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.

Celebrity Studies Conference 2014

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This week I’ve been at the second biennial Celebrity Studies conference at Royal Holloway. It’s been a great event with a really rich mixture of disciplines represented and a lot of Australians to make up for missing a couple of days’ worth of Neighbours. There was a strong showing from PhD and MA students, which was really exciting to see, as well as esteemed prof superstars (much fanboying and fangirling and fan-whatever-the-non-binary-equivalent-is-ing over Richard Dyer occurred) and those of us who sit somewhere inbetween. Those of you who follow me on Twitter are no doubt already sick of hearing about it #sorrynotsorry.

There was a crazy choice of panels and so much I didn’t get to see but I’m hoping people will publish and/or upload things soon. As someone who runs a Celebrity Culture module there were so many things to consider and implement into my teaching from a conference that encompassed everything from literary and historical celebrity, to animal celebs, to politics to the ubiquitous Kardashians – mentioned in more papers than anyone could count. That we shared the venue with other conferences, including a Holocaust Studies one, and a university open day, added a delicious twist.

My own paper was on celebrity reality TV formats and you can find the slides here. But once I hunt them down, I’ll share links to some of my favourites from the event – I’ve really enjoyed hearing a fantastic articulation of the way Tumblr gifs are used as narrative soundbites, some lovely material about teen views of celebrity that made me desperate for MOAR, an interesting take on novelists and ‘hoaxes’, a whip through the world of animal celebrity and loads more. What would have been nice would have been more interview work with celebrities and their ‘intermediaries’ themselves (there was some of this but not enough) and more work on Asia and Africa… among other things. However, it feels a little churlish to see there being lack in a programme that was so fun.

On the middle night we were treated to mini-docs on celebrity from MA documentary students which gave an excellent example of how to embed theory, practice and research together and how host university students can be involved in conferences (the MA students also did a wonderful job stewarding) and gave me loads of ideas to take back to my own department.

Oh, and Royal Holloway orders the BEST biscuits (strawberry and cream! Salted caramel! Passion Fruit and White Chocolate!) – SHU catering, GET ON IT.