Book review

Fan studies: Researching popular audiences, edited by Alice Chauvel, Nicolle Lamerichs, and Jessica Seymour

Katie Wilson

University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Alice Chauvel, Nicolle Lamerichs, and Jessica Seymour, editors. Fan Studies: Researching Popular Audiences. Freeland, Oxfordshire, UK: Inter-Disciplinary Press, £7.95 ISBN 978-1-84888-279-9.

[0.2] Keywords—Connectedness; Construction; Cosplay; Fandom; Global; Identity; Internet

Wilson, Katie. 2015. Fan Studies: Researching Popular Audiences, edited by Alice Chauvel, Nicolle Lamerichs, and Jessica Seymour [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 20.

Alice Chauvel, Nicolle Lamerichs, and Jessica Seymour, editors. Fan studies: Researching popular audiences. Freeland, Oxfordshire, UK: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2014, e-book, £7.95 (147p) ISBN 978-1-84888-279-9.

[1] As the discipline of fandom studies grows and more academics turn their research to participatory audiences, the number of texts on the state of fandom today increases. Some, like the Intellect Fan Phenomena series, focus on fan engagement with a particular character, media property, or narrative. Others, like Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse's The Fan Fiction Studies Reader (2015), concentrate on a particular fan activity. Fan Studies: Researching Popular Audiences, edited by Alice Chauvel, Nicolle Lamerichs, and Jessica Seymour, is a collection of essays that attempts to provide an overview of the field of fandom studies. The book is well suited for an introduction to this field, as it provides a concise and accessible overview of who fans are, how they define themselves, and how they relate to their communities. It does not examine the scope of current research and theory in the field; very little mention is made of the state of fan studies as a discipline. It does, however, synthesize current ideas about the fan, providing succinct definitions of fans and fan theory, which can often be hard to find.

[2] The book comprises three parts: Investigating Fan Practices, Female Fans and Fandom, and Alternative Fan Practices and Engagement. The first part begins with a question from Agata Włodarczyk: "Is There a 'Fan Identity'?" Włodarczyk's essay utilizes psychological methods and theories derived from behavioral physiology and sociology to demonstrate that while fans are often perceived as overly obsessive or pathological, in reality the personalities of self-identified fans are no different from the personalities of self identified nonfans. Belonging to a community can be beneficial to one's own identity formation, but the stigma associated with fans might influence individuals to avoid claiming or performing their fandom. Włodarczyk looked at people's relationship to Asian pop music. She asked 68 respondents (predominantly female, and all living in Poland) to identify themselves as a fan of this music, nonfan of it, or nonlistener to it, and then fill out two personality questionnaires: the NEO-FFI, which seeks to identify a person's relationship to the "Big Five" personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience), and the Schwartz's Value Survey, which investigates a person's life goals and priorities. What emerged was that fans and nonfans were, on the whole, not much different, though fans did tend to score higher on questions measuring conscientiousness and planning, and lower on questions measuring conformity. Włodarczyk believes these personality traits emerge because of the amount of planning and cooperation that must occur in fan communities, especially those where fan events and media are not readily available. Her study was small and is presented as a pilot study, but the essay gives a strong theoretical and methodological base for further research in this area.

[3] The next essay, by Christine Lundberg and Maria Lexhagen, is also a call for more research, this time in the field of fan tourism. "Pop Culture Tourism: A Research Model" provides a theory of what makes a tourist attraction appeal to fans. While traditional theories of tourism follow a push-pull model (the push of the tourists' psychological and social characteristics paired with the pull of the attractive destination), Lundberg and Lexhagen argue that to be successful the popular culture tourism industry must understand fans and their culture, offer innovative destinations and attractions, and utilize technology as a mediation tool. They demonstrate that fans are exacting tourists, demanding that their destinations be authentic and inform them about the object of their fandom; fans want tours of the real sites of their fandom, actual filming locations, led by guides who seem fannish themselves, not patronizing or motivated purely by commercial interest. While the theory does offer insight into the desires of fan tourists, Lundberg and Lexhagen's mathematical approach reduces the motivations of all fans into an overly simplistic formula for success. They develop the following formula:

Pop Culture Tourism Success = (Pop Culture Phenomena + Technology-Mediated Fan Experiences + Strong Ties + Destination Innovation and Product Development) (Eq. 1)

[4] While this formula does include the motivations of many fans, it does not take into account the varying needs of fan communities. Many fan communities will particularly value one of these factors and may take offense at another. Nor does it account for the many reasons why individuals form a relationship with a text, for even within the strongest fan communities there are factions. Still, despite its oversimplification, the article is a strong primer on theories of fan tourism and the commercialization of fans.

[5] The final article on fan practices is Hattie Liew's "The Pleasures of Fandom and the Affective Divide: Chinese Pop Fandom in Singapore." Liew's study looks at fans of Mando/Canto pop (also known as Chinese pop) living in Singapore. Through interviews, she examines five axes of fandom—Decentered/Centered, Shame/Pride, Separation/Integration, Nostalgia/Renewal, and Desired reality/Perfect fantasy—among fans of two iconic Chinese-pop stars: Kit Chan and Sandy Lam. She depicts fans as diverse and complex as a result of their communities, the context of their fandom, and even the source of their fandom. Liew's strongest argument is that fan activities need not be political: while fans of a particular text in one country might engage in fan activities aimed at social or political change, fans of the same text in another country might not do so—even if the text calls for such a change.

[6] The second part of the collection looks at female fans. "Mommy Porn and Regurgitated Fiction: The Silencing of Women in Fan Debates about Pulled to Publish Fan Fiction," by Monica Flegel and Jenny Roth, looks at the phenomenon of pulling to publish (P2P), in which fan fiction is removed from free Internet databases and published for profit. Flegel and Roth see fan criticism of this activity as part of a larger societal problem: female authors being discouraged from writing for profit. They insist that this criticism, particularly when it comes from fellow fan fiction writers, furthers a misogynistic view of writing in which women are welcome to write as a hobby but are seen as selfish when they want compensation for their work. Flegel and Roth's condemnation of such fan criticism demonstrates that fan fiction is far from a perfect feminist medium.

[7] Barbara Braid's "'Fassination,' Fandom and the Crisis of Hegemony: Michael Fassbender's Performance of Masculinity and the Female Gaze" continues this examination of feminism and fandom. Braid uses the fandom of film star Michael Fassbender to demonstrate a shift from hegemonic masculinity toward an inclusive masculinity. Fassbender is open about his feminine side, and his femininity helps to establish his masculinity and attract a female gaze. Braid argues that the female gaze helps to validate the idea of inclusive masculinity, making the concept mainstream. Braid's argument is strong, but a larger study of depictions of masculinity, examining fandoms surrounding other celebrities, is needed before we can conclude that inclusive masculinity is becoming mainstream. Is it Fassbender's identity as European that creates this femininity in the minds of viewers, and do other European celebrities, such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Jude Law, therefore also appear feminine? Is it Fassbender's roles in diverse films, from independent dramas to blockbuster action movies, that create this inclusive masculinity? Understanding the elements of Fassbender's career and identity that invite the female gaze may help to support Braid's argument.

[8] The final work on female fans is Ann-Marie Cook and Deirdre Hynes's "From the Football Terraces to the Television Screen: Gender, Sexuality and the Challenges of Online Fan Communities." This essay looks at media fandom as it intersects with sports fandom. Cook and Hynes first examine female posters on European football forums. These women typically try to hide their gender because these sites have a history of sexism and exclusion of women. They therefore take on neutral identities and assume the speech, mannerisms, and norms of the masculine community. In contrast, the online communities that formed around the German television program Hand aufs Herz (2010–11) are extremely diverse and accepting of many different identities. Cook and Hynes help to show the diversity of fan communities but fail to highlight the inherent cultural differences between sports fandom and media fandom. While they do attribute the openness of the Hand aufs Herz forums to the inclusion of a lesbian couple in the show, they do not spend much time discussing the historical acceptance of diverse identities in online media fandom (for example, the inclusion of nonheterosexual characters in slash fan fiction). Likewise, they do not discuss the historical homophobia and sexism of professional sports and how they might affect fan communities.

[9] The final part of Chauvel, Lamerichs, and Seymour's collection examines alternative fan practices and engagement. The term alternative requires an explanation, and the editors quickly define it as referring to off-line fan activities. While fans and fan theorists do devote much of their time to online pursuits, the classification of off-line activities as alternative seems a bit hyperbolic. The first essay, written by Alice Chauvel, examines how fans use their fandom to support social causes. "Fandom and Civic Engagement: From Fan Fiction to Fandom Led Social Causes" makes the case that fans are not the solitary figures of stereotype because they tend to engage in fan activities as a way to raise funds for causes they support. Chauvel's case study looks at the blog Fandom4Causes and the Twilight fans who utilized their fan communities to help make the world a better place. The essay serves as a wonderful introduction to both fandom and fan activism, but its ethnographic research is a bit lacking.

[10] Jessica Seymour's "Lizzie Bennet: Breaking the Fourth Wall since 2012" looks at transmedia storytelling not as a medium but rather as a narrative device. Seymour defines transmedia storytelling as using video, text, and audio together to tell a story. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012–13) is one such transmedia text, a fictional YouTube vlog that retells Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) in an episodic and interactive way. Seymour discusses how the multiple viewpoints displayed in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries offer new insights into the text and allow for fan participation, a participation that many fans felt was stifled when the producers of the series began to overengage with and police fan discussions and spaces. Seymour concludes that transmedia storytelling creates a new and more interactive relationship between fans and producers, but, like other authors in this collection, she insists that more research is necessary, in this case to really understand the meaning of transmedia storytelling.

[11] The final essay in the collection is Nicolle Lamerichs's "Cosplay: The Affective Mediation of Fictional Bodies." Lamerichs uses her own expertise as a cosplayer to guide her ethnographic study of cosplay communities. She is concerned with the way cosplay makes fans feel emotionally connected to the objects of their fandom. These feelings are not necessarily related to the actual object of their fandom but rather are connected to the act of cosplaying. Lamerichs's argument is an interesting look at the way cosplayers construct their identity, but it offers little evidence to support the idea that the act of cosplay itself creates emotion.

[12] As a whole, Fan Studies: Researching Popular Audiences is a fun and easy-to-read collection whose contents tackle many of the trends in fan studies, giving entry points for further research in fandom studies. Although the essays are diverse, they cohere in all taking new approaches to contemporary trends in fandom. Where the collection disappoints is in the lack of exhaustive analysis, as many of the essays seem more like research proposals or pilot studies than fully expressed ideas. But perhaps "disappoints" is the wrong word, as this work demonstrates that the field of fan theory is a young, vibrant, and growing field whose cross-discipline appeal will consistently create new entry points for research and study.

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