Theory

Participatory democracy and Hillary Clinton's marginalized fandom

Abigail De Kosnik

University of California, Berkeley, California, United States

[0.1] Abstract—After the drawn-out, heated contest for the Democratic Party presidential nomination and Senator Obama's victory over Senator Clinton, a segment of Clinton's supporters are threatening to leave the party rather than fall in line behind the nominee. This essay argues that the battle between Clinton's and Obama's followers is best understood as a war between fan bases, with Obama enthusiasts constituting as the dominant fandom and Clinton voters occupying the position of marginalized fandom. Marginalized fandoms tend to blame the opposing fan base, intermediaries, and The Powers That Be for their fan campaigns' losses, and Clinton's fans are adhering to this pattern. However, the Clinton marginalized fandom's complaints can be regarded as valuable critiques that, if noted rather than dismissed, could greatly strengthen participatory democracy in the United States.

[0.2] Keywords—Barack Obama; Fan community; Hillary Rodham Clinton; Politics

De Kosnik, Abigail. 2008. Participatory democracy and Hillary Clinton's marginalized fandom. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2008.0047.

1. Introduction: The threat of schism

[1.1] Emotions run high among Democrats as of this writing. Today is July 24, 2008, and seven and a half weeks ago, the Democratic National Committee made a controversial ruling about how to seat the delegates from the Michigan and Florida primaries. The last of the state primaries took place in South Dakota and Montana, and Illinois Senator Barack Obama clinched the Democrats' nomination for president of the United States while New York Senator Hillary Clinton's run for the highest office came to an end. At the close of any two-person election, supporters of the victorious candidate are elated while supporters of the defeated candidate enter a state of mourning and melancholia. However, at present, numerous Clinton voters are also expressing deep anger and dissatisfaction with their party. Sentiments such as "Democrats for McCain," "I am no longer a Democrat," and "I will never vote for Obama" have appeared in thousands of posts on pro-Clinton political blogs such as Taylor Marsh (http://www.taylormarsh.com/), Savage Politics (http://savagepolitics.com/), No Quarter (http://noquarterusa.net/blog/), and Hillary Is 44 (http://www.hillaryis44.com/). In a year when Democrats expected to win the White House handily, thanks to the current Republican president's abysmal approval rating (28 percent, according to the May 28–June 1, 2008, USA Today/Gallup Poll), a schism threatens the Democratic Party. By the time of the general election, this moment of party division may be long healed. Today, however, a rift among Democrats exists.

[1.2] In this essay, I will examine Clinton's supporters as a fan base, and I will analyze their expressions of antipathy toward their own party as a case of marginalized fandom. Framing the Clinton-Obama rivalry as a war between two fan bases, with Obama's followers constituting a dominant fandom and Clinton's constituting a marginalized fandom, allows us to interpret the deep emotional response of the Clinton backers to this week's events as more than just sour grapes, more than just resentment at being defeated, from which little or nothing can be learned. Fan culture studies does not dismiss the passions of affinity groups. Rather, it asks, what social, cultural, economic, and psychological structures inspire their strong feelings and motivate them to organize? How can their passions be read as evidence of, or commentary on, aspects of culture and society that have gone previously unnoticed or undertheorized?

2. Marginalized and dominant fandoms

[2.1] Each of us belongs to many dominant fandoms by virtue of the fact that cultural norms exist. Anyone who has ever been a fan of something that most people seem to dislike, are indifferent to, or simply know nothing about understands what it is to belong to a marginalized fandom. There is no inherent shame or honor in being part of a marginalized fandom, just as there is no intrinsic benefit or downside to being part of a dominant fandom. Sometimes it is a pleasure to keep a marginalized fandom a secret, to avoid explaining one's enjoyments to others and to cherish them in private, like hidden treasures. Sometimes great joy can be found in participating in a dominant fandom amidst an enormous crowd, in standing with hundreds or thousands of people partaking of the same wave of energy, the same outpouring of love for a group, individual, or event. Everyone who reaches fan-level excitement about activities or texts belongs to many dominant and marginalized fandoms simultaneously, with attachments to a variety of mainstream objects as well as to cult or avant-garde or underground or unusual or low-culture, degraded objects. A person's dominant fandom can turn into a marginalized fandom; for example, among moviegoers who had admired the Star Wars films, people who thought that Star Wars was possibly the greatest movie franchise of all time went from dominant to marginalized with the release of episodes 1 and 2. And a marginalized fandom can turn into a dominant fandom: followers of little-known singers or bands can witness their beloved musical acts exploding onto the mainstream scene, with some fans feeling pleasure that R.E.M. or Radiohead finally got the recognition they deserve, while other fans bemoan the indie band's selling out.

[2.2] The defining characteristic of dominant fandoms, as opposed to marginalized fandoms, is not in fact numbers, but power. A fandom is not necessarily a dominant one because it consists of a certain number of participants; rather, it is because its object of investment holds and wields power. Power can mean control over state apparatuses, as in the case of the U.S. presidential elections, in which the fan base of the losing candidate, however large, is always a marginalized fandom because their party no longer controls the highest office: similar to Gore Democrats in 2000, if McCain Republicans lose the White House in 2008, they will be the marginalized fandom. Power can also mean a certain aura, of authority or legacy. An aura of this sort makes Yankees fans a dominant fandom despite the Yankees having lost the last two World Series in which they appeared. Conversely, supporters of the Diamondbacks and Marlins—victors in those World Series—were still marginalized fandoms after their teams became champions because sometimes even winning does not make a fan base a dominant fandom. Power can also come in the form of popularity or currency, a direct link to the zeitgeist of a certain historical moment, which often is decided and promulgated by the mass media (although the media may claim to only represent the "reality" of what is popular in the country at a given time). There may be nearly as many Americans living in rural areas as in urban centers, but the contemporary U.S. cultural commodity market appeals primarily to cosmopolitan city dwellers' taste cultures, rather than the preferences of religious, culturally conservative inhabitants of small towns or farmlands.

[2.3] Marginalized fandoms are not necessarily alternative, and dominant fandoms are not necessarily mainstream. Although many marginalized fandoms' objects of investment fall into categories of cult and underground or avant-garde texts, the marginalized fandom of heartland America would probably not apply any of those terms to their cultural preferences. In the case of Clinton and Obama's presidential runs, both have been considered alternative rather than mainstream candidates because neither is a white man, but both are also centrist in their political platforms, making them mainstream relative to candidates like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, or Ralph Nader. Thus, whether a fandom supports an object, individual, or text that is mainstream, alternative, or a combination of both does not determine whether it is a dominant or marginalized fandom. Rather, as stated above, the line that divides the dominant fandoms from the marginalized fandoms is often decided by how much power—political, historical, or cultural—is possessed by that fandom's object of interest.

[2.4] One must ask, then, what forces confer power on a given object, text, narrative, or individual. Often it is intermediaries and authorities who decide which objects, texts, individuals, teams, productions, or narratives will have power and which will not. Whether or not a fan base becomes a dominant or marginalized one is often beyond fans' direct control. The fact that individual consumers/viewers/spectators/voters must rely on the judgment and actions of intermediaries becomes particularly important in situations where two objects, texts, story lines, or individuals are in direct competition with one another. In such cases, the two opposing fandoms will each feel that "their" side deserves to win, and they will do everything they can think of (cheering wildly; donating money; buying tickets, albums, and special-edition DVDs; engaging in e-mail, telephone, or letter-writing campaigns; posting on various online message boards and blogs to support their favorite and attack the opponent) to help their side attain victory. But they will also anticipate, with dread or hope, that the intermediaries and authorities will have a great deal of influence in the question of which of the two rivals will triumph. During a period of competition between two fandoms and their objects, the feelings of antagonism of each fandom for the other can be extremely strong. This antipathy felt by one fan base toward another, and toward the rival object of fandom, has been called antifandom and fan-tagonism.

3. Fan wars

[3.1] Theodoropoulou (2007) argues that there are numerous cases of fandom, with sports fandoms being a prime example, in which the antifan does not exist outside the fan but "within the fan." These are

[3.2] cases where fandom is a precondition of anti-fandom…when for a fan anti-fandom is given and set. These are cases where two fan objects are clear-cut or traditional rivals, thus inviting fans to become anti-fans of the "rival" object of admiration…[U]nder such circumstances, a fan becomes an anti-fan of the object that "threatens" his/her own, and of that object's fans. Thus, when A and B are the opposing fandom objects, fans of A are anti-fans of B and of B's fans, and vice versa…[S]uch anti-fans emerge whenever binary oppositions are established between two fan objects. (316)

[3.3] Sports team rivalries are one clear-cut instance in which spectators' love for one side of a competition produces in them feelings of hate for the opposite side, but many other instances exist. Johnson (2007) discusses fan-tagonisms among viewers of a particular television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN, 1997–2003), some of whom championed the program's plot twists and romantic pairings in a later season, while other Buffy fans mourned the passing of the narrative style and romances that characterized the show in earlier seasons. The rivalry between two competing factions—be they sports teams, story lines, or character pairings on a television show—is neither felt nor fought only by the opposing teams, or by two sets of writers or producers who have different ideas for the television show's future. Theodoropoulou's and Johnson's works make it clear that fans also experience these rivalries at deep emotional and psychological levels.

[3.4] In such situations of conflict, fans of one side are antifans of the other side—that is, the enemies of their fandom. But the fans' efforts on behalf of their object of investment, though perhaps influencing the outcome (for example, encouraging more people to vote for a specific candidate or to watch an episode of a failing television program), are frequently outweighed by the decisions of any intermediaries (critics, referees, the press) who have the ability to influence the contest's results and, crucially, by the decisions of authorities, such as what fans call "TPTB" (The Powers That Be), which comprise network or studio executives, writers, producers, coaches, and commissioners. After a specific rivalry has been decided, when it is evident which fan base's desires were fulfilled, the marginalized fandom in particular usually has a great deal to say about the conduct and judgment of the intermediaries and TPTB. Many marginalized fandoms have the feeling that if the referees had not been blind, if the critics had not misunderstood what they were seeing, if the coaches had not made the wrong substitution at the wrong time, if the producers had any artistic integrity, if the writers had any sense of continuity and balance, if network executives had only grasped the artistic value and cultural significance of the low-rated television program, then the outcome that the marginalized fandom had longed for might have come to pass. On the other hand, dominant fandoms usually think that all the proceedings, including the actions taken by the intermediaries and TPTB, were more or less necessary and just. Dominant fans typically regard any irregularities as perhaps unfortunate but in the end of minor relevance to the results of the competition in which their side triumphed. The presidential primary and general elections, being among the longest, most visible, and most significant contests in U.S. society, fall into the category of competitive events that Theodoropoulou (2007) identifies as giving rise to antifandom within fandom, to a sense among each fan group that they are pitted in a struggle against another fan group or against many others.

4. Clinton versus Obama

[4.1] Polls in late 2007 showed Hillary Clinton to have a strong lead among contenders for the Democratic nomination, but her lead evaporated as the January 2008 primaries drew near, and it became apparent that Clinton would be the underdog in the elections. Immediately after her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, the first of the nomination contests, I read accounts of her "defeat" in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and I immediately recognized that backing Clinton's presidential run would mean joining a marginalized fandom. As a longtime Clinton supporter who assumed the press would give more or less equal coverage to each of the three leading Democratic candidates—Clinton, Obama, and Edwards—I was astonished by how quickly Clinton's entire candidacy had been written off. The press seemed to unanimously declare her run at the highest office ill advised and quickly over, declaring that Obama was polling much higher than Clinton in the next primary election state, New Hampshire. When Clinton won New Hampshire five days later, the articles that covered her victory emphasized not her comeback but Obama's inevitability as the Democratic candidate, as New York Times writer Adam Nagourney noted the day after the New Hampshire primary: "the Clinton campaign…is handcuffed by the aura that surrounds Mr. Obama…In Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton is facing an opponent who…at times this weekend seemed to be more of a movement than a candidate" ("Clinton Escapes to Fight Another Day," January 9, 2008). Some pundits, like Time magazine's Mark Halperin, pointed out how early the press had decided to favor Obama's campaign. On the night of the New Hampshire vote, Halperin said on Charlie Rose,

[4.2] I think what the press does, the filter of the press, in presidential politics, is hugely important…I have no doubt, in my mind, that the press corps favors Barack Obama, that the coverage is much more optimistic, enthusiastic. Arianna [Huffington] is right, it's a great story. But I'm for fairness in the process, and I think the press has an obligation to say, "Look at the coverage of Obama and of McCain compared to the coverage of their competitors, and I just don't think it's close to equal." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QLsAel4gmM)

[4.3] The feeling that intermediaries (in this case, mainstream news outlets) are somehow prejudiced against the object of one's fandom, and that they are unjustly using their power to ensure that this object is defeated, is a common sentiment in marginalized fandom. I began to visit the best-known political blogs with liberal leanings—Daily Kos (http://www.dailykos.com/), the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/)—and when I noted that the vast preponderance of bloggers and respondents on those sites were strongly pro-Obama and anti-Clinton, my conviction that Clinton's following constituted a marginalized fandom solidified. Political blogs, too, are intermediaries; political blogs can and often proudly do demonstrate favoritism toward certain institutions, policies, and people. What solidified my certainty about belonging to a marginalized fandom was the fact that in the next round of elections, Clinton won one state (the Nevada caucus) while Obama won the other (South Carolina), and still the mainstream media and the well-known liberal blogs tended to excoriate Clinton and laud Obama. Members of a marginalized fandom often feel that although they are strong in numbers, they are unfairly ignored. In January 2008, although Clinton and Obama were virtually tied in national polls of eligible voters and the primary results at that time reflected how evenly split the electorate was between the candidates, television pundits, blog writers, and newspaper reporters seemed to have already decided that one was by far the better candidate.

5. Antiparty fervor

[5.1] On pro-Clinton political blogs, posters repeatedly called out the mainstream press and so-called progressive blogs for their clear-cut bias for Obama, but Clinton supporters' sharpest criticism was reserved for TPTB: the leadership of the Democratic Party, specifically the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Since the DNC's May 31 decision on seating Michigan and Florida's delegates to the present (a span of approximately 1 month), Clinton fans have steadily manifested their anger toward their party. Between June 1 and June 3, members of the Taylor Marsh Web site, ranked in the top 5,000 most-read blogs by Technocrati (http://es.technorati.com/blogs/www.taylormarsh.com), posted approximately 12,000 comments, most expressing outrage over the Michigan/Florida ruling and many stating an intent to not cast a vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Posted opinions included: "I am sad, angry and unable to ever vote for Obama," "If Hillary Clinton is denied the nomination the Democratic Party must be brought down," "Maybe these people should get copies of everyone who has changed to independent and congratulate them on their party unity," "If the Dem 'leadership' is so lame as to pass over the best candidate in my lifetime and appoint the least qualified and most problematic, then McCain it is!" On June 3, a political action committee called Puma (People United Means Action) PAC was launched. A main entry on the Puma PAC blog on June 18 states the argument for the PAC's existence:

[5.2] If Clinton had lost the primaries fair and square, many of us here would have accepted it, moved on, and supported Obama. If the media had displayed restraint and dignity in its coverage of the fine Democrats who competed, many more of us would never have become outraged in the first place. And if the DNC had not turned Florida and Michigan voters into half-persons, and had not flat-out STOLEN four delegates from Clinton to give to the Precious, another million or so of us would have accepted the situation and worked for the Democratic nominee. ("It's the Disenfranchisement, Stupid!," http://blog.pumapac.org/)

[5.3] The anger of the Clinton marginalized fandom has not gone unnoticed by the press. On June 7, an ABC News story by Jennifer Parker and Ed O'Keefe reported on Clinton's withdrawal from the race in "Clinton Concedes Nomination as Supporters Debate Loyalty, Unity." Under the subheading, "Clinton Backers Angered as Party Tries to Unite," the article stated that

[5.4] some Clinton supporters believe their candidate was robbed of the nomination by flawed party rules that stripped Florida and Michigan of their votes early on, and allowed the 796 superdelegates to side with whichever candidate they choose. "I'm saddened because I just don't think [Obama] decisively won…It was the Supreme Court in 2000, and it was the superdelegates in 2008," [a Clinton voter] said, bitterly. (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2008/story?id=5014885)

[5.5] On July 23, the New York Times reported on the efforts of the Denver Group, an organization dedicated to ensuring that Clinton's nomination is brought up for an official vote at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August. The article quotes Denver Group cofounder Marc Rubin stating, "Contentious politics is not losing politics," and summarizes Rubin's and cofounder Heidi Li Feldman's position "that perceived forced unity imposed by party leadership is likely to alienate Clinton supporters and ultimately cost the eventual nominee the election" (Sarah Wheaton, "Clinton Supporters Try One More Tack," http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/23/clinton-supporters-try-one-more-tack/). Also on July 23, CNN reported on PUMA (not affiliated with the aforementioned Puma PAC), an organization that formed in the wake of the May 31 DNC ruling on Michigan and Florida. The organization's name stands for "Party Unity My Ass," and that phrase, the CNN story states, is

[5.6] [n]ot exactly the slogan you want heading into the presidential nominating convention, but one being repeated online and in neighborhood bars by a group of disenchanted Democrats…Why are they angry?…Some of the PUMAs accuse Democratic leaders of rigging the primaries to favor Sen. Barack Obama, while others feel that he is not qualified to be the party nominee, let alone competent enough to lead the country. (Mark Preston, "PUMAs Stalking Obama," http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/23/preston.puma/)

6. Unlikely friends and unexpected enemies

[6.1] For the moment, the Clinton fans who are antifans of the Democratic Party and Obama's nomination feel far more allied with other political marginalized fandoms—the supporters of defeated candidates Dennis Kucinich and Mike Huckabee, for instance—than they feel inclined to unite with their opponents in the Clinton-Obama fan base wars. One current perception among Clinton fans is that McCain's campaign has done a better job expressing sympathy for Clinton voters' wounded feelings than have Obama supporters, in part because McCain's backers now include members of Huckabee's marginalized fandom, and members of marginalized fandoms will always find common ground more quickly with one another than they will find common ground with members of dominant fandoms. Such commonality seems to trump differences in ideology.

[6.2] The Republican nomination was decided months earlier than the Democratic race, and was also far less contested and controversial, so the various Republican candidate fandoms appear to have coalesced behind the party candidate with greater ease and speed than the Democratic fandoms are doing. Wrote one poster on the Puma PAC blog, Firebelle Puma, on June 19,

[6.3] The night after Hillary made her June 7th speech I went to McCain's site and signed up. The people there were so nice to the Hillary people…We were all hurting and they were so kind…One McCainiac said she sympathized. She had been a Huckabee supporter and after he dropped out she came around to McCain, but she knew how disappointing it was, etc…

[6.4] Then out of curiosity I went to Obama's site…MAN. It was like "Clockwork Orange." Nasty. They hated Hillary. The site was full of very nasty comments about her. I don't just mean criticism of her positions, etc. I mean downright mean-spirited personal nastiness. (http://blog.pumapac.org/2008/06/18/thanks-for-nothing-senators/#comments)

[6.5] This post illustrates an idea that frequently arose on pro-Clinton blogs in the weeks after the May 31 DNC meeting: that Clinton supporters' natural enemies are not Republicans but Clinton-hating Obama supporters.

7. Fandom and the dream of political participation

[7.1] The resentment that Clinton voters currently feel toward the Democratic Party and its nominee may not negatively impact Obama's chances of winning the November elections in any substantial way. Nevertheless, that there would be any resistance at all on any Democrats' part to the Democratic nominee at this stage in the election cycle seems absurd, given how opposed most Democrats are to the current Republican regime. I have argued above that the explanation for this apparent absurdity is marginalized fandom: Emotional investments and affective relationships seem to trump ideological commitments and long-standing party loyalties. Given the typical workings of marginalized fandoms, the aftermath of the Democratic primaries and nominating process—the party division threatened by some Clinton voters—is not only not absurd but eminently logical, and could have been predicted far in advance of the DNC's May 31 ruling.

[7.2] By framing both Clinton's and Obama's followings as fandoms and the rivalry between the two camps as a war between fan bases, I am endorsing the claim made by van Zoonen (2004) and others: Politics resembles entertainment. Both political events and media texts produce stars, narratives, climactic incidents, supporting players, supplemental materials, and, among citizen-consumers, fans who form interpretive communities. In other words, I am not claiming that either the Clinton fans or the Obama fans are more correct in their parsing of the various scenes and stories that have constituted the long drama of the Democratic nomination process. Rather, I argue that the two groups of supporters interpret events according to very different evaluative criteria, just as the various camps of Buffy fans that Johnson (2007) describes interpreted all of the plot twists of the show's late seasons differently. To a great many ordinary citizen-consumers, political elections and all they entail, however much they claim to be "real" events, are media texts just as much as fictional and nonfictional (reality or documentary) television programs and films are media texts, and thus are available to be read and followed with the same fannish interest as all entertainment media.

[7.3] Fan wars are sometimes resolved, as happened in the wake of the Dean versus Kerry 2004 primary contests, in which Dean's marginalized fandom ultimately reconciled itself to the Democratic nominee despite suspicions that the media had unfairly amplified Dean's mistakes (especially "The Scream") and thereby handed Kerry crucial early victories in the nominating process. However, other fan wars are never resolved. Sometimes the hatred felt by the marginalized fandom for the dominant lingers, as does the loathing felt by the dominant fandom for the marginalized fandom, without the two camps reaching a consensus that permits them to reunite into one large fan base. Writes Johnson, concerning the online Buffy fan base wars, "Fans do not easily agree to disagree—differing opinions become co-present, competing interests struggling to define interpretative and evaluative consensus…[H]ostile interpretative stalemates [can] fragment online fan communities into splinter groups with 'their own strongholds…where they consolidate and preach to the choir'" (2007:288–90, citing Brooker 2002).

[7.4] If there are any questions about how Clinton supporters can possibly hold out against cries for party unity issued by DNC Chairperson Howard Dean, Obama, and even Clinton herself, one need only keep in mind that political supporters are fans and are therefore as capable as disappointed fans of being as intransigent and as insistent on segmentation and separation. In fan base wars that concern rival romantic pairings (such as Buffy/Angel vs. Buffy/Spike), it's clear that a number of disappointed members of the marginalized fandom (Buffy/Spike) turn against the text that they once loved. After the Buffy/Spike romance was foreclosed by the show's narrative, numerous Buffy/Spike fans became strongly antifannish about Buffy, "hating" on the show continuously on various message boards, with some going so far as to quit watching the series entirely. Likewise, for political fans, loyalty to a single politician's candidacy, and the defeat of that candidate, can lead fans to reject the party outright or to tune out from politics until 2 or 4 years later, when another election cycle begins, at which point their preferred candidate may return or they may find a new candidate to back. In both entertainment and politics, the final stage of participating in a marginalized fandom can be the turning away from the initial object of investment, whether it be Buffy or the Democratic Party. In the end, some fans' investments in a particular story line, character, or candidate trumps their investment in the larger program or party.

8. Sentimental citizenship

[8.1] Is one lesson of this year's elections, then, that politics should not or must not be equivalent to entertainment, and that citizens who become interested in following elections should not or must not behave like fans? Has fandom turned out to pose a danger to democracy because voters are apparently not making decisions on the basis of ideological principles or party affiliation, but on the basis of their deep emotional fannish investments? The argument that democracy and high emotion can never be allowed to intertwine is at least as old as the Enlightenment. But in fact, the levels of commitment evident in the fannish behavior of voters this year are what a number of political theorists have long desired and anticipated. Political fandoms, and their use of digital tools for public debating and campaigning, can be regarded as the beginnings of the fulfillment of the promise of democracy.

[8.2] Voter participation in U.S. presidential elections was approximately 60 percent or better from 1952 through 1968 and has been declining since then; in 1996, participation fell below 50 percent (Garrick Utley, "Low voter turnout expected on Election Day," http://archives.cnn.com/2000/ALLPOLITICS/stories/11/02/voter.turnout/index.html). The cause of low turnout most often cited is voter apathy, but one political party has been seemingly less content to allow its members to remain indifferent than the other. Duncombe (2007) praises neoconservative Republicans for successfully disseminating propaganda—simple and compelling narratives and images—that has aroused Americans' emotions and enabled the Republican Party to hold onto the presidency and to further many items on its agenda with little opposition for the last 8 years. Progressives, Duncombe insists, must do the same if they hope to sway Americans to become politically involved:

[8.3] Progressives should have learned to build a politics that embraces the dreams of people and fashions spectacles which give these fantasies form—a politics that understands desire and speaks to the irrational; a politics that employs symbols and associations; a politics that tells good stories…Progressives, secular as well as religious, need to make peace with the less-than-rational nature of politics. This will take some effort, for it means rethinking an entire tradition of political thought. (9)

[8.4] Gray (2007), citing George Marcus, also asserts that politics must speak to voters' emotions in order to prompt their participation:

[8.5] Marcus rebukes the common assertion that democracy is in danger, with entertainment and emotional appeal solely trivializing serious issues…[Marcus argues that] "emotion is required to invoke reason and to enable reason's conclusions to be enacted."…Consequently, Marcus calls for "a sentimental citizen," gifted with "affective intelligence," and he flips common assumptions to suggest that a wholly "rational," "cerebral" electorate is one unfit to govern. (78–79)

[8.6] The intensity of emotion displayed by political fandoms during this primary election season seems to answer the calls that Duncombe, Gray, and Marcus issue. Voters who engage with the election cycle via fannish protocols are the opposite of apathetic. They find ways to create intriguing narratives from the news events concerning their favorite candidates, and they circulate those narratives widely to fellow fans via blogs and other Web sites; they communicate with one another in the terms of desire and the irrational, in symbols and associations. In a sense, they are the "sentimental citizens" for which Marcus looks. Van Zoonen (2004) even more explicitly links political engagement with fandom:

[8.7] I would argue for the equivalence of fan practices and political practices…Fans have an intense individual investment in the text, they participate in strong communal discussions and deliberations about the qualities of the text, and they propose and discuss alternatives that would be implemented as well if only the fans could have their way. These are, in abstract terms, the customs that have been laid out as essential for democratic politics: information, discussion, and activism. (63)

[8.8] Emotions, then, should not be regarded as "a secondary component of politics, accepted for strategic reasons at best, but worrisome and undermining when taking center stage" (van Zoonen 2004:64); rather, van Zoonen (also drawing on Marcus) states, emotion in politics is "the key to good citizenship because emotional processes enable the use of reason" (64–65). Therefore, we should not look upon the strong reactions of Clinton's and Obama's supporters to each occurrence during the primary elections, including the latest sequence of events that has led some Clinton followers to break from the Democratic Party altogether, as a warning about how emotions can taint political judgment. Emotions prompt voter engagement, and according to Gray, Marcus, and van Zoonen, such emotion is a responsible and rational involvement in politics. What should be gleaned from Clinton's adamant following is not that the senator's fans are "overly emotional" about her loss—a charge that would, in any case, run the risk of stereotyping women, a core constituency of Clinton's, as unfit to play a part in the public sphere as a result of their essentially sentimental, irrational nature. Their emotionality is a step in the desired direction for democracy—away from apathy and toward participation.

[8.9] What I hope to gain by adding the concept of dominant and marginalized fandoms to Theodoropoulou's and Johnson's theories of antifandom and fan-tagonism is an emphasis on the aftermath of fan base wars. Although antifandom and fan-tagonism make visible the dynamics of struggle between fan camps, they do not shed a great deal of light on what happens when the struggles are over. Fan base wars do not often end amicably, with both sides metaphorically shaking hands over a battle well fought. Even in sports and entertainment, rarely are these bitter clashes between two groups' opposed desires quickly forgotten. Rather, immediately after these contests, there is a question of what will be done with the marginalized group, whether they will be afforded respect or made to feel small, whether their perspectives and platforms will be recognized or ignored. In fan base rivalries concerning sports teams or media texts, the status of one group of fans as marginalized may not seem to have too much long-term significance. A television program may lose some viewers or a group of sports fans may rail bitterly against a league's incompetent referees, but the ethical cost of media producers or team owners ignoring the disappointment of marginalized fans is not evident. In politics, however—and this is the major difference between fan base wars that revolve around political issues rather than around entertainment events and productions—the potential cost to all Americans of wholly excluding marginalized fandoms' anger and criticisms is too high.

9. New media and participatory democracy

[9.1] Political fandoms are more than the fulfillment of the desire for a more invested, more emotionally attached electorate, which is the dream of sentimental citizenship advocated by Duncombe, Marcus, and others. Both dominant and marginalized fandoms are also the fulfillment of the desire for a more participatory democracy, one in which more individuals join in political discussion and willingly, even enthusiastically, take part in debates regarding what constitutes good government—a dialogue made possible by the ease and speed of Internet communication. Although vocal Clinton supporters may be gumming up the efforts of the Democrats to fight for the White House as a united front, their dissent elevates the concept of democracy.

[9.2] This marginalized fandom is using its online presence and power to insist that a democracy that is truly participatory does not consist only of participants' sameness and consensus but also their difference and multiplicity. If the Democratic Party leadership were to have its way, if all of Clinton's supporters were to fall in line behind the new nominee, if Clinton voters' staunch objections to what they perceive to be imbalances and injustices that riddled the nomination process were to be ignored and disregarded, then the public narrative of the 2008 Democratic primary elections would be the result of what Jameson (1981) calls "strategies of containment," a censorship or suppression of the contradictions underlying historical events by the dominant powers, the victors of history. Blogs, message boards, icons, YouTube vids, and other digital tools of fandom currently permit Clinton backers to defy such containment. However long this defiance succeeds, that the organization of this marginalized perspective has been at all possible testifies to the possibilities of new technologies to make democracy more participatory and more inclusive because it gives more points of view greater weight and more widespread resonance than they could have hoped to achieve before the mid-1990s.

[9.3] A fandom is a collective. It brings together individuals who share common interests. Fandom facilitates discussions of its object, and it mobilizes support for that object. But since the mid-1990s, the power of collectives to recruit new members and to communicate information has been greatly enhanced by digital technologies. All of the fandoms I have alluded to are online fandoms, and although many fandoms have "live" or face-to-face components, it is difficult to think of a case of contemporary fan activity that exists completely apart from the Internet. Such cases exist, to be sure, but wholly offline fandoms are necessarily smaller, with fewer members and a smaller reach, than online fandoms. Hillary Clinton's fandom could not have voiced its complaints with as much strength, nor had them reported by the mainstream news media, without a significant presence on the Internet—significant in terms of the number of sites supportive of Clinton, the number of posts to those sites, and the number of registered members and views per day. Digital technologies are giving marginalized fandoms a greater chance than they ever had in the analog era to articulate their perspectives in force and in ways that allow them to be at least somewhat visible and noticed. Clinton's fandom is not the only political fan base that has used digital networks to its advantage during these elections; all the 2008 campaigns have used the Internet much more effectively than any past presidential campaigns. But new technologies are especially useful and important for fandoms after they have become marginalized, for without the World Wide Web, their perspectives, platforms, and critiques would be too easily lost, and their voices of dissent would be wholly absent from subsequent national conversations.

[9.4] The term participatory democracy was popularized by Ségolène Royal, a candidate in the French presidential elections last year. During the election season, Marc Crépon and Bernard Stiegler held a symposium investigating the seemingly redundant term (how, Stiegler asks, can democracy be anything but participatory?) that was subsequently published as De la démocratie participative: Fondements et limites (On Participatory Democracy: Foundations and Limits) (2007). In his essay for the volume, "La démocratie en défaut" (Democracy in Default), Crépon posits that participatory democracy is not a new concept, but it lacked the technology required to make it a reality:

[9.5] If the idea of a democracy more participatory imposes itself in the current electoral campaign (simultaneously as one of the themes and as one of the means), it is in part because the idea is concurrent with…the technological means that offer new possibilities for participation, which have been dreamed of and desired since always by the idea of democracy…Neither this dream nor this desire date effectively from yesterday, and they have already been experimented with under diverse forms. But they were, until the present, handicapped by a default of means that limited the possibility of their being realized. (29–30; my translation)

[9.6] In other words, new technologies have opened up the possibility for the fulfillment of a greater range of the potentialities inherent in the idea of democracy itself. A more participatory democracy, facilitated by digital tools, is a democracy more fully realized.

[9.7] And by what operations do new technologies help democracy to overcome its defects? Crépon points to two defects currently apparent in democracy that a more participatory democracy can help to remedy: "a defect of power and a defect of hearing." Writes Crépon (2007),

[9.8] That which we dream of, a participatory democracy, is, first of all and above all, a giving back a bit of power to those who have none…This power is essentially that of speech—of a speech to which…the political elites are more and more deaf. This speech is not heard anymore except in its eruptions (protests, demonstrations, and so on), eruptions for which the political elites sees no solution other than to minimize them…The project of a participatory democracy, as a consequence, cannot be disassociated from a new hearing of the mounting of these eruptions. (48–49; my translation)

[9.9] I propose that the marginalized fandom of Clinton serves as an example of the ways that digital technologies can be utilized for new types of speech. The speech of marginalized fandoms is speech that political elites (TPTB—the DNC's leaders, in the Clinton voters' case) would rather not hear but that must be at least acknowledged because marginalized fandoms now can use the power of the Internet to organize and to voice, en masse, their points of disagreement and their alternative perspectives. They can now create eruptions without physically gathering to demonstrate or protest—although plenty of Clinton supporters demonstrated at the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting on May 31. This speech—the speech of the outnumbered or overpowered, the speech of the cult fandoms and the subcultures, the speech of the marginalized and unusual and underground communities, not the least of which are the poor, the ethnic, the children, the disabled, the LGBTQ members of society—has the power to disturb but also to enhance the mainstream, the dominant, the triumphant, the hegemonic social formations, the dominant fandoms, if only they are not only acknowledged but also heard, if only they are given the new hearing to which Crépon alludes.

[9.10] This is the lesson that can be learned from the strength of the dissent of the Clinton fandom to the Democratic nomination process: today, marginalized fandoms can make their speech heard in greater volume than could be done before the digital era, and in many cases, theirs will be a novel form of speech, one with different content than the speech of the dominant. That they can speak is not in itself enough, however; their speech deserves a different kind of hearing. A democracy—or a mediascape, or a society, for that matter—that determines its paths of action and maps its futures solely on the basis of counting the greatest number of votes, or of ratings, or of dollars, that only counts the opinions of those who win and never those who lose, is impoverished next to a democracy, mediascape, or society that would be capable of hearing its oppositional, outnumbered, overwhelmed marginalized groupings. Although a democracy that gives credence to its marginalized fandoms would run, as Crépon (2007) says, "the risk of a plurality with anarchic and explosive demands" (41), such a risk is warranted by the potential rewards of this new hearing. Marginalized fandoms of media texts, if given a new hearing, might have much to teach the media industries about the value and power of their underdeveloped and underpromoted properties, and such fandoms could point out various types of affective relationships between media consumers and products that could be cultivated. Similarly, marginalized fandoms of political candidates and causes might open up unconsidered territories the two parties might explore and could highlight crucial difficulties that the parties must overcome in order to achieve a more robust democracy. In other words, the complaints and concerns of marginalized fandoms can be regarded as more than bitter and pointless chatter in the ears of the powerful. Rather, they can be grasped as important critique—critique that is difficult for TPTB to hear but that is ignored at the expense of all parties.

10. Conclusion: The Clinton fandom's critique

[10.1] The Clinton fandom's critique aims at three primary targets. The first is the mainstream news media, which Clinton supporters accuse of consistently demonstrating bias toward Obama and of allowing sexism to taint its coverage of Clinton's campaign. The second is the DNC, which Clinton voters claim dishonored the voters of Michigan and Florida when it failed to organize a revote in the two states, whose legislatures had scheduled their primaries early without the DNC's permission, and instead voted to seat Michigan and Florida's delegates with a half vote each and to award four of Clinton's delegates to Obama. To Clinton backers, the DNC's decision seemed to amount to a few party leaders ignoring the importance of a fair popular vote and determining the allocation of two states' delegates in such a way that favored one candidate over the other. The third target of the Clinton fandom's ire is the Clinton-bashing Obama fans, whose posts to liberal blogs and mainstream news sites seemed vicious in their attacks on Clinton.

[10.2] As the big story of the Obama-McCain contest plays out, and as journalists' interest in covering the anger of Clinton's supporters diminishes, the importance of the Clinton marginalized fandom's critique has yet to be considered. Media bias, sexism in American public discourse (particularly in journalism), voters' rights, and the question of a political party elite's power versus the power of individual Americans to choose their leaders—not to mention the matter of whether a standard of civil discourse can be established and maintained on the World Wide Web—are issues worthy of investigation and discussion. The history of 20th- and 21st-century American and British culture is in large part a history of marginal groups whose discoveries and worldviews were initially discounted and eventually adopted by the center: rock, punk, and hip-hop culture, queer culture, techie/geek culture, sci-fi/fantasy fandom, and comic book fandom are only a few examples of minor movements that have become major, or at least highly influential, forces in mainstream Anglo-American society. Marginalized fandoms articulate different perspectives than dominant fandoms and dominant culture; they express different investments, perceive different problems, and propose unusual solutions. If the Democratic Party and the United States as a whole are to improve how well they fulfill the promise of American democracy—if the concept of participatory democracy is to be realized, which it now can be, at least to a greater extent than ever before, as a result of the emergence of digital technologies—then the different speech of political marginalized fandoms must be given a new hearing. Rather than dismissing the impact of failed presidential campaigns that had managed to recruit enthusiastic followings, the electorate, and especially party leaders, must ask: what can be learned from the marginalized fandom of Ron Paul? Of Dennis Kucinich? Of Mike Huckabee? Of Hillary Clinton? What articulations and critiques emanating from these groups should not be missed? What perceptions and longings did these fans articulate, what frameworks did they pioneer that should be attended to, answered, and dealt with openly?

[10.3] The American Left has always been on the verge of schism. Jameson (1981) writes,

[10.4] it is precisely the intensity of social fragmentation…that has made it historically difficult to unify Left or "antisystemic" forces in any durable and effective organizational way. Ethnic groups, neighborhood movements, feminism, various "countercultural" or alternative life-style groups, rank-and-file labor dissidence, student movements, single-issue movements—all have in the United States seemed to project demands and strategies which were theoretically incompatible with each other and impossible to coordinate on any practical political basis. The privileged form in which the American Left can develop today must therefore necessarily be that of an alliance politics. (39)

[10.5] I have attempted to conceive of theoretically incompatible groupings in U.S. politics as fandoms. Fan theory has allowed me to account for the deep mistrust, resentment, and bitterness that can afflict the nodes that are expected to come together to form an alliance politics. Through the concepts of antifandom and marginalized fandom, I have aimed to make more understandable the motivations and desires of the Clinton supporters who threaten to break with the Democratic Party. What Jameson indicates in the passage above is more than the danger of postmodern society—the danger of endless fragmentation and splintering that can never truly coalesce or coagulate into unity behind a specific political program. Jameson also hints, as I have tried to do, at the hope of postmodernity, the proliferation of differences that will result in a richer liberalism, a society of greater dimensions, and a more fully realized democracy. Although it is almost impossible to know how the dissenting, distinct viewpoints, wishes, and wants of marginalized fandoms can and should be given a new hearing alongside the roar of the dominant fandoms, American democracy would be more complex, layered, and strong if these minor voices could be heard and in some way heeded.

11. Works cited

Brooker, Will. 2002. Using the Force: Creativity, community, and "Star Wars" fans. New York: Continuum.

Crépon, Marc. 2007. La démocratie en défaut [Democracy in default]. In De la démocratie participative: Fondements et limites [On participatory democracy: Foundations and limits], ed. Marc Crépon and Bernard Stiegler, 25–57. Paris: Mille et une nuits.

Crépon, Marc, and Bernard Stiegler, eds. 2007. De la démocratie participative: Fondements et limites [On participatory democracy: Foundations and limits]. Paris: Mille et une nuits.

Duncombe, Stephen. 2007. Dream: Re-imagining progressive politics in an age of fantasy. New York: New Press.

Gray, Jonathan. 2007. The news: You gotta love it. In Gray et al., 75–87.

Gray, Jonathan, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington. 2007. Fandom: Identities and communities in a mediated world. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Jameson, Frederic. 1981. The political unconscious: Narrative as a socially symbolic act. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

Johnson, Derek. 2007. Fan-tagonism: Factions, institutions, and constitutive hegemonies of fandom. In Gray et al., 285–300.

Theodoropoulou, Vivi. 2007. The anti-fan within the fan: Awe and envy in sport fandom. In Gray et al., 316–27.

van Zoonen, Liesbet. 2004. Entertaining the citizen: When politics and popular culture converge. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.



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