Return of Fandom in the Digital Age With the Rise of Social Media

Return of Fandom in the Digital Age With the Rise of Social Media

Shuojia Guo (College of Staten Island (CUNY), USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1048-3.ch010

Abstract

In the digital age, the rise of social media has enabled the fan culture transitioning from “static” consumption to “dynamic” interaction. This is not only a result of the advancement of ICTs, but also a shift in digital communication driven by participatory culture. This chapter explores why social media in digital age have such a profound impact upon fandom. In particular, what is new with these fan communities that social media has done so much to enable. There is a blurring in the lines between fandom producers and consumers in the participatory fandom. Given the new forms of cultural production, fan culture has been enabled by social media and is more powerful than it was ever before. Finally, how the changing relationships between fans and producers have redefined the fandom economy.
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Introduction

One debate persists in mass communication research surrounds on the question, that is, “Is the audience active or passive” (Biocca, 1988)? In other words, is audience capable of making their own meaning out of media content or they are just helpless victims of mass media productions? Critical theorists who focus on how culture is produced and consumed, especially the economic and social implications of the process, have also raised questions about the nature of the audience. What we often forgot to realize beyond the dichotomy of active or passive consumers of popular culture, however, was the fact that they are “contained within the sometimes loose, sometimes strict borders of fandom” (Gray, Sandvoss and Harrington, 2007).

To some extent, we are all fans of something. Rather than a marginal subcultural phenomenon once populated by “fanatics,” the status of fandom and fan culture are far more pervasive than it was in the past. Focusing on the triviality of what some accused fandom, Gray, Sandvoss and Harrington (2007) questioned about the relevance of fan scholarship and wrote:

How can a focus on pleasure and entertainment be justified at the end of what will enter history books as a century of violence, driven by rapid social, cultural, economic and technological change, and with the twenty-first century set to follow the same trajectory? What contribution can the study of fandom make to a world faced with war, ethnic conflicts, widening inequality, political and religious violence, and irreversible climate change, among other disasters?

Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World

Those are important questions to fan scholars and cultural researchers. The answer, ultimately, is a simple one: because it matters to those who are fans. While critics ask questions about our world and ourselves, fandom offers us a venue into that questioning. What studying fandom can give us is a deeper understanding about the way in which people relate to others as well as the way they read the mediated texts that make up the world. Fandom studies offer insights into the relationships between fandom phenomenon and the overarching social and cultural transformations in the world.

There have been three distinct “waves” of pervasive fandom studies since the 1980s. The first wave consists of the resistant movements of the disempowered, focusing on turning the derogatory practice and status of fandom into a positive “worthy cause.” The second wave followed a more sociological optic that explored how fan hierarchies mirrored those in the larger social and cultural world after the proliferation of Internet and new media. The third wave of studies now emerges to examine fandom as “part of the fabric of our everyday lives” in order to capture “fundamental insights into modern life.”

Fandom is becoming an integral part of our modern life, and it directly or indirectly affects global patterns of consumption, communication, identification and creation. The importance of fandom has reached an apex in cultural currency with the proliferation of new media and the expanding scope of the culture industry in the digital age. Interactive media has positively affected fandom by allowing the interaction between fans as well as with producers, and aspects of fan culture to increase. As noted by other authors,

As we have moved from an era of broadcasting to one of narrowcasting, a process fueled by deregulation of media markets and reflected in the rise of new media technologies, the fan as a specialized yet dedicated consumer has become a centerpiece of media industries’ marketing strategies... Rather than ridiculed, fan audiences are now wooed and championed by cultural industries, at least as long as their activities do not divert from principles of capitalist exchange an recognize industries’ legal ownership of the object of fandom.

Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World

So, we hope to contribute to this third wave of fandom studies by examining fandom through the lens of modernity reflected in the rise of social media in the digital era. It is about the power rebalance between conglomerates and audiences, the blurred lines between fans and nonfans, the altered dynamics between cultural producers and consumers we want to explore in this chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Identity Theory: Social identity theory is a social psychological theory that sets out to explain group processes and intergroup relations. The basic idea of social identity theory is that social categories a person belongs to provides a definition of who he/she is. Individuals are more likely to become identified with groups when it represents the attributes they assign to their own self- concepts.

Gift Economy: A social science term that refers to a mode of exchange where things valuables are not traded or sold, but rather given without an explicit agreement or a formalized system for immediate or future rewards. In the fandom context, gift economy refers to the process of fans making fanworks or monetary donations openly and freely without any formalized requirement that anything be given in return.

Crowdfunding: An initiative that is undertaken to raise money for new projects by collecting small amounts of investment from a large volume of people (i.e. crowd). In fandom culture, crowdfunding projects may be based on donations, sponsorship, pre-selling, lending and so on.

Fan Practice: Fan practice refers to the productive activities engaged in by fans, primarily those of various media properties or musical groups. These activities can include creation and editing of written works (fanfiction), visual or computer-assisted art (fanart), videos (fanvids, fanedit) or costuming and collecting etc.

Brandom: A notion developed by Guschwan, “Brandom” references the activities of corporate institutions towards fans, such as measuring, monetizing and exploiting the brand building labor of fans/consumers and the community that they have constructed.

Fan Identification: Fan identification refers to the psychological connection that individuals have with the object of fandom. It has also been defined as the level of personal commitment and emotional involvement a fan has with the subject.

Fandom: Fandom has taken on an evolved definition that has been supported by historic trends. It refers to the community or subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest and passion.

Mainstream: Mainstream is the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or the arts. Mainstream culture is the culture that is held by or seems the most “normal” to a large amount of people that live in a society. It includes all popular culture and media culture, typically disseminated by mass media. It is to be distinguished from subcultures and countercultures, and at the opposite extreme are cult followings and fringe theories.

Participatory Culture: A culture that challenges the consumer culture, wherein individuals do not act merely consumers but also participate in cultural commodities as contributors or producers, that enables people to work collaboratively. It is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. The potential of participatory culture for civic engagement and creative expression has been well investigated by media scholar Henry Jenkins.

Media Convergence: The media synergy that involves the interconnection of information and communications technologies, fan networks, and media content, representing a cultural shift from media holding the upper hand to grassroots participation and collective intelligence in participatory culture.

Fan Culture: Fan culture is formed around specific cultural texts and the nature of these texts is what distinguishes fans from nonfans. According to Henry Jenkins, fan culture is a culture produced by fans and amateurs for circulation through an underground economy and that draws much of its content from the commercial culture.

Social media: Social media is the collective of computer-mediated communication channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content creating and sharing, and collaboration. Websites and applications dedicated to forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media

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