In the sixth episode of our ongoing podcast, The Pop Culture Lens, Christopher Olson and I discuss my favorite television series of all time, The X-Files. I was a huge, huge, huge fan of this series; I can still recall sitting there when the show premiered, on that magical Friday night back in 1993, with my father, and thinking that we had just seen something special.
I wrote a spec script for the series, about a ghost that stole teeth as a form of revenge (or something like that). I drew art based on the show for my high school art classes. I went online and discovered for the first time what spoilers are. I read up on the supernatural, cryptozoology, paranormal investigating — I event tried to develop my own psychic powers and started reading tarot cards. I thought Mulder and Scully were my ideal couple; I carried a picture of them around in my wallet. For awhile in college, I considered joining the FBI. I collected clips from all the newspapers and magazines I could. I even wrote to Glen Morgan, executive producer of the series. To this day, no other television show, no other media product, no other fandom has meant as much to me as The X-Files.
What you see in this slideshow are just some of the artifacts I have kept for basically twenty years.
So, because it has been my birthday month, our two episodes for February have been focused on what I love. The first discussed Planet of the Apes and all of the myriad of ways the franchise has been able to comment upon our world and remain relevant through such commentary. With The X-Files, we talk somewhat about the nature of fandom and how it relates to identity and to this need for satiating nostalgia. But moreso what we discuss are the recent talks to revive the series, and whether or not a revival would work in our contemporary world.
Our conclusion is that it would, because of the increases in government mistrust and the endorsement of conspiracy theories that were so important to the original series’ concept. From birthers to truthers, from anti-vaxxers to climate change deniers, an adaptation that takes into account these current social, cultural and political factors — while throwing in a healthy dose of the supernatural and transmedia storytelling — could be a huge hit.
It’s an idea in its early stages, one I need to ruminate over and let gestate and grow.
It’s an idea that relates to my fractured fandom thoughts, but it goes beyond that, into a view on fandom that gets back to its roots in order to find similarities in a lot of the things — both good and bad — that we humans do every day.
As I go, I am going to be sharing my musings, in-the-moment on Twitter and in more of an advanced form here on my blog.
I share because I want feedback: does it make sense? is it important? am I being clear? am I being too ambitious?
I need feedback as I read and think and muse to know if I am on the right path, and if it is a path worth walking.
So I share my journey with you.
The part of the journey I share on Twitter will be collected in this Storify: On the Nature of “Being a Fan”
That’s all for now. Stay tuned!
Today I launch an online survey to gather people’s anonymous and confidential stories of their experiences dealing with other fans.
This survey is part of my ongoing research into the phenomenon I call fractured fandom. Primarily, with this story, I want to hear people’s real problems of dealing with fans, whether they were fans of the same thing, fans of different things, or just fans in general. I want people to think of this survey as a place to share their concerns and problems openly, honestly, and without fear of reprisal.
I want to hear from people who are sports fans, anime fans, wrestling fans, Star Trek fans, Sherlock fans, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans, food fans, music fans, video game fans — any type, make or model of fan, I would love to hear from you.
The survey asks you to recall a specific experience of having a problem, conflict, tension, argument, harassment, fight or simply unpleasant experience with another fan, with other fans, or with an entire fan community or fandom. I ask you a series of questions about this situation to understand what happened and what you experienced.
Anything you tell me will be de-identified so that nothing you say can be traced back to you. I want you to feel safe in telling me what happened, why you think it happened, and how you responded to it all.
You may say as much as you like in this survey, so how long it takes to complete it will ultimately be up to you. You should plan to spend, on average, 15-25 minutes answering the questions.
Please feel free to spread the link to the survey via social media, to other fans you know, so that more stories of these issues can be told.
At any point, if you have any questions, please contact me here or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the link for the survey: https://dom.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_6gtYqiT4nG8fjPn
And thank you so much for your help.
Defining Fractured Fandom
According to the discipline of fan studies, at this point in history, being a fan is considered a positive for any individual. Being a fan helps people discover their identities, and to determine what they like and do not like. Being a fan helps people find friends, establish communities, and develop a sense of belonging. Being a fan allows people to express themselves creatively, whether through theories, writing, art works, or costumes. Being a fan represents a means for everyday people to establish themselves as active and powerful creators and participants in a capitalistic system that otherwise sees them as nothing more than passive consumers. In other words, being a fan, especially since the advent of the Internet, is considered a positive aspect of life.
There are times, however, when being a fan presents a problem: a problem for the fan; for others the fan engages with either inside or outside of any fan community; or for entire fan communities that clash with one another, whether from the same fandom, from different fandoms, or outside the context of any fandom. Sometimes, what one fan considers good another might consider bad. These differences hold the potential to cause problems in how individuals treat one another, and can impact people’s behaviors in such a way that what once seemed brilliant and fun becomes unwelcoming or even threatening. When an individual’s sense of self depends too much on identifying as a fan, or when a fan questions the legitimacy of another group of fans, then fandom becomes problematic. Such instances can lead to what I call 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.