A Work in Progress: Auto-Ethnography, Subversize Discourse, and Fandom

Sarah Reif, Western Washington University


Media is important. It informs us, constructs us, and is undeniably involved, whether consciously or unconsciously, in delivering and upholding messages about dominant social ideology. Throughout the history of media studies, scholars have accused media content of a range of evils, from dumbing down the masses to mollifying and controlling them. More recent research however, has turned away from content criticism and instead identifies the importance of the audience as active makers of media meaning. Audience scholars posit that the importance of media lies not with its embedded messages, but instead with what audiences choose to do with those messages. Perhaps the most remarkable example of modern audience-media interaction is that of fans who come together to form communities, or fandoms, around a mutual love of media. Media permeates the social lives of these fans, but does not control them. Indeed, their response to the objects of their fanaticism comes in the form of creative works, interior discourse, and sophisticated criticism. Within this writing I situate the study of fandom within my own personal and academic history. I then provide a review and critique of the claims made by existing fan studies theorists. Finally I will examine examples of politically minded fan discourse and share the results of interviews with members of fandom communities. Ultimately my goals for this paper are twofold—first, to use existing fan theory to reveal how participation in fandom culture and activities provides a space where fans can actively explore and subvert hegemonic patriarchal gendered norms in popular media; and second, to establish that this counter-hegemonic politicization is not an inherent aspect of fandom’s reworking of source texts, but is instead a learned product of continued participation within fan discourse communities.