26 October 2009

Fandom: A History. Part I

No, this entry is not about the history of fandom in general. Such a topic would take up far more space than have here. Honestly, before I began my work studying fandom, I had no idea just how much research went into it. I, like so many other people, viewed fandom (including my own) as something too far off the beaten path to be deserving of study. Why study Trekkies or Jedi or really anything? It's not much of a culture, it has no merits, really. It's just a hobby that people take part in for fun.

But wow, is that a wrong answer. It took me a few days of sitting in the library to realize this. In need of books and articles to back up my research proposals, I found what could probably called a deluge of work done about fandom. Apparently, the study of fandom has been around for a good, long while, starting with works by Jenkins and Tulloch about Doctor Who fans, Star Trek fans, fan-fiction and evolving fandoms. Jon Gray edited a volume about the differing aspects of fan cultures and their impact of worldwide development. Mall Hills wrote a wonderful book about Fan Cultures that has gotten a good deal of reading time in. Susan Napier actually studies the ideas around anime fandom. And this is all academic work, mind you, not internet debate. When one factors in the internet, the entire topic explodes, and no academic bias can detract rom the fact that this culture is fan-centric and debated just like any academic idea. Fans love to talk, and who's to say that their ideas are not as valid as anyone elses?

The concept of native anthropology, analyzing and observing one's own group, has been around a long time, and in many cases leads to a wonderful understanding of why people are the way they are. Who understands your own group better than you do? Who gets the specifics better than the participant? Is bias an issue? Of course it is, but no more so than any study involving human perceptions. Perhaps the bias is more focused on the familiar than the unfamiliar, but the idea that a native researcher has flawed bias is, in itself, very flawed.

So why, then, did I choose to call this entry Fandom: A History. Because I intend, both in this entry and the next, to talk about why I am a fan. In my previous entry I spoke of my credentials and my passion for the study of anime culture. I am also a native anthropologist, electing to research and document the ideas of my own media culture. So perhaps it goes without saying that I need to explain why I have ascribed myself to this media culture. Fandom cultures are just that, ascribed groups that transcend family or ethnic groups, and have may of the same functions and features as those ethnic and family groups. Much like friends are sometimes called the families we choose for ourselves, external ascribed cultures are the ethnic groups that we desire to belong to, either due to shared interests, camaraderie or a sense of belonging, maybe even all three. And despite perceptions that can be stereotypical or even skewed by other cultures (ie, the infernal machine known as "mainstream mass media"), they are still created and sustained by those passionate about what they are.

We are all fans of something. What makes any of us better than the other?

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