Performance and performativity in fandom

Lucy Bennett

Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom

Paul J. Booth

DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial overview of Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 18, special issue, "Performance and Performativity in Fandom."

[0.2] Keywords—Behavior; Practice

Bennett, Lucy, and Paul J. Booth. 2015. "Performance and Performativity in Fandom" [editorial]. In "Performance and Performativity in Fandom," edited by Lucy Bennett and Paul J. Booth, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 18. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2015.0675.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In this special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, we bring a performative lens to bear on the role of fans in the contemporary media landscape. Performance is an integral part of fandom and fannish experiences, especially today when the digital landscape makes fandom more visible and more approachable than at any other time in the past. Fans are constantly negotiating their own performances, both online and off. Performances can be visible and overt—the performance of cosplay, for example—and these are often seized upon by popular culture and standing as "true" (or, at least, the most explicit) fannish performances. However, fannish performance, as the articles in this issue suggest, often goes beneath the surface, affecting fan and text, creators and audience.

[1.2] What is a performance as it relates to fandom? The mingling of performance studies and fan studies seems reasonable, even inevitable. Like fan studies, performance studies draws on an interdisciplinary synthesis of topics and methodologies—social sciences, feminist studies, gender studies, history, psychoanalysis, queer theory, semiotics, ethnology, cybernetics, area studies, media and popular culture theory, and cultural studies (Schechner 2013, 3). A traditional approach to studying performance theory might argue, as per performance researcher Richard Schechner (2013), that "performances are actions"—that is, they are artificial enactments permeated by meaning (2). Everything we do in life, including the broad routines we enact in sports, games, rituals, or storytelling, as well as the more implicit or everyday life enactments of our roles as family member, social support, or professional scholar, could be considered a performance. As we tell our students, we are not the same people standing in front of the classroom that we are when we're at home celebrating Christmas dinner with our family (nor are we the same when we're at the karaoke bar or pub). Fandom, looked at through this lens, appears to be more a part of one's behavior—an identity enacted through certain rituals. We might see these as the rituals of consumption, viewership, collecting, conspicuous consumption, or even overt emotional display (squee!).

[1.3] As we hope the articles in this issue reveal—and as we drill down into the relationship between fandom and performance—we want to problematize this notion of fandom as a particular behavior and instead note the characteristics of being that permeate a fannish identity. Schechner ([1977] 2003) highlights a paradox of performance: "Performance is an illusion of an illusion and, as such, might be considered more 'truthful,' more 'real' than ordinary experience" (xix). Perhaps performing fandom is actually no different than being a fan. The artificiality of the media experience reveals the fannish nature of contemporary media reception.

[1.4] This special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures explores the nature of performances within fandom, from the overt to the implicit. Special attention is paid to the complications digital technology and new media bring to the fannish landscape. In the digital space, everything fans post, create, or share could be considered a type of performance. We hope that by concentrating on a performance paradigm in fan studies, this issue opens new avenues of research for future scholars.

2. Theory and Praxis

[2.1] Dawn Opel's study on a social media community dedicated to women's leisure reading and literary fandom opens the Theory section and this special issue. Opel explores a Facebook group for female fans of 19th-century British literature and filmic adaptations and analyzes their circulatory practice of sharing self-representational images ("selfies") of themselves engaged in the act of reading. Featured within these images are not representations of actual members of the community but rather fictional constructions, with members displaying recurring characteristics, such as wearing neo-Victorian dress and displaying exaggerated features. Opel's study argues that these images by literary fans cumulate as a communal act of identity construction and can be understood as a postfeminist performance. Within this, the study concludes that these performances demonstrate a double movement within postfeminist culture: to circulate empowering discourses that also provide a context and landscape for conventional gender norms reinforcement.

[2.2] Bethan Jones examines fan performance from another perspective—through the landscape of fannish tattooing and scarred identity, and how this practice can demonstrate affective investments in a text. Jones explores the processes through which fannish tattoos can physically mark people as fans of a particular text and can project issues around performativity—such as meanings surrounding what is selected from the text (such as obscure images and text) as a marked representation by a fan. Drawing on Émile Durkheim's concept of the totem, Jones explores sacred experience and the meaningful choices made within it that act as markers, arguing that fannish tattoos can be approached as similar forms of performance and identity.

[2.3] Darlene Rose Hampton's article applies theoretical models of performance to the fannish practice of composing slash fan fiction within LiveJournal communities. Hampton explores not only how fan practices can be understood as a form of performance but also what exactly is being performed and how those performances interconnect with the individual fan's personal narrative, the text itself, and the communal interactions. Taking a coauthored Harry Potter slash novel, Harry Potter and the Bound Prince, published on LiveJournal, as a case study, Hampton analyzes the form and content of slash fiction, arguing that fan behavior and practices can be an excellent opportunity for individual and collective performances by media fans that work to negotiate hegemonic norms of sexuality and gender.

[2.4] Ellen Kirkpatrick's article examines performance through the lens of cosplay and the superhero genre. Through textual analyses and by consulting a wide range of secondary sources to explore the interconnections between the costume practice and genre, Kirkpatrick identifies three integral concepts: authenticity, context, and transformation. This conceptual trio, Kirkpatrick argues, allows for a fresher examination of cosplay, with the mechanics and landscapes of cosplay performance being reconceptualized and reconfigured. Kirkpatrick argues that cosplay can be viewed as a practice performed inside, in between, and outside fandom—a behavior that can authentically occur anywhere and at any time, not just within the confines of convention halls or cosplay parties. This study demonstrates that cosplay can be fruitfully approached as an ongoing process of intersecting behaviors rather than a confined and limited fan practice.

[2.5] In the Praxis section, Christine Schreyer studies learners and speakers of Na'vi, a language created for the 2009 film Avatar. This study is particularly valuable because of the scant amount of academic work that has been focused on fandom surrounding created or constructed languages, as well as the tendency for individuals who perform or speak these languages to be marginalized as extreme, obsessed, or both. Schreyer conducts a survey of Na'vi speakers and learners, finding that these diverse individuals have developed a strong sense of community through learning the language together online. In addition, the study uncovered the gift economy of the Na'vi community, with fans sharing skills, knowledge, and time to develop dictionaries, grammars, workbooks, and radio programs. Schreyer argues that is their knowledge and shared quest for learning this language that works to hold and maintain the group, even through Avatar may have brought them together. Created language communities can be viewed as alternative digital fandoms, and they offer new insight into the emerging and complicated digital world of fan cultures.

[2.6] Jessica Elizabeth Johnston explores Doctor Who–themed weddings and how they connect to performances of fandom. Examining a mass wedding in London, where 50 couples decided to marry, renew vows, and engage in civil partnership all around a Doctor Who theme, Johnston analyzes the processes through which fans construct, define, and maintain their identity during these wedding performances. The study argues that these processes involve ascribing important meanings to objects present during the wedding and the communication of the couple's fan narrative in a selective manner that suits a diverse audience. Johnson demonstrates through this case study that that fan identity and performance are not subversive of the mainstream but rather are influenced by traditional spaces and rituals.

[2.7] Alexander Swanson's article heralds a shift of focus onto the horror film genre and examines audience reaction movie trailers, which often feature green night-vision video footage of a cinema audience reacting to the film being promoted. As Swanson discusses, these trailers are dominated by expressions of high anticipation and close-up shots of facial expressions and screaming from the audience, featuring no footage or clips from the film being advertised. These paratexts attempt to sell, emphasize, and legitimize the social and communal elements of the experience of watching films in the movie theater while simultaneously attempting to foster higher levels of fan investment and performance in both online and physical spaces. Swanson shows how the power and performance of the spectator is emphasized by these trailers and how they work in an effort to call together and rally the horror fan community within both movie theaters and online spheres.

[2.8] Ruth A. Deller's article on Sims fandom focuses more centrally on online interactions, examining the use of Simblr, a space on Tumblr for Sims fans, and the ways in which SimSecret, a LiveJournal site, attempts to regulate and shame behavior on this social networking platform. Within this space, and through interviews, content analysis, and surveys, Deller analyzes norms of fan performance apparent within practices such as tagging and interactivity, as well as how fans' policing of this behavior and public shaming manifests itself, especially through discourses of pleasure and gender, as well as what is deemed inappropriate or excessive. Within Simblr, the performance of playing the Sims game is seemingly less vital than demonstrating the ability and awareness to perform according to the norms and values of the community.

[2.9] Nicolle Lamerichs's article on cosplay music videos as a remediation of fan convention culture gets at the heart of fan performance in the digital age. Through a media studies lens, Lamerichs focuses on the way that the remediation—the re-presentation of one medium in another medium—of a fan's costumed performance creates its own unique performance in the video realm. Through a textual reading of multiple fan videos and a comparison among cosplay videos at fan conventions, fan-made music videos, and machinima (that is, animated films using video game engines), Lamerichs argues that cosplay videos are a unique textual form that serves not only to present and represent the dynamic fannish cosplay culture but also to document the role of cosplay in fan communities generally, helping fans and nonfans visualize fandom itself.

3. Symposium, Interview, and Review

[3.1] Reflecting the dynamic environment of fannish performances, and the multiple ways that these performances can be enacted today, the Symposium section reveals a diverse and vibrant approach to fan communities. Rafael Bienia refocuses our attention not on the performance of fans in LARP communities but on the role of objects within LARP activities. Shelby Fawn Mongan offers a unique perspective on how cosplay has both affected and been affected by her personal growth. Abby Waysdorf's look at football fandom is the first of three pieces that examine the crucial role that place has in discussions of fan performance; her analysis of sports brings much-needed comparative work between sports and media fandom to light. Brendan Riley's examination of popular zombie walks, where individuals dress up and perform as zombies in public, offers another take on the way our everyday interpretation of place—specifically the public sphere—becomes mutable, given fannish performances. Finally, Abigail De Kosnik provides a summary and analysis of the connections between performance studies and new media studies, with a particular focus on the role of fandom in both.

[3.2] The two interviews in this special issue bring to light two different interpretations of performance within the spectre of fandom and fan studies. Paul Booth and Lucy Bennett interview Kurt Lancaster on the changing dynamics of fannish performances over the past decade. Lancaster is one of the first fan researchers to explore performance, and his book Interacting with "Babylon 5" is a landmark exploration of a performance studies view of fandom. In this interview, we talk about how the performance studies paradigm, which Lancaster applied to Babylon 5 fans and the role-play games they played in the early days of the 21st century, can be usefully updated to the digital age. We also explore how performance itself has become integral to fan audiences.

[3.3] Cameron Salisbury talks with Joy DeLyria and Kris Hambrick, the cofounders of Hello Earth Productions, a grassroots, community-based theater company that produces outdoor, fan-inspired plays like Outdoor Trek (live staged adaptations of episodes from the original series of Star Trek [1966–69]). Salisbury asks DeLyria and Hambrick about the process of recasting an iconic fan text like Star Trek, the community of the audience that helps develop an interactive fan experience, and the role of fandom in transforming Star Trek fandom into a theatrical endeavor. Outdoor Trek is a formalized performance, but it also has the aura of fan fiction—both "Shakespeare in the Park and a fandom remix of a beloved story" (¶4.5).

[3.4] The two book reviews that conclude the issue ask us to view fandom across borders and generations. Nele Noppe's review of Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji's edited collection Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World takes a global perspective, including Japanese and American authors and fans. Otaku themselves represent a type of fannish performance, albeit one that often comes with various assumptions and stereotypes built in. And Francesca Coppa reviews Cynthia W. Walker's Work/Text: Investigating "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Walker reveals that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an early transmedia franchise that presaged the type of complex television popular in both fandom and fan studies analyses today. Walker's analysis stems from Barthes's concepts of work and text; she provides a reading of televisual textuality that, Coppa notes, "decenter[s] the idea of individual televisual authorship" (¶5), thus promoting the performance of the text as central to the fandom. In this sense, then, the review brings the issue of performance full circle—from fan to text and back again.

4. Acknowledgments

[4.1] This special issue would not have been possible without the talented work of many people. Our thanks, first and foremost, go to our authors, who provided such dynamic content. We are also grateful for the tireless work of Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson, whose editorial advice and help were always appreciated. Thanks also to the many peer reviewers and the editorial team, especially Beth Friedman and Christine Mains, whose critical comments were extremely helpful throughout the process of editing. Thanks also to the production team members, who helped make this issue look fantastic. And thanks to the board members of Transformative Works and Cultures, who continue to inspire with amazing scholarship.

[4.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 18 in an editorial capacity: Lucy Bennett and Paul Booth (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Cameron Salisbury (Symposium); and Louisa Stein (Review).

[4.3] The following people worked on TWC No. 18 in a production capacity: Rrain Prior (production editor); Beth Friedman and Christine Mains (copyeditors); Rrain Prior and Gabriel Simm (layout); and Carmen Montopoli, Amanda Georgeanne Retartha, and Vickie West (proofreaders).

[4.4] TWC thanks the journal project's Organization for Transformative Works board liaison, Andrea Horbinski. 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.

[4.5] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers and Symposium reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 18: Lauren Collister, Amber Davisson, Darlene Hampton, Kyra Hunting, Bethan Jones, Ellen Kirkpatrick, Nicolle Lamerichs, Christine Scherer, Michael Serazio, Denise Vultee, Kathleen Williams, and Kate Wilson.

5. Works cited

Schechner, Richard. (1977) 2003. Performance Theory. London: Routledge.

Schechner, Richard. 2013. "What Is Performance Studies?" Rupkatha Journal 5 (2): 2–11.