Communication and Culture | Advanced Seminar in Media: Fans and Fan Culture
C792 | 1196 | Barbara 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), weighing their strengths and
weaknesses. As we proceed, we will examine several questions that have
structured this area of research, particularly in relation to film,
television, and the Internet. 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 do fans form
communities over the Internet and elsewhere? 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.

We will read such foundational texts on fandom as Henry Jenkins'
Textual Poachers, but we will also consider more contemporary work by
writers in Media and Cultural Studies. Weekly screenings will feature
films about fans (such as Love and Death on Long Island and Nurse
Betty), as well as TV shows and films that have attracted significant
fan attention (like science fiction series Star Trek, James Cameron's
Titanic, and other "blockbusters" of fan culture).