FSN2014 Recap

I’ve had this blog sitting on my WordPress sites for awhile now, with no idea how to kick it off. But having just finished a really fantastic weekend at The Fan Studies Network Conference 2014, a recap of what went on there seemed as good a place to begin as any. And it was, truly, a fantastic weekend. Overall, what stood out to me the most was just how diverse the crowd was – keynote speakers, paper presenters, and attendees alike came from a variety of backgrounds and, within academia, different points and positions in our careers. Independent scholars, established academics, graduate (and undergraduate!) students; journalists and media producers and marketers; people arriving from as far away from London as Melbourne, Hong Kong, and Edmonton all gathered together under the Regents University roof made it a fantastic opportunity to talk about fan studies from a wide variety of perspectives. The weekend was busy, and I could only hear a handful of papers, but among the uniformly excellent work that was presented, the papers that stood out most to me were:

  • Paul Booth’s keynote address on fandom and/as pedagogy, in which he exhorted fan studies scholars to bring our own fannish passion into the classroom, validating ours and students’ love of the thing as one means by which we might counteract the utilitarian, neoliberal bent of (higher) education. It’s difficult sometimes to drum up student enthusiasm within the classroom (although much less so outside it, where students are more closely connected to the things they love); Booth encouraged us to show our own passion, to engage with students at the level of the things they love, rather than the things that will help them ‘get ahead’, to recognize and utilize students’ own fannish critical perspectives in the classroom. He also encouraged us to be a bit pedagogical in our own fandom; not so much as ‘teachers of fandom’ on high as ‘be the fan you want to see’ – modeling respectful engagement and a willingness to discuss opposing points of view, rather than shutting down conversation in a flurry of accusations. This was, in fact, a theme that was picked up in…
  • Orlando Jones’s closing keynote Q&A, which was also really fantastic, and came together beautifully on Skype (always an unknown quantity until you’re actually talking). Orlando Jones makes it look so easy; he was at once thoughtful, serious, funny, and above all very engaging, and his responses to a slew of frankly fantastic questions ranging from issues of fan/producer relations to fan works and race to social media platforms and their very different ecosystems (with a plug for Snapchat as well) were thought-provoking. More than that, they were – for me – quite encouraging; speaking with my fan-hat on, and coming from a (current) fandom in which female fans, in particular, are either swept under the rug as an embarrassment or openly mocked for the ways we ‘do’ fandom, it was quite frankly refreshing to hear someone from the production side of things actively engaging with and taking seriously fandom.
  • Rhiannon Bury’s second keynote on Sunday morning, in which she used a heuristic of media ‘ages’ to suss out the ways that notions of fannish ‘community’ online have evolved and changed in tandem with the changing platforms through which fandom is pursued and performed. Of particular interest to me was her ‘third age’ of media fandom – the present – which, she argued, seems to evince a move away from the ‘community’ of such platforms as Live Journal, the architecture of which made possible sustained engagement with other fans through conversation and collaborative fan work. Today, with fandom spreading to such social media sites as Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and so on, Bury sees less of that sustained engagement; yet, for me the most interesting interpretation of this was her observation that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s a new thing, requiring new ways of conceptualizing online fandom.
  • I was fortunate to be on the Transcultural Fandom panel with Sophie Charlotte van der Goor, Wikanda Promkhuntong, and Nele Noppe, hear the Spaces of Fandom and Online Fandom panels, and chair the Transformative Works panel. All the papers really were terrific – I’m not exaggerating when I say this – but among those that really spoke to me and my research/fannish interests were:
    • Sophie Charlotte van der Goor’s wonderfully insightful and critical look at fannish and academic canonization of specific fan objects and communities – on the way we focus on certain elements/aspects of fandom to the exclusion of others, how non-normative fans are often ‘othered’ within their own ostensible communities, and the critical importance of broadening our scholarly field of attention to incorporate the real diversity of fandom as it’s practiced globally.
    • Nele Noppe’s terrific foregrounding of what we miss when we don’t look outside a near-canonical Anglo-American context to consider other ways that fandom is done, through her comparative examination of fan work monetization in Kindle Worlds and Japan’s DLSite.com. Her argument – that fan studies almost exclusive focus on Kindle Worlds (and fanlib, etc. before that) risks canonizing and normalizing one way of thinking about fan works monetization, as necessarily implicated in strict copyright enforcement and framing monetization in a ‘corporate capitalizing of fandom’ way – was driven home by her focus on DLSite.com, where fans sell their own transformative works in a more murky, somewhat more laissez faire copyright enforcement environment, illustrating succinctly what we miss when we normalize Anglo-American/English-language fandom as the fandom ‘norm’.
    • Emily Garside’s entertaining and informative look at a little-discussed fandom: theater fans. Specifically, Garside discussed the Punchdrunk interactive production, “The Drowned Man” – a truly terrifying-sounding (to me!) event in which the audience follows performers throughout four stories of a building, dipping into small rooms and intimate scenes (sometimes played out in front of only one person), and constituting a truly immersive experience. Her discussion of the ways that the improvisational nature of the show was disrupted by fans’ intense involvement in working out its inner workings – performed primarily on a Facebook group devoted to mapping the layout of the production and the secrets of ensuring an ‘exclusive’ experience of the show – was especially enlightening.
    • Nistasha Perez’s overview of Tumblr was – for this inveterate Tumblr user – wonderfully informative and detailed. Especially given the frequency with which I hear how difficult Tumblr can be to navigate, Perez’s presentation helped to demystify the site, illustrating the complex ways in which fans communicate on a platform whose architecture – to borrow from Bury’s keynote – makes communication very difficult indeed.
    • Eva Gledhill’s discussion of Tumblr/Pinterest antecedents, the ‘commonplace book’, in which much of the same kinds of visual-oriented curation that we see on those sites took place. I know next to nothing about this topic, but Gledhill’s discussion made me quite hungry for more – it’s always wonderful to hear about modern fandom’s historical underpinnings, and this is research I cannot wait to see more of.
    • Joanna Kucharska’s talk on AO3 and Tumblr tagging was a fantastically thorough look at something that’s too easy to assume knowledge of. “Tagging” seems straightforward and even uninteresting at face value, but Kucharska’s look at the ways that tags have evolved into their own distinct mode of communication in both posts/reblogs and on AO3 stories demonstrated beautifully fans’ adeptness at turning seemingly utilitarian things to creative ends.

This look at the talks that stood out to me should not be taken as dismissal of the other wonderful papers I heard:

  • Wikanda Promkhuntong’s examination of taste cultures in fan video mashups of the films of Wong Kar Wai on YouTube
  • Ruth Deller’s look at the (somewhat failed) fan-targeted marketing of Sims4
  • Hannah Ellison’s discussion of fan-made videos on YouTube that foreground lesbian relationships in media
  • Ross Garner on ‘authenticity’ in Nirvana-centered fan tourism
  • Katherine Larsen on Warner Bros. appropriation of Platform 9 1/2 at London’s Kings Cross Station
  • Abby Waysdorf’s look at ‘casual’ Game of Thrones fan tourism in Dubrovnik, Croatia and Northern Ireland
  • Jan Švelch and Veronika Veselá’s examination of uses of fan art in official video game promotion
  • Hannah Priest’s terrific look at mashup erotica between The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland with Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Judith Fathallah’s discussion of the small-p politics of young fans’ South Park fan fiction
  • Matt Hills’s exhortation to look at fan beginnings (and endings, picked up in Ruth Deller’s talk during the workshop sponsored by Ashgate in conjunction with their newly published Research Companion to Fan Studies) as well as ‘middles’ – to excavate and discuss the ways that fandom (often slowly and unspectacularly) arises in an individual.
  • The speed geeking session, which was a great opportunity to hear and talk about a variety of new and upcoming research

In all, it was a terrific weekend, well worth the trip from the US to participate. Here’s looking forward to – hopefully – FSN2015!