Affirmational canons and transformative literature: Notes on teaching with fandom

Linda Zygutis

Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, United States

[0.1] AbstractInstructors who use fan studies in the classroom are likely to make use of transformative works and theories. The remix classroom offers a way to read against popular interpretations of mainstream texts. In the process, teaching with fandom—not to mention fandom itself—is often presented specifically as a salve to prescriptive readings of texts. Yet fan practices are often imagined by mainstream culture as being uniquely affirmational—a particularly enthusiastic form of close reading that emphasizes and rewards deference to an authorial voice. In this sense, the way media and popular culture understand fandom is as an extension of how students are often taught to read texts: via a formalistic, New Critical approach that centers authoritative criticism. Students who interact with fan texts but do not see themselves as fans feel this way, just as students often fail to recognize themselves as critical readers because expertise has been made into a form of gatekeeping.

[0.2] KeywordsAuthorship; Composition; Education; New Criticism

Zygutis, Linda. 2021. "Affirmational Canons and Transformative Literature: Notes on Teaching with Fandom." In "Fan Studies Pedagogies," edited by Paul Booth and Regina Yung Lee, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 35.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Teaching with fandom—and fandom itself—is often presented specifically as a salve to singular and authoritative readings of a text. Instructors who use fan studies in the classroom are likely to make use of transformative works and theories as a way of encouraging students to produce their own readings of a text. The remix classroom, Katherine Howell notes, is an "invitation to write back" against popular readings of mainstream texts, offering "ways to transform popular culture as multidimensional" (2018, 15). In this sense, we're also asking our students to see fandom as primarily transformational, and fans as audiences who manipulate and subvert primary authorial readings. But the image of the fan that we have may not be what our students understand as fan behavior; moreover, how they are taught to read popular texts influences how they approach all texts, even those in a classroom setting. And in contrast to the transformational model of the remix we may introduce in the classroom, fan practices are often imagined by mainstream and popular culture as being uniquely affirmational: a particularly enthusiastic form of close reading that rewards deference to an authorial voice. In this sense, the way media and popular culture understand fandom is an extension of how our students are often taught to read all other forms of text: a formalistic, New Critical approach that centers authoritative readings. I question whether students who interact with fan texts but do not see themselves as fans feel this way in much the same way my students often fail to recognize themselves as critical readers: because expertise has been made a crown, rather than a process.

[1.2] This essay comes out of an impromptu conversation with my composition students. Throughout my English 101 and 102 courses, I have the opportunity to talk to my students at length about media and the way we consume it. Students discuss and write argumentative essays about media properties, advertisement, and gendered entertainment. As part of the process, we speak at length across the semester about the idea of audience: assumed audiences, unspoken audiences, and consumerism. The composition classroom lends itself well to discussion of fan practices: in the process of asking my students to write both short responses and longer essays, I ask them to engage with material they are already fans of as a way of encouraging their interest in writing. Indeed, over the years I've found the best work comes from students who, whether they know it or not, are absolutely fans of the material they write about. Their engagement spikes, their attention to detail increases, and their coursework improves, as these students are often already more than passingly familiar with the object of their attention. Before assigning every essay, I tell my students to consider what they are already a fan of and to critique it: to turn the analytical eye we have developed in class onto the things they love. In the process, my students often produce readings that question or reject dominant textual messages, bringing both a critical eye and their own readings to the media they consume. As a result, by the end of the semester I generally have a good idea of my students' relationship with popular and mainstream culture—including what they are fans of. With that in mind, at the end of the semester, I ask the questions: What does it mean to be a fan of something? What kinds of people are fans?

[1.3] I've asked this question in the past, but this semester it led to a lengthy discussion. Generally speaking, my students were egalitarian about fan nature: the general consensus, of course, was that anyone can be a fan. Popular examples of objects and texts worthy of fandom came in all directions, from the Dallas Cowboys to Apple to Ariana Grande. But it was the caveats that interested me. My students, who had spent so much of the semester responding thoughtfully to questions of knowledge and cultural canon, became surprisingly dogmatic when it came to defining fan behavior. Although my class was quick to note that anyone can be a fan (as there are, of course, varying degrees of fannishness), they were equally insistent that fan practices were ultimately tied to specialized knowledge of the source text. More specifically, my students agreed, one's identity as a fan depends on how much one knows about a text; rather than affection, it was expertise that made someone a fan. To be a fan is to "know everything about something"—more specifically, to "know way too much." Several students used the term "obsessive." In general, the consensus seemed to be that while everyone could be a fan, it was also entirely possible to "take it too far," generally through excessive knowledge, as well as enthusiasm. One student recalled that fans often "know all of the weird details" about a favored text. Above all, the students spoke with a level of distance: be it stan Twitter or the stat-tracking sports viewer, fans were someone else.

[1.4] In that much, my students would not be unique. Jonathan Gray points out that the wide majority of audiences do not self-describe as fans: that "many viewers watch distractedly, in bits and/or casually; many, too, hate or dislike certain texts" (2003, 65). Fandom does not naturally follow consumption, even if that consumption is heavy. But I'd asked my students this question at the end of the semester, and by this point, I'd had a chance to read their work. My composition class leans heavily on students crafting their own prompts; as a result, many of my students had written essays examining their own relationships to popular texts—often, fannish ones. Everything from Dungeons & Dragons to K-Pop to Panic! At the Disco and Invader Zim: these were students who had engaged, detailed, and yes, fannish, attachments to and opinions of media. By their own definition—the fan as expert—many of my students were indeed fans. In some ways, my experiences echo those of Lincoln Geraghty when he describes his students' position as one of "defensive naiveté" by declining to see themselves among their descriptions (2012, 162). Geraghty describes his students as taking up a "position of superiority" against fans rather than acknowledging themselves as among them. To his students, fans are the "stereotypical 'passive' consumers of media texts" (163): an image students, particularly in a classroom setting, are likely hesitant to cultivate. But my students were not dismissive of fans or fan practices; they simply didn't see themselves among them. Indeed, for many of my students, the identity of fan seemed to be a bar they didn't view themselves as clearing. The term "fan" itself was wrapped in an authoritarian reading of their favorite text: one that is canon-dependent, quantifiable, and authorially sanctioned. For them, fans keep and repeat this particular form of reading. Their failure to see themselves as among these voices speaks not only to an anxiety regarding the word "fan," but to a sense of fans themselves as being intrinsically connected with enthusiastic, but dogmatic, close reading.

2. Affirmational fandom and authoritative impersonality

[2.1] There is a good deal of research supporting the use of fan practice in the classroom. In Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Henry Jenkins and coauthors note that participatory fan culture has "relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement" and a "strong support for creating and sharing" with others (2009, xi). This description echoes the goals of the composition classroom, where the challenge is often to encourage students to thoughtfully engage with their own writing in the first place. Drawing from fan behaviors and practices encourages students to center their own readings of a text in critiquing it, emphasizing personal stakes in the process. James Gee and Elizabeth Hayes suggest the term "passionate affinity-based learning" to describe the behaviors that drive fans to create communities of like-minded interests (2011, 69). Fandom, and particularly transformative fandom, offers a form of learning not traditionally offered in the classroom: as Jenkins et al. notes, "While formal education is often conservative, the informal learning within popular culture is often experimental. While the formal is static, the informal is innovative" (2009, 11). Fan fiction, for instance, can be valuable as a teaching tool because the practices of beta reading and collective feedback offer not only suggestions to improve a writer's work, but a kind of community mentorship not found in traditional learning circles (Beck 2019). But more broadly, the remix classroom offers students the chance to "respond to, adapt, and resist canonical knowledge" (Howell 2018, 3). As instructors, it is our job to help students to not just be able to read a text but to react to it—to question, critique, and contextualize. Fan communities can offer a model for how to engage with and criticize canonical knowledge in a productive manner, as fans are perpetually reworking their favorite texts in fan fiction, fan vids, and other remix practices. But while we as instructors may be enthusiastic about the potential for participatory and transformative fandom as classroom practice, it's important to note that the vast majority of fandom as seen in popular and mainstream culture is explicitly not transformative. Our students are far more likely to understand fandom in the affirmational sense, as a kind of extended close read for authorial intention.

[2.2] Affirmational fan practices center on knowledge: the teasing out of it, the collection of it, and lengthy discussion of its details. The term itself originates in fandom, coined in 2009 by Dreamwidth user obsession_inc to describe the fan practices of sanctioned fan spaces that reaffirm the source material. "The source material is re-stated, the author's purpose divined to the community's satisfaction, rules established on how the characters are and how the universe works, and cosplay &etc. occur. It all tends to coalesce toward a center concept; it's all about nailing down the details" (2009). In contrast to the laying of hands approach of transformative fandom, obsession_inc proposes that affirmative fans are defined by their relationship to a textual canon. Affirmational fans focus on divining authorial knowledge, centering "overwhelmingly on discussion, debate, criticism, and theorizing," as well as "communal mystery solving, deep discussions about the authorial intent behind episodes, or mapping out the narrative universe as described within a media text" (Ford 2014, 63–64). These are the fans who create Wikipedias, argue over character stats, and produce detailed timelines and viewing orders. They are also the fans most often seen in mainstream culture. The Saturday Night Live image of the erstwhile Trekkie is, for better or worse, deeply affirmational ( The premise of the oft-cited sketch finds its humor in the idea that two fans of the original series accost Shatner with questions about the text so detailed he can't understand, much less answer them. But as the Trekkies in the sketch rattle off episode numbers and technical-sounding terminology, they demonstrate themselves to be affirmational fans: very literally, as they seek affirmation of that knowledge from William Shatner himself.

[2.3] In many ways, this cliché of the affirmational fan is what my students seemed to describe when they talked about fandom. We are over three decades out from the Shatner sketch and yet my students still perceive fans as obsessed and excessive. As a result, it's worth interrogating just how our mainstream media has helped them develop this image. Indeed, the relationship between industry and affirmational fandom is often complicated. While affirmational fans buy convention tickets and merchandise, their heavy consumption can often tip over into undesirable demands toward the source text. Mel Stanfill reminds us that "being a fan inevitably involves consumption": to be a fan is to consume, be it products or properties (2019, 81). "Fan desire," Stanfill writes, is "divergent from industry's desire for fans. It lingers too long rather than consuming more and more things serially; it does not necessarily want what industry wants fans to want" (82). We often associate difficult fans with transformative fandom: with remix culture, with the desire to talk back to or transform media texts. But affirmational fans trade in knowledge, and with knowledge ultimately comes a sense of expertise. And this problem of excess desire becomes more pronounced on social media, where audiences can respond quickly and en masse to both creators and each other. The sexist response to Captain Marvel (2019) and the controversy of Comicsgate are particularly destructive examples of fan desire lashing out against perceived mistakes in the development of a text. In each case, tension arises when fans' sense of ownership over a text eclipses their acceptance of a new canon (and thus, new material to purchase). Even affirmational expertise can only be rewarded to a point.

[2.4] Thus, with the increased visibility of fans thus comes the necessity of controlling the source text: to encourage appropriate fan desire and dampen the undesirable, to show the reader who's boss. Thus the portrait of the artist has transformed from that of the bemused and distant creator into what Suzanne Scott defines in her book Fake Geek Girls as the "fanboy auteur": a figure whose knowledge of a text is positioned not as excess, but as expertise; whose fan credentials grant them claim to affirmative mastery of the (often franchised) works they produce. The fanboy auteur is both "an authorial archetype and aspirational form of professionalized fan identity." The fanboy auteur is situated discursively as the ultimate expert, whose position as a fan grants them an elevated knowledge and understanding of the text they produce. The fanboy auteur emphasizes the need for a very specific form of knowledge as a prerequisite for creative production. Scott draws from Foucault's notion of the author function in describing the role the fanboy auteur plays in textual discourse. Because the fanboy auteur is coded as a fan, first and foremost, this figure "performs a similar set of connections, communities, and exclusions at both the fan-cultural level and the textual level." Put bluntly, the fanboy auteur serves as a gatekeeper of knowledge: their presence and voice both produce and reaffirm the existence of a right and wrong reading of the text. Moreover, they are at the epicenter of an entire field of industry-sanctioned media voices: interviewers, critics, and professionals who all serve to remind fans and consumers alike of the necessity of an authorial voice. As Scott explains, because "the fanboy auteur's voice and fannish interpretation are increasingly framed as an essential 'text' for fans to consume," the audience is asked to explicitly acknowledge both the author's voice and its necessity to the text; they're invited to understand his word as the final word, and to seek it out as part of the media experience (2019, 161).

[2.5] It's worth noting here again how fan is uniquely conflated with expert in the case of the fanboy auteur. As Stanfill (2019) notes, the image of the fan in popular culture is most often one of desire: of consumption rather than production. In contrast, the emphasis on the fan identity by fanboy auteurs suggests professionalization borne of textual expertise, a title won through mastery (Scott 2019). The fanboy auteur is "often celebrated for having a comprehensive knowledge of and affirmational mastery over a given fictional world or franchise" (162): a particularly valuable celebration when, like J. J. Abrams or David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, these fanboy auteurs are not the intellectual property holders. In such cases, despite their fan identity being considered generally as a reason for their worthiness, fanboy auteurs are no longer considered to be imbued with desire: their voices are not subjective or individualistic but rather authoritative, representative, and reflective of an industry-sanctioned canon. Individual tastes and opinions may make up a fanboy auteur's imprimatur, but when it comes to the work itself, fans are quick to lambast creators for what they see as any personal agenda, particularly if that agenda runs counter to fans' desires. Examples such as the fan backlash against Marvel's Hydra Cap plotline or the vitriolic response to 2016's Ghostbusters reboot demonstrate two very different sides of this scenario, wherein fans perceive an auteur to have gotten a character wrong or accuse them of inserting their personal views into the text (Faraci 2016; Hassenger 2016). The fanboy auteur toes a line between the subjective desire of the fan and the objective expertise of the mature artist—and, ultimately, the latter is expected to win out.

[2.6] Thus, although the fanboy auteur is uniquely visible as an individual, those most successful are also subsumed into the text, becoming a conduit for appropriate knowledge about the minutiae of a media property. The fanboy auteur is never speaking from their opinion alone; rather, from a position of power as a producer of the source material. However vocal they may be among their personal relationship to fandom and fan practices, the role the fanboy auteur plays for a media property is distinctly, and historically, impersonal. In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," T. S. Eliot ([1921] 1996) argues that true art is impersonal: that, in the hands of a "mature poet," (¶ 11) the artist does not channel their emotions or desires into a text but rather acts as a catalyst between new artwork and its historical forebears. Because the artist has "not a 'personality' to express, but a particular medium," (¶ 15), the work produced by a mature artist will ascend above personal bias or experience. We see this conceit in the fanboy auteur, with the suggestion that these figures have earned their position through a mastery of the text and that their presence at the helm of a media property is not the result of individual preferences or luck, but a singular expertise over textual canon. In the case of the fanboy auteur, that knowledge is often quite literally the history of what came before; by stepping into the reins of existing intellectual property, the fanboy auteur is not merely a creative individual, but a mouthpiece of industry-sanctioned canon from that point on. Thus the fantasy of the fanboy auteur is portrayed as that of the truly impersonal artist—one who has ascended beyond the desire and consumption of the affirmational fan community and into the grand objectivity of a sanctioned narrative, whose privileged position allows them a mastery of the text that fans alone will never attain. The artist is one who has mastered not only their own art but the whole of art before it. Historical knowledge is prized above all, and a detailed—and accurate—accounting must be made of what has come before in order to gain the right to contribute to its present. In this way, impersonality, perhaps ironically, centers the author as the primary interpreter of a text. Because the author is seen as having ascended beyond the personal, their word is imbued with a godlike reverence. And if there is an omniscient creator, then it follows that all details are deliberate and potentially significant: a logic rewarding author-affirming practices like Wikipedia writing, meta production, and Easter egg hunting. The goal of textual analysis becomes to divine that authorial intention, with the successful affirmational fan demonstrating the greatest expertise over the creator's ultimate vision. It's unsurprising that when the fanboy auteur evokes their expertise, it is often "designed to definitively end a conversation"; because the artist demonstrates "mastery as a form of fannish certification," there is no space for questions or criticisms (Scott 2019, 162). The fanboy auteur's voice is authoritative: as obsession_inc (2009) describes it, "the creator holds the magic trump card of Because I'm The Only One Who Really Knows, That's Why, and that is accepted as a legitimate thing."

3. New Criticism and the classroom

[3.1] This emphasis on a One True Reading rewards a specific kind of audience: not only the affirmational fan, who seeks out and rehashes plot and narrative details, but the affirmational fan whose reading of the text most closely matches that of the intellectual property holders. With their emphasis on the authoritative voice of the fanboy auteur, media properties reward fans whose interactions with creators are both positive and intimate; they suggest every part of the text is known, and the auteur alone holds the reins. It is a form of fan practice reflected in the close readings of Harry/Hermione shippers or fans of Kylo Ren in Star Wars: a fixation on reading the details correctly to glean, before anyone else, the right and true ending. In this case, close reading for its own sake is not a reward; indeed, fans who read texts incorrectly are often the subjects of ridicule by other members of the community, emphasizing the importance of knowledge being not just informed but industry sanctioned (Trendacosta 2019). The value of critique and analysis is found specifically in being correct, on most closely matching the auteur's vision.

[3.2] In this sense, the way we talk about fanboy auteurs in fan culture and media reflects the prescriptive way our students are taught to read everything else as well. In the last five decades, New Criticism has emerged as a key influence on American literary education throughout K–12 (Blake and Lunn 1986; Thomas 2012). As a school, New Criticism is heavily informed by the implications of Eliot's ([1921] 1996) theories of impersonality: namely, that because the artist has surrendered their personality to the work of art, each piece comes to the reader as an aesthetic whole. In contrast to schools like reader-response, which emphasizes the experience of the reader with the text, New Critical analysis focuses on a text's formalist traits: its rhythm, meter, imagery and word choice. As an ideal, New Criticism can be said to "(1) center…attention on the literary work itself, (2) study the various problems arising from examining relationships between a subject matter and the final form of a work, and (3) consider ways in which the moral and philosophical elements get into or are related to the literary work" (Van O'Connor 1949, 489). To a New Critical eye, a work of art is fully present at its moment of completion. The role of the reader, then, is to mine the work until that meaning is found. Appropriate criticism of a piece should "hold more closely to the literary work itself than it does the social or biographical origins of the work"; the text, and only the text (489). New Criticism takes the artistic text as a fully present object demanding qualitative analysis. The conceit suggested here, of course, is that the artist themselves has packaged their work in a way that is both fully present, and self-explanatory to the (properly) educated eye. New Criticism emphasizes an industry-sanctioned view of critical analysis in literature, suggesting that to closely read a text means, above all, "discovering the objective meaning of a piece, determining the author's intended meaning, and reading and responding objectively to the piece itself" (Blake and Lunn 1986, 68).

[3.3] As a formalist practice, New Criticism can have a good deal of literary value: it teaches terminology, close reading, and mindfulness toward the text itself. However, with its emphasis on terminology and the text as a self-contained object, New Criticism has taken over the early composition classroom as a "decontextualized collection of benchmarks" in test questions and essay prompts (Rabinowitz and Bancroft 2014, 8). This "Zombie New Criticism" (7), as it were, has gained popularity in large part because it can be taught simply: students are offered sets of quantifiable literary terms, are given poems and stories with clear solutions to tease out, and are taught to deconstruct literature into a collection of terms, symbols, and, ultimately, correct and incorrect answers. In the wake of No Child Left Behind, reading and composition have taken on what Gee and Hayes refer to as "test literacy": a shorthand for education that emphasizes often-decontextualized facts and figures over subjective analysis or reader-focused qualitative criticism (2011, 67). New Critical practices in particular offer a self-contained and self-referential shorthand with which to teach literature and writing. In particular, it avoids the more challenging aspects of potential critical texts by avoiding the works' social or historical circumstances. It no longer matters that Walt Whitman was gay, for instance; and racism becomes a mere detail in the work of Hurston or Hughes. It is also effective at turning what can sometimes be messy literary criticism into multiple-choice-ready answers. Texts are broken down into diction, tone, and imagery—useful practices in and of themselves, but hardly the universal core of critical analysis. In any case, the result is an emphasis on the reader as a passive agent: students learn that there are right and wrong answers to textual analysis, and thus learn not to speak until that answer has been given.

[3.4] Our students often come into the classroom believing writing, specifically, and reading, more broadly, to be a self-contained process. More than that, they expect us as instructors to have the keys to that containment, to be able to offer the right readings of both critical and artistic texts. Blake and Lunn describe this peculiar phenomenon, as students look to their instructors as ordained in critical analysis: "This ordination meant that they had had the necessary special training for extracting meaning from a piece of literature, had been sanctioned as bona fide literary critics, and knew they now served their students as the final arbiters of the meaning of pieces of literature" (1986, 68). In the classroom, the teacher takes over the role given initially to the auteur or author: that of the expert, offering students the correct answers about artistic content, meaning, and structure. The problem with this, of course, isn't close reading itself, but rather the assumption that all roads lead to a singular solution: New Criticism as a "terminal goal of reading" (Thomas 2012, 55). In this model, reading becomes less about the student's experience with the text and more about determining what the author (or critic, or teacher) thinks should be obtained from the text. For students trained in New Criticism, questions asking them to read, critique, or analyze a text are ultimately tempered by "the fact that the correct meaning for a piece [rests] ultimately with their teachers" (Blake and Lunn 1986, 68). Education itself becomes a stand-in for the author/auteur; students may be encouraged to offer their own close readings of a piece, but ultimately there will be a single correct answer, already identified, for them to suss out. As a result, reading becomes less about engagement with ideas and more about solutions—an anxious approach to literary criticism. As students are taught to scan for right answers, they become less likely to engage with their own ideas, experiences, and interpretations.

[3.5] As I mentioned above, my class hinges on my students' ability to choose their own topics and prompts. This is a source of anxiety for many incoming freshmen, who have been taught that English literature and composition is a matter of mind reading both instructors and texts (Rabinowitz and Bancroft 2014). Students often come into my classroom expecting to be told what selected readings really mean, and struggle against the expectation that they will offer their own unique—and valuable—analysis. This is particularly true when it comes to the act of writing. K–12 prompts are often narrow in focus; as a result, many of my students come into my classroom expecting to be offered a list of potential topics, or of lenses through which to read a text, or questions to be answered in essay format. I deliberately avoid these things because they tend to reaffirm for my students that, if a question is asked, there must be a single solution; that if they don't know something, the correct procedure is not to tease it out themselves, but to ask me for the answer. When students are asked to choose their own prompts, they are placed in the role of putative expert: it is required of such writing that they know not merely enough about their topic to ask questions, but to puzzle out their own answers. My students often push back against this at first, wanting to know what I consider to be a good or, more interestingly, a real topic worthy of analysis. Common anxieties reflect a fear that their own topics aren't serious enough, or disbelief that I am really encouraging them to write about anything, even if I, as the instructor, am not an expert in the topic. Unsurprisingly, my students often respond with nervousness. My students' anxieties about developing their own essay prompts in the classroom reflect a larger message about expertise in both New Critical education and the affirmational turn in popular culture: that is, the all too common belief that the average reader, or fan, has no expertise to offer.

4. Conclusions and kid knowledge

[4.1] In both popular culture and the classroom, our students are taught a particular form of reading: specifically, a kind that reveres the author, that understands close reading as a means to an end, and that devalues the unlearned reader (or viewer) as a passive consumer. While citing fans and fan practices can offer a way for our students to rethink reading on a broader structural level, it can also recreate the prescriptivist reading practices we seek to help our students work beyond. Ideally, invoking fan practice in a classroom setting functions as a way for our students to think critically beyond the markers of expertise.

[4.2] Often when we look toward fandom as classroom practice, it is with an eye toward how fan practices—and, often, transformational practices in particular—can help our students think of reading and writing as a democratic practice. Transformative fan spaces and practices are often valuable sites of learning specifically because they make space for amateurs to work through the material, alternately as consumers, producers, and teachers: spaces free from the fear of right answers or, more significantly, wrong ones (Gee and Hayes 2011). As Paul Booth states, "Students feel more comfortable sharing insights about their own writing when they view it as a collaborative, interactive experience" (2012, 177): in essence, when they begin to move away from standardizing student readings and toward a more egalitarian alternative that centers their own experiences with the text. Engaging in fan practices both in and out of the classroom can offer a way for students to reclaim what Peter Rabinowitz and Corinne Bancroft call "kid knowledge": the ability, developed early, to read and interpret a text with enthusiasm, rather than with authoritative aid (2014, 3). In contrast to institutional knowledge, kid knowledge is not taught or dependent on an educator to parse it; it is often drawn from excitement for and engagement with the text. Rabinowitz and Bancroft argue that kid knowledge is often subsumed by secondary and postsecondary education largely because of their circumscription; because students learn that the instructor has the One True Answer, they become accustomed to understanding reading and writing as a form of mind reading, and thus begin to disengage. On some level, it's worth noting the way in which kid knowledge mimics fan behaviors. Kid knowledge is emotive; it is driven by personal interest. Children become attached to texts first emotionally, rather than critically, and critical analysis follows affection. In a sense, kid knowledge can be seen as our first engagement with fan-type behavior, as students learn to read in this way long before they learn critical analysis (8–9).

[4.3] But in order to benefit from fan practices, students have to be willing to participate in them: to, on some level, see themselves as fans. As my students' observations demonstrated to me, for many students the definition of fan is very much tied to excessive consumption: to be obsessive, to love something too much. While we as instructors and fans ourselves may see fandom as escaping prescriptivist or authoritative modes of reading, students may see it as codifying them. In the classroom, students often feel distanced from reading education because they do not see themselves participating in the roles they feel their instructors inhabit: that of expert, of literary critic, of analytic (Gee and Hayes 2011). This is increasingly true of popular culture as well, where our students may see themselves as amateurs specifically as contrasted to industry-sanctioned media experts. Students do not see themselves as critics, writers, readers, or even potential auteurs, but rather as potential fans: an identity they associate with excess, useless knowledge, with an abiding affection for something that cannot love you back. Paul Booth notes in his work with undergraduate and graduate students that, even in fan-focused classrooms, many students push back against the idea of transformative fandom, preferring "to hold onto the auteuristic 'creator-is-God' model of cult appreciation" (2012, 176). Indeed, students may struggle to see the value of transformative critique because they fail to see themselves as inhabiting a role worthy of offering it, feeling themselves outside of the role of critic or artist. More insidiously, because the most oft-loved student texts tend to come from popular culture, students may see them as already solved, generally by industry-sanctioned experts. In these situations, while students may have an excess of kid knowledge about a topic (as is often the case, when we are fans of something), they have lost faith in their conclusions.

[4.4] Ultimately, the first step in developing taste is learning to trust one's own. While not all students identify as fans—or even want to—our students are inundated with messages about the right and wrong way to read, both in the classroom and beyond. Increasingly, the messages of authorial intention and expertise that create students' anxieties toward reading in the classroom replicate themselves outside of it, as students are taught to seek authoritative answers in order to read popular culture according to industry expectations. As I read my students' final reflections this semester, I was pleased to find students still responding to my final question in their discussion of the class: of processing how, exactly, their identities as fans, readers and critics might overlap. And yet I was also taken aback by how many students expressed surprise, that what they see in the text matters, no matter what text it is: that they have some expertise to offer, both in and out of the classroom. Students internalize the lessons they are taught about right and wrong ways to read; they learn to distrust their own kid knowledge and wait for the word of an expert—an instructor, a critic, a True Artist. When we say that fan practices can help our students to write, we assume that because they love something, they feel knowledgeable about it. Often, the goal of bringing fan practices into the classroom is to tap into that supposed self-confidence. But this is increasingly untrue, because popular culture, like the New Criticism classroom, has tied that expertise to a level of authorial and industry sanctioning that, by design, very few people can have. It's worth considering whether this may become more pronounced in the future, as fan culture is increasingly folded into the net of industry-sanctioned popular culture, where devotion to a single text and interpretation is expected and rewarded. At any rate, it's worth considering just what fandom means in a broader cultural sense and, as a result, to our students themselves. As fans and fan practice become further folded into the juggernaut, teaching our students to trust their own analysis may become an uphill battle against not just institutionalized forms of reading that codify authorial intention, but against a version of popular culture that defines only certain people as the right kinds of readers. Students need to feel a sense of expertise, a belief that their analysis of texts—literary or popular—matter. And they do. At its core, after all, reading should not be affirmational.

5. References

Beck, Julie. 2019. "What Fanfiction Teaches That the Classroom Doesn't." Atlantic, October 1, 2019.

Blake, Robert W., and Anna Lunn. 1986. "Responding to Poetry: High School Students Read Poetry." English Journal 75 (2): 68–73.

Booth, Paul. 2012. "Fandom in the Classroom: A Pedagogy of Fan Studies." In Fan Culture: Theory/Practice, edited by Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis, 174–87. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Eliot, T. S. (1921) 1996. "Tradition and the Individual Talent." In The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. Reprint,

Faraci, Devin. 2016. "Fandom is Broken." Birth.Movies.Death., May 30, 2016.

Ford, Sam. 2014. "Fan Studies: Grappling With an 'Undisciplined' Discipline." Journal of Fandom Studies 2 (1): 53–71.

Gee, James Paul, and Elizabeth R. Hayes. 2011. Language and Learning in the Digital Age. New York: Routledge.

Geraghty, Lincoln. 2012. "Just Who is the Passive Audience Here?: Teaching Fan Studies at University." In Fan Culture: Theory/Practice, edited by Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis, 162–73. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Gray, Jonathan. 2003. "New Audiences, New Textualities: Anti-Fans and Non-Fans." International Journal of Cultural Studies 6 (1): 64–81.

Hassenger, Jesse. 2016. "Ghostbusters, Frozen, and the Strange Entitlement of Fan Culture." AV Club, May 25, 2016.

Howell, Katherine Anderson. 2018. "Invitation: Remix Pedagogy in the Fandom Classroom." In Fandom as Classroom Practice: A Teaching Guide, edited by Katherine Anderson Howell, 1–15. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Jenkins, Henry, Ravi Purushotma, Margaret Weigel, Katie Clinton, and Alice J. Robison. 2009. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MIT Press.

obsession_inc. 2009. "Affirmational Fandom vs. Transformative Fandom." Dreamwidth, June 1, 2009.

Rabinowitz, Peter J., and Corinne Bancroft. 2014. "Euclid at the Core: Recentering Literary Education." Style 48 (1): 1–34.

Scott, Suzanne. 2019. Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry. New York: New York University Press.

Stanfill, Mel. 2019. Exploiting Fandom: How the Media Industry Seeks to Manipulate Fans. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Thomas, P. L. 2012. "'A Richer, Not a Narrower, Aesthetic': The Rise of New Criticism in English Journal." English Journal 101 (3): 52–57.

Trendacosta, Katharine. 2019. "The Decade Fandom Went Corporate." Gizmodo, December 19, 2019.

Van O'Connor, William. 1949. "A Short View of the New Criticism." English Journal 38 (9): 489–97.