Fans and Fandom


Unlike the individual fan, whose peer group or colleagues may coincidentally include like-minded film lovers, organized fandom involves fans specifically seeking out those who share their tastes, thereby becoming involved in a range of social, cultural, and media activities that take this shared fandom as their starting point. Film fandom can involve participating in online discussion and posting to sites such as the Internet Movie Database (, joining film clubs or groups, or producing one's own fan magazine or "fanzine." Being part of organized fandom—whether for a certain film or star—is, first and foremost, linked to values of participation and production. Henry Jenkins stresses that fandom's participatory culture "is always shaped through input from other fans and motivated, at least partially, by a desire for further interaction with a larger social and cultural community" (Jenkins, 1992, p. 76). Those participating in socially organized fandom often watch their favored films in fan groups, wanting to share the experience with others who they know similarly appreciate them. And fans also tend to wait together in long lines in order to see the first showings of blockbuster releases, again knowing that the audience will be full of fans like themselves with whom they will share an emotional experience and pleasure.

These highly communal experiences, responses, and interpretations of fandom also translate into activities beyond simply viewing a highly anticipated and appreciated film. Film fans approach watching a film as just one stage within a wider process of consumption and production, with secondary texts such as promotional materials and reviews leading up to the moment of viewing, fanzine reviews and commentaries following the initial filmic encounter, and repeated viewings and the collecting of DVDs with their special features. Film fandom is never about just "going to see a movie."

Seeking to highlight the distinctiveness of fandom and its cultural practices, John Fiske has distinguished between different types of productivity, which he labels "semiotic," "enunciative," and "textual" production (Fiske, pp. 37–39). The first, semiotic, concerns producing meaning from a film text—something that all audiences necessarily do as they cognitively process and make sense of a film. "Enunciative productivity" means talking about a film. Again, this is something that most film audiences do, but that fans tend to carry out distinctively, within the community of fandom. Fiske's third type, "textual productivity," is most specific to fan cultures, since it is very rarely the case that those outside fandom are motivated to write reviews, critiques, or analyses of favorite films (unless perhaps this forms a part of their professional identity as a film critic or academic). According to David Sanjek, fanzines are the clearest example of fandom's textual productivity, being "amateur publications, which by form and content distinguish themselves from 'prozines': the commercial, mainstream magazines" (p. 316). Although there is some truth to his distinction, Sanjek presents a somewhat exaggerated contrast between fanzines and professionally published "prozines," suggesting that amateur fanzine editors have far greater freedom to write what they want, as they are not directly beholden to the movie industry and to patronage; while "prozine" editors are concerned almost exclusively with commercial cinema, amateur fanzines have little interest in "the slavish devotion to accepted formulae and conventions of the mainstream Hollywood product (p. 317). If an excessively neat and tidy opposition, it does acknowledge an important aspect of film fandom: its communities often set themselves apart from what they view as "mere" film "consumers" lacking in genre, textual, and production-history knowledge.

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