Fandom: The classroom of the future

Paul J. Booth

DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, United States

[0.1] Abstract—What is the role of the fan scholar in the age of the fan-scholar? I explore fandom as the classroom of the future—that is, as a space and as a culture that may be one of the few places where people are encouraged to think critically, to write, and to make thoughtful and critical judgments about hegemonic culture once formal schooling is complete. The type of critical thinking that can happen in fan environments could benefit our formal educational system. As fans, scholars, fan-scholars, and educators, we need to be more assertive against the encroaching normalization of commercialization, market forces, and neoliberal control over affect, both in education and out of it. We need to teach not just fan studies, but how fandom itself encourages how to be thoughtful fans in a world increasingly hostile to expressions of affect.

[0.2] Keywords—Complicity fandom; Critical fandom; Fan-scholar; Neoliberalism; Pedagogy

Booth, Paul J. 2015. "Fandom: The Classroom of the Future." In "European Fans and European Fan Objects: Localization and Translation," edited by Anne Kustritz, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 19.

1. Introduction

[1.1] You may be curious about my essay's title. I call fandom the classroom of the future for three reasons. First, I believe our educational system can benefit from more fandom enthusiasm, both from us as scholars and from our students, fans themselves. Second, as fan-scholars, we have a momentous opportunity and responsibility to learn from and to teach fannish ardor in the classroom, and to contribute to it as both fans and scholars. And third, new generations of fans will become future teachers, thinkers, and responsible media citizens. It is our responsibility, as today's media scholars and teachers, to help train them in these critical skills of fandom by exposing them to thoughtful, engaged fan work. Indeed, once formal schooling is complete, one's fandom may be one of the only places where one is encouraged to think critically, to write, to discuss deeply, and to make thoughtful and critical judgments about hegemonic culture. One's fan identity might be the catalyst of critical intellectual shifts. It is within our abilities as scholars, educators, and fans to support, nurture, and maintain these critical fandoms against what I see as an encroaching turn to neoliberal education and corporate-focused fandom.

[1.2] As fan-scholars, we need to voice our own particular enthusiasms in multiple venues and integrate more fan voices in our classes. I'm not seeking here to perpetuate an imagined fan/academic split. Rather, I want to touch on those whom Matt Hills (2002) calls fan-scholars, those who "overlap…fan and academic analyses. Fans…[who] produce their own critical accounts" (18). Hills writes of the "possibility that fan and academic identities can be hybridized or brought together not simply in the academy but also outside of it," in this figure of the fan-scholar (15). I agree. We need to bring together the fan and the scholar, but this can be more than a metaphor. We literally can bring fan scholars and fan-scholars together—in classrooms, at conventions, and online.

[1.3] I am seeking fan scholars to partner with fan-scholars (the hyphen is crucial) to foster more critical fan traits in students, the fans of tomorrow. By critical fan traits, I don't mean to emphasize the type of critical work that fans do, although that is important. Rather, I mean that all fans' work is itself a critical component in today's media environment, and fan scholars (with or without a hyphen) can foster a need to respect fans and their work through interaction and dialogue in and out of the classroom and in and out of fan communities. This focus combats what I see as a neoliberal turn in fandom, which places cultural value on so-called right and wrong ways to be a fan, extols the individual over the community, promotes fandom as a capitalist enterprise, and polices and disciplines particular ways of expressing fannish enthusiasm.

[1.4] Neoliberal fandom teaches us to devalue public affect. As the meme in figure 1 from Disney's film, Frozen (2013), remarks, "Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know." Emotional fandom is supposed to be hidden. Although there is no wrong way to be a fan—any type of affect strikes me as a valid lifestyle and choice—impinging on others' abilities to be fans in their own ways limits fandom as a whole. It is important to reflect on the varied fan experiences and to acknowledge the multiplicity of fan identities. There are as many ways of being a fan as there are fans in the world. It is important to celebrate this fannish variety and to teach others to value it as well.

Color image of a white, blonde female computer-animated Frozen character (Elsa) wearing a gold crown and holding a scepter. Text above reads, in all caps, 'WHEN HAVING A FANGIRL MOMENT IN PUBLIC.' Text below reads, in all lowercase, 'conceal, don't feel, don't let them know.'

Figure 1. Frozen (2013) Internet fangirl meme, found online ( [View larger image.]

[1.5] Indeed, some of the most engaged, passionate, and critical fan work is happening outside of the academy, and it behooves us to help our students—these future fans—learn from and contribute to it. Just glancing online on an average day, I see nonacademics engaging in scholarly discussions. We can see this with the Fan Meta Reader (, a project put together by Lori Morimoto, which takes fan-scholar criticism seriously. The majority of the articles written on the Fan Meta Reader are by fans doing the type of critical work on fannish texts that fan scholars could benefit from. Its purpose is to bring

[1.6] thought-provoking, theoretically innovative, and stylistically unique fan analysis—meta—to a wide readership. The Reader is committed to bridging the divide between academic and fan writing on television, film, and fandom, offering a place for thoughtful work that doesn't fit within a traditional academic publishing framework; equally, the Reader aims to demonstrate the breadth of fan writing, which is not confined to fan fiction alone. (Fan Meta Reader 2015)

[1.7] Other fan-scholar groups like The Organization for Transformative Works ( look at fandom as a critical component of the media landscape. Blogs like The Collective ( encourage fan commentary on a wide variety of media texts. Fans compare and contrast elements of their shows. They debate gender representation in comic books, address the roles of Joseph Campbell's classic hero's narrative in young adult fiction, focus on the logical fallacies of sports journalism, discuss video game narrative dissonance, offer compelling Bechdellian analyses of the roles of women in media. Everyday people use fandom to engage in a variety of issues and real-world problems.

[1.8] I want to make two separate but related arguments, then synthesize them with a call to action. First, fandom is expanding, and economic issues are all-pervasive. We have a responsibility formally, as educators, and informally, as fans, to combat an encroaching neoliberal emphasis both in fandom and in education that portends the erosion of key moral and civic mentalities in today's fans. I don't mean to deny the existence of real fan hierarchies, although the difference here is one of institutional and systemic intolerance versus ground-up, interfan group conflict. Thus, by encouraging a particular style of fan engagement, the mainstream media industries reify these boundaries and hierarchies of fandom and inscribe ways of being that promote hierarchical discourses, as Suzanne Scott (2008, 2009) has pointed out in terms of authorized fan videos, or as Amazon's Kindle Worlds ( reveals with authorized fan fiction. It is a particular type of fandom—one that matches the ideals of the corporation, but not necessarily those within fan communities.

[1.9] Second, we need to teach students to be critical fans. Teaching students critical fandom is not about teaching them which texts are good and which are not. It is not about teaching value judgments or teaching them how to be "good" fans (however that might be defined). Rather, it is about teaching constructive styles of personal and community engagement. We can become involved in these discussions. Critical fans demonstrate listening skills by interacting with other fans in thoughtful ways. Critical fans encourage discussion through individual contribution and empathetic conversation. Critical fans encourage civil discourse, even if it's a disagreement. It's not about a good or a bad style of fandom (e.g., affirmational or transformational; see obsession_inc 2009; Hills 2014). Rather, it's about how individuals comment to and react to each other in productive and respectful ways. This is not about policing fan work that is currently out there but about cultivating more critical work for the future. We need to use more critical fandom in our classes to demonstrate it and use more of our scholarship in our fandom communities to reinforce it.

[1.10] This leads me to a call for action. It is our role as educators to listen to fandom; and it is our responsibility as fans to promote critical fandom in all our work. I want to bring up what Matt Hills (2012) has called "fan and academic moral economies, and address…how they might be made to intersect" (27). For Hills, fandom and the academy both use particular disciplinary guidelines to manage their respective identities. These moral economies, to use Henry Jenkins's ([1988] 2006) term, must be brought into the open and interrogated. We can do this by working with fan-scholars.

[1.11] We should start engaging with more fan works as well as fans themselves in our classes. Teachers should let the fan experience inform their teaching, and they should explore fandom with their students. We should present at fan conventions and write for fan blogs. We can invite fans from a variety of backgrounds to speak about different experiences of fan affect. Students will not only learn from this experience but will see critical fandom demonstrated for them. Despite—or perhaps because of—the negative experiences of fandom we have all seen or experienced, we should be more engaged with fan communities. Fandom is the classroom of the future because people never stop learning, and their fandom is where that learning will happen.

2. Fandom, antagonism, and neoliberalism in fans' media play

[2.1] I want to begin by showing how media fandom is best understood as a continual, shifting negotiation and dialogue within already extant industrial relations. Then I will illustrate ways that funneling fan affect into particular channels limits the critical work of fandom. Fans today are being taught how to be a particular type of fan, dividing fandom into deliberate silos rather than enhancing the commonalities between them.

[2.2] Both media fans and the media industries must continually negotiate, navigate, and adjust to the presence of each other in tandem with changing paradigms of technological discourse in our digital society. Interpreting this interaction requires an understanding not of the individual categories and corresponding definitions of fandom and industry but of the unique sites of their interaction as constitutive of meaning in and of themselves. We must look not at polarities of industry/audience but rather at the play between their moments of interface. This is often where complications arise in the fan-scholar and the fan scholar identities: as more specific types of fan activities continue to be pathologized, fans can become protective of their own fan identities.

[2.3] For Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998), fan audiences are hybridized as both a practice of resistance to media hegemony and as an identity of consumer complicity within that same hegemonic state (Hills 2002). In the intervening years since Abercrombie and Longhurst's sociological study of audiences, the academic path of fan studies has nurtured and facilitated these contrasting views of fans. On the one hand, fandom can be seen as a specific practice around which people can structure particular meanings in their lives. This view draws on the active work of fans in resisting media messages, and most saliently finds a home in the poaching metaphor of Henry Jenkins (1992). On the other hand, as Miles Booy (2012) argues about Doctor Who (1963–89, 1996, 2005–) fans, "the 'poacher' paradigm underestimates the conservatism of [fans'] interpretive practice" (4), and the identity of fandom often derives unconstrained pleasure from the symbiotic relationship between fans and the media industry. Although many specific fan practices can be resistant, transformative, or critical of media practices, the underlying affective connection between identity and activity marks fans in an always liminal state between resistant and complicit in institutional contexts. For example, mimetic fandom—a fandom of material objects, demonstrated via physical construction—as Matt Hills (2014) discusses, "deconstruct[s] the binary" between transformative and imitative fandoms (¶1.2).

[2.4] Media fans embody and project multiple identities, practices, and performances at once. As our digital media have encouraged a multiplicity of identities to develop, both online and in person, we often find ourselves resorting to traditional representational stereotyping in understanding key changes in cultural identity. Fandom is no different.

[2.5] Kristina Busse (2009) offers an analysis of fans that provides insight into the role of the fan in the media industries:

[2.6] Media fans thus are at the center of a media convergence of text and context, producer and consumer, appropriation and ownership; they showcase ideal investment in a media product and its transmedia branding and the marketing strategies of their communities…Fans are ever present in the contemporary media landscape, and fandom is growing both more mainstream and more difficult to define as a result. (356)

[2.7] In a 2015 Cinema Journal In Focus section, fan scholars like Busse, Abigail De Kosnik, Suzanne Scott, Karen Hellekson, Alexis Lothian, and Mel Stanfill argue that this mainstreaming has produced an increased focus in both fandom and fan studies on an industry/fan model—a model that inherently privileges dominant readings of texts, monetizes affect, and valorizes complicit fandom. Here, I'm defining complicit fandom as a particular type of fan audience that is uncritical of the media and reinforces dominant readings and hegemonies. I'm not saying that this is an inherently bad practice, but rather that we need to reinforce that it is not the only practice. These scholars assert that critical fan work is under threat by economic forces that reveal the primacy—and attention—of more dominant and hegemonic ideologies.

[2.8] The media industries have popularized fandom today, but they are depicting a particular type of fandom—an uncritical, passive, and consumerist fan audience. Fans are being taught that the best way to be a fan is to reinforce traditional (financial) hierarchies in fandom. Figure 2 illustrates a sign at the 2014 Chicago Wizard World Comic Con, which encouraged fans to become "more than just a fan" by investing with the company, literally profiting from other fans.

Color photo of a sign up next to a convention booth that reads, in all caps, under the con's logo, 'Wizard World Comic Con. WIZD. Did you know Wizard World is a publicly listed company. Symbol: WIZD. That means WIZD shares can be purchased through a licensed stock broker or by using an online trading account. Be more than just a fan!'

Figure 2. Sign at 2014 Chicago Wizard World Comic Con. Photo by author. [View larger image.]

[2.9] This emphasis on complicit fandom highlights the prominence of neoliberal thinking in the fandom industries. As Robert McChesney (1999) defines it, "Neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time—it refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit" (7). From a media/fan studies perspective, neoliberalism focuses on the consequences of the centralization of media corporations, the global diffusion of media outlets, and the economics of affective enjoyment.

[2.10] Mainstream media seem to both embrace and distance themselves from fans, while fans both embrace and distance themselves from the media industries. Yet both groups' resistance to and complicity with the other ultimately augments a hybridization of fan identity and fan practice within this neoliberal media ecology. As with any capitalist institution, the media industry creates an environment where privatization and commercialism is the norm, and critical or alternate views are ignored or elided. Success is still measured in publication and ratings, not emotional engagement.

[2.11] A neoliberal culture harnesses the pleasures of leisure into economic profit for others—browsing social media becomes a way of making money for media corporations through advertising, for example—as "the last vestiges of private, intimate life, relationships and emotions are, often unwittingly and gradually, sacrificed to work" (Harvie 2013, 53). Fans' works become fodder for industry profit, as Amazon's Kindle Worlds demonstrates; even more alarming is the lack of authorial freedom. For example, the content guidelines for writing Gossip Girl (2007–12) fan fiction include no pornography, no offensive content (including foul language—without saying what that language might entail), no "poor customer experience," including poorly formatted books, no crossover, no brand names, and no erotica (figure 3). But feel free to write whatever you're a fan of!

Screenshot of Kindle Worlds Gossip Girl content guidelines. Under the Kindle Worlds logo appears the title 'Gossip Girl Content Guidelines.' A display numbered list reads as follows: 1. Pornography: We don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts. 2. Offensive Content: We don't accept offensive content, including but not limited to racial slurs, excessively graphic or violent material, or excessive use of foul language. 3. Illegal and Infringing Content: We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is the authors' responsibility to ensure that their content doesn't violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights. 4. Poor Customer Experience: We don't accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art, or product descriptions. We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience. 5. Excessive Use of Brands: We don't accept the excessive use of brand names or the inclusion of brand names for paid advertising or promotion. 6. Crossover: No crossovers from other Worlds are permitted, meaning your work may not include elements of any copyright-protected book, movie, or other property outside of the elements of this world. 7. No erotica, including frequent, prominent, or graphic description of sexual acts. 8. Your Work may not be a novelization of a Gossip Girl television series episode.

Figure 3. Screenshot of guidelines for Amazon's Gossip Girl (2007–12) Kindle Worlds fic. [View larger image.]

[2.12] The type of fandom that gets positive coverage in the press is a complicit, authorized fan audience, as recent examples like Caitlin Moran's interview with Sherlock (2010–) stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman illustrate. By asking them to read aloud slash fiction written about their characters in Sherlock, and then encouraging the audience to mock it, she caused a great deal of hurt and embarrassment to everyone involved, including the fan authors, from whom she did not seek permission to use their work. Graham Norton does similar fan mockeries on his comedy chat show, The Graham Norton Show (2007–). Disciplining fandom in this way means mocking those aspects that are perceived as strange or weird. However, this mockery works for this neoliberal impulse as well. Moran, by mocking slash fandom but extolling her own complicit fandom of Benedict Cumberbatch, inherently disciplines a particular style of fan discourse. While there is nothing inherently wrong about dominant readings of media texts and fannish enthusiasm for hegemonic meaning, we need to be aware that this becomes the accepted image of fans that our students see. Students today are seeing dominant, uncritical fan audiences as positive, or are retaining a pathologized view of critical fandom, turning them into what Geraghty (2012) calls "invisible" fans "who do not see themselves in the very texts they study [and] are also unaware, or at least unwilling to recognize, the fact that the media pervades our lives so much that we all act as fans now" (170). Students simply do not see themselves as fans, and they therefore do not see the inherent disciplinary nature of fan representations.

[2.13] I'm not attempting to ignore the very real, very powerful, and very common conflicts in fandom. Contra the writings of the first wave of fan studies (Jenkins 1992; Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007), fandom is not a homogenous, happy-go-lucky, everyone loves each other group. There are not only real divisive elements in any fan culture, but there is also just plain nastiness. Take this example: in a humorous article written a week before Peter Capaldi's debut as the Twelfth Doctor in the Doctor Who franchise, Donna Dickens (2014) describes how annoyed he looks in each promotional photo. Responses from commenter DoctorWho1966, written a week before the airing of the premiere, are far from pleasant in tone or content:

[2.14] He's the best in years and I am a fan from 1981. I love these novice Newvian articles. You have no idea what you are even talking about!

[2.15] Once you see the new season, you will understand the look on his face and how his character acts. He is not like his young heroic predecessors, he plays the character somewhere between Pertwee and Baker. Feel free to Google who they were if you have no idea.

[2.16] Here, two different styles of fandom—a humorous criticism and a humorless dismissal—enact in miniature a much larger cultural discourse. The comments section of any such article is filled with similar dismissals, insults, and attempts to regulate others' fandoms and affective enjoyment—enough to make common the phrase "never read the comments."

[2.17] Such behavior occurs face to face as well as online, as conflicts at the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in London, recorded by Bethan Jones (2014) and Bertha Chin (2014), attest. Jones reports on the behavior of panelists and audiences:

[2.18] I was really surprised at some of the behaviour I saw though. The first was a panellist, a Star Trek novelist, who referred to LGBT issues as "LGB, whatever. Too many initials." For a science fiction convention, much less one with an academic track on diversity, I was shocked…

[2.19] The other thing I found disconcerting was the clear divides between factions of fans. I know that fandom is not homogenous…but I'd never come across such clear divisions between literature and media fans, offline (older) and online (younger) fans, and academics and non-academics…You don't have to agree with them—there were several panelists I didn't agree with—but that doesn't mean you get to interrupt them, shout at them, speak over them or click your fingers at them.

[2.20] Chin (2014) discusses how this convention was alienating for anyone not white, old, and male:

[2.21] If you're wondering why your attendees/supporters are aging when younger fans are heading to other conventions, then it's time to take a step back and do a little bit of navel-gazing. Over the course of the time I was there, I've witnessed:

  • a young female panelist, a professional like every other speaker on the panel, talked over and mocked because she was young and did not have the "40 years worth of experience of being in fandom."…
  • a panelist being called a racial slur, threatened and stalked but organisers did not remove the offender from the convention itself (which still perplexes me).
  • one of the panels I was speaking in, an audience member snapped their fingers at the speaker to get her to stop talking because she wanted to disagree.

[2.22] This might just be the specific convention—Worldcon is known for its stuffiness—but as Chin (2014) notes, "Bad behaviour is bad behaviour." Fandom fails like the debacle of #gamergate (Chess and Shaw 2015; Fembot Collective 2015), which began in August 2014, for instance, illustrate a general lack of compassion and empathy in many fan communities for any difference. Homogeny begets homogeny.

[2.23] I'm not saying we can, nor that we should, attempt to cure fandom of its antagonism. Not only does that emphasize and reopen the pathologization of fans, but it also portrays fan scholars as angels swooping down to solve humanity's problems. However, by speaking up and speaking out, we can demonstrate and encourage more thoughtful styles of community engagement in our students. Fan behavior—human behavior—is fluid. A recent study of Game of Thrones (2011–) fans by media research institute Latitude, for instance, found numerous motivations and styles of fandom; it also found that "fans are as complex and well-rounded as the characters" (Gosselin 2014, 4). This is an industry-funded survey, showing the growing awareness of multiplicity in fan communities. But it also compares fans to characters on a television series, as if the characters are more real than the fans themselves. This is just one example, of course, and there are hundreds of others.

[2.24] We can also encourage and support the critical interactions that do exist: for example, a story was released online about a positive site of interaction between fans and the media industry. In early September 2014, fantasy author Peter V. Brett posted a story about his young daughter, who wanted to play the DC Comics–themed game Justice League: Axis of Villains (Wonder Forge, 2013). However, out of four heroes and at least two dozen villains, there were no female characters in the game. Brett and his daughter did a DIY art project to create female characters for the game and posted the results online. Two weeks later, the game designers responded with an apology ("We screwed up," they wrote, "and everyone here knows it" [Pahle 2014]), added female superheroes to their next game (DC Super Friends Matching, forthcoming), and promised to add female characters to any rerun of the original Axis of Villains game (Pahle 2014). As Brett (2014) writes:

[2.25] The persistent courage of Anita Sarkeesian, recent steps by the NFL, the president, and countless other brave women and men who are tired of staying quiet on gender issues has me feeling that we're close to another tipping point in US society, and we should all keep pushing.

[2.26] Yes. We should keep pushing. Fan scholars can help the push by reinforcing any responsible interactions when we see them and discussing the others. I certainly don't mean that disagreement can't happen in fandom—in fact, quite the opposite. Disagreement is part of the essence of fandom. However, there is a difference between disagreement and dismissal; there is a difference between argument and aggression. Neoliberalism encourages a winner-take-all, aggressive mentality in fandom.

3. Neoliberalism in fandom and in education

[3.1] Where is this neoliberal ideology coming from? One area underexplored in current fan literature is where neoliberalism affects fandom in higher education. The neoliberal impulses in politics affect the educational climate, emphasizing a "student as consumer" model of education. Higher education has become the bastion of the administrator and the accountant, not the instructor and the student. At all turns, at least in my own US higher educational system, students see critical thinking and liberal arts as less valuable than more "practical" fields. In the UK system, more and more administrative oversight leads to more and more metrics and so-called research excellence frameworks, or REFs, placing value on outcomes rather than development.

[3.2] In a TED talk delivered in 2010, education expert Sir Ken Robinson argues that the current industrial model of education is outdated, outmoded, and obsolete (video 1). Why, he argues, do we stamp down creative thinking, collaboration, and aesthetic appreciation in favor of silo-ization, rote learning, and standardized testing? Because our model of education was designed for an industrial economy, not for today's intellectual, knowledge, and creative economies. Creative thinking. Collaboration. Aesthetic appreciation. Sound familiar? These are fan-based modes of critical thinking. But, as Geraghty (2012) reminds us, students "do not see themselves" as part of fan communities, do not see themselves "as part of the same discourses around consumption, cultural distinction and fan practices" (163). Being and bringing practitioners of these models of fandom into the classroom, models that we can learn from fans themselves, would allow us to combat this neoliberalism, this belief that, as Henry Giroux (2012) describes, "knowledge that can't be measured or defined as a work-related skill is viewed as irrelevant" (3). It will allow us to teach students to value critical work. Indeed, learning from critical fans allows us to train students to question the world around them.

Video 1. Sir Ken Robinson, "Changing Education Paradigms" (filmed October 2010).

[3.3] Yet the perception of fan studies in the academy is that it is a liberal art with few, if any, practical applications. Many of us have faced the question in meetings, job interviews, or promotion/tenure review: "Fan studies…so, what is the point?" Yet fandom helps develop critical thinking and writing skills—important skills for students after college. Harnessing for the classroom the critical thinking in fandom helps to elucidate its place in our curriculum. According to educational researchers Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa, and Esther Cho (2011), writing in a longitudinal project funded by the Social Science Research Council, students attend class approximately 9 percent of their time and study 7 percent out of class. That means 16 percent of their time students might be exposed to specific in-class critical thinking pedagogy. The researchers found, however, that 51 percent of students' time is spent in leisure, where their fandom may take precedence. If we could get students to think critically in their fandom as well, during that 51 percent leisure time, we could facilitate critical growth as a whole.

[3.4] Indeed, this 16 percent may actually be granting universities too much critical power. As Arum and Roksa (2011) describe in Academically Adrift, "An astounding proportion of students are progressing through higher education today without measureable gains in general skills," including critical thinking skills (35–36). Empirical data demonstrate that a college education today has a barely noticeable impact on students' skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing; indeed, "a market-based logic of education encourages students to focus on its instrumental value—that is, as a credential—and to ignore its academic meaning and moral character" (Arum and Roksa 2011, 16). I believe that fan studies, as a critical and interdisciplinary subject, has the capacity to combat a shift towards neoliberal emphases within education. Of course, as Jen Harvie (2013) notes, "participation is not intrinsically politically progressive…[but we can] look for ways they extend equal opportunities for social engagement" (10).

[3.5] There is evidence that being part of a fandom or participating in fan discussions teaches critical thinking (Jenkins 2006; Jenkins et al. 2009). There is evidence that fandom develops writing and reasoning skills (Black 2008; Jenkins 2006). There is evidence that fandom can thrive outside of a market mentality (Hellekson 2009; Turk 2014). Indeed, to better integrate a critical media literacy into the classroom, a "better strategy for viewing fandom…is to remain open to the possibility of welcoming certain aspects of…fan culture into the school curriculum" (Alvermann and Hagood 2000, 37). Incorporating fandom into the classroom has been well researched by many others (Black 2008; Booth 2010, 2012; Gutierrez 2012; Jenkins 2006; Lachney 2012; Lavery 2004; Robson 2008; Winslade 2010). I want us to do more than encourage our students to embrace fandom; I want us to create critical thinkers outside of the classroom as well. Bring fans into the classroom to model fandom. We can continue to encourage counterhegemony, emphasizing its powerful role in shaping alternative values and meanings by demonstrating this ourselves. Be fans. Be critical fans. Be the best that we know that fandom can be.

[3.6] In an era of global diaspora and instantaneous communication, fandom can become a glue to cohere disparate individuals, what Chin and Morimoto (2013) call transculturalism. In the high-tech, multicultural, and intercultural society of fandom, a type of accidental pedagogy occurs after formal education as fans learn from each other and from others via digital technology. We need to foster this growth today in our fan students by introducing it into our classes. In 2013, I invited a number of fan-scholar speakers to come to my class. Renee Ismail, Laura Evelyn, and Michi Trota introduced students to concepts like con harassment and rape culture. Speakers like Shelby Mongan described their own critical fandoms and, for instance, love of crossplay. I have taken students to different fan conventions and asked them to participate in ethnographic studies with me (Booth 2013). And in turn, I've encouraged those fan-scholars to discuss their academic history with my students.

[3.7] As fan teachers, we ought to use our own fan voices in the classroom and to do our own fan projects for and with students. We ought to be demonstrating our love of Supernatural (2005–) or Doctor Who. We need to teach students how to continue to educate themselves after higher education through fan communities. Benjamin Woo (2014) notes that because it "relies on knowledge, skills, beliefs, and other psychological factors, fandom is, above all, something people do" (¶3.9). However, Woo is only partially correct; fandom here, described as a practice, ignores the major focus of fandom as an identity as well. Being a fan and demonstrating this critical fandom to others presents a unique opportunity to advise in critical intellectual and civic work.

[3.8] As with the push in academia to market and commoditize the degree, the neoliberal impulse is approaching our everyday fandom as well. We need to avoid taking fan studies into the same territory as education has gone—the neoliberal emphasis on complicity with commercial industries—and instead build on those critical thinking tools developed and fostered by fan communities. We need a way of expressing the everyday qualities of pedagogical fan criticism.

[3.9] What is the role of fan studies in all this? Much has been written about interfandom antagonism. As Hills (2012) notes, this antagonism can come from industry paratexts or through interfan discourse. Industry paratexts, like the DVD documentary Comic-Con Phenomenon (2008) about the Twilight franchise's (books 2005–8, films 2008–12) fan presence at the comic convention, helps, as Hills (2012) describes, to discipline fans into particular behaviors by "dematerializ[ing] any sense of fan critique, or disempowerment, as well as glossing over otherings of media folk versus fan audiences" (117), while interfan discourse teaches fans how to behave by stereotyping and mocking other fandoms. But does fan studies also discipline fandom? These conflicting fannish moral economies are paralleled in fan studies as well: rarely has fan studies turned the lens on itself to identify its own gaps.

[3.10] One of these gaps is the way that fan studies may actually perpetuate hierarchical discourse by reifying the boundary between the fan and the academic. Bradley Schauer (2014) notes how there is

[3.11] a trend in contemporary…criticism in which critics strive to separate themselves from a strawman "fanboy" audience that is completely uncritical of comic book films, and possesses the arcane knowledge necessary to comprehend them. Rather than accurately representing how these films are constructed, and the way audiences engage with them…this critical attitude serves mainly to reinforce traditional taste hierarchies.

[3.12] Although Schauer is here writing about film criticism specifically, I think we have reached a point where fan criticism online is becoming both more mainstream and more hierarchical. Our students will be writing the fan criticism of the future. As fan scholars, we can continue to combat this intellectual snobbery by speaking up, and speaking out in venues normally out of our wheelhouse.

[3.13] In 2013, I wrote that "a greater dialogue between self-professed fans and academics would augment the already-strong work being done in fan studies, and would bring a fannish voice into scholarship on fans" (131). I also advocated for three ways to facilitate this dialogue: "publishing more fan-friendly works, speaking at fan conventions and using social media more publically" (132). We owe it to ourselves as fan researchers and as fans to become part of the conversation. This isn't us starting a conversation; it's us joining a conversation that is already happening.

[3.14] For example (and coincidentally), The Conversation (, an Australian and UK online magazine, uses a journalistic approach to highlight academic thought in a popular venue. The Nine Worlds convention ( invites academic panels along with fannish ones—something Worldcon has long done. Outside of the academy, the world of fandom itself is burgeoning with critical thinking skills. The famous Bechdel test is, after all, named after Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist who mentioned it not in an academic essay but in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983–2008). The fan-generated Hawkeye Initiative ( offers a sound criticism of gender representations in comics. Feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian created a YouTube video series, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games (2013–;, to investigate representations of women in video games. Her Kickstarter campaign originally sought $6,000 but made over $150,000. The subsequent misogynistic harassment and death threats she has encountered are examples of online interaction that fan scholars can help combat (Chess and Shaw 2015). These are just a few examples.

[3.15] Sometimes the media industry even listens. The most recent Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, 1974) rules have specifically stated that players "don't need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender" (McNally 2014). But too often the media industry doesn't listen. A variant cover of Spider-Woman #1 (2014) by Milo Manara caused a great deal of controversy for its overly sexual depiction of the heroine, as well as her rather oddly proportioned body (although to their credit, after the controversy Marvel reassigned other variant covers to other artists; Rife 2014). With all the fan-scholar discussion online about gender representations and female fandom (not to mention body-shaming issues), to be so ignorant of the multitude of fan discussion online isn't a failure on the part of fans to communicate, it's a failure on the part on the professionals to listen. Recent controversies surrounding sexist superhero clothing reveal a similar failure to understand the market. Marvel released a T-shirt for girls that read "I need a hero" and a similar one for boys that read "Be a hero," and DC produced a T-shirt for women that read "Training to be Batman's wife" (Asselin 2014). This fundamentally gendered misunderstanding of the nature of the fan audience signals miscommunication at this site of interaction.

[3.16] We can help popularize fan-scholars by bringing their voices into fan scholar venues. We can also augment them by contributing to fan communities. Many fan scholars keep blogs; many contribute to conversations happening on Twitter and Tumblr. Yet the creeping hegemonic influences over the normalization of fandom and the pathologization of less-commercial fan activities shift the focus of online fan sites. For example, popular fan blog The Mary Sue ( was revamped in May 2014. The site had previously had a creed that read "A Guide to Girl Geek Culture" and was dedicated to focusing on female fandom and bringing to light the contributions of women to the STEM fields and feminism in popular culture. However, when the site became more integrated into the geekosystem, it immediately took its banner down and claimed the site was now inclusive and for everyone (as if it wasn't before—for example, misinterpreting feminism). Without a dedication to critical fandom, The Mary Sue reminds us that a patriarchal, hegemonic reading of fan culture becomes dominant but still excludes too many. As academics, we are not the only people that can call these things out when we see them, but we are well poised to help.

[3.17] Change won't just happen. We need to work at it. It will be uncomfortable. Often, giving talks at fan conventions can be awkward when a deep-seated belief in one type of fan activity (memorizing the names of extras or obscure facts, for example) is seen as more valuable than something else. Although I didn't attend the 2014 Worldcon, the reports from panelists Jones and Chin detail the conflict, visible hierarchies, and inflammatory comments from many. Talking to fans at conventions can sometimes rile up fans who hate bringing feminism, race, or politics into discussion about their shows. These sorts of reactions are unavoidable when the status quo is disturbed.

[3.18] But we need to disturb it. The Status, as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) reminds us, is not Quo. The minute the status quo is accepted is the minute we need to shake things up. It is crucial to foster a type of responsible social engagement to start to combat the vast swathes of negativity and reactionary elements online. The reaction to Sarkeesian's Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series is just the tip of the iceberg. With the rise of global neoconservative movements, it is time to fight back with informed citizenry and democratic discourse—a type of discourse generated by and within critical fan communities and practiced in the classroom.

[3.19] Fandom is the classroom of the future because when the texts are gone, the fandom remains. By contributing to fan conversations and by starting conversations of our own in public, we will be able to stop seeing fans as the result of the media industry's work. This is the disciplinary mechanism of fan studies at work. By studying fans, we reify the boundary between ourselves and fans. It's not that we're ignoring fandom in our scholarship today; it's that we reify industry work by subsuming fans underneath it. Ultimately, as fan studies scholars and fans ourselves, we need to take a fannish approach to cultivating considerate, innovative, and critical thinking in fandom. By embracing our own fandom, we highlight the mutability of those boundaries.

[3.20] I realize it is a hard sell—I'm asking us to write out of our training, to speak to different groups, and to spend our free time exploring the boundaries of fandom and the academy. However, the more of us who do it, the less any one scholar has to shoulder. Inscribing critical fandom in our work means more than just teaching; it means collaborating, conversing, and generating new ideas in fan communities, in scholar communities, and in fan(-)scholar communities

4. Fandom in the future

[4.1] As fan studies scholars and, importantly, fans ourselves, we get to study a particularly pleasurable facet of human existence. As we enter a new phase of fan studies, as the Fan Studies Network ( has developed, as the many interesting and varied papers presented at its symposium illustrate, fan studies is alive and thriving. I encourage us as scholars, and implore us as ethical global citizens, to celebrate our differences and to encourage our students to do the same. We need to reinforce the importance of critical fandom in our classes and in the lives of our students, share resources with each other, bring in and be guest speakers for classes. Skype and Facetime are excellent tools that allow transcultural fandom—transcultural fan studies—to reach across international lines.

[4.2] As our educational systems lose critical focus to corporate control and neoliberal impulses, I urge us to combat this shift by refocusing our efforts on creating informed and educated fans. As fandom is becoming more neoliberal as well, I ask us to reflect on critical fan practices that an industry-focused turn may neglect.

[4.3] I admit I may be a bit of a Pollyanna here, but I believe we as fan scholars need to be more assertive against the encroaching normalization of commercialization, market forces, and neoliberal control over affect, both in education and out of it. Some may argue that this is simplistic or idealistic, or doesn't apply to their own teaching motivations. However, it does matter to fans; it matters to fan-scholars; it matters to fan studies to begin to help critical fandom flourish. There is a problem in our culture today, and we can help. We need to teach students how to be civil, how to disagree responsibly, and how to debate with respect. Fandom can offer a bastion of critical thinking in a world of conformity. In other words, we need to teach how to be critical and thoughtful fans in a world increasingly hostile to affect.

[4.4] If, as I have asserted, fandom is the classroom of the future, then we need to model critical fan behavior ourselves—in all our classes, in all our scholarly arguments, in all our conversations with students, media professionals, and other fans. We need to foster critical fandom in ourselves in order to demonstrate it to others—because being a fan is the responsibility and being a fan scholar is the privilege, not the other way around. It's one I'm happy to share with other fan scholars and to pass on to future generations and future of fans.

5. Acknowledgments

[5.1] This is a modified version of a keynote talk given at the 2014 Fan Studies Network Symposium, held at Regent's University, London, UK. Portions originally appeared in Playing Fans: Negotiating Fandom and Media in the Digital Age (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2015). Many thanks to Kristina Busse and Lucy Bennett, who commented on early drafts, and to Lucy Bennett, Bertha Chin, Bethan Jones, Richard McCulloch, Tom Phillips, and Rebecca Williams from the Fan Studies Network for their help in organizing the symposium.

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