by Raizel Liebler
Two recent books delve into what it means to be a fan: Adrienne Trier-Bieniek’s edited collection, Fan Girls and the Media: Creating Characters, Consuming Culture (Rowan Littlefield 2015) and Paul Booth’s Playing Fans: Negotiating Fandom and Media in the Digital Age (University of Iowa Press 2015). However, they take different pathways to the discussion, with Fan Girls focusing on … fangirls and Playing Fans looking at fandoms of mostly large media “fandom” properties.
Because Fan Girls and the Media is an edited collection, each essay varies in the scope of the fangirls at the center. These range from Star Trek fans to comedy fans to Twilight fans. But the most intriguing essay is Kishonna Gray’s Cultural Production and Digital Resilience: Examining Female Gamers’ Use of Social Media to Participate in Video Game Culture. This essay not only approaches the thorny issue of gendered norms in gaming, but also addresses related issues such as race and more broadly, the ways gaming can either enforce or move against structural oppression. If you are looking for more like this essay, I recommend Gray’s Race, Gender, & Deviance in Xbox Live (Routledge 2014).
Playing Fans treads over ground much planted by earlier scholars like Henry Jenkins. However, this new take will be more interesting to kids of today, with updated examples. The two most intriguing examples have not previously been written about much in fan studies, focusing on what it means to be a fan of something and to instead be making fun of it (or both that the same time). The first of these sections focuses on Community’s Doctor Who parody Inspector Spacetime, which both mocks and admires Doctor Who and its fans. The other very interesting section focuses on prn parodies, explaining the need to stick to canonical elements within these quasi-fan films. Interestingly, Booth also connects these prn parodies to slash, drawing a connection between how both disturb established norms around relationships and sexuality.
However, both books do suffer from a lack of directional focus – is the focus on fans looking at media properties and speaking back or about how media properties are marketed to fans? Both directions are important, after all, there is a multidirectional flow of information, production, and pushback, but neither book explains this, instead primarily focusing on specific media and its fans. But this weakness can be supplemented or excused through other books and essays, so it isn’t in any way a fatal flaw. But the lack of critique of fan culture itself (outside of brief mentions of sexism and male fandom) within both of these books should definitely be noted.
Summary: Both books give an interesting perspective on the value of fandom. These books can be read together and would work well in a fandom studies/media studies syllabus.