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Fandoms, Subcultures and Cult Media #4

Cult Media and Cult Fandom

“There can be no final and absolute classification of the media cult, for just as different generations within the ‘family’ may recombine qualities and attributes, then so too may new ‘media cults’ produce further recombinations of family attributes.” – Matt Hills, 2002

In spite of this suggestion that a media cult is impossible to define due to the wide range of fan practices and engagements caused by the generational mixture in many ‘families,’ Hills has also identified three typical traits of cult media texts:

  • Endlessly Deferred Narrative
  • Hyperdiegisis
  • Audience Participation

I am going to relate these characteristics to a text that I am a dedicated fan of and would consider to have a cult following; Harry Potter. The extensive global media coverage of this series may make this seem like an unlikely example of a cult text. After all, anyone who is willing to pay for an overpriced cinema ticket to one of the films would most likely identify as a fan, and as with a box office total of $1.3billion for the final film alone would suggest, this encompasses millions more fans than is usual for a cult.

potter

However, does everyone who went to see the films participate in the online community Pottermore, buy wand collections the Platform 9 ¾ shop and partake in extensive debates on whether Harry and Hermione would make a better couple than her and Ron? Did they queue up outside Waterstones at midnight dressed in cloaks and hats each time a new book came out? Or have they even read the books?! In my opinion the, Harry Potter fandom, like many other cult fandoms, is split into two sets: those who enjoy the films and books and appreciate J.K Rowling’s modern work of genius, and those who truly immersed themselves the wizarding world, and continue to do so years after the final releases.

In regards to Hills’ three traits, I am going to start with Endlessly Deferred Narrative. This refers to a question which remains unanswered throughout the series, and the resolution of which often occurs as the finale. It relates to Barthes’ ‘Hermeneutic Code’ (1974) which to him can ‘constitute an enigma and lead to its solution.’ Throughout the Harry Potter series, each book adds more to the ongoing battle between Harry and Voldemort. From the start of The Philosopher’s Stone, the reader knows that the series will end with one of them killing the other.

Hills uses the term Hyperdiegesis to describe the creation of narrative space by a text which is ‘stimulating creative speculation’ for those in the fandom. The Wizarding World created through the Harry Potter books certainly conforms to this description. As well as the shops and theme parks based on the books, Pottermore allows J.K. Rowling to release more content to fans. The interactive nature of the site also gives the fans more opportunity to connect with one another as well as the series. Following the release of the final film, Rowling also released information about many of the main and secondary characters and their lives following the events of The Deathly Hallows. This, and much more information given by the books and author over the years have allowed fans to create Wikis of each character, displaying much more information one could gather from just the films.

Although the audience’s participation in the universe created by these books is an example of Hills’ final point, more conventional fan practices also take place, largely online. This includes fan fiction and artwork, and fan made trailers and short films.

Although this series is obviously incredibly mainstream, with a total worldwide box office of $7.7billion and 450 million books sold, I still believe that the intricately detailed magical world they create has resulted in a cult following who still appreciate reading the books for the seventh time, as well as the companion books. This suggests that amongst the masses of cinema goers who watch just because of the hype surrounding it, there is still a dedicated cult following.

Bibliography

Hills, M. (2002), Fan Cultures, New York & London, Routledge.

Fandoms, Subcultures and Cult Media #6

Gender in Subcultures and Fandom

Although being a female fan of rock music is in no way surprising or unusual, it still takes me longer than it should when searching the shelves of magazines in supermarkets for Kerrang or Rocksound. This is because I cannot get used to the fact that a magazine that I, and many of my female friends, have read for years is categorized as ‘male interest.’ According to the categories laid out by Sainsbury’s I should be exclusively interested in magazines featuring celebrities revealing their shocking weight loss secrets or if I am to read about music, I would only concern myself with news of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.

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Generally, these ‘female’ magazines are targeted at young girls and teenagers, with nothing suitable for adult females. This is demonstrated by the playful, pink text that results in the magazine lacking any credibility of music journalism and acting more as a means for 12-year-olds to certify which member of One Direction they’re most likely to marry. In contrast, the images, colour schemes and text on the cover of ‘male’ music magazines create a much more serious image, with more well established bands whose interviews often cover real-life topics such as drug use and mental health, rather than focusing on each member’s favourite colour, relationship status and equally the important facts that pop music magazines fixate on.

This reflects Andreas Huyssen’s view in 1986, and shows that very little has changed since then in the gender association within media industries. He states ‘mass culture is somehow associated with women while real, authentic culture remains the prerogative of men.’ This idea is now taken even further to create the illusion that women are incapable of participating in a fandom that is labelled as a male interest. As rock and metal music is generally regarded to have a predominantly male fan base, excuses are made on the behalf of women in the fandom.

An example of this is given in “Anyone who Calls Muse a Twilight Band will be Shot on Sight’: Music, Distinction, and the ‘Interloping Fan’ in the Twilight Franchise’ by Rebecca Williams which discusses bands, such as Muse who were heavily featured in The Twilight Saga films. This has led to the assumption that every female fan, whether loyal since the start or not, is only interested in the band because of their association with Twilight. Despite the fact they formed in 1994 and released their debut album, Showbiz in 1999, it is a far too accepted assumption that they would have had no female fans until the first Twilight film was released in 2008. Williams discusses ‘issues which force seemingly arbitrary fandoms into opposition to each other, causing them to operate on axes of distinction and to engage in forms of ‘accidental anti-fandom.”

Both Williams and Huyssen’s research shows how infuriating it can be as a female member of fandoms typically seen as ‘male’. ‘Female’ fandoms are often seen as worthless due to their mass-produced nature and women cannot be part of a ‘male’ fandom without being accused of having an ulterior motive for their interest. Identifying yourself as a member of any fandom should not require justifying your interests so as not to be seen as a ‘fake.’

Bibliography

Huyssen, A. (1988) After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism, Basingstoke, Macmillan.

Williams, R. (2013) ”Anyone Who Calls Muse a Twilight Band Will Be Shot on Sight’: Music, Distinction, and the ‘Interloping Fan’ in the Twilight Franchise”, Popular Music and Society, vol. 36, no. 3, p. 327.

Fandoms, Subcultures and Cult Media #3

Exploring Subcultures

Although I would consider myself a member of various subcultures, they are all based around music. My favourite genres of music are rock, metal and indie music, as well as pop-punk, pop and alternative. Music is one of the most important things to me, and although I actively engage with other fans and musicians and feel as though it has been a major factor in my life up to now, I am aware that many people and would not see me as a member of these subcultures. There is an idea among many that members of subcultures dress and act in certain ways, and I don’t feel that I personally conform to these expectations. An example of this would be in 2008 when The Daily Mail described ‘emos’ as people who ‘wear dark clothes, practice self harm and listen to ‘suicide cult’ rock bands.’

fans

In Resistance Through Ritual (1975), Hall and Jefferson suggest that subcultures are formed by people who are trying to ‘resist’ the mainstream. This was the basis of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies’ idea that ‘Juvenile Delinquency’ came from an attempt to oppress Capitalism. I personally don’t think that the reason I listen to music not considered ‘mainstream’ is because I am trying to resist being seen as ‘following the crowd’ or wanting to be ‘indie’ or a Hipster, rather than because it is the music I enjoy more than the repetitive, manufactured, overly-produced music that seems to dominate the Top 40. Despite this, I regularly see fans of previously unknown artists who waste no time in accusing them of ‘selling out’ and ensuring the rest of the Youtube community know that they were fans when no-one else was.

This theory has also been criticised for placing too much emphasis on the working class who supposedly create subcultures through their lack of acceptance into other areas of society. As well as this, I remain hopeful that I am amongst the majority of music fans who are more interested in the actual music, rather than how many others are listening to it. For these reasons, I feel that this theory needs updating to accommodate the ways most people find new music and become part of subcultures: the internet.

I have found that the subcultures I am a part of have allowed me to meet and talk to other people with similar interests to me, often just because they are wearing a t-shirt of a band I don’t know anyone else who likes. Dick Hebdige discusses how subcultures are formed in ‘Subculture: The Meaning of Style’ and suggests that when first formed through a ‘common resistance,’ subcultures are seen as radical by dominant society, but as the style of clothing or music that defines the subculture become commodified by large media industries, it will eventually become more mainstream and accepted by homogenous masses. A recent subculture this theory can be applied to is ‘Hipsters’ whose way of dressing is now recognised, as well as mocked online.

Overall, I find that my participation in musical subcultures gives me a common interest with others. Although I often do not dress typically of the subculture, I often wear band merchandise to express my interests. Also, though I find certain genres preferable, I do listen to a wide variety of music that means that even if other people do not share my main taste, I will usually still be able to discuss music with them.  I think that like myself, many people who do not look or act as a stereotype of the subculture are still just as active, enthusiastic and interested in it than those who do.

Bibliography

Hebdige, D. (1988), Subculture: the Meaning of Style, London, Routledge.

Jefferson, T., Hall, S. & University of Birmingham. Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (1976), Resistance through rituals: youth subcultures in post-war Britain, London, Hutchinson in association with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham.

Fandoms, Subcultures and Cult Media #2

Fan Communities and Fan Consumption

It has been continually pointed out to me that I easily become obsessed with bands, TV shows. There have been past instances where I will hear of a band for the first time but will then own four posters, six t-shirts, every CD and be a heavily involved member of their fan forum a week later. Similarly, I have gone from feeling apathetic towards a TV show one day, to sitting up on my laptop all night the next watching every episode and following all the actors and crew members involved on Twitter. I am then likely to drive every person I speak to for the next few months crazy as I regurgitate ‘fun facts’ I have learnt from my hours of reading every Wikipedia page related to my new obsession. The fact that my sisters still remind me of how I used to spend entire days watching, rewinding, and re-watching The Jungle Book video when I was young proves how little I have changed since I was three.

Although I do eventually lose interest, I am still a fan of everything I have ever gone through one of these obsessive phases over and still proudly wear any merchandise I acquired during that period. I can relate to several of the stereotypical characteristics laid out by Jenkins (1992) in his essay on Star Trek fans, ‘Get A Life! Fans, Poachers, Nomads.” One characteristic is ‘brainless consumers who buy anything associated,’ which, although I have so far resisted spending over £100 on a Harry Potter time-turner necklace, is something my extensive collection of band t-shirts proves I am guilty of. The only other of these characteristics I feel applies to me is that I ‘place inappropriate importance on devalued cultural material,’ but in my opinion, learning The Big Bang Theory theme tune on piano was a more productive use of time than revising for A Levels.

merch

Joli Jensen (1992) identifies two types of fans: the obsessed loner and the frenzied, hysterical member of the crowd. Fortunately, I feel that the latter applies to me. I cannot attempt to argue that the amount of time I spend could not have been better spent reading a classic novel or learning another language, but I would also be wrong to suggest that it has led to no benefits. Upon being the single person from the 150 students in my school year group to move to Birmingham for University, I found that being part of fandoms and having a common interest on which I could start a conversation made the experience much less daunting. I would consider music to be my main interest, and becoming a fan of this has made me more open to and more appreciative of styles of music I wouldn’t normally have listened to. For this reason I agree with Anthony Giddens in ‘Modernity and Self Identity’ (1991) who states ‘A person’s identity is not to be found in behavious, nor in the reactions of others but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going.’

Bibliography

Giddens, A. (2008) Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Cambridge, Polity.

Jenkins, H. (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, New York, Routledge.

Jensen, J. (1992) ‘Fandom as pathology: The consequences of characterisation’ in Lisa A. Lewis (ed.) The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, London, Routledge.

Fandoms, Subcultures and Cult Media #1

Auto-Ethnography

“It’s somebody who is obsessed with a particular star, celebrity, film, TV programme, band; somebody who can produce reams of information on the object of their fandom, can quote their favoured lines or lyrics, chapter and verse.” – Matthew Hills, 2002

I consider myself a fan of many different things. I love films, I obsess over TV shows, and I’m constantly online, finding new artists and talking to others about my main passion; music. I feel proud to be a fan of the music, films, books, television and all other media I consume, and I often show this buy purchasing merchandise and sporting t-shirts bought at concerts. However, there is one particular area of fandom mentioned in Hill’s definition above which I neither participate in, not can fathom why so many others do. This area is celebrities.

Week1

Magazines and tabloid newspapers are currently full of meaningless stories about Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Katie Price or Josie Cunningham’s new haircuts. With an average over 10 million Twitter followers between them, these four women are classic examples of celebrities who are ‘famous for being famous.’ Rather than relying on musical talent, acting skills or a love of writing, their looks and scandalous front page stories have been enough for them to achieve more fame and wealth than most of society, whilst seemingly putting in a fraction of the effort. However, they each seem to have a large number of devoted followers who view them in the same way I, and many others, view musicians, actors, directors and authors. This is something I can never see myself participating in.

Alongside many others, media theoriest Theodor Adorno views fans negatively and as acting as a homogeneous mass, consuming the ‘false needs’ expelled by the ‘culture industries.’ Similarly, in ‘Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture,’ Henry Jenkins lists several stereotypes of Trekkies (Star Trek fans) which could be applied to other fandoms. I believe that several of these can be applied to followers of celebrities. The one I felt was most applicable was that they ‘are brainless consumers who will buy anything associated with the programme or the cast.’ Of the four women I have mentioned, Josie Cunningham is the least well known, with only 108k Twitter followers. However, in July 2014 she was able to make £30k selling four tickets to the birth of her third child (which were refunded when she discovered she would be having a girl…) Although three of these tickets were sold to journalists, it shows how much that story would be worth to the readers of certain publications.

This example shows the lengths some people go to for celebrities which are further than most people would go for their favourite band. Although I view the fandoms I am a part of as communities of people who share interests, this shows that a single person with enough media hype surrounding them is enough to create fandoms just as dedicated.

Bibliography

Adorno, T. and Horkheimer, M. (1944) Dialectic of Enlightenment, Germany

Hills, M. (2002) Fan Cultures, London & New York, Routledge

Jenkins, H. (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, New York, Routledge