Fan Tourism: Cult Gone Mainstream or Mainstream Gone Cult?
by Abby Waysdorf — Erasmus University Rotterdam
March 07, 2017 – 12:44
In the past four years I’ve been researching film tourism (www.locatingimagination.com), I’ve been grappling with the idea of what kind of practice it really is. It is undoubtedly something that comes out of fandom – why else go to a location, unless this show or film spoke to you in some way, enough to make you want to see and feel “where it happened?” These places are meaningful because something important to the visitor happened there, whether it was in the text itself (this is where Cersei and Petyr talked) or in the making of it (Sophie Turner stood here). What is interesting is that the history of film tourism – the cases that I read to find my own way – the places that are talked about weren’t ones associated with “fandom” (in the sense of organized media fandom). Field of Dreams, Coronation Street, Sex and the City – all popular texts, in a way beyond the “cult” audiences that fandom researchers have long been preoccupied with. In my own research I have found a much higher proportion of “non-participatory” fans than I anticipated, even for texts with big participatory fandoms. I want to suggest that tourism has long been a way for otherwise non-organized viewers to connect to their fandom. Tourism has long been a popular and mainstream practice, and film tourism connects to this history. It is spectatorial and private, as watching is, but there can still be something emotionally meaningful about “being there” that doesn’t have to be explained. It can be incorporated into the rhythms of a holiday, where you might do things you’ve always wanted to do but won’t or can’t do at home. And most of all, it makes something “real” out of what was previously just viewed. It is this aspect that makes it appeal to fans of all kinds, and what connects the “casual” fans to their more organized counterparts – and there has, of course, always been “cult” fans and fandoms that have gone to special locations, a trend that is only increasing as “cult” fandoms claim more places of their own. But cult fandom has always been about marking out their own space, while these new places are usually owned and operated by others. So far, it doesn’t seem to matter. But as place moves into a prominent role in fandom, what kind of fandom will it encourage?