Book review

Fan CULTure: Essays on participatory fandom in the 21st century, edited by Kristin M. Barton and Jonathan Malcolm Lampley

Bertha Chin

Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak, Malaysia

[0.1] Keywords—Fan activism; Fan fiction; Fan films; Generational fandom; Social media

Chin, Bertha. 2016. Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century, edited by Kristin M. Barton and Jonathan Malcolm Lampley [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 22. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0700.

Kristin M. Barton and Jonathan Malcolm Lampley, editors, Fan CULTure: Essays on participatory fandom in the 21st century. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014, paperback, $40 (212p) ISBN 978-0-7864-7418-9, e-book ISBN 978-1-4766-0459-6.

[1] While reading through this collection, I was reminded of a recurring line from the reimagined series of Battlestar Galactica (2004–9): "All of this has happened before and will happen again." Coeditor Jonathan Malcolm Lampley echoes this sentiment, reminding us that popular culture, and thus fans' appreciation of popular texts, is cyclical: "Everything comes around again as a matter of course" (195). Both fan studies scholars and fans are often reintroduced to popular texts from different eras as these texts are referenced in newer ones through reruns or are reimagined by revivals and remakes. At the same time, technology continues to affect the growth and development of fan culture, changing the ways in which participatory and promotional strategies are conceptualized by media producers and the industry. This edited collection, with chapters that look at fan practices from a variety of popular television, literary, and film texts, exemplifies these cycles and shifts.

[2] Available in both paperback and e-book formats, Fan CULTure consists of an introduction, foreword, afterword, and 13 original chapters divided into three sections titled "Fan Productions," "Social Media," and "Fan-Influenced Content." In the introduction, coeditor Kristin M. Barton declares that the book does not try to define what a fan is. Rather, it "explores what a fan does." Barton argues that "being a fan means being in love" (6), and fans' engagement and production of transformative works such as fan fiction and fan films are a declaration of that love. Therefore, the sections in the book presents the different explorations of the ways in which fans engage with the text, as well as with each other and with media/content producers.

[3] The first section, "Fan Productions," contains essays on fans who produce transformative works such as fiction, films, and trailers, particularly for texts such as Firefly (2002–3) and the original run of Dark Shadows (1966–71) that were long ago canceled on television, and their importance in sustaining fan community and interest. Don Tresca's chapter on adult-oriented fan fiction in the Harry Potter franchise (1997–2011), for instance, looks at how producing these fan narratives helps young adult fans explore complex sexual emotions and desires. Section 2, "Social Media," considers the Internet more generally; chapters address how social media and Internet technologies influence the construction of fan communities, enabling fans to remain active during TV hiatuses or in periods leading up to film releases. Additionally, rather than focusing solely on media texts and fandoms, the section includes a chapter by Susan Orenstein on the controversial celebrification of NFL star Tim Tebow. In the final section, "Fan-Influenced Content," the essays explore the ever-evolving relationship between media producers and fans, looking at how the advent of Internet technologies not only makes fandom more visible but also enables fans to influence content, often to mixed results, through their practices. Anissa M. Graham's chapter on Supernatural (2005–) fan fiction, for instance, discusses the ways in which the show's producers have commented on the fandom through episodes that seemingly mock fans, but Graham argues that the episodes could be seen as the producers' acknowledgment, rather than censure, of fans' creative force.

[4] There is a hint of nostalgia—which speaks of the importance of historicization in fan studies—in some of the essays in the collection, with chapters looking at the fandoms of older or classic media texts such as Dark Shadows. Jeff Thompson provides a historical overview of Dark Shadows fandom from the show's debut in the 1960s to its current state, with the advent of Internet technologies such as mailing lists sustaining the fandom even while the show is no longer on the air. Thompson charts how fan interactions have shifted from being mediated through the television text and fan conventions to the utilization of social media like Facebook, which supports a greater sense of intimacy and has enabled fans to keep up to date with news of the cast and crew of the original series. Likewise, Bethan Jones's chapter on how fans of The X-Files (1993–2002) make use of social media to further connect with one another and to keep the fandom alive manifests a sense of nostalgia. In this case, social media is also important for fans campaigning for a third X-Files film, as fans rally to get their voices heard by producers, the studio, and the network. However, Jones also highlights potential tensions that arise from fans' use of social media and the blurring of lines between media producers and fans—an overarching theme that connects the chapters of this edited volume.

[5] In the afterword, Lampley reflects that there are many other topics and fandoms that were not covered in Fan CULTure and that a future edition would benefit from the inclusion of fandoms that include, in addition to television, film, and literature, music and sports. Notably missing from the volume is a discussion of antifandom as well as how controversial public figures may attract hate, which Orenstein's chapter on Tim Tebow and Tresca's chapter on adult-oriented Harry Potter fan fiction only hint at. Tresca, for example, suggests that some adult-oriented fan fictions are produced by Harry Potter antifans as a form of backlash against the phenomenon caused by the franchise. Tresca's approach, which focuses on psychological perspectives, provides an interesting addition to academic work on antifandom, and this, along with further explorations of antifandom and tensions caused by the blurring of boundaries between producers and fans as well as the utilization of social media, would have expanded the field of interest to include those looking beyond fan declarations of love.

[6] Many books on fan cultures focus on popular and current fandoms, such as Sherlock (2010–), Game of Thrones (2011–), Twilight (2005–12), and Fifty Shades of Grey (2011–). The strength of this collection lies in the editors' choice to include popular cult and mainstream fandoms—Lost (2004–10), Firefly, The X-Files—as well as rarely explored fandoms, such as LEGO, Disneyland, and sports/athletes. The chapters on adult LEGO fans by Jennifer C. Garlen and the utopian spaces of Disneyland theme parks by Meyrav Koren-Kuik remind us that fan cultures are not limited to media texts; they also exist around material objects such as LEGO and in spaces like Disneyland. They also link to, for the former, the growing body of academic work on material-related fandom (Rehak 2014) and, for the latter, fan spaces such as theme parks and fan conventions (Geraghty 2014). For example, Garlen's exploration of adult LEGO fans leads us into the negotiations performed by LEGO in recognition (and perhaps in acknowledgment) of the emotional labor performed by fans as LEGO Ambassadors—a negotiation not unlike that performed by producers of the TV series Lost through the official podcast and the alternate reality game, as explored by Michael Graves in another chapter in this edited volume. In line with the book's other chapters, Graves notes the tension between "fan-driven content and canonical narrative" (106)—fans and media producers—that results from the changing boundaries between these groups is often facilitated by online media technologies.

[7] This glimpse into fan cultures that are often overlooked—or, in the case of sports fandom, often classified as different from media fandom—complicates common assumptions that fandoms are more prevalent for current literary, television, or film texts rather than objects or spaces. As such, this collection provides a satisfying overview of fan cultures that remain underdiscussed in the field of fan studies. The book's essays expand on many of the concerns raised by fan studies scholars that are often highlighted in TWC. Perhaps more importantly, however, it speaks to current attempts to bring more interdisciplinary work into the field: the chapters look broadly at issues of consumerism and historicization as well as the place of religion and sports in the greater American public consciousness.

Works cited

Geraghty, Lincoln. 2014. Cult Collectors: Nostalgia, Fandom, and Collecting Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.

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





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