Social Media is the Anti-Hero in the Story of Fandoms

            Social media is the reason fandoms are alive and thriving in a world that may have completely forgotten about them. Snail mail and newsletters just were not up to snuff with the rest of society, which had switched gears to a faster way of communicating. People not only couldn’t leave the house without their cell phones but e-mail engaged the thoughts of the entire world, becoming a popular medium for individuals, businesses, and institutions but also for fandoms. Technology and Web 2.0 saved fandoms from extinction and, according to Jon Accarrino in his article “How Social Media Revolutionized ‘Fandom’ Forever”,  “Social media has changed fandom forever”.

 

But with the shift of celebrities going from just a celebrity to becoming their own “community manager”, fandoms can be a little trickier to maintain and control. Being a celebrity in this new digital age has its benefits and repercussions.

 

In class, we talked about how celebrities on various social media platforms can be trampled over simply for tweeting about their opinion on a film they were or were not a part of or because their fans suddenly realized just how anti-feminist their writing was for a massively popular science fiction series like Doctor Who. Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s new show runner and an acclaimed screenwriter underwent some flack from fans who appreciated his work but didn’t appreciate the way he wrote his female characters. Instead of taking stock in his fans comments, however, Moffat retaliated with arguments that backfired in the only way digital communication could – he didn’t mean to say this-or-that that way. After fans challenged him to more and more debates, eventually, Moffat closed his Twitter account completely.

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What can one learn from this? Can you blame social media on the demise of the reputation of one celebrity? Or do you blame the fans for sticking out their necks and proclaiming their opinions simply because their faces and voices couldn’t be heard, just read? In class, we’ve also discussed how people find it easier to blast others with heir opinions and start fights online than it is to speak about issues in real life. But, even if social media gives fans a way to communicate easier and others the ability to share their opinions safely, how safe is it for celebrities? Minorities?

 

Social media utilized by a celebrity can go an alternative way: a representative employed by the celebrity acts as the head of the communication online. For example, when actor Dominic Monaghan first came on to the Twitter-sphere, a personal assistant or publicist was the first to tweet a message about how she/he would tweet regularly about Monaghan’s life and career. If Monaghan had time to tweet himself, he would end the tweet with his initials “DM”.

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While I don’t see any fault in this manner of using Twitter both for fans and to establish a presence online to publicize a celebrity, I can see why many fans might disagree with the method. Fans, now satisfied by real tweets from celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian, were longing for the same relationship with a popular actor such as LOST star, Dominic Monaghan. In their eyes, if a personal assistant was the middleman, there was no relationship at all.

 

Do you agree with the fans? Would you feel cheated out of a fandom if a celebrity never tweeted what he/she would actually say? Are social media platforms appropriate for fandoms where people’s love and attention can be flipped at the tweet of an opposing opinion? I say onward with web 2.0 in fandom communities! Just like Accarrino said, “Mass communication with a niche community, or even the entire planet, is now direct, easy and instant” making my daily dose of news about my favorite celebrities faster and easier. Who wouldn’t want that?

Fandom & Media: A Co-dependent Love Story

When speaking about fandom within the context of the ever-growing realm of social media, it is inherent that we clarify that it is not technology that dictates fan behavior nor is it fan behavior that delegates the structure of technology. Rather, the relationship between fandom and new media is mutually developmental, meaning that they both adapt according to each other. This idea is known as “convergence culture”, a term coined by Henry Jenkins, the founder and director of the comparative media studies program at prestigious MIT. Think of fandom and Web 2.0 as figures in a co-dependent relationship where both parties look to each other for potential ways to better their roles.

This idea of convergence culture suggests that these platforms that facilitate fan communities are nothing new, but that they are in fact merely adaptations of platforms from old media. For example, websites (such as http://www.lindsaylohansource.com) dedicated to reporting upon the happenings of a specific celebrity, politician, band, or what have you are not a new thing. Checking this kind of website on a regular basis or even following a public figure(s) on Twitter is just an adaptation of the Fan Club, an engraved figure from the time of Old Media. These fan clubs provided a service that was foundationally equitable to platforms existing in New Media with the intent of providing a place for fan communities to engage.

For example, if you belonged to a Bugs Bunny fan club than you could receive letters in the mail that suggested that they were from Bugs Bunny himself. Nowadays, fans turn to public figures’ blogs, twitters, websites, etc. to find messages that are also supposedly directly coming from the figures themselves. As you can see, both the old and new fan platforms were providing fans with the same (albeit false) sense of a relationship between themselves and their icon.

Furthermore, fans on a mailing list could also receive invitations to events where they could meet their icon and/or interact with fellow fans. New Media has merely adapted the same general idea by making this coming together of a fan community easier. Now, fans can find each other online through a variety of web resources and then communicate with each other any time they want even if they’re countries apart.

To further exemplify how fan communities facilitated through new media are merely grown-up versions of their old media counterparts, we can examine fans’ desire to create for each other. Fans were creating things for each other (fanzines, slash fiction, drawings, songs, etc.) even before new media reared it’s pretty head. Fans could distribute to display these creations by entering a picture in an art contest, singing a song about their icon at open mic night, etc.). New media came along and recognized this desire fans had to create for each other and simply found ways to make the dissemination of these materials between each other and the public faster, easier and wider spread. For example, there are now blogs dedicated entirely to Star Trek slash fictions and fan-made music videos on Youtube.

The important thing to remember is that fans do not do these things because new media allows them to; they’ve been behaving this way even before Web 2.0. However, on the other end of the spectrum, new media didn’t facilitate places for fandom to exist just because fans wanted it to. Instead, new media wanted these fans to participate so they provided places fan communities could exist, but then new media affected fandom by facilitating activities that had not been imagined and/or possible before.