01 November 2009

History Of Fandom, Part III

After my somewhat heated words the other day, I think today instead of screaming academia, it might make more sense to clarify a few things about myself and why I do what I do.

I study fandom, this much Ive made apparent in the past. I also come from fandom. Over the course of my life, I have been a rather strong member in a lot of major media fandoms: I was a Trekkie in Jr High, a Jedi in High School, an otaku since 2000 (when I discovered there was more to anime than Dragonball) and lately have been delving the depths of Doctor Who. During this time, I also was a rather hardcore card gamer, role player, video gamer and forum junkie. All this experience around fandoms of different types has given me cause to stop over the years and look back at how they all differ from each other, despite all being the same essential type of community, the media centered culture.

Because of this in depth experience with so many fandoms, I am what my professors and colleagues call a "native anthropologist." Native anthropology is explained as the study of one's own community and cultural affiliation. As an academic discipline, native anthropology has both some wonderful advantages as well as flaws depending on who is doing the research and their own emotional investment in what they are studying.

On the one hand, native anthropologists are already members of the population they seek to study. As such, they do not need to concern themselves over memberships, gaining trust, looking for informants, permission to observe and tend to treat their subjects with more respect and dignity, as they are aware of whatever stigmas or mores are part of their observed populations. On the other hand, native anthropologists can also be subject to serious bias, as they are dealing with a population that they have emotional ties to. Studying one's own family, friends and adherents can lead to undue sympathy, can blur the lines about what is acceptable, can color judgements that should be rendered black and white. It can also lead to less objectivity and a stronger desire to defend the beliefs and rites of the researched group. Indeed, many native anthropologists first begin studying a specific group because they either wish to dispel some rumor or stereotype of their native group, or because they feel existing research on the group is too "cold" or portrays the group in an unfavorable light. This type of bias can be dangerous to anyone who studies cultural or ethnic groups.

However, sometimes a sympathetic ear is necessary. I'm not going to go on at length about crusading researchers seeking to save those they study, because as much as that idea is appealing, it is also fanciful and idealistic, two things that are wholly unnecessary to any type of academic study. When I began to research anime and anime media culture, I began as a documentarian who wanted to look into why the community is so strong, what are its "eccentricities" (admittedly, it fell a lot around shoving 13 people into a hotel room, something I still find fascinating, and downright impossible), what are it's traditions, and above all, I wanted to prove that media centered, ascribed culture is just as valid as any "traditional" or "ethic" culture. Yes, I wanted to dispel stereotypes, mostly because the ones that exist around the fandom communities seem to portray the fans as fat, lazy, layabouts with no ambition except to rant on about "their favorite captain," something I have personally witnessed as untrue and a terrible label to attach to a group so complex and validating. But I also wanted to chronicle and document how these communities are more akin to families, how strong, lasting and very tangible bonds could be formed between members of the group, and how these ties shaped the lives of those who participate. I wanted to show how, unlike any other kind of ascribed culture, that these fandoms are self sustaining, powerful and creative. How they add to their own "mythology" instead of just repeating the past. And how the people who love them the most are the ones that try to make them a strong, identifiable part of their lives. All these things set fandoms apart from other ascribed culture, and they make them unique, powerful things that do not deserve to be relegated and maligned.

This is why I do what I do.

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