"What did they smell like?": Fans creating intimacy through smell and odor

Neta Yodovich

University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel

[0.1] Abstract—Traditionally, fan studies have relied on two primary senses when examining the ways in which fans engage with fandom: sight and sound. Given this limited perception, recent attempts have been made to expand the literature to a larger array of senses. The following paper offers a new lens to study fandom by marrying fan studies with scholarship on smell to explore a common fan question: What did he/she/they smell like? Despite its relative frequency in fandom, the topic of smell and smelling is often looked down upon, considered transgressive, or dismissed as unimportant. This paper unpacks fans' interest in odor through three main themes. The first examines the reasons behind the perception of smell as a pathology and its relationship to the conceptualization of the so-called bad fan. The second theme explores questions of morality concerning smell and smelling, with a particular focus on 2021's Showergate controversy. The third discusses the positive role of smell in building a sense of intimacy between fans and celebrities and contributing to the fans' cultural capital.

[0.2] Keywords—Cultural capital; Embodiment; Morality; Scent; Stigma

Yodovich, Neta. 2022. "'What Did They Smell Like?': Fans Creating Intimacy Through Smell and Odor." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 38.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In a YouTube video taken from the successful talk show The Graham Norton Show (2007–), Norton reads to actor Benedict Cumberbatch a post written about him on the online platform Reddit. The video, which had more than seven million views as of May 2022, is called "Benedict Cumberbatch Mortified by Reddit Reviews." Cumberbatch seems mortified by hearing about a fan he had encountered later discussing what the actor looks like in real life, including his height and what he was wearing. What seems in the beginning to be a harmless, humorous post then becomes concerning or odd, according to Graham, who states, "The last paragraph is when you kind of think, 'woah.'" He then continues to read loudly, as if to emphasize the peculiarity of the comment: "I couldn't smell him [Cumberbatch]. I really tried" to the sound of thundering laughter from the audience and the guests on Norton's couch.

[1.2] To anyone who has engaged with fan communities, the inquiry into a beloved celebrity's odor is not uncommon. It is sometimes asked when a fan is lucky enough to meet their object of fandom (Hidalgo 2016; D. Jones 2018; LaConte 2018; Taylor 2019; White 2019) or raised as a fun way to fantasize about the celebrity with fellow fans. Despite being quite a familiar theme of discussion, questions regarding smell and odor are considered bizarre, as in the case of the Graham Norton video clip. They appear to cross boundaries or even be a sign of being a so-called crazy fan (note 1).

[1.3] In this paper, I introduce the research on smell to fan studies as part of an extensive endeavor to engage fandom with embodiment and sensory experiences (Reinhard, Largent, and Chin 2020; Williams 2019, 2020a, 2020b). I investigate the meaning of smell with regard to fandom, its traditional ties with the stigma and pathologizing of fans, its relationship with morality, its importance in building intimacy with the object of fandom, and its contribution to the fans' cultural capital, through gathering intimate trivia on beloved celebrities. By doing so, I introduce new opportunities to examine fandom from perspectives and senses that have yet to receive scholarly attention, demonstrating the ways in which fans' and celebrities' bodies function as sites of stigma, attraction, morality, and intimacy. Ultimately, I argue that despite being considered an illegitimate fan practice, the interest in the body, and in smell particularly, can contribute to a compelling, immersive experience in fandom.

2. Theoretical background

[2.1] At first glance, it might appear that there is little in common between fan studies and research on smell, as well as little resemblance in the ways in which the fan identity and smell (both practice and perception) are construed in society. In the following section, I highlight the ties between the two bodies of literature and the ways in which they inform each other. Such parallels include the general marginalization of the two fields of study and the prominence of stigma attached to fandom and smell.

[2.2] Smell (note 2), the perception of the odor of an object or a person, is socially and intellectually considered insignificant, especially compared with other senses such as sight or sound (Curtis 2008; Low 2005; Shiner and Kriskovets 2007; Synnott 1991). As philosophical thinkers such as Aristotle and Kant opined, smell is a sense that lacks aesthetic or in-depth informative indicators. It is regarded as having been more relevant in our primal past than in the modern world (Curtis 2008; Low 2005; Shiner and Kriskovets 2007; Synnott 1991). Such a stance reflects a traditional separation between the body and the mind, in which the latter is assumed to be superior and more intellectually engaging than the former (Howson and Inglis 2001). Due to its so-called inferiority and unimportance in comparison with sight or sound, researchers argue, smell has received relatively limited scholarly attention in the social sciences (Classen 1993; Low 2006). As Low (2009) explains, "Smell as a focal point for social science research typically ends up being treated as a derisory or frivolous topic unworthy of investigation" (13).

[2.3] Similar to studies on smell, fandom scholarship is driven to demonstrate the importance of what has been considered a meaningless cultural phenomenon. Especially in its earlier years, scholars were dedicated to ameliorating and rebuffing prevalent stigma and tropes that were attributed to fans (Bacon-Smith 1992; Jenkins 1992; Penley 1997). For instance, fans have been perceived as cultural dopes and social deviants with inappropriate behaviors and interests (Hills 2003; Jenson 1992; Larsen and Zubernis 2012; Lopes 2006). As Lopes (2006) explains, being a fan is an identity that is considered "spoiled in terms of intelligence, rationality, sociability, maturity, morality" (396).

[2.4] While negotiating the social and intellectual dismissal of both fields, scholars have also emphasized their relevance in understanding the ways in which stigma is attached to marginalized bodies. Researchers have reviewed the marking of the working class or religious and racial minorities as having a bad odor (Dugan and Farina 2012; Low 2005; Smith 2012; Tullett 2016). This stigma provides a supposedly objective excuse to avoid or dismiss these individuals (Largey and Watson 1972; Low 2013; Waskul and Vannini 2008). In other words, social misconceptions about smell have been exploited in the process of othering members of marginalized communities and their exclusion from the social arena.

[2.5] In parallel, fan studies have demonstrated the severity of the stigma and practices of exclusion that are geared toward women, ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community (Coppa 2014; Kelley 2021; Pande 2018; Wanzo 2015; Woo 2018). When it comes to women, for instance, the stigma constructs them as holding excessive and overt sexual desires and obsessions (Jenkins 1992; Larsen and Zubernis 2013; Wilson 2018). Such misperceptions are once again tied to broader perspectives that relate women to the body and men to the mind (Howson and Inglis 2001; Kelley 2021; Witz 2000). In other words, women are misconstrued as more primal and emotional, whereas men are thought of as rational and logical. This notion is also prevalent in the ways in which men and women are perceived in fandom. In light of this stigma, women fans are shamed when expressing sexual desires toward the object of their fandom (Anderson 2012; Larsen and Zubernis 2013; Zhang 2016).

[2.6] Alongside the apparent stigma that is attached to certain bodies in relation to smell and fandom, both are also joined with rigid regimes and a moral order that distinguishes between the good and the bad body and practice. According to Low (2006), odor and smell are a moral phenomenon because they hint at people's social etiquette and general consideration of their social surroundings (Classen 1992; Largey and Watson 1972; Low 2005, 2006, 2009; Synnott 1993; Waskul and Vannini 2008). Based on Low's theorization, I conceptualize morality as a behavior that aligns with prevalent social norms and consideration of others. For instance, cultural codes dictate that one must smell good or avoid producing foul smells when engaging with others. Smelling good, therefore, is a sign of prosocial behavior, whereas those who smell bad are regarded as antisocial and immoral (Classen 1992; Largey and Watson 1972; Low 2006; Synnott 1993).

[2.7] Discussions about good versus bad fan behavior are also prevalent in fandom. Fannish practices and tendencies that are more related to the body, the emotional, or the physical, such as writing fan fiction and expressing sexual fantasies, are located lower in the geek hierarchy and are customarily frowned upon (Coppa 2014; Lore 2002). As Kelley (2021) explains it, the good body is understood as the one that overcomes the primal, primitive, and emotional, and follows mind-centered, cerebral pursuits. This notion is not foreign to fandom, wherein connoisseurship and trivia curation (a traditionally masculine practice) are perceived as superior fannish engagements (Scott 2017; Yodovich 2021). Therefore, since women are usually more understood as bodies and their bodies are understood as taking part in the wrong practices, they are frequently perceived as bad fans (Larson and Zubernis 2011, 2013; Scott 2019; Stanfill 2013; Yodovich 2016, 2021).

[2.8] Smell, however, is not only used as a mechanism for separation and differentiation but is also vital when forming social connections. For example, good smells make us gravitate toward their source and feel positive about them (Dugan and Farina 2012; Largey and Watson 1972; Moeran 2007). Given that people must be in close, physical proximity to the source of a smell, they tend to notice odors during romantic interactions (Looby 2006; Waskul and Vannini 2008). Therefore, when preparing for potentially romantic encounters, people pay particular attention to their scent as well as their partner's. The following paper joins studies that scrutinize the positive effect of smell and explores the role it plays in creating a sense of intimacy and familiarity between fan and celebrity (note 3).

[2.9] In light of the minimal attention given to smell in general and in relation to fandom especially, this article fills in a gap in both bodies of work. In contrast to the dominance of research on repulsion from foul smells, I engage with the desire and eagerness to smell a beloved individual, an experience that has yet to receive sufficient scholarly attention. I also unpack the lingering stigma involved in the interest in smell, particularly in fandom. I examine why the desire to smell another person is frowned upon and the reasons for its dismissal as an unimportant inquiry in fannish spaces. Having elaborated on the theoretical framework, the following section describes the explorative study conducted for this article.

3. The current study

[3.1] Given the nascence of this kind of research, I provide an exploratory analysis of online articles featured in various pop-culture blogs and journals regarding smell, fandom, and celebrities. In addition, I touch on online discussions about celebrities' smell on websites such as Quora and Twitter. The fandoms I followed included music (especially pop artists and groups) and television and film stars. Most of these fandoms are conventionally associated with women fans.

[3.2] Even though many fan communities and interactions are open and accessible online, scholars are obligated to analyze fans without compromising their anonymity and to acknowledge the possible challenges in obtaining their informed consent (Dym and Fiesler 2020). Therefore, in order to maintain the privacy of the commenters and their discussions, I describe them in general terms without providing specific, identifying details.

[3.3] Considering the exploratory approach I used when gathering the data, this study does not provide an exhaustive account of fannish conversations on smell and odor. Rather than conducting a systemic data scraping, I review insightful anecdotes that allow the first step in introducing smell to fan studies. In doing so, I open up a window into a new world of scholarly investigations on senses that do not receive enough attention in fan studies.

4. Smelling and stigma

[4.1] "Often," journalist Trey Taylor describes in a 2019 article for The Face, "in the aftermath of a celebrity-fan encounter, one of the first questions that comes up in a conversation is 'what did he smell like?'" Indeed, the internet is full of accounts from fans and nonfans who report on celebrities' odor (D. Jones 2018; LaConte 2018; Malach 2021; Osifo 2021; Renae 2021; Taylor 2019; White 2019). For instance, a Michael B. Jordan fan who met with the actor after exchanging direct messages shared with digital media outlet BuzzFeed (LaConte 2018) that she "keeps getting asked about the actor's scent." In another example, a coffee-shop worker was happy to report that Ryan Gosling smells "so damn good" after a surprise encounter with him (D. Jones 2018).

[4.2] In contrast, and despite not being a fan, when actress Youn Yuh-Jung won an Oscar in 2021, she was jolted by an inquiry regarding Brad Pitt's odor after the latter presented her with the award. When asked about Pitt's smell, Yuh-Jung replied, "I didn't smell him, I'm not a dog" (Hou 2021). The journalist's faux pas received relatively broad coverage and brought scent into the public pop-culture discourse. Granted, there is much to comment on about the kinds of questions a woman of marginalized ethnicity received after winning an acclaimed award, questions that have nothing to do with her craft, career, or achievements. However, in this paper, I am interested in Yuh-Jung's distaste when asked about another actor's odor. Such disapproval is as common in fan spaces as the question itself.

[4.3] In my online fieldwork, I found similar reactions to Yuh-Jung's. For instance, many fans commented on what they called the creepy nature of discussions regarding odor and expressed their bewilderment at what they termed an odd question. At times, the fan who initiated the conversation preemptively referred to themselves as being weird ("I know this is weird, but I wonder what X smells like") as a way to deflect possible pushback that might come up in the wake of their interest.

[4.4] Why does smell conjure stigmatizing images of fandom, and why do other members in the community police it? As explained earlier, fan communities have historically needed to fend off stigma. For instance, Larsen and Zubernis (2013) describe how celebrities are often asked about "the weirdest thing a fan has ever done." They are rarely, or less frequently, asked about positive interactions they have had. Such questions reveal a context in which fans need to maneuver between their excitement and how it might be read or misconstrued by others in the fandom and beyond.

[4.5] In light of the stigma on fandom, fan communities have created a hierarchy of practices and interests that separate between good and bad fandom, wherein intellectual engagements are prioritized over emotional ones (Busse 2013; Coppa 2014). Coppa (2014), for instance, describes that when fan practices move further away from the mind and are more preoccupied with the body, they are considered less legitimate. Such a differentiation between mind/body and good/bad fandom is gendered. For decades, women fans have been blamed for doing fandom wrong, from the content they enjoy to the reasons they enjoy it and the ways in which they express their enthusiasm (Driscoll 2002; Hadas 2013; Larsen and Zubernis 2011; Reinhard 2018). Thus when women fans, who are frequently belittled regardless, show an interest in Ryan Gosling or Michael B. Jordan's scents, they are once again mocked and dismissed.

[4.6] Reflecting on the general perception of smell in society can explain why it is a dismissed interest in fandom as well. As stated earlier, the common misconception is that smell is an inferior scent that has little contribution to the human experience (Schmitt 2020; Shiner and Kriskovets 2007; Synnott 1991). As Grammer, Fink, and Neave (2005) explain, olfactory communication is common amongst animals but is considered less critical for humans. Based on such conventions, an enthusiastic interest in smell might be falsely considered uncivil or transgressive (in parallel with Yuh-Jung's response at the Academy Awards press conference).

[4.7] The reading of olfactory interests as primal or unimportant motivates the policing of women's desires and interests in fandom. The focus on Ryan Gosling's or Benedict Cumberbatch's (popular actors who reigned as the Internet's Boyfriend [Sobande 2021] in recent years) bodily odor instead of their body of work could be perceived by other fans as a distraction from more supposedly superior fannish preoccupations. Moreover, it could be read as a parasocial investment (Ballantine and Martin 2005; Horton and Wohl 1956; O'Donovan 2016), in which the woman fan manages a one-sided relationship with her object of fandom. This kind of relationship might also be frowned upon and considered inappropriate within the fan community and beyond (Groszman 2020).

[4.8] When fans negatively respond to odor-related questions and comments they, in fact, police such interests and distinguish between good and bad fans. On one hand, there are the good and proper fans, who consider themselves normal people with healthy interests in popular culture. On the other hand, there are those who are coded as bad fans due to their less acceptable curiosities and are therefore to blame for the poor reputation associated with fans in general (Jenson 1992; Stanfill 2013; Yodovich 2016). Given that smell is typically placed at the lower end of the hierarchy of senses and that practices of the body are located on the lower end of the hierarchy of fandom, exhibiting a sensual, bodily interest is met with disapproval in a community that is already busy tackling stigma from outsiders.

[4.9] While exploring the stigma on women fans and the interest in smell, it is important to stress that these are misconstructions that are based on the dismissal of the sense. The lack of acknowledgement of the contribution of scent to our social world leads to the avoidance of discussing it openly and unashamedly. Later in the paper, however, I offer an alternative reading of smell and smelling and explain their significance in forming intimacy and an experience of immersion in fandom. Similarly, I argue that women's interests do not have to align with the dictated fan hierarchy and that merit could be found in body-focused fan practices as well.

5. The morality of smell and smelling

[5.1] Due to the stigma on smelling in fandom and beyond, fans need to negotiate their interests. The navigation of the social expectations and perceptions of fandom is tied to what Ferris and Harris (2011) define as "moral order." They espouse the Durkheimian approach to the term, which perceives morality as a set of social norms, rules, and punishments that are meant to create social cohesion and solidarity. For instance, Ferris (2001) describes the power imbalance between fans and celebrities during their encounters. On most occasions, she explains, celebrities are the ones in power. They choose when and whether to attend meet-and-greets or when to frequent public spaces where they might be noticed. However, Ferris claims, the power might shift in favor of the fan when the latter surprises the famous person by doing something that is not anticipated, such as getting too close to them.

[5.2] The conceptualization of the moral order is helpful in examining the morality of smell and smelling in fandom. As mentioned earlier, smell is not necessarily perceptible without physical proximity (Looby 2006; Waskul and Vannini 2008). Therefore, if a fan is motivated to catch a celebrity's scent, they must both find a way to meet with them and make sure they are close enough to them. While meet-and-greets or unplanned celebrity sightings might include a selfie or a hug (these were more acceptable pre-Covid-19), these actions are usually negotiated and approached through obtaining consent from the celebrity. However, the kind of senses that we choose to focus on, such as smell and scent, are implicit and unnegotiated. For instance, in a recent interview with newcomer actor Emilia Jones, she mentioned her excitement at seeing Will Smith in real life during the 2022 SAG awards. Jones shared, "All I could think about is that he must smell amazing, he must smell gorgeous. Then I met him, and he did! I was correct! I can confirm he smells amazing" (2022). Like Jones, or the fan reporting on the Graham Norton–featured Cumberbatch sighting, fans can be motivated to get close to a celebrity in order to pay particular attention to their scent. However, unlike touch, which has a clear moral script in fan encounters (Ferris and Harris 2011), smell is not explicitly negotiated. I argue that this is because discussions on smell are less acceptable or widespread, thus leaving them more morally ambiguous.

[5.3] Given that smell is already inherently tied to issues of morality (Classen 1992; Largey and Watson 1972; Low 2005, 2006, 2009; Synnott 1993; Waskul and Vannini 2008) and that fans want to conform to the moral order and dispel any stigma, they ought to manage this fascination when meeting a celebrity face to face or gathering information about them online. Going back to Emilia Jones's interview, she stressed that she did not want to approach Smith at first because she "didn't want to fangirl him." Such a statement again demonstrates fans' fragile position in society where their behavior is often stigmatized and criticized.

[5.4] A common alternative presented in magazines or fan forums to manage the interest in celebrities' odor is discussing the fragrances or perfumes that they wear (Renae 2021; Rosenstein 2021; Thang 2021; White 2019). For instance, when writing about K-Pop idols and actors' odors, journalist Farisia Thang opens her article with a disclaimer: "Let's set the record straight and make it clear that when we're talking about what your favorite Korean actors and K-pop idols smell like—we're talking about their perfume choices." With this comment, Thang insinuates that an interest in body odor is peculiar, or perhaps even unacceptable, and is therefore replaced by a discussion on fragrances.

[5.5] I argue that perfumes offer a disconnect of scent from the body and allow the discourse to appear more acceptable and less invasive. While body odor is unique and affected by one's general health, diet, menstrual cycle, and even marital status (Grammer, Fink, and Neave 2005), perfumes are manufactured and sold in bulk (note 4). Even though perfumes might smell different on different bodies, their scent is less individualistic and does not require physical proximity to the celebrity. For instance, if we know that a certain actor wears a particular perfume, we can simply go to a store and sample the scent to have a general idea of what that actor might smell like. Thus, when talking about a celebrity's favorite fragrance, the fan is able to negotiate what might be considered an intimate inquiry by discussing a more socially accepted topic.

[5.6] Until now, I have focused on fans when discussing morality. The majority of scholarship on smell, however, pays more attention to the ways in which morality is managed by the sources of the smell rather than those who perceive it. Recently, fans got to take part in the other side of the moral debate in relation to odor during the 2021 controversy known as Showergate—the name given to the deluge of celebrities who confessed to abstaining from showering regularly, including Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Kristen Bell, and Jake Gyllenhaal. In light of these statements, conversations on smell and personal hygiene spiraled on social media. Alongside think pieces from media outlets and comments from scientists on the pros and cons of showering daily (Cheung 2021; McCarthy 2021; Samaha 2021; Satran 2021), fans also pitched in and commented on what they personally knew about their favorite celebrities. For instance, when Chris Evans was asked about his bathing routine, fans vouched for the actor on Twitter by stating that he indeed smells like soap (McKay 2021).

[5.7] Showergate is helpful in framing the conversation on fandom, smell, and morality in several ways. First, this controversy provided fans with an intimate insight into what their beloved celebrities might smell like, based on their shower routine (or lack thereof). It also allowed fans to flaunt their insider knowledge about celebrities' scents based on previous encounters with them, as with the Chris Evans case. Additionally, the controversy opened up a public discourse where fans could pass judgment on celebrities and evaluate their morality based on their personal hygiene. While traditionally working-class and marginalized individuals are stigmatized as smelling bad and being dirty (Dugan and Farina 2012; Low 2005; Smith 2012; Tullett 2016), here it was white celebrities who confessed to having so-called poor hygiene. Being wealthy and privileged, celebrities are expected to smell good. Those who presumably do not and who also refrain from providing an acceptable justification for their routine (for instance, being eco-friendly), were deemed asocial and out of touch (Cheung 2021; Samaha 2021). It is important to add that based on scholarly accounts on smell and race as well as documented racism in fan communities (Pande 2020), if it were celebrities from nonwhite racial backgrounds who shared having such routines, the backlash could have been more severe and stigmatizing. Thus, the public debate on low hygiene was limited to those who are white and privileged.

[5.8] The discussion provided in this section demonstrates that morality of smell in fandom could be two-sided. The morality of smelling is attributed to the fans. Fans, or women fans in the context of this paper, might be construed as social deviants for their mere interest in odor. In order to manage their fascination such fans could discuss perfumes instead, in order to pass as more conventional. On the other hand, the morality of smell is apparent from the side of the celebrities, as seen in the Showergate debate. Showergate demonstrated that celebrities' manners and values could be assessed by their hygiene and body odor. From now on, for instance, when fans want to praise the object of their fandom, they can name showering as one of their virtues.

6. Smell as a source of intimacy and cultural capital

[6.1] If showing interest in a beloved celebrity's scent is generally looked down upon, why does it continue to be a topic of discussion and interest in fandom? What kind of role does it play in one's fannish life? Having reviewed its negative connotations in the previous section, I now reflect on the positive role of smell in creating a sense of intimacy between fans and celebrities and increasing the fans' cultural capital.

[6.2] Meeting a celebrity and becoming familiar with their scent as a result is an intimate, immersive experience for fans. Recently, scholars of fan studies have identified the various somatic, embodied avenues through which fans seek to feel closer to the object of their fandom (Ferris 2001; McGinley 2021; Reinhard, Largent, and Chin 2021; Williams 2019, 2020a, 2020b). In their book about fandom and food, for instance, Reinhard, Largent, and Chin (2021) claim that fans are eager to eat food featured in or associated with a beloved popular culture text because they want to have an engaging, multisensory connection with their fandom. Through such embodied interactions, fans feel closer to and more identified with the content or person they love. Eating fannishly, the researchers assert, is one of the "closest forms of intimate, parasocial interaction possible" (10). I argue that the same is true for smell.

[6.3] The concept of parasocial relationships is vital to the discussion on fandom and smell. In general, parasocial relationships are characterized as one-sided, mediated, repeated interactions between a fan and a media personality (Ballantine and Martin 2005; Horton and Wohl 1956; O'Donovan 2016). In such a relationship, the fan is emotionally and cognitively invested in the celebrity or character, but these feelings are not necessarily reciprocated. For the purpose of this article, the most prominent aspect of the concept is that this relationship is mediated, meaning it is indirect and managed through a screen, speakers, a stage, or the page. Such parasocial relationships, which are common in fandom, do not fully engage the fan's body and senses. Fans can see and hear the celebrity, but they are essentially limited to these senses alone.

[6.4] When fans discuss celebrities' odors, they are, in fact, expressing a desire to go beyond the parasocial. They want to meet them, be physically close to them, and interact with them. As an example, one of the frequent answers regarding a celebrity's odor in online discussions includes an expression of sadness over not being lucky enough to meet them, such as "I wish I had met X, or been close to X, but I haven't." In another comment, a fan remarked, "Don't make me cry, because I have never met X." When reflecting on such fan responses, the connection between the interest in smell and the desire to meet a beloved celebrity becomes clear. Knowing what someone smells like means having shared a personal, intimate moment with them (Looby 2006; Waskul and Vannini 2008). It allows the fan to momentarily break the boundaries of the traditional parasocial relationship and become more familiar with and immersed in their fandom.

[6.5] Capturing a beloved celebrity's scent is also particularly valuable in our current age of social media. Since its inception, social media has been a platform through which fans can socialize with their favorite celebrities (Baym 2012; Bennett 2016; Chung and Cho 2017; Ferris and Harris 2011; Stever and Lawson 2009). If fans are lucky enough, they might receive a like, a retweet, or a comment back from their favorite stars online. This kind of interaction intensifies the fans' sense of closeness to the object of their fandom and feels like an enhancement of the traditional parasocial relationship. Nevertheless, despite offering the perception of a connection between fans and celebrities, social media cannot provide a haptic, immersive, or embodied experience. Indeed, some scholars have questioned whether senses like smell or taste will be further diminished due to the increased use of social media (Drobnick 2006). If anything, I assert that online interactions have made such senses more precious. Today, it is easier to catch the attention of a beloved celebrity online (or at least perceived as easier). Knowing what they smell like, however, remains a mystery only known to some.

[6.6] Because the knowledge of a celebrity's odor is commonly regarded as an enigma, it can potentially become a form of cultural capital in fandom. In general, cultural capital in fandom is accrued through connoisseurship concerning the object of one's fandom (Brown 1997; Fiske 1992). In a different example, Williams (2020b) describes how attending special fannish venues or events and obtaining proof of having participated in them through photos or memorabilia also serves as cultural capital.

[6.7] A close reading of the anecdotes that opened this article reveals how smell can function as a form of cultural capital in fandom. For instance, the fan who reported on their distant sighting of Benedict Cumberbatch was able to share that the actor is much taller in real life than he appears on camera and to describe the clothes he wore. That fan could not, however, provide information on Cumberbatch's scent. The fan's explicit acknowledgement of their inability to smell the actor demonstrates that this is one accomplishment they were unable to achieve. In contrast, the Michael B. Jordan fan did not simply observe him from afar but was able to meet him. Given this experience, she could report on what he smelled like, a question she mentioned she was asked about the most. Thus smell, or the knowledge of a celebrity's smell, signifies having met one's favorite celebrity, an experience known only to a minuscule number of fans. It also means being able to flaunt intimate details about the beloved object of fandom to trivia-hungry fellow fans, as in the case of Emilia Jones's interview.

[6.8] Tying the discussion on smell and cultural capital to the gendered mind-body binary illustrates how there is more than one way of knowing and engaging, as well as a plethora of ways of doing fandom. In her book, Kelley (2021) explains that the body is perceived to be insignificant in the process of learning and making sense of the world when in fact the opposite is true. Because the body is understood as detached from rationale and intellect, what fans do with and want to learn about the body is dismissed and belittled. I have demonstrated, however, that while stigma and immorality are deeply ingrained in the interest in odor, such an inquiry is a meaningful and insightful way of knowing and doing fandom.

7. Conclusions

[7.1] As a member of various fan communities, I have often read posts about celebrity encounters that were followed by the question, "But what does he/she/they smell like?" and even wondered about it myself on several occasions. Despite the frequency of this inquiry, it continues to be reproved in fandom and mocked in talk shows. Therefore, the purpose of this paper was to examine a question that, at first glance, could be regarded as having little intellectual value or contribution to the field of fan studies, unpack it, and explore what it tells us about morality, stigma, and the body in relation to fandom.

[7.2] Through a discussion on smell and the body, I examine how the interest in smell functions as yet another mechanism for distinguishing between good and bad ways of doing fandom. Linking smell, the body, desire, and the stigma on women fans in particular demonstrates how they are perceived as irrational, primal bodies who are interested in the wrong things. Since fandom is still faced with lingering stigma and dismissal from general society, body-centered practices and inquiries in fandom are frowned upon and policed.

[7.3] Simultaneously, I emphasize the importance of embodiment and obtaining knowledge through the body in fandom. Since most fandom engagements are generally limited to sight and sound, additional senses such as smell contribute to a richer, more immersive experience. In doing so, I join Kelley (2021) and Coppa (2014) in challenging the conventionally disparaged body and highlighting the kinds of insights we can gain from it. For example, I reveal how knowledge about a celebrity's odor can be translated into cultural capital, turning one into a more appreciated fan in the fan community for obtaining that information through meeting with the celebrity.

[7.4] Given the nascence of research that marries fandom and smell studies, I have sampled the different avenues that could be taken in this kind of scholarly inquiry. Because of this approach, there are some limitations. For instance, I do not explore cultural, ethnic, sexual, and gendered differences with regard to the morality of smell and smelling but instead focus on general Western norms and heterosexual attraction. Moreover, I do not include systematic data scraping or conversations with fans about smell via interviews or surveys. Future articles, therefore, should delve deeper into the intersection of smell and various social identities or examine smell in different cultural contexts through versatile methodological approaches.

[7.5] Another potential avenue for exploration is examining parasocial interactions through perfumes. For example, there is a wide array of celebrity-branded perfumes, including those from Britney Spears, Billie Eilish, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Ariana Grande. These products are accompanied by fragrances that are endorsed and promoted by celebrities such as Chris Evans, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus. Scholars can examine the consumption of celebrity-endorsed fragrances and their role in creating a closer connection between fans and celebrities.

[7.6] After decades in which fan studies have focused on primary senses such as sight and sound, this paper joins recent attempts to broaden the intellectual engagement in fandom by paying attention to traditionally disregarded senses, such as smell. While it is a primer attempt to marry smell and fandom, it contributes to the literature on fan studies by opening up a novel path for investigating the role of smell in social sciences and humanities research and fan studies. In the future, I hope to see more scholars joining this endeavor.

8. Notes

1. Terms such as "crazy," "good," or "bad" are intended to convey the subjectivity and cultural contextuality of the ways in which certain behaviors or smells are socially construed, not an objective statement of fact.

2. Smell is also used as a noun that describes an olfactory state. This condition could be represented by the term "odor" as well. In this paper I use the words "smell" and "odor" interchangeably.

3. Other inquiries regarding the positive effects of smell include the tie between mood and scent (Brennan 2015), aromatherapy, or creating a sense of nostalgia (Curtis 2008). These topics, however, are beyond the scope of this paper and therefore not explored.

4. Articles that publish lists of the perfumes used by celebrities are, of course, also commercially driven and could encourage fans to purchase the fragrances that their favorite stars endorse.

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