Productive fandom: Intermediality and affective reception in fan cultures, by Nicolle Lamerichs

Caitlin McCann

University of California, Los Angeles, California, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Affect; Ethnography; Play; Transmediality

McCann, Caitlin. 2020. Productive Fandom: Intermediality and Affective Reception in Fan Cultures, by Nicolle Lamerichs [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 32.

Nicolle Lamerichs. Productive fandom: Intermediality and affective reception in fan cultures. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018, hardback, $115 (244p) ISBN 978-90-8964-9386.

[1] In Productive Fandom, Nicolle Lamerichs investigates how fandom and its practices extend beyond the text as a form of ongoing productive identity maintenance. Utilizing a case study–style approach, the text explores television, fan fiction, role-playing games, and cosplay as potential mediums for fan's emotional and bodily experiences. This experiential take foregrounds the lives of fans, illustrating one of the central arguments of the text: that understanding fans is as much about understanding their processes of connection and engagement as the end result of fandom itself. Lamerichs's overall holistic and interdisciplinary approach makes Productive Fandom a versatile text that can inspire continuing scholars as well as new students or curious readers.

[2] Productive Fandom comprises seven chapters. The introduction and conclusion offer concise and thoughtful characterizations of the field of fan studies. Using a wide array of scholarship, Lamerichs outlines the field's present state and its future potential, where her work intercedes. Each chapter tackles a different medium or mode of the fan experience. The chapters introduce key terminology and theory—such as the text's pivot points of intermediality and transmediality—and build toward a unified understanding of the networks of production that enable fan identities. At the end of the core chapters, Lamerichs includes what she calls ethnographic vignettes, which detail her experiences at conventions or other events that informed her research. These vignettes are personable and center on her own experience as a fan and researcher; they also create a persona of Lamerichs as an affable, engaged acafan. The vignettes often lead to insights on fan community building or how academic conceptions of fandom collide with real-world practices. In terms of pacing, the vignettes provide welcome breaks, letting readers process the preceding chapter and modeling how readers could reflect on their own experiences. (The only chapter that comes close to engaging in the personal on the same level as the vignettes is chapter 5, where much of the experiential data provided stem from Lamerichs's own game play and exploration of in-game worlds.) The events detailed in the vignettes range from the author's local venues, like Elf Fantasy Fair (Netherlands), to more international spaces like the World Cosplay Summit (Japan). These interludes are also the only points that provide images. The photos are always full page and black and white, and they provide a sense of the mediated fan body and its relationship to a specific event. The vignettes are followed by detailed bibliographies for the full chapter. A consistent author biography is also provided, suggesting that the chapters could readily be read singularly for an article-oriented syllabus.

[3] One of the core strengths of Productive Fandom is how Lamerichs models scholarship and transparent practices throughout the text, which is part of what makes this book ideal for introductory coursework at either the undergraduate or graduate level. Lamerichs identifies her approach as being "dynamic and self-reflexive" (234), illustrating the drive for interdisciplinary scholarship as well as honest, transparent research policies. Chapter 2 deals with methodology at length and shows how thoughtful and respectful Lamerichs has been with her subjects. She describes her research and writing techniques openly, including strategies such as approaching forum moderators for permission, giving respondents agency in how they wish to be identified, creating a blog to further collaboration, and allowing her subjects to read drafts so that they could be accurately depicted and have stakes in her research. The chapter also lays out Lamerichs's reasons for utilizing ethnography both in person and online; it reveals a holistic take on the fan experience. Every part of Productive Fandom enhances what may very well be a central tenet of the text: that fandom is for everyone.

[4] Despite this sense that fandom is for everyone, Productive Fandom emphasizes that the fan is also a highly discursive moving target—and one that scholars should not presume to fully understand. Lamerichs emphasizes fandom's lived-in-ness and its ephemeral quality, which requires an of-the-moment interpretation of what it means to be a fan. She pushes away overgeneralization to provide a clearer understanding of a community. Yet the text foregrounds a narrative, like a sisterhood of traveling pants, where fandom has the aspirational ability to fit over different bodies based on fans' needs. For Lamerichs, fans are flexible, migratory beings that freely move between mediums and between various texts on the basis of their emotional needs and lived experience. Fans are at once a communal cluster and a series of highly individualized players. This logic is crucial to how the chapters are structured: surveys of the field narrow to readings of lived experience and how that experience intertwines with the media text.

[5] Lamerichs's writing style strikes a good balance between intellectual rigor and approachability. This stylistic choice enhances the sense that not only is fandom for everyone but so is fandom scholarship. Chapter 3 provides a good example of this outlook, which covers international interpretations of television narratives by examining Dutch Sherlock (2010–17) fans. The chapter leverages work by Jonathan Culler and Monika Fludernik to describe German reader-response theory wherein readers have differing responses as a result of their lived experience. Dutch fans thus experience the narrative and Englishness of Sherlock in differing ways. Chapter 3 in particular creates a model for scholars to look at text as an ongoing process that is singular and personal but can also apply to a broader understanding of how fans connect to media.

[6] Productive Fandom notes that relationships between producers and fans are complex and specific, and should therefore be considered on a case-by-case basis by scholars. Chapter 4 best illustrates this concept as Lamerichs delves into Glee's (2009–15) storied history of queer fan fiction and explores the role of fan fiction as interpretive rather than subversive. This chapter's engagement with queer sexualities is perhaps the moment in which the book most specifically addresses fans' personal identity politics within the text. Still, Lamerichs maintains throughout Productive Fandom that texts are highly personalized encounters and that the media text is nothing without its reader, whether that reader is a fan or even an antifan.

[7] Central to Productive Fandom's overall argument is the concept of intermediality. Lamerichs defines the term as "a transfer or combination of form and/or content that relates an individual media text to other media" (21), and chapter by chapter, she explores the different values and practices of mediums that resonate with fans. The text does not position itself as the definitive resource of intermediality; rather, it reads as compelling advocacy for Lamerichs's brand of scholarship, inspiring her readers to consider how fans mimic nomadic structures by migrating across media forms and modes of production. There is a useful diagram in chapter 1 to help readers process different modes of intermediality, and Lamerichs takes the time to explore all the definitions and applications relevant to her study. Some scholars utilize buzzwords or phrases, assuming they are on the same page as their readers, but by doing so, they put their work at risk of misinterpretation or vague applications. In contrast, Lamerichs's explorations and clearly defined terms result in an approachable text with a clear value as a resource for both new and continuing scholars. In particular, the way Lamerichs defines affect in chapters 4 and 6 clears away any nebulousness surrounding the term and articulates the stakes of affect within contemporary fandom studies. Using Deleuze, Grossberg, and Hills as her predominant touchstones, Lamerichs engages with affect as an intense emotional and bodily dynamic that is not merely a result of the fan experience but a precursor to it—an openness, a willingness to be overwhelmed or to lose one's sense of self in other spaces and bodies.

[8] Productive Fandom skillfully explores historic debates in the field and maps the current landscape of fandom studies, both in terms of what it is and what Lamerichs thinks it could be. Yet one significant limitation of this book is that it avoids engaging with one of the most fraught contemporary debates in fandom: the pervasive issue of whiteness in both fandom and its scholarship. Throughout the book, the word "diversity" is used in regards to sexuality, age, and fictional characters' depictions, but the text skirts the issue of addressing ethnicity or race among fans themselves. This absence becomes increasingly notable as the book progresses, ultimately leaving the word "diversity" with unclear implications.

[9] Early on, Lamerichs takes the stance that her viewpoint is a European one, with some abridgment to American or Japanese identities based on the media texts used. Yet she makes the case that fandom should be understood as "a transcultural space in which fans with different national experiences and memberships come together" (32). Here the study comes off as being too romantic, too free in its definition of fandom. Any cultural lineage inherently deals with the aftermath of colonialism from either the lingering viewpoint of the oppressor or the oppressed; scholarship at large desperately needs to deal with this issue more transparently and more aggressively, and Lamerichs fails to do so. However, Lamerichs freely notes her potential biases in regards to her own identities as a researcher, which is a welcome clarification of her scholarly stance. Her strengths of transparency, clarity of communication, and ethos-driven expression would have made for a dynamic response to this pressing issue in fandom studies, so its lack is all the more felt. Instructors using this text should take the opportunity to continue the discussion of race and the pervasiveness of white identities within fandom and global culture.

[10] Despite this important absence, Productive Fandom is a strong text that may be used to introduce readers to the realm of fandom studies. What makes Productive Fandom interesting for scholars already embedded in the field is the text's novel models for lived experience and affect, which Lamerichs articulates from both the fan perspective and from the perspective of an individual academic. Lamerichs repeatedly shows that the personal can be made professional, and she offers a model for how scholars engage in the field. Productive Fandom adds to the field by addressing how different mediums engage transmediality and by promoting the body of the fan as worthy of play and exploration.