Too fat to fly: A case study of unsuccessful fan mobilization


  • Tom Phillips University of East Anglia



Activism, Computer-mediated communication, Emotion, Fan community


A seemingly invisible aspect of activism scholarship is the failure to act in the face of apparent suitability. Engaging with tropes of activist literature, such as the prevalence of computer-mediated communication and the factors of emotion and extremism, I will perform a case study of a specific fan community that appears to adhere to these conventions, and discuss the potential for activist practices as a result. I examine the reaction of the fan community for filmmaker Kevin Smith following Smith's ejection from a Southwest Airlines flight in 2010. He was removed from the plane for apparently breaching their "passenger of size" policy, but he ardently rebuked the company's justification. Smith's treatment at the hands of the airline would seem to be an ideal rallying point for the subject of a fan activism campaign–using a personal issue to springboard into wider debates of corporate practice, body image, and consumer rights. However, despite this potential, his fan community apparently failed to mobilize into a cohesive force. I will explore why this failure occurred, and discuss why such a failure should be examined within academia.

Author Biography

Tom Phillips, University of East Anglia

Tom Phillips is an AHRC-funded PhD researcher at the University of East Anglia. His thesis is an examination of Kevin Smith fandom, and the categorisation and boundaries of online “community”. His research interests include fan studies, contemporary celebrity, and film and television comedy.