From Dalek half balls to Daft Punk helmets: Mimetic fandom and the crafting of replicas

Matt Hills

Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

[0.1] Abstract—Mimetic fandom is a surprisingly understudied mode of (culturally masculinized) fan activity in which fans research and craft replica props. Mimetic fandom can be considered as (in)authentic and (im)material, combining noncommercial status with grassroots marketing or brand reinforcement as well as fusing an emphasis on material artifacts with Web 2.0 collective intelligence. Simply analyzing mimetic fandom as part of fannish material culture fails to adequately assess the nonmaterial aspects of this collaborative creativity. Two fan cultures are taken as case studies: Dalek building groups and Daft Punk helmet constructors. These diverse cases indicate that mimetic fandom has a presence and significance that moves across media fandoms and is not restricted to the science fiction, fantasy, and horror followings with which it is most often associated. Mimetic fandom may be theorized as an oscillatory activity that confuses binaries and constructions of (academic/fan) authenticity. This fan practice desires and pursues a kind of ontological bridging or unity—from text to reality—that is either absent or less dominant in many other fan activities such as cosplay, screen-used prop collecting, and geographical pilgrimage. Fan studies may benefit from reassessing the place of mimesis, especially in order to theorize fan practices that are less clearly transformative in character.

[0.2] Keywords—Affirmational fandom; Doctor Who; Material culture; Replica prop building

Hills, Matt. 2014. "From Dalek Half Balls to Daft Punk Helmets: Mimetic Fandom and the Crafting of Replicas." In "Materiality and Object-Oriented Fandom," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Fan practices have often been approached as transformative, but what of fan communities that may not fit so readily or tidily into this bracket? Nicholas Abercrombie and Brian Longhurst's (1998, 150) taxonomy of fandom actually denies the label of fan to those who engineer physical objects, instead dubbing them enthusiasts who engage in "material production" more than, or rather than, the "textual productivity" characterizing fan fic writers, vidders, and so on (see also Fiske 1992; Pugh 2005; Williamson 2005; Gray 2010; Thomas 2011). Displaying less taxonomic zeal or exclusionary logic, Bob Rehak (2013) refers to the object practices of fans creating garage kits and material artifacts of fandom rather than texts per se. Yet the separation of material and textual production is itself far leakier than Abercrombie and Longhurst allow; Francesca Coppa (2006, 243) convincingly argues that fan fiction can be conceptualized not as "authoring texts, but making productions—relying on the audience's shared extratextual knowledge of sets and wardrobes, of the actors' bodies and…movements." Although it may be analytically possible to distinguish between textual and material fan productivity, their intersections and connections should nevertheless always be borne in mind.

[1.2] Given Rehak's turn to object practices, I want to consider a related and undertheorized mode of fan activity, one that I'll call mimetic fandom. This mode is focused on the creation of highly screen-accurate prop replicas (see also Hills 2010, 2011). Transformational versus affirmational fandom (obsession_inc 2009) has increasingly become an influential binary in fan studies, with transformative and "female-centered fandom as a site of resistance to the mainstream media" being potentially contrasted with "masculine forms of fan culture" (Jenkins and Scott 2013, xix). However, by introducing and elaborating on the concept of mimetic fandom, I want to emphasize, like Henry Jenkins, "the kinds…of transformation that occur" within types of male-centered fan production that "may operate in relation…to patriarchy" (Jenkins and Scott 2013, xix–xx). At the same time, my interest in mimetic fandom challenges the overt or shorthand gendering of fan practices. Mimetic fandom begins to deconstruct the binary of fan productions that either transform or imitate mainstream media content, just as textual/material productivities can also blur together, thereby complicating scholarly narratives seeking to clearly separate out these tendencies.

[1.3] Despite excellent recent work such as Rehak's, fandom's predominantly material cultures seem to have gone missing in much scholarship, perhaps because they are assumed to be too close to the commodity fetish of merchandise, but also perhaps because these communities tend to be thought of as culturally gendered as masculine or dominated by male fans rather than corresponding to the purportedly feminine cultural spaces of many media fandoms and fan studies, where academic work has typically focused on female-centered media fandoms for a variety of positive reasons (feminist critique among them) (Bacon-Smith 1992; Jenkins 1992; Jenkins and Scott 2013; Bury 2005). We should remain wary of these assumptions: object productivities of fandom can be both masculinized and feminized. For example, Cherry (2011, 140) has studied the feminine handicrafts of knitters on Ravelry (, pointing out that "although fandom per se is not necessarily gendered…specific fan interests, activities and communities are often marked out as feminine or masculine." Thus, although the fannish object practices of replica building that I address here might be male-centered, other specific communities and activities of material fan culture most certainly are not.

[1.4] This special themed issue of Transformative Works and Cultures can no doubt contribute in part to the recovering of mimetic fandom, and we should also remain wary of a priori explanations for the academic invisibility of sites such as the replica prop forum RPF (, with its "craft your fandom" slogan, or the Dalek Builders' Guild (, with its language of workshops and craftsmanship. Indeed, Thomas Morawetz has observed a similar centrality of craft vocabularies among those working on character makeup and alien/monster prosthetics:

[1.5] Most [artists] affirm that they spent their high school years often alone in garages and at kitchen ovens, sculpting and curing rubber…For the most part, they are self-taught. Or, rather, their preparation combines solitary investigation, trial-and-error experimentation, and apprenticeship. The last of these stages is the most distinctive. The maturation of a modern makeup artist mimics the career of a medieval artisan, who served an apprenticeship in one or another guild, participating increasingly in the work of the master craftsman and refining his art communally. (2001, 36–37)

[1.6] It may simply be that replica prop builders (and related fan practices such as sculpting) are sufficiently small scale—marginal in the cultural field of fandom, if you like—compared to the vast range of textual productivity that takes place elsewhere. However, even if we are dealing with subcommunities here, there can be no doubting the distinctiveness of these fan activities. As the Project Dalek Web site proudly announces, "We are 'hardcore' Dalek builders. We don't 'do' general Doctor Who topics and we don't 'do' Dalek fiction. For us, it's the actual Dalek props that matter" ( This group focuses on the alien Daleks and their "virtuosically stylized designs," which are taken from the BBC TV series Doctor Who (1963–89, 1996, 2005–) (Britton and Barker 2003, 134). Raymond Cusick's 1963 Dalek design "established the benchmark for spectacle in the series" and has been periodically updated, revised, and reworked across the show's cultural life (134). Against Camille Bacon-Smith's argument that fans' material culture, such as cosplay, can represent a "ritual of inclusion" (2000, 57, 60) that binds together diverse factions of a fan community, such as literary/media SF fans, it appears more likely that at least some replica prop building acts as a specialized fan practice rather than a unifying ritual. The assertion from hardcore Dalek builders that they don't do fiction or even general discussion, instead focusing solely on the goal-oriented activity of Dalek construction, implies this potential division of fan labor. At the same time, Morawetz's observation that guilds often involve apprenticeship also raises the issue of community-specific hierarchies: the Dalek Builders' Guild is likely to involve a variety of participants, including both highly skilled builders and novices seeking advice and guidance. In this sense, the crafting of replicas is a specialized fan activity involving its own discrete "status passage…[and] social career" (Crawford 2004, 39), against David Gauntlett's rather utopian view that "the meaning of everyday craft" (2011, 76) has been, or should be, disarticulated from hierarchies of expert evaluation.

[1.7] I want to consider in more detail the provocative binary set out by fan theorist obsession_inc (2009), that of transformational versus affirmational fandoms. The transformational/affirmational binary strikes me as problematic, despite having been picked up by a number of fan studies scholars (Jenkins and Scott 2013; Pearson 2012; Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013). Critiquing this polemical stance, as well as addressing whether material culture approaches downplay certain aspects of replica prop making, will enable me to set out a fuller definition of mimetic fandom, drawing primarily on examples of Dalek building. I will conclude by exploring mimetic fandom in relation to Daft Punk devotees, noting that prop building is not restricted to science fiction, fantasy, or horror fandoms, even if these represent its most lively (sub)cultural arenas. My closing focus on fans' creation of Daft Punk helmets is intended to bring into sharper focus the extent to which mimetic fandom is typically linked to the fannish construction and shaping of an ontological unity between media texts and everyday life. Mass mediated content is here remade as physical matter, tangibly manipulated and brought into a "mediated lifeworld" (Deuze 2012, 185).

2. Oscillatory mimetic fandom: Pursuing authenticity and materiality?

[2.1] Contrasting types of fandom always presents the danger of implicitly or explicitly valorizing specific versions of fan practice while denigrating others. Although fan cultures themselves may wish to make value judgments—indeed, subcultural capital and fan distinction/identity are premised on these—such assessments arguably have a rather more awkward place in scholarship, especially in work indebted to cultural studies approaches and thus seeking to investigate power relationships rather than (knowingly) reproduce them. As such, obsession_inc's (2009) analysis of affirmational fandom defines it strongly against its transformational other. Where affirmational fans restate the source material, the alternative "is all about laying hands upon the source and twisting it to the fans' own purposes." Where affirmational activities supposedly reinforce the official author's power and control over their own works, the alternative is a democracy of taste with intended meanings being made over and retooled. Where affirmational fans are "sanctioned," attending cons where they can hang out with creators, on the other side of the fence, "there's a central disagreement there about Who Is In Charge that's very difficult to ignore…These are, most definitely, the non-sanctioned fans" (obsession_inc 2009).

[2.2] Sections of fan studies have seemingly assumed that fan works that are not self-evidently transformational are simply of no interest, that they have nothing new or exceptional to tell us, as fans or scholars, because all they do is restate canon. In short, this "all tends to coalesce toward a center concept; it's all about nailing down the details" (obsession_inc 2009), and hence there's no real cultural analysis called for. Alternatively, it might be suggested that the sanctioned fandom characterized as affirmational is culturally privileged—it is not at all at odds with forms of industrial power—whereas nonsanctioned, transformational fandom is disempowered and marginalized, and thus deserves academic attention and valorization on precisely this basis. The affirmational/transformational binary may well have become influential within cultural studies–indebted fan studies as a result of directing critical attention toward the operation of cultural power and privileging.

[2.3] However, in such scholarly narratives, affirmational fandom reads like a type of degree-zero fandom, one where cultural politics are suspect (reinforcing a cult of auteurist personality rather than opening out onto fan democracy) and whose practices are predictable. Indeed, it is notable that when Rehak studies the object practices of material fan culture, he reenacts "the category of transformative works that would later come to dominate discussions of fan creativity" by not only aligning the "multivalent potential of object practices—material 'mash-ups' in which characters and settings were reconfigured into novel situations" with theories of transformative fan work, but actually suggesting that kit-making and fan sculpting foreshadowed and preceded the likes of slash fiction or vidding (2013, 34). It would seem that fans' material production can be reclaimed as an object of scholarly value by virtue of being disarticulated from the taints of mimesis, affirmation, and replication (Jenkins and Scott 2013, xix—xx). A similar move occurs in work on cosplay, where we're told that there is a

[2.4] continuous dialectic among costume artists about how strictly they should adhere to the specifications of a uniform as it is seen in a Star Trek show, and how much of their own tastes can be used in costume making…The general view…is that the more a clothing item looks like one in the shows, the more authentic it is. (Joseph-Witham 1996, 16).

[2.5] Regardless of this fan-cultural drive toward authenticity, equated with normative seen-on-screen imitation and accuracy (Joseph-Witham 1996), there remains space for transformative creativity here. Yet the crafting of material artifacts by fans can take on a further taint connected with mimesis—that of coming too close to the brand and its network of commodities. My own previous discussion of Blade Runner (1982) prop makers pondered whether part of this practice's appeal was that the film itself never had substantial merchandising. Fans could thus craft what might be called DIY merchandise to supplement "the relative lack of official" product (Hills 2011, 58). Rehak's study of fan-made garage kits, or grassroots fabrication, similarly reads this as a model-making practice carried out in the 1980s "in answer to a blockbuster landscape whose products…confined themselves to the subject matter of a handful of dominant brands…To fill this need, a new class of fantastic-media object emerged: the garage kit…which marked the passing of the means of production from professionals back to fans" (2013, 40).

[2.6] Just as these material fan cultures seem to oscillate in and out of affirmation, emphasizing mimetic imitation yet simultaneously permitting elements of transformation when examined close up (Rehak 2013), so too does their type of manufacture carry an oscillatory relationship to authenticity. From the perspective of a simplistic but deeply ingrained "binary link between commercial and inauthentic, and noncommercial and authentic" (Banet-Weiser 2012, 11), fan-made props are readable as authentic precisely because they are not official, mass-produced commodities. Instead, these items are either one-offs, or they follow patterns/templates yet display greater variation than would be tolerated from a standardized commercial product (Joseph-Witham 1996, 16). However, by so intricately and precisely seeking to "nail the details," as in obsession_inc's (2009) formulation, such prop building intimately resonates with the branded story world that it prompts or points to by way of coordinated imagining (Lancaster 2001; Rehak 2013). Marc Steinberg has argued, drawing on the work of sociologist Maurizio Lazzarato, that "contemporary capitalism is characterized not so much by the creation of products but by the creation of worlds…Lazzarato contends that the contemporary enterprise 'creates not the object (the merchandise) but the world where the object exists.'…Capitalist valorization thus depends on the development of worlds" (2012, 183).

[2.7] Despite resisting commercial and inauthentic production, then, fan prop building is simultaneously premised on an attempt to create "the object," which has meaning in relation to an "overdesigned" and hence copyrightable, reproducible, and recognizable franchise (Johnson 2013, 119). The means of production might shift from professionals to fans, but both production cultures appear to be engaged in the same process, regardless of whether one profits and one does not: "We can say that capitalism [today] is not a mode of production but a production of modes, a production of worlds (une production de mo(n)des)" (Lazzarato in Steinberg 2012, 183).

[2.8] The fan who creates and cherishes a Dalek casing or a TARDIS police box demonstrates how, within "contemporary brand culture the separation between the authentic self and the commodity self not only is more blurred, but this blurring is more expected and tolerated" (Banet-Weiser 2012, 13). Consequently, fans who build their own props can become part of a grassroots promotion for a brand, whereas in the past they would perhaps have been more immediately stigmatized for blurring the line between fantasy and reality (Hills 2002). Replica prop builders' desire for screen-used accuracy also makes them a likely target market for niche sellers: the London Prop Store ( sponsors part of the Replica Prop Forum, for example ( As Melissa De Zwart has pointed out, cosplayers "serve as a kind of marketing device for the items they present" (2013, 173; see also De Kosnick 2013), and the same can certainly be said for amateur prop builders. This is especially so where their creations are linked to popular flagship brands such as Doctor Who and are spectacularly photogenic, as in the case of Alan Clark's Dalek Storm, whose Web page records various media appearances ( The Dalek builder himself has also featured in local press coverage:

[2.9] "When the new series started I was very disappointed in the Red Supreme Dalek they decided use in the last episodes…It…was a bit of a let down to be honest." After discovering a sketch on the internet of the never before seen Dalek Storm that was designed in the 1980s by BBC artist Rocky Marshall, Mr Clark set about building his very own model…Mr Clark said: "…I'm hoping that the BBC will take notice and maybe use it in the new series." (

[2.10] This story implies that the fan builder can do better than Doctor Who's professional producers; it offers a critique of televised Doctor Who, but only in pursuit of a commonsensically incongruous story hook. In place of "man bites dog," the piece offers a kind of "fan beats pro" narrative, with Clark nonetheless represented as desiring the validation, the authentication, of the media center and its symbolic legitimacy (Couldry 2003).

[2.11] If SF/fantasy and horror specialize in the generation of what Umberto Eco has referred to as "completely furnished worlds" that fans can learn about and memorize (1995, 198), then this furniture can itself be built in the "Primary World" (Wolf 2012, 135), like Alan Clark's Daleks in his back garden. However, these objects necessarily remain divided, split between physical instantiation and an immaterial story world that is affectively or mnemonically carried for the fan. As Steinberg notes,

[2.12] On one hand, the world is consumed through…material instances of the character—character goods or commodities, whether they appear through episodes of a TV series or as merchandise, like a toy…On the other hand, it is the immaterial entity of the character as an abstract, circulating element that maintains the consistency of the various worlds or narratives and holds them together. (2012, 188)

[2.13] Although the material, crafted object might proffer "haptic-panoptic control over images (and perhaps feelings) that formerly sped past…during…viewing" (Lancaster 2001, 102), viewing this physicality in isolation—as a matter of being able to "participate in that [narrative] universe through the sense of touch" (Lancaster 2001, 103)—reduces relations of (im)materiality to mere presence. Rather than rushing to contrast material object practices to digital fandom (Booth 2010), or "physical" to "imaginative" fantasies (Lancaster 1999, 17), it is important to note that the fan-made replica is both immaterial and material, both authentic and inauthentic: it is a physical product that nonetheless relies on an absent or noncoincident media text for its meaning, and it is necessarily fan built rather than genuinely hailing from the terrain of official media production. As Elizabeth Wilson remarks, fans occupy an "inter-space between the material and the spiritual: they depend upon concrete aesthetic objects and experiences, but these are given an intense…meaning" (2013, 198). Fans share and collate information online in support of "grassroots fabrication," studying screen grabs and utilizing Web 2.0 platforms to facilitate the manufacture of artifacts (De Zwart 2013, 175). Just as fans may debate textual meanings and perform narrative mastery via "collective intelligence" (Jenkins 2006, 26), so too can the object practices of replica crafting hinge not only on individual skills but also on shared knowledge (Kozinets 2007; Mittell 2013). Guild Dalek plans are available to people once they have "applied and been accepted for membership of the Guild" (, for example, while the Dalek Project likewise makes a "Dalek Builder's Workshop Manual" available to those who join its forum ( Different build projects can involve specific skills; for example, constructing a budget voice modulator (to create a Dalek-sounding voice) might mean learning how to etch a printed circuit board layout, whereas building a Dalek casing can involve emulating construction methods used in the original prop manufacture as much as possible—casting the dome section in fiberglass, or using MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and woodworking skills for the Dalek's skirt.

[2.14] Banet-Weiser (2012, 9) argues that brands create a "structure of feeling, an ethos of intangible qualities," again stressing the immaterial aspect that pervades our relationships with material products, merchandise, and the brand resonances of prop building. In an exploration of related terrain, Condry (2013) adopts a rather controversial term through which to approach the matter, noting that in spite of "problematic connotations" (205), he wants to deploy "'soul'…to focus on that which is most meaningfulwhat matters to people, a kind of shorthand for deep meaning" (30). For Condry, soul refers to "a kind of energy that arises…out of collective action [and] the power of ideas manifested in material production" (30). In this argument, production is not at all restricted to media professionals but instead involves a "collaborative creativity [that] aims to bring into focus the multiplicity of modes of production…who is collaborating with whom?…Whose creativity is valued; whose is recognized and within which spheres?" (206). In terms of Dalek building, the officially licensed book Doctor Who 50 Years: The Daleks recognizes Doctor Who fans as collectors of screen-used props such as the Genesis Ark, bought for £5,100 at a 2006 Children in Need auction (Hearn 2013), and it recognizes the company This Planet Earth (, granted a license to make and sell Dalek replicas:

[2.15] Many of the replicas are created using moulds taken from the original props seen on television. [Says This Planet Earth's Ian Clarke:] "We've had two original Daleks from the '60s that we took moulds from. We were able to borrow an original bronze new series Dalek for a week or two…and moulded from it, so it's exactly as it was seen on screen." (Wright 2013, 109)

[2.16] Yet within this sphere—that of a licensed product from the makers of Doctor Who Magazine—only other licensed products are recognized within the stable of brand objects and promotions. Fans collect, or they make once-in-a-lifetime purchases of life-size Dalek commodities (Wright 2013). However, according to these accounts, they don't build. Communities like the Dalek Guild and the Dalek Project are excluded from reportage, and fannish modes of production (as well as production of worlds) are therefore silenced here.

[2.17] Mimetic fandom can thus be defined as a matter of oscillatory distinctions that vary at different levels of analysis and appreciation. It appears to be affirmational from a distance, but transformational details are evident when viewed closely. It seems authentic by virtue of noncommerciality, but it indicates inauthentic brand extending and so-called grassroots marketing when considered from a commercial perspective. It centers on material culture and haptic presence but indicates the value of a framing immateriality, namely the cult world that "can never be apprehended in toto but only approached through…continuous, participatory consumption" (Steinberg 2012, 200; see also Jones 2000). More than simply a part of fans' material culture, mimetic fandom thus occupies an interspace between materiality and what might be termed soul, building and branding, imitation and individuation. In addition to pervasively in-between positions, however, mimetic fandom also performs a desired bridging of text and reality. It is this element of mimetic fan practice that I turn to next.

3. Intermediary mimetic fandom: Pursuing ontological unity across media and popular music fan cultures

[3.1] Although collaborative creativity could be taken to characterize fan fiction and vidding as much as replica crafting, its notion of soul nonetheless provides a significant corrective to assumptions of the physical versus the textual, or material culture somehow set against a world of readings and meanings. As Gunter Gebauer and Christoph Wulf point out, "The concept of mimesis has repeatedly provided the ground in which disputes could be carried on about questions of the relation of a symbolically generated world to a second world that has been claimed to be the fundamental, exemplary, significant, or real world" (1995, 309).

[3.2] By desiring to move across these lines—thereby supposedly rendering the textual as material—mimetic fandom is, like all mimesis, "intermediary" (Gebauer and Wulf 1995, 317). However, by positioning mimetic fandom as concerned with reproduction, and by nailing down the original (Dalek plans, screen-used Dalek molds, best possible screen grabs, Star Trek uniform patterns), the productivity of mimetic fandom is thus contained and foreclosed. To the extent that it refuses this gesture, Derrida's (1981) notion of economimesis is helpful because "the connection between mimesis and production" is restored; "mimesis should no longer be limited to the imitation of objects; that is, to reproduction. For mimesis also encompasses the imitation of processes and the production of processes and objects" (Gebauer and Wulf 1995, 302). As Derrida states, "'True' mimesis is between two producing subjects and not between two produced things" (1981, 9; see also Stacey 1994 on imitation/copying). This could also be said of the craftsmanship carried out via replica props: fan prop makers are not only seeking to imitate what they've seen on screen, but they are also aiming to understand and replicate techniques of manufacture.

[3.3] Above all, mimetic fandom stands for the intermediary. Unlike artworks created from artworks, texts extrapolated from texts, and videos reedited from videos, prop replicas inspired by media texts convey a sense of boundary crossing, of moving from textuality to reality. Unlike fan fic and vidding, prop making represents an ontological bridging of the branded story world or hyperdiegesis and the fan's everyday life (Hills 2002, 2013). Unlike cosplay, which also potentially represents this kind of ontological unity, prop replicas are far less likely to be contradicted by issues of embodiment (where a cosplayer has the wrong build to be a character, or doesn't look sufficiently like the character meant to be portrayed). Although replicas can be customized, personalized, and stylized—Dalek Storm is very much a pimped-up interpretation of the Dark Dimensions design artwork, for example, replete with lighting effects—fan-made props promise an objectivity and an ontological bridging that are less dominant in almost all other fan practices. Even cult geography has to contend with changes between the now of witnessing and the then of filming, as well as the fact that real-world locations are likely to have been set dressed and shot in particular ways (Brooker 2005). What might be viewed as the very apotheosis of fans' material culture, screen-used props acquired via auction (Stenger 2006), can present problems of physical condition, exhibiting wear and tear or the deterioration of perishable build materials (Morawetz 2001). Although these items carry historical authenticity, they may no longer convey visual authenticity. In short, screen-used props can threaten to diverge from their own on-screen appearance. Against Walter Benjamin (Lancaster 1999; Rehak 2013), this means that the original's aura may be compromised for the fan seeking to replicate elements from a hyperdiegetic world. For example, Dalek collector Mick Hall owns an original Movie Dalek from the 1960s that is in poor condition, but he displays it beside a pristine replica made from measurements taken of the original (Hearn 2013). By supplementing the bashed-up, aged Dalek with its re-creation, Hall's collection announces the doubling of fan authenticity, recognizing and enacting a fan-cultural value system that is split between historical and (tele)visual authenticities. However, prop replicas—like the Dalek made from Hall's own screen-used prop—hold out a promise of achieving the best possible transition from screen to what Urry and Larsen (2011, 199) call a "performed gaze." Even here, however, the transition may be imperfect on occasions: how a prop is lit in the studio or on camera might cause it to look different within the mise-en-scène source when compared to its replica's appearance to the naked eye. Although Kendall L. Walton uses the term prop in an idiosyncratic manner, he argues that props represent "an independence from cognizers and their experiences which contributes much to the excitement of our adventures with them" (1990, 42), and it can be argued that prop replicas hold out this promise of objectivity and independence from subjective evaluations.

[3.4] By drawing on a framing discourse of materialization—crossing from text to physical artifact—replica props testify to and reinforce the value of their originating cult/narrative world and brand. Once more, this indicates the oscillatory nature of prop making. It might appear to disrupt "the boundary between performers and spectators" (Karpovich 2008, 215; see also Lancaster 2001), but as an object practice, it simultaneously reinforces the imaginative primacy and brand value of the cult world. For example, whether created noncommercially as fan projects or made commercially by This Planet Earth, Dalek building remains framed by notions of screen-accurate manufacture. The Dalek Builders' Guild mocks the initial Dalek plans made available to the public in 1973 by the BBC, noting how these were drawn up especially rather than using production plans, a move that resulted in overly "conical" and incorrectly proportioned Daleks (, The DBG History). Commercial Dalek builders similarly emphasize discourses of screen accuracy, thus proposing an implicit ontological unity between text and material object:

[3.5] To start from scratch on a modern bronze Dalek, if you broke it down into individual parts it's well over 100, starting with 56 half balls. And we want to get it absolutely right…I've maintained this over the years, when somebody gets something from us, it's as close to going down to Cardiff and wheeling one out of the door. (Ian Clarke of This Planet Earth, in Wright 2013, 109–10)

[3.6] Although Clarke's self-promotional commentary remains grounded here in the nontextual primary world rather than referring to Doctor Who's hyperdiegetic world, it is notable for its use of a boundary-crossing trope. The idea of "wheeling one out of the door" from Doctor Who's Cardiff production studio represents the concept of screen-used accuracy, recirculating fan-cultural values of exaggerated visual continuity between textual and material objects.

[3.7] Having defined and argued for the oscillatory, intermediary qualities of mimetic fandom, I will now relate this approach to fans' prop building beyond the territories of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, considering Daft Punk fans and their helmet-making activities. Even where fans are engaging with objects that are not themselves diegetically framed—and that may therefore appear not to belong to a furnished cult world—discourses of screen-accurate creation continue to predominate, and a similar fan work is carried out to secure a form of ontological unity in this musical case, as mediated images are again relocated into fans' everyday, material cultures.

[3.8] Daft Punk, a French electronic music duo, has been credited with popularizing a musical movement termed EDM, or electronic dance music (Perry 2013). Their 2013 album release, Random Access Memories, has been discussed as a return to the 1970s–1980s tradition of blockbuster album releases that emphasize production detail and the use of live session players rather than lo-fi or computer-based production (Richardson 2013). Although the Daft Punk members used brand-based graffiti early on their career, articulating their music with a sense of anticommercial street culture (Alvelos 2004), by the time of Random Access Memories, there could be little doubt of the band's commercial success and marketed omnipresence. However, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have cultivated a cult fan following in part as a result of their 2001-onward sporting of elaborate, retrofuturistic helmets composed of chromed surfaces, minimalist curves, and inset LEDs. By refusing to reveal their faces, Daft Punk created a cultish gap in their media profile, opposing them to logics of celebrity while simultaneously boosting their branded distinctiveness as "anonymous icons" (Weiner 2013, 58). There has also been relatively little Daft Punk merchandise and very little touring—decisions that have helped to reinforce the band's mystique by setting them against standard music industry practices.

[3.9] Katie King notes how "differing communities of practice work to center their own fabrication, conventions, and explanations of reenactment, and there are more and more such communities and practices" (2011, xv). Daft Punk fans, served online by the Daft Club forum (, could rightly be defined as a different community of practice to the Dalek builders I've considered thus far, and as such, we may expect them to draw on differing conventions of reenactment or mimetic fandom. Yet viewed analytically, the Daft Punk devotees who seek to acquire their own replica helmets demonstrate marked similarities with sections of Doctor Who fandom as well as with genre fans who congregate at, say, the Replica Prop Forum. Each of these fan groupings appears to be committed to bridging media texts and their everyday lives, pursuing and producing a kind of ontological unity in the "mediated lifeworld" (Deuze 2012, 185). In pursuit of screen-used accuracy, Daft Punk fans contacted the company that had worked on the band's original helmets: "Kevin Furry, whose former company, LED Effects Inc., installed the electronics, said…fans called incessantly…requesting duplicates, but he refused, putting a notice on the company's website to warn…it wouldn't make replicas without Daft Punk's permission" (Karp 2013).

[3.10] Likewise, the "Hollywood special-effects shop" that manufactured the latest models "signed a nondisclosure agreement regarding the helmets' exact specifications" (Weiner 2013, 58), meaning that the fannish accumulation of specs and plans can only amount to best guesstimates. Akin to prop manufacturing in the film/TV industry, where hero props will be more detailed or functional than stunt versions that are only meant to be seen on screen rather than directly used by actors, there are also variant versions of Daft Punk helmets, some built for stage use and others intended for photo shoots (Weiner 2013). As a result, there is of course no singular original against which Daft Punk helmets (or Dalek casings) can be evaluated; professionally constructed props are always multiple (to allow for damage) and varied (to allow for different filming needs), before one even considers the development of designs over time.

[3.11] Fans' subcultural capital includes the collective intelligence of compiling, correcting, and circulating information on all the helmet modifications and revisions that have cropped up over the years—an activity much like the Dalek builders' compilation of every alternative Dalek design across Doctor Who's history, again supporting the creation of ontological unity between source text and prop replica. Although to the nonfan or the casual consumer both Daleks and Daft Punk helmets may appear to have remained fairly constant, fan knowledge is distinguished by its precise attention to the details that other consumers are unlikely to focus on (Scott 2013), let alone catalog into a design database:

[3.12] Hayes Johnson, 23,…is…updating a chart he published in 2010 entitled "A Visual History of Daft Punk Helmets," which diagrams the subtle evolution of helmets worn by the band. "To the naked eye, it looks like Daft Punk helmets haven't changed in recent years. I feel really dorky when I talk about this stuff, but they are actually very different," said Mr. Johnson, noting shifts over time in color and style. (Karp 2013)

[3.13] Just as Dalek builders form small-scale communities to share plans and workshop manuals, giving rise to "networks of influence" (Morawetz 2001, 37), Daft Punk fans also have a dedicated Daft Punk Helmets subsection as part of Daft Club ( The forum's founder, Kevin Sanders, has reported "a 365% jump in the number of members seeking helmets" between May 2013 and the year before (Karp 2013). Given the absence of official products, a range of craftsmen and prototypers has supplied replica helmets to the fan market. Again like the Dalek-building community, helmet constructors can also study online tutorials (video 1). Although it is tempting to analyze these helmets as "outside of…merchandising…[their] authenticity anchoring [fans]…to real world contexts of production and reception," rather like masked cult stars (Scott 2013, 93), fans' normative pursuit of screen-accurate imitation also acts in the same way as the reenactments studied by Barbara Klinger, helping "to build a legend around" Daft Punk (2011, 207). Akin to Elvis's look and costumes before them, the helmets have become a pure sign system instantiating Daft Punk visuals in a multitude of fan photos and everyday contexts as well as official images and performances. This look is also synesthetically linked to Daft Punk's sound because their use of vocoders to create robotized vocal harmonies and effects blends the human and the electronic, connoting a type of dance music that is human after all—to cite the title of their third studio album (Dickinson 2001). Furthermore, Bangalter and Homem-Christo have discussed their approach to dance music as one of humanized activity rather than the easy use of computer software such as Ableton Live (Perry 2013).

Video 1. YouTube video documenting "How to Make a Daft Punk Helmet in 17 Months."

[3.14] Daft Punk's helmets therefore appear to intrigue their fans in a series of overdetermined ways, and not just as a result of the cultish gap of perpetuated hermeneutic that they participate in (Hills 2002). The helmets function within subcultural currency as a kind of Daft Club sign value, demonstrating the importance what Paul E. Willis (1978, 191) calls "homological" objects, articulating musicality, visuality, and group identity. At the same time, the synesthetic blend of robot helmets, music, and fan experience invites a fannish "'performed'…gaze" that "involves other sensescapes; gazing is multimodal. People are never disembodied…eyes…[and] often have a burning desire to touch…and even collect the…objects that they lay their eyes upon" (Urry and Larsen 2011, 199). Urry and Larsen refer to this as the "multifaceted social relations of gazing" (199), although I might also add the multifaceted social relations of listening through which sections of Daft Punk fandom display a mimetic stance.

[3.15] Suzanne Scott has wondered "what types of fan production can flourish or founder under emerging convergence conditions" (2008, 210). Scott is rightly worried that transmedia supplements and podcasts might rule out the creative spaces, gaps, and puzzles that the feminized spaces of fan fic writing have historically wrestled with (see also Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013). Set against these concerns, however, what has problematically been termed Web 2.0 (Booth 2010) very much facilitates the collective intelligence and collaborative creativity of hard-core replica prop building. It may seem paradoxical that social media and networked cultures have sustained and amplified mimetic fandom premised on the pursuit of ontological unity between immaterial media and materialities of everyday life (Deuze 2012). Yet this is only a paradox if material object practices and digital fandom are cleaved, somewhat absurdly, into two distinct realms of theorization.

[3.16] Perhaps the most significant aspect of mimetic fandom for fan studies is the manner in which it challenges and begins to deconstruct any strict affirmational/transformational binary (and accompanying genderings) at the same time as displaying a series of practices where imitation of textual content remains the "normative" or "normalform" activity (Joseph-Witham 1996, 17). Scholars of fandom may benefit from taking seriously the prototyping, engineering, and craftsmanship of mimetic fan spaces (Morawetz 2001; obsession_inc 2009) as well as domains of textual productivity, rather than positioning these fan specializations as wholly distinct, good/bad theoretical objects. Furthermore, by considering Dalek builders alongside Daft Punk helmet makers, I have sought to demonstrate that homologous practices of mimetic fandom are in operation across what might otherwise be positioned as highly diverse (cult TV; dance music) fan cultures. At the very least, this suggests that mimetic "energy" (Condry 2013, 30) can be studied empirically across a range of fandoms—something that is also supported by the existence of transfandom sites such as the Replica Prop Forum. As I've argued elsewhere, mimesis has frequently been philosophically and culturally devalued (Hills 2002). It would be a pity if the undoubtedly vital significance of fans' transformative works and cultures also led to a partial occlusion of mimetic fandom. Having said this, the value of the affirmational/transformational binary has undoubtedly been related to its capacity to flag up the operations of cultural power and privilege. It is not my intent here to suggest that already marginalized and disempowered fan practices should be further marginalized in favor of academically stressing sanctioned or potentially male-centered modes of fan productivity. Rather, I intend to argue for the value of a concept—mimetic fandom—that partly deconstructs the separation of supposedly female-centered transformational and male-centered affirmational fandoms. Mimetic fandom can draw on conventionally and problematically masculinized practices of craftwork as well as feminine handicrafts; this is an empirical question, and a question of specific communities, rather than a matter of fannish mimesis per se (Cherry 2011). Similarly, the mimetic fandom of replica prop making can promise both affirmational authenticity via the pursuit of screen-used looks and ontological unity, as well as transformational agency via customization and stylization, as in the case of Dalek Storm, representing one fan's critique of updated on-screen designs (Britton 2014).

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