It is increasingly difficult to identify a fan, the media user who actively shares, re-produces as a discrete category of media user in the age of digital media. Now that many more of us engage with digital media in one way or another, we display attributes previously associated only with fandoms – that is, an engrossed and committed interaction with media texts, perpetuating them through other content that we go on to produce. Nevertheless, as an academic exercise the fan category is useful so that we can productively explore and deconstruct those practices that are a distilled form of audience productivity, commitment and resourcefulness. We may all be fan-like in some of our digital media practices but some of us are more so than others.
This issue looks at fans and fandoms (community practices of said fans) that emerge and function on digital media platforms, around media texts (films and TV shows), books (bestsellers such as the Harry Potter series) and committed organised activities such as travel. In all these cases, fans and fandoms are those individual users or communities of users that show a commitment to their text or activity of interest to the extent that they seek out like-minded online, share experiences, opinions, views, cultural artefacts and a consistent expression of devotion and interest that most other audiences are less inclined to demonstrate.
Fandoms constitute a particular stream of grass-roots culture or user productivity that has been much maligned in every society. Fans have historically been pathologised and their activity been seen as uninspiring and pedestrian coping mechanisms in lives presumably filled with drudgery. Most works on fandoms have, as a consequence, long preludes that defend their choice of topic in the face of continued antagonism towards these active audiences. It is to this category of audiences that this special issue of Digital Icons is devoted, seeking to unpack the subject of fan communities in Eastern Europe, in order to identify the multiple ways in which they perform their identity as fans, produce and perpetuate media texts, and act as potential political publics. Given the journal’s mandate, the question of how new media have enabled and enhanced these practices is an intrinsic part of every submission. This is not an entirely new direction for DI, which has demonstrated on a few occasions an interest in this niche area of scholarship (Sokolova 2009; Rajagopalan 2010, 2010, 2011). This special issue is a logical outcome of that earlier engagement.
A long tradition of Anglo-American scholarship has addressed the fan phenomenon and has come a long way since the ‘hope narratives’ of the nineties, when fans were celebrated for simply talking back and being engaged. Now works on fan communities such as Matt Hills on horror fandoms (2005), Jonathan Gray on anti-fans (2003) and the links that journals like Transformative Works and Cultures have drawn between fandom and activism (2012) have laid bare the inherent politics, the persistence of traditional hierarchies of professional/amateur, rational/ irrational and the endurance of fissures and conflicts, in addition to the much-vaunted collaborative thinking and creating, in fan communities online. Such scholarship highlights the enormous significance fandoms have as a prism for social conversation, political discourse and acts of public engagement. Such scholarship serves as a backdrop for the issue, not with the purpose of ‘matching region to paradigm’, but as a general repository of theoretical concepts and approaches, which this issue can add to or complement.
This special issue examines contemporary fan practices in Russia and Ukraine, mainly, as spaces of creative cultural production, whose practices are revealing not only of the ways in which media content is transformed in fan interactions but also of the nature of identity work in fan communities. Further, fandoms in the region and elsewhere are venues of hidden politics, whose significance only grows in the face of curtailed freedoms in other areas of media. The goal of the issue is not to reveal an uncomplicated, essentialist world of ‘regional’ fandoms that ‘proves’ or ‘disproves’ western theories. Our purpose is to use Anglo-American concepts that are productive and applicable, while drawing attention to local forms of fan self-representation, articulation and practice that may bear the imprint of the social and cultural context of these fandoms.
The issue has four discrete sections: peer-reviewed articles, academic reports, digital memoirs and book reviews. (Note: where authors have used terminology specific to fandom research, explanatory endnotes have been provided upon first appearance of the term).
The Peer-Reviewed section–marked with the ‘eye’ symbol–has four articles that address the idea of the audience and fans with approaches that range from the historical to the sociological, from the discursive to the quantitative.
Sudha Rajagopalan’s ‘is there room for the fan?: the discursive television audience in Russia’ (10.1) analyses contemporary discourses on the TV audience, and the place of the fan therein. Using a longue duree perspective, the article begins with a historical survey of approaches to entertainment and media audiences in Russia, before proceeding to its central theme: present-day academic, marketing and mass media perspectives on the TV audience. Disclosing the enduring anxiety about fan-like behaviour and charting new promising trends in the study of Russian fandoms, the article serves as a reminder of the culture-especific ways in which audiences and fans are discusively constructed, and acts as a segue to the case-studies that follow.
We move from this meta-narrative to a focus on fan practices in the next three submissions. In Natalia Samutina’s article ‘ ‘The Care of the Self ‘ in the 21st century: sex, love and family in the Harry Potter fan fiction in Russian’(10.2), the author examines a broad array of fan fiction texts, a practice with analogue precedents now functioning in full throttle on the Runet. For Samutina, fan fiction is a prism of users’ values, sexual and familial, and a body of work whose creators see their style and vocabulary as distinctly Russian. The author foregrounds fan fiction as a space for the articulation of the fan self; it is fertile ground for identity work in contemporary Russia.
Another kind of new media author is centre-stage in Sergey and Maria Davydov’s article ‘Russian amateur critic reviews: The case of the movie ‘Vysotsky’’ (10.3). The ‘amateur’ critic, or the non-professional film critic, is a growing breed of new media users, for whom blogs and social networking sites have become sites where they can dissect, analyse film texts, share their informed opinions and personal views and often generate debate on recent and old releases. What does this kind of fan practice imply for professional film criticism? Both Samutina’s article and Davydov’s contributions offer examples of fan productions that extend the media text, giving the original narrative new content and inscribing fans’ own experiences and values into that text. Both groups of fan-authors also have the potential to become sought after in their own right, as the parameters of what constitutes authorship, celebrity or, in fact, ‘being an audience’ radically change with digital media access.
This transformation of authorship and production becomes even more evident in the study of meme fandoms. Darya Radchenko’s article on the subject, ‘Fan4Fun: Internet-memes as a factor shaping communities (10.4), reveals to us the ways in which these types of fan behaviour differ from fandoms that emerge around traditional media content. Meme fandoms develop around a great variety of content that circulates, have older participants, and are emblematic of a generic internet culture that is playful and ironic. In this, Radchenko suggests, they also deviate from more conventional fandoms that are inclined to be less ironic and more ‘earnest’ about being a fan.
The Digital Memoirs section follows next and it includes two self-reflexive pieces on the impact of digital media on media production and fandom. In ‘Fandom, poznaiushchii sebia: metafandomnaia diskussiia o gendere, psikhologii, digital’nosti i prochem’ (10.5.1), Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes fans with usernames aconite26, blades_of_grass, el_d, elvit, red_2 and xamurra engage in a dialogue, carried out and written up especially for Digital Icons. Although ‘commissioned’ for the issue, this dialogue is exemplary of their everyday LiveJournal interactions. These six fans reflect on digital media, locality, gender and other such issues that have an impact on their work. We have also chosen to give a platform to media producer Alexander Kleimenov in ‘On how we launched the X-factor online format and made it successful’ (10.5.2). XFO is a successful media format that Kleimenov has created, and is much acclaimed for its effectiveness in allowing fans to become online participants in the TV production of X-Factor in Ukraine. Kleimenov draws our attention to the avid embrace by X-Factor fans of this novel way of finding expression for talent and bypassing the TV show’s parameters for inclusion and exclusion. Both memoirs are vital as fandom studies increasingly makes room for the voices of non-academic fans (instead of always presuming to speak for them) and acknowledges the role of commercial producers whose work shapes the nature and potential of fan practices, enabling and constraining that activity.
The Reports and Commentaries section in this special issue holds essays that suggest new directions in fandom studies in Russia. Ekaterina Gichko’s ‘Problema avtorstva v fanatskom tvorcestve (case-study bloka tekstov iz ru_fandoma ‘Garri Potter’)’ (10.6.1) on Harry Potter fan fiction familiarises us with quantitative methodologies of studying fan practices, while exploring the idea of (the demise of) the author in the case of fan fiction. Vera Rukomoinikova, in ‘Soobshchestva puteshestvennikov v ‘krivom zerkale’ Interneta’ (10.6.2) offers a survey of a wide swathe of travellers’ communities whose attachment to the travel experiences makes their behaviour fan-like, because it involves the sharing of photographs, advice and tips. Both reports are indicative of new scholarly trends in the field.
The concluding section carries two book reviews (10.7.1-10.7.2). Kseniia Prasolova reviews Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Spreadable Culture (edited by Sam Ford, Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins, NYU Press, 2013) and Evelyn Wan reviews Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability (edited by Adriana de Souza e Silva and Jordan Frith, Routledge, 2012).
Several questions serve to underpin this issue: are fandoms in the region the rich participatory and democratising world of Jenkins’ vision? In what ways does fan production – art, remix videos, fiction, games – augment, reinforce or radically alter the products of media industry? To what degree are digital fandoms rooted in regional cultural traditions – can we speak of ‘global’ fandoms and if so, what does such a distinction imply? In what ways and to what extent is media convergence in the region a reality? What is the impact of fan practices on media convergence, including convergence of media platforms, convergence of consumption and production, as well as global media convergence and various transmedial phenomena? What does digital fandom tell us about the relationship between online and offline worlds? What impact do social media have on fans` interaction and communication? What kind of new perspectives and approaches can the researcher utilise to study digital fandom in the region? The articles that follow handle these questions variously, using disciplinary approaches that range from the literary to the sociological, from the discursive to the quantitative.
While it is clear that fan practices in Russia display features similar to fandoms in the Anglo-American world, the articles in this issue suggest that fan identity work and modes of online activity and interaction also reveal styles distinctive to the world of Russian digital fandom. From the culture-specific choices fans make in producing fictional texts to the kinds of memes that gain currency and the ways in which producers are trying to draw fans into the production process, this special issue of Digital Icons brings to readers some of the very promising trends in digital media scholarship in the region. The study of the post-broadcast audience, it would appear, is coming of age, and Digital Icons is once again charting new terrain by foregrounding this development in the current issue.
I would like to pause to remember the vital role played by our valuable colleague Dr. Natalia Sokolova in helping conceptualise and prepare this issue in its initial stages. Natalia passed away most unexpectedly and for a few months we grappled with the suddenness of the tragedy; I was reluctant to go on as though nothing of great magnitude had happened and the issue’s production was on hold for a while. Then into the void left by Natalia stepped Dr. Kseniia Prasolova, whose expertise and discerning eye have helped us realise the project Natalia and I had in mind. Now, a year after her passing, Kseniia and I publish this issue in full faith that Natalia would have been pleased and proud to see what has come of her efforts.
The issue was guest-edited by Sudha Rajagopalan (University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and Kseniia Prasolova (Kant State University, Russia).
The issue was prepared by Sudha Rajagopalan, Ellen Rutten, Henrike Schmidt, Vlad Strukov and Pedro Hernandez.
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Sokolova, Natalia (2009). Runet dlia telefanatov: Prostranstvo (bez?) politiki, Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media, 1: 71-80. https://www.digitalicons.org/issue01/pdf/issue1/Runet-for-Television-Fans_N-Sokolova.pdf (accesed 23 December 2013).
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