Generations, and Reboots, and Fans, Oh My!: A Pedagogical Approach to Questions of Fandom, Fan Labor and Participatory Culture
by Mary Karcher — Wayne State Univeristy
December 03, 2016 – 19:20
One way to address the question of fan reaction and fan response is to look at what fans are actively doing and creating within their online communities. Fans are an incredibly prolific bunch and are not afraid to make their opinions heard. One way they do that is through the Fanworks they produce, from art, to videos, to fanfiction. Fans then post these things and circulate them online within social media sites frequented by other fans. In so doing, they form what New Media scholar Henry Jenkins identifies as a participatory culture, one in which members engage in being co-inventors and co-architects of their culture, and are not docile receivers of the culture that others have created. This means that those who feel part of that culture participate by creating texts that are then used by, and circulated in, that community. Examining Fanworks, the products of Fan Labor, can not only foreground different types of fan opinions, reactions, and cultural conversations, but can also be an interesting pedagogical tool to bring a wide range of social and cultural discussion questions into the classroom. Drawing on the contemporary pedagogical methodology Participatory Culture Skills (PCS), I suggest that we can not only address the specific question of reboot/remix motivational reaction, but we can also outline one pedagogical method with which to analyze questions of Fan Culture specifically, and participatory culture in general.
In a report entitled Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture, put out by the MacArthur Foundation, Henry Jenkins et al. identified a set of eleven Participatory Culture Skills (PCS) that they believe all students need to become empowered, democratic participants in new media environments, fan-based or otherwise. These skills can also be useful lenses through which to look at participatory communities, such as Fandom, and to foreground practices going on within that community. Regarding the specific question of different reactions from various generations of fans within Fandom, one of the skills identified by Jenkins et al. is particularly useful, that of Negotiation. As Jenkins et al. understand it, Negotiation deals with the skill of moving both across various online communities, as well as within a given community, identifying and respecting multiple perspectives, and understanding and respecting alternative norms. Online, culture flows easily across different communities that, in the physical world, would have no direct contact and therefore no awareness of how their views and cultural norms differ. Consequently, this meeting of disparate groups frequently results in passionate debates about conflicting values or norms.
Even among members of the same community, although members may share similar values and norms in general, they may still differ in opinions about the meanings of shared artifacts and experiences. For example, although Spiderman fans may share similar opinions about the fictional character, history and back-story, they may disagree about the value and assessment of the Spiderman movie remakes. The participatory culture skill Negotiation, when used as a lens through which to examine the Fanworks where these conflicts play out, offers a way to identify and explore these dissenting perspectives and how the surrounding community deals with these conflicts. In the case of different generational perspective and fan reaction to movie reboots and remakes, by applying the lens of Negotiation to different Fanworks, for example memes, we can not only identify specific elements that motivate fan reactions to reboots, but we can also see how these reactions play out within the fan community, and how that community opens a space for conflicting reactions to be understood, if not resolved.
Negotiation assumes that there may be differing positions across and within participatory communities like Fandom. Examining various fan memes, we can clearly identify dissenting groups. One group of memes reflect some fans’ dismay at the trend toward movie remakes and reboots.
Within this group is also evidence that for older fans, who revered the original movie and saw it as part of their childhood identity, remaking that movie somehow defiles or ruins their childhood memories.
On the other hand, the are a group of fans who express frustration not over movie reboots themselves, but over the amount of complaints about the reboots.
There are also those fans who are excited about reboots, believing that classic films from one generation can be remade to provide new context and new meaning for a new generation.
Negotiation can be seen at work most strongly in the fan memes from the third group of fans within Fandom, those fans who acknowledge and recognize the different sides of the conflict, and who try to negotiate between the two. One approach we can see is trying to point out inconsistences in the various arguments, and so offer an objective, mediational perspective.
Another approach is the creation, through Fanworks, of a space for a negotiated middle ground, where both sides can be validated and yet brought together.
These fan memes were able to recognize points of tension from the various sides of the conflict, and yet offer a response that negotiates at least a respect for opposite points of view, if not one path to reconciliation.
Looking at the textual productions of participatory communities through the lens of Participatory Culture Skills can offer us one way of using contemporary pedagogical approaches to bear on the question of generational studies and fan culture. It can also be brought to bear on larger issues within popular culture, and within online participatory communities in general. Being able to visually foreground individual issues with topical themes within particular culture or online communities can be a useful discussion starters for the classroom, not only because it foregrounds dissenting sides, but also because it highlights possible spaces for the various perspectives to be worked through and to potentially find common ground and respect for opposing points of view. This is only one small example of the way this pedagogical approach can be expanded to explore other questions within the classroom, and in research, concerning questions of fandom, fan labor and participatory culture.