Fans and Fandom


In comparison with the early twentieth-century creation of movie fandom, the figure of the movie fan is perhaps less clearly gendered as feminine/feminized today, but this is because of a much changed cultural context, wherein both men and women are frequently targeted and imaged as consumers. In addition to the star system, with its "picture personalities," directors and those involved in the technical craft of filmmaking are now also increasingly publicized celebrities in their own right. This shift means that film fans can align themselves more clearly with notions of film as art—and partly avoid negative stereotypes of celebrity obsession—by indicating their fandom of film directors.

This aspect of fandom moves closer to the scholarly appreciation of film, since treating film as art and dignifying certain directors with "authorial" or auteurist status is a strategy that has historically characterized film studies, and that still retains more than a foothold today. So-called "auteur theory" was initially employed solely by intellectuals and cinephiles seeking to value film as a medium, and although it carried cultural cachet, it was also accessible enough for nonacademic audiences to appreciate (Taylor, p. 87). Moving from being an exclusive/elitist view of film held by French cinéastes, auteurism entered the US scene and became popularized to the extent that Hollywood incorporated its discourse into its own publicity. Auteurism is no longer just a critical approach, but also a commercial strategy for organizing how audiences may respond to film texts. Uniting filmmakers, scholars, publicists, and fans, the notion that certain privileged directors are artists has tended to create and sustain aesthetic personality cults around them. This type of "personality cult" also has been significant to certain organized fandoms, such as those surrounding offbeat, sleeper, quirky, and classical Hollywood films labeled "cult movies." These organized fandoms have tended to use auteur theory as a means of claiming to find artistic value within the terrain of independent film.

One of the most significant cultural activities undertaken by film fans, then, is the way in which they seek to invest the work of their preferred performers and directors with cultural capital, setting their tastes against what they perceive and construct as mainstream cinema. However, such an apparent detachment from "the commercial" is itself commercial, since these fans are still placed within a specific market. Though this is related to the debate over fandom's resistant capability, it can also be viewed as a matter of film fans' cultural practices. Cult-film fans seek to defend and value their favored texts, but by doing so they also hope to reflect their own aesthetic taste, for they can see "true" artistic worth where general audiences cannot. Such fan audiences' bids for distinction are especially clear in relation to genres that are frequently devalued in "dominant" film criticism, such as "trash" and exploitation cinema. Mark Kermode argues that horror fans actively perceive the genre's aesthetic value, whereas nonfans passively consume horror as if its representations are actual rather than aestheticized images of gore; he offers a convincing opposition between "active" fans who read horror films in relation to surreal genre precedents and "passive" nonfans who are characterized as reading horror films more naively.

In Kermode's account, horror fans are, crucially, "genre literate." Like fans of other genres or specific movie stars, they are expert consumers, able to trace generic histories and interpret new films in relation to countless preceding examples. This type of movie fan has a keen sense of intertextuality; thus, boundaries around "the text itself" tend to be partly dissolved by fans who,

Conrad Veidt and Annabella in Under the Red Robe (Victor Seastrom, 1937).
even while they carry out close readings of certain films, relate texts to others, either by generic category, in auteurist terms, or by focusing on a favored star. Organized fandoms, like those for cult movies or the horror genre, therefore challenge the idea that any film's meaning and significance are inherent. Rather, it is by reading films in relation to, and through, other texts that fans can convert "the film" into those meanings and values that characterize their fandom as a kind of interpretive community. Fans read films not only through official publicity texts such as DVD extras, but also in relation to fan-produced texts (fan fiction). Henry Jenkins proffers the example of one fan who wrote an alternative ending to the film Thelma and Louise (1991) in which these female characters transform themselves into bats (Jenkins, 2000, p. 177). Recontextualizing the film as a lesbian vampire tale, this creative fan interpretation (and production) of meaning indicates how generic identities and textual boundaries can be reinscribed by film fans, sometimes working against what producers, and other audiences, may view as the obvious categories, boundaries, and identities of a film. Thus, whether it is the interpretive activities of individual fans, or the socially organized, communal practices of fandom, fans and fandom have been as important to film studies as to the film industry. They demonstrate how loyal audiences can be a part of film commerce and also set themselves apart from commercial processes.

SEE ALSO Auteur Theory and Authorship ; Cinephilia ; Cult Films ; Journals and Magazines ; Reception Theory ; Spectatorship and Audiences ; Stars

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——. Textual Poachers . London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

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Matt Hills

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