Research update


Seeing Fans, edited by Lucy Bennett and Paul Booth, is available now from Bloomsbury Academic (at extortionate monies, so beg your library). I have a chapter in this collection looking at the representation of mature female fans of male singers (e.g. Rod Stuart, Daniel O’Donnell) are betrayed in local and national newspapers. The collection itself is great-a real mixture of academic and industry insights into how fans are portrayed in different contexts.

A few weeks ago, I presented a paper at the celebrity studies conference in Amsterdam, written with Kathryn Murphy, one of my research students.  In this paper we looked at newspaper representations of YouTube star Zoella. You can access the slides here. We are also presenting at the YouTube conference in Middlesex in September looking at how mainstream media are portraying YouTube stars.

I’ve also got an article available in Celebrity Studies on the ‘fame cycle’ and celebrity reality television, and this summer I’m completing work on ethics in fan studies and safe spaces in higher education as well as continuing work on gaming audiences and their relationship to corporations.

BBC Artsnight


I was a contributor to last week’s Artsnight on BBC Two. Curated by Clara Amfo, it looked at fame from a variety of angles – managers, fans, artists, journalists – a really interesting programme if you’re interested in celebrity in its various forms, and it was great to be part of it. (Plus special thanks to the two SHU students who patiently let us eat up a few minutes of the time they had booked in the library while we finished if you’re reading!) It’s available here for another 3-and-a-bit weeks if you want to catch it.

More fan-studies things on the way

2015-10-23 21.57.11It has been a long time since I updated, and with good reason – I have two injured arms (ask me if you see me and I’ll tell you the story although most people I know have heard it many times by now!) and this has been limiting my ability to type, use computers, read etc somewhat.  Perfect for an academic, right?  Anyway, I will be adding my thoughts on IR16 which was in Phoenix just over a week ago, where I was part of a team involved in a whole stream of stuff on social justice – in broad terms – but I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Just adding an update because I discovered there’s been some Tumblr sharing of some stuff I said in an interview a couple of years ago about 1D fans – and young female fans in general – and it’s nice to see fans finding out that there are people – including the journalist who wrote the article – who are supportive of them and understand them when they feel they’re getting kicked.  So if any of you are reading this, hello!  The picture on this post is of my nails because nail polish is one of the things I’m a massive fan of myself (in the spirit of fan solidarity and all that) and I’m too tired to find anything else!

And for those interested in my fan studies stuff, I just recorded another TV interview about fans of (female) celebrities.  I hope the edit is sensitive – I know there was one part where they were trying to look at the ‘darker’ side of fandom and my point was that collective action, whether for ‘good’ or ‘ill’ is not something that fans or the internet invented and so we can’t look to them as scapegoats for the nastier sides of human nature… anyway, if it doesn’t end up coming across that way… Trust me, I wasn’t cynical about fans – or even about celebrities – so we’ll see what makes the cut.  I’ll alert people when it’s coming out, fortunately it’s for something pretty niche rather than a ‘tabloid’ type show, and the production team were lovely and seem to be on the same wavelength, so fingers crossed!

In terms of publications, I have a chapter on how the news media represents mature female fans of male singers coming up in Lucy Bennett and Paul Booth’s new edited book on Seeing Fans, of which, details to come.  Am finishing up a few things on fans and anniversaries that I can’t say too much on right now, still slowly working on stuff on gaming fans and game companies that has gone beyond just The Sims series, although that’s still a core component.  And no, the hashtag that will not be named is nothing to do with it thankfully…

New article on #selfies in IJOC

fig7aThe Selfie Researchers Network has been running for just over a year, and members of it have just contributed to a special section, edited by Nancy Baym and Terri Senft, in the latest issue of the International Journal of Communication (vol 9). Articles look at funeral selfies, selfies in different cultures, selfies and politics and much more. My own contribution (written with Shane Tilton) compares the #nomakeupselfie and #thumbsupforstephen selfie campaigns and explores how they were portrayed very differently in wider media – but don’t just read ours, there’s a whole heap of interesting stuff in the issue – and it’s all open access!

New issue of the International Journal of Cultural Studies


The current issue of the International Journal of Cultural Studies (May 2015: 18 (3)) is the one that Feona Attwood and I guest-edited on Moments of Transformation – it’s been available for a while via OnlineFirst but now it’s out ‘for real’. The collection comprises a range of short and long pieces on different ways of thinking about aspects of makeover and transformation, from the changing taglines of social media sites to the use of YouTube by trans* vloggers.

My own paper looks at the trend of the mid-late 00s and early 10s to combine reality TV makeover formats and religious/spiritual programming – the likes of The Monastery, Make Me a Muslim etc.

Contributors include the likes of Matt Hills, Tania Lewis, Meredith Jones and Jean Burgess and we think it’s a nice mixture of topics and approaches. Sadly it’s not open access but hopefully you can find ways and means… 😉

Researching Fifty Shades – the film edition!


In 2013, I co-edited an issue of Sexualities journal with Sarah Taylor-Harman and Bethan Jones about the Fifty Shades book series. My own contribution was a paper written with Clarissa Smith exploring reader responses to the novels.

Well, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll have noticed a certain film adaptation was released last weekend, and so we’re all back on the case! Sarah has put out a call for papers for a special issue of Intensities journal on the phenomenon, and Clarissa and I (along with Lynne Hall and Sarah Tazzyman) are now interested in viewers of the film. If you’ve seen it, please complete the survey.

I’ll also be speaking about Fifty Shades and reader responses to the novels at the Science Museum Lates next week if you happen to be in That London.

Fan Studies Network conference 2014

Baggage and taggage.  Pic by Richard McCulloch

Baggage and taggage. Pic by Richard McCulloch

This weekend I was down in London for the second annual Fan Studies Network conference. The event brought together a range of scholars of all levels, from undergraduates through to professors through to a Skype keynote from actor Orlando Jones talking about his own engagement with fans and academics. Several other participants have already blogged about the event at far more length than I suspect I have the energy to muster right now, so I really recommend you check out what Nicolle Lamerichs, Lori Morimoto and Emily Garside had to say about it.

Ashgate panel.  Pic by Linda Duits.

Ashgate panel. Pic by Linda Duits.

I was part of a panel of authors from the newly-released Ashgate Research Companion to Fan Cultures, where I shared a bit about my longitudinal work on online fan communities dedicated to Belle and Sebastian and Cliff Richard. I also presented some of the very preliminary findings of my Sims 4 pre-release survey – although with almost 800 surveys completed there is a lot to mine through there still!

I heard a bunch of great papers over the weekend and missed out on even more fantastic-sounding ones (the difficulties of choice at conferences!). There was an emphasis on fandom and spaces, which was really interesting. I also loved the number of papers discussing fandom histories – from Lincoln Geraghty’s look at a history of conventions and programmes to Eva Hayes Gledhill’s fascinating comparison of 19th century scrapbooking and contemporary fandoms on Tumblr and Pinterest. It was great to see soap opera and music fandoms represented alongside the perhaps more expected cult media and TV drama. Sport was lacking a bit, though, and it would have been good to see something on club/dance cultures to see how those subcultural/clubcultural studies have come on (if at all?!) since last century. Inevitably, the white European nature of a lot of us meant that the papers weren’t as diverse as they could have been in terms of ethnicity and nationality – something that is maybe hard to avoid in a small conference held in the UK – but worth us acknowledging as a gap.

Some of my favourite papers, however, were those that explored the intersections between ‘fans’ and ‘professionals’. Orlando Jones gave a fascinating keynote Q&A via Skype (which was much more glitchy than it ever is in films or adverts, funny that) about his experiences as an actor who fully embraces several social media platforms and engages very actively with fans, other celebrities and academics, engaging at times in his own fannish practices. He spoke passionately about the relationship between fans and stars – whilst also acknowledging the disconnect some of the big Hollywood studios have from their audiences. Sarah Ralph shared some of the findings from the broader Make Me Laugh project, which looks at British comedy. In her paper she shared extracts from interviews with comedy professionals about their own experiences of being comedy fans and the pleasures and pains of becoming professional in an arena you love. Ruth Foulis presented on YouTube stars and their engagement with their own fans, something I’m really interested in as I teach a Celebrity Culture module and the rise of YTers has been one of the most significant developments that I’ve seen in the four-five years of working on the module.

I’m looking forward to reading all the articles, chapters and books that emerge from the projects represented at the conference.

Sims 4 post-release survey now active!

babyglitchI have now closed the Sims 4 pre-release survey with around 800 completions and will be working my way through the data in advance of the Fan Studies Network conference in September where I’ll present some of the preliminary findings.  Now The Sims 4 is out (in most of the world anyway…) the post-release survey is live. I’d love as many people as possible to complete it – whether or not you have TS4, and whether or not you completed the earlier survey.

There will be two types of questions – a set for those who have played TS4 and a set for those who haven’t. The survey will be live until the end of October. If you are planning on getting it before then, please can you wait until you have played before completing it? But if you have already played or you know you won’t be getting it before the end of October, go right ahead!

As before, it’s entirely anonymous (and this survey is a bit shorter too). Results from the pre-release survey are likely to be available late September after the conference and I’ll keep people posted about the results of this one.

More publication news – and Sims 4 survey updates.

Neighbours Cluedo from Art of Neighbours

Neighbours Cluedo from Art of Neighbours

I’ve got chapters/papers in a couple of publications that were released in the past few days.  Bethan Jones and Wickham Clayton recently edited a special issue of Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media about transmedia board games.  I have a wee piece about The Art of Neighbours in there, but the range of articles is really great – not just cult/fantasy stuff but it features things like Charlie Chaplin, Battleship and the Wizard of Oz.  It was a great project to be involved in and I know a few things are being written on board games at the moment so I look forward to seeing where this burgeoning field goes…

I’ve also got a chapter in The Ashgate Research Companion to Fan Cultures (edited by Linda Duits, Joost de Bruin and Stijn Reijnders) about the research I did on Cliff Richard and Belle and Sebastian fans in the early 2000s and early 2010s. The book covers a wide range of topics, eras and methodologies and I can’t wait to read it.

And, as I suspect I’m getting a bit of traffic from Sims fans at the moment, just an update on the Sims 4 research – my pre-release survey will be live until Monday if you still want to complete it.  The post-release survey should be up within a week of the game’s release (it hasn’t been written yet as I want to adapt questions to what’s known to be in the game after it comes out, not just the pre-release news/rumours/trailers etc).  I know a lot of people have said in the pre-release that they’re not buying it, but I hope those people will still fill in the post-release survey.  The survey will essentially take two ‘tracks’ – one for those who’ve purchased it and one for those who haven’t (yet) and the findings will be compared to the pre-release data.  Almost 800 surveys have been completed.  Some of the raw data will be made available late September when I present a paper at the Fan Studies Network conference on it, but it’ll take a while to process everything (especially all the qualitative comments).  Number and nature of the publications based on it TBC but I’m also committed to some non-Sims and non-fan studies papers in 14/15 (plus creating new modules for SHU) so I will have to write those first!

Sex, God and Rock’n’Roll


Yesterday was one of those days where the news seemed directly targeted to me and I wanted to shout at it to shut up while I finished being busy doing a bunch of entirely different stuff. Two of the big stories directly related to my research interests: religion in the media, and fans of Cliff Richard – and I’m slap bang in the middle of writing a lot of things that mean I can’t give either story much attention. Still, I have a blog, so I can write something quick and rough and ready instead – and it’s some very weird kind of (divine?) coincidence that two big stories featuring Christian singers and sexuality broke on the same day.

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Of Triggrs and Tumblrs


Social Justice Sally advice animal. Image from FuckYeahSocialJusticeSally on Tumblr

Following on from my post the other week, here are some thoughts about trigger warnings, fandom and social media. In a forthcoming paper for Transformative Works and Cultures I write about this as part of a wider discussion of how Sims fans use Tumblr and the ways this Tumblr posting is observed, commented on and ‘shamed’ by LiveJournal site SimSecret. One of the things that particularly interested me from both the interviews and surveys I conducted with users and from reading SimSecret and its comments was the way that fans were often ‘called out’ either for behaviour that was deemed to be offensive or inappropriate (e.g. sexism, cultural appropriation etc) or, conversely, for being a ‘Social Justice Warrior’ and too precious about such things. One of the debates fans frequently have with each other – and in other communities – is about the use of trigger warnings. Those who advocate their use are often seen as being SJWs, pearl clutchers or ‘special snowflakes’ whilst those who are vehemently against them have been characterised as oppressive, bullying or insensitive.

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Sims 4 pre- and post-release surveys


As most of you know, I have been doing research with Sims fans for a couple of years now and a while back held a survey about their web use. Some of those findings are in a paper I presented at the Internet Research conference last year (slides here, short paper here), some aspects were mentioned in a paper I co-authored in Participations journal. I have also written an article using these findings which will be published in the journal Transformative Works and Cultures next year and have another 2-3 articles in progress.

Given the release of Sims 4, I wanted to use this opportunity to gather player opinions on the new game, both before and after its release, and so I’m asking anyone who is a Sims player to fill in two short(ish) anonymous surveys relating to the game. The pre-release survey is now live and I would appreciate you recirculating the link so I can get as many people as possible to complete it (I had around 1.5K responses last time – thanks all!):

The second survey will be posted after the game is released (probably within the first week rather than on the day of release as I’ll need to discover what its features actually are so I can create appropriate questions). I’ll post reminders when it goes live, but the address is: Please note, this survey and its follow-up are entirely anonymous.

If you want any more details, you can email me: or keep an eye on this site. Thanks!

Come and work with us!

Sheffield Hallam University

My department at Sheffield Hallam University – the Department of Media Arts and Communication – has a number of vacancies at present and we would love some lovely people to come and join us. Details are available on the University Website. There are also jobs in other departments and faculties if you’re not a media type – but then you wouldn’t get the benefit of working with me on a daily basis.

You would get to work in the swishy building in the picture! You would get to work at a university with great facilities and lovely students and colleagues! You’d get to work on a campus surrounded by several awesome independent pubs and cafes that will happily take your salary off your hands! You’d get to be in Sheffield with its fantastic festivals, theatres and pubs, proximity to the Peak District and many hills! You’d get me nagging you about your modules and the paperwork associated with them the benefits of working with me!

For the interested, the four vacancies we’ve got going are all at a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer level (depending on experience):

  • 1.0 FTE Public Relations
  • 1.0 FTE Media (theory)
  • 0.6 FTE Media (practice – with experience in video and/or film)
  • 0.5 FTE Sports Journalism

Details of all entry requirements etc can be found with the job adverts. Applications close late August. I’m happy to be contacted with questions about the vacancies until the middle of August (you can access my details under the contact page), or email the Deputy Head of Department, Geff Green, on

Pull the trigger

Trigger-Only-Fools-And-Horses I’ve recently become part of a small group of academics who are engaging in conversations about the phenomenon of trigger warnings, after we noticed there was a lot of debate about the issue within the blogosphere and wider media, and increasingly within sectors of the academy, but little in the way of published research. None of us were that sure we wanted to take on a huge research or writing task with our other commitments but as this topic was cropping up increasingly as we went about our work (which between us covers areas such as fandom, religion, psychology, gender, literature, sexuality, media, internet cultures and probably other stuff I’ve forgotten), we decided it was probably time we at least had some conversations about it and curated some of the other conversations going on ‘out there’ on the issue. One of the things we are wanting to do is open up discussion with each other – and with anyone else who was interested – about these things within an academic framework, and part of that includes blogging about our ideas, thoughts and findings.

This is the first of (at least) three blog posts I want to write on the topic. Here I’m really just providing some ground work in terms of highlighting other people’s comments on the debate with a couple of links to other discussions. As someone whose research is often concerned with internet technologies and media/fan audiences, naturally I am also intending to blog about internet and fan cultures and the ways trigger warnings are debated in spaces like Tumblr, Reddit, LiveJournal and fan blogs (particularly regarding so-called Social Justice Warriors or SJWs) so that’s another post or two. My third area of interest in this topic is the way TWs are presented primarily as an American phenomenon and how people (both US and non-US citizens) comment on this within wider frameworks of conceptualising ‘Murica’. (This is an area I’ve been interested in since my PhD work where I found a very clear narrative within British media about negative attitudes towards the USA).

For those who don’t know what trigger warnings (or TWs) are, they’re a way of highlighting (sometimes through tags, sometimes labels etc) potentially problematic (or ‘triggering’) content. They work in much the same way as product allergy warnings or those little boxes on the back of DVDs with the certificate rating. There can be trigger warnings for a whole range of things, but mainly we’re talking about things like rape, violence, sexual content, racism, sexism, cissexism, homophobia, suicide, eating disorders and so on. You may well have seen articles in the news or via social media about whether or not to use such warnings in literature, teaching materials and so on – mainly relating to the USA, which I will return to in a future post.

Meg John Barker kicked off the discussion a few days ago with their thoughtful post. They argue here for opening up conversations between people who take different approaches to the phenomenon and argue that neither polarised position about being ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ TW is particularly helpful at engaging with the nuances of hugely complicated and multi-faceted issues such as trauma, freedom of speech and censorship. As Barker puts it, ‘So instead [of debating pros and cons of TWs] it is helpful to ask ourselves what it has the potential to open up, and what it risks closing down. We might helpfully consider this question on multiple levels, i.e. what it opens up and closes down for the individuals concerned, for communities in which they are embedded, for achieving their aims, and for wider culture.’ I think this point is particularly pertinent, which I’ll come back to in a bit.

Barker’s post links to a couple of other blog posts on the topic, Jack Halberstam’s post, entitled You are triggering me! The neo-liberal rhetoric of harm, danger and trauma and Scott Alexander’s ‘The wonderful thing about triggers‘. These are both interesting posts that cover a lot of ground and have resulted in large comment streams, with commenters often adopting the binary positions on the topic Barker cautions against.

Halberstam rightly notes that trauma, offence and ‘social justice’ are complicated issues and one person’s attempts at preventing trauma can be seen by another person as simply censorship. Halberstam also raises a slightly uncomfortable (and importantly uncomfortable) point about a ‘hypersensitivity’ to discrimination and abuse that threatens to detract discussions in (in this example) LGBT communities from wider social issues around economics, class etc. Halberstam: ‘I want to call for a time of accountability and specificity: not all LGBT youth are suicidal, not all LGBT people are subject to violence and bullying, and indeed class and race remain much more vital factors in accounting for vulnerability to violence, police brutality, social baiting and reduced access to education and career opportunities’. However, I think Halberstam’s post, as funny, articulate and provocative as it is (and should be), neatly evades some of the important issues around trigger warnings and the people who are negotiating them, including what it might mean to have a traumatic response to content and whether or not mitigating against that through TWs has a purpose. This is perhaps as a result of specifically addressing an LGBTQ audience and their concerns than looking at some of the other functions of TWs such as warnings about rape, violence, mental health issues etc. It also, as Julia Serano notes, seems to create a sense of generational divide which is perhaps not all that helfpul. However, in a follow-up post, Halberstam acknowledges the dangers of publishing a polemical piece (which the first article was) and employing humour in an arena full of sensitivities and offers links to several response pieces which you can follow from there to see how the debate is developing.

Scott Alexander offers a thoughtful debate about the pros and cons of trigger warnings and makes an eminently sensible suggestion (to me) about placing TWs (or content warnings) in subtle places such as the copyright etc parts of books where if you want to find them, you can, and if you don’t, they’re easily avoidable. Of course, this doesn’t solve the issue of which kinds of material (Plays? Newspapers?) would merit the use of such warnings and which kinds of content would be deemed warning-worthy, but nonetheless there’s food for thought for content producers in what Alexander is saying. Alexander’s conclusion: ‘If, like me, you think the social justice movement has a really serious kindness and respect problem, then you know that it’s really hard to bring this up without getting accused of unkindness and disrespect yourself. I don’t know how to best respond to this problem. But I’m pretty sure that the very minimum one can do is not to actually be unkind and disrespectful. And I worry that some of these arguments against trigger warnings are failing to clear even this very low bar.’

Whilst I am cautious about such a categorisation of the ‘social justice movement’ – something I’ll come back to in a later post, as I think the criticisms against so-called SJWs are often couched in a (sometimes barely) concealed cloak of sexism, ageism, homophobia etc in a 2014 rendition of the old ‘political correctness gone mad’ line that is usually the preserve of the prejudiced – I think the key to it all is very much the maxim of being kind to one another. In a world, and an internet in particular, where being able to understand each other is valued highly, the trigger warning offers us an unusual conundrum – is it “better” to warn people of potentially harmful content or “better” to allow people to speak freely? Really, there is no way to ‘win’ if we consider things in such binary terms. As Barker says, better to ask questions about who is producing content and who is reading it – to consider what kinds of response may be produced, and, above all, to think about what is the best way to deal with these topics kindly and respectfully. It shouldn’t be about policing content and forcing labelling upon people in a censorious manner, nor should it be about accusing those advocating TWs of being crybabies and needing to grow up. (I even make myself LOL a bit with the idea certain sections of Reddit might be a space of kindness, but that’s for another day) In this respect, then, I am less interested in the rights and wrongs of applying a trigger warning (or a content warning, which I think may be a more helpful term – something I intend to return to in another post) or not applying one, and more in the discourses surrounding the phenomenon, the ways in which territories are contested and the voices of certain groups – often those of the marginalised – are shut down or go unheard amongst all the shouting (Julia Serano’s blog post is great on this idea and I’ll revisit her discussion in a future post).