Readings from Week 5

The Future of Fandom

The quote from Clay Shirky really struck me, specifically the line that 'media is done to [the audience]'. I remember back in the 90s when the Internet was just starting to take off that there would be AOL keywords that would either flash at the end of a commercial or announced by sports announcers during events for people to search. But that was the end of the transaction; people could only search and in the way brands hoped to engage audiences was pretty limited. What happened after people searched and reached the site? Could the brand reach back that way? With social media however - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram - brands can actually engage with the audience and the audience can create content. 

I'm not sure how I feel about all the names suggested for what to call people who do engage with the content, but then I don't understand why there is the stigma for the word 'fan'. I always thought the stigma existed around 'fanboy' or 'fangirl' as the geek related terms, whereas fan seems to be more neutral and is the term used for people who are a part of non-stigmatized fandom. The term multiplier feels like someone tried to throw fancy marketing terms at the wall and see what'll stick. 

I also agree with the notion that fandom is the future and not fans themselves; it's the summation of the efforts by a group. But I wonder exactly how much media companies actually have to change based on their fans. There's a balance to be found between recruiting new people to become part of the fandom and making sure those already in the fandom stay, but there's also a third dimension of making fans feel like they're included regardless of when they joined the fandom. Television shows struggle with this regularly - Doctor Who, for example, has people who feel pretty strongly about the direction the show has gone when Steven Moffat took over as show runner for Russell T. Davies. 

I do think though that having fandom as a separate studies is necessary because there's still that stigma around fandom, so why place the department under a larger department that may not get what it's about? I have a friend who would like to go into fan studies but is not able to find a program that supports it. Even NYU's media programs seem tailored to the study of media in classical terms. Fandom as a topic seems less serious but from everything we've talked about in class it's hugely important with the evolution of marketing and branding. Sure, there are all kinds of flame wars between brands and you're never supposed to read the comments sections (though this is for other reasons as well), but it encompasses so many different aspects as mentioned at the end of the passage that I would think understanding it would help with how brands create marketing strategies moving forward. Look at all the social media campaigns that fail; this is the feeling you get from them: 

An example I can think of off hand is Hillary Clinton's campaign asking people to tweet them answers to a question in three emojis or less. What? There's an incredible disconnect there. Sure, some brands get away with it - the Denny's Tumblr is a great example - but most of the time not so much. I've been a fan who's been in fandom for a few years now and I have learned a lot about it in the course of this class and all the readings. So for the people who laugh at studying fandom, in the end they have a huge missed opportunity.  

The Straw Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

We start with a discussion of how people fundamentally want to be both individual and accepted in a group, and symbols are a way to express both; it functions as a badge of membership and establishes identity. 

While I agree that fundamentally people want to be part of a group while still being individual, I disagree  that there has been a decline in social capital. Putnam pointed to civic groups and traditional community as evidence that 'kids today just aren't joiners'; I think that in ignoring the new forms of community he weakens his assertion. But that seems to tie back to the notion of fandom and stigma; people are joining communities that aren't part of the societal norm. And yet that seems to have changed now - nerd fandoms seem to be more accepted now. People wear shirts with the Avengers, X-Men, and DC characters all the time now. 

It's funny how a couple of shapes or letters can dictate our sense of self, but looking at the history of groups like the Red Hat Society is a reminder that it's an important part of the human condition.