  It is a hasty generalization, a leap to conclusion, to assume to know all about a large group just due to one or two shared traits.  Being a part of a fandom does not mean that all members are homogeneous: they do not all conform, have their identities scrubbed in order to promote sameness.  Each member is a unique human being, full of contradictions within himself and amongst his fellows.  To label and assume is to downplay their individual uniqueness, which they bring to the fandom and make it such an interesting experience.

Fandoms are not monolithic communities but fractured, containing various factions held together by that commonality they share.  This realization led me to consider how some behaviors I see fans (and myself) engaging in results in these fractures.  And, right now, I see the fractures occurring on three dimensions.  And if you know your Cartesian coordinates from trigonometry and calculus, I am thinking of the dimensions that create three-dimensional space.  Because, after all, I am a science fan.

The first dimension to speak of is the vertical one, your y-axis.  This is a dimension that separates fans from one another based on assumptions of superiority.  These are the fans who might consider themselves better than other fans within the fandom for any number of reasons.  ”I was here first.”  ”I was here before it was cool.”  ”I know more than you.”  These are the fans who may look down from their assumed high perch in the fandom on those newcomers or less ardent or, as has become an issue lately, may not even be true fans, as in “fake geek girls“.  Consider the fans you know who share your affection, and you will most likely find at least one who is playing this positioning game of better than/less than.

Courtesy of Jason Margos:

The second dimension is the horizontal x-axis.  Along this dimension you will find clusters of fans within the fandom who differ from one another in terms of their affection: what aspect of the object they love and how and why, and how and why they express their affection.  You see these fans who form factions based on different shipping: who they believe should end up in a relationship in the canon.  They identify their specific interest in the object through labels that represent who they ship:  And so you end up with: Harry/Hermione, Buffy/Angel, 10th Doctor/Rose, Spock/Kirk.  And with that last pairing, you get an even more specific subset within fandoms: the slashers, those who seek to develop homosexual relationships for heterosexual characters.  These slashers then are pitted against others in the fandom who may be adamantly non-slashers, to the point of wishing to segregate themselves from such activities.  Along this dimension, we can see many different audiences for the object all within one fannish umbrella.

The final dimension is not necessary a fracture within a specific fandom, but it is a comment on fandom and fans overall.  This is the diagonal z-axis, that finally makes for the 3D space.  Here we are looking at the concept of being inside/outside the fandom.  We are considering fandoms as they buttress one another, stacking up to create a universe of fandoms that are more or less connected from each other: the further you move from one fandom to others, then the less alike they will be based upon their objects of affection.  Star Trek and Star Wars are more alike than Star Trek and Twilight or Star Trek and The Green Bay Packers.  And yet, sometimes those fandoms that truly buttress one another feud, saying you cannot be a fan of both, that one is better than the other, that they are more dissimilar than similar.  No doubt this is just the act of identity defense: of the need we all have to develop and maintain a feeling of self-worth.


But we also see people who will buttress a fandom by being its polar opposite: an anti-fandom.  In these instances, there may be people whose actions are overtly critical of the fandom, the fans, the object of affection they all share.  They share the focus on the object, but they oppose one another in the orientation towards it.  While newer in terms of the pop culture fandoms, this is not really a new idea for other types of fandoms.  After all, sports teams thrive on fan rivalry, and religious wars have been fought because of different orientations to the same object of affection.

Now, these are how I see fandoms breaking down and relating to one another.  It is all just pure thought and speculation now, based on observations and experiences.  I think there is use in looking at fandoms this way because it helps us see the complexities that come from when people interact with one another.  And if we can see these complexities, then perhaps we can do something to help fans within and across fandoms communicate and interact with one another.  So that we can take care of the derogatory labeling of women as “fake geek girls” or the assumption that cosplaying is consent for sexual harassment (here’s a hint: it’s not!).  We can deal with the vitriol spilled online against fans, anti-fans, slashers, and more.  We can find ways of accepting that we all like different objects, or we all like the same object in different ways — and that what matters is that we have the heart and soul to like anything in the first place.

We need to recognize that being a fan is more important than what we are a fan of.

Hollywood Dialogue

Dialogue may be considered to be a session of give-and-take that occurs with relatively short turnaround time — one person speaks, then the other person responds, leading to the first responding to the second’s responses, and so forth. The time lag between the first person speaking and then speaking again is the consideration for the length of time the second person speaks. Such an exchange occurs from between two people and becomes decidedly more complex as the number of participants is added, as in a focus group setting.

When we talk about dialogue in terms of the relationship between the media audience/user and the media industry, we are talking about how the one speaks to the other, and the other listens and responds. The dialogue can result in the opinions of the audience/user influencing the content of the media texts because the industry has incorporated the opinions of the audience/user.

Read the rest of this entry

On Transgressing Audiencehood: Web 2.0, Interactivity, and Becoming What We’ve Always Been

I think I have now determined what my main research trajectory will be, and I wanted to take the opportunity to organize these thoughts to provide the beginning of a structure for how to organize my research, past, present and future.

For awhile now, I’ve been convinced that how the new media has affected our understanding of “audience” is by highlighting certain behaviors that have always been a part of being an audience, or “audiencehood”, but were not due to the media technologies they engaged with and the sociocultural formations that influenced how they could behave.  We’ve heard of how the audience was characterized as being passive, as required to consume and not talk back.  This conceptualization was found in the early days of media studies, with the heightened concern about media effects on vulnerable populations.  This conceptualization was found in the traditional approaches to US broadcasting, positioning the “audience-as-consumer”, to be packaged and sold to advertisers.  While there was acknowledgement that people had the agency to choose, that agency was often thought to be lessened when in an era of restricted choices in media output.

However, this conceptualization has been repeatedly challenged since the 1970s.  In the academic realm, this challenge came from critical-cultural theories and uses-and-gratifications models that sought to empower the audience as meaning-makers in their media engagings.  With increases in media output, due to cable and satellite technologies, nichecasting began to replace broadcasting business models.  New technologies gave more control to the audience for deciding what to watch and when.  These “new media” helped to drive academic and public discourse on “audience activity”, moving away from passivity models and into physical and interpretive activity as moderating and mediating variables in media effects.

The focus on audience activity increased with the digital revolution, especially as it involved the evolution of the Internet into the central communication network for distributing and exhibiting media output.  Because the Internet, and more specifically the World Wide Web, allowed for people to connect to one another and form communities, they were able to build fan communities online across time and space in ways that they could not in the physical, pre-Internet world.  Academics, and the industry, turned their attention to the Internet and other digital media technologies, such as DVR, for empowering the people by requiring them to be active in order to gain content from their media technologies.  Fan-scholars in particular began to celebrate the ability for people to organize and vocalize their affection and activities online.


The paradigmatic shift into Web 2.0 has, on the one hand, heightened this discourse of empowering people by turning them into produsers or prosumers, but on the other hand it has also been met with increased calls for reducing the celebratory approach and a sometimes implicit technological deterministic approach.  The idea of the Internet spawning these activities has been challenged by media historians conducting research into how fans of film, television, radio, and comics have always been engaged in the types of activities for which the online fan communities are lauded.  The historical approach has helped us to understand that fan activities have always existed as they currently do — they may only be modified in how they are presented due to the technology through which they are produced, distributed, and exhibited.

Now, I am not saying that there are no differences between media technologies.  Obviously they are.  Each has a unique interface and a specific combination of communication channels that impact how the content is produced and engaged with for that technology.  However, I do not agree that the “new media”, which has been code for digital media technologies, produce as different of engaging situations as some new media scholars may assert.  While there are going to be differences, such differences should not be assumed to be primary and always there.  Similarities should be sought for as much as differences.

I make this assertion because of the historical research into media technologies that asserts that every medium was a “new medium” at the time of its introduction; that each new media technology underwent a period of revolution-evolution that, in some ways, show similar patterns for how people, individually and collectively, come to engage with it.  Being a new medium indicates that these technologies are undergoing a period of flux as societies and cultures determine how to “manage” them through developing rituals and conventions of use, and integrating the technology into the delicate, malleable and fluctuating fabric of societies and cultures.  As people develop practices and arrangements for using the new technology, it becomes more accepted into the people’s daily lives.

Now the main thing here is that people learn how to engage with the media, either through their own personal experiences or via instruction that comes formally or informally, such as through popular cultural portrayals of the technologies.  Each technology has a learning curve — and the newer the technology, the more unfamiliar the person is with it, then the steeper that learning curve may be if there are no analogs that the person can draw upon to help them engage with it.  But regardless of what type of media technology, whether it is “old media” or “new media”, we should be able to discern this learning, or sense-making, by investigating the sense-making within situations of engaging with that technology and its content.  I believe that by conducting such investigations would help us to understand the similarities as well as the differences in how people engage with and are affected by media technologies.

I believe that the Web 2.0 paradigm and the concern about interactivity as a dividing line between “old media” and “new media” has provided the opportunity to explore how people engage with all media to understand just what separates the new from the old.  I believe that we will find more similarities than we had expected by conducting such investigations into how people make sense of the media they engage with.  I believe that the notion of transgressing audiencehood, which some will claim has happened because of the Internet and more recently Web 2.0, because of empowerment through interactivity, happens with other media as well, drawing us back to the 1970s critical and cultural models of people interpretively interacting with media content.

Overall, I want to understand how the interactivity of the digital media and the Web 2.0 paradigm shift has changed: how the industry responds to the audience, how audience activity is defined and understood, and how people have actually always been engaging with the media, through their sense-making and appropriating, as we celebrate them for now.  I have started this trajectory with work: on gameplay marketing and experiments in interactive television to understand what the industry is doing; on virtual world television production, online fan identities, and gender negotiation in fandom to understand what is now audience activity; and on sense-making in a range of media technologies, from films to virtual worlds.

I hope to do more to strengthen this trajectory and this central idea: that we have always been active audience, interpretively and physically, regardless of the media technology we engage with to reach the content, but that the technology does certain impact the parameters of that activity for how we are active.  I hope to understand these parameters and how they impact what we are supposed to do, what we can do, and what we have to do to do what we want to do.


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