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Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays

Editor: Karen Hellekson, Kristina Busse
Publisher: Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2006
Review Published: March 2008

 REVIEW 1: Lan Xuan Le
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Karen Hellekson & Kristina Busse

The impetus of Fan Fiction and Fan Communities was to update the theoretical model of fan texts to include the Internet while tracing fan practice from hard copy (e.g., fanzines) to Internet (e.g., online fanfic archives). We were particularly pleased to get so many good acafans, i.e., academics doing fan studies, as contributors, and that is the volume's biggest strength: the submitters are all involved somehow in some kind of fandom. Yet ironically, as Lan Xuan Le comments, "Because of its academic tone and reliance on frames of academic knowledge, however, lay readers may find this a difficult collection as they are not the intended audience." Indeed, several essayists remarked to us that they felt they had to be extra academic to overcome the perceived bias against the subject matter, in order that their ideas might be taken seriously. This certainly speaks directly to issues of professionalism and amateurism that many of us acafans confront regularly. And yet it may be because many fans straddle that border that the critique doesn't really reflect the actual reception of the book: more fans have read, reviewed, and responded to the book than academics.

In fact, it is as fans perhaps more than as academics that we saw the need for a new look at the field of fan studies and set out to create that volume, a stance shared by all our contributors. Lan Xuan Le's review provides a brief bibliography at the end, which hits the high points of the mostly 1990s-era foundational literature that this book seeks to expand on. We received permission from the book's publisher, McFarland, to put the bibliography online. We update it occasionally and welcome any additions. The book's abstracts are also up.

Lan Xuan Le mentions two issues in the book that are perceived as shortcomings, and we'd like to address both of them. First, we agree that fan studies desperately needs more and different theoretical approaches -- approaches that move beyond cultural and media studies and queer and gender theory. We purposefully constructed Fan Fiction and Fan Communities as a work in progress, knowing that we as scholars and fan studies as a discipline are expanding and growing. In fact, last year's fan studies gender debate, played out in Henry Jenkins's blog and mirrored on LiveJournal, to which we both contributed, raised many of the same issues. In fact, one of the results of these conversations is an increasing awareness that whereas gender and sexuality have already been addressed in many ways and in many spaces, race and nationality are only beginning to be looked at.

Likewise, fandom itself -- and we conceived of our collection as a way to showcase the amazing debates fans had been seeing for years that had not yet actually made it into academic discourse -- is addressing issues of race, religion, and ethnicity in complex and confrontational ways. As these conversations about such fraught topics as racism in fandom are happening, we're looking forward to seeing more research published about these fan debates -- research that uses a multitude of different frameworks and approaches to add to and intersect with the existing ones.

Second, the criticism that seems to require more discussion is that of community. Lan Xuan Le asks, "to what extent is it applicable? What does 'community' truly mean within the context of online, participatory fan culture that focuses on, say, American and British television texts?" We chose community as the theme of the book because that is the term used by both scholars and fans to describe their real sense of connection. Although the term is often a conflicted one in academic discourses, in our case, the connotations of the word (positive and negative) best capture what we mean. In practice, as we note in the book, fans now congregate on the Internet, with fans using blogs, Yahoo! and Google mailing lists, chat, instant messaging, fan fiction archives, wikis, and other forms of technology to interact with others with similar interests, thus forming technology-mediated communities based on interests that result in individual- and group-level interaction.

Fans may share little more than their love for a TV show, but the communities that we mostly came out of and we were mostly studying are indeed well-defined groups of friends -- people who will travel long distances to meet in person, people with friendship ties that comprise communities that far exceed the actual shows or even the fan artworks that grow out of it. These communities are not virtual; they are real. Over the past year, a large number of fans have taken their online and virtual community to the next step, creating a new community that seeks to bring together fans of all stripes: a nonprofit advocacy group for media fandom, the Organization for Transformative Works. Our contribution to the organization is the creation of an academic journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, which we hope will continue the work in progress of fan studies that we initiated with Fan Fiction and Fan Communities. We want to expand and deepen the scope of not only of the conversations started in the book, but also of the fan debates that continue to rage about race, nationality, gender, and sexuality.

Karen Hellekson & Kristina Busse


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