The media festival volunteer: Connecting online and on-ground fan labor

Robert Moses Peaslee, Jessica El-Khoury, and Ashley Liles

Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In this initial attempt to bring volunteering, or what we call on-ground fan labor, into the ongoing discussion of fan productivity, we examine volunteer motivations as elicited through interview and participant observation data collected at a 2012 genre film festival, Fantastic Fest, held in Austin, Texas. This case study is a first step toward integrating the volunteer and fan labor literatures and interrogating the role of social capital and civic engagement in volunteerism. We conclude that the media festival (a term intended to encompass such sites as film festivals and fan conventions) is a site of particular and emergent importance for those studying the audience's increasing delivery of free labor.

[0.2] Keywords—Media anthropology; Media conduction; Media rituals

Peaslee, Robert Moses, Jessica El-Khoury, and Ashley Liles. 2014. "The Media Festival Volunteer: Connecting Online and On-ground Fan Labor." In "Fandom and/as Labor," edited by Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15.

1. Introduction

[1.1] We examine individuals' motivations for participating in fan labor situations as volunteers (Wilson 2000). We also investigate relationships between volunteering for fan labor opportunities and social capital gain, and how the accrual of social capital may lead to civic engagement while, importantly, still creating advantages for corporate players in the media industries. In considering volunteerism as fan labor, we suggest that the latter can be either an online or on-ground experience (Cool 2010). Online fan labor occurs via interactive media devoted to objects of fan esteem (De Kosnik 2009; Hellekson 2009), while on-ground fan labor is best illustrated by the act of volunteering at a media-related festival or event, for example a film festival, a comic con, or a technology expo. Because such events are increasingly ubiquitous and consistently underresearched, we emphasize the latter and examine how the festival or convention serves as a mechanism where such on-ground fan labor can occur; we remain mindful, however, of the notion of collocation (Cool 2010), wherein communities exhibit both online and on-ground interaction, since the festival environment also provides opportunities for the building and sharing of texts that utilize networked media in such a way as to labor for the festival's industrial partners.

[1.2] We approach these goals through qualitative research data gathered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, in September 2012, including participant observation and interviews conducted with 18 Fantastic Fest volunteers. Our data suggest that paying attention to volunteerism—much like paying attention to fan fiction—is crucial for understanding fandom in the context of an increasingly decentralized and user-powered, though not user-owned, media industry, and that consideration of the media festival or fan convention environment is crucial for understanding relationships between the volunteer impulse, social and cultural capital, and power. We conclude that volunteering at Fantastic Fest, and by extension at other media-related festivals, is an ambivalent activity: while it promotes the building of social capital and thus aids a kind of civic engagement, it often simultaneously encourages those communities to provide unpaid, on-ground labor to the industries of which volunteers one day hope to be a part.

[1.3] We engage three overarching dualities as a way of exploring the slash at the core of this special issue's theme. We feel this slash is important for seeing binaries as heuristics rather than empirical realities, a feeling underpinned by an extensive literature in fandom and gender studies and supported, we think, by our data. The first duality, social capital and/as civic engagement, we examine in order to understand how each is said to be constituted (particularly in the volunteer literature) and how each one relates to the other. Secondly, we consider fan labor and/as volunteerism and review the important distinctions and similarities between them, a consideration, we would argue, that is overdue. Finally, we come back to the duality of online and/as on-ground labor in an attempt to account for the opportunities and complications presented by the collocation of a networked social space, on the one hand, and a placed node in a network of media, access, and power, on the other.

2. Duality 1: Social capital and/as civic engagement

[2.1] The existing literature on volunteerism, the bulk of which is quantitative, examines the definition of a volunteer, effects of participating, and motivations for involvement. First, volunteerism is frequently defined as a prosocial behavior, meaning it is a voluntary action that a person commits with the sole intention to benefit others (Marta and Pozzi 2008; Marta, Pozzi, and Marzana 2010; Omoto and Snyder 1995; Clary et al. 1998). Several authors discuss the common characteristics of volunteers, noting correlations between extroverted personalities and high levels of volunteer participation. Specifically, volunteers tend to have higher levels of emotional stability and a more positive sense of self-esteem, attitude, and ethics; they also tend to show more interest in the well-being of others (Marta and Pozzi 2008; Smith and Nelson 1975; Allen and Rushton 1983). Unsurprisingly, satisfaction with volunteering tends to correlate with motivation to continue volunteering; increases in self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-efficacy also correlate with recurrent volunteer involvement (Degli Antoni 2009; Marta, Pozzi, and Marzana 2010). In terms of motivation, desires for professional advancement, networking, personal growth and development, opportunities to socialize, and altruistic feelings are said to promote volunteer behavior (Marta and Pozzi 2008; Farzalipour et al. 2012; Luping 2011; Ullrich 1972). Finally, in an interesting tension (given the primary attention given altruism in the volunteer literature), desire for social capital is also cited as a main reason for volunteer participation (Degli Antoni 2009; Sherman et al. 2011; Marta and Pozzi 2008). This tension is emblematic of volunteer encounter, we argue, at many levels: between altruism and self-interest, between producer and volunteer, and between social capital and civic engagement.

[2.2] According to Pierre Bourdieu, social capital is "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources, which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition" (1986, 248). This definition has two dimensions: first, that there is a distinct quality instilled in the resources; second, that the social relationship permits people to obtain capital belonging to organizations. For example, via social capital, festival volunteers can directly obtain admission to movies—material benefit or economic capital—during film festivals such as Fantastic Fest. Also, through social capital, individuals can increase their cultural capital through networking and being affiliated with a particular organization. For instance, volunteering at a film festival allows people to network with a multitude of talent, organizers, and other publics. Social capital in these terms thus benefits the individual most directly, while benefits to the social whole may be present but largely indirect.

[2.3] Bourdieu (1986) posits that social capital is made up of group membership and the connectedness developed from the social networks (quoted in Siisiainen 2000). He further argues that social capital works through the entirety of the relationships among the different individuals who share the same interests instead of the simple monolithic power of the group. It is for this reason that groups poor in extrinsic social capital, such as fan fiction communities, can nonetheless be made up of members more or less rich in intrinsic social capital: "the creation of social capital through participation in voluntary associations is not indifferent to the motivations which induce the volunteer to start his/her unpaid activity…[but] the intrinsic motivations enable people to extend their social networks by creating relations characterized by a significant degree of familiarity" (Degli Antoni 2009, 1). Therefore, although people are often assumed to volunteer because of the individual benefits gained, following Bourdieu we might consider how the resourceful associations make social capital a communal occurrence, particularly in the embodied context of on-ground fan labor. In addition, social capital assumes identification, the mechanism that develops the capacity for symbolic exchange (Bourdieu 1998); it is in this sense that the symbolic constitutes distinction between groups or classes and hence becomes operationally significant.

[2.4] Robert David Putnam defines social capital as "features of social life—networks, norms, and trust—that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives" (2000, 65). Putnam distinguishes between vertical and horizontal social networks. A horizontal network "bring[s] together agents of equivalent status and power" (1993, 173). Two components make up the horizontal network as specified by Putnam. The first is sociability, which emphasizes the intrinsic elements of social relations or linking experiences. Simply having others around gives people a sort of gratification, but there is also an expectation that the relationship involves some kind of mutual feeling, a shared sense of need for the other. The significance of this type of relationship is that the people involved are more or less strangers to each other, because it is through this type of involvement that civic intent and the beginnings of democratic practices are born (Shah, Rojas, and Cho 2009; Song and Lin 2008; Wilkinson and Bittman 2002).

[2.5] The second component in the horizontal framework is reciprocity (Putnam 2000). Putnam posits that reciprocity refers to civilized interactions and a willingness to cooperate fairly with the other. In addition, people engaged in mutual exchange allow themselves to be submissive to others. While they engage in a type of activity such as volunteering without immediately wanting something in return, they know that they will benefit somehow at a later time (Putnam 2000). Thus, reciprocity functions on the social instead of the individualistic level: one thinks positively of social interactions with others who share similar interests and are willing to volunteer in the same event or place. Reciprocity is directly related to trust, in the sense that one is confident that the other will live up to expectations. According to Putnam, trust is not unique to intimate relationships; it also exists among strangers who share similar interests (reciprocity), in what becomes a shared citizenship (quoted in Wilkinson and Bittman 2002). We can see evidence of this shared citizenship in both online and on-ground fan labor situations, in which both sociability and reciprocity are needed—the first to desire a relationship and the second to have a shared interest. Between sociability and reciprocity, trust is formed, and civic engagement may occur.

[2.6] Putnam (1995) proposed that civic engagement can renew a society and can be achieved through involvement in community organizations; he also focused on the negative impacts of media use, arguing that increased media usage (for example, television) results simultaneously in less civic engagement and a decrease in social capital. Both fan fiction communities and the festival complicate this thesis, since audiences are volunteering their time and building trust in both organizations and each other. It seems uncontroversial to suggest that media, rather than simply keeping people atomized in their homes, also provide opportunities for them to intermingle with people of common interests both online, such as in fan fiction communities, and in on-ground spaces such as festivals and fan conventions. Putnam's argument on the decline of social capital, moreover, focuses on the number of people's civic organizations instead of the quality of their involvement. This involvement is often quite deep where fan communities are concerned, and the creation and maintenance of a contributory impulse within such communities, to the benefit rather than to the detriment of the corporate producer, is increasingly common.

3. Duality 2: Fan labor and/as volunteerism

[3.1] The literature linking online fan communities to the notion of free labor (Terranova 2004) is by now well established. Fan fiction forums like LiveJournal are especially well represented in a discussion that tends to characterize the content at the center of such communities as gift objects exchanged outside the established parameters of the commodity structure. As Karen Hellekson points out,

[3.2] Fans insist on a gift economy, not a commercial one, but it goes beyond self-protective attempts to fly under the radar of large corporations, their lawyers, and their cease-and-desist letters. Online media fandom is a gift culture in the symbolic realm in which fan gift exchange is performed in complex, even exclusionary symbolic ways that create a stable nexus of giving, receiving, and reciprocity. (2009, 114)

[3.3] In such communities, the creation and maintenance of identity discourses oppositional to the patriarchal, litigious structure of copyright and transaction is quite common (Hellekson 2009).

[3.4] Over time, numerous corporate players, composed in turn by acquisitive decision makers at a variety of levels, have taken notice of this activity. This is unsurprising, of course, but what is more emergent is that this attention has slowly morphed from being surveillant and penal in nature to being what some commentators see as a potentially corrosive inclusivity. As Alexis Lothian (2009) suggests,

[3.5] In recent years, media producers have explicitly sought to solicit fan participation as labor for their profits in the form of user-generated content that helps build their brand. Many fans perceive these developments as a desirable legitimation of fan work, but they can also be understood as an inversion in the direction of fannish theft. Rather than fans stealing commodified culture to make works for their own purposes, capital steals their labor—as, we might consider, it stole ideas from the cultural commons and fenced them off in the first place—to add to its surplus. (135)

[3.6] Abigail De Kosnik has termed this shift the fan fiction community's Sugarhill moment (2009, 119), referencing the precedent of hip-hop's mainstreaming and commodification by corporate outsiders rather than the innovators who brought the form—"a genre fundamentally based on artistic appropriation" (119)—into being. Many of these appropriative attempts are rather overt, but as Suzanne Scott (2009) points out, many other corporate practices—what she terms the regifting economy of ancillary content models—also amount to co-optation. As De Kosnik (n.d.) summarizes in an essay for Spreadable Media, fan activities "create value for media producers, distributors, and marketers. And let us not forget that fans are also consumers and that some of the value they create for media corporations is in the form of their own spending on media products. Yet…fans are happy to labor for free."

[3.7] Such activity echoes the behavior of volunteers, and volunteerism, not limited to charity events and fund-raisers, often occurs at for-profit events designed to celebrate a media figure or object. Existing literature asserts that these volunteers have different motivations for participating than do corollaries in traditional situations. These motivations are not necessarily tied to altruistic intentions or a desire to achieve professional advancement (Postigo 2003). Ryan M. Milner states that "many fans are active, creative, productive participants within the labor system they esteem" (2009, 494). In other words, fan labor is essentially driven by fans' connection to the object of their fandom. Henry Jenkins (2008) posits that "the media industry is increasingly dependent on active and committed consumers to spread the word about valued properties in an overcrowded media marketplace, and in some cases, they are seeking ways to channel the creative output of media fans to lower production costs" (134). Milner (2009) suggests that fan laborers see themselves as serving the object of their fandom, making them eager to participate and not generally expectant of compensation. In other words, unlike traditional volunteers who help with a non-media-related fund-raising event because their actions benefit others, these fan laborers are characterized as driven in large part by a kind of hedonistic object-pleasure, a desire for the accumulation of cultural capital, or some amalgam of both. Part of our interest here is to investigate how the particular interface of media-related persons and practices, on the one hand, and embodied presence within social and physical space, on the other, produces a power-laden, circulatory reaction within both online and on-ground spaces.

4. Duality 3: Online and/as on-ground spaces

[4.1] Fan labor, moreover, can take place in either online or on-ground spaces. Jennifer Cool uses the term on ground, rather than off-line, to more accurately describe "the contemporary anthropological subject implicit in the challenges of the posthuman" (2010, 3), where one finds it increasingly difficult to be truly off-line. She further uses the notion of collocation to describe the empirical lifeworld of the postmodern subject, one in which both mediated and face-to-face relationships intertwine and complicate the facile division between online and off-line subjectivities. While individuals can participate in fan labor through online fan communities or forums, there are also designated places where highly involved fan labor activities occur. Thus such communities are often—though certainly not necessarily—collocated. Several taxonomies (Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998; Fiske 1992; Sandvoss 2005) situate visitation and pilgrimage activities toward the most involved end of the fandom spectrum. The fan often feels and communicates a sense of pilgrimage that creates a special ritualized event upon visitation (Peaslee 2013, 812) and generates attendant cultural capital within the community, thus spawning hierarchical relationships within the fandom (Peaslee and Miles 2012). Event attendance is an intimate experience; fans enjoy the opportunity to be close, in terms of both physical and emotional proximity, to a text or object they esteem. Meanwhile, this committed involvement by fans helps the industry achieve its goals in cost-efficient ways (Pearce 2006; Postigo 2003; Taylor 2006).

[4.2] Media festivals are prime examples of contexts where fan labor can be encouraged and maximized. Here volunteers can enjoy pleasurable incursions into discursively constituted regions of a very special quality, movements across "the boundaries that emerge when a place is re-created as something special via mediation…boundaries [which] are reified through the embodied practice of visitors" (Peaslee 2013, 812). By volunteering, the fan laborer is at least partially backstage, both spatially and socially nearer to the fandom object than the average fan, even more so—and this is particularly important—than the fan who pays for entry to the event. Fan laborers are behind the scenes, engaged in the text, and the festival provides the opportunity to achieve that higher level of fandom, an opportunity to engage in practices that Peaslee (2013) suggests reify power structures and flows. Media conduction, which describes the simultaneously consumptive and productive practices of the festival attendee, is defined as "the movement of information due to a difference in level of access (from a region of higher access to a region of lower access) through a transmission medium (e.g., festivals, conventions, events) that simultaneously reifies the value of that access" (Peaslee 2013, 811). Fantastic Fest, as only one example among many, offers graduated incentives depending on the number of hours the person labors, as well as giving preference of job selection to returning volunteers over newcomers. These incentives are used as a kind of leverage, since returning volunteers are well placed to further transcend boundaries and gain greater access to the backstage.

[4.3] Our questions, then, derive from these dualities and attempt to account for the ambivalent nature of the fan labor/volunteering relationship. Do volunteers at media festivals build social capital and thereby experience civic engagement? If so, how does such an outcome—positive from the perspective of democratic ideals—live alongside the possibility that volunteers at such events are co-opted to the benefit of powerful media interests in the name of the objects, personas, and boundaries they produce? We have attempted to address these questions with a case-study, fieldwork approach influenced by the tenets of constructivist media anthropology (Clark 2004; Peaslee 2009).

5. Participants and procedure

[5.1] Qualitative research methods were used to capture volunteer motivations, incentives, and experiences. One of the authors attended Fantastic Fest as a first-time volunteer while another returned for the third time as a festival attendee. We conducted participant observations and interviewed 7 female and 11 male volunteers who ranged from 18 to 45 years of age and came from varied backgrounds and career paths. There were approximately 150 volunteers at Fantastic Fest, though never that many at any one time. Some volunteered in the morning or afternoon, others during the evening and late-night shifts. Since not all of the volunteers were available to interview during the 4-day data collection period, the sample is composed of 12 percent of the total number of volunteers and two-thirds of the active volunteers working at any one time.

[5.2] Fantastic Fest, started in 2005 with a collaboration between Tim League, CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, and Harry Knowles, owner and principal writer of the renowned fan blog Ain't It Cool News, is the largest genre film festival in North America. Specializing in a very particular brand of international, niche content featuring horror, science fiction, martial arts, and fantasy films, Fantastic Fest is held in the highest esteem by aficionados from around the world and is one of only three North American festivals granted membership status within the prestigious European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation ( While its profile has grown steadily over the past 7 years—the presence of mainstream films and celebrity guests serving as a yardstick—Fantastic Fest has maintained a relative intimacy when compared to other festivals such as Sundance or Toronto. With the exception of a few screenings scheduled in larger theaters and the many themed parties for which Fantastic Fest is equally known, the festival is housed entirely in the Alamo Drafthouse theater on S. Lamar Boulevard in Austin. The characteristics of Fantastic Fest are thus somewhat unique in that the community surrounding it is highly localized in both a geographic and psychographic sense: it is very much a product of Austin's self-described weirdness while also serving as an annual, multinational mecca for fans of (mostly) independent genre film (note 1).

6. Findings: Volunteers motivations and fan labor

[6.1] Review of interview transcripts and field notes by each of the three authors revealed several overarching categories of volunteer motivation. The categories, in order from most prevalent to least, include the accrual of cultural capital; the establishment and maintenance of communities; the attainment of social capital in the form of friendships; overt attempts at professional advancement; achievement of proximity to ritually significant people and practices; hedonism; and altruism.

[6.2] Volunteering as a means toward accruing cultural capital. By a considerable margin (44 coded instances), the accrual of cultural capital (experiences and material artifacts) emerged as the leading motivation for engaging in fan labor in the Fantastic Fest environment. Responses were coded as examples of an attempt to increase cultural capital when they included as reasons for volunteering the opportunity to consume a discrete text (such as an elusive film or a video game) or genre, to purchase controlled-access materials (such as limited-edition prints of special movie posters), or to meet and engage a particular actor or director. "There are a lot of movies here that you couldn't see anywhere else," said Couper, a volunteer and previous employee of the Drafthouse. "People talk about them a year later and [I say] 'I already fucking saw that,' that's awesome." Couper is interested in the object itself (the film), the rarity of which in the mainstream film marketplace becomes a marker for its value. But the act of seeing the film becomes even more valuable because he sees it earlier than do others in the community. In terms of the collection of festival relics, while no interviewees expressed an interest in material culture, it is significant that each morning a line formed outside the Mondo poster shop, connected to the Alamo Drafthouse, long before it was open for business. The availability of new posters was publicized through online channels only briefly before the posters became available, so attaining a poster (and standing in line to do so) became implicit markers of status within a subset of the festival community. Louis, as an example of the last tendency in those coded as seekers of cultural capital, has always

[6.3] been interested in the people that work on the movies themselves—directors, writers, producers and camera operators, all the way down to the assistant and the actors…I've always been fascinated by all these people who are responsible for creating something that I like, so this is the opportunity to actually either say "Hi," or "Thanks…keep up the good work."

[6.4] "Elijah Wood is fantastic. He is always here," said Couper. "I haven't seen him yet, but it will be good to see him again. He actually recognizes me, and we would sit there and mostly talk about movies and smoke cigarettes." Interestingly, many volunteers explicitly derided volunteer or attendee motivations related to simple proximity. "There is this easiness. There aren't people fighting to see celebrities, there aren't people doing that kind of stuff," said Samantha. Just seeing celebrities, which is of course dependent on the on-ground, physical proximity afforded by the festival environment, is not enough. "We are here," Samantha summarizes, speaking for her community, "because we appreciate film, and I think that is part of the reason why Fantastic Fest is so great." One of the ways this community identifies itself is through its low propensity toward being starstruck, and rank celebrity worship was seen by many core Fantastic Fest constituents as inauthentic behavior.

[6.5] Volunteering as a means toward establishing ritual communities. In 27 instances, responses were coded as examples of volunteerism related to feelings of group affinity. These interviewee comments referred to the value obtained through volunteerism as it related to the community of volunteers, like-minded audiences, Alamo Drafthouse devotees, or Austin residents. Moreover, such responses often saw the sustenance of these communities as the ultimate end for volunteering. Many volunteers anticipate reuniting with the same people year after year. "You meet a lot of cool people," said Couper. "I have friends that I have made through this festival that don't live in town, and when they come in they call me." Cool people, it becomes clear, are those that share an affinity for the genres, filmmakers, and practices that populate the Fantastic Fest environment. This affinity is related, of course, to the aforementioned attitudes toward outsiders or newcomers who see the festival space as one where access or proximity to celebrity is the paramount value of attendance or volunteerism. When volunteers express a motivation related to the maintenance of the community, they name not a particular film, practitioner, or genre specifically, but rather the social space of the festival as a kind of ritual center, one where the normally deviant practices of avid appreciation of violence, cosplay, or rabid overconsumption of film material are seen as quite normal. John states, "I moved here 5 years ago from Athens, Georgia and in my search for trying to find a place to belong here in Austin, volunteering kind of create[d] a safe space to meet new people and, you know, find commonalities and kindred spirits in a large metropolitan city." While it is beyond the reach of this article to explore systematically the degree to which this motivation for volunteering is akin to the feelings many fan fiction writers have expressed regarding their respective communities (Busker 2008; Ross 2008), we would suggest provisionally that a similarly supportive, reassuring structure is in play here.

[6.6] Volunteering as a means toward establishing friendships. Nearly as many (26) responses referred clearly to the act of connection as a means toward establishing or maintaining bonds or friendships. While the previous category is limited to those responses displaying a kind of pleasure in simply being affiliated with or surrounded by other brand loyalists, in this case what is celebrated by respondents is the opportunity afford by Fantastic Fest to meet new people or reconnect with old friends, a reconnection that often happens only at annual intervals at Fantastic Fest. In these cases, friendship and fellowship are ends unto themselves. According to Samantha, for example, "What is so great about the festival circuit in Austin is you see a lot of familiar faces. So I work with the same people at other festivals [as well as] Fantastic Fest." Many volunteers enjoy volunteering at several different events together. Bethany, a lead volunteer, adds that, as volunteers, "we say we are going to hangout during the year, which we never get around to, so around Fantastic Fest, it is almost like a high-school reunion. We've been volunteering 3, 4, 5 years together, and it is a great time to spend with those people again every year." Fantastic Fest leaves a strong impression on volunteers, and participants will tell their friends about their experiences there. Several first-time volunteers reported intentions of encouraging their friends to join them next year when they return.

[6.7] Volunteering as a means toward achieving professional advancement. Conversely, responses were coded as emblematic of a desire for professional advancement when they expressly illustrated the utility of the Fantastic Fest physical and social space for furthering their careers. Some volunteers aspire to attain recognition: "I'm shooting other [material], and just going to submit everything I get," said John. "Hopefully [Fantastic Fest] will throw some of the stuff I shoot on the blog." Other volunteers said they wanted to gather film clips for a video they were working on. John said, "I'm on the audio visual [group]…trying to get archival footage for the Alamo to use in the future." Murph, an aspiring movie maker said, "All I want to do is make movies. My dream is that I want my movie to be in the next Fantastic Fest."

[6.8] For the slightly less ambitious (or perhaps slightly more realistic), the festival is seen to provide a source of business and networking opportunities. Marcus, a fourth-year returning volunteer, said he returns because he can meet people in the field and create relationships. Marcus said he and a few friends moved to Austin a few years ago to network and start film careers. At Fantastic Fest they've "networked with so many [screenwriters and directors] who have been willing to look at our work and actually talk shop with us," said Marcus. "That alone has been worth coming here every single year." Another aspiring filmmaker, Janet, hopes to submit a film for next year's film festival. "I'm working on a feature right now. I have a script that I want to produce," said Janet. "I'm hoping it will make it next year here, maybe." Festivals also provide opportunities to observe or participate in the daily functions of hosting events beyond the film industry. University of Texas event planner L.T. said that part of her motivation to volunteer at the festival was to "get a chance to learn more about the event planning side, because that is what I do professionally. So, I get to see the real professionals do it, and no one does it better than the Alamo Drafthouse does."

[6.9] Volunteering as a means toward establishing spatial proximity. Proximity as a generator of value from the perspective of the volunteer respondent refers to those responses that mention the aura and positioning of media persons present in the festival space. Says volunteer John, "Fantastic Fest seems like it's got a lot of…you know, you meet a lot of wonderful people…like I just shot Tim Burton with my camera and he walked right past me and stuff. And last year…what's his name, from Lord of the Rings? I forget the actor's name, but it was fun shooting him." The name, for John, is not important, or at least not as important as the celebrity status behind the name. The list of Fantastic Fest talent mentioned in our interview transcripts includes Burton, Wynona Ryder, Elijah Wood ("what's his name, from Lord of the Rings"), Kevin Sorbo, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Doug Benson, and Ron Perlman, among others. It is clear that for many volunteers the opportunity to encounter such people—to collect such encounters as other fans might collect comic books, indicating their similarity as forms of cultural capital—is paramount. "My favorite part is famous people. I love famous people," said Nick. "I want to be around them. I got to see Tim Burton, Winona Ryder and Doug Benson. That made my day. So that's why I'm here."

[6.10] Hedonism. A few respondents summed up their motivations with reference to rather simple notions of fun that seemed to be positioned on a spectrum between, on the one hand, enjoying an exciting environment to, on the other, partying hard and taking advantage of sensory stimuli. "The staff and volunteers want to keep it fun and unstuffy as possible, which I really appreciate," said Nicole. "It just complements the Austin atmosphere in general." Fantastic Fest volunteers—many of whom work other events in the city like South-by-Southwest—believe the festival lacks the traditionally high tensions of those experiences.

[6.11] Being a volunteer has many tangible rewards as well. Not only do volunteers get free admission to the event, a value between $200 and $300, but Fantastic Fest volunteers also receive a limited number of movie and dinner vouchers that they can use any time after the event, and the volunteer coordinator hosts a party for the volunteers. Volunteers are also welcomed into the same parties and special events as are badge holders and VIPs, provided there is room. "The closing night parties are fucking awesome, like free booze, free food," said Couper. Marcus added, "There is hard work, but [if you] party fifty times harder you will not see the likes of these parties at any other festival, period."

[6.12] Altruism. Responses were coded as altruism when they exhibited a desire to do good for others free from attendant motivations unrelated to altruism. A key finding in our data is that only one instance of altruism occurred in the interview transcripts. Nicole, when asked if she would like to snap any pictures of celebrities while she's volunteering, replies, "No, I would never do that…I just like being helpful and knowing that I've got people in positions that if they need a lot of back up, I can be helpful." In this sole instance, a desire to help others was found unattached, meaning within the same conversation turn, to one of the other response categories listed above. To be sure, in several other cases, expressions such as "I like to help" or "it feels good to help" were found in the transcripts, but their connection to other motivations through linguistic linkages within single conversation turns ruled them out as truly altruistic. This of course begs a much longer analysis of how we define altruism more generally; we have simply chosen to operationalize it in this way in order to more clearly define the degree to which volunteerism is self- or other directed in this context.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] Pierre Bourdieu claims that social capital is the "aggregate of the actual or potential resources, which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition—or in other words, to membership in a group—which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a 'credential,' which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word" (1986, 190). James S. Coleman (1998) suggests that social capital depends on relationships beyond the individual. Instead, it depends on group interactions. The relationship of the group members is bounded by two main principles: trust and common values.

[7.2] Several of the volunteers felt that volunteering at the Fantastic Fest allowed them to be part of a group or community indicative of strong social capital. Austin's festivals appear generally to encourage volunteerism and engagement in public activities (note 2), a strategy underpinning civic engagement in the relevant state, municipal, and taste communities. That people volunteer is reassurance for the greater community that people want to help out, supporting their society both at the personal level and, indirectly, at the economic level. "I think that being a participant here," said John, "being a stakeholder here and trying to make something better each year than it was before [creates] a positive vibe, it's an upward spiral." In addition, the festival not only builds a community among its participants, but also adds to the value of the greater Austin community and culture. Hence, volunteering appears to support civic engagement, in the sense that communities are being built and sustained through the labor of enthusiastic participants.

[7.3] Volunteering, or on-ground labor, has traditionally been characterized as prosocial behavior exhibiting the potential to "reduce destructive levels of self-absorption" (Oman, Thoreson, and McMahon 1999, 303). People who volunteer assist others, which can be considered a "self-validating experience" (Krause, Herzog, and Baker 1992, 300). Likewise, volunteering can increase individuals' self-efficacy, their belief that they can make a difference in their communities, which past research indicates can protect against depression (Mirowsky and Ross 1989). Previous studies have indicated that an increase in self-confidence due to volunteering has the potential to boost satisfaction in life (Harlow and Cantor 1996). There are many advantages to volunteering, whether direct (through admission to a premiering movie) or indirect (boost of self-efficacy). Online fan labor, meanwhile, as shown by several scholars (Bacon-Smith 1992; Jenkins 1992; Jensen 1992), far from a hermetic pathology, has provided opportunities for the creation of communities wherein (mostly female) participants can "reach out and be heard" (Bacon-Smith 1992, 6).

[7.4] Despite these similar outcomes, previous literature has suggested a substantive difference between the motivations of the traditional volunteer and those of the fan laborer. Volunteerism is frequently defined as a prosocial behavior, meaning it is a voluntary, altruistic action a person commits with the sole intention to benefit others (Marta and Pozzi 2008; Marta, Pozzi, and Marzana 2010; Omoto and Snyder 1995; Clary et al. 1998). But the literature also suggests that this altruism is tempered by desires for professional advancement, the accrual of social capital, and other tangible benefits. Our research suggests that festival volunteer motivations are not so different from those of traditional volunteers. Fan laborers also act out of a limited sense of altruism most often connected to rather more pragmatic benefits such as meeting new people, networking, personal growth, and the accumulation of social capital. Although the cultural capital attained through particular modes of consuming the object of their fandom was shown to be the primary reason for their volunteering, Fantastic Fest volunteers appear to encounter further advantages beyond the replication of cultural capital hierarchies and the sale of merchandise.

[7.5] At the same time, however, the data also suggest that the on-ground context of Fantastic Fest, like the fan labor undertaken in online spaces devoted to the circulation of fan works, is a kind of generator for productive activity on the part of audiences activated by their roles as volunteers. Volunteers occupy a border position between the festival insiders and outsiders, a position described by Peaslee (2013) as an attending rather than a media or absent public, which is particularly well situated for and particularly encouraged toward conductive activity such as word of mouth, blogging, Tweeting, and other forms of online and on-ground value creation. Like the journalists, badge holders and ticket buyers who attend the festival, volunteers generate considerable value through these activities, activities made to seem like play rather than labor via the incorporation of the community (festival) identity into that of the volunteer (fan) self: Fantastic Fest, to those involved in its successful presentation, becomes a reflection of who they are. Hellekson (2009) posits that there are three components that define a gift community: the giving, the receiving, and the reciprocation. Like the fan laborer, volunteers give their time and efforts, they receive incentives, such as access to movies, stars, parties, theater passes, and they gain (or at least they perceive the attainment of) a reciprocal, authentic relationship with Fantastic Fest and Alamo Drafthouse. We would argue that this distinction between the perceived and actual accrual of status vis-à-vis the media publics is a key dimension of understanding the on-ground fan labor of volunteering (and, for that matter, paying) members of the attending publics, and further research on this dimension of fan or audience culture is overdue. A critical approach remains crucial in exploring the degree to which power holders are utilizing the fan event to maximize the perception of status while managing carefully, if not minimizing, its actual attainment; moreover, we should remain observant of the degree to which on-ground fan labor is either consciously or effectively disruptive of this effort. That volunteers' activity is at once valuable to them, crucial to the success of the festival and, by extension, supportive to the entertainment industry (as a corporate structure, an amalgamation of practices, and a network of individuals), and potentially, given the above results, to civic engagement, emphasizes the ambivalent nature of the volunteer impulse as a dimension of fan labor.

8. Notes

1. Fantastic Arcade, a simultaneous gaming festival and convention devoted to promoting independent game design, began running concurrently in an adjacent space in 2010.

2. South-by-Southwest Film, celebrating its 20th year in 2013, designed all of its prescreening bumper films as tributes to their volunteer pool.

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