June 3, 2007
First Round of Discussion on Gender Issues and Fan Communities

I wanted to direct attention of regular C3 readers who might not follow Henry Jenkins' "Aca/Fan" blog on a regular basis to note an intriguing series of conversations that will be taking place throughout the summer among those interested in researching fan communities and fan activities and particularly in discussing the gender issues surrounding fan studies.

C3, of course, has a strong interest in fan behaviors and the motivations fans have for engaging in these activities. I will be taking part in this series in July alongside C. Lee Harrington, and Lee and I have an interesting dual commonality that exists somewhat on the fringe of these discussions. Lee has written considerably about soap opera fandom, and those of you who read here regularly know that I've been immersed in works on soaps fandom for the past couple of years, as a self-identified soap opera fan no less.

My other major area of interest is pro wrestling fandom, and Lee has done a significant amount of work on sports fandom. These two areas stereotypically have a gender divide--sports/wrestling with a masculine fandom, soaps drawing primarily female fans--and I hope that our contributions will help question some of these overall understandings about what fan behaviors are inherently "male" or "female" and how certain ways of looking at fans are inherently one way or the other.

The first round of this discussion, available here and here, takes place between Karen Hellekson and C3 affiliated faculty Jason Mittell.

There is a fascinating debate about what I would essentially agree is a spectrum of fannish behavior, in that the category of "passive" or "active" viewer cannot really exist as mutually exclusive categories, etc. We may all engage in fannish behaviors at one point or another, and simply engaging in discussion around a text, recounting a media text to others, etc., all involve very active and creative processes.

Certainly, there are more explicit fan behaviors--fan videos, fan fiction, etc.--but narrowing the definition of "fan" down to just those who produce and distribute some sort of content in reaction to the show misunderstands these behaviors.

Jason supposes that fandom "centers around three main aspects: fan creativity (paratexts, fanfics, vidding, etc.), fan community (in-person and/or online), and fan self-identification (prominent self-branding through fashion, online profiles, behaviors, etc.)." I've written previously about modes of engagement fans have with texts: spectatorship, criticism, community-building, theorizing, performing, as well as proselytizing and archiving.

Jason and Karen articulate a lot of their points about gender divides in academia and how they exist in publishing, in the fan world, in the media industry, etc., as well, but I think this sets an interesting tone about the issues this series seeks to address and is well worth a read for those interested in understanding fan behavior.

Also, see this conversation between Will Brooker and Kristina Busse which has served as a precursor to this series.