Will Brooker and Ksenia Prasolova have a great discussion in this week’s Fan Debate offering, querying not only the limits of the category “fan,” but what does all these gendered distinctions offer to the discussion. I’m particularly in agreement with Ksenia’s points about how the construction of fandom in academia and in particular fan communities has itself structured what “counts” as “fandom.” To wit, here she wonders whether, in all the current focus on LiveJournal-centered fandom (in academic writing, at least), we’ve lost contact with other, more mundane, and more numerous, venues and practices:
That’s one of the striking things about sites like Livejournal for me – the way it places personal thoughts and conversation into a semi-public, semi-permanent arena – and the accessibility of blogs and discussion boards is obviously a gift for fan-scholars. But obviously, if we rely on those easily-accessible forms of fan discourse, we’re also overlooking all the more elusive discussion that goes on every day in the living room or the staff canteen, and perhaps we risk taking the part as representative of the whole. Again, let’s bear in mind that there are a lot of people, male and female, like myself – who enjoyed Serenity and Firefly but don’t create anything about it or engage in any communities about it. A lot of people who value a specific cultural text and for whom that text is an important part of their lives don’t engage in easily-recognisable, visible, traditional fan behaviour.
It’s this notion of “traditional fan behaviour” that really nails it. What’s “traditional” in one venue may be an outlier in another. Part of the problem the whole endeavor of fan studies has is that the parameters of fandom are simultaneously crucial and indefinite. The identification and observation of myriad borders, boundaries, territories, and the like (e.g,. public vs. private message boards, friendslists, official vs. un-official sites, gen vs. slash, etc.) are what seemingly fuels much fan studies…and yet there is no map of the entire fan “universe” (nor could there ever be*). The debate about fandom being either a matter of degree or kind in the past few weeks’ discussion at fandebate and elsewhere points to this missing whole: is it totally distinct (from “regular” reading/viewing), or is it “regular” readingviewing, only amped up the scale?
Moreover, what is it exactly that separates these territories? Gender has been the default marker of this entire discussion, but I’ve always had the nagging feeling that what we’ve really been talking about was more particular practices (and within that, particular kinds of “progressive” creative output and/or reading strategies) than anything as unwieldy as “gender” per se. I’m more interested in understanding these practices first, and understanding how they’re deployed and managed, than in starting from a label of “male” or “female” or “fangirl” or “fanboy.” I hope Will and Ksenia have helped move this discussion forward this week.
* That said, the notion (spectre?) of quantitative analysis and demographics keeps surfacing in these discussions like a kind of epistemological whale in a sea of theorizing, with most acknowledging that it just hasn’t been done enough (but few volunteering to do it!).