Online Fandom Discussion

By | Thursday, May 31, 2007 Leave a Comment
Henry Jenkins has helped kick off something of an extended summer-long discussion of fan studies, in particular how it relates back to gender. As I've noted here repeatedly, I do have more than a passing interest in comic book fandom and I will following the dialogue closely, even though I'm less interested in the gender differentiations as a particular subset of the study of fandom.

In this first piece, two things stood out for me. First is simply being alerted to the recent publication of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. More books on the subject is definitely a good thing.

Second is this quote: "For me, 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 find that an interesting breakdown of fandom, and a perspective that I had not considered. In my view, I tend to see fandom as a community itself with individuals pursuing their personal interests through those outlets noted above. So "fan creativity" is not so much an aspect of fandom itself, so much as it one avenue that a fan attempts to raise his/her status within the larger fandom community. Fandom itself IS a community and members of that community can choose the level at which they participate. The kid who reads comics under his covers with a flashlight after Mom's told him to go to bed might be a small, and compartively insiginificant member of that community, but any community will have members who similarly tuck themselves away and pursue their own interests with more solitude than others. Not every member of a community would be considered a "contributing" member, but they remain a member nonetheless. So while the distinctions among creativity, "community" and self-identification are note-worthy, they are means to an end rather than aspects of that community.

That being said, whenever I get off my butt to start writing my book on comic book fandom, I think incorporating those elements into the notion of building cultural capital could prove quite useful. Self-identification, for example, doesn't carry as much weight as "creativity" such that one can define a fan's individual status/rank within the community by how they participate in it. The person who simply wears a Green Lantern t-shirt doesn't rate as highly as someone who regularly participates in online discussions about Hal Jordan who doesn't rate as highly as the person who's written extended fan fiction on various members of the Green Lantern Corps. Stratification defined by participation. It'd be curious to see if I couldn't develop actual ranking criteria, placing more definitive value on different forms of fannish expression...
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