If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, I am a fan. I like to call myself ‘equal opportunity’ in terms from fandom, as I bounce from Doctor Who to Marvel to any number of anime series and almost anything in between. When I realised we would be actually learning about fans and fandom I was very enthused as I hold the subject close to heart.
Recently a new way to study fans has emerged, aptly named ‘Fan Studies’. Older theories viewed audiences to be, childlike and innocent – an easily susceptible to media influences – such as Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment.
Comparatively, fan Studies looks at what audiences do with the texts they consume, moving beyond the passive audience theory to something much more active – and interesting. This way of studying audiences follows Axel Bruns notion of the ‘produser’ a consumer who instead of simply accepting what a text has to offer, instead becomes an active participant, propagating their own content either based on or inspired by the original text.
When considering writing this post, I had a number of series to look to for inspiration. I ultimately chose to defer to one of the oldest and most beloved popular fandoms in recent history… Star Trek. “One of the world’s most popular television series” (Geraghty, 2006), Star Trek is an excellent illustration of the relationship between audiences and the media they consume.
Geraghty (2006) describes Star Trek fan culture as being “a collective network, multilayered and interwoven with numerous channels of communication.” He considers the relationship between Star Trek and its fans, analysing how fans believe it has impacted their daily lives through a series of letters fans posted to printed in the Star Trek Magazine. I found the letters attached to be very insightful, both to understanding how the series affects its viewers, and in showing a different type of fan content than I am used to. Geraghty (2006) concludes that through sharing their experiences in letters, fans emphasise how much they want to communicate with their fellow fans – something “characteristic of a distinctive form of fan discourse.
This idea of sharing their experiences is prevalent throughout fandom, as fans are able to create a wide range of fanworks, such as AMVs, fanfiction, fanart, and cosplays. Through their creations these produsers are able to share their feelings and responses to the text.
Star Trek has also been known for its culture of consumption. Since the series has been airing on and off from The Original Series that aired in 1966 to Picard airing in 2020, there is a wide array of material to choose from. Throughout all of its different iterations there has been a wide range of officially licenced products that fans could purchase. As well as this, fan culture has allowed for the spread of ‘unofficial’ works, from fan-works posted online, free of charge, to works sold in convention centres. Kozinets (2001) states that Star Trek is seen as “a utopian refuge for the alienated and disenfranchised,” and that this nature of consumption allows for fans to share experiences – as supported by Geraghty. Through consumption, fans are able to build their own identities, finding friendship and support amongst those with similar experiences.
Through the study of fans, we are able to see the relationship between a chosen text and its supporters. It has become evident that fans are becoming increasingly active, sharing their reactions to texts in a wide range of ways thus contributing to the fandom as a whole. Fandom also allows its participants to form close relationships with others, creating a community where participants can feel involved and supported. Fan culture has evolved from the act of simply watching your favourite series when it airs, to actively seeking out and even producing alternate content. Rather than being reliant on media producers, fans are becoming increasingly independent, transforming from the passive audience to one fiercely active.
References GERAGHTY, L., 2006. A Network of Support: Coping with Trauma Through Star Trek Fan Letters. The Journal of Popular Culture, [online] 39(6), pp.1002-1024. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/doi/full/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2006.00331.x> [Accessed 23 April 2020]. Kozinets, R., 2001. Utopian Enterprise: Articulating the Meanings ofStar Trek's Culture of Consumption : Figure 1. Journal of Consumer Research, 28(1), pp.67-88.