Fannish self-perpetuation versus producer self-interest

Karen Hellekson's picture

Fans are members of a community that exists to self-perpetuate. What motivates them is engagement—engagement with one another, and engagement with the object of fannish passion, be it TV, film, anime, manga, comics, or games. I’m using a fairly strict, old-school, science fiction fandom–derived definition of “fan” here: a fan is someone who engages with others, thus creating a fandom. Lurkers, drive-by readers, and occasional posters to online forums may consider themselves fans, by which they mean to imply that they have more than a passing interest, but by the definition I’m using, acting in isolation doesn’t count. To be a fan, someone has to engage in a community, often by creating or commenting on fan artworks made for a specific fannish audience.

Entire genres of fan activity revolve around remix, including fan vids and fan fiction, not to mention their creation of endless double-tap Instagram bait in the form of manipulated artwork, slogan-y macros, and hilarious and/or adorable GIFs. Fans target this kind of engagement to a specific community to get a reaction: a like, a repost, a new follower. This circuit of creation and reaction turns into a loop, and by so doing, this fan engagement creates a fandom community that is based on these kinds of exchange.

It’s no secret that producers are keen to tap unpaid fan labor to promote their product. Viral marketing tries to drum up fan enthusiasm in hopes of engaging an entire community. Yet the impetus behind the creation of a fandom and the creation of an artwork (a film, say) that producers want to promote are fundamentally different: one is done to self-perpetuate, and the other is done for profit. This is true even if the promoted item nods to the fan remix ethos by itself being a remake, reboot, or remix. Producers have always created sequels, spin-offs, and mash-ups; their existence is not a nod to fans or fandoms. Fans and producers thus have completely different interests that compel their choices and behavior.

These components—self-perpetuation of a fandom loop on the part of fans, self-interest on the part of producers—need not be monolithically in opposition to one another, and explorations of their intersections and diversions may provide insight into message building for both. Some fans go on to become producers themselves (I’m thinking of Doctor Who fandom, or its obverse, the Phantom Edit), a desire sparked by fannish love. So one item that may link these two points of view is affective pleasure: fans are known to have it, and producers create texts so that they might feel it. A second item might be messaging: members of a particular fandom may engage in activism, and producers want to tap into that, be it by a text’s theme or by extratextual targeted activities or messaging. Where and how do they meet, and what strategies do they use to reach one another?

Comments

Khedejah Been's picture

So, I've been thinking a lot

So, I've been thinking a lot about your question. Do you think that onscreen tags, such as the watermarks shown at the bottom of the screen during a show, would count as a strategy to linking the producers and the fandom together? For instance, Pretty Little Liars' fanbase is full of teenage girls, who most likely have twitter pages. They would then use the tag that appears on their twitter accounts which would link them to other fans of the show, in which they can develop a conversation. Also producers/cast members can also join in and respond with their fans. 

Ivan's picture

Fans in the digital age

I'm very interested in the view of what constitutes an active fan and their role they have within the industry. I believe you are correct that in order to be a fan, one must be an active and contributing participant in their niche and that one may use their active status and skill to strategically position themselves in order to gain more cultural and social capital.   While reading your submission, I cannot help but make a parallel to the gaming industry and how individuals follow the same cycle as you suggested. One example that came to my mind is Grand Theft Auto V and how fan communities will augment the game in order to generate a different kind of feel during gameplay to get a different experience. Rather than playing with the preset characters, one can change the entire theme of the game to change the main character to Harry Potter. I believe this is where these intersections come together, where what propels people to do this is either for higher social and cultural capital, or to gain money. The gaming industry is unique in the way gamers can gain significant agency in doing live streams—be it on YouTube or Twitch—and even are given sponsors.   I cannot help but wonder how resilient these communities really are. Looking into the Dreamcast, there is a relatively active community keeping the console relevant through recreating video games. While the deprecated system lost support from SEGA, the community gives support to those seeking it. This same community is lobbying SEGA to recreate the Dreamcast, showing the symbiotic relationship that the fans and those in the industry have. The fans want an updated console and seek the support of SEGA to produce it. There is this appetite that is difficult to satisfy with fans, which leaves them wanting more.  I cannot thank you enough for your thoughtful submission. It was very thought provoking and inspiring. 

—Ivan