Quick Reflections on FSN 2015

Having just returned from UEA outside Norwich, I thought I’d reflect on a fantastic weekend. For a conference virgin like myself, I could think of no better conference to be ‘my first’ than FSN. As a both a field and a community it is welcoming to all.

Not only was I attending the conference, but thanks to some gentle encouragement I was also participating in the ‘speed-geeking’ session towards the end of the first day, in which I got to share my interests and initial research into sitcom fans. Again, major props to the FSN for delivering a format that is flexible and far less intimidating for individuals like myself, who are not part of the academy proper.

This blog is more of a personal reminder of themes and topics I’d lie to look at further, but will also (more than likely) feature some rambling commentary about my experiences of the weekend.

Key Notes on the Keynotes

The odd things is about my approach to fan studies is that I don’t think I share too many common aspects to a lot of FS scholars – I don’t particularly have a ‘fandom’ I’m part of, I’m in no way a ‘prosumer’, creating content. My own experience of fandom is more closely associated with the ‘ordinary’ fandom (Sandvoss and Kearns 2014) write about. It is that type of fandom – defined in the basest terms as affective consumption – that I find myself and my work more closely aligned with.

It is not as if I am unaware of fan fiction and the like but it was great to understand it and the issues surrounding those practices.

To reflect on the two keynotes – both of which I thought were A+ – briefly. Suzanne Scott delivered a talk on fannish privilege, expressly highlighting ongoing gendered tensions and ‘spreadable misogyny’ of fandom, particularly in internet and media discourses. By name-checking ‘spreadable misogyny’ Scott, I felt, was arguing that we might better consider the darker (yet clearly visible) parts of the internet in which the ‘war on women’  is a common feature of fan cultures. In fact, by referencing the early-years fan studies scholars again (‘Fandom is ugly, not beautiful’), I think Scott’s deliberately polemical stance was vindicated, delivering a – I think damning? – verdict on the field’s (dis)engagement with the gendered boundaries in fan cultures.

Lincoln Geraghty’s keynote addressed the importance of pilgrimage to fan studies. Through his own documented adventures, Geraghty theorised how fans respond and react to the physical spaces of fandom. One element of Geraghty’s talk that resonated with me was how some people may ‘pass as’ fans in specific fan places. The example he drew up for this himself was of visiting the stadium of a rival hockey team, where Lincoln was still compelled to take photos of landmarks and partake in the fannish practices. Similarly, he adopted the persona and practices of an Elvis fan on a tour to Graceland, again despite not immediately identifying himself as an Elvis fan. For me, these speak to ideas of genre/medium literacy, where a base understanding of something – the sport of hockey and the team and landmark’s significance, for example – allows for a flexible physical space where one may adopt a fannish identity. To have no knowledge at all of the significance may impair one’s ability to successfully ‘pass as’ a fan. Lincoln’s idea of understanding ‘Fan Histories’ is too an important point to consider, and one I have reflected on in the past as being central to my own theories surrounding fandom.

Bullet Points

> Because I’m generally rubbish at networking, I never met Sam Fleming at the conference but our brief twitter conversation regarding football fandom through the generations and ‘passing as’ a fan at rival matches is instantly compelling. I have before blogged about my ‘Fan History’ regarding Arsenal and fandom through family generations I think is a particularly interesting (and so far under-explored) angle on fandom. For one, I think the ‘becoming a fan’ or ‘transcendent’ moment of becoming a fan is complicated when fandom is specifically ‘passed down’ through the family. Interesting stuff! [Also I blame those delicious cheese straws for my lack of networking, because no-one really wants to approach the guy sat holding a plate of 20 of them]. 

> One aspect of feeling intimidated in a room of great minds is accidentally over-praising another academic on meeting them rather than ‘playing it cool’. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Booth – whose two books on digital fandom I think represent an exciting path into considering online practices – but could only articulate complimentary phrases instead of anything of substance. Luckily Paul is a pleasant enough chap to not just roll his eyes at such an inept conversationalist, however I wish I had got myself into a position to better discuss his paper on SuperWhoLock. Paul was challenged in the Q+A on the impact and novelty of the SuperWhoLock phenomenon, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe his chapter on Inspector Spacetime fandom (from this year’s ‘Playing Fans’) may have better articulated the importance of this ‘progress in works’ type of fan activity.

> I said it above, but I really have little interest in fan fiction myself (as leisure) or little knowledge about it (scholarly). But Eva Wijman’s paper on the concept of the Mary-Sue in Hunger Games fan fiction was compelling and rightly well received. Eva’s main point – the Mary-Sue character is used in fan fiction to include a strong female into the story, yet Katniss in HG is criticised for portraying such a persona – was a really interesting ‘entry point’ into the conversations surrounding fan fiction.

> I went along to the ‘Building Communities’ panel over the fan/producer relationship panel because each of the four papers focused on a fandom not frequently spoken about in the field (which is how I feel about comedy fans), so I was interested in the other ways scholars approached these communities. The talk that leap out at me was Valerie Fazel on Shakespeare fan fiction. It was a stimulating paper that in the Q+A was expanded upon further, and two things leap out at me – how useful adaptation theory might be in studying fan practices (all fan practice, not just fan fiction); and how important too cultural capital must surely be to fan adaptions (going back to themes of access, literacy etc). For example, Shakespeare fan fiction writers requires 1) access to such texts in CC terms 2) access to the literary critique of shakespeare and linguistics. Some of the Shakespeare FF writers in the paper were well equipped in writing in the ‘Shakespeare style’, which I think is a point that can be better explored across all sorts of fan practice.

> I felt Daisy Asquith (producer of the C4 documentary ‘Crazy about One Direction’) delivered a great paper about her experiences making the film and the well-covered backlash she received from the fandom. Again it was in the Q+A (a little tense) where a lot of the more interesting points came up, particularly from William Proctor (writer of a forthcoming piece regarding the depiction of 1D fans in the film) and a devout 1D fan herself (sorry, I didn’t see who it was!). However you fall on the issues discussed, I think it was a good decision to include Daisy in the panel, and is one example of how fan studies scholars and industry collide.

> Clearly, the panel from Melanie Williams on Mr. Bloom fandom on mumsnet was the most humorous one of the weekend.

> Kee Lundgvist used the work of psychologist Kenneth Paragment (new to me) on significance and coping, showing how the concepts of ‘maps and goals’ squares up with fan experience of shows and endings. I particularly enjoyed this panel as the work can be used to read fan responses not just at the ending of shows but during the shows run, where the ‘map’ of the show changes but the ‘goals’ of fans stayed the same. This I think works well with the research on Giddens and Ontological security I am looking at, and I am looking forward to following this paper up in particular. (also shout out for the humour here). Really cool paper!

> Man, speed-geeking was exhausting, and I’m pretty sure we only managed to get to six out of the seven groups! But thanks to everyone at conference for lending your ears to those of us that speed-geeked. I was hugely intimidated to be presenting *any* work, let alone work that isn’t quite fully developed, but despite a long and intense day (one keynote and twelve papers already), everyone was great in giving feedback, suggestions and critiques. Speed-geeking wouldn’t work unless everyone was prepared to chip in, so I think it’s great that the FSN community looks to help out junior scholars or in-development projects in this manner.

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