My project all started with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
In 2010 a new animated series was released based on the old toy line (I had these toys as a kid). What amazed everyone is that a toy line and series meant for girls started to develop a following of adult men, who took to calling themselves Bronies. With this different audience came a different fandom, one that began to sexualize the ponies in their fanfiction and fan art. From the beginning, then, the new series was experiencing a tension in the fandom: on one side you have the expected fandom of girls, and on the other side you have the unexpected fandom of men.
The fandom underwent another fracturing when in 2013 it was announced the first My Little Pony movie would come out – but it wouldn’t feature the ponies. Instead, the ponies would be turned into humans. At this time, I started looking into how the fans – the adult fans at least – responded to this announcement, and what I saw was infighting. So even within this fan community, there were fans who did not get along with one another, to the point of intense criticism and defamation. That was when I started thinking of fractured fandom.
In this post, I am going to give you overview of my project, what I am writing about in my book.
The book begins by describing the need and increasing presence of studies that look at the dark side of fandom, including fan harassment. This book looks at a particular dark side: communication activities (e.g. communicatings) that lead to and/or exacerbate tensions and problems between fans, within fan communities, and/or between fandoms. Such tensions and problems can involve harassment, but that is not necessary, as the situations in which these problems occur may have other negative consequence – although they could also have positive consequences. Overall, the book uses fans, fan communities, and fandoms as the field to consider how communicatings cause gaps but solve gaps between individuals, groups, communities, cultures, and societies.
Thus, what I am looking at is this idea that how people communicate with one another can cause problems between them, and that those problems can then only be dealt with through communication. While I am examining fans’ communicatings with one another, the goal is to be able to extend what is learned in this study to other types of problematic communicating, such as discussing politics and religion. Thus, the book analyzes people’s fractured fandom situations to understand their experiences with these problems and tensions.
For this book, I conducted an online survey study where I gathered 101 self-interviews that involved fans from around the world using questions as prompts to talk about their experiences with these fractured fandom situations. In the book, I focus on relaying all the analyses I do on their self-interviews and relating these analyses to research as well as news stories of similar examples. I will preview the analyses next to relate them to our readings for the week.
The first analysis concerns defining the fractures to understand what communicating issues lead to the tensions and problems. The analysis suggests that the fractures are due to issues with communicating and power dynamics. These power dynamics relate to, manifest in, and are reinforced through communicating. The fractures appear due to five main issues: misunderstanding, defensiveness, difference of opinion, power plays, and policing boundaries. Misunderstanding involves communication breakdowns, where people are not listening to or misinterpreting one another. Defensiveness involves people responding to something communicated by lashing out. Difference of opinion, the most common cause, involves people disagreeing over some aspect of the object at the center of their fandom. Power plays occur whenever someone in the fan community or fandom uses their explicit or implicit power to control the discussion. Policing boundaries involves someone using this power to actively control who can and cannot be a part of the fan community or fandom.
This last reason relates to what Busse (2013) described: how fandoms can sometimes have internal hierarchies that structure who is a good or true fan. Her work discusses how this policing can involve gendered assumptions about what is the appropriate or inappropriate ways for a fan to act. Hence fans are judging other fans, creating rules and norms for what is and isn’t allowed, and actively working to enforce those rules and norms. In one of the self-interviews I collected, a woman was physically assaulted (pushed into a glass display case, sliced her arm enough to need stitched) and then cyberbullied for relaying what happened – all because some men didn’t think she was a real gamer. This same gendered policing of boundaries can be seen in how people responded to Bronies (Jones, 2015), and it relates to this concept of the “fake geek girl.”
So far, that has been my main analysis. But I have noticed other things thus far as I continue to finalize the analyses for the book.
The second analysis seeks to understand what leads to these issues with communicating and power dynamics. The analysis suggests the causes are not due to the fan’s demographics or the type of fandom in which they experienced the fracture. Instead, the cause seems more related to what type of fan activity they were doing when the fractured occurred.
The third analysis looks at the issue of harassment coming from these fractures. While some physical assaults were reported (and one case of sexual assault), the majority of reported harassment was communication-based but also involved differences in power: cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and cyberassault all occurred because of online communication and involved victims being mobbed, often by anonymous assailants who felt uninhibited because of their anonymity.
The fourth analysis looks at other negative consequences from these fractures, and found a range of effects, from the mild (feeling sad) to the debilitating (feeling suicidal). Even without harassment, negative effects emerged, suggesting a need for serious attention. The fifth analysis looks at the opposite end and considers the positive consequences from these fractures. Indeed, even with reports of negative effects, people did discuss how they learned something because of the experience, such as how to communicate better or gain control in their lives.
The sixth and final analysis looks at what happened to resolve these situations – if they were – as well as what they wish would have happened to resolve the situations. Here it appears that many people reported the need to disengage from the situation to make it stop – the idea of “let it go,” don’t feed the trolls, haters gonna hate – while they also reported wishing more dialogue was possible as the preferred means to resolve the situation. Thus, people stopped communicating to end the problem, but they desired better communicating as the path for resolution.
My goal is to extend the results from this study, and this book, to other areas in life where issues with communicating and power dynamics create the gaps that divide us into different political and religious camps – sometimes to very deleterious effects. I am hoping the findings about how to communicate discussed in this book could help to address these gaps, to either reduce or prevent them.
I hope to argue that we need to recognize the situations for when disengage is needed, but to also work towards better dialogue by improving our listening skills. As Beard (2009) argues, listening is more than just hearing, which is about a physiological process of responding to auditory inputs. Instead, listening requires attention, and can help demonstrate that we are attending to others when we communicate with them (face-to-face, over the phone, through the mail, online, etc). “Good listening is not just about receiving a message; it is a dynamic part of the communication process.” (p. 11). Listening is necessary for an interaction and relationship with someone else. When we listen, we learn about others, and by learning about others, we learn about ourselves.
Since we can control our listening, it is up to us how we want to listen. I hope to argue in the book that we can control our listening to improve these fractured fandom situations when they occur, or to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Beard, D. (2009). “A broader understanding of the ethics of listening: Philosophy, cultural studies, media studies and the ethical listening subject.” The International Journal of Listening, 23: pp. 7-20.
Busse, K. (2013). “Geek hierarchies, boundary policing, and the gendering of the good fan.” Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies 10 (1): pp. 73-91.
Jones, B. (2015). My Little Pony, tolerance is magic: Gender policing and Brony anti-fandom. Journal of Popular Television, 3(1): pp. 119-125.