Materiality and object-oriented fandom

Bob Rehak

Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial overview of TWC No. 16, special issue, "Materiality and Object-Oriented Fandom."

[0.2] Keywords—Analog; Commodity; Craft; Gender; Manufacture; Toy; Transmedia

Rehak, Bob. 2014. "Materiality and Object-Oriented Fandom" [editorial]. In "Material Fan Culture," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0622.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Approaching fandom through an explicitly materialist lens may at first seem redundant: haven't fans always been defined, for better or worse, through their relationships to objects? Consider the notorious 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch in which William Shatner mocks his audience at a Star Trek convention, exhorting them to "Get a life." Framed in Henry Jenkins's Textual Poachers (1992) as a condensation of the worst stereotypes of media fans—excessively devoted, commercially overinvested, and trivia obsessed—the sketch is equally significant for the way its mise-en-scène inventories a set of (apparently authentic) Trek-themed materials: posters and blueprints adorning the walls, action figures, coffee mugs, garbage cans displayed on a vendor's table, buttons, uniforms—even prosthetics (think Jon Lovitz's Spock ears) worn by conventiongoers. In doing so, SNL's production design simultaneously demonstrates a comical perspective on and insider's knowledge of science fiction fandom, reminding us not only that franchise and fandom alike exist in concrete practices and artifacts but also that this very "thinginess" straddles sincere embrace and parodic commentary, or in current parlance fandom's affirmational and transformational extremes.

[1.2] Fast-forward some 40 years to find the San Diego Comic-Con operating in much the same way, if on a massively amplified scale, to spread the signifiers of fandom in media coverage that similarly walks a line between tongue-in-cheek exoticization and earnest celebration: cosplayers strike poses amid merchandise-packed halls while artists, actors, and directors hold panel discussions before standing-room-only crowds. The symbiotic interdependence of studios and audiences crystallizes in costumes and collectibles, shrines and pilgrimages, whose choreography is far more complex than any reductive notion of culture industries and their willing dupes/resistant reworkers can fully capture. Studying the physical habitus of contemporary fandom means moving beyond such binaries—along with those separating the "software" of media content from the "hardware" of their physical incarnations, or indeed the animate from the inanimate: close encounters with celebrity "objects" like Joss Whedon or William Shatner, indexed in an autograph or snapped in a selfie, become yet another kind of artifact, fandom's manifestations spawning and respawning in an endless chain of items.

[1.3] Although these opening examples focus on the visually outré genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy—and the media of animation, video games, and special-effects cinema that give them their most detailed expression—materialities of fandom encompass a much larger field of cultural forms and hierarchies of taste and legitimacy: sports memorabilia, music collectibles, and theatrical props all constitute meaningful bridges between the abstract semiotics of the screen and the lived, tactile experience of audiences. What these objects offer us as scholars is a window into specific configurations of place, purpose, and performance—contexts of usage that invite investigation through an inherently interdisciplinary array that may begin with the obvious Marxist critique of the commodity form, but branches rewardingly into anthropology, ethnography, psychology, transmedia studies, and more.

[1.4] This issue of Transformative Works and Cultures appears at a moment when the "things" of fandom are more prominent than ever, offering a window into our present while revisiting the past with a freshly object-oriented historicist eye. Exploring these relationships has too often been discouraged within fan studies that privilege textual over tactile engagement. With these factors in mind—the changed role of objects in fandom, new modes of both fan and professional industry, the display and record constituted by the objects of fandom hiding in plain sight—the essays in this issue aim to explore the material practices of fandom through craft, commodity, collection, and curation.

2. Theory and Praxis

[2.1] Matt Hills's "From Dalek Half Balls to Daft Punk Helmets: Mimetic Fandom and the Crafting of Replicas" opens the Theory section with a theoretical challenge to the recent academic tendency to divide forms of fan engagement and fan creations into transformative versus affirmative activities. In its stead, he proposes the term mimetic fandom. He uses several case studies of crafting replica props to argue that these examples of "mediated lifeworld" (a term borrowed from Mark Deuze) transcend the text/reality boundaries. Dorus Hoebink, Stijn Reijnders, and Abby Waysdorf's "Exhibiting Fandom: A Museological Perspective" continues this discussion of the complex merging of ideas and materiality in their case study of the EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington. By using museum studies to look at the various physical demands of curating material objects, they present a fannish space that brings together the imaginary world of science fiction with the material manifestations of these ideas.

[2.2] Lincoln Geraghty's "It's Not All About the Music: Online Fan Communities and Collecting Hard Rock Café Pins" also presents a group of fans that challenge easy categorization of their fannish investment as well as the role of their material fan objects. The Hard Rock Café pins at the center of Geraghty's study are a twice removed symbol of the place, and by extension the music played and materialized in the objects displayed. Geraghty's analysis of pin collectors brings thus together a variety of fannish investments that move beyond music and tourism as well as beyond merely virtual or material. Ian M. Peters likewise discusses the material manifestation of what we normally think of as a digital fan arena in "Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses, Superheroes in Miniature, and Pink Polka-Dot Boxers: Artifact and Collectible Video Game Feelies, Play, and the Paratextual Gaming Experience." Through a study of the external material object accompanying video games, he argues, as he notes in his abstract, that "feelies allow scholars to gain further insight into how screen media operate away from the screens themselves."

[2.3] Benjamin Woo continues the focus on the complex meanings with which fans imbue material fan objects in "A Pragmatics of Things: Materiality and Constraint in Fan Practices." Woo, reading these objects' complex and affective meanings for their owners against the real-life material constraints of domestic and personal spaces, argues for the importance of studying and understanding not only the objects and their meanings but also "the affordances and constraints they entail" (¶8.8). Matt Yockey's specific case study of "The Invisible Teenager: Comic Book Materiality and the Amateur Films of Don Glut" offers a detailed account of many of the subcultural teen fans in whom Woo is interested. Don Glut, however, moves from fan and amateur creator to professional, never losing his strong understanding of unstable identity and teen rebellion, which Yockey delicately traces to his own fannish teen affect.

[2.4] Continuing the theme of place that threads through this issue, Luke Sharp looks at Japanese maid cafés in "The Heterogeneity of Maid Cafés: Exploring Object-Oriented Fandom in Japan." Countering a sense that all maid cafés function similarly and serve the same purpose, Sharp details their complex heterogeneous aspects. Matthew Ogonoski discusses cosplay and its specific Japanese origins. "Cosplaying the Media Mix: Examining Japan's Media Environment, Its Static Forms, and Its Influence on Cosplay" uses a variety of theories to address the relationship between the static image that dominates the source mediums' ontological character and its transformation in embodied cosplay.

3. Symposium, interview, and review

[3.1] Symposium essays and interviews allow a wide range of approaches and topics, and the essays in this issue illustrate the range in both. Forrest Phillips analyzes the merging of commercial and fannish interests through his discussion of lightsaber makers in "The Butcher, the Baker, the Lightsaber Maker." Bethan Jones's "Written on the Body: Experiencing Affect and Identity in My Fannish Tattoos" offers an intimately personal yet highly theoretical discussion of fannish tattoos and the emotional resonance her own fannish body art has for her. Likewise, wordplay presents a deeply personal account of her fannish affect as she traces her journey through Glee fandom in "Fitting Glee in Your Mailbox."

[3.2] The interviews present our readers with various fans creating a diversity of fan objects. Matt Yockey offers an in-depth interview with Mark Racop, a lifelong Batman fan whose fascination with the Batmobile led him to found "Fiberglass Freaks, an auto body shop dedicated to making replica Batmobiles" (¶1.2). Like wordplay's personal recollection of her negotiation of virtual creations and material object in her fan engagement, Dana Sterling Bode's "Beyond Souvenirs: Making Fannish Items by Hand" collects several interviews with different fans for whom their material fan objects tend to be part of their general fan engagements. Thus, cakes, scarves, paper models, and game sets not only offer yet another medium to engage in fannish creation but also allow fans to merge physical creativity and fannish passion. Francesca Coppa's video interview with the foremother of vidding, Kandy Fong, is part of OTW's oral history project. It offers an important historical overview of vidding through the eyes of one of its early practitioners.

[3.3] The three book reviews that conclude the issue likewise illustrate an increasing interest in the materiality of fan culture. Lincoln Geraghty's Cult Collectors: Nostalgia, Fandom and Collecting Popular Culture, reviewed by Michael S. Duffy, clearly establishes how collecting and curating fan objects are central fannish modes of engagement that function as emotional and nostalgic symbols of fannish investment. Looking at the specific transmedia marketing, Marc Steinberg's Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan, reviewed by Brandeise Monk-Payton, theorizes anime's specific cultural and artistic role in terms of its central role as a media commodity. Finally, Sun-ha Hong's review of Georgina Gregory's Send in the Clones: A Cultural Study of the Tribute Band revisits the relationship between fandom and nostalgia in its discussion of tribute bands.

4. Acknowledgments

[4.1] It is not possible to properly acknowledge the depth of appreciation we feel toward everyone who has helped make this issue of TWC possible. They have suffered hard deadlines, late nights, and short due dates. As always, we thank the authors in this issue, whose original work makes TWC possible; the peer reviewers, who freely provide their time and expertise; the editorial team members, whose engagement with and solicitation of material is so valuable; the board members, listed in the journal's masthead, for their support; and the production team members, who transform rough manuscripts into publishable documents.

[4.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 16 in an editorial capacity: Bob Rehak (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Cameron Salisbury (Symposium); and Louisa Stein (Review).

[4.3] The following people worked on TWC No. 16 in a production capacity: Rrain Prior (production editor); Shoshanna Green, Karen Hellekson, and Christine Mains (copyeditors); Rrain Prior (layout editor); and Carmen Montopoli, Amanda Retartha, and Vickie West (proofreaders).

[4.4] TWC thanks the journal project's Organization for Transformative Works board liaison, Andrea Horbinski. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

[4.5] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers and Symposium reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 16: Lucy Bennett, Alexandra Edwards, L. A. Fricke, Patrick Galbraith, Lincoln Geraghty, Sara Howe, Nicolle Lamerichs, Drew Morton, Benjamin Woo, and Matt Yockey.

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