Call for Papers, Themed section of Participations: International Journal of Audience and Reception Studies
TOXIC FAN PRACTICES
Editors: Bridget Kies (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA) and William Proctor (Bournemouth University, UK).
Since its inception, the discipline we now know as Fan Studies necessarily set out to challenge stereotypical perspectives on the behaviour and practices of fan cultures, many of which constructed the figure of the fan as a figure of fun; of pathological disorder, instability and ‘enfreakment’ (Proctor, 2016; Richardson, 2010). In so doing, and in many ways, Fan Studies followed the trajectory established by Media and Cultural Studies beginning with the Birmingham School in the 1970s. In particular, the ‘first wave’ of Fan Studies was invested in demonstrating that audiences are not solely passive recipients of so-called media messages, or ‘dominant ideologies,’ but active participants in the production of transgressive and transformative practices – fan fiction, fan ‘vidding’ and the like – and involved in the negotiation of making meaning. The advent and proliferation of new media technologies, especially the Internet, has forced previously marginal fan cultures into the mainstream (Bennett and Booth, 2014; Gray et al, 2007; Scott 2013). As a result, the heightened visibility of fans and their ability to comment, celebrate and criticise produces readily accessible discourses for public consumption. While such a shift in visibility has had a clear impact on “monolithic conglomerates” (Johnson, 2013: 43) in that “fan audiences are now woo’d and championed by media industries” (Gray et al: 2007: 2), we believe that this represents only a fraction of the story, and one that requires significant redress. The visibility of fan cultures may very well shine a light on creative and participatory practices, but mainstream, public exposure also demonstrates the heterogeneity of fan communities, warts and all.
Of course, Fan Studies has since moved through several phases and, in recent years, fans themselves have become the subject of mainstream news media, but often in highly negative ways. Such discourses circulate around the figure of the fan, not as a figure of fun necessarily, but as a figure of racist, homophobic, sexist and reactionary politics. Moreover, news reports are beginning to stereotype fans in ‘new’ ways, such as the belief that the affordances of new media have led to an era of “fan entitlement syndrome” (Mendelsohn, 2014), of “nerd rage” and antisocial, toxic behaviours. Stereotypes of fan entitlement circulated in online news media (professional, amateur, pro-am) seems to be an “updated and retooled” version of William Shatner’s oft-cited ‘get a life’ stereotyping (Hills, 2016: 271; see also Jenkins, 1992).
The anonymity provided by social media platforms, with their (cyber) pseudonymous (and obfuscated) identities, has provided a figurative wall behind which participants may hide. As Claire Hardaker (2015) emphasizes, ‘this anonymity can also foster a sense of impunity, loss of self-awareness, and a likelihood of acting upon normally inhibited impulses’ (224). By the same token, Michael Suler explains that ‘people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in the face-to-face world’ (2004: 321). This disinhibition can be salutary (supportive, cathartic) but these fan discourses in particular exemplify toxic disinhibition signified by ‘rude language, harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats’ (ibid).
The fan studies discipline has already started grappling with these issues. Analyses of inter- and intrafandom Othering, ‘of fans, by fans’ (Hills, 2012), have been conducted on such quarrels and conflicts, including fan-objects such as Twilight (Hills, 2012; Williams, 2014), One Direction (Jones, 2016; Proctor, 2016), R.E.M (Bennett, 2011), and the female-led Ghostbusters remake/ reboot (Proctor., 2017). Moreover, online conflict and “toxic technocultures” (Massanari, 2015) has been analysed in other disciplines, including the #GamerGate controversy and hashtag activism such as #RaceFail, #Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter (Rambukkana, 2015) and #BlackStormtrooper (Proctor, forthcoming), to select a few examples (see also, Burgess and Matamoros-Fernandez, 2016; Chess and Shaw, 2015; Hardaker, 2010; Hardaker, 2013; Hardaker and McGlashan, 2015; Luce, 2016; Massanari, 2015; Poland, 2016).
How can researchers examine toxic fan practices beyond those offered by mainstream news artefacts, many of which cherry-pick examples from social media without adequate theorisation or methodology? That some fans are racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise exclusionary is one thing; but how can researchers develop tests to measure this extant discourse? How do we know who is speaking? How do we know that these are fans at all, as opposed to ‘trolls’ or ‘flamers,’ that is, those online individuals who find delight and entertainment in conflicts of this kind (Hardaker, 2015)? This special section does not seek to deny that toxic fans and audiences exist. We do, however, seek to provide an academic space whereby these issues are placed centre-stage via methodology that moves beyond reductive, handpicked selections. We are also interested in theorisations of the place of toxic fan practices within larger fan communities and as objects of study for the maturing fields of Fan/Audience Studies, including research across disciplines.
Contributions are welcome on a variety of topics that investigate the concept of toxic fan practices and methodological issues arising such as:
* Online methodologies/ netnographies of particular fan communities and social media platforms
* Specific case studies of toxic fan cultures (e.g. Star Trek fans’ responses to gay Sulu or Marvel fans’ reactions to female Thor)
* Criticism of toxic fans from within fandoms, intra-fandom conflicts (e.g. Game of Thrones fans condemning and celebrating scenes of rape)
* Widescale protests and boycotts on social media (such as #boycottstarwars or #buryyourgays)
* Criticisms of representations of race, gender, sexuality, etc., in fan cultures
Proposals are also welcome on other topics as long as they meet the aims of the special section.