African American acafandom and other strangers: New genealogies of fan studies

Rebecca Wanzo

Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Because scholars have paid insufficient attention to race in fan studies, a new genealogy of fan studies is needed, one that includes different kinds of primary and secondary texts that have explored responses of black fans. There is a rich history of black fan criticism and acafandom that has never been seen as such but that both complements and complicates current definitions and paradigms in fan studies. Discussions of fan otherness, antifandom, and fan ambivalence explore the difference that the inclusion of African American cultural criticism would make to both canonical scholarship and more recently published work in the field.

[0.2] Keywords—Antifan; Audiences; Black studies; Cultural criticism; Race

Wanzo, Rebecca. 2015. "African American Acafandom and Other Strangers: New Genealogies of Fan Studies." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 20.

[0.3] What, then, is "wrong" with fan studies? Or, rather, we could ask, what important issues, audiences, and textualities are hiding in its shadow?

—Jonathan Gray (2013)

[0.4] "Get back on the train, you fool!"

—James Baldwin (1976)

1. Introduction

[1.1] Anyone vaguely familiar with fan studies knows the case that Henry Jenkins makes in Textual Poachers for writing both as "an academic (who has access to certain theories of popular culture, certain bodies of critical and ethnographic literature) and as a fan (who has access to the particular knowledge and traditions of that community)" (1992, 5). The notion of acafandom, or the scholar-fan, was subsequently embraced by a number of scholars who developed a critical vocabulary for loving their (popular) objects of criticism without shame, and they made a case for the advantage that being a participant observer can give the critic (note 1). Acafandom has been particularly prevalent in television studies, with scholarship about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and Joss Whedon studies arguably becoming the most high-profile acafan community (Lametti et al. 2012). Scholars who utilize their fandom as a base for their research and referent in their scholarship should be seen as acafans, although many do not use that term (note 2).

[1.2] One group of scholars who often could be categorized as acafans but who do not claim the name are many black scholars of popular culture. A number of scholars who study black popular culture have, for all intents and purposes, been acafans, with an intimate knowledge of the black community that has often been essential in fields where black histories have not been addressed. A rich critical history of black fans and black acafandom exists, although the latter is never described as such (note 3). Important scholarship about black fandom and/or black acafandom includes Gerald Early's essays on sports, Jacqueline Bobo's Black Women as Cultural Readers (1995), Robin R. Means Coleman's African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor (1998), Jeffrey A. Brown's Black Superheroes: Milestone Comics and Their Fans (2000), and numerous works in hip-hop studies such as Tricia Rose's Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994) and Imani Perry's Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (2004). However, these works, produced by fans of their subjects or about African American audiences, as well as discussions of race, are largely invisible in some of the most cited works in American fan studies. Even African American scholars trained in film and television studies are often excluded from scholarship about fandom; their absence from many studies cannot thus be solely attributed to disciplinary divides. This invisibility is curious because important moments of development or transition in music, radio, musical theater, film, and television in the United States often have controversial representations of African Americans at their center (note 4).

[1.3] Scholars sometimes lament the ubiquitous absence of race as an object of analysis. In his 1992 study of fans, John Fiske stated that he regretted "being unable to devote the attention to race that it deserves" but that he had "not found studies of non-white fandom." He argued that most studies focused on "class, gender, and age as the key axes of discrimination" (32). In making this case, he not only claims that there are few studies of fans of color but also fails to treat whiteness as a racialized identity. Fiske's apology and claim that race is somehow a topic that scholars should now add to the field is curious because race is visible in the Birmingham School scholarship that influences much of contemporary fan studies. Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meanings of Style (1979) is foundational to studies of fans, and race and whiteness are central to Hebdige's understanding of how attachments to music, fashion, and various other subcultures work. The writings of Hebdige, Stuart Hall, and other scholars coming out of the Birmingham tradition of cultural studies in the United Kingdom demonstrate that race has been important to discussions of audiences and consumers outside of the United States.

[1.4] One of the reasons race may be neglected is because it troubles some of the claims—and desires—at the heart of fan studies scholars and their scholarship. In their 2007 collection Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World (which does not contain a single essay focusing on race), editors Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington argue that one of the reasons that sports fandom has been ignored or treated as a separate entity from studies of other kinds of fandom is because of the association with racism, nationalism, and violence "that marked much of their representation in particular in the 1980s." Sports fans were thus less "likable" and "evaded the paradigm of a bipolar power struggle between hegemonic culture industries and fans" (4–5). However, if we see attachments to whiteness and xenophobic or racist affect as frequently central to fan practices, then sports fandom ceases to be an outlier. Influential scholarship on fans such as Constance Penley's NASA/TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America (1997) and Jenkins's Textual Poachers privileges a utopian understanding of fans in science fiction communities as being antiracist and progressive. As Penley explains, the discourse emerging from the Star Trek community gives fans a "language to describe and explain the world and to express yearnings for a different and better condition; it is, then a common language for utopia" (16). Yet high-profile racist and misogynist speech and bullying demonstrate that some fans of speculative works depend on the centrality of whiteness or masculinity to take pleasure in the text. Sexism, racism, and xenophobia are routinely visible in fan communities, including the cases of Gamergate (the harassment of women who are involved in the video game industry or who criticize it) and the fans of Suzanne Collins's popular young adult novel The Hunger Games (2008) who voiced anger that a tragic young character described as dark skinned in the book is played by an African American actress in the 2012 film (note 5). A number of scholars have criticized what the Fandom editors call the first-wave "fandom is beautiful" phase of fan scholarship (2007, 1), but the criticisms of this approach take a different shape if we recognize how often an investment in whiteness may be foundational to some groups of fans.

[1.5] A framing of sports fandom that focuses on white affect also ignores the fandom of the subjected. In the United States, African American sports fans' attachment to athletes (particularly boxers and baseball stars) was historically a mechanism to make claims about black equality and black pride and to bond over black success. Such structures of feeling were also characteristic of African American fandoms attached to celebrities, film, and television. Black fandom can thus be both counter to white hegemony and normative in its adherence to ideological projects that treat black people as representative of US culture instead of outliers. Many discussions of fan theory emphasize that fans must make a case for the political importance of being fans, but it is not uncommon for people of color to make the argument that representation is important to political progress (and we similarly see such arguments around feminist representations). Discussions of black popular culture have been criticized for overstating the importance of representation, given the high stakes of material inequality affecting black people around the globe, but black intellectuals routinely talk about their intense pleasure, disgust, or investments in popular representations of black people. Moreover, antifandom is omnipresent in black cultural criticism. If we understand this history, many descriptions of the raison d'être of fans in canonical fan studies scholarship is either not applicable or is missing important historical antecedents.

[1.6] Because race is still frequently treated as an add-on or as something that should be addressed somewhere later, I argue for including African American cultural criticism in remapping the genealogies of not only acafandom but also fan criticism. Such reframing would both augment and complicate our understanding of much of the vocabulary of fan studies and definitions of fans and antifans. If we privilege African Americans in the story we tell about fans in the United States, how might that change our understanding of what a fan is, our understanding of how they are producers as well as consumers, or the role identity can play in the importance of identifying as a fan? I am not claiming that black people are central to all kinds of fandoms; nor am I arguing that they are absent from the kind of cult fan communities privileged in fan studies (although they are indeed rarely discussed). Rather, I am suggesting that we apply what I term an identity hermeneutics—interpretation by placing a particular identity at the center of the reading or interpretative practice—and explore the possibility that a different kind of fan, as well as different issues of concern to fans, might be visible if we focus on African Americans. Despite their invisibility in fan studies, African Americans are often hypervisible examples of fandom and demonstrate affective relationships to fandom that complicate existing studies of fans. Many claims in fan scholarship about alterity, fan interpellation, ambivalent spectatorship, and antifandom become more nuanced if we look at particular traditions of African American fandom and black cultural criticism.

2. "Three cheers for the Colored Fans": Fans as self-selecting others

[2.1] One of the primary ways in which attentiveness to race can transform fan studies is by destabilizing the idea that fans choose outsider status. In Textual Poachers, Jenkins is explicit about fans' challenges to normativity and "cultural weakness." He argues that "fan culture stands as an open challenge to the 'naturalness' and desirability of dominant cultural hierarchies" (1992, 18). Scholar-fans have long made claims about the politics that emerge from fandom—that women, queer people, and geeks offer alternative ways of relating to each other and seeing the world, and that a large part of that politics is choosing to become outsiders by investing time in often denigrated popular media. John Fiske describes the cultural economy of fandom as involving a "culture of a self-selected fraction of the people" (1992, 30). However, two issues complicate the portrayal of the fan as embracing alterity by choice. The self-selection model ignores the ways in which a fandom that is not a cult fandom can be considered somewhat normative, and it also fails to address the fact that sometimes social justice projects call on identity groups to become fans as an act of politics. Various identity groups complicate the framework of choosing otherness—women, queer subjects, and people of color—but African American fans make hypervisible the ways in which fandom is expected or demanded of some socially disadvantaged groups as a show of economic force and ideological combat. They call attention to how fandom can be part of an effort to show that subjected populations are normative and that their experiences, desires, and lives should be considered part of the American imaginary.

[2.2] Romanticization of fan exceptionalness has perhaps produced resistance to emphasizing the normativity of some fandoms. Audiences, however, are not just marketed to in the hope that they will become mere consumers; they are marketed to in the hope that they will become fans. As Jonathan Gray notes, "Network executives would no doubt love if all audiences were fans, but they are not" (2003, 65). Some scholars have recently argued that companies have stopped treating fans as fringe groups and have begun marketing to them—a claim that depends a great deal on the model established by looking at a particular kind of cult fan, one who might attend a fan convention or write fan fiction about a favorite television show (note 6). Hollywood and fringe entertainers or producers have always been invested in creating fans—the person who loves with intensity, repeatedly rewatches a film or television show, follows a creator or performer without fail, and constantly discusses beloved texts with friends, family, and strangers. Corporation-owned (as opposed to fan created) fan magazines demonstrate this investment, as these publications have always been designed to encourage obsession with the minutiae of the lives of stars (Slide 2010). It is thus fair to say that some kinds of fandom have always been treated as normal. As Nicholas Abercrombie and Brian Longhurst argue, "'Ordinary' audience members are more like fans and enthusiasts than might be initially thought" (1998, 122). Thus, if fandom is oppositional, it is not just about being in opposition to normative models of consumption but also about being in opposition to normative fans.

[2.3] The kinds of claims made about who can be a fan, often privileging science fiction fans, favors the identities and affective structures that are most apparent in that group of consumers. This framing privileges people who have produced an historical record through letters, fan fiction, and conventions and who have the leisure time to be cult fans. However, the emphasis on cult fans encourages a narrowness of what constitutes a fan and performs a profound set of historical erasures of fandom that could not be performed in that way. Moreover, the framing of fans as in opposition to normative practices of consumption and to culture more broadly talks about othering in a manner that valorizes people who have claimed otherness for themselves, as opposed to having otherness thrust upon them.

[2.4] We should see fans as having a dialectical relationship to normativity that is not always explicit in fan studies (and sometimes not acknowledged). Fan communities with women, queer subjects, and people of color often demonstrate the complicated tension between preexisting sociopolitical otherness and chosen alterity. Is choosing otherness something that truly characterizes women as a social and political category? Many women in the fan community, as Camille Bacon-Smith argues, have wanted "to reach out and be heard" (1991, 6). One aspect of women's alterity is that there are clear normative paradigms for who and what they should be. Ethnographies such as Janice Radway's Reading the Romance (1984) on romance readers, Penley's description of women writing fan fiction in NASA/TREK, and Tanya Erzen's exploration of Twilight fans in Fanpire (2012) all demonstrate that much of the self-selecting otherness in fan communities composed of many women often involves a resistance to normative womanhood, through content or through the practice of taking time for oneself by being fan and taking a break from caregiving.

[2.5] Thus, although white women have been central to fan studies, a key part of understanding their otherness is not only the history of criticism of their alleged inappropriate attachments to novels, performers, or other popular productions but also their resistance to being normative women through their consumption. Women are always already other as a social category (and prone to an excess and hysteria illustrated by their fandom), but they are also subject to regulations that attempt to make them fulfill normative identity categories. Consequently, theorizations of women's fandom often explore their rejection of normative roles, which stands in contrast to black identities in the United States, which are discursively constructed as always completely other to Western normativity.

[2.6] Another group represented in fan studies that complicates the choice claim is the queer fan. On the one hand, the political project of queerness has been theorized as being counter to normativity by definition (Warner 1999) (note 7). On the other hand, part of queer politics is a commitment to queering the normative. LGBTIQ subjects have traditionally been socially and politically other, and like other subordinated and invisible populations, in mass culture they are often interpellated by queer characters. As with other groups that are often negatively depicted or not absent in popular culture, queer subjects are more likely to be drawn to representations that may have some relationship to their identities or experiences. Queer fans also queer texts that are ostensibly normative and are therefore part of the participation in a queer representational politics that has been about intentionally performing nonnormativity (Creekmur and Doty 1995). That commitment makes queer reading quite at home in fan studies.

[2.7] However, people of color often make the erasures, complexities, and challenges of thinking about the relationship between normativity and otherness in fan communities most visible. They are sometimes read as choosing otherness when they are part of fan communities that allegedly do not speak to their cultural backgrounds or contexts. This can be a problematic reading, as there are many people of color in communities most associated with white fans, and their reasons for being in the community are many. James Spooner's documentary Afro-Punk (2003), which explores African Americans involved in the punk music scene, demonstrates the varied relationships people of color can have to predominantly white fan communities. For many black fans, the white punk community is their community because they may have been raised in a predominantly white community. Being part of the punk community is normative. For others, the anger expressed in punk music speaks to their identity, and perhaps their black identity specifically, which demonstrates the way many texts hail people ideologically even if a text ostensibly appears to be produced for people not like themselves. For some, participating in the Afro-punk community means being part of an alternative black community. Others thus sometimes may be choosing otherness or sameness in their participation in a fan community. These complexities become most visible when scholars focus on particular identity groups when examining fan communities.

[2.8] The example of the Afro-punk community demonstrates that there is not a single kind of black or African American fandom. I want to call attention to the ways in which certain kinds of fandom seen in the African American community, as well as in African American cultural criticism, can complicate the assumptions made about fans' relationship to otherness. We can challenge those ideas by being attentive to race in the scholarship, but also by placing black cultural criticism about black fans in conversation with texts in fan studies that focus on white fandom.

[2.9] By way of example, I turn to the most influential text in fan studies, Jenkins's Textual Poachers. His argument establishes a great deal of the paradigm I wish to augment and complicate. Jenkins argues that fans "operate from a position of cultural and social weakness" (1992, 26). This weak subject position is shaped by capitalism, as fans lack the ability to influence, produce, circulate, and profit from what they consume. The productivity of fan culture is a response to this relationship to the market, giving them a stronger connection to (if not control over) their love object, allowing them to build community with other fans and reduce alienation.

[2.10] Matt Hills (2002) has provided a rigorous critique of the ways in which the participatory culture and production that Jenkins describes can be both too narrow and too expansive, so I will not rehearse his arguments here. Instead I want to embrace Jenkins's argument as describing one group of fans who may be the examples par excellence of participatory culture: hip-hop fans. Textual Poachers was released in 1992, 2 years before Tricia Rose's Black Noise. A new genealogy that recognizes African American fans would see Rose's text as one of the more important works in fan studies that demonstrates the poaching practices of black consumers who become producers (often for profit as DJs or performers). Like Jenkins, Rose begins her book by describing her position as a scholar and fan. She says that people say she doesn't "fit the image of a b-girl" to many people; however, she "learned about hip hop the way most kids from the Bronx did at that time; it was the language and sound of our peer group" (1994, xii). She merges "multiple ways of knowing" as a scholar. This "polyvocal" approach has "been immensely productive" as she attempts to "produce a blueprint for understanding black popular expression" (xii). Rose combines personal fan experience, history, cultural theory, close reading, and interviews in an analysis that is methodologically more akin to Radway's Reading the Romance than Textual Poachers but that is ideologically more connected to Jenkins's work because of her embrace of the political possibilities of fan culture.

[2.11] A great deal of Black Noise illustrates the now-canonical paradigm Jenkins describes in Textual Poachers. Hip-hop (like other forms of black music in the Caribbean) is produced by people who lack cultural power and capital; they rework existing texts (some that they love, some that they hate), transforming people's reading of it in their community; and they challenge the hierarchies of copyright in their poaching of texts. Corporations have embraced hip-hop, but "hip-hop heads" have been accused of placing too much importance on the genre and embracing troubling fantasies in the form of gangsta rap. Although the television and music fans whom Jenkins and Rose describe have much in common with each other, one difference is the material conditions that produce these fandoms. The political or oppositional content of black hip-hop fandom has a different configuration: it is part of an everyday culture, and it articulates an otherness that is somewhat normative for many in the hip-hop generation. In other words, the counterculture otherness of hip-hop is attractive to many African American youth because it describes the alterity they already experience, not an otherness they seek to claim.

[2.12] Jenkins and coauthors (2009) do mention hip-hop in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, recognizing some similarities in copyright issues between fan fiction and the genre's music production, but it is a brief reference to a large fan culture that spans the globe. Arguably, Textual Poachers is specifically about television culture, and the absence of a discussion of black hip-hop fandom in his text, or even in later discussions that use Jenkins, is because he focuses on television, and hip-hop is a different medium. Scholars of hip-hop might argue that the appropriate critical vocabulary here would be a discussion of remix culture as opposed to textual poaching. They routinely use the term remix without investing much in theorizing the term in itself, focusing instead on content analysis of the remix. Remix describes the practice of altering media through sampling, addition, and other kind of transformation of the original form. Its origins may be traced to 1970s DJ culture produced by black urban men, but the term now covers everything from hip-hop to YouTube videos. Abigail T. Derecho (2008) also describes fan fiction as a form of remix culture that emerged in this period, arguing that women who produced and participated in the fan fiction communities are, like black urban youth, participating in this culture from positions of cultural disenfranchisement and weakness. Jenkins and Rose are not often cited in the same text; Derecho's work is a notable exception. Even in her discussion of censorship and regulation of remix culture, these critics are not put in conversation with each other. Scholars of black popular culture and scholars of (white) fandom often possess different critical genealogies; this is apparent even in a text like Derecho's that sees commonalities in hip-hop and fan fiction communities.

[2.13] It is less clear why studies proclaiming that they are providing substantive overviews of fandom would ignore hip-hop or other kinds of black fandom scholarship. We can look at Mark Duffett's well-received 2013 book Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture as a curious example of a text that perpetuates such erasures. As opposed to looking at a history of media subjugation of people of color in itself to explore how othering in media practices occurs, he uses Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) to talk about othering that white fans (and whiteness is not explicit here) may experience. Given the rich history of people of color who are transparently other to mass culture, why not reference these groups? Duffett's analytical move is particularly striking because he is a music scholar.

[2.14] The impact of the absence of black fandom is perhaps most apparent when Duffett discusses fans' relationship to economic consumption. He argues that fans rarely "explicitly" organize against economic consumption, and if they do, it is "incidental" to the social environments they inhabit. They may "have seized an opportunity, not so much to opt out of cultural consumption, but just not to pay for it." He sees fans as "rarely enthusiastic advocates of economic consumption per se. They may have discovered their interests through it. They may sometimes accept it as a necessary means of acquiring the experiences, making the connections or providing the benefits of media resource ownership that they desire" (2013, loc. 662).

[2.15] African American fandom clearly troubles this claim. Economic power has often been a large part of black consumption and resistance to various forms of popular culture. Activists call for boycotts of negative representations and suggest that African Americans need to support or reject certain performers or films. So-called black buying power produced both separate movie theaters and race films in the early 20th century, and many of these films would model racial uplift and produce an income for black entrepreneurs and performers as migrating African Americans had more time for leisure (Stewart 2005; Caddoo 2014; Field 2015). The Black Power movement would usher in an increased interest in works that challenged stereotypical representations of African Americans, and racially conscious African Americans would be encouraged to see, watch, and listen to more radical black cultural productions. For African Americans, consumerism can be an act of resistance in itself, because, as legal scholar Regina Austin (1994) has argued, black shopping and selling are often read as deviant.

[2.16] Fandom has often been asked of African Americans and has been treated as an act of resistance necessary for the progress of the race (note 8). Although Matt Hills argues that to claim an identity as a fan has meant claiming an "improper identity" because of "one's commitment to something as seemingly unimportant and trivial as a film or TV series," in the African American community, film and television are often seen as having a great deal of importance (2002, xii). Some African American fandoms thus both affirm and subvert the paradigm claiming that fans resist normativity. African Americans are always already improper subjects; part of their pleasure in a text can thus be about resisting the normativity of whiteness even as they claim their own normativity.

[2.17] Let us take as an example a column by actor Clarence Muse that appeared in the Chicago Defender in 1940. Muse was attempting to make Son of Thunder, which he hoped could serve to counter the negative images of African Americans and positive images of slaveholders in the film version of Gone with the Wind (1939). He never did make the film, but he claimed in the column that he had received many letters from people desiring a movie that could combat those representations. The column begins, "Hollywood says, three cheers for the Colored Fans." He goes on to argue that letters could help convince Hollywood that there are African American fans clamoring for the film. The column quotes someone from West Virginia who asks, "Why should we spend our MILLIONS of dollars per year to see our folks on the screen as IGNORANT, unimportant AMERICANS?" "COLORED FANS," the writer states, "are not satisfied with EVERY THING that comes out of Hollywood." Muse calls attention to the race pride and race consciousness that fans have and that they are looking for in their cinema.

[2.18] As we think about the archive of fan productivity, as well as the interaction of entertainers and cultural producers with fans, we need to be attentive to different archival sources. The black press—including the Chicago Defender—provides evidence of fans and an explicit articulation of black fans as always other to the normative fan in Hollywood productions, as they are other to US culture. And with hip-hop, we see productivity of fans as part of the production of new makers of the genre. These examples illustrate how the varied primary and secondary material focusing on African American fandom can be useful in traditional fan studies and in expanding the claims that scholar-fans make about fandom.

3. The birth of a black antifandom: Notes on breaking the line between criticism and fandom

[3.1] Another prominent concept in fan studies that would benefit from focusing on African Americans is the idea of the antifan. Jonathan Gray's discussion of antifandom describes both a knowledgeable dislike of a text and a knowledge that is sometimes based not only the text itself but also on the paratexts surrounding it. Although grounded in a late 20th-century or early 21st-century culture of audience response, African American histories of reception appear to be quite applicable when I read Gray's discussion of the value of studying antifandom. He argues that "studying antifan disapproval and/or dislike" offers "media and cultural studies meaningful re-entry points to discussing quality, values, and expectations" (2003, 73). Black cultural critics have long negotiated the love for flawed texts that allow for attachment to quality despite the text's problematic content while integrating discussions of aesthetics and politics.

[3.2] African Americans have a rich history of antifandom, demonstrating the ambivalence—and at times hatred—they experience with many popular texts. Antifans both have and have not consumed their hate objects, but they know much about, or have definitive opinions about, their injuriousness. The radio and television adaptations of Amos 'n' Andy had many African American fans, but there were also protests, particularly organized by Pittsburgh Courier editor Robert Lee Vann (Shankman 1978). The virulent racism in D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) produced anger and protests from the NAACP (Stokes 2008). Reactions to Gone with the Wind were more complicated. Some enjoyed it as a film and took pleasure in the representations of African Americans; others did not. This split could be seen in the NAACP's inconsistent response to the film; on the one hand, they rejected the romanticization of the South, but on the other, they took pride in Hattie McDaniel's Academy Award win (Tracy 2001). Years later, that split NAACP reaction was again in evidence in responses to the film The Color Purple (1985), which some people saw as presenting negative racist stereotypes, particularly about African American men. Alice Walker (1997) received many letters from African Americans condemning the adaptation of her 1982 novel. The NAACP somewhat shifted its response, however, when The Color Purple received multiple Academy Award nominations but no wins. In 2012, the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel, The Help, while having many African American fans, produced strong antifandom across the Internet and on Twitter as many African Americans, particularly women, criticized historical inaccuracies and erasures, as well as the preoccupation of white America with the mammy stereotype (note 9).

[3.3] Black Twitter has provided evidence of black antifan hate watching, with fans consistently tuning in to watch and comment on shows that they hold in contempt (note 10). What Fiske calls "enunciative productivity" and "asserting one's membership of a particular fan community" have not been outliers in black culture (1992, 36–37). These activities have been important to the long civil rights struggle. Fandom and antifandom can make African Americans part of the black community and fulfill a political duty. Fan studies scholars often talk about fandom as an act of resistance, and in the case of African Americans, love and hate of cultural productions are often treated as political acts. Fandom and antifandom can be activism by demonstrating the black community's buying power and encouraging the circulation of positive black images.

[3.4] A possible critique of my argument is whether these protests and expressions of dislike can be elevated to the level of fandom. Black Twitter productivity can easily fit into a paradigm recognized by scholar-fans, while some of my examples may be read as audience response and not evidence of the strong feeling attached to fandom or antifandom. However, historical context continues to be important in understanding how black fandom and antifandom fit and disrupt current scholar-fan paradigms. As antifans, Black Twitter participants can be highly creative; their responses continue a century of media critiques offered by the black public—criticisms archived in the responses of African American politicians and political organizations, in the black press, and by African American writers and entertainers. Much of black productivity around popular culture is antiracist, attacking stereotypical representations. Rather than modeling the wholly utopian other of fan production often praised in fan studies, black fandom is often rooted in a broader black intellectual tradition of media critique. Something beloved may be loved because it fills a gap when there is an absence, or because it is an attempt to rewrite or correct an historical representation.

[3.5] Methodologically, an important part of including African American writing and scholarship in a genealogy of fan studies requires breaking down the line between criticism and the study of the fan. Qualitative and ethnographic work done in fan studies undoubtedly constitutes a specific field of study. Nevertheless, other kinds of scholarship can augment our knowledge about fandom. If we can use Michel de Certeau's notion of poaching from The Practice of Everyday Life (1984), not only because Jenkins uses it but also because poaching is a theoretical concept that can be applied to understanding fans, we can use other theoretical texts. Thus, while James Baldwin's 1976 essay The Devil Finds Work is undoubtedly a work of film criticism, his largely autoethnographic discussion of being a child viewer and his accounts of black audience reactions to certain films are an important part of the historical record of black fandom. How might more cross-field pollination help us work through fan response to certain ideas across time?

[3.6] For example, reconciliation across lines of difference is a major theme in many science fiction fandom communities. In The Devil Finds Work, Baldwin recounts how the Harlem black audience verbally expressed disbelief and anger at the end of the 1958 film The Defiant Ones, when escaped black prisoner Cullen, played by Sidney Poitier, cannot pull Tony Curtis's character, Joker, onto a moving train. Cullen allows himself to fall off and be captured by the sheriff, and the "outraged" Harlem audience yelled, "Get back on the train, you fool!" ([1976] 1998, 525). These accounts of moments of communal, affective resistance and pleasure fill black cultural criticism. What different questions might we ask in fan studies, crossing genres and times, if we look at the pleasures and injuries that audiences receive from certain ideas in popular culture, building on a rich and varied archive of responses? What happens to our discussion of interracial (and, in fan studies, metaphorical interspecies) reconciliation if we ask research questions that look for archives that address this concept across time and genres and through different kinds of scholarship? Part of the archive of African American spectatorship comes from black writers who recount histories of communal viewing, and this African American cultural essayist is a rich source of fan theory. Alexander Doty, along with feminist and antiracist scholars, questions the idea that critics "hiding or suppressing" information about themselves is considered more scholarly (2000, 11). Thus, the imperative to value the personal narrative in cultural analysis crosses fields of study. This is not a concern exclusive to fan studies; people who work in identity studies have arguably been most frequently attacked with claims of bias and "unscholarly" approaches.

4. How much my heart could stand: Ambivalent fan affect

[4.1] Accusations of unscholarly approaches cut to the heart of what many people find most troubling about acafandom: that love obstructs good knowledge production. Yet it is also the love—and at times disappointment—that can produce scholarship that really articulates the intellectual stakes of a work. One scholar who frames some of the stakes in what I understand as black acafan criticism is Gerald Early, a fan of many kinds of popular culture. Early's discussions of boxing are perhaps the richest in exploring the complexity of fandom that interpellates us even as we resist the hail.

[4.2] I gestured to sports fandom at the beginning of this essay, and I return to it here as a reminder of how being in conversation with sports fandom can enhance the standard fan studies theoretical paradigms. Much of sportswriting is produced by deeply knowledgeable fans immersed in fan communities. Early's works are cultural histories, but he also provides insight into the complicated racial logics of consumption. Early fulfills the criteria of a fan: encyclopedic knowledge, participation in a community, and productivity as a sportswriter. In the case of boxing, he argues that black intellectual fandom is more complicated than that of white intellectuals. It might be tempting to treat his relationship to his text as purely a scholarly one, but he clearly speaks as someone deeply affected as a fan. In the 1989 essay "Ringworld," he recounts being at a local boxing event where he does not know the fighters. He explains that he has come to always be discomforted when watching prizefights, wondering why he attends and why they fight:

[4.3] I must face the ugly fact about myself that I am here because I like boxing more than I dislike it, and I suppose those men are in the ring because they like it, too, and more important, like me, need to like it. Boxing seems to teach the same lesson to me in recent years, the same very unkind lesson to which I have not hardened myself. The world is either denigrating self-surrender and denial (the used-up Mexican fighters) or it is stupid, pointless affirmation (Williams versus Prior). And why not deny and surrender when the terms of affirmation offer nothing very much better? ([1989] 2012, 368)

[4.4] He goes on to reflect back to his childhood, when he dealt with the expectation that he would fight other boys in the neighborhood. They would tell each other, "Your heart gotta stand it. You gotta stand up to the shit and take it like a man." However, Early says that "after all these years of watching fights, I was beginning to wonder how much I had left, how much my heart could stand it" ([1989] 2012], 369).

[4.5] Fan studies scholarship often references the complicated relationship fans have to texts that they know are deeply problematic. What Early brings to the discussion are not only questions of content (a sporting event in itself) but also what the participation does to fighters. He sees boxing as an allegory for black life and black masculinity. He reminds us that the conditions of production are often intermingled with black fandom—the treatment of black performers and their ability to take control of their careers. Boxing is an allegory about the injuriousness of life: it injures the performers, and the culture injures the spectators most implicated in the performance. In "The Black Intellectual and the Sport of Prizefighting," he argues that the black intellectual cannot celebrate boxing the way the white intellectual can because "for the black intellectual, boxing becomes both a dreaded spectacle and a spectacle of dread. The black fighter is truly heroic for the black masses and the black intellectual only when he is fighting a white fighter, or someone who has been defined as representing white interests. The battle then becomes the classic struggle between the black and the white over the nature of reality." When fighting another black man, he becomes someone selfish, preying on his own people. "Moreover, the black fighter's heroic moment is never one in which he is control, but simply his own desperate effort not to be swallowed in a sea of black anonymity" (1988, 114).

[4.6] Early's description of the push and pull of love and dread relates to what bell hooks would describe in "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators" (1992) as a kind of anxious waiting on the part of black women spectators, who are always waiting for a troubling representation to appear on screen. Acafans and other fans consume differently and with great intensity, but African American fandom is specifically haunted by specters of stereotypical, grotesque representations and performances. Early represents a strain of black acafan scholarship, which, while always imagining the utopian framed by our desires, is often grounded in or menaced by disappointment. While looking at the same object as white intellectuals and acafans of boxing, Early suggests that there is a fundamental affective disconnect between the projects because of divisions between their historical and material circumstances as fans. Even celebrations of positive representations can be haunted by the specters that creators and consumers of black cultural production struggle to escape.

5. Race theorist killjoy? The challenge of intersectional and interdisciplinary fan studies

[5.1] Studies of black fandom are compatible with many mainstream definitions and descriptions of fans, even if such studies also complicate current definitions and methodological approaches. Some people might read me as being—to borrow Sarah Ahmed's (2013) "feminist killjoy" concept—a race theorist killjoy, sucking the pleasure out of fan studies by demanding the inclusion of race analysis. Some scholars do interpret studies of identity as functioning in exactly that way. For example, in a roundtable discussion of comics acafans (although he did not name them as such), Scott Bukatman argued that analyses of "representation" can "rob" the scholars' objects of study "of whatever pleasures they may have contained for the very scholars producing the work" (Smith et al. 2011, 211, 138). I interpret Bukatman as not only suggesting that the scholars must not get as much pleasure when they apply these analyses but also that he takes less pleasure in reading analyses organized around these other kinds of bodies, as opposed to the real, fantastic, or idealized bodies that produce the pleasure for many scholars. He demonstrates the nexus between what Ahmed (2013) calls "citational practice" and the critic's pleasure. "Citation," Ahmed argues, is "a rather successful reproductive technology, a way of reproducing the world around certain bodies"—and fan studies in the West has largely been organized around white bodies.

[5.2] For all the unruliness of fan studies as a disrespected field, the practice of citation in its scholarship demonstrates how disciplinary it truly is. As Ahmed (2013) argues, "citational structures" form disciplines, and to reproduce the discipline, scholars practice "techniques of selection, ways of making certain bodies and thematics core to the discipline, and other not even part." Acafandom arguably makes transparent the ways in which pleasures and fears around bodies circulate in scholarship: we replicate paradigms that reproduce who we are, what we desire, and what we fear.

[5.3] Many fan cultures are about seeing or imagining bodies in new spaces—and it is fair to say that foci on subjected identities constantly ground the new worlds in the old. Yet it is this same political and utopian strand of fan studies focused on alternative bodies and worlds that demonstrates why African American studies and fan studies can be good bedfellows. These overlapping interdisciplinary fields are invested in the kinds of cultural productions that alterity produces.

[5.4] The absence of race in fan studies may be symptomatic of a moment in which increasing numbers of scholars say they do interdisciplinary work without actually engaging with other disciplines. Some scholars who are not trained in television, film, or cultural studies write about popular culture without reading extensively in those fields, as almost every discipline feels as if it has access to the popular. At the same time, race continues to be only vaguely referenced in many fields, if it is referenced at all. Many scholars may fail to do the work of learning the different critical languages and studying the canonical texts in fields that touch their work. It is humbling and hard. Doing truly interdisciplinary work means that sometimes you may get things wrong. My work here is not meant to be a polemic designed to berate people for these absences. Rather, it is a prompt, as is so often suggested in fan studies, to explore what may be missing. Rethinking our standard critical genealogies is never easy, but our work is always the richer for it.

6. Acknowledgments

[6.1] I thank Colin Burnett for his comments on the essay and Kristen Warner for both her help and for inviting me to participate in a panel on race and fan studies at the 2014 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference. The essay exists because her cogent criticisms of the field inspired me to write it.

7. Notes

1. Doty asks, "Why shouldn't readers know something about a critics' personal and cultural background and training?" He argues that "hiding or suppressing" this information may be a backlash against the personal narratives produced by feminist scholars, queer scholars, and scholars of color, but that it is also an understandable attempt at legitimation by those who work with popular culture (2000, 11).

2. As an example, superhero comics scholars rarely utilize the acafan label, but it is nonetheless appropriate, given the structures of feeling that comics scholars often make apparent in their work—the deep pleasure and intimate knowledge with comics and its fan communities, as well as their position as derided consumers of devalued cultural productions. Most scholars of superhero comics are long-term readers. At the 2014 International Comic Arts Forum, keynote speaker Bart Beaty asked how many people in the audience had not grown up reading comics, and I was one of three people who raised a hand.

3. I move back and forth between using the terms African American and black in the essay. I am primarily focusing on African American cultural criticism, but I sometimes use the term black to be clear that this argument is still applicable to describing people of African descent on the continent and in the black diaspora.

4. By way of example: father of American music Stephen Foster's faux plantation songs are controversial. The extremely popular radio show Amos 'n' Andy (1928) was an update of the minstrel show. The first modern musical, Show Boat (1927), had a race plot at its center. Films with actors in blackface (The Jazz Singer [1927] and Birth of a Nation [1915]) are two of the most important texts in early cinema.

5. See, for example, and

6. The mainstreaming of Comic-Con has been the most discussed.

7. This is controversially something that some queer theorists argue distinguishes queerness from LGBT rights liberal discourse (Warner 1999).

8. This is true of other groups, and feminists have certainly been making that argument since second-wave feminism, with it becoming even more of a concern in the third and fourth waves, which focus substantially on media representation. However, the mainstream commitment for over a century and across various levels of society—politicians, press, and everyday people—to address representation in the African American community makes it distinct from the US feminist tradition of critique.

9. For an overview of critical and popular responses to The Help, see the special issue on that film in Southern Cultures, 2014, 20 (1).

10. Contempt is often blended with love. See Kristen Warner's forthcoming discussion of Black Twitter and fans and antifans of the Shonda Rhimes drama Scandal (2012–).

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