Theory

An approach to online fan persona

Christopher Luke Moore

University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

[0.1] Abstract— One application of the emerging field of persona studies is to the analysis of online fan persona. Indeed, there already exists a deep tradition of attention to fan persona within fan studies. A persona-inflected fan studies involves attention to the shift from representational media to a presentational media paradigm and invites questions about the contemporary experience of the public presentation of the online self as a fan. In combining the object and persona lens, an approach emerges that takes into account the agency of the individual in its negotiation with various collectives as well as human and nonhuman actors in the networks of online identity performances. Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies are useful in exploring the fan persona as it registers indexically and intercommunicatively in the constitution of public activity in digitally networked environments.

[0.2] Keywords— Agency; Collective; Intercommunication; Mediatization; Micropublic; Performative; Persona studies; Public

Moore, Christopher Luke. 2020. "An Approach to Online Fan Personas." In "Fan Studies Methodologies," edited by Julia E. Largent, Milena Popova, and Elise Vist, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 33. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.1703.

1. Introduction to persona studies

[1.1] Persona studies are a new domain of inquiry that provides fan studies with a set of theoretical and methodological tools, including qualitative and quantitative approaches designed to examine the conditions under which we engage in the curation of the public self online. Persona studies have acknowledged the importance of celebrity studies and the anthropological and critical traditions of cultural studies and the broader contributions of communication and media studies and their many subfields (Marshal 2010; Barbour, Marshall, and Moore 2014). Until recently, however, there has been little recognition in persona studies of the work done in the scholarship of fandom with particular implications for how we understand the performance of the fan/self in public.

[1.2] As an emerging field, persona studies have coalesced in recent years around the journal Persona Studies, which began publication in 2015. The inaugural International Persona Studies Conference, held at Newcastle University in June 2019, built on the work of P. David Marshall (2010, 2013, 2015, 2016) and other early contributors (Barbour 2015; Marshall and Barbour 2015; Marshall, Moore, and Barbour 2015; Moore and Barbour 2016; Moore, Barbour, and Lee 2017; Marshall, Barbour and Moore 2018). It is a new, global, and thoroughly interdisciplinary field that brings together the theoretical influences of structuralist and poststructuralist thinking with established foundations in cultural studies, media and communication, and internet studies to ask new questions about the signifying practices, power relations, and structural inequalities of the presentation of the public self and its political, social, and economic implications. The many questions of what a persona is, both ontologically and epistemologically, and what the limits of persona are as well as what persona might be in the future (or has been in the past) are far from settled, but we have begun to map the theoretical and methodological terrain for developing answers in both the journal and a new book on this topic, Persona Studies: An Introduction (Marshall, Moore, and Barbour 2020).

[1.3] In my call for a persona-inflected fan studies, first I present a brief introduction to the concepts and methods of persona studies. Then I look to the types of questions and answers that emerge from a persona-inflected fan studies. In the third section, I examine the implications of a combined object and persona lens, and in the fourth section I consider the performativity of fan persona. Next I will consider two relevant methods useful for a persona-inflected fan studies, interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) and network visualization. Finally, I conclude with recent examples of how the inclusive methodology of persona studies can be useful for fan scholars. My aim is to consider the questions and answers that become possible by shifting our perspective to an inquiry led by the view of the fan/self as a critical negotiation strategy and constitution of public activity in the digitally networked media and communication landscape.

[1.4] The definition of persona is intentionally broad because the term has been used in design, marketing and advertising, performance, history and politics, and many other fields and industries that are being actively explored by the contributors to Persona Studies. However, objects are a useful concept to begin to consider what a persona is. The Latin precursor to persona, the Etruscan word prosopon, which referred to the costume used in ancient Greek theater, highlights the idea of persona as a material interface between the person and others. Prosopon were ceramic, cloth, and wooden masks (pers) that depicted a character’s emotional state. The mask featured mouth holes that allowed the sound (sona) of the actor's voice to pass through it to the audience. The mediatization of persona is, therefore, an ancient practice, described by Carl Jung as "a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual" (1967, 190). Just as physical masks can play an essential role in providing a ready-made identity, fan personas are a type of mask with increased complexities and implications in the digital environment. The masks of fan personas can be entirely situational and often transparent, but for others and at other times they are intentionally opaque. The mask of a fan persona is sometimes a literal mask in the case of cosplay, but for the most part the contemporary fan persona is a mask formed by a collection of physical and digital objects that operate indexically as paratexts in our identity formations.

[1.5] Gérard Genette (1997) described paratexts as liminal devices or conventions that form a threshold of meaning between text and audience. Paratexts often have a temporal dimension, mediating fan personas cumulatively over time and contributing to personas as heterogeneous assemblages. Historically this has meant practices such as plastering bedroom walls with band posters, collecting signatures or photographs of celebrities, and building collections of physical objects. These paratextual practices are continued across digital platforms and serve as important indexical objects pointing to a range of relationships between fans, texts, and their creators, such as images, memes, statements, and associations such as likes, favorites, follows and retweets, subscriptions, and other social networking paraphernalia. Michel Serres (1995) described the quasiobject as having relations between elements in a system that stabilize our social contracts between each other and between the human and nonhuman; these online personas have quasisubjective and objective properties that are simultaneously individual and collective. Personas can therefore be thought of as digital paratexts making up virtual prosopon that help to stabilize our public selves in the move between the singular and the group.

[1.6] Persona studies have emerged from media and cultural studies by building on accounts of subjectivity, the psychology of the self, and philosophies of identity, but it is not an identity theory. Rather, an online persona as a collection of digital objects is a public performance of individuality that is projected toward a collective (Marshall, Moore, and Barbour 2020). A persona may be a thing, such as a brand, an object, a character, a location, or a space. A persona may be a name, described by David Peyron (2018, ¶ 4.3), as both a "rallying cry and birth certificate" of a fan community, a subcultural collective, which he describes as leaving "digital traces of its existence." A persona may be operated and contributed to by many humans and nonhumans, or it may be isolated to a single operator and a single instance: "Persona in its appeal to a collective formation embeds in its fibre the indexical signs of the collective itself. Persona then is essentially a way to negotiate one's self into various collectives" (Marshall, Moore, and Barbour 2020, 3). A persona's indexicality, to borrow from Paul Messaris (1997, 130), is caused by its objects, which serve as a digital trail pointing to both the objects' and the personas' existence. A persona's indexicality is a virtual fingerprint spread across multiple networks, platforms, and instances by the "intercommunication" practices of fandom (Marshall, Moore, and Barbour 2020, 47).

[1.7] The concept of intercommunication (Marshall 2014) refers to the movement of mediated digital objects between instances of interpersonal communication, which involves both human and nonhuman actors. The idea of intercommunication emphasizes the movement between previously independent domains of communication, which occurs through networked technologies and digital media practices. This activity generates a background data pool of clicks, views, user information, and other metadata that is harvested algorithmically and used to service advertising and marketing strategies, shape recommendation engines, inform machine learning, and influence content development plans. This concept of intercommunication is distinct from Henry Jenkins's (2006) account of convergence because it highlights the hybridity of presentational media practices that the convergence of digital technologies has enabled. A fan studies methodology exploring intercommunication would map the flow and intensity of presentational media practices to identify and examine the blending of media with interpersonal communication and the public sphere (Marshall 2010, 42). For example, studies involving the use of the Pepe the Frog meme (Merrin 2019; Zannettou et al. 2018; Nagle 2017; Pelletier-Gagnon and Trujillo Diniz 2018) reveal the complex intercommunication of memes in the presentation of the public self as a political fan (as discussed in the conclusion of this article) and the role of these digital objects operating as a performative interface between the individual and the collective.

[1.8] Other already-established ideas such as agency and what Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green (2013) have described as the intentional "spread" of media and the processes of collective intelligence (Lévy 1997) are also useful for a persona-inflected fans studies. Chris Comerford (2018), for example, found the collective intelligence of wiki users works to bridge the gap between the collective output of individual fan contributors and the official content production of "industry practitioners" (293) in a mutually advantageous relationship. Similarly, David Peyron (2018) has explored the role of fan collectives in the presentation of the individual self online and provided a detailed examination of the importance of names in a distinctly persona-inflected approach to the study of fan communities.

[1.9] The vitality and spreadability of digital objects, especially hashtags and memes, is grounded in consolidated appeal and action, which makes them highly intercommunicative, moving within, between, and across different forms of media as they become paratexts in the expression of public identity online. While digital objects move according to the whims of interpersonal interaction on a microbasis, according to Limor Shifman (2014, 18), the impact at the macrolevel contributes to the public sphere by shaping patterns of behavior and challenging or reinforcing shared mindsets, as with political groups, professional organizations, and various fandoms. Persona studies offers a range of important concepts that may be relevant to fan scholars interested in pursuing a persona-inflected fan studies, including the move from representational media (print, film, radio, and television) to presentational media (the internet, social media, and streaming platforms, among many others) (Marshall 2013, 2015), and the notion of micropublics, which describes the way that collectives intercommunicate between multiple media platforms and social networks (Marshall, Moore, and Barbour 2020, 87).

2. Persona-inflected fan studies

[2.1] The fan studies methodological perspective is built on a dynamic interdisciplinary fusion and has adopted qualitative research tools from anthropology, cultural studies, English literature, media and communication studies, sociology, psychology, and gender, celebrity, and film studies (Evans and Stasi 2014, 4–5). The history of fan studies, Adrienne Evans and Mafalda Stasi have argued (2014, 9), is methodologically grounded in ethnography, textual analysis, and on the psychoanalytic tradition of film studies, suggesting the self-reflexive autoethnography of the acafan is a more recent addition. Interest in the persona of the fan has been present from the outset of fan studies, as Sue Brower (1992, 163), building on Dick Hebdige (1979), observed: fans are crucial in contributing to social and aesthetic opinion by appropriating media texts and star performances as expressive materials in their lives, refining and enhancing these objects as symbolic parts of their identity.

[2.2] Jenkins initially noted that fan cultural creations are material traces of personal identity interpreted in the move between individual and collective identity (1992a, 209). Jenkins mapped the discursive territory and popular mythology from which more contemporary fannish identity has been fashioned (1992b, 11). However, fan persona is no longer purely a "subordinate identity within the cultural hierarchy" (1992b, 23) although it does remain a socially contested figure, even with its current economic and cultural power. Most recently Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd (2016, 19) noted the irony that fan identity has become part of the exclusionary forms of social and cultural capital that are often more important than traditional institutional status within participatory communities.

[2.3] The contribution of fan studies to persona studies includes the increased attention to the changed level of comfort expressed by fans in signaling their self-identification as fans online. Kristina Busse's (2006, 2017) work on the visibility of queer fan fiction writers helps us understand the move from virtual spaces of total anonymity to networks of semipublic communities and fully public social media platforms in which fandom is often one part of a complex assemblage of a curated presentation of the self. The focus by Busse (2017) on LiveJournal as a platform that brings together "the fannish, political and personal in ways previously separated in fannish discourses" (160–61) is an important example of persona-inflected fan studies because it moves to flatten the ontological distinctions between online and offline, real, and unreal, subjective and objective, and to focus on the agency expressed in the public presentation of the self as a persona: "All subjects perform a variety of roles when interacting, and any real person one might meet is similarly an extrapolation of the information she discloses, a creation of their (fictionally 'real') persona" (173).

[2.4] Busse (2017) also highlights the inherent danger in the assumption that the effects of the performativity of persona are empowering without consequence. This is an important distinction for any fan scholarship that considers political and social performances of the public self, as many fandoms and communities that engage in fanlike behaviors can be considered as deeply problematic, such as anti-vaxxers, GamerGaters, and alt-right communities. These collectives involve elaborate individual public performances that should not merely be dismissed as toxic and require closer examination using a methodology that brings together fan studies and persona studies to better understand the processes, meanings, power relations, and structural inequalities embedded in the everyday media and communication technologies and practices that contribute to these groups' ability to command participants (Green and Singleton 2013, 34).

[2.5] A persona-inflected fan studies resembles Natasha Whiteman's approach, which draws on Matt Hills's (2002) view of fan agency as rational and intellectual engagement as opposed to purely sentimental affiliation in order to focus on how the fan presents their activities and influence, and how this presentation "serves to establish conceptualizations of their identities as fans" (2009, 395). A persona-inflected fan studies would therefore include attention to the situations under which specific individual public performances of the self online may occur with attention to the broader collective environment that must be negotiated without "causal implications" (395). In this case, the focus includes "fannish discourse" (Busse 2017, 165) as one part among the many structures, choices, objects, and outputs of the persona assemblage.

[2.6] Francesca Coppa's (2008) work on early female fan vidding is an example of fan scholarship that reveals how fan texts, objects, and practices function as part of the negotiation of the self from individual identity to collective participation and broader public presentation of the self online. Coppa describes female fan vidding as the process of taking control of the camera, which can be understood in persona studies terminology as the agency demonstrated in the use of representational media for presentational purposes of public identity.

[2.7] The publicness of persona has significant consequences for the study of fans and fandoms, which requires both qualitative and quantitative methodologies and in-depth case studies and analysis to unpack. The public dimension of persona invites us to approach fans and fandoms in terms of the subjective and objective properties of the relationship between the human and the nonhuman. One way fan studies has moved in this direction is Bertha Chin and Lori Morimoto's model of transcultural fandom studies (2013) that looks to the complexity of the relationship between fan objects and fans from different geographical political, cultural, sexual, gender, and economic contexts. This approach suggests a synthesis of both an object-lens and persona-lens for a fan studies that considers objects as indexical agents in the mesh of public self-presentation that can provide insights into the collective participation of differently motivated and empowered human and nonhuman actors.

[2.8] Fans are part of the personal audiences and micropublics (Marshall 2015; Barbour et al. 2014) that enable microcelebrities (Senft 2008, 2013; Marwick 2013, 2015a, 2015b) to act in the role of social media influencer (Abidin 2016). Microcelebrities and their fans occupy a two-way relationship that is part of the presentational media paradigm and fundamental to all forms of social media by definition (boyd and Ellison 2007). Microcelebrities are not micro because they have a small number of followers but rather because they are at the center of a personal public microcosm of being with followers spread across multiple social media networks and online media platforms.

[2.9] The concepts of micropublics and microcelebrity function in a persona-inflected fan research to invert the typical understanding of celebrity as the primary text and fandom as a secondary product. The celebrification of fan persona as microcelebrity helps us to understand the transformation of the relation between public and private in the new articulations of public displays of the self. For example, Hojin Song (2018) observes that livestreaming "broadcast jockeys" on AfreecaTV are popular South Korean microcelebrities because they often construct their exaggerated personas around being fans themselves (4). This is also the case in the livestreaming of video games via YouTube, Twitch, and Mixer where the microcelebrities of this genre attain popularity through their fannish qualities and their high levels of familiarity with and authority within fannish discourse.

3. Fandom objects and persona

[3.1] Applying both an object-lens and a persona-lens to the fan studies approach assists us in understanding different insights. For example, Coppa's (2008) case study highlights how early vidders shared scientific interest, careers, and expertise, suggesting that these women were practiced in the public presentation of the professional self as a distinct persona that was connected to an established micropublic; they were able to transpose those personal, technical, and social skills to that of their public fan identity. Coppa's example of pioneer vidder Kandy Fong demonstrates the agency involved in the presentation of the self; it appropriates the representational power of the fan text, through the screening of the fan vid at fan conventions, as a presentational expression of her public self. This performance did not overcome the tensions inhabiting the texts but diversified them and even created new ones around copyright, community, and reception among others. As the "founder of the form" (Coppa 2008, ¶ 3.11), Fong's persona as a vidder became part of her microcelebrity status as much as the technology of the VCR and the fan vids' public screening.

[3.2] Similarly, the vidder subgroup Sterling Eidolan and the Odd Woman Out and its fanvid Pressure described by Coppa (2008, ¶ 4.8) is evidence of the representational text being subverted and used to transform the presentational media of fan vidding as a text itself. Pilar Lacasa and colleagues (2017) describe this kind of fan work in terms of Bakhtin's dialogue of the identity construction processes, which move between personal and social contexts and scenarios. This persona-inflected reading provides a means for understanding the ways in which representational media technology become presentational media content and the broader implications of the personal and social politics involved in that process. Just as VCR vidders are bricoleurs, as Coppa has argued, fans are bricoleurs in the presentation of the public self through the assemblage of persona employing everything from memes and merchandise to selfies and hashtags. The difference is that the presentational media performance of fandom is now anticipated and used in marketing and advertising to draw on fans' economic, cultural, and social capital and may even be a way for intellectual property stakeholders and platform owners to manage and manipulate the associated affective interest (Grossberg 1992).

[3.3] Online fans are frequently perceived as being disruptive, challenging productions for taking on new directions, or straying too from an imagined canon. These fan personas are often performed by those with the loudest voices and the most active micropublics. Fandom can involve performative recurrence as micropublics are crystalized around particular sides and teams in a tribalistic fashion. Fandom can also suffer from the danger of replicating and reinforcing traditional commercial discourses and industrial modes of consumption: "Fans today are being taught how to be a particular type of fan, dividing fandom into deliberate silos rather than enhancing the commonalities between them" (Booth 2015). Real critical fandom, argues Paul Booth, involves interacting with other fans thoughtfully, demonstrating listening skills, and sustaining civility even in disagreement. Authentic critical fandom involves performing a broad range of intercommunication skills across multiple instances of conversation and discussion, in which fan personas can occupy many different positions and perspectives. A persona-inflected fan studies can bring new perspectives to light in order to better understand the personal, political, economic, and social dynamics of the differences between tribalistic and civically engaged fandoms, through attention to everyday fan participants, fan microcelebrities, and the micropublics of both.

4. Performativity and fan persona

[4.1] The performativity of doing fandom, argues Booth (2015), when organized around demonstrating critical fandom, works to counter the neoliberal impulse of consumerism to accept rather than question. Critical fandom means to consider resistance over complicity and question dominant discourses within fan texts and celebrity performances. This, of course, goes both ways, because fans who occupy different political spectrums perform this critical activity in different ways. Persona-inflected fan studies has the potential to investigate critical fandom as it is normalized and/or disarmed by the performance of fan persona used to further political agendas. For example, fan texts can become paratexts in larger enactments of familiar ideological tensions and differences, such as the reproduction of entrenched practices versus the inclusion of more progressive and diverse representation.

[4.2] Examining these tensions through a persona-inflected fan research will increase our understanding of the metafan persona and the economies devoted to this kind of performativity, which use fan texts as a way to construct a politicized fan persona that operates via micropublics sustained by controversy and antagonism. These personas effectively game the system of platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit that reward both negative and positive interactions as evidence of engagement for advertising purposes without distinguishing between them.

[4.3] Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity (1990) is well known in fan studies and has been deployed in persona studies to expand on the understanding of persona as something fans do, rather than what fans are. Nicholle Lamerichs (2011) provides an example of this persona-inflected fan studies by drawing on Butler to unpack the performativity of cosplay, arguing that fans do not necessarily perform the characters whose costumes they inhabit but instead express a dynamic relationship to these characters and to their stories that is deeply personal. During cosplay, argues Lamerichs, a fan performs an attachment to a character, narrative, or storyworld, thereby gaining status and attention but also bringing their uniqueness and self-expression to the material exchange between character and player. This is an important example of the persona of the fan repurposing the representational elements of the character and fan text as paratexts in the public presentation of the self.

[4.4] A persona-inflected approach to fan behavior builds on the textual reading of the character to study the way in which the fan transforms the character into a persona through the mediatization of the performance of the cosplay intercommunicatively. They use selfies and other images as well as updates, hashtags, and other digital objects and paratexts to share the fan persona performance online. This performance points indexically to both the individualized and collective activity, which is evident in Dawn Opel's (2015) example of female literary fans' online sharing of images of women reading, describing the practice as a communal act of identity construction. This practice, argues Opel, is a postfeminist cultural performance of a genre's visual representation of the literate self that circulates between social media communities, which in persona studies terms is considered as the political power and agency of presentational media practices: "The performative visual of the young woman reading in an analog space is a particularly postfeminist ideation, given that women fans in the space are both in fact reading and producing texts in digital format and that they are not all necessarily young" (Opel 2015, ¶ 4.8). Opel sees Butler's theory as a useful guide to explain the double movement of "reenactment and retrenchment of regressive, heteronormative gender roles" in women's literary fan persona that can also be observed in cosplay, to which the focus on persona adds a range of dimensions to explore including the publicness, collectivity, mediatization, and value of the presentational performance of persona (see Moore, Barbour, and Lee 2017).

[4.5] The benefit of adding these new dimensions to the repertoire of fan studies theories can be observed in Coppa's (2018) arguments that fans are experts in the assembly and performance of fan identities as a kind of theater: "Gay men have been drawn to the behavior of glamor queens, divas, and women who are actively performing their gender. Similarly, slash fans tend to be drawn to characters who can be seen to be actively performing their masculinity, and so have behaviors, roles, lines, and props that can be easily redeployed" (Coppa 2018, 194). Coppa considers slash and drag to be a performative intervention of a proxy identity, but they also provide an essential counterpoint to the publicness of persona that should be considered so that a persona-inflected approach does not become reductive.

[4.6] Like Busse (2017), Coppa argues that representational media are not always positive, which we can expand to suggest that not all presentational media are empowering. Just as there are "limitations to visual representation as a political goal," there are distinct limitations to the value of presentational media as a political or liberating practice (Busse). That is not to deny the agency of curating a public self, but to be reminded that just as "it is not easy to escape the traditional politics of visibility" (Coppa 2018, 200) there are new dimensions of politics that are particular to the domain of presentationality. Fans, of course, live this reality, and many still consider it necessary to separate their fandoms from their identifiable public selves. This is why there is still an everyday use of semipseudonymous personas and online identities that are deliberately distanced, such as player tags in online games and fans' use of obscure profile names on social media sites, apps, and platforms.

5. Methods for a persona-inflected fan studies

[5.1] Publicness is the primary focus of persona studies, so a persona-inflected fan studies attends to the industrialized public self, which involves individuals' means to curate a persona and manage their micropublics. Fans, however, inadvertently contribute to a corporate surveillance culture that does not algorithmically care if a click, a view, a retweet, or a repost is done in support or in anger, with dispassion or with energetic criticism—because all engagement is commodifiable. As Booth (2015) has argued, the media industries have empowered fans, simultaneously seeking to authenticate legitimate forms of consumption while attempting to limit the effectiveness of more critical voices. The industry does not always silence them, but it does channel them into platforms and services that benefit from the massification of their activity through the transformation of engagement into revenue. A persona-centric approach would then focus on better understanding the transformations of the relations between public and private and shed light on their new interconnections that can result in radical shifts in power. Persona studies have incorporated a range of methods that build on the innovations emerging from ethnography and social network analysis, which can be used in isolation or combination to examine the effects of these changes.

[5.2] The following section will consider two methods featured among others in Persona Studies: An Introduction (Marshall, Moore, and Barbour, 2020): interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) and network visualization. These are two useful approaches for analyzing the presentation of the fan/self publicly online. It is, however, essential to recognize and respect that not all fans present themselves publicly (Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington 2007). As Booth (2015) has observed, there are as many ways of being a fan as there are fans in the world, and it is crucial to "celebrate this fannish variety." A persona-inflected fan studies must then distinguish between unpublic fans (whose fan objects are known only to themselves), semipublic fandom, and fully public fan personas, which are considered to be a volunteered presentation of the self. Celebrities have taught fans that public presentation of the self has significant agency attached to it but also connections to networks of operations that function outside of the individual's control, regardless of claims to rights over personal information or even intellectual property. For all fans, this agency moves between the three performative layers proposed by Barbour (2015) as registers of public persona: professional, private, and intimate.

[5.3] Drawing on IPA, Barbour (2015) develops a method for understanding the experience of persona by its participants through interviews and digital ethnography, including historical analysis of persona stereotypes, myths, and tropes; online listening techniques (Crawford 2009); and deep analysis and in-depth unstructured interviews. Interpretation of the data occurs via attention to the three distinct registers of persona performance associated with the public presentation of the online self: "Just as a single human voice can move between different vocal registers, so can a single online persona move between different performance registers" (Barbour 2015).

[5.4] The professional register is typically formulated around the presentation of work: such as the fan-scholar deploying familiar academic approaches to studying texts, audiences, and media production (Hills 2002). Professionalism is synonymous with occupation, expertise, and other normative models of quality and ethics, but as Barbour (2015) notes what counts as a professional in unregulated work environments such as the arts and creative industries is highly contested. Greater attention to fan microcelebrities whose persona is framed in the professional register and whose performance commands networks of micropublics and niche audiences will help to provide a rich understanding of the potential economic, cultural, and political role of the fan in the contemporary media landscape.

[5.5] The personal register of persona resonates between the professional and intimate, moving between the public practices of fandom and the private feelings about them. The interpersonal relations of fan micropublics are often framed within discourses of established systems, such as the canonization of fan texts. A persona-inflected fan studies examining the personal register would draw on the ethnographic methods of IPA to examine the presentational performance of adherence to or rebellion against the norms of the fandom through the expressive system of the presentational use of representational texts. The negotiation of experience of individual fans participating in the collective fandom has implications for and resonance with the performance of the self outside that fandom. Through attention to this experience, we can see how the personal relationship to that fandom is managed and regarded.

[5.6] The intimate register of a public persona involves the performance of emotional sensitivity and displays of affect often with a wide range of intensity. Once confined to private interactions, the intimate register has been normalized through the public disclosure of personal information across a wide range of technologies, platforms, and processes (Lambert 2013). Although there are concerns over the loss of privacy and potential threats to personal security, the intimate now reflects a common practice of fandom, which is to celebrate and share very personal commitments to aspects of popular culture. A persona-inflected fan studies approach that focuses on the intimate register might consider the degree to which personal information, stories, and performances contribute to the increased comfort that fans have in the disclosure of personal information. These registers are not mutually exclusive, and a persona-inflected approach might also consider the movement between these registers and the effect this has on the experience of fandom and the public presentation of the self as a fan. Attention to ways individuals engage with social media platforms and the operation of collectives across them will enable new ways of theorizing online fan persona.

[5.7] IPA offers a useful approach for engaging with a persona-inflected fan studies at an individual level, while network visualization—drawing on tools of social network analysis—is effective for exploring persona as connections between individuals and collectives on specific platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter. Network visualization provides researchers with a means to get closer to the data generated by participatory processes of intercommunication and to better understand the micropublics of persona formations. For example, fandom and individual public fan persona can be observed in action by visualizing digital objects such as hashtags. Figure 1 is a sociogram of Twitter users posting tweets that include the hashtag #spiderverse, which refers to the animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which premiered on December 14, 2018. The data for the graph was captured on December 24, 2018 and includes the previous 24 to 48 hours of Twitter activity.

Color image of hundreds of Twitter user avatar images. Lines drawn among them illustrate connections. On the upper left, a large round cluster of icons radiates out from a single icon source. On the lower left, a smaller circular cluster is joined by lines to the larger one. On the right of the screen are small clusters and individual icons that are interconnected and connected to the larger clusters on the left of the screen by strands.

Figure 1. A visualization of the use of the Twitter hashtag #spiderverse, created on December 24, 2018, with NodeXL.

[5.8] The network exploration and overview tool NodeXL was used to create the graph from a small data set (less than 2,000 tweets). Each of the individual nodes on the graph represent a Twitter user by their profile image, and each line, or edge, between the nodes indicates a relationship between the two users, such as a directed tweet, a like, a retweet, or a mention, which can be used to analyze patterns of activity and identify key participants and their roles in the network. Analysis of visualization and exploration of the network enables fan researchers to discover new trends and activities involved in the presentation of the fan/self that moves from the individual to the collective and back again. The intercommunication of fan micropublics can be explored and the relationships between fans and other actors on the social media platform can be discerned with detailed granularity (note 1).

[5.9] Examining figure 1, we can visually identify fan personas by their indexical designation from the digital object of the hashtag and the use of avatar images related to Marvel and Spider-Man, which are taken directly from the user's Twitter profiles. By sorting and clustering the layout of the graph using social network algorithms, we can position patterns of similar activity in close proximity to reveal key micropublics and specific fan activity. For example, in the top left side of the graph, we see a sizeable micropublic formed around @carrot_boi, a visual artist, whose #spiderverse tagged artwork attracted 10,000 retweets and 32,000 likes. Dedicated Spider-Man fans can be observed among those in @carrot_boi's micropublic and are identified by their profile images that feature different versions of characters from that universe. Detailed analysis of the individual tweets can be made, and the micropublics of those participants rendered in further graphs to study similarities and differences in their activities.

[5.10] Looking at the accompanying data analytics for the graph shown in figure 1 can provide fan researchers with new types of information and ways of understanding the interconnections between fans, and between fans and nonfans. Their overlapping micropublics can then be explored and critically analyzed in detail. For example, the Twitter feeds for the Top Mentioned contributors in the graph reveal trends in fan art, conversations about the soundtrack, and discussions about the protagonist, Miles Morales, and the fan-favorite character Spider-Gwen. The top URL mentioned in the graph refers to a tweet by Humberto Rosa (@hf_rosa), a lead animator on the film, in which he shares a piece of his own fan art. Rosa's status as a fan is called into question by responses to his tweet, but Rosa defends his status as a fan by tweeting, "haha fair enough. But it's not like it was used for the movie or anything like that either, it's just me geeking out about Miles in my spare time [cringing face emoji]" (Rosa 2018).

[5.11] By following the data, we reveal a potential avenue of investigation in which the performance of fan persona and fan microcelebrity are brought into question by others doubting the legitimacy and authenticity of the persona as a fan, due to the proximity of the fan to the texts' creation and the authorial status of the fan over the text. IPA and network visualization are not entirely new methods, but together and separately they offer ways to examine the public performance of fan persona and the connections between the individual and the collective. A persona-inflected fan studies approach would seek to understand the dynamics of social roles and cultural participation of fan persona by sampling, rendering, and exploring activity that operates across privately owned and collectively regulated spaces.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] It is useful to highlight two recent persona-inflected fan studies contributions. Jocelyn Smith's (2017) analysis of Hilary Clinton fans and their use of Clinton's political persona to construct their own personal register of persona explores the anthologizing and demonizing of fan activity in the representational media's recasting of presentational expression of persona as "emotional fangirling." Smith examines the way in which television and print media separated "serious political supporters" from fans by their obsessive affective investment in the use of memes and identification with girl power tropes. Similarly, Lacasa et al. (2017) examined the way teenage fans of One Direction, Justin Bieber, and MAGCON perform their online selves in the movement between collective and individual identity by drawing on celebrity persona.

[6.2] Persona is both an interface and a network assemblage. Clinton's and Bieber's online personas are more than an amalgam of their political or creative work and representations of them; they are an intercommunication of those textual resources expressed as individual public engagement with a collective. The fan collective then utilizes the representational media as part of their own textual resources for self-expression presentationally and communally in the pursuit of political activity. This is done overtly in the case of Clinton fans and indirectly in the case of Bieber fans, whose participation is fundamental to the development of civic imagination, which Jenkins, Ito, and boyd (2015) link to "the origins of political consciousness" (Lacasa et al. 2017, 52).

[6.3] Persona-inflected fan scholarship, as demonstrated by Smith (2017) and Lacasa et al. (2017), offers fan scholars an expanded approach that embraces the celebrity practice of all individuals, which Alice Marwick and danah boyd (2011) identified as a continuum of self-branding practices. This integrated approach shifts the focus from the representational media paradigm to a presentational one. Smith's analysis draws on David Marshall and Neil Henderson's (2016) work on political persona to understand the way that affect is used against the agency of fan persona through the representation of Clinton fans as overly emotional, delusional, and obsessive. Smith argues this is a deliberate attempt to delegitimize and undermine the political power of presentational strategies of persona construction that challenge the status quo.

[6.4] A persona-inflected fan studies provides a methodology for investigating the processes of negotiation between individual and collective in terms of how a fan draws on representational resources and contributes to communities of practice in order to perform persona presentationally. Lacasa and colleagues (2017, 55) argue that fans construct their online identities through the address of a celebrity persona; but by expanding the scope of celebrity through its attention to microcelebrity, we can consider all types of texts, objects, and practices that have micropublics of attention that become part of the fan persona. Lacasa et al. (2017) demonstrate how images and hashtags circulate within fan communities and are transformed by the network as they become individualized expressions of fan identity on social media: "These images show how people participating in fan communities have shared feelings and values, and participate in specific practices created around the celebrity's persona mediated by digital tools. These shared endeavors generate a collective consciousness and are a point of support for the construction of personal identities" (58).

[6.5] However, it is essential to remember that the platforms where this activity occurs are not neutral and have a vested interested in surveilling and converting activity into data for advertising and marketing purposes through algorithmic processes, which have implications for command and control operations. Persona-inflected fan scholarship must be equally attentive to the role of the platform and its owners, operating software and hardware as the agents and actors in the mesh of persona performance.

6. Note

1. Sources for learning how to analyze these graphs include Marc Smith and colleagues (2014) and Derek Hansen, Ben Schneiderman, and Marc Smith (2010), and details on how this approach has been used in persona studies are available in the work of Marshall, Moore, and Barbour (2015, 2020) and Susan Turnbull and Christopher Moore (2017).

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