Book review

Fandom, now in color: A collection of voices, edited by Rukmini Pande

Ye Li

Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

[0.1] Keywords—Otherness; Race; Racebending; Racial representation; Whiteness

Li, Ye. 2022. Fandom, Now in Color: A Collection of Voices, edited by Rukmini Pande [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 38.

Rukmini Pande, ed., Fandom, now in color: A collection of voices. Ames: University of Iowa Press, 2020, paperback, $45 (272p), ISBN 978-1609387280; perpetual ownership e-book, $75, ISBN 978-1609387297.

[1] Rukmini Pande has been working to break the white default around fan studies and end the forced silence of nonwhite fans. Discussing race, especially when it is intermingled with gender, sexuality, disability, or other vectors of oppression, is fraught with risks and challenges for researchers. The subject matter of Pande's new collection, Fandom, Now in Color: A Collection of Voices, reveals the courage and competence of the authors and editor. In this collection, authors from various ethnic backgrounds explore different fandoms, such as TV drama fandom, K-pop fandom, comics fandom, game fandom, cosplay, and fan work, to discuss questions such as: What exactly do race, racism, racial identity in fandom mean? In what context are these terms being discussed? What kinds and forms of fandom are being encompassed within Anglocentricism, generalization, and essentialism? In today's transnational and globalized world, can elusive and contested categories like racial identity be accurately mapped out? What is the status of intersectionality in fandom? How should intersectionality be studied? The essays in this collection draw on methodological frameworks such as critical race studies, postcolonial theory, and postracist theory, providing further frameworks for the fan studies toolbox. This book presents a full spectrum of diversity: methodological diversity, theoretical diversity, fan culture diversity, fan identity diversity, and author ethnic diversity. The world of fan studies unraveled in this book is no longer monotonously white but colorful.

[2] The thirteen essays in this collection are divided into four sections: methodology, otherness, affirmative/transformative, and identity/authenticity. The titles of these sections indicate the four focal points of the editor's concerns: the methods and theories applicable to conducting race-related research in fan studies; the impact of history and geopolitics on race in fandom spaces; issues such as race and gender as embodied in fan practices; and the conflicts and anxieties of representation, identity, and authenticity around matters of race, sexuality, linguistic politics, and other related topics in fandom spaces.

[3] The first section, Methodology, is set up in response to the editor's concerns over the phenomenon of "a politics of declaration of whiteness," that is, the tendency of scholars to declare the absence of race in their analysis without meaningfully embedding race as an identity in research methodology. This section includes three case studies that explore the construction of meaning, affective engagement, and discussion spaces of race, racism, and racial identity in different fan spaces (television series, films, and American college classrooms). Elizabeth Hornsby's research employs a meaning-making framework and methodology based on critical race theory to interrogate how individual fan experiences, prejudices, and racial ideologies accomplished meaning-making in specific situations and moments in fandom. Korean-American scholar Sam Pack explores the authenticity and affective engagement of minority audiences and film creators through a methodology of ethnographic reception studies, challenging the definition of "who is a fan" in fan studies. Finally, Katherine Anderson Howell, an American college teacher, explores spaces for discussing race and racism in the college classroom through a self-reflexive approach using nonwhite students as her subjects. All three studies use, to a greater or lesser extent, a research framework centered on methods such as critical race studies and postcolonial theory, which undoubtedly provides relevant and valid lessons for fan studies scholars attempting to discuss race.

[4] The second section, Otherness, is a double metaphor, both in the sense that fans are seen as other to the public and in the sense that fans of different races are regarded as other in fandom. The two studies in this section coincidentally choose to look at colonial histories and postracial ideologies to examine the ways in which fans, as the racial and cultural other, negotiate their position in fandom spaces and popular culture media, then relate this discussion to politics. In discussing the situation of Korean wave fans in Japan, Miranda Ruth Larsen adds a geopolitical perspective and, like Joan Miller's analysis of the cross-racial cosplay controversy, places fan studies in a broader sociological context, attempting to glimpse the differences in the self-representation of the other fans under different modes of racialization. Going further, Miranda Ruth Larsen criticizes the oversimplification and generalization of the other by local culture. This criticism echoes the flattening of nonwhite characters by the media in the next section.

[5] The issues discussed in the following section are more complex, as they involve not only race but also other intersecting vectors of oppression, such as gender. The affirmative/transformative division binarizes two different philosophies of fan practice. Affirmative practices are concerned with preserving the original work, while transformative practices aim to completely reconstruct the work according to fans' will. The ideas of both affirmation and transformation often provoke controversy within fan spaces. This section of the edited collection explores how fans respond when more complex external social contradictions, such as race, gender, and sexuality, are projected into such disputes. The section presents four studies of fan works in different fandom spaces. Investigations by Angie Fazekas and Indira Neil Hoch simultaneously uncovered a depressing truth: Even when radical fans rebel against patriarchal and heteronormative society through their transformative works, they rarely deal with race in similar ways. Samira Nadkarni and Deepa Sivarajan's study of racebending fan works based on the musical Hamilton exemplifies the complexity of fans' playing with racial identity. While fans question the default of whiteness by bending white characters into people of color, racebent characters are often flat and abstract. While this play has imagery of racial inclusion, it hardly touches the cornerstones of the dominant social structure operating in the subcultural space. Finally, Carina Lapointe's study gives us a glimpse of dismantling and challenging structural racism in Dungeons & Dragons fan work. In this section, we see three responses to the matter of racism in fan practice: avoidance, mitigation, and active resistance. The logic and mechanisms by which these three responses are formed deserve further exploration.

[6] The title of the final section, Identity/Authenticity, implies a growing conflict between the idea of representation and authenticity, fan identity and belonging, and ownership of fan texts in fan spaces and fan studies scholarship. Three of the four essays in this section—Rukmini Pande and Swati Moitra's, McKenna James Boeckner et al.'s, and Al Valentin's—address the same issue: how fans with different identities perceive racial, gendered, sexual, and physical diversity in canon characters. These chapters ask whether "plastic representation" is an advance in diversity or whether it exacerbates the generalization and flattening of minorities and marginalized groups while intensifying fans' anxieties about authenticity, identity, and belonging, thus aggravating exclusivity among fan groups. Such debates require further consideration and clarification by fan studies scholars and fans themselves. The fourth piece in this section, by Jenni M. Lehtinen, on the other hand, traces the paths through which fan texts flow and are exchanged among fan groups with different linguistic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, revealing how language shapes hierarchies, inclusiveness, and exclusions within fan groups from the perspective of linguistic politics. As the editor of the collection emphasizes, the anxieties, struggles, exchanges, and conflicts among fans with different identities do not exist in isolation in fandom space but rather mirror the conflicts and politics of cultures outside of fandom, in particular, the rise of identity and sexual politics in a broader sociocultural context. Because this section is the final one of this collection, the questions posed here are especially challenging.

[7] Overall, this collection encompasses many voices from different fields of fan studies and authors of various ethnic backgrounds. The collection supplements classic works in fan studies focusing on fan identity, fan subjectivity, and fan practices, broadening the identities, subjectivities, and practices considered by addressing them from the intersecting contexts of race, gender, and sexuality. Unfortunately, however, the popular cultural objects addressed in this book remain predominantly Anglocentric, with only a tiny proportion of the fandoms discussed coming from other ethnic and regional backgrounds. This leaves non-Anglophone readers and those living outside the global north feeling ignored. In addition, many authors in this collection rely on a white/nonwhite dichotomy that ignores the diversity and specificity of nonwhite identities. Although some authors are clearly aware of this issue, they do not explore it in depth. Moreover, there is a lack of clarity in the structure of some of the essays, such as Hoch's chapter on customizable video game characters, making it somewhat confusing for readers to grasp the authors' points. Finally, some of the research designs were insufficiently rigorous, such as Howell's exploration of teaching practices or Larsen's consideration of K-pop fandom in Japan, which somewhat weakens the reliability and validity of the studies.

[8] Nonetheless, the collection covers a wide range of topics, is rich in theory, includes a variety of research methods, and is written in easy-to-understand language, making it ideal for beginners in fan studies and fans themselves. In addition, as the authors are diverse and the subjects covered are varied, the collection is also useful for scholars who want to understand the identities and practices of nonwhite fans. Finally, the book distills some of the core issues in fandom studies related to race and diversity, making it worthy of reference for fan studies scholars interested in these issues.