What's in a word?

TWC Editor

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial for TWC No. 34 (September 15, 2020).

[0.2] Keywords—Canon; Critical race theory; Fan studies; Transformative works

TWC Editor. 2020. "What's in a Word?" [editorial]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2020.2047.

1. What's in a word?

[1.1] When we ask academics in different areas to peer review a specific essay, we introduce ourselves as "editors of the peer-reviewed, open access fan studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures, supported by the fan advocacy nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works." This emphasizes that we are serious about academics, we value open access, and we are supported by a nonprofit rather than a major press or university. After all, if we are asking fellow academics to perform free labor, they ought to share our general values.

[1.2] However, particularly in the current environment, we are now questioning that self-description. The term "fan studies" feels too loaded and limiting. When the journal was launched in 2008, we chose to omit "fan studies" from the journal's title because we wanted to focus on "transformation," which we see as one important nexus of fannish activity. We wanted to be open to the widest possible range of work, not define in advance what authors' fields and commitments would be. And as a project of the Organization for Transformative Works, we wanted to echo and amplify the notion of transformation. Fan studies was then still emerging as a field, but what was clear to us was that the term acted as an umbrella under which scholars from all sorts of different fields could shelter and find common cause. Now we think our initial intuition of choosing a broader and less well-defined name might have been prescient.

[1.3] Fan studies has a racism problem—because how could it not? Racism permeates fandom culture just as it permeates all aspects of higher learning, which, for acafans, is a double whammy. Fan studies was initially created, to paraphrase Joanna Russ (1985), by white acafans, for white acafans, with love. Yet the events of the last few years, culminating in this particular historical moment, have driven home the fact that the field has been constructed to systematically exclude work that looks an awful lot like what fan studies is doing but doesn't tag it with this particular descriptor (Wanzo 2015). TWC, despite seeking to include diverse voices and perspectives, has undeniably been a part of that construction.

[1.4] Ironically, the field's foundational canon was shaped by scholars whose work would not be flagged as fan studies today. When works in the fan studies canon tell the story of audience studies and cultural studies connecting to create fan studies, they often start with Stuart Hall's "Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse" (1973). But as fans know (literally better than anyone), determining what counts as canon is a process of selection, a political process rooted in power relations. Thus, while many of us have internalized 1990s-era queer interventions by theorists like Alexander Doty, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Michael Warner, we didn't do the same for contemporaneous work that focused on people of color, like Jacqueline Bobo, Patricia Hill Collins, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. This has had undeniable consequences.

[1.5] White fandom scholars worked to establish a flourishing field that systematically fails to fully engage with decades' worth of scholarship in critical race studies, ethnic studies, and postcolonial studies and related fields, all of which could have meaningfully contributed to the field of fan studies. By ignoring texts written, read, and loved by readers and viewers and fans of color, the field fails to be comprehensive or inclusive in its theories and in its subject matter. As we built the new academic subfield of fan studies and established its organizational infrastructures, we helped create and maintain a canon lacking one of the central trajectories of theoretical inquiry.

[1.6] We've seen a lot of moves recently within fan studies and its infrastructures to decolonize fan studies, to undo the harm that is so clearly visible. After all, this dearth of work on race and ethnicities deprived our field of important theoretical interventions and prevented viewers and scholars of color from feeling hailed by the field of fan studies. Our 2019 special issue "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color," edited by Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington, was one such attempt. This special issue purposefully invited and included scholars and reviewers who rarely identified with or taught fan studies. Indeed, this special issue threw into sharp relief some of the practical consequences of three decades of being a nearly exclusively white field: even when scholars are doing things that fan studies does, they don't see their work as part of fan studies when nonwhite scholars are discussing nonwhite texts and audiences.

[1.7] How ought we address this? How can we make the umbrella of the field of fan studies bigger? How can intercessions outside the monolithic whiteness of fan studies best be drawn into scholarship involving transformations, communities, affect, and fans? We think we can make a symbolic small start by retiring the term "fan studies." Transformative Works and Cultures's name already hints at a broader remit, but the notion of studies of transformative or derivative works may not limit itself quite so clearly to the racist prejudices we've continued to perpetuate. If it turns out that those who are now doing the hard work of reimagining a fan studies that does not center around whiteness remain committed to the term, then the term's connotations can change with that work. But as long as the connotation of "fan studies" implicitly excludes people of color, the field will close off important interventions.

[1.8] Scholars in this field, whatever it is known as, need to return to their research with an eye to finding, acknowledging, celebrating, and, yes, loving other roots, other approaches, other arenas of fannish behavior. Whiteness must be directly confronted and addressed as a central feature of historically white fandom communities rather than an absence that remains omnipresent. We need to invite and welcome scholars who don't necessarily think of themselves as fan studies scholars yet whose work adds to and enriches conversations about audience, affect, fans, and transformation. We need to extend the fan studies imaginary.

[1.9] For Transformative Works and Cultures, this means that our new editorial board reaches beyond academics doing fan studies, and we will continue to actively solicit other points of view. Obviously this won't solve the field's racism, let alone fandom's and academia's racism. Certainly work critiquing the unbearable whiteness of the field's current canon is welcome and must be done; but so too must we meet people where they are, and we want to honor and invite the work being done by people of color that falls under the remit of transformation, whatever field is in play.

2. Theory

[2.1] Olivia Johnston Riley's "Podfic: Queer Structures of Sound" offers the first sustained look at the fannish pursuit of podfic, or fan fiction read aloud. Beyond issues of accessibility, podfic allows fans to engage creatively with some of their favorite texts, performing stories and sharing them with other fans. Riley focuses on the queer embodiment of voices and the intimacy of listening to other fans read often erotic scenarios, in what Riley describes as a "queer soundscape" (¶ 1.3). The issue of fannish embodiment also centers Charlie Ledbetter's "The Dysphoric Body Politic, or Seizing the Means of Imagination." Using personal experience as a transmasculine activist, Ledbetter reframes the escapist nature of fandom as a "reaction to untenable external circumstances," which thus can redefine "fan fiction [as] a political practice." In Ledbetter's words, "The lens of political dysphoria, adapted from critical transgender studies and used here to describe the dissonance between dominant political structures and desiring subjects, permits exploration of how fan fiction enables subjects to acknowledge oppressive political conditions, engage in coalitional rebellion, and reimagine societal structures for collective liberation" (¶ 0.1).

[2.2] Jennifer Duggan continues this focus on fan identities as she looks at the information writers share in paratextual material in "Who Writes Harry Potter Fan Fiction? Passionate Detachment, 'Zooming Out,' and Fan Fiction Paratexts on AO3." Limiting itself to one fandom and a specific subset of subjects, the study offers a look at a random sample of fans, studying not only their demographics but also the way they choose to present these aspects of their identities. Jessica Pruett's "Lesbian Fandom Remakes the Boy Band" likewise looks at a specific subset of fans, but unlike Duggan's synchronic look at Harry Potter fandom, Pruett studies aspects of lesbian music fandom diachronically. In particular, she looks at self-identified lesbian fans of One Direction and the way their political understanding is shaped by the history of lesbian music cultures.

3. Praxis

[3.1] Kira Deshler continues this study of the relationship between sexual identity and fannish engagement in "Affective Investments, Queer Archives, and Lesbian Breakups on YouTube." In a study of video responses to two popular lesbian YouTube pairings, Deshler situates these videos at an intersection of queer futurity and melancholia. In a quickly changing historical context, these videos exhibit, generate, and negotiate the affect of queer archives. In "Examining the Fan Labor of Episodic TV Podcast Hosts," Lauren Savit looks at another form of fan-produced online videos, the TV podcast. Savit argues that this form of fan engagement allows her to "expand legible fan studies methodologies and apply them to the study of new and emerging fan practices and behaviors" (¶ 1.4). Sreya Mitra's "Discourses of Hindi Film Fandom and the Confluence of the Popular, the Public, and the Political" addresses the interaction between celebrities and fans, in particular the role played by particular platforms and curated interactions. Mitra discusses forms of negative fan behavior that have become "a fundamental reworking of the relationship between star and fan, which had been founded primarily on admiration and veneration" (¶ 0.1). Access and more direct interaction with celebrities thus allows fans to negatively disrupt fannish spaces, often merely to offend but sometimes as a specific political intervention.

[3.2] It used to be easy to organize the field of transformative works by fandom or fan expression. Two Praxis essays show how this structure is insufficient to contain the field's range of work. Eriko Yamato's "Self-Identification in Malaysian Cosplay" and Fiona Katie Haborak's "Identity, Curated Branding, and the Star Cosplayer's Pursuit of Instagram Fame" both discuss cosplay, but with different methodology and focus. Yamoto showcases the personal and political implication that the interview subjects reveal as they negotiate race, religion, and ethnicity as players discover and develop their identities via fannish performances. Haborak's cosplayers are less concerned with their own identities than they are with a "desire to achieve viral fame" (¶ 0.1) by curating their identities to garner followers. By focusing on the popularity of their performances and their own status as microcelebrities, these cosplayers understand and use various social media and convention platforms to consciously create and curate their brand.

4. Symposium

[4.1] Symposium essays allow for personal engagement and stylistic experimentation in ways other TWC sections often can't or won't, as Aya Esther Hayashi's "Reimagining Fan Studies in the Age of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter" and JSA Lowe's "Toward a Queered and/as Affective Theory of Fandom" highlight. Whereas Hayashi confronts the issue of racism in fan studies with a personal letter, Lowe engages the question of queer identities in fandom through a Wittgensteinian investigation. Both meld together style and substance, affect and argument to connect the personal and the political. In "Fan Fiction as a Valuable Literacy Practice," Stevie Leigh shows how fan fiction serves as an important tool for literacy both within and outside pedagogy and the classroom.

[4.2] The role of fans in relation to fannish objects is always an important field of study, as is demonstrated by Rivkah Groszman's "Revisiting Parasocial Theory in Fan Studies" and Janae Phillips and Katie Bowers's "Using Pop Culture Authentically." Groszman uses autoethnography to challenge a common distrust in fan studies regarding the concept of parasocial relations. Redefining the term as value neutral, she proposes ways the approach may be usefully used, especially in regard to celebrity fandom. Phillips and Bowers, both from the Harry Potter Alliance, offer a look at fan potential and power in their comments on fan activism as practice. Cailean Alexander McBride's "The Fight for Creative Ownership in Franchise Fiction" addresses the power negotiation between fans and franchise owners over who controls the canon. Given the myriad authors and generations of fans, this issue can never be simply solved but will continue to become ever more complex, especially as the two groups are far from distinct.

5. Book review

[5.1] Kyra Hunting discusses Suzanne Scott's Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry. Describing the book as "an important contribution to the field for both fan and industry scholars" (¶ 7), Hunting lays out how Scott looks at gender biases in fan communities and industry engagement, and shows their interdependencies.

6. Acknowledgments

[6.1] The following people worked on TWC No. 34 in an editorial capacity: Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Francesca Coppa and Lori Morimoto (Symposium); and Katie Morrissey and Louisa Ellen Stein (Review).

[6.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 34 in a production capacity: Christine Mains (production editor); Beth Friedman, Christine Mains, and Vickie West (copyeditors); Claire Baker, Christine Mains, and Rebecca Sentance (layout); and Claire Baker, Karalyn Dokurno, Rachel P. Kreiter, Christine Mains, and Latina Vidolova (proofreaders).

[6.3] TWC thanks the board of the Organization for Transformative Works. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

[6.4] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 34: Laboni Bhattacharya, Samantha Close, Helena Louise Dare-Edwards, Amber Davisson, Faithe Day, Amy Finn, Megan Fowler, Sarah Gatson, Louise Geddes, Victoria Godwin, Darlene Hampton, Aaron Hess, Ashley Hinck, Neha Kumar, Nicolle Lamerichs, Linda Levitt, Allison McCracken, Emily Roach, Bonnie Ruberg, Erin Webb, Agata Włodarczyk, Xiqing Zheng, and Andrew Zolides.

7. References

De Kosnik, Abigail, and andré carrington, eds. 2019. "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color." Special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 29. https://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/issue/view/52.

Hall, Stuart. 1973. "Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse." Discussion paper, University of Birmingham. http://epapers.bham.ac.uk/2962/.

Russ, Joanna. 1985. "Pornography by Women, for Women, with Love." In Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts: Feminist Essays, 79–99. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.

Wanzo, Rebecca. 2015. "African American Acafandom and Other Strangers: New Genealogies of Fan Studies." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 20. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2015.0699.