History and fandom

TWC Editor

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial for Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6 (March 15, 2011).

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; History; Walter Benjamin

TWC Editor. 2011. "History and Fandom." In "Fan Works and Fan Communities in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," edited by Nancy Reagin and Anne Rubenstein, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0288.

1. The work of fandom in the age of mechanical reproduction

[1.1] This special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, guest edited by Nancy Reagin and Anne Rubenstein, focuses on the intersection of history and fandom. The title of the special issue, "Fan Works and Fan Communities in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," evokes Walter Benjamin's famous essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1935). Reagin and Rubenstein are academic historians who have also been active fans for decades. They have included essays that discuss only a sampling of the many fan communities that arose over the course of the twentieth century. Each group reflected the time and culture it was embedded in, and yet in all of them, we can see parallels to and reflections of modern fandoms.

[1.2] As Reagin and Rubenstein note in their editorial essay, "'I'm Buffy, and you're history': Putting Fan Studies into History," despite the mass-produced nature of popular artworks such as cinema, "large numbers of people shared similar experiences: they saw the identical film at the same time (or nearly), or danced to the same piece of popular music, or attended the same sporting matches, or read the same installments of a story that was being published serially in a popular magazine or newspaper" (¶4.6). Fans forged communities within a context of a shared activity or simultaneously consumed artwork, and historical analysis of these moments often occurs against the backdrop of technological change (such as the advent of cinema or the advent of the Internet).

[1.3] As Reagin and Rubenstein point out, fandom did not start with Star Trek. This special issue addresses such varied topics as fan letters written in the early twentieth-century United States, rock-and-roll fans in mid-twentieth-century Germany, movie star magazines, and female football (soccer) fans in postwar England. But the importance of the issue lies beyond the topics themselves: the sources and methodologies used by the historians stand as examples to suggest new lines of research.

[1.4] "The Fan Letter Correspondence of Willa Cather: Challenging the Divide between Professional and Common Reader," by Courtney A. Bates, studies fan letters to Willa Cather (1873–1947), which Cather saved and which are now held by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's Special Collections. In her analysis of the author-reader relationship, Bates concludes, "As an alternative to professional formulas for writing, these letters are lived histories of the fans. Together, author and fan exchange the emotional resonance of a place and moment" (¶4.8).

[1.5] Stacey Pope and John Williams, in "'White shoes to a football match!': Female Experiences of Football's Golden Age in England," through orally conducted interviews, explore gendered and classed responses to football (soccer) fandom, thus retrieving the experiences of an important subset of fan. Lisa Rose Stead also deals with gender concerns in "'So oft to the movies they've been': British Fan Writing and Female Audiences in the Silent Cinema," which offers analyses of female fannish expression articulated through fan letters published in Picturegoer magazine from 1913 to 1928, concluding that such work on fans is needed because it highlights them as engaged, debating consumers.

[1.6] In "John Lennon, Autograph Hound: The Fan-Musician Community in Hamburg's Early Rock and Roll Scene, 1960–1965," Julia Sneeringer explicates rock-and-roll fans' relationships with musicians and club owners in the Beat scene in Hamburg, Germany. She concludes that fan activity "generated a cross-class, cross-national solidarity among fans in which the social meanings of authority, respectability, and democracy could be questioned and eventually reworked. Fans' active role in this scene was a crucial element in the larger transition away from a youth culture…to a new culture, generated by youth for youth, that strove to be something more than just disposable entertainment" (¶5.1).

[1.7] The rest of this special issue—overseen by the regular TWC staff—continues the historical focus begun in the section edited by Reagin and Rubenstein. Several essays in the Symposium section of this issue of TWC focus on fannish archival concerns. Regina Yung Lee, in "Textual Evidence of Fandom Activities: The Zine Holdings at UC Riverside's Eaton Collection," describes the impressive physical zine holdings at UC Riverside, acquired in 1969 from a donated personal collection and significantly added to since then, and provides an interview with the library's head of special collections, Melissa Conway, who hopes some day to digitize the physical artifacts. This treasure trove of fan artifacts is open to the public and awaits historical research. Versaphile, in "Silence in the Library: Archives and the Preservation of Fannish History," discusses not only the history of fan fiction archives, from APAs to Usenet to mailing lists to LiveJournal blog platforms, but also the implications of access and archiving in terms of fan-creator control and privacy. Similarly, Alexis Lothian, in "An Archive of One's Own: Subcultural Creativity and the Politics of Conservation," discusses the Organization for Transformative Work's fan archive project, the Archive of Our Own (http://archiveofourown.org/), in terms of not only its importance in archiving a broad array of fan works, regardless of fandom, but also its limitations: "[W]e cannot restrict fannish politics to the easily archivable…[I]f the Archive is our only model for fannish politics, we risk losing sight of ephemeral practices that can work transformatively" (¶3.4).

[1.8] One Symposium writes a history of a fan event. Using interviews with informants and published zine accounts, Catherine Coker provides a fascinating recap of "The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley," a famous 1992 incident in which a fan-written work in Bradley's shared Darkover universe caused Bradley to kill a book and stop engaging with fans by reading their works. The last Symposium piece, Mark Soderstrom's "Bowlers, Ballads, Bells, and Blasters: Living History and Fandom," discusses the role of historical reenactment in fandom, making explicit the link between fan expressions at events as diverse as Renaissance festivals and fan conventions and identifying them as sites of not only fellowship but material exchange, of interpretation and representation.

[1.9] The essays in this issue all deal with historical concerns: archive, access, fan expression, gender, class. Additionally, the five videos in this issue provide first-person accounts of fan engagement: longtime superfans Paula Smith and Rusty Hevelin, both known for their work within their respective fan communities; fan vidders Sandy and Rache, who vid as the Clucking Belles; and Robert DeSimone, who appears in costume as Darth Vader and Boba Fett with the sanction of Lucas Arts. Also included is a cutting from a longer video project about The Bronze, the now-defunct official site for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which was populated by a group of fans whose activity drew them close.

[1.10] Two book reviews round out this issue. Boys' Love Manga, edited by Antonia Levi, Mark McHarry, and Dru Pagliassotti, addresses fans and fannish activity around boys' love manga, with an emphasis on cross-cultural concerns. A Comics Studies Reader, edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, is designed to be used in courses on comics and thus includes an historical overview, their social significance, and close readings of comics.

[1.11] As this issue makes clear, engagement with endlessly replicated mass-produced artworks and texts provides opportunities for shared meaning making. Applying historical methodologies and thinking about historical concerns in a fan context reveal much not only about the historical moment, but about how fans engage with one another and with their chosen field of interest in that moment.

2. Acknowledgments

[2.1] The following people worked on TWC No. 6 in an editorial capacity: Nancy Reagin and Anne Rubenstein (guest editors, peer-reviewed section); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Anne Kustritz, Patricia Nelson, and Suzanne Scott (Symposium); and Louisa Stein (Review).

[2.2] 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. 6: Judith Fetterley, Christine Grandy, Sheila Hanlon, Jeet Heer, Michelle McClennan, and Ian McPhedran.

[2.3] The following people provided production services: Rrain Prior (production editor); Beth Friedman, Shoshanna Green, and Mara Greengrass (copyeditors); Wendy Carr, Rrain Prior, and Gretchen Treu (layout); and Jack Harrison, Carmen Montopoli, Vickie West, and Liza Q. Wirtz (proofreading).

[2.4] TWC acknowledges the support of the Organization for Transformational Works and of TWC's Board liaison, Francesca Coppa. 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.