List-Making as Fan Practice
Paul Booth (2015) argues that one key aspect of the media ritual of fandom is making and sharing lists. List-making is an integral part of being a fan of anything from football (e.g., lists of best ever players, or best goals, or worst goalkeeper errors) to music (e.g., best 1970s albums, or best songs about London, or best opening songs on an album’s second side). Lists form a big part of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity (1995), and while most of these “top-five” lists are music related, central to the plot is record shop owner Rob Fleming’s (the book’s protagonist) list of most memorable break-ups.
The hierarchical structure of a fan community differs depending on the fandom, but it is common for most fan communities to create and encourage some sort of hierarchy within the group or community. Higher status can for example be gained through greater knowledge about the fan subject, or through better access to it, or through a larger collection of memorabilia. Fans, certainly in most media fandoms and often in sport fandoms too, are expected to be experts—not just to those outside of the fandom, but also from the point of view of other fans within the community. The term community is used in a similar manner to the word group, and both of these terms should be flexible. After all, many fans do not regard themselves as belonging to a specific group. However, people within a certain fandom often share common goals or values, and may from the outside be viewed as a homogeneous group or community with specific entry barriers.
Booth (2015) mentions that there are few academic studies trying to find common links between sport, media and music fans and that, since it is a common activity in all three, the study of list-making could open up for interesting and fruitful comparisons. List-making for fans revolves around memorialising, influencing and arguing—all at the same time (Booth 2015).
Also “official” lists can be compiled with the help of fans. For example, music magazines often include lists of best singles and albums of the year voted for by the readers. Another example is football clubs and their end- of-season lists of best goals and the prestigious Player of the Year award, often voted for by a club’s fans.
Booth (2015) states that engaging in fantasy sports (such as various computer games, and/or forms of fantasy football) and creating own virtual teams therein is an activity similar to that of writing fan fiction. This is perhaps to overestimate the “production” element of fantasy games, as there is a set number of predetermined movements within any given game, while fan fiction is based around creativity and the actual production of new content. There are, however, several behavioural tendencies that link sport fans with fans of media texts and music—and while Mark Duffett (2013) and Fredrik Strage (2005) have highlighted the motivational differences between supporting a sports team and being passionate about a film or an artist, media fans can also be competitive and tribal in their behaviour (Booth 2015). The “anorak” aspect is something that runs through most fandoms, that is, the tendency to memorise release dates, cast changes, script writers, awards, team selections, league tables, and so on, but Booth (2015) highlights that scholars have not studied this type of fan activity as it is seen as coded as a particularly male endeavour. Matt Hills (2014) states that in media fan studies, the tendency is to focus on female-centred fandoms and fan cultures, which could serve as an explanation. However, looking at fan scholarship from a distance, a picture emerges of fandom as a predominantly male activity, which seems to contradict Hills’s (2014) observation that masculine types of fandoms are less discussed in academic fan literature. It is, perhaps, a matter of—as
Booth (2015) suggests—methodology and scholarly tradition (and field of study), as much as anything else. One could add other fandom domains to the list of sport, music and media, to further complicate matters, such as brand fandom. Marketing and business management literature tends to focus much more on material aspects of fandom, and often motivational aspects of sport fandom (or brand affiliation). While one of the key purposes of culture, media and communication studies is to better understand the larger structures and how we as individuals and groups cope with society (essentially, to ask the big questions), marketing and management literature (often relying heavily on input from the field of psychology) do not tend to question the larger structures. One of the main purposes in these fields is instead to figure out what drives consum- ers—for example through studies focusing on segmentation, sales, trends, motivations, values and branding. This may be a slight generalisation— we have to acknowledge that there are differences within the disciplines (and depending on geographic locations too), and that many studies are interdisciplinary in nature (as well as multidisciplinary, like this particular work)—but it is still key to understanding why certain topics are favoured by different disciplines.
Recently, in fan media studies the term consumer is increasingly used when the authors refer to fans (see, e.g., Scott 2013), which implies that disciplines focusing on society and culture are looking more frequently towards marketing and business literature and terminology. As per tradition, this exchange of information does not work both ways, as the business, marketing and management literature mentioning fans rarely goes beyond a specific business or marketing issue, in that it usually has a narrower aim: to increase efficiency and profitability. This illustrates the direction in which society at large is moving—away from the problematising of complex ideas and questions towards the quantification of information, towards a more measurable, and thus controllable, consumer society.
In online journalism, lists are increasingly common as a format for an article—partly because they are easier to read on a mobile device. This type of journalism, argues Okrent (2014, paragraph 2) “caters to our Internet-fed distractible tendencies [...] replacing complex arguments and reasoned transitions with snack-packs of bullet points.” In a “media snacking” culture, this makes sense, as it makes it easier to navigate from one text to the next.
Media events have become so central to everyday life, that it is difficult for most to imagine life without them. So unbearable seems life without multiple TV channels (not to mention the Internet, and access to computer games) that stand-up comedians in Sweden evoke laughs from the audience just by reminiscing about times (not so long ago) when television test cards existed. In sport broadcasts, British commentators often refer to Ceefax (a form of teletext) with a chuckle. This is all part of the naturalisation of mobile technology, and the equation of increased sophistication in digital technologies with a better quality of life.
Communication can be seen as a cultural ritual, as can the ways in which various media texts and events are mediated—and how they are represented and talked about (and what aspects of the texts are highlighted, and what texts are ignored) to make them seem important and central to our lives. The media ritual is not confined to what is performed in the media, what makes it a media ritual is thus “not whether it is performed in the media, or involves an act of media production or consumption, but the media-related categories around which it is structured and the media-related values to which it directs our attention” (Couldry 2003, p. 29).
Following on from Debord (1995 ), Booth (2015, p. 17) writes that “by their very nature as not everyday, events actually inscribe the everyday as meaningful.” The event, in fact, “determines the everyday.” Booth views list-making as an important and central part of the relationship between media producer and fan-consumer:
List-making is one of an infinite number of ways fans can approach their text or game; but it also symbolizes the clear link between fan audiences and producers. By staying attuned to the development of a canon, fans naturalize the seeming-universality of media, music, and sports in a given community, and centralize the relevance of fandom. (Booth 2015, p. 17)
Before the introduction of Web 2.0 these lists were compiled and shared in less visible but at the same time less restricted spaces (in person, but also in written form in fanzines and closed forums of various kinds). When lists are shared on Facebook, for example, the ultimate ownership of the list is not that of the fans, but that of the owner of the digital platform. Coppa (2014) therefore sees it as a priority for fan scholars and educators to inform fans of the implications of using social media sites, instead of independent websites, to post their creative work. Even if fans are actively engaged in creating their own alternative stories, the fact that most of the Web 2.0 infrastructure is owned by a small number of global corporate digital media giants implies that “structure” may still triumph over “agency.” In a sense, notwithstanding the power of Internet technologies to bring people together on a scale previously unthinkable, the key function of Web 2.0 is to make visible to corporate powers and marketing managers what was previously hidden in private conversations between like-minded people (who, throughout history, have always had a way of finding each other one way or another).
Everyone is a potential entrepreneur, even when they are sharing lists or pictures with their friends—and every social media user is a potential money maker. Being an entrepreneur is, according to Marwick (2013), seen as the ideal approach to life in a neoliberal world—in fact, the ideal citizen is an entrepreneur. This is not to say that fans posting lists online are doing so to potentially launch a career as social media “microcelebrity” entrepreneurs, although young people are increasingly aware of social media in itself as a strategy for finding work in the Web 2.0 era.