American Studies | Seminar in American Studies / Topic: Fans & Fan Culture
G751 | 14815 | Barbara Klinger


Jointly offered with CMCL-793/CULS-C701. 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.

Weekly screenings will showcase representations of fans and also
give us an opportunity to apply fan theory and criticism to texts.
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.