Text and Representation: The Community and the Individual
In this chapter we will give some background to concepts such as text, discourse and representation, as these are all important theoretical tools that will help us understand how and why fans are perceived as deviant in some media and public discourses, while they are regarded to be ideal consumers from a marketing and business point of view.
In the previous chapters we have established that the fan concept is complex, and that being a fan means different things in different contexts. However, to further clarify some of the vocabulary, the term “fandom” can refer to either a person’s involvement with something as a fan (as in “her West Ham United fandom is central to her life”) or as the collective body of fans of something, sometimes referred to as subcultures or communities (as in “the Gilmore Girls fandom”).
In comic book fandom, traditionally a male-dominated world, female fans are increasingly gaining ground and finding their voice. In recent years, more scholarly work has also been produced about routine sexism © The Author(s) 2017
H. Linden, S. Linden, Fans and Fan Cultures, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-50129-5_4
in comic books, and how female characters are treated (in particular focusing on meaningless violence, rape, etc.). Suzanne Scott (2013), in her article “Fangirls in refrigerators: the politics of (in)visibility in comic book culture,” notes that the legitimisation of objects of fandom is closely related to visibility, and states that “female comic book fans’ recent efforts to make themselves visible as a market segment suggests a similar desire to legitimate their identities as comic book fans” (Scott 2013, paragraph 2.1). The vocabulary is interesting, as it clearly illustrates the commercialisation of comic book culture. (We have already seen that Hollywood takes a keen interest in comics through blockbuster movies and franchises, and the Comic Con is all-absorbing and constantly growing as an industry vehicle, rendering alternative readings and expressions harmless.) Using one’s power as a consumer not to alter the system, but to get a better (or bigger) share of what is already offered, appears to be the end goal for many fans. The misogyny running through comic book fandom can also be found in other male-dominated “subcultures,” such as gaming. This is increasingly highlighted both by scholars and by fans active on social media platforms such as Twitter. However, some scholars writing in the fields of media and cultural studies contribute to the coding of these fandoms as male (see, e.g., Tankel and Murphy’s (1998) deduction that 100 % of comic book collectors are male), and in industry analysis there is seldom an explanation for why efforts from publishers to reach female audiences fail (the analysis stops at noting that the attempts fail, merely contributing to reassuring publishers and fans that the gendering of comic book culture is justified from a market analysis point of view). This book does not explicitly address gender theory, but it is important to highlight that much of media fan culture is gendered one way or the other, as are most sport and music fandoms.
American scholars and writers (such as Jenkins 1992; Sansweet 2014) often put forward sport fandom as being represented by society as a more legitimate type of fan engagement than, for example, a passion for gaming or boy bands. In a British context, this point of view is more problematic, mainly as an effect of hooliganism in football in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s—but also due to the deeply rooted class system that has generally disfavoured traditional working-class activities. It is probably the visibility, to follow on from Scott’s (2013) suggestion, of sports fans that gives them more credibility—and possibly also the fact that it is still largely coded as a masculine pursuit.
This book began with a representation in The Guardian of fans as “geeks” (Bernstein 2016), showing that despite the status fans currently have as key consumers of popular culture products and experiences, the old—and largely outdated—image of the fan as a dysfunctional outsider persists in popular discourse. It is convenient to dismiss these geek fans as narcissistic and “weird,” while “upgrading” people like JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg (who seem to fit the description, but are too successful to be represented as geeks) to well-adjusted citizens serving the mainstream consumer society.