Framing alterity: Reclaiming fandom's marginality

Paul J. Booth

DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, United States

[0.1] Abstract—At a moment when fandom is becoming more visible to mainstream audiences and fan studies interrogates the media industry's appropriation of fannish behavior, it is important not to neglect the local and independent aspects of fan activity. In a rhetorical reading of two independent geek-themed stores, the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment, I analyze the way they appear to harness, market, and generate feelings of fan alterity, a deliberate self-othering of the fan. Fan studies has discussed the mainstreaming of fandom through the lens of major media corporations and marketing campaigns. However, fan studies has rarely addressed the impact of independent, local geek stories on fan experiences. The experience of visiting the stores reinforces a discourse of fan marginality, (re)establishing a uniqueness to the fan identity that the discourse of mainstreaming elides and enlivening the fan experience through historicity and face-to-face activity.

[0.2] Keywords—Alien Entertainment; Doctor Who; Fan shopping; Historicity; Identity; Merchandise; Store; Who Shop

Booth, Paul J. 2018. "Framing Alterity: Reclaiming Fandom's Marginality." In "The Future of Fandom," special 10th anniversary issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 28.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In the east end of London sits the Who Shop, an independent Doctor Who-themed store that has been serving customers and fans for over thirty years. About forty minutes outside of Chicago, a similar independent store, Alien Entertainment, has been selling assorted fannish goods since the 1990s. In an issue of Transformative Works and Cultures devoted to the "Future of Fandom," it may seem out of place to present as examples two old-fashioned, independent, mom-and-pop stores, but it is for precisely this reason that I argue these stores represent an important artifact for fan studies' understandings of the future of fandom. The purpose of this article is to examine some of the specific rhetorical functions of the role of space within an independent fan-focused store, in order to answer two questions: How does the retail space mediate the experience of fans? And how can this understanding of space influence scholars' interpretations of fandom?

[1.2] Jeffrey Brown's analysis of comic book stores from 1997 notes that the retail store is a "major focal point" of modern fan culture (17). In the intervening two decades, the rise of internet technology has given the impression that fandom has moved online. In this article, however, I argue that understanding the future of fandom means not just looking online, but also looking to the past, recalling the rationales, antecedents, and practices of yore. Through a reading of the non-mainstream retail spaces enjoyed by fans today, scholars can more fully appreciate how fan consumers are encouraged to develop a feeling of alterity—a state of difference, or otherness, between the self and the non-self; in this case, the overt difference between the fan-self and the non-fan-self. Feelings of alterity in fan communities like those that shop at the Who Shop or Alien Entertainment are fostered via two discourses within the spaces of the shops: historicity (or the curation of a particular fannish history) and activity (or the presence of face-to-face activities as key to fannishness).

[1.3] This research is based on my own autoethnographic rhetorical analysis of both stores and their face-to-face events. A rhetorical analysis is intended to explore symbolic texts, acts, and/or activities (e.g., fleeting and/or ephemeral objects) to understand how/why symbols affect audiences in a variety of ways (see Foss 2018). It can be a qualitative first step in developing a larger empirical investigation. In this article, the spaces of the stores are the texts under review. For example, I am deliberately focusing on the rhetoric of the space of the store as a marker of fannish alterity. Benjamin Woo's (2018) Getting a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture highlights how "specialty retail stores serving the geek market are not merely links in a commodity chain between producer and consumer but are themselves social spaces" (135) and in his analysis of video stores, Daniel Herbert (2014) similarly argued that a store is best understood as a "set of spatial and material practices…interactional spaces [in which] people interrelate either directly with one another or through material mediation, through the architecture of the store and the commodities within it" (65). But in what ways can we read the space of the store as generative of fannish interaction? I argue that the space of the independent geek-themed shop plays a role in the formation of the fan's sense of self through deliberately affecting notions of alterity (note 1).

[1.4] This article uses two examples of retail spaces that use historicity and activity to construct fan alterity. The tools of fandom may change but the revealing practices underlying what it means to be a fan continue. In London's Who Shop, fannish historicity is presented through a museum of Doctor Who artifacts, which presents the store as an authentic representation of fandom and a keeper of fan history, and fannish activity is highlighted through in-person signings with celebrities. At Chicago's Alien Entertainment, fannish alterity is framed through a discourse of historical memory, as well as a focus on fan meet-ups and conventions.

[1.5] Although both stores are rooted in the physical spaces of the cities they are in, this localization of fan alterity isn't antidigital. Both Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop have online spaces, and, as Lincoln Geraghty (2014) notes, it is "in conjunction with their online store spaces, [that] retailers that specialize in the toy and collectible market have a ready-made community to target and a host of product lines they can advertise and sell" (149). Drawing on Geraghty's (2014) work on cult collecting, I argue that despite the way fans are mainstreamed in the dominant merchandising and media environment, more intimate, on-the-ground visions of fan culture help to create and frame the type of alterity found in traditional fan studies depictions of fan communities, reinforcing the subcultural positioning of fandom for mainstream and fan shoppers. The importance of this analysis lies in the way that independent retail stores—often overlooked within fan studies research that focuses solely on the text—affect fans' and scholars' discursive shapings of fandom.

2. Generating fannish alterity

[2.1] In many ways, being part of fandom is about finding authentic ways to express membership in that fan community, ways that communicate to other fans one's own commitment to the text and to the fandom. This authenticity often arrives through how fans set themselves as different from the mainstream—a difference that relies on the notion of taste and marginality. Much fan studies work has revolved around Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction (1984) and his articulation that social class is inextricably linked to cultural notions of good taste; thus, taste becomes a marker of class. Fan scholarship on social class augments Bourdieu's findings with discussions of how popular taste forms subcultural capital (see Fiske 1992; Hills 2002; Hills 2005; Herbert 2014).

[2.2] Brown's (1997) analysis of comic book fans draws on the work of Bourdieu to note that

[2.3] comic fandom, and the practice of comic-book collecting in particular, is evidence of the complex and structured way in which avid participants of popular culture construct a meaningful sense of self. They create a culture that simultaneously resists the tyranny of high culture and forms what Fiske calls a "shadow cultural economy" ("Cultural Economy" 30) that mimics bourgeois standards. By looking closely at the complex system of meanings that constitutes the culture of comics fandom we can see how the traditionally disempowered act to bolster their social position within the community of fans. (13–14, 15)

[2.4] Marginality, in fact, becomes a key element in fans' search for authenticity. Fans may not always be the ones defining their marginality, as Mel Stanfill (2013) shows: "some aspects of fandom, some ways of being a fan, or indeed some fans remain marginal" (118). But Matt Hills (2002) also argues that "clearly fans can identify across ethnicity, but often only the basis of a shared authenticity such as a celebratory 'anti-mainstream' stance" (87). Defining oneself to be marginal (re)claims ownership over one's identity and self: it is an act of empowerment. To claim membership in a subculture means delineating between what is considered "mainstream" and what is considered subcultural (see Thornton 1995). In other words, the discourse of authenticity developed by many fan groups is deliberately set in overt opposition to traditional mainstream cultural taste—we are fans because we are not into mainstream tastes.

[2.5] Yet, that empowerment may be subtly shaped by others. As I argue in relation to the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment's deliberate fostering of fan alterity, fans' marginality can be generated by external agents. Matt Hills (2002), in fact, makes this point in reference to a targeted approach by the mainstream media industries:

[2.6] When approaching the fan audience as a target market, the fan culture's values of authenticity must be mirrored…At the same time, this observance of fan "authenticity" masks the extent to which "fan-ownership" acts as a rhetorical device aimed at promoting the notion that target marketing merely "reflects" values and distinctions which are already operative within the cultural worlds of dedicated cult TV fandom. (37)

[2.7] In other words, if authenticity and marginality are already constructed in opposition to what is considered mainstream, then they are already reliant on those cultural notions for definition. If "authenticity is constructed socially," as Corse and Hartless (2015) note, then that social relation stretches between the subcultural community and the industry upon which it rests (3).

[2.8] As I demonstrate with a rhetorical reading of Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop, another way of generating membership in marginalization is reflected in the types of stores at which fans choose to shop. Woo (2018) indicates that stores can play a role in shaping fan membership: for example, if goods are hard to find, "more active interventions may be required" by the stores (147). Ofer Berenstein (2012) notes that "the special arrangement of the comic book store as an institution" helps to guide the discourse that fans have in the store (74). Moving from comic shop to geek store, this article opens up an understudied aspect of fandom and retail: how the space of the store itself reflects—and generates—a feeling of alterity for fan shoppers.

3. Discourses of alterity within geek stores

[3.1] Both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment cater directly to fan populations. The Who Shop is more specialized, as it focuses almost entirely on merchandise related to Doctor Who—including new materials (magazines, books, toys, shirts, etc.) as well as vintage wares. The Who Shop was established in 1984 and currently runs both a face-to-face business as well as an online (worldwide) retail shop. The owners, Alexandra Loosely-Saul and her husband Kevan, vend at conventions (including Gallifrey One, the largest Doctor Who convention, and San Diego Comic Con). The shop also features a museum of actual props, costumes, artifacts, and behind-the-scenes materials from Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood, as well as other cult media like The Fifth Element and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Alien Entertainment is a more generalized geek store, selling Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel, and DC merchandise, as well as various other cult properties. They are also the home of the website, one of the largest online retailers of Doctor Who merchandise on the US side of the Atlantic. Thus, Alien Entertainment is both a specialty store of Doctor Who merchandise and a geek generalist store. Of note, the owners of Alien Entertainment, Gene and Karen Smith, also run Chicago TARDIS, a large Doctor Who convention (see Booth 2013), and they are the US home of Big Finish, an audio production company specializing in Doctor Who audio dramas.

[3.2] Previous research into the spaces of fan or geek retail have tended to concentrate on comic book shops rather than more general geek stores (Brown 1997; Woo 2011; Berenstein 2012), although Woo (2018) also examines hobby game stores. Matthew Pustz (1999) describes how the "local comic shop" can become a "supportive environment" for comics supporters—although notably the comics readers he discusses are often homogenously white and male (6). To be sure, comic book stores have been sites of fannish interaction for years, and as Berenstein (2012) notes, "comic book aficionados draw a stricter line of difference between themselves and general society. This could also be the reason that comics aficionados may hold ceremonies at any place, but would rather doing it at their comfort zones of conventions and stores" (83). But the differences between the comic shop and the more generally thematic geek stores are vast. Some comic shops sell additional merchandise like games or cards, but the majority of the wares revolve around comics and comic culture. Comics stores are laid out with comics in mind: like video stores of yore, they "similarly emphasize new releases, which…take up the bulk of the space on the outer walls of the store" (Herbert 2014, 76). Inside the store, different genre conventions take over: "independent stores typically demonstrate a more complicated system of categorization" (Herbert 2014, 76). Shelves of comics may be filed by superhero, by publisher, by author, by illustrator, by audience, or by genre.

[3.3] Geek stores, on the other hand, have a wide variety of merchandise that doesn't always get organized in the way comics might. Organization, as I describe below, can be by franchise, by type of merchandise, or by media technology. In any case, the rhetoric of the store space is different from traditional comic stores. Some geek stores like Alien Entertainment have to appeal to a great variety of consumers so they aim for breadth over depth. Alien Entertainment sells merchandise from a wide variety of franchises, both current and classic. As I describe below, it is scattered throughout the store, organized through media franchise. Other geek stores like the Who Shop narrowly focus on one particular text but sell a great variety of merchandise. This is organized differently than comic shops as well, as the Who Shop organizes by medium (books, videos, clothing) rather than chronology.

[3.4] Beyond the lack of focus on geek stores in scholarly literature, the methodology for examining the shops is different. Productive scholarship exists that focus on the fans that shop at these stores (Woo 2018) but relatively little analysis exists on the store itself. In this article I'm using a rhetorical analysis to examine the interpellation of fans that occurs within the shop. In contrast, for example, Berenstein (2012) uses interpersonal communication practices to analyze the discourse of comic book fans within shop. Similarly, in two pieces Woo (2011; 2012) examines comic book fans' spaces for their social rather than rhetorical functions. His 2011 article "The Android's Dungeon" argues that comic book stores have three social functions: first, they are "locales" that provide "spaces for interaction among participants"; second, they are "nodes, interlocks, and regions relating contingent communities of practices"; and third, they are "'sanctuaries' from mainstream hierarchies of taste and status" (125). (Scott [2013] complicates Woo's analysis by noting the different subcultural status of women in comic shops.) A similar article from 2012, "Alpha Nerds," describes how "distinctions between [fan] in-group and out-group are reproduced in the physical organization of comic book and game stores"—the layout of the store shapes fans' intra-fandom perceptions. Little examined in any of these articles is the layout of the store itself and the way that layout articulates fandom. Woo (2012) argues that he started his research looking at how the space of the store influences fandom (as I do in this article) but "became more interested in the individuals and institutions who work at sustaining these communities" (660); he does not go in depth on the relationship between these cultural intermediaries and the space of the store itself—a relationship I argue is meaningful, important, and underrepresented in scholarship.

[3.5] One notable exception to the dearth of literature on geek stores is Geraghty's (2014) Cult Collectors, which devotes a chapter to Forbidden Planet, a franchised store with centers in multiple European cities and New York. For Geraghty, Forbidden Planet "accommodate[s] all types of consumers, from casual shopper to fan collector…. The exchange of cult commodities highlight[s] the continued importance of physical interaction and the centrality of the physical object in the construction of fan subcultural capital" (142). In the following, I also use Geraghty's (2014) discussion of Forbidden Planet as a contrast to these independent stores, which may seem odd—Forbidden Planet is also a themed geek store. But of Forbidden Planet, Geraghty (2014) notes that it actually

[3.6] caters for both mainstream and niche tastes. It promotes both an image of the alternative and cult as well as keeping up with the latest fads and stocking the most popular toy and merchandise brands…and The London Megastore is not just for science fiction. The floor plan lists dozens of genres, global media products and blockbuster franchises, organized by popularity, audience and type. (155)

[3.7] The example of Forbidden Planet emphasizes this tension between fans' mainstream identities and their simultaneous reliance on alterity. Forbidden Planet has stores across the UK (and one in the US). It has become a go-to hub of fandom and geek merchandising for fans across the UK, and a mainstream source for cult merchandise. As such,

[3.8] while cult fandom has entered the mainstream…Forbidden Planet treads a thin line between both camps: as a physical location it remains a safe destination for fans to enter and connect with their favourite media texts but also it performs a role akin to the department store in that it sells something for every type of fans, whether you are a novice or die-hard collector. (Geraghty 2014, 154)

[3.9] In other words, Forbidden Planet exemplifies the cultural placement of fandom itself today, straddling the line between cult and mainstream (see Hills 2010); simultaneously, Forbidden Planet offers "a potential fantasy space for fans but it also inundates them with products and images that characterize it as a space for industrial marketing practices" (Geraghty 2014, 155). In contrast, the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment remain more solidly cult-focused specialty shops.

[3.10] Geek retail's deliberate marginalization of fans can be magnified by the objects within the store, the geographic location of the store, and the physical layout of the store. Local independent retail stores that specialized in geek-themed goods (items like action figures, both mainstream and collectible; comic books; games; clothing; accessories; and books, among other things) are often more expensive than their big box counterparts (Target, Walmart, Argos) or online retailers (Amazon), so shopping at the independent store reflects a type of alterity: fans are willing to pay more to be in a space that reflects their ideas about fandom (Woo 2018). And fans do come to these stores. As Benjamin Woo (2012) notes, "all over the city, nerds gather in homes, stores, community halls and hotel ballrooms; they gather weekly, monthly and annually to share their interests with others. Taken together, these spaces and events compose a milieu within which participants can access various resources and opportunities to pursue the cultural practices that they are 'into'" (663). The presence and shape of the independent become crucial for fan activity.

[3.11] The geographic placement of the retail space can also play a role in the assumption of alterity among fans. For example, both Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop are part of major metropolitan areas (Chicago and London, respectively), although both lie significantly outside the city center and are relatively geographically marginalized. There may be financial reasons for these locations (Woo 2018, 135), since it is often cheaper to own/rent retail space outside the city center. But regardless of the reason, the simple need to travel to the store magnifies the alterity of being outside mainstream taste cultures. Being forced to move from a packed downtown area to a relatively quiet suburban street corner to get to the stores engages a particular mode of pilgrimage-like travel. Herbert (2014) notes that "video stores' alignment with the geographic flexibility and customization typical of contemporary consumer culture" helped to make them ubiquitous across the landscape; for more esoteric stores, being outside the metropolis rhetorically reflects a level of social and cultural alterity.

[3.12] Beyond pricing and geography, however, the actual interior space of the shops reflects a greater rhetorical sense of alterity. In the next section, I examine how the notion of historicity guides the construction of Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop, while the section after examines face-to-face activity within the walls of the shops. I should note here that rather than separate out the two shops and analyze them separately, I'm deliberately pairing them together as a way of abstracting the concepts of historicity and activity—these are not unique to these two shops and reflect on larger subcultural practices in general.

4. The Who Shop, Alien Entertainment, and historicity

[4.1] Both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment rely on—and in some cases, manufacture—feelings of fan history to generate a closer connection to the fan community. By creating and displaying a particular type of fannish history, the two stores generate a form of alterity from the mainstream. They are niche stores that remind visitors that they are niche stores. Each store reflects this in a different style, but both do so in order to create feelings of alterity within fandom.

[4.2] First, historicity is generated in both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment through the appearance of an "old-fashioned" shopping experience. The history of geek culture is on display at both stores. For example, walking into Alien Entertainment is a bit like walking into the 1990s. Dusty shelves line the walls; it's a little cramped when the store is full; no computers are in sight. Even the merchandise is old (vintage), and stacks of action figures in 1990–2000 packaging line the shelves. The décor eschews modernization. Walking through the front door, shoppers find themselves in the middle of what looks like an organized jumble sale. To the right are the Marvel/DC action figures and books; to the left, the Star Wars section features cases filled with both expensive models and remainders from sales of toys of The Phantom Menace. Moving forward, one spies the Star Trek memorabilia—Kirk steins and Spock clocks meet Christmas ornaments from the mid-90s. Further ahead, the Doctor Who section (the largest one in the store) reminds visitors of the history of the show. Bookshelves are lined with the classic 1970s Target novelizations and copies of out-of-print Doctor Who fan films like Downtime. The Who Shop has a similar vibe, with the difference being that its entire collection is focused on Doctor Who. The store features a similarly cramped feeling, with shelves lining the walls and interior of the store, each crammed with clothes, books, toys, models, etc. As quoted by Alexandra Loosely-Saul, one of the owners, "'There's so much of Doctor Who, there are so many layers and facets, that there's something for everyone. And whatever it is, whatever a fan is looking for, we're here'" (quoted in Guerrier 2016, 45). The collection of merchandise stretches back more than thirty years and includes rare and out-of-print items. Of note is a large section of the store with Doctor Who figurines manufactured by Dapol in the 1980s. These older figures are highly collectable, although infamously poorly designed. The history of fan cultures manifests through the store, as these local shops appear unchanged from year to year. Both stores feature layouts that emphasize the history of the fandom through merchandise—decades-old items are on shelves next to brand new ones.

[4.3] In direct contrast, a big box store like Target or even a mainstream geek store like Forbidden Planet both heavily rotate their stock so that only the newer items will appear on shelves. Every visit to Forbidden Planet sees a reorganization of the content: the Doctor Who shelf itself may move (from the newer content at the front of the store when the show is on the air to the back shelves when it is off) and the actual merchandise will change. Newer action figures replace older ones; only the most recent T-shirts will be presented. Stock refreshes, reflecting a deliberate presentism to the shop.

[4.4] There is nothing in either store that would seem judgmental to a fan—in contrast, everything in the store is designed to help make fans feel as though they are looking through their own collection rather than a store's. Rare items are placed next to common ones. In Alien Entertainment, for example, rare signed photographs for sale line the walls while scores of remaindered action figures sit immediately beneath them. In effect, the independent geek stores offer "familiarity and safety; familiarity with the items on display and the people who work there and safety from non-fans and the homogeneity seen on the typical high street found in every village, town and city in the UK" (Geraghty 2014, 150). There are no large signs describing how much items cost; there are no store directories reminding visitors that they are in a store. Rather, the makeup and design of the store seems to more specifically match the feeling of being in a fellow fan's attic, or shed, or basement collection. The Who Shop, for example, does not group its T-shirt collection into styles; they are all hung on the clothing rack by size but in no particular order. Keen-eyed visitors can spy full boxes not yet shelved, cementing this aesthetic of individualized collections.

[4.5] Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop allow fans to purchase globally but shop locally; they present fans with a local expression of a local, curated fandom. The history exhibited in the layout and contents of the store reflects an old-fashioned shopping experience that emphasizes local fandom. Fan merchandising blurs the line between the regional, global, and local. The products purchased at the Who Shop or Alien Entertainment may be international in origin, may traverse the continents to reside in store, and may reflect a globalist media environment, but they play an important role in, and establish a clear connection to, a sense of local fandom within the spaces of the stores. The global is collapsed into the local, and an identification with mainstream fandom (or a popularity of fandom expressed via the mass production of ancillary products) becomes subsumed by the immediate experience within the store itself. In other words, it's as if the stores are saying "this is what fandoms in this area have been collecting for decades." In doing so, they serve as reminders to fans that shop there of the specific subcultural experiences of fandom in person—they harness the feelings of being in an old fashioned store that time has seemingly forgotten.

[4.6] One effect of this old-fashioned shopping experience is that both Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop revive an aesthetic of amateur collecting to emphasize the alterity of fandom. An emphasis on individual curation seems to communicate that the stores are anything but mainstream. A mainstream, big box store or even Forbidden Planet has well-organized shelves of toys, prices clearly marked, with multiple copies lining the shelves. In contrast, these independent stores often have unique organizational habits, less obvious pricing, and fewer copies (often just one) in the store. At Alien Entertainment, it's not common to find one type of action figure covering up different action figures on the same shelf. It is closer to a fan's closet or shed than a store. Teresa Forde (2013) links the experience of being a fan to the experience of browsing and shopping; the "flâneur" who buys items participates in "memory work" of the experience of being a fan (66). You can find what you want, but you'll have to do some digging. And in doing the digging, the fan who visits the store is participating in the mythos of fandom as an alternative to the mainstream, represented by orderly big box or online shopping.

[4.7] Both stores concretize a particular history of fandom within the store's walls. The merchandise certainly highlights a type of nostalgia, as fans who shop at the store can be reminded of previous generations' fan interests. The aforementioned sale of vintage merchandise also helps to develop this point—at both stores one can find merchandise long out of print and generally hard to find, even on the internet. For example, I've purchased at both stores Doctor Who jigsaw puzzles from the 1980s (and neither was missing a piece!). The Who Shop in particular has hundreds of vintage Doctor Who items, including classic 1980s books and VHS tapes. Alien Entertainment is a newer store, but the focus on history is hugely relevant to the interior design. Merchandise for older television series like The Twilight Zone, Star Trek (the Original Series), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are placed in similar arrangements as the Doctor Who and Sherlock areas. The old mixes with the new. The Who Shop has been around longer and thus has more older merchandise on display, but similarly intertwines the new and the old. For Geraghty (2014), sifting through the toys of the past reveals deep truths about the current status of fans.

[4.8] The experience of entering a shop space that contains items from [fans'] past is often the catalyst for renewing their passion for the original toy and restarting the collecting process. Stores that cater for fans by using childhood memories and nostalgia are by no means just for adult fans, they would go out of business very quickly if they were; instead, they act as sites for multiple generations of fans, for kids, collectors, and enthusiasts. (149)

[4.9] The reverse here is also true: older merchandise establishes a sense of history within the fandom, but also concretizes that history into a particular reading. Speaking here about conventions rather than stores, Geraghty (2014) notes that "nostalgia plays a big part in the marketing and construction of fan experience even before fans set foot in the hall" (143). What the store chooses to carry or not to carry helps define what the history of that fandom will be.

[4.10] The Who Shop offers another site of historization for its fan visitors. For a three GBP donation (the money is given to charity), visitors to the Shop can open the doors of the TARDIS, hidden in the back corner of the store, and explore a tiny but packed museum of props, costumes, and details from the past fifty-five years of the series. The museum contains a mish-mash of items: A Yeti costume from the 1968 serial "The Web of Fear" stands alongside a poster from the 1977 story "The Talons of Weng-Chiang." Tom Baker's scarf from his final season—or, rather, a version that was made for photoshoots and Madame Tussauds wax museum—is included in the museum, as well as original Daleks (including the Special Weapons Dalek!) and a Cyberman. Amazingly, one of the original costumes from the 1964 serial "Marco Polo" exists and is just sitting out, near the Vincent Van Gogh costume from 2010's "Vincent and the Doctor." Few of these costumes are behind Plexiglas; some of the props are but many are not. The museum gives the impression—quite rightly, I found out after talking to the owner—that each piece was simply collected over a very long time. Some were rescued from the BBC scrap heap; others were purchased over time from various previous owners. The items have been collected piecemeal over the three decades of the store's existence.

[4.11] The museum is an odd jumble of items, but the space and (non)organization helps to frame it as authentic. This is not just the collection of a corporation aiming to make money—this is a real fan's collection. Compare this museum to the one at the (now closed) Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff (see Forde 2013; Beattie 2014; Booth 2015; Garner 2016). Completely authorized and run by the BBC, the Experience featured an interactive exhibit where visitors could play the part of the Doctor's companion and were then ushered into a museum of Doctor Who items, including all the former Doctors' costumes, some of the new series companions, original TARDIS consoles, sonic screwdrivers, and other props from the series. It was exciting to view these items at the Experience but it presented a sanitized and authorized experience—designed by the BBC to offer a particular view of the show, it had the slick veneer of a corporatized experience. Additionally, despite the fact that aspects of the classic series were present (most notably, a replica of the original TARDIS console), the majority of the Experience focused on the new series, which may have alienated long-term or older fans. As I (2015) have previously written, the official Experience tour actually "lack[ed]…the sense of authenticity that a nonofficial (or fan-created) media tour might engender" because "industry-created fan destinations…serve as incongruous refocalizations of the affective work of fans, exemplifying and highlighting commercial aspects of the media text" (101). The fan-made, Who Shop museum offers a greater sense of authenticity because it is not as sleek, professional, or organized. It simply is a collection and creates a feeling of alterity through its disorganization and non-professional-seeming display.

5. Face-to-face activity as generative of alterity

[5.1] In addition to the creation of a particular fannish history, both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment use formal face-to-face interactions in order to develop fannish alterity from the mainstream. One of the ways the stores do this is through special events that promote a particular type of fandom (Woo 2018, 135–137). Geraghty (2014) has noted that "second-hand fandom"—the "display and purchasing of popular culture, both old and new, at stalls and autograph booths"—can have the effect of creating a sense of subcultural fandom within a larger fan community (148). Both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment do this through official events and convention appearances, as well as appearances in authorized merchandise that solidifies their connection to the industry and functions as a bridge between the fandom and the media text.

[5.2] The Who Shop's location in London allows it to host guests from the history of Doctor Who, including actors, writers, directors, and other behind-the-scene personnel. The Who Shop is party to a number of in-store signings and appearances by actors from the series. In the past, series luminaries such as Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker (the Third and Fourth Doctor), John Barrowman (Jack Harness), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) and others have all signed DVDs, books, and photographs at the store. Recently, for example, the store had a signing of a fan-made production of The Daemons of Devil's End, a continuation of a 1971 story called "The Daemons," which featured original actors Damaris Hayman, Katy Manning, David Simeon, and Richard Franklin. All the actors were present to sign, lending authenticity and legitimacy to the store.

[5.3] Similarly, Chicago's Alien Entertainment has become a hub of in-person fan activity, also featuring in-store signings and hosting events such as "An Evening with Big Finish" where the executive producers of the Doctor Who audio adventures held a discussion panel at the store. Using the store as this kind of discussion space highlights what Woo (2018) calls the "venues for interaction": sites where fans can connect, network, and exchange information (132). Alien Entertainment's relationship with Big Finish further highlights their focus on alterity within the fan community. Big Finish produces original Doctor Who audio adventures, a niche output for an already niche media franchise (see Hills 2007). The owners of the store also run an annual convention, Chicago TARDIS, which features scores of guests each year from the classic and the new series of Doctor Who (see Booth and Kelly 2013; Porter 2013; Booth and Booth 2014). The store has become a go-to place for Doctor Who fans to gather and meet each other in between the annual conventions. Given their proximity to the guests, the owners of Alien Entertainment help to craft the fan experience, both in the store and at the convention, and shape the way the fandom participates. Emphasizing particular panels at the convention helps to solidify what is important to the fandom for the fan audience. For example, at the 2017 convention, the main stage programming featured the traditional interviews with the stars, but also panels like "The Doctor as Teacher," about how Doctor Who has helped teach fans "the concepts of compassion, representation, intersectionality, and problem solving over its 50+ years in existence," and "13th Doctor: A Look Ahead," which discussed "the implications of—and reactions to—this year's exciting announcement" that Jodie Whittaker would be the first woman to play the Doctor. Putting the panels on the main stage frames the discussion: these panels are what the con runners feel are the most important/most crucial discussions. Programming in the smaller "Grand Ballroom C" (a grandiose name for a room with forty chairs) includes panels like "Socializing in the Doctor Who Fandom," dedicated to examining the growth of Doctor Who fan groups, and "Online with Doctor Who," about the availability of online resources and communities in the fandom. Programming in C is not as emphasized and is less well-attended, becoming less crucial to the fan experience at Chicago TARDIS. There's nothing wrong with programming decisions like these, but by making them, these local mom-and-pop geek shops help to influence the fan community, shape what the fan community talks about, and present how the fan community enacts its opinions.

[5.4] While fandom itself may be becoming a more visible identity, there are still subcultural identities generated and fostered throughout fandom. Similarly, both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment have authority within the fan communities because of their perceived connections to the originary text. Beyond the historicity of the museum or the activity of convention-running, both stores have been featured in special-edition comics. The Who Shop appears on a three-cover run of Titan Comics' Doctor Who comic, drawn by artist Lee Sullivan, where the 10th Doctor, 11th Doctor, and 12th Doctor covers for Christmas 2014 fit together to form an image of the store. Both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment feature additional exclusive comic covers with the names of the stores printed on the cover. There is an expression of a shared connection between the store and the media text, solidifying the authority and authenticity of the stores' brands within the framework of Doctor Who. In effect, the text legitimizes the stores, which in turn legitimizes particular nonmainstream views of fandom.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] Shops like the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment use their authority as merchants to help shape the fandom, and to reinforce the feelings of alterity within fan subcultural communities through discourses of historicity and activity. Importantly, both discourses are reflective of, and appear to react to, the rise of digital technology; both the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment emphasize the importance of local, in-person events while also developing a web presence. In addition to the in-person merchandise sales, the museum, the convention, and the signings, both shops use the internet frequently to sell wares around the world. That both stores have maintained a connection to the fan base itself portends a revisitation of traditional ways of understanding fandom.

[6.2] The implications of this study are important for understanding two aspects of the contemporary fandom. First, how space is related to identity. The actual spaces of the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment—both geographically distant from the center of the major city as well as the interior aesthetics—proclaim a particular alterity from mainstream culture. Further, future empirical research—including archival material, interviews with the store owners/customers, or market research—would be a worthwhile goal to further develop a body of scholarly knowledge on specific practices of independent geek store owners (for example, clutter can occur when shipments arrive; e.g., Berenstein 2012; Woo 2012; Herbert 2014).

[6.3] Second, this study is also important from a methodological point of view. Studies of fandom have often taken the form of analyses of particular fan texts (e.g., fan fiction) or fan activities (e.g., attending conventions). These are highly visible attributes of fandom and help shape common perceptions of the fan. But the everyday interaction of fans outside of these more formal activities also has a significant effect on how fans perceive themselves. The retail environment as a space of everyday interaction presents an under-examined focus of scholarship. As this rhetorical analysis has shown, these spaces can have an effect on fans, and the next stage of this research would include interviews with fans (see Berenstein 2012) to determine in what ways fans might themselves identify such effects.

[6.4] So why is this the "future of fandom"? Or rather, we might say a future of fandom? I contend that fandom is focusing more and more on face-to-face interactions, not despite the rise of digital technology, but because of it. Lest I be accused of "rear-view mirrorism," the McLuhanesque (1967) condition where "we march backwards into the future" (75) by only seeing the future in reference to the past, it's important to note that the actual practices of fans have not stayed static over the past decade, nor will they stay static for the next fifty years. Indeed, to argue otherwise would be ludicrous; the types of technologies that fans use to produce creative work will, in some way, affect the type of work produced (Hills 2013). However, as Peter Kelly and I (2013) have noted, "many aspects of fan identity have remained relatively unchanged, despite the rapid diffusion of new technology into fans' lives" (57). Fans themselves often stay tethered to the past in what non-fans may consider extreme ways. One of the ways the concept of the past manifests in fandom is through debates about canon—the stated past-ness of a media text. Canon debates and fanwork reveal a slavish devotion to canonical details that non-fans may have already forgotten about. Authenticity (in this example, represented by reference to canon), as Corse and Hartless (2015) note, is rooted in the fan community. The past is very much present in these fandom communities—and therefore helps to determine the future. The same, I argue, is true of the spaces that fans inhabit: through references to the fandom's past as well as markers of fans' presents, these retail spaces hearken to a fannish future. Fans and fan-oriented merchants (both the Who Shop owners and the Alien Entertainment shop owners are themselves fans of Doctor Who and other cult media texts) canonize particular aspects of fandom.

[6.5] Fans are seeking out contact—as they always have—through in-person meetings and conventions because the community of fans (often fostered and developed through social media) solidifies with personal contact. This isn't to say that digital technology can't enable fandom, but rather that tangible fan content encourages meaningful interaction. Fans buy merchandise in stores or at conventions even though it's often more expensive than buying online for many reasons: the unique memories engendered by the transactions, the personal interaction, or the feeling of helping an independent store. Simultaneously, the media industries (by which I mean both the mainstream producers of media content and the stores that sell that content, like Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop) want to encourage more fans to buy more merchandise, so they find new ways to market and develop fan interests. One way they do this is to assert the importance of fannish alterity—if fans are a unique market, they can uniquely be marketed to.

[6.6] Both stores strive to maintain a balance between the object of media fandom and the fandom itself. Through a cluttered and seemingly disorganized store, they establish the verisimilitude of a fans' collection. In effect, this car-boot-sale aesthetic asks the shopper to act fannish, to participate with fandom in a particularly commercial, but not corporate, manner. And this helps solidify the alterity that these stores generate, as it is visible participation with a tangible fandom. Alien Entertainment and the Who Shop aren't selling fan-made merchandise. They're not selling 'zines or homemade clothes. But they are selling the idea of fandom as something outside of mainstream interests. They are selling fans on what it means to be a fan. Although the mainstream media industries might be presenting fans with particular representations of what one type of fandom may be (see Bennett and Booth, eds. 2016), the Who Shop and Alien Entertainment reinforce the local contexts and subcultural paratexts of Doctor Who fandom, enlivening the fan experience through historicity, activity, and alterity.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] My thanks to the anonymous reviewers for the thoughtful comments. Thanks also to Gene, Karen, and Taylor at Alien Entertainment and Alexandra and Kevan at the Who Shop. My thanks to Katie Booth for the helpful dialogue and editing expertise.

8. Note

1. See Woo (2018) for a contemporary reading of geek as a particular social and cultural identity revolving around marginality.

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