Cultural Studies | Special Topics in Cultural Studies: Fans and Participatory Cultures
C701 | 2236 | Klinger

Over the last twenty-five years, media studies and Cultural Studies
have seen increasing attention to reception, to the ways that
audiences decode media texts. Previous theories had constructed the
spectator as an abstract, disembodied entity who passively responded
to the strategies and messages of media texts and industries. In
reaction, scholars began to employ historical, ethnographic, and
empirical research to examine how individual viewers or groups of
viewers responded to films, TV shows, and other media within specific
social contexts. These scholars helped diversify ideas of who
spectators are and how they use media texts, showing the importance of
age, gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality to discussions of viewing.

Within this context, the study of fans has emerged as a particularly
vital area of inquiry. Working against the commonplace
misunderstanding of fans as crazies or misfits, researchers analyze
the fan as a spectator par excellence–an avid, participatory consumer
of media texts whose practices speak volumes about the interpretive
strategies and pleasures of viewers. In this course, we will begin by
examining the methodological tools used in fan studies (particularly
ethnographic and empirical methods). As we proceed, we will examine a
number of questions that have structured this area of research,
particularly in relation to film, television, and new media. Who are
fans and what makes their viewing habits and strategies distinct? What
are the interpretive practices of fans and how do they affect textual
decoding? How do fans use media as a resource in their everyday lives?
How have new media, such as the Internet and multiple platforms of
access to film and television, affected the formation of fan
communities and interactions with media texts? Can we consider fan
activities as subversive? What challenges do cases of transnational
fandom represent for fan studies? These questions are posed as a means
of understanding the intricate relationships between viewers and mass
culture particularly, but not exclusively, in a U.S. context.

Weekly screenings will showcase films about fans, as well as a broad
range of media texts favored by avid viewers, from cult film and TV
programs to fan-made videos. These screenings will provide the
opportunity to think through the fan theory and criticism we will read
in class. In turn, assigned readings (by Henry Jenkins, Matt Hills,
and many others) will acquaint the student with the development of fan
studies in the field and the major schools of thought that have helped
to define this area of scholarship. Assignments will also include
presentations and a research paper.