Praxis

Being of service: X-Files fans and social engagement

Bethan Jones

Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales

[0.1] Abstract—I explore the ways in which celebrity charity and fan activism can lead to civic engagement and social change. Fan studies has moved away from the traditional view of fans as psychologically deficient and has begun to examine resistance within the cultural productions of fandom—fan fiction, for example, addressing gender imbalances in popular TV shows. However, scholarship on celebrity-focused fans still retains much of the stigmatizing language that mars early writing about fans. I examine the relationship between celebrity and fan; examine the role celebrity plays in framing fan charity; assess how fan investment affects celebrity charity work; and argue that fans are active participants in encouraging social awareness and charitable giving.

[0.2] Keywords—Celebrity; Celebrity activism; Celebrity culture; Civic engagement; Fan activism; Fan charity; Fandom; Gillian Anderson; Participatory culture; The X-Files

Jones, Bethan. 2012. "Being of Service: X-Files Fans and Social Engagement." In "Transformative Works and Fan Activism," edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 10. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0309.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Early academic work on audiences that could be considered the precursors to the contemporary field of fan studies often focused on the deviant side of fan culture: the fan as obsessive, lacking, and vulnerable (Horton and Wohl 1956; Schickel 1985) or the fan who, according to William Shatner, needs to "get a life" (Jenkins 1992, 10). Work on fandom over the last two decades has proved instrumental in moving the field away from this notion of the fan as dysfunctional (Fiske 1989; Jenkins 1992; Hills 2002) and, as Sandvoss points out, is revealing "a more complex relationship between fans as agents and the structural confines of popular culture in which they operate, a relationship which cannot be reduced to one being simply a consequence of the other" (2005, 3). But these texts primarily limit their focus to movie, TV, sports, and music fans (Star Trek, The X-Files [1993–2002], and Madonna, to name but a few), arguing that attitudes toward these groups of fans are changing. Much less work has been done on changing attitudes regarding the celebrity-focused fan, and the language used to describe these fans is often the language of 30 or 40 years ago. Chris Rojek, as recently as 2007, noted that "relationships between fans and celebrities frequently involve unusually high levels of non-reciprocal emotional dependence, in which fans project intensely positive feelings onto the celebrity" (2007, 171) and followed this with a reference to "obsessed" fans, suggesting that for celebrity-focused fans, there is no middle ground. Lynn E. McCutcheon and John Maltby's 2002 examination of stereotypes of the celebrity worshipper further reinforces the belief that celebrity worshippers are "foolish," "irresponsible," and "submissive."

[1.2] As a fan of The X-Files (XF), a member of XF fandom, and a participant in several Gillian Anderson–inspired groups working to raise money through engagement in fandom, I question the readings of celebrity-focused fans as obsessive and foolish. Here, I examine how fans' relationships with shows and stars can motivate them to seek change in the real world, and the effect participation in fandom has had on fans' engagement with charity work. I look at case studies of two XF fan groups, heART and Aussie X-Files Fans @ Facebook (AXF), to assess how they encourage charitable giving among fans, examine the ways in which the role of celebrity is used in framing the charitable efforts of fans, and assess how fan investment may affect celebrity charity work.

2. Methodology

[2.1] I analyzed the responses I received to interviews conducted with XF fan groups, focusing on their involvement with XF fandom and fan charity. These interviews took place via e-mail between October 2010 and March 2011. As a member of XF fandom, I was aware of heART and AXF (and, indeed, was a member of their Facebook groups and followed their activities on Twitter), and I contacted the founders of both groups in August 2010. I obtained permission from the founders to contact members of the groups—heART via e-mail and AXF through Facebook's private message and group wall discussion functions—then continued my exchanges individually with those who responded. I also examined heART and AXF's Web sites and Facebook pages, and extracts from these are contained here. Technically, individual posts on Internet message boards and Web site forums are considered to be within the public domain, but James E. Porter (1998) argues that precedents for treating any and all Internet writing with integrity in research situations must be established, and that it is methodologically valuable to treat every post as writing and every poster as a writer. In the course of my research, I treat the use of Web sites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts as I would treat the use of a personal e-mail interview. Sandi Hicks, Sophie G, and Roxane B all granted me permission to use their work. Each of the fans whose responses I used in the course of this essay gave informed consent to their answers being used, and institutional review board approval was granted for this research to take place.

3. Defining fan charity and fan activism

[3.1] One of the major problems in understanding fannish social engagement is the absence of commonly agreed-upon or conventionally used definitions of "fan charity" and "fan activism." Both of these terms raise a number of questions about how they can be applied to acts of charity or activism undertaken by fans.

[3.2] Merriam-Webster defines charity as "generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/charity) and activism as "a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/activism). But what does the modifier "fan" bring to this definition? Simply adding the word to the sentence and describing fan charity as generosity toward the needy carried out by fans is an oversimplification that fails to answer a variety of important questions. First among these is: what kind of fan is being discussed? Abercrombie and Longhurst define fans as "those people who become particularly attached to certain programmes or stars within the context of relatively heavy mass media use" (1998, 138), yet further develop their topography to include "cultists" and "enthusiasts." Sandvoss (2005) notes that groups that from the outside appear to be casual viewers identify as fans, while Hills (2002) observes that who or what a fan is seems to be common sense. Further discussion of who or what a fan is falls beyond the scope of this essay, but the term is laden with connotations and, when placed next to "charity," is perhaps not as simple as it first seems. Further questions to consider to understand more fully what we mean when we discuss fan charity and fan activism, and what effect each of these can have on civic engagement, include the following: Does fan charity require a single fan acting fannishly, or a group of fans? Do fan charities need to raise funds for organizations supported by the celebrity they admire, or can they raise funds for any cause? Do community and communal decisions play a part in fan charity? Should fan charity be confined to simply fans raising money, or can it include fans donating to a fund-raising event undertaken by the star they respect? What about charitable organizations that began as fan charities but have since extended their scope and have become registered not-for-profit organizations raising funds for a variety of charities? Fan activism has traditionally been regarded as fans acting together to extend or resurrect a group, film, or TV show in which they have an interest. Star Trek fans' letter-writing campaign of the 1960s, for example, would be considered a case of fan activism, as would XF fans' current campaigning for a third film. But in this case, the modifier "fan" causes more problems, as it appears to change the definition of "activism." To anyone other than a fan of that show, a network canceling a show is unlikely to be considered controversial. Should a broader definition of activism, one that includes any intentional efforts to bring about change, be considered? This would certainly apply to fans' attempts to prevent a beloved TV program being canceled. However, I examine fan activism in the context of celebrity charity, civic engagement, and social change, and these are important differences; there is, arguably, much more political intent in these forms of fan activism than in the more traditional kind. In coming to a definition of fan activism in the context of my argument, it is important to consider the following: the roles that community and communal decisions might take in fan activism; the roles a fictional show and an actor playing a character can have in influencing fans; and the extent to which the text can inform fans and allow them to engage socially and politically. I argue that each term must take into account the far more complex issues surrounding social change, politics, and fan communities than their current definitions do.

[3.3] I define "fan charity" as a concerted effort made by a group of fans to raise money for an organization nominated by or affiliated with their fandom, and "fan activism" as fans actively campaigning for issues nominated by or affiliated with the fandom, either through issues raised in the text or by awareness raised by the star. Both case studies involve fans raising funds for, and raising awareness of, charities supported by Gillian Anderson, the actress playing Special Agent Dana Scully in XF.

4. Case study: AXF

[4.1] AXF was established as a Facebook group on April 2, 2008. Sandi Hicks discovered there was no Australian fan base for XF on Facebook, and although she was a member of several other communities focusing on the show, she decided to create her own. In an e-mail interview, she told me, "I thought that us Australians needed a space to come together and share all our thoughts about the show, its brilliant actors and everything in between." Initially there were no plans to undertake charitable work when the group was set up. It was intended purely to discuss the second XF film, I Want To Believe (2008), and the majority of discussion still taking place on the group is related to the show and its actors, rather than fund-raising. Sandi said the idea to raise money came with the announcement of Gillian Anderson's pregnancy in 2008:

[4.2] The idea came about when we were told that Gillian was expecting her 3rd child, and I thought it would be nice for us to throw together a small fundraiser as a present for her, rather than send her a whole heap of baby goods that she would probably neither want or need—or to send her flowers that would just die. Sending a little over $2000 to [Alinyiikira Junior School] is a pretty good way of saying "Congratulations on the birth of your baby, Gillian"—we thought we'd support her favourite charity.

[4.3] Sandi raised funds by selling AXF T-shirts (figure 1), holding XF episode marathons in which groups of fans met up to watch XF episodes and donate money, and auctioning autographed memorabilia, donated by Anderson, on eBay.

Figure 1. Aussie XF shirt, 2009 (http://aussiexfilesfans.webs.com/apps/webstore/). [View larger image.]

[4.4] The first fund-raiser collected AU$2,036.04 (approximately $1,600). Sandi sent the money to Alinyiikira Junior School and compiled a book for Anderson, containing photographs of fans who had donated, a short biography, and favorite XF quotes and episodes (figure 2). In January 2009, Sandi received a message from Anderson thanking her for the effort put into raising the money for Alinyiikira Junior School:

[4.5] To all the girls and a handful of guys who raised money in honor of Felix's birth—what a fantastic thing you all did putting the event together as well as the book. How nice to be able to see the faces of those involved and to get a hint at your personalities from the quotes you chose and admission of favorite episodes. The time and effort you individually put in has moved me on Felix's behalf of course but on behalf of all the young children at Alinyiikira, you cannot imagine what a difference that accumulative effort will make in their lives. Thank you all so very much. And Felix thanks you. He told me. (http://aussiexfilesfans.webs.com/messagefromgillian.htm)

Figure 2. AJS book, 2009. [View larger image.]

[4.6] The message from Anderson was a key factor in influencing Sandi to continue her fund-raising: "Her message back after it was all said and done was the icing on the cake and made me want to strive harder and raise more money—so I decided that fundraising would become an annual thing." Since the first fund-raiser, AXF has continued to raise money for Alinyiikira Junior School. Each year's fund-raiser has seen more names from the XF community, including Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, David Duchovny, and William B. Davis, contributing items for eBay auctions. Each fund-raiser has also been more successful than the last, and AXF has now raised close to AU$20,000 (approximately $18,000).

[4.7] AXF is perhaps the example of fan charity closest to the definition I outlined earlier. AXF raised money for charities and organizations supported by Gillian Anderson because of the impact Anderson has had on these fans. Sandi told me she had been aware of Anderson's philanthropy for some time, but it was through the character of Special Agent Dana Scully that she, and the rest of AXF's members, first became aware of Anderson. Grossberg suggests that "people are constantly struggling, not merely to figure out what a text means, but to make it mean something that connects to their own lives, experiences, needs and desires" (1992, 52), and for many XF fans, it was Scully who enabled them to connect to the text. Both critics and fans alike noted Scully's scientific background, her job—as an FBI agent, she was considered a woman in a man's world—and her strength of character, with Rumbaugh noting that "Scully is also someone with whom women can identify as a contemporary woman who faces challenges and doubts and who endeavours to achieve a fulfilling life" (2008, 57). Indeed, in several interviews Anderson noted the impact Scully has had both on fans and herself:

[4.8] There was a time when I started reading the letters and people were saying, "You saved my life," or interviewers would say that Scully was a role model for young women…The more I started to talk about her character traits—how honest she was, how passionate about doing the right thing—the more I took cues from the way she handled herself. (Flaherty 2002, "Success" section)

[4.9] Scully and Anderson are cited as a role models by many of the Australian XF fans. It was through the character of Scully that Sandi, who was bullied as a child, found someone she could aspire to emulate. She says:

[4.10] Dana Scully to me is the perfect role model. An intelligent woman, working every day in a typically "man's" world—she's worked damned hard to be where she is and she's someone who every young woman should aspire to be like. Strong, determined, faithful, relentless, caring.

[4.11] The charity work undertaken by members of AXF might be considered a more traditional form of fan charity in that they draw their inspiration from an admired celebrity. As Dyer notes, people are interested in celebrities because of their ability to "speak to us in terms we can understand about things that are important to us" (1986, 16); Scully, and by extension Anderson, has been able to speak to the Australian XF fans about issues that are important to them. Honesty, dedication, strength, and loyalty are attributes given to Scully, and Anderson, by fans. These characteristics are important to fans, and as a result, they model themselves on or undertake work for Scully and Anderson. Anderson notes:

[4.12] Every thought that they have about Scully or about Gillian to use initially for their own strength is fantastic, if that's how it can be used. But the important, essential next step is for them to find where that resonates in their own bodies, and to draw on that which exists in themselves and not continue to think of me or the character in order to get up out of bed in the morning. If it can be an impetus and a starting point, then that can be incredibly healthy and a great guidelines; but there needs to be a transition. I think that for any fan of a role model, the important thing to learn is that they are responding to those aspects because they exist within oneself already. (Rumbaugh 2008, 84)

[4.13] Of particular relevance in this remark is the idea that fans are responding to attributes within the celebrity that already exist within themselves. Often, as I discuss later, celebrity-focused fans are maligned in popular discourse, depicted as isolated, foolish, irresponsible, and immature. If, however, they are responding to positive attributes that a celebrity possesses and are able to bring those into their own lives for the benefit of themselves and others, then these popular constructions of celebrity-focused fans become much more problematic and need to be reexamined.

5. Case study: heART

[5.1] "Do you like art, The X-Files, and Gillian Anderson and want to support a great cause? For two weeks in June 2010 heART will auction X-Files and Gillian Anderson related artworks to benefit Off The Street Kids—a charity aiding the empowerment of marginalised children and young people in South Africa. Thirteen talented artists (and The X-Files fans) from around the world have donated their original artwork for this cause" (http://heART.keyofx.org/). The opening statement on the heART Web site clearly sets out the mission of the organization: to raise money for a Gillian Anderson–sponsored charity by selling XF fan art to fans of the show. Roxane B was inspired to create heART in June 2008 after attending a Scully Marathon in Paris, a fan event held to raise funds for charities by auctioning off rare XF merchandise and other related collectibles to fans of the show. As an art student in France, Roxane recognized the charitable potential of her Gillian Anderson–inspired artwork. A year later, she appealed to like-minded artists—other XF and Gillian Anderson fans exhibiting their artistic talent online—and with the help of a well-connected fandom network, recruited 13 artists from nine countries around the world (Italy, The Netherlands, United States, France, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Poland, Germany, and South Korea). Roxane and fellow artist Sophie G developed a name, logo, and Web site, and they spent several months preparing for the auctions and obtaining official clearance from Gillian Anderson and their chosen charity. The crux of the project was 2 weeks of online auctions in June 2010. Using eBay's charity branch, MissionFish, heART auctioned off 14 original artworks and raised £650 (approximately $1,000).

[5.2] Where heART differs from AXF and a number of other fan charities is in the emphasis placed on fan-produced artwork. Sophie, in an e-mail interview, noted:

[5.3] The most important aspect—to me—about this charity project was, that we were going to produce the things we were going to offer up for sale ourselves, that there was a creative process involved…except for getting Gillian Anderson's and OTSK's approval to raise funds this way—we were independent from those celebrities. It was our very own, rather than "just" assembling things and organising events and auctions.

[5.4] This sentiment is echoed by several other artists I interviewed, and by quotes from the artists given on their heART biography pages:

[5.5] Rose: I've been drawing all my life but have always seen it as something I did for myself, not something that could help others. Knowing that something I enjoy doing can help others is great incentive to try harder, to make the drawing look better, to improve my techniques. (http://heart.keyofx.org/rose)

[5.6] Sarah L. Robinson: I love art and I love giving back, to be able to combine the two and create some artwork to benefit charity is very fulfilling. (http://heart.keyofx.org/sarah)

[5.7] Of less importance was the influence Gillian Anderson had on the artists. While they acknowledged they were both fans of hers and XF, the prime factor in encouraging artists to contribute was the production of fan art. Scooly notes that "I love [Gillian's] acting, but I'm a fan of her show rather than specifically her. I would participate if it was David's, Chris', Frank's or really anyone's, I suppose. I just wanted to draw a nice XF pic and see if someone would buy it to help some kids. That's all, I think." Sophie agreed that Gillian Anderson was "directly linked to the creative aspect, because for me Gillian has always been somewhat of a muse," but also noted that the bulk of previous XF fan charities relied on celebrity involvement, whether it was the stars donating items for auction or their time at Q&A panels. That heART placed fans, as artists, in the driving seat was, for Sophie, "my main motivation to be behind the idea 100%, and I think it's something to be immensely proud of."

[5.8] While fan fiction is the medium through which most academics have discussed fans' resistant reading of texts, fan art can also be considered a resistant reading of the text. Worry's artwork (figure 3), for example, is of a very different style to that of both the show and of other fan artists: described by many fans as cute, Worry's cartoon Mulder and Scully figures are much more light-hearted than their depiction on the show, and Worry places more emphasis on the relationship between the two characters.

Figure 3. Heart_worry, 2010 (http://heart.keyofx.org/index/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/artwork_worry.jpg). [View larger image.]

[5.9] Many of the pieces of art auctioned off depicted images of Mulder and Scully together, emphasizing the shipper angle of the series (figure 4), and the artwork that depicted Gillian Anderson illustrated her more sensual, independent side—a very different image from that which she portrays as Scully.

Figure 4. Heart_sarahrobinson, 2010 (http://heart.keyofx.org/index/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/artwork_sarah.jpg). [View larger image.]

[5.10] Jenkins notes, "Fans reject the idea of a definitive version produced, authorized, and regulated by some media conglomerate. Instead, fans envision a world where all of us can participate in the creation and circulation of central cultural myths" (2006, 267). The artists involved in heART are part of a group of fans who engage with the show and place their own stamp on the characters and situations expressed within it. Further, they use this "textual poaching" to appeal to other fans and to raise money for charitable causes (note 1). The emphasis here is on fans themselves producing items that express their love of the show, rather than their depending on receiving desirable items from official sources.

6. The role of celebrity in encouraging social engagement and the stigmatization of celebrity-focused fans

[6.1] The title of this essay comes from Gillian Anderson's foreword to Girl Boss: Running the Show Like the Big Chicks:

[6.2] Be of service. Whether you make yourself available to a friend or co-worker, or you make time every month to do volunteer work, there is nothing that harvests more of a feeling of empowerment than being of service to someone in need. (Kravetz 1999, xi)

[6.3] The quote is one that many Anderson fans have taken to heart in becoming engaged with raising funds for various charities. It exemplifies the impact that Anderson specifically, and celebrities in general, can have on encouraging fans to become involved in charitable activities. John Fiske's work on popular culture has examined the ways in which fans' attitudes to celebrities can lead to social engagement. He argues that personas as texts matter once they are put into circulation, and that once they are put into circulation, others can seize that text/persona as a means to empowerment. Offering the example of the teenage Madonna fan who, "[fantasizing] her own empowerment[,] can translate this fantasy into behaviour," Fiske suggests that stars lead their fans into social change: "When she meets others who share her fantasies and freedom there is the beginning of a sense of solidarity, of a shared resistance, that can support and encourage progressive action on the microsocial level" (1989, 172). It is not only Madonna who is able to lead fans to social engagement. Craig Garthwaite and Timothy Moore argue that "While there have been no empirical estimates of the effect of celebrity endorsements on political outcomes, it is clear that celebrities have the ability to influence the behaviour of their fans in other arenas" (2008, 5). Celebrities such as Misha Collins and Lady Gaga are well known for using their large networks of fans to promote charities, organizations, and ideas, and to convert awareness into social change. Misha Collins, who plays the angel Castiel on Supernatural, used Twitter to ask his followers to make a donation to aid efforts following the 2009 earthquake in Haiti. Within 24 hours, almost $30,000 had been raised. After this, the nonprofit organization Random Acts was created, which is supporting the reconstruction and ongoing funding of three different orphanages in Haiti. Lady Gaga has also used her fame to encourage fans to do good works. She partnered with Virgin Mobile on her Monster Ball tour and offered premium VIP tickets to fans who volunteered their time to homeless youth organizations. In doing so, she and her fans raised more than $80,000 to support homeless youths. More recently, she designed a wristband that she encouraged fans to buy for $5 to raise money for Japan after the March 2011 earthquake there (figure 5).

Figure 5. Lady Gaga wristband, 2011 (http://www.ladygaga.com/news/default.aspx?pg=143). [View larger image.]

[6.4] Fiske's work, in the context of celebrity- and fan-driven activism, raises some interesting questions on the active/passive nature of fan charity. Arguing that fans seize a celebrity as a means to empowerment suggests that the fan is a active respondent to the celebrity, making meaning from the range of texts in which the raw materials of the celebrity appear and considering which qualities the star has that they wish to emulate, and which to ignore. But I would argue that while the fan is active in the sense of changing her lifestyle, attitudes, or behaviors, the celebrity does the work of making qualities and acts such as self-sacrifice, charitable giving, and awareness-raising acceptable; the fan follows this lead, responding to these qualities, once those acts are given societal approval. I would argue that in the case of Misha Collins– and Lady Gaga–driven activism, the fans take on a much more passive role. This isn't to say that they are not involved in raising awareness of the issue; on the contrary, fans can be very vocal: they will post to blogs and Web sites and inform friends and family members of their favorite celebrity's efforts. But the onus is on the celebrity to organize the event and spread the word to his or her fans. It is unlikely that, were it not for his large Twitter following, Misha Collins would have been able to raise that much money for Haiti. It is also a result of his close connections with Random Acts that many fans support the organization. Random Acts is currently raising funds to build a multipurpose community center in Haiti and is offering fans who raise more than $5,000 the possibility of working with Collins on the project. Billed as an "opportunity of a lifetime," the chance to meet Collins or receive a gift from him (figure 6) plays a predominant role in obtaining fan support—more so, I would argue, than the charity work itself.

Figure 6. Misha_Collins_page, 2011 (http://www.therandomact.org/wordpress/news/hopetohaiti/). [View larger image.]

[6.5] I see clear differences between the charity work undertaken by celebrities such as Misha Collins and Lady Gaga and that undertaken by the groups I examined here. Both AXF and heART are examples of fan-driven activism, in which fans of a show or celebrity take it upon themselves to raise money or awareness for a specific cause. This charity work might be aided by the celebrity, who provides items that can be auctioned (as is the case with AXF), or it might be purely fan based, with fans producing items (as is the case with heART); but the onus is on the fans themselves to organize, act, produce, and raise awareness. It is the dedicated fan who gains awareness of a particular cause through her interest in the celebrity, and it then lies—at least partly—with that fan to raise awareness within the larger community and galvanize others into action. With more and more fan activities taking place on the Internet, this has become easier. AXF has 293 members, all of whom can see the group's Facebook wall and be notified of upcoming fund-raisers and other points of interest. AXF has also been able to forge links with other fan groups like X-Files News, who are able to spread the word to a wider community of fans. These groups—although distinct entities—have also worked together on several issues including the XF3 Army campaign, and fund-raisers for Help_Haiti and X Philes for Japan. Celebrity input to these fan groups, unlike those of Lady Gaga, is minimal. Other than liaising with Anderson's staff to obtain approval to raise funds in her name and contacting other stars to obtain items to auction, all of the work is done by the fans. Web site maintenance, Twitter links, Facebook updates, calls to donate, and fund-raising events are organized by often-small teams of fans, who dedicate much of their free time to this activism.

[6.6] It strikes me that a further question arises here: at what point does the "fan" drop out? At what point do Sandi and others like her have a giving relationship to the school that no longer connects directly to their fannishness? Many groups within the XF community undertake work that has no direct connection to their fan activities. Devastating tornadoes resulted in an XF X-Phile Virtual Marathon for Joplin, MO, Tornado Victims, in which fans watched XF episodes and donated $1 for each episode. Similarly, XF fans are currently taking part in a Virtual X-Philes Shopping Spree, in which fans "buy" pieces of XF fandom (such as Scully's groceries from the episode "Duane Barry" or Mulder's alien autopsy video) by donating the relevant amount to help victims of the Japan earthquake. Neither of these communities has arisen as a result of a celebrity's involvement in fund-raising or as a direct result of the fans' engagement with XF fandom. Rather, fandom is used simply as a vehicle to raise more money in an interesting and innovative way. While I do not have the space to discuss this in further detail, it is an important question to raise.

[6.7] Despite the work being done by both celebrities and fans to raise money for and bring attention to various causes, celebrity-focused fandom is perhaps the area where stigma is the strongest and fandom more maligned. Liesbet van Zoonen argues that "modern political discourse constructs a vast difference between popular culture and politics" (2005, 53) and positions audiences as fans and the public as citizens, each composed of different social formations and identities, separate from the other. This language also highlights the divide between high culture (art, politics) and low culture (television, the tabloid press), suggesting that politics must exist apart from mainstream culture, and maintaining that, as the focus on celebrity falls under the category of low culture, celebrity-focused fans are worth neither time nor study. This is further illustrated in Nick Couldry and Tim Markham's argument that those who follow celebrity culture "are the least engaged in politics and least likely to use their social networks to involve themselves in action or discussion about public-type issues" (2007, 403) (note 2). Recent research also suggests that fans' tastes are linked to a class system that rewards certain kinds of media consumption while looking upon others with disdain. In this system, fans of popular culture, such as soap operas, science fiction, and, I would add, celebrities, are less worthy than fans of opera or theater (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007).

[6.8] Horton and Wohl, in 1956, described fandom as a surrogate relationship and focused on "para-social interactions": the illusory relationships fans form with celebrities. Joli Jensen noted that literature on fandom argues that fans "suffer from psychological inadequacy, and […] seek contact with famous people in order to compensate for their own inadequate lives" (1992, 18). Melissa A. Click, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz note that public commentary on Twilight "positions girls and women as unexpected and unwelcome media fans, and denies the long and rich history of the relationships female fans have had with media texts and personalities" (2010, 6). That the language of 20, 30, even 60 years ago is still being used to discuss celebrity-focused fans is worrying and points increasingly to the gendering of fandom. Indeed, references to Twilight fans as "fevered," "hysterical," and "obsessed" mirror Victorian-era gendered words like "foolish" and "submissive" used to describe celebrity-focused fans who, in popular press discourse at least, are overwhelmingly female (note 3). Many studies of fan-star identification have focused on women's relationships with the celebrities they admire (Tudor 1974; Ehrenreich, Hess, and Jacobs 1992; Stacey 1994), and this can contribute to the problematic gendering of fandom, charity, and activism (note 4). Jackie Stacey's 1994 study of the place of movie stars in women's memories of wartime and postwar Britain focuses on three key processes of spectatorship: escapism, identification, and consumption. While it may be argued that Stacey uses these terms to rework the concepts they initially embodied (the category of "extra-cinematic identificatory practices," which argues that feelings of adoration, devotion, and worship of the star as she appears on screen evolve into fan cultural activity, an area of research largely ignored in previous studies of film reception, was developed in response to the main body of work on cinematic identification that drew heavily on Freudian and Lacanian analysis), their use does reflect previous scholarship on female fans who used fandom as a means of escaping the confines of their everyday lives as housewives and mothers (Radway 1984), as well as societal stereotypes of women as shopaholics, unable to stop consuming.

[6.9] Stacey's work, particularly her category of imitation, has been drawn on in more recent research on fans and how they engage in more active meaning making. Gina Rumbaugh notes, "Imitation need not be limited to singular self-improvement [but] can move beyond the personal to include a fan's participation in the preferred social and political activities of the admired star, as well" (2008, 34). Rumbaugh also draws on Andrew Tudor's work, particularly his notion of projection, which describes "the point at which the process becomes more than a simple mimicking" (1974, 80–82). Rumbaugh notes, "Projection is a condition whereby fans take into account how stars would behave in certain situations, and then attempt to imitate that supposed behaviour in their own lives" (2008, 33), a point that has implications for the ways in which fannish behavior in relation to social activism, and the gendering of fandom, can be studied. HK says:

[6.10] I basically fell so in love with Scully that I wanted to be like her however I could. Initially, I thought "maybe I should act!" but I realized that it wasn't acting like Scully or even being Gillian that I wanted…but being like Scully, the character herself. [I now] work for the government in humanitarian aid…but it was the initial idea of Scully that snowballed into getting me here. I also can't help but assume that in 12+ years, I've also begun to embody some of the traits/influences of Scully, which could possibly translate into fuelling this "save the world" complex I've got. I'm sure it would still be there, regardless, but who knows what I would be up to without XF. Scully made it ok to feel different from others and I kind of just embraced and ran with it. (interview, March 2011)

[6.11] This could, to some extent, be considered projection. From wanting to be like Scully (and Gillian Anderson), HK progressed to adopting a fundamental aspect of the character's identity. It was through Scully, and imitating the behavior Scully embodied in her own life ("that she was very smart and assertive and didn't try to hide it"), that HK moved into the field in which she now works. However, the question must be raised of whether the notion of projection is related specifically to female fans' adopting specific characteristics, whereas in male fans it would be considered simply drawing on the actor as a role model. This is an important distinction. While the processes that scholars describe do reflect the reality of how fans respond to celebrities, they frame these processes in problematic, gendered ways. Both Stacey's work on fans of female movie stars and Rumbaugh's analysis of Gillian Anderson as role model fail to mention male fans. These and other approaches fail to address problems in the gendering of fandom in two ways: in their continuing use of stigmatizing language, and in their failure to adopt a more empowered conceptual model for why fans respond to celebrities in the ways they do. In suggesting that female fans participate in the preferred social and political activities of the star, their agency is removed—their reasons for participating in certain events and not others (and therefore their opinions on politics, culture, and society) are not questioned. Fan charity, according to these analyses of fan-star relationships, is framed in the larger context of the role of celebrity and its construction as "the 'perfect hero,' where the star's actions serve as exemplary models for a particular community" (Marshall 1997, 187).

7. Fan activism and celebrity charity: Working toward social change

[7.1] The case studies examined thus far clearly fall into the category of fan charity defined earlier. Now I examine the links among fandom, fan activism, and celebrity charity, and question how affective fan investment affects celebrity charity work. As I noted earlier, the term "fan activism" has traditionally been associated with fans writing to save a show such as Firefly (2002–3) from cancellation or resurrecting a show or franchise, and is much less political than the fan activism I examine here. This more well-known kind of fan activism is designed to secure the continuation or resurrection of a show that fans both feel passionately about and have invested time in, since fans who will campaign for a show's renewal are usually—though not always—the fans who have been engaged in fandom, are active members of a community or communities, write fan fic, or create fan videos/fan art (note 5)—in short, they are fans with a vested interest in the show and a desire to see it continued. As a result, it appears to be much less altruistic than the fan charity evidenced through heART and AXF, and thus it should not be described in the same terms. Sandi notes that only roughly 10 percent of the money raised so far by AXF has come from donations alone; the bulk of the proceeds have been raised by auctioning off XF merchandise. Cathy O'Donnell notes that she does not see buying Gillian Anderson/XF charity items and donating money to a chosen cause as the same thing:

[7.2] I give money to my chosen charities regularly/monthly and they have nothing to do with my fandom, they are personal causes I choose to be involved in. When I purchase items from a charity auction it is primarily because I want the item, the fact the money goes to charity allows me to feel better about spending the money, but I wouldn't be giving that money to the charity otherwise […] I guess in conclusion, I bid because I want the item, but the charitable aspect allows me to feel better about spending the money and allows me to support the actor/show I am a fan of in a positive way. (interview, March 2011)

[7.3] This attitude is true of many of the fans I interviewed (and my own experience of bidding on XF items at auction), and I would consider this a form of fan charity. From the interviews I have carried out, fan activism, in the sense I define it, is more likely to be undertaken by those involved in the creation or day-to-day running of the fan charity. Sandi has noted that almost all of her free time is occupied with planning fund-raisers for AXF, and plans are currently being made for her to travel to Uganda in 2013 to visit the school. Sandi hopes the trip will spur on the group's fund-raising efforts and enable them to not only raise more money, but also to fund further trips to the school to engage in some hands-on work in the community. This transition from fund-raising to visiting Uganda does, I believe, suggest a transition from fan charity to fan activism. While it may fall short of campaigning for the government to invest more money in education, or educating communities on the importance of education in enabling children to work their way out of poverty, members of AXF traveling to another country and putting manpower into helping a school they have previously only raised funds for is certainly more hands-on than fan charity is. It is unlikely that any members of AXF would have considered traveling to Uganda were they not involved in raising money for the school, and it cannot be denied that Anderson's social activism has had an effect on the fans. Sandi notes that were it not for Gillian Anderson, she wouldn't have been aware of Alinyiikira Junior School. Because Anderson—a woman Sandi respects and admires—supported the school, Sandi felt it was a worthy cause.

[7.4] It is clear from interviews with many fans that Anderson's influence has been a positive one and has allowed them to make changes to their own attitudes and lifestyles. Jodie Whalan notes that "Gillian Anderson and The X-Files have been a huge part of my life since I was 14 (I'm now 29). Because I love the brilliant work of Ms Anderson on The X-Files and in movies she's appeared in since then, I feel like I'm giving something back by supporting charities that are founded/supported by Gillian Anderson and other stars of The X-Files." Nicole Lynch agrees:

[7.5] Being a part of the XF community and knowing that Gillian Anderson personally endorses various charities is inspiring in itself. Knowing that a celebrity takes so much of her own time to assist with causes she is passionate about is very inspiring. Personally it gives me the belief that everyone should take some time to help those who are less fortunate or are in need. Furthermore, the general message in XF of "not giving up" and "what can be imagined can be achieved" is especially pertinent seeing as these fundraisers are directed towards X-Files fans. It goes to show how applicable the messages in the show are to the causes that the group supports. (interview, March 2011)

[7.6] Specific qualities possessed by Anderson, such as her honesty, dedication, and philanthropy, as well as the ability to think of others while maintaining a busy career and raising a young family, have led fans to adopt similar qualities in themselves. This further allows them to campaign for change elsewhere. More broadly, fan charity has—in the case studies I have examined—led to a great deal of change for the organizations that received the money; they were able to buy equipment, put up buildings, and fund research, all of which will lead to a better quality of life for the people the organizations support.

[7.7] Turning from the ways in which fannish forms of engagement may lead to social change, I wish to consider the ways in which affective fan investment affects celebrity charity work. The field of fan studies has focused on the cultural productions of fandom and questions of power and resistance visible in fan/star/studio relationships. Jenkins, for example, notes that fans are able to regain power through the production of works such as fan fiction, fan videos, and fan art: "Fan culture stands as an open challenge to the 'naturalness' and desirability of dominant cultural hierarchies, a refusal of authorial authority and a violation of intellectual property" (1992, 18). While Jenkins limits his study to the cultural productions of fans (fan fiction, fan art, etc.) rather than examining broader fan engagement, his study is useful in examining the ways in which fans' knowledge of and engagement with a text can enable them to examine what that text says about mass culture and societal norms. Jenkins also argues, "One way that popular culture can enable a more engaged citizenry is by allowing people to play with power on a microlevel […] Popular culture may be preparing the way for a more meaningful public culture" (2006, 239). An example of this can be seen in heART's use of fan art to raise money for a charitable cause. The influencing factor here was less Gillian Anderson's philanthropy and more the ability to use their skills as artists and XF fans to raise money.

[7.8] Allowing fans to play with power by reinterpreting XF—poaching aspects of the show and its stars and representing those in fan art—and selling their productions to raise money for charity provides fans with a means of engaging with social activism while representing less of a challenge to the producers of XF than traditional forms of fan production—endorsed, as it were, by Gillian Anderson. Power can also, however, be expressed in other ways. Liza Tsaliki, Christos Frangonikolopoulos, and Asteris Huliaras note that "audiences of today are aware of the manufactured nature of the celebrity images they consume and of the publicity machine that engulfs these images" (2011, 9). With that awareness comes a shift in the fan-star relationship—the star has to maintain a certain image in order to keep appealing to the fans. Fans are no longer understood to be, as Joli Jensen notes, a "result" of celebrity "brought into (enthralled) existence by the modern celebrity system, via the mass media" (1992, 10). Rather, it is the fan who keeps celebrities in existence through watching their movies, buying their books, and following the magazines and entertainment news that feature them. And in order to keep the fan interested, the celebrity must perform noteworthy acts. Asteris Huliaris and Nikolaos Tzifakis argue that "the image of a star in a war-torn African country, surrounded by under-nourished black children and this making a nice contrast for photographers, attracts immediate attention. Celebrity interest in Africa or in global poverty offers excellent branding opportunities" (2011, 36). Interest in Africa is also a safe bet for the celebrity who wants to retain fan support. While fights against poverty or AIDS are political issues, they are much less controversial than US military campaigns. Most fans would agree that global poverty needs to be eradicated; it may be much more difficult for a fan whose brother is fighting in Afghanistan to support a celebrity's calls for the US government to withdraw troops. Cathy O'Donnell says,

[7.9] It is important to me that [the money] goes to charity and to a charity I am happy to support. For example when Gillian auctioned a meet and greet last year the auction did not specify which charity the money would go to just that it would be a charity of Gillian's choice. I was not happy to bid in those circumstances because I would not want to risk my money going to a charity I disagreed with, however slim that chance may be.

[7.10] Fans are thus able to exercise some power over the charitable campaigns that celebrities are involved in, if only because no celebrities want to marginalize the people who have allowed them to achieve the star status they have. Graeme Turner (2004) argues that the economy of celebrity culture dictates that celebrities develop a strategy for building and maintaining audience loyalty, and celebrity charity and activism could—to some extent—be considered part of that strategy.

8. Conclusion

[8.1] I have examined how two different fan charities have been inspired to raise money for charities supported by Gillian Anderson, and I have questioned how and why the relationship between celebrities and fans may lead to fan activism and social change. I examined how the relationship fans have with Gillian Anderson and XF has led to social engagement by looking at the role of show itself, the engagement of fans through the use of fan fiction/fan art, and the role of Gillian Anderson in inspiring fans both through her portrayal of Dana Scully and the values she displays in her private life. I also examined some of the problems that arise in scholarship on celebrity-focused fans, the stigma that surrounds this part of fandom, and the gendered language still used to describe these fan practices.

[8.2] That fans can be—and indeed are—influenced by the stars they admire seems evident. That fan charity exists, and has raised considerable amounts of money for worthy causes, can be proven. The question of whether and how fan charity can lead to fan activism, and the effect that activism can have on a wider social scale, is a much broader one, albeit one I have tried to answer here. Through examining the attitudes of XF fans who have founded, contributed to, and engaged with fan charities, I showed that engagement in fandom can lead to more broad civic engagement. Through analyzing the ways in which celebrities undertake charity work and how affective fan investment affects this charity work, I argued that the fan-star relationship is a more complex one than has previously been acknowledged. Far from celebrity-focused fans being passive respondents to the star they admire or deviant obsessives engaged in fictional relationships with their idols, fans themselves become catalysts for change.

9. Acknowledgments

[9.1] I am grateful to the following individuals for their generosity in consenting to be interviewed via e-mail: Sandi Hicks, Sophie G, Roxane B, Rose, Scooly, akachan, Dana, HK, KR, Nicole Lynch, Cathy O'Donnell, and Jodie Whalan. Thanks also to everyone who gave valuable feedback, especially Emily Regan Wills, Lucy Bennett, and Nia Edwards-Behi.

10. Notes

1. Also of interest to me, particularly in relation to the heART auctions, are the roles fans and fan politics play in raising awareness. Worry, for example, is a big name fan in XF fandom; therefore, not only is his artwork desirable, but he also brings a certain level of authority to the fan charity. Several of the artists and buyers I interviewed also emphasized the importance of helping out a friend in creating or bidding on pieces of art. Cathy O'Donnell said she "bid on the heART auctions because I liked the pictures, but also because I wanted to support fellow fans I consider friends in their efforts" (interview, March 2011), and Dana noted that she and Roxane had followed each other on Deviant Art (http://www.deviantart.com/) for years. "[We] are admirers of each other's artwork, especially our fanart for The X-Files. Rox is such an awesome artist and sweet friend and I got involved in heART because I wanted to support her in this idea she had" (interview, March 2011).

2. While I acknowledge that I focus my attention on a small group of fans, built up around a show that is recognized for its intelligent audience, I would argue that Couldry and Markham's assertion requires more analysis. Each of the fans interviewed had been involved in charity in some form previously, whether through donations to charitable organizations, volunteering for local organizations, or raising awareness.

3. While it could be argued that Twilight and XF are very different texts that are aimed at very different audiences, and thus a study on fans' relationships to Gillian Anderson might not produce the same results as a study on fans' relationships to Twilight stars, the same language is used to describe both sets of fans; in addition, fans of both are positioned in media discourse as female. A 2011 Australian interview with Gillian Anderson, for example, referred to her "obsessive" and "crazy" fans, mirroring the gendered language used to describe Twilight fans, among others (Breakfast, ABC News, September 7, 2011).

4. I have mentioned elsewhere the gendering of fandom, but I would further argue that activism, particularly fan activism, is also gendered female. Women's involvement in protest has often drawn on their gendered role within families and communities, and historians such as Natalie Zemon Davis, Temma Kaplan, and E. P. Thompson have seen women's participation in these protests as an extension of their role in the sexual division of labor.

5. This relates to the question of how to define the term fan and the levels of fan engagement. I do not have the scope here to analyze what this may mean for fannish engagement and social change, but I believe it is an important point that requires further examination.

11. Works cited

Abercrombie, Nicholas, and Brian Longhurst. 1998. Audiences: A Sociological Theory of Performance and Imagination. London: Sage.

Click, Melissa A., Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz. 2010. Introduction to Bitten by Twilight, edited by Melissa A. Click, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, 1–17. New York: Peter Lang.

Couldry, Nick, and Tim Markham. 2007. "Celebrity Culture and Public Connection: Bridge or Chasm?" International Journal of Cultural Studies 10 (4): 403–21.

Dyer, Richard. 1986. Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. London: Macmillan.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs. 1992. "Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun." In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, edited by Lisa A. Lewis, 84–106. London: Routledge

Fiske, John. 1989. Understanding Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.

Flaherty, Mike. 2002. "Case Closed." Entertainment Weekly, May 17. http://duchovny.net/articles5/ew-2002.htm.

Garthwaite, Craig, and Timothy J. Moore. 2008. The Role of Celebrity Endorsements in Politics: Oprah, Obama, and the 2008 Democratic Primary. http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/stuff_for_blog/celebrityendorsements_garthwaitemoore.pdf.

Gray, Jonathan. Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington. 2007. Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. New York: New York University Press.

Grossberg, Lawrence. 1992. "Is There a Fan in the House? The Affective Sensibility of Fandom." In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, edited by Lisa A. Lewis, 50–65. London: Routledge.

Hills, Matt. 2002. Fan Cultures. London: Routledge.

Horton, Donald, and R. Richard Wohl. 1956. "Mass Communication and Parasocial Interaction: Observation on Intimacy at a Distance." Psychiatry 19 (3): 15–29.

Huliaras, Asteris, and Nikolaos Tzifakis. 2011. "Bringing the Individuals Back In? Celebrities as Transnational Activists." In Transnational Celebrity Activism in Global Politics: Changing the World?, edited by Liza Tsaliki, Christos A. Frangonikolopoulos, and Asteris Huliaras, 29–44. Bristol: Intellect.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Jensen, Joli. 1992. "Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization." In The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, edited by Lisa A. Lewis, 9–29. London: Routledge.

Kravetz, Stacy. 1999. Girl Boss: Running the Show Like the Big Chicks. Chicago: Girl Press.

Marshall, P. David. 1997. Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

McCutcheon, Lynn E., and John Maltby. 2002. "Personality Attributions about Individuals High and Low in the Tendency to Worship Celebrities." Current Research in Social Psychology 7 (19). http://www.uiowa.edu/~grpproc/crisp/crisp.7.19.html.

Porter, James E. 1998. Rhetorical Ethics and Internetworked Writing. Greenwich, CT: Ablex Publishing.

Radway, Janice A. 1984. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Rojek, Chris. 2007. "Celebrity and Religion." In Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader, edited by Sean Redmond and Su Holmes, 171–80. London: Sage.

Rumbaugh, Gina Boyer. 2008. X-chromosomes within "The X-Files." Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag.

Sandvoss, Cornel. 2005. Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Schickel, Richard. 1985. Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Stacey, Jackie. 1994. Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship. London: Routledge.

Tsaliki, Liza, Christos A. Frangonikolopoulos, and Asteris Huliaras. 2011. "Introduction: The Challenge of Transnational Celebrity Activism: Background, Aim, and Scope of the Book." In Transnational Celebrity Activism in Global Politics: Changing the World?, edited by Liza Tsaliki, Christos A. Frangonikolopoulos, and Asteris Huliaras, 7–24. Bristol: Intellect.

Tudor, Andrew. 1974. Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of Film. London: Allen and Unwin.

Turner, Graeme. 2004. Understanding Celebrity. London: Sage.

van Zoonen, Liesbet. 2005. Entertaining the Citizen: When Politics and Popular Culture Converge. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.



License URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258, is an online-only Gold Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works. TWC is a member of DOAJ. Contact the Editor with questions.