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.