This is cross-posted to my LiveJournal blog here. Conversation welcome at either site.
[1.2] You [JM] asked about the political issues of the acceptance of versus the othering of fandom, and I’d turn that around to ask about the political issues of the acceptance of versus the othering of the critic, and of the critical apparatus she uses, because that’s the reason we’re having this conversation: what’s at stake when the critic makes her decisions about what and how to study? Gender is one of those things. Authority and power are others. We’ve come full circle, therefore: the acafan has been reconstituted and redescribed, just as she constitutes and describes her field of study.
[1.3] I want to revisit this because of the terribly fraught nature of the role of the critic. When it comes to media studies, particularly fan studies, it’s sometimes hard to separate the fan from the academic. One thing Kristina Busse and I tried to do in our book was set out the whole “we’re both fans and academics, we think that’s valuable, and here’s why” thing in the Introduction in such a way that the individual contributors could just skip their ethnography and their credentialing. We reasoned that valuable words would be better spent on the topic at hand—yet of course we had to deal with it, because the topic is so problematic.
[1.4] Of course, I’d argue that fans are hardly unique to things like sports of sci-fi TV shows. It’s just that somehow, a fan and active reader of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) somehow has less cred than, to choose an example I’ve used elsewhere, a fan and active reader of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759). Is it somehow more difficult to get a sense of the culture that created the artwork when we’re actually in the cultural moment? Obviously that’s ridiculous, even given the signal/noise ratio. I just don’t see how it could be. We have a far better sense of the resonance of a text because we coexist with its cultural moment and can see the connections. We don’t need to keep revising a text through interpretation to keep it relevant for our culture, as we do with Shakespeare. But ridiculous as it is, I guess we’re stuck with it: academics who work with Renaissance texts don’t have to waste time explaining themselves, but we do.
2. What’s in it for the academic?
[2.1] Here’s the question I want to ask: what’s in it for the person with the power? Why is it important to the academic that she remain disinterested? What’s in it for her to make the thing studied (the fan) different, to declare herself disinterested? I’d argue that the answer is simple: authority—which is, after all, what is being bolstered by every disclaimer the academic makes. The tradition of a disinterested scholar standing to the side, making relevant and pithy comments, is meant to make the findings all the more rigorous, the findings all the more irrefutable. Lots of things come to you if you have authority, such as publications, which result in jobs and tenure. The entire academic system is set up to reward authority, and it would be foolish to not consider it.
[2.2] But what’s in it for the academic if she instead makes herself the same as the thing studied (the fan)—if she self-identifies as a fan? Community, although likely a community with other acanfas, because fans and acanfans don’t always get along. This commodity also has benefits: the old bat’s network would be one example, although since we’re still constructing it, we haven’t gotten all that much use out of it yet.
3. Why we credential
[3.1] I’m not arguing that people should stop with the autoethnography or the credentialing. It’s useful to the reader to know where the researcher is coming from, and certainly the writer may get something out of self-revelation (as in, “OMG! There are other fandoms besides Harry Potter? And they have different rules?”). The standards set by the academic world won’t be wiped away overnight. However, I think it’s useful to think about what those academic standards are there for and what they’re doing: they’re attempting to enforce rigorous research that will result in firm findings, and the reason it does all that is to create a hierarchy of authority that can be used as a system of reward. I’d also argue that some of this is an inappropriate valorization of the scientific method to other realms of study—basically applying the standards used in the sciences to the humanities.
[3.2] In the medical field, it’s become common for the journals to print every researcher’s honorarium, every share held in a relevant business, every possible conflict of interest, to separate the possibility of personal gain from the research done, presumably so the researcher doesn’t say “it’s the best thing ever!” because the drug company is paying her to, or because she owns the company that is marketing the drug or device. And I doubt that oncologists are completely disinterested when they assess new drug combinations for their patients, now matter how measured the prose when they submit their findings to Annals of Clinical Oncology. Even the formulaic format of the scientific research paper, the so-called IMRAD system of organization (introduction, materials and methods, results and discussion), underlines the standing aside, the disinterest, by reporting the research as a process that follows the scientific method and terminates in an end point. It all seems so neat, but of course in practice, it’s not.
[3.3] Obviously oncology is much different than media fandom. But the strict division between practice and analysis is not always appropriate for some realms of study, and media studies (and fan studies) are among those fields. It isn’t wrong to be intensely interested in what I study—isn’t that why I study it, after all? How unfortunate that “it’s wrong to be too interested” is the subtext that we’re responding to when I begin an essay with, “As an active fan of…” or “Let me admit it: I’m a fan.”
[3.4] The red team/blue team debate in Jenkins’s blog is one way to try to move from authority to community, to permit joyful credentialing. It’s a good start.