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.
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.
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.