One of the fan studies scholars I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time at Console-ing Passions 2008 in Santa Barbara was Alexis Lothian. I bwecame familiar with Alexis through her many insightful comments in and around the Gender and Fan Studies converastion that I referenced in my previous post, and her presentation at Console-ing Passions was informed in many ways from that conversation.
In short, Alexis posits that we've gotten pretty good at talking about fan enthusiasm in fan studies, as well as the importance of hate, but we haven't developed a significant discourse as of yet for talking as well about fan ambivalence.
Alexis writes that C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray "recently insisted on the importance of viewers' hate for media productions; but fans' more ambivalent affects toward their objects are rarely foregrounded in academic analysis. When questions not only of taste but also of racism, sexism and homophobia get involved, the textual and discursive spheres active fans build around and from their objects become very complex."
Acording to Alexis, her study:
is an attempt to look at the ambivalences, ambiguities and discomforts engendered by the intersection of the affective and the political in subcultural fandom on LiveJournal. I don't want to talk about whether fan practices are subversive or dominant, oppositional or capitalist--I'll start from the assumption that they are both and neither. Instead I will discuss specific subversions, dominations, and oppositions as I home in on practices that show online fan networks' intersections with feminist, queer and antiracist investments in identity, representation and activist transformation.
Alexis looks in particular at Stargate: Atlantis and the active engagements fans have with the text, even as they recognize and discuss serious issues about racial and gender representations in the show.
In particular, Alexis is interested in how these conversations are linked to larger cultural and political issues. Christine Scodari has asked these questions in her research in the past, for instance, arguing that soap opera fan discussion communities are often so restricted to the discussion of the show's plot that larger social and cultural impliciations are frowned upon. While that is open for debate most certainly, other soap opera scholars--such as C3 Consulting Researchers Lee Harrington and Nancy Baym--have written about the many ways that fans watch on a daily basis, all the while criticizing and discussing how issues should and could be treated differently.
I've certainly written and talked about, and seen other write about, similar issues in terms of fan reaction to World Wrestling Entertainment. And Henry Jenkins has written about ambivalence in terms of reality television viewing, among other media forms.
But I think Alexis has an intriguing point she's making at the paper's introduction, about how we have developed a way to talk about those who dislike shows but not particularly about the ambivalence inherent with being a fan, especially since fan connotes "enthusiast" in a way that indicates unadulterated support for a media product.
Certainly, in revisiting the work that fan studies scholars have done over the past 15 years or more, there is plenty of threads that can be picked up and woven together for a thorough look of the importance of ambivalence in fandom, a perspective that demonstrates how even simply watching and discussing a text is an active and engaged behavior many times, that can lead to important discussions about social and cultural implications of these shows in the wider political landscape.
For those interested in her full draft of the paper presented at the conference, look here.