Tame the Beast

It’s funny how we use ‘things’ to define who we are. We hardly ever talk of ourselves in terms of character traits or mannerisms, but rather where we work, whom we are related to, and what we enjoy.

This couldn’t be truer of fandom. Fans are defined by their like, or indeed love, of a certain thing. As the ultimate active audience, their collective activism in both daily life and the surrounding Transmedia world is at once fetishistic as it is creative and impressive.

How this fandom is largely received is divisive. Matt Hills suggests ‘pop culture’s take on fandom has typically been one of distaste and critique, with fan’s emotional attachments to media texts and celebrities being viewed as “irrational”‘ M.Hills (2007).

Irrational it may be, I would also suggest we’ve all got a little bit of the ‘fan’ in all of us. Importantly though, having this slice of fandom is useless when it only exists in your bedroom – unless you’ve got a community, especially online, in which to foster it. Then, you are face with the power fan communities are able to command. It has led to Chuck being reinstated for another season after a Zachary Levi led march to Subway, and 20 tonnes of nuts being sent to CBS to save post apocalyptic show Jericho.

On the flip side, it has also led to horrific circumstances such as the death of Rebecca Schaeffer, best known for her role on sitcom My Sister Sam, at the hands of a stalker.

It makes you question whether fans can get ‘too close’ to the text. I am of course touching on my suggestion earlier that fans can become fetishistic about their chosen artefact. In the above example this has certainly been the case. Yet as Steven Ryfle notes in his article ‘When Fans Go Too Far’, this is only around 1% of the population (in America) who exhibit ‘borderline pathological’ behaviour.

As Brian noted in the lecture, fan cultures can become a problem for ‘legitimate’ culture when they reach this stage, for they place ‘cultural texts on the same level as academic, canonical ones’. (Game of Thrones more poetic than Shakespeare?) Brian also queried us on whether ‘fannish modes of engagement’ have become mainstreamed in contemporary television cultures. For a show like Game of Thrones, I would suggest this could not be truer. Fandom is essential to the success of Game of Thrones. As a genre/period/medieval/drama/action/exposition extravaganza I would suggest the engagement of fans at events like Comic Con and online through the likes of Game of Thrones Wiki is integral to the show’s success. Without the epic proportions of anticipation that follow each word that comes from George R.R. Martin’s mouth, the show would be without its freely exploitable publicity machine that makes this show successful.

Regardless, fans are always going to exist. George R.R. Martin and his team seem to know how to make best use of it – knowledge culture meeting fan culture (H. Jenkins (2006)). Yet the days of viewing fans as ‘irrational’ and fetishistic aren’t over. Thus it’s time to start manipulating this bizarre love into commercial opportunities. Just don’t be too surprised when something goes wrong. Fans are after all, obsessive, hierarchical beasts.

If you can tame the beast, you’ll be sure to reap the rewards.


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