Book review

Everybody hurts: Transitions, endings, and resurrections in fan cultures, ed. Rebecca Williams

JSA Lowe

University of Houston, Houston, Texas, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Affect; Postobject fandom

Lowe, JSA. 2021. Everybody Hurts: Transitions, Endings, and Resurrections in Fan Cultures, ed. Rebecca Williams [book review]. In "Fan Studies Pedagogies," edited by Paul Booth and Regina Yung Lee, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 35. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2021.2085.

Rebecca Williams, editor. Everybody hurts: Transitions, endings, and resurrections in fan cultures. Ames: University of Iowa Press, 2018, paperback $80 (260p) ISBN 9781609385637; e-book $80 ISBN 9781609385644.

[1] Though the MTV series Teen Wolf ended in 2017 after six seasons and one hundred episodes, Tumblr users who still follow those producing content for the show may see on their dashboards to this day posts tagged, "#eternal sterek," a reference to the show's juggernaut ship that its fans, with a typically fannish stubbornness, have managed to keep alive, continuing to create gifsets, fan fiction, and other works, in defiance of the absence of new material. Rebecca Williams's 2018 edited collection examines similar and related phenomena within fandoms, looking at fans of media properties whose official content has come to an end. The essays, taken together, offer an ostensive definition of what it means for something to end and the different kinds of possible endings. Williams cites her book Post-Object Fandom (2015) in her introduction, noting that "when beloved fan objects end, fans must cope with the potential threat they may feel to their sense of fannish self-identity and their trust in the object itself." She categorizes fans' reactions in three ways: reiteration (maintaining and even intensifying their interest even in the face of the loss, à la #eternal sterek), renegotiation (accepting the loss, modulating the attachment, and in some way moving on from it), and/or rejection ("you can't fire me, I quit"—as in fact many Teen Wolf social media users did, tagging their posts with #teenwolfisoverparty, somewhat spitefully celebrating the formerly beloved show's demise).

[2] Williams also points out in her introduction that media studies often focuses on points of entry, looking at that moment when a person first identifies as a fan, perhaps at the detriment of examining some of what Harrington and Bielby call the "life course" of fannishness (2014), as they mapped that trajectory or journey onto psychological theories of childhood development. This collection aims to look at the entire fandom life cycle and does so with impressive thoroughness, analyzing a wide variety of kinds of media properties. While the individual essays are split into sections divided by precisely these kinds of fandom—music, television, fan adaptations of content, and spatial/site-specific fandoms—their structure also follows Williams's three-part possibility for how disappointed or grieving fans will meet such a loss, what strategies they will use to encounter the absence of content, and how they maintain their fannish identity with or without that initial attachment.

[3] While the essays collectively taken are all strong, a chapter by Bethan Jones is particularly au courant in its addressing of cancel culture, in the sense of what happens when a fan object "has ceased due to immoral or illegal behaviors"—specifically in the case of Welsh rock band Lostprophets, one of whose members was arrested, charged, and criminally convicted; Jones examines fans' parasocial grief and their "shaken sense of identity," which can result in some fans pivoting into anti-fandom. Other especially kairotic essays include Williams's own chapter on theme park fandom and the Disney brand, and how fans of the classic Maelstrom attraction reacted when it was replaced with a ride themed after the Frozen franchise; and Melissa A. Click's and Holly Wilson Holladay's "Breaking Up with Breaking Bad," which surveys "relational dissolution," and how fans undergo and transition through an ending as if it were a kind of breakup, since parasocial or "imaginary" relationships between a fan and a media text are in fact, per Cohen's 2004 article, "Parasocial Break-Up from Favorite Television Characters," "functionally equivalent to social relationships." Click and Holladay convincingly make the case that fandom studies needs more sophisticated answers to Matt Hills's question, "How do fans move on from fan object to object rather than necessarily defining their fandom through one fan culture/object?" after the grief and mourning that often follow dissolution. While the authors don't examine this process of reattachment, they convincingly offer interpersonal communication and relational models and theories to account for the range and depth of fannish affect. Since many fans of Breaking Bad (2008–13) were eventually offered transitional objects in Better Call Saul (2015–) and El Camino (2019), the creators' own transformative works, perhaps the creators themselves suffered the relationship dissolution and turned to transformative works to soothe the painful affect.

[4] The collection brushes against notions of affect again with the essay "Fan Euthanasia," in which Paul Booth adds a more theoretical look at the phenomena of fans turning against a formerly cherished text, their affect sitting astride "a thin line between love and hate." His chapter notes that fans who persist in following a text that now troubles them may feel dissatisfaction "not because they hate a show, but because they feel betrayed by a show they once loved." Booth's concept of fan euthanasia "reveals moments when fans' desire for an ending overrides the media creator's authority over meaning," a theory which bookends nicely with "Hannibal's Refrigerator," Evelyn Deshane's look at how Bryan Fuller, the showrunner of NBC's Hannibal (2013–15), reacted to fans' criticism and contumely when his narrative killed off a female character of color. In this case, the media creator's receptivity to fan outrage and education yielded an important, even groundbreaking, dialogue between creators and fans, as Fuller and company were "able to ease fans through the transition of losing a pivotal character" while also "aligning themselves with fans and listening to their concerns"—in contrast with Teen Wolf showrunner Jeff Davis, who, around the same time, responded to fan concerns about the loss of a main character by refusing to address any of the larger social and ideological issues at play around the fridging of female characters, particularly characters of color.

[5] Affect is also mentioned by Kristina Busse in her afterword, "Fannish Affect and Its Aftermath," which bookends the collection, as she indicates what conclusions may be drawn and where research is still needed. She observes that "fandom communities not only mirror and intensify our emotions, they also often guide the responses," and further, that foregrounding "the role of community" is necessary, for "the relationship among fans is as important as, if not more important than, the relationship between fan and fan object." Affect, therefore, in Busse's view, is a product of the interpersonal as much as interpellation. While acknowledging this, I wonder whether the literature of affect theory, in particular the work of Lauren Berlant and Sara Ahmed, could offer fruitful frameworks for further explorations of the inquiries present in this book, offering a fuller account of the sensibilities of post-object fans, examining as they do both relatedness and the depth and plangency of individual emotional register.

[6] Additionally, most of the book's chapters make use of interviews and social media posts, but it would be interesting to see a qualitative take across fandoms on transformative works that continue long after the ending of an originary text, or on the process of reattachment to new fandoms. As of the writing of this review, the long-running genre series Supernatural (2005–2020) has just concluded, prompting fans' public outcries of sorrow, frustration, and, in some cases, relief. The events that ended the series have already fostered a fresh influx of transformative works, which will doubtless continue, as new fans discover the show and/or its fandom, and older ones continue to feel bound up in its characters, controversies, and storylines. Future writing might take advantage of some of the strategies addressed by Everybody Hurts, in examining the possible variety of fannish responses to such a conflicted and conflicting text.