MIT5: Fans and Producers

Time flies, even in the summer. I’m pulled between several different projects at the moment (and teaching a summer session class) so the ol’ blog sometimes falls off the radar.

Anyway, continuing on with my review of MIT5…

The “Fans and Producers” panel was a highlight of the weekend for me, not only for presenting some work that had been gestating a while, but also for the ensuing discussion and subsequent eruption of academic/fannish (i.e., “acafan”) discussion. As noted earlier, Henry Jenkins has dedicated the summer to this topic on his blog. Kristina Busse has worked hard to keeping several discussions going, and has just added another LJ community to continue the debates started on Henry’s site.

At the panel, this debate was framed in a variety of ways. The first presenters, Joan Giglione and Robert Gustafson, took a more psychological approach to the issue, positing the fan-celebrity encounter as fraught with various anxieties. While I’m fascinated with the overall issue, the presentation itself meandered with little sense of organization (and, ruthless panel moderator that I am, I cut it off at about 22 minutes). I can’t really comment much on it because of this, but important differences with this approach emerged later in the comments.

Sam Ford next presented his work on the longstanding relationship between soap producers and fans (Here’s the full paper (PDF).). This was an important paper in a number of ways, pointing out the complex ways that fans and “TPTB” have viewed (and used) each other in this particular genre, tracing its history over a few decades of viewership, and raising the idea of the “old” (i.e., older than 49) viewer-historian as a key resource not only for soap fandom, but soap production.

Finally, I gave my initial version of my work on the authorship discourses produced around Doctor Who‘s Russell T. Davies (the PDF of which will be up on the conference site shortly). While this is part of a larger project on contemporary television authorship, I am developing it into a stand-alone piece about this particular conjunction of “fan” and “producer” discourses–as shaped primarily by press and PR venues–as a model of “cult TV” production and promotion (I’m still working on how I’m dealing with its actual reception, and am in the process of getting up to speed on fan studies).

While the panel went off well, the real indication of its success came in the comments, when the room erupted in response to Joan Giglione’s (it has to be said) dismissive treatment of an audience question. She asked if the questioner (Bob Rehak, if I remember right) if he had “ever been on a Hollywood set.” When he answered no, she and Gustafson threw their hands up as if to say “well, there’s your problem.”

This elicited an intense exchange about the very epistemology of our object(s) of study. Giglione seemingly, and uncritically, located direct observation of “Hollywood sets” as the “truth” of media culture, while most of the room (including myself) viewed such access as but one particular discourse which, while important, does not necessarily trump other accounts. In my case, for the purposes of this paper, I’m more interested in how what goes on on the (Cardiff, not Hollywood) set of Doctor Who is packaged and presented to various publics, than in what the “actual” production is like.

The question itself – “Have you ever been on a Hollywood set?” – has stuck with me ever since that weekend, as I’ve pondered its explicit hierarchies of knowledge generation, and considered its several ironies (e.g., Hollywood sets are for the production of fantasy; scholarly access to a Hollywood set does not equate with the labor of Hollywood production, etc.). The knowledge gap it suggests cuts right to the core of what we do as media scholars, drawing in everything from Media Effects to Political Economy to Textual Analysis to Cultural Studies. More to come on this one, I’m certain.

This panel also partially fueled Kristina Busse’s response to the conference (which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts), which revealed another set of knowledge discourses that I (as scholar and panel moderator) had previously neglected: the fans themselves, and particularly the viewpoints of female fans and acafans to issues of knowledge, authorship, and textual authority.

I was (unknowingly) seen as one of the “fanboys” attending other “fanboy” panels, rather than the “fangirl” ones. In retrospect, judging by the company I kept that weekend, I can certainly see how that perception emerged. This realization has been important for me in opening up consideration of various codes of power (in that old Foucaultian sense) in my work and scholarly life: gendered, classed, academic, aged, textual, etc. Perhaps I’ve let these differences slide from my conscious thought too much (especially at conferences, where I’m still getting used to friendly grad students coming up to me about Rerun Nation). Regardless of where this comes from (gender, age, race, class, etc.) I’m working out how to maintain this awareness in future.

Next up in the MIT5 review: Towards a Culture of Collaboration (on interactive and online art)

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6 Responses to “MIT5: Fans and Producers”

  1. kbusse Says:

    Derek, thanks for pimping FanDebate. When we’re done with these summer discussions, I think we need to return to the blog vs LJ discussion and how authority, gender, professionalism interact with particular interfaces… For now, I hope that OpenID might get some of you WordPress folks over to comment : )

    As a fan, for me the more stunning part of the first paper wasn’t *that* question *g* but the methodology. I’m not sure I’d share with an eager (and maybe slightly condescending?) researcher that I’m in town for a con while I’d happily tell all my fannish friends!

    I do like your reading of the question in terms of knowledge generation and power discourses, and we certainly shouldn’t ignore the various places where we are not disempowered (interestingly those where we are tend to more clearly stick in our minds…) Someone on my flist asked whether everyone was welcome to comment at FanDebate, at which point it hit me that what I’d assumed as obvious (namely that for me there isn’t academic ranks in the discussion) wasn’t as obvious from the outside!

  2. dkompare Says:

    Power differentials, perceived or not, accurate or not, affect all of us. To give another example, kind of flipping things around, as an outsider to all things LJ (though I do have an account that I’ve only rarely used), I wasn’t sure how the communication was supposed to work there. Indeed, I only realized how important LJ was to fandom after MIT5, during the discussions that resulted.

    That said, I’m a veteran of several message boards, so the idea of threaded discussions per se wasn’t alien to me. I just don’t know all the “codes” yet, in much the same way some fans may feel alienated by “aca” codes.

  3. kbusse Says:

    Oh, do try and jump in, though. I promise we’ll all be nice 🙂 [And I’ll gladly help you decipher any and all “codes.”]

    And, of course, it’s only a particular segment of media fandom that’s there. We often mistake ourselves for being more universal than we are (though the tens of thousands of journals were a nice indicator during the recent LJ drama).

    But, yes, the insider/outsider/community convention/cred issue is a big one when you’re dealing with research issues into fan communities, isn’t it? When I contact sources, it’s always difficult to decide whether to present myself with my fannish or aca name. Both carry different forms of liability and cred. Likewise, immersion is both a danger and a privilege, and I think just like power, it’s important to be aware of it1

  4. Jonathan Gray Says:

    Picking up on the comments, not so much the blog post itself (being that this is a semi-public forum, I’ll hold back on commenting any more on the “Hollywood set” issue!), my personal problem with threads is the confusion factor. It’s also why I’ve rarely taken part in online fan discussion: since there’s so much going on on so many parallel threads, and FAQs are so harsh about reading everything before you reply, I often find I spend the entire evening reading what’s been said, then have no time to contribute, so merely slouch away. This may make it a good spot to hear and to listen, and I’m a frequent lurker as such … but I find it quite disempowering to involvement. So I must admit to being a bit skeptical of the glorification of LJ that has gone on. I may just be using or seeing it incorrectly, though — wouldn’t be a first

  5. dkompare Says:

    I agree about how daunting keeping up with active forums can be. Even when I was one of a dozen moderators at Outpost Gallifrey (with around 13K members at the time; it’s well beyond that now), I could hardly monitor a few subforums, let alone the forum as a whole. If you came into a thread even a couple of days after it started, it may have already generated several hundred replies. And that was just one thread! I finally had to give up because I just couldn’t make enough time for it.

    There’s an immersion factor here that’s not insignificant. Maybe this is the obverse of the idea of academic access/privilege, where only the most active online fans can master the discourses enough to fully participate, leaving others, who may very well be interested, on the outside. Active fandoms (broad brush stroke here; sorry!) may well be welcoming in a general sense, but as communities go, they’re arguably even more daunting and demanding than most other activities you could get involved with.

  6. bobrehak Says:

    Derek: popping in a bit late to confirm that, yes, I was the lucky guy in the audience who elicited the “Have you ever been on a Hollywood set?” question. Happy to report that, in the wake of MiT5, I have signed a lucrative contract with AOL/Time-Warner to develop and star in my own series of videogame adaptations. I’ll be starting with “Crystal Castles.” Watch for it in ’09!

    BTW, thanks for the reviews/recaps of the Boston panels — since we ended up at many of the same talks, it’s particuarly interesting and helpful to read your deft summaries.


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