Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth
|Title:||Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth|
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From the start, there were tensions between the fannish community and academics who studied fandom. Enterprising Women created a strong negative reaction among many of the female fans who were the subjects of the book. Among the areas of contention were what may perceived as shallow, or incorrect, gender assumptions: "Some of Bacon-Smith’s theories concerning slash writing include: 1) that the male characters are actually surrogate women and, 2) that slash writers are afraid to write about heterosexual sex because they’re afraid they’ve been doing "it" wrong all these years; that women aren’t really expected to know the mechanics of gay, male sex so essentially anything is allowed and accepted."
On Mary Sues
Camille Bacon-Smith includes a subsection on the Mary Sue concept in her book, Enterprising Women, tying it together with the Canon Sue issue. While not denying that such characters exist, she observes that fear of creating a "Mary Sue" may be restricting and even silencing pro writers, not just fan writers. She mentions "Mary Sue" paranoia as one of the sources for the lack of "believable, competent, and identifiable-with female characters." At Clippercon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention), Smith interviewed a panel of women authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. She quoted one as saying "Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue." Smith also pointed out that "Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue."
Several other writers quoted by Smith point out that James T. Kirk himself could be considered a "Mary Sue," or Canon Sue, and that the label seems to be used more indiscriminately on female characters who do not behave in accordance with the dominant culture's images and expectations for females as opposed to males.
Other General Reactions and Reviews
Enterprising Women’ and Textual Poachers have some similarities, in that both analyze fandom and fanzines, especially as they relate to women’s issues., but each has a unique approach. In my opinion, they compliment each other nicely – each examines issues that the other does not cover, and there is little real duplication. ‘Enterprising Women’ largely sorts fanzine stories by category and speculates on the significance of each story category. The Mary Sue story, according to the author, is a coming-of-age story for young women. For me, this explains… why most women fanzine writers have written at least one Mary Sue story… The most illuminating part to me was the author’s analysis of the Kirk and Spock (non-sexual) friendship stories. Bacon-Smith theorizes that this area of storytelling is really about women’s friendships, with Kirk and Spock taking on the characteristics, not necessarily of what they were in the series, that women want to see in their friends. This explains, for example, why Spock is less logical and more expressing of his feelings in the friendship stories that he was in the series or in the moves – it is because the authors of the stories want their friends to be expressive. In friendship stories, Kirk and Spock’s relationship is the most important thing in their lives because the author want their friendships to be the most important things in their lives. And so on. Therefore, it is essential to these authors that Kirk and Spock act in accordance with the writer’s ideals… I suspect, and Bacon-Smith suggests this in the text, that the authors of friendship stories ‘read’ the episodes differently, so that these writers actually believe that on the screen, Kirk and Spock are truly acting out the author’s ideal of friendship, whereas a more objective observer – even the screenwriter who wrote the episode – may not see any such thing. Bacon-Smith singles out the hurt-comfort genre as the ‘heart’ of Star Trek fanzine writing. Here she theorizes that hurt-comfort is an expression of pain or suffering that the authors have experiences in their lives. As a long-time fan of the hurt-comfort stories, I found Bacon-Smith’s discussion accurate, putting into words the significance that I myself found in these stories, but would not have had the means to articulate if I had not read her analysis. There is much more in this book including a chapter on K/S. Throughout the text, Bacon-Smith presents examples of how fans relate to each other, and explains fandom to the general reader. However, experienced fans will not find the treatment too elementary.; on the contrary, the analysis is interesting, whether or not one agrees with her conclusions. 
Camille Bacon-Smith [is] same writer who wrote the famous article on fanzines, "Spock Among the Women" for the New York Times Book Review in 1987. It is a good book but very scholarly. It also deals with Blake's Seven and other TV show fanzines. This book is put out by the University of Pennsylvania Press. I think that the book was $18.00 at Worldcon. In fact, the author, Camille Bacon-Smith, a lecturer in the department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, had a program at the Orlando Worldcon and I got her to sign my copy of her book. I don't agree with everything she says, but it was good to see fanzines seen as a serious thing, and not just "dumb kid's stuff'. 
Who Watches the Watchers?: I used to wonder how those aboriginal people felt about being observed by Margaret Mead. But I think I understand – now that I’ve read ‘Enterprising Women’ a new academic treatise… Its author Camille Bacon-Smith, is an ethnographer (in my day, we called ‘em anthropologists) who made a conscious decision to become a fan in order to study the phenomenon. She spent five years gradually infiltrating fandom, making friends with ‘mentors’ who could introduce her to aspects of culture not accessible to mundanes. (And oddly enough, she never uses the word ‘mundane,’ which suggests that five years wasn’t enough time for her to pick up the basic lingo.) So how does it feel to be an object of study? Like the aborigines, I felt uneasy and wary. but unlike them, I am capable of reading the published results and judging them for myself whether they are accurate. I approached this book with a built-in bias, because I know too well a basic truth about social sciences: Nobody studies NORMAL behavior; scientists are interested in what diverges from the usual realm of experience. By this standard, we fans are prime targets for research – we might as well be side-show freaks. And despite professing to be one of us, Bacon-Smith does little to dispel the idea. Seizing on the fact that 70% of the women she had talked to had never been married, the author paints a picture of emotionally deprived or even emotionally disturbed spinsters who’ve turned to fandom to fill the void in their lives. Being part of the group helps these pathetic women to control their ‘anxiety’ about ‘risk’. Risk of what you ask? ‘The risk inherent in asking oneself probing questions about life and one’s place in it.’ Oh. Sure, fans feel anxiety, but it doesn’t take an ethnographer to see why. First of all, we spend a lot of time putting form to our fantasies – things that never happened and never will. Society frowns upon that, except in the case of young children. Secondly, what we are doing is definitely ILLEGAL under U.S. copyright law. No wonder we prefer to keep it underground! But for the majority of it, it’s just a goddamed hobby. I wonder if the author would have drawn the same conclusions about us had we been stamp collectors? The book begins with descriptions of fanzines, fan fiction, and the social structure of the fan community. Then the author launches into a lengthy account of her own initiation into fandom, stretching it out over several chapters During this portion, scientific objectivity seems to fly out the window, and I can’t imagine why an academic press would choose to publish this book. Later, the pendulum swings the opposite direction, with page after page of theory and abstraction. Terms like ‘macroflow’ and ‘pattern recognition’ are bandied about, with no concrete examples given to clue the reader in what any of it means… In addition to the relentless use of jargon, I was bothered by Bacon-Smith’s use of quotes. She puts everything in that’s said – every repetition, every stutter, every ‘uh,’ every ‘you know.’ Well, maybe ethnographers think the quotes sound more legitimate, but any professional journalist can tell you that people don’t always talk grammatically, and it’s considered disrespectful to deliberately make your interviewee look stupid. When the author does give examples, they aren’t always the best ones. It’s fine to use Star Trek to illustrate a point, since just about everyone on the planet has heard of that show. But Bacon-Smith devotes as much or more space to prolonged discussions and episode synopses of ‘fringe’ fandoms such as Blake’s 7 which only a tiny minority are familiar with. I was fascinated, though, to read about the fans who gather to watch fuzzy, almost indecipherable videotaped copies of Brit TV. Are those shows really worth the effort? And I was interested to learn about songtapes, a relatively new art form that hadn’t really hit the scene yet during my big con-attending days in the early ‘80s. The book then just peters out, without drawing any strong conclusions or synthesizing what has gone before. I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, which was somewhat compensated by the glossary – Bacon-Smith’s attempt to define SF terms and characters. Even there, she doesn’t seem to grasp it all. Starfleet is the ‘military-police arm of the Federation.’ So much for that peaceful mission to explore strange new worlds. 
Enterprising Women' brought back a lot of memories, both good and bad, about my early years in fandom. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a women's persecutive of media fandom. If you would like to read a book that takes a wider selection of media fandom, you might want to read Textual Poachers. This book looks at everything from fanzines to filk and covers more genres than 'Enterprising Women' did. These two books make good companion pieces to each other. A note, however. Both of these books look at slash fiction in detail, with 'Poachers' using explicit excerpts. If you are offended by slash, you might want to skip those chapters. 
Yes, I have recently read parts of Textual Poachers, along with most of Enterprising Women by Camilla Bacon-Smith. Just the idea that there, were people out there doing serious scholarly studies of fandom disturbed me. The copious footnotes in both books make it clear that this isn't a new trend, either. I haven't been a K/Ser long, but I've been a fan most of my life. It may currently be in vogue to be a Star Trek fan (neofen think "Trekkie" is a complimentary term), but I was teased and insulted for it so unmercifully during my adolescent years that I'm still sensitive about any nonfan even knowing about my affiliation. And that goes double for K/S. So I did feel quite threatened at the thought of these "ethnographers" and other scholars making our underground "culture" public. Both Jenkins and Bacon-Smith appear to be sensitive to this concern; they say it often enough, but that didn't stop them from shouting a lot of our secrets from the rooftops. Still, I take comfort from the fact that they've probably sold more of these books to us than to nonfans or other "outsiders" . . . 
Bacon-Smith comes close to the truth when she points out that fan writers use fan fiction to explore issues in their own lives. But that's from a woman who sees h/c as the "heart" of the media fanzine community. I dont think she realty understands the way we work out such issues in K/S. Further, it could be said equally that we explore issues in our own lives in order to write fan fiction!
... about the Jenkins' book: The other one is Enterprising Women by Camille Bacon-Smith. This is, also, at times, massively off the mark. Despite the intriguing title, the bulk of the text concerns fandoms other than K/S, and at one point, the author refers to slash as "dangerous"! Evidently, she talked to some fans and writers who were pretty far out in left field, who needed a BIG reality check! Textual Poachers shares some similar problems. A treatise needs to be written, perhaps from the "inside", more in-depth interviews done with a larger segment of fans, writers and publishers. But, still, I share [name redacted's] doubtful feelings about having this thing analyzed AT ALL. While it's sort of fun seeing such a book in the mainstream bookstore, lending it an ersatz legitimacy, in truth, I don't want too close of an examination that might destroy the "magic" of K/S. I'd rather DO IT, than READ about IT. I'd rather curl with a good zine than analyze it to death. I'd rather discuss K/S with fellow K/Sers than read some report by an outsider (or maybe "outworlder"?) Sharing it with others is a lot different from explaining it. 
It is a proud, but not so lonely a thing anymore, to be a fan. At least, not with professional ethnographers like Camille Bacon-Smith hanging around and reporting back to the mundanes in the academic world. In her Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth, Bacon-Smith tells of her anthropological stay among the media fen. In so doing, she raised a certain amount of ruckus among the natives, once they got a hold of the book.
Camille Bacon-Smith spent about two years going to cons, visiting fans' houses, reading pounds of zines and unpublished stories, and talking to hundreds of the women in media fandom. The primary reason for her fascination with media fandom, she says, is that it is "a conceptual space where women can come together and create-to investigate new forms for their art and for their living outside the restrictive boundaries men have placed on women's public behavior." (Happily, most of the book's language is less academese than this selection.)...
It is remarkable, and Bacon-Smith does remark upon it, that so many women (perhaps twenty-five hundred over the past twenty-five years), when given the chance to write freely, express themselves through male characters, male characters created mostly by men and originally aimed at an audience mostly of men. Jenkins claimed the writers do this, at least unconsciously, because they are creating an example of the kind of men they'd like to have in their lives: more willing to feel, more willing to get personal. Bacon-Smith says the writers use the metaphor of men in order to communicate messages about their own lives, and that they are looking for a way of integrating the socially acceptable strength of the heroic (male) figure with the virtues valuable to women, namely caring, sharing, and deep communication.
But Bacon-Smith ultimately concludes, and this is what upset a number of fans who had let her interview them, that the shared subtext of a great number of media stories reveals a deep vein of pain and sorrow in the women who write, read, and collect the stories. This is especially evident in the huge popularity of hurt-comfort stories. "I didn't want hurt-comfort to be the heart of the [media fandom] community. I didn't want to accept the fact that pain was so pervasive in the lives of women that it lay like a wash behind all the creative efforts.... [F]ans wrote to work through their own problems of personal suffering."Now, most writers in any fandom are amateurs, and amateurs are easily upset by any hint that their stories aren't the best thing since The Bible. To be told, in a big, thick tradeback book written for an Important Audience, that their writing reveals them all to share "problems of personal suffering" got more than one fan's dander up. Moreover, because Bacon-Smith had seemed to act personally in getting her data-borrowing unpublished zines, visiting fans in their homes, attending small conventions-the offended fen took it personally. She is not likely to get more data from them for a second book. 
Enterprising Women opens with a brisk and informative rundown of the history of media fandom, including an account of its outgrowth from science-fiction fandom and a helpful explanation of the jargon used by fans. Bacon-Smith then proceeds more specifically to describe the social organization of members within fandom. Next, she turns to defining fanzines (fan fiction publications), the genres of work that appear therein, and the community that produces them. At this point, she runs into a problem as an ethnographer. Her tendency to generalize from small samples distorts her conclusions. Having described her own initiation into fandom, which consisted of a step-by-step introduction by experienced fans who acted as mentors, she concludes that this is how everyone comes into fandom, and that there is "an extensive mentor-apprentice system for training newcomers" (p. 81). Although this conclusion is based on her own experiences and those of other fans she knew, it is by no means a universal truth. Many fans are not "mentored into" fandom. What Bacon-Smith does not seem to realize, quite apart from the smallness of the sample, is that her own status most likely affected her treatment. Her position as an observer--which to her credit she openly acknowledged to her contacts--probably led her mentors to formalize the initiation procedure more than is normally done. For example, Bacon-Smith herself says that, when she was finally introduced to "circuit fandom" (stories photocopied and passed around rather than published in fanzines), she was surprised to learn that many of her informants had been active in circuit fandom all along and had concealed from her not only their involvement but the existence of circuit fandom itself. Yet she never makes the connection between this secrecy and her own status; she never considers that since the elaborate mentorship she describes herself receiving might be a result of her mentors' deciding step by step just how far to trust this observer/outsider, her experience therefore cannot be extrapolated to other participants.
Another problem is her claim that many fans live unsatisfactory lives and experience unusually deep pain. A survey she cites as evidence for this claim was conducted among fans at a single small convention on the East Coast; although the number is not specified, it cannot be enough for a representative sample. She also mentions information from surveys conducted informally by fans themselves, but these are even less scientific. In addition, the evidence suffers from the lack of comparison to a control group. For example, she notes that many fans are overeducated for their present jobs, but fails to compare that to the percentage of the population that was underemployed at the time of the survey, which was undertaken during the recession of the mid-1980s. She also cites examples of painful occurrences in the lives of fans, but does not show that these painful occurrences are extraordinary or compare them to the painful experiences of any other group. She notes that about 70 percent of fans are unmarried, but does not state explicitly the linking premise that would be required to make this fact support her conclusion that fans are living unsatisfactory lives: namely, that being unmarried means being unfulfilled, a premise that should not go unchallenged.
Finally, the explanation propounded by Bacon-Smith for women's involvement in fandom rests on an unnecessary preconception. Bacon-Smith states (p. 269) that she had accepted at the beginning of her search that the heart of fandom is the place "where the tears fell." By pre-defining the object of her quest in this fashion, she is making the assumption that there must be something wrong with these women, an assumption which is not only unnecessary but pernicious. If one asks why the warm, talented women portrayed in this book would form creative and supportive communities, at least part of the answer lies in the question itself, in the warmth and talent of the participants. Certainly the answer need not assume that there must be something wrong with them. This undercuts the respect and dignity accorded her subjects in earlier chapters.[snipped] 
"I'd heard so many negative comments about this book (especially when comparing it to "Textual Poachers", which I read first and enjoyed tremendously) that I fully expected to dislike it. I had the preconception that it was an "unsympathetic" (if not downright hostile) treatment of fandom by a condescending, critical outsider. Well, now I've read it--and to be honest, I don't see it that way at all.
I think Bacon-Smith intended to paint a *positive* picture of fandom and believes that she has done so. I do agree with the frequently-voiced observation that her writing style is more "distancing" than that of Henry Jenkins. The way she refers to herself as "the ethnographer", for example, is off-putting, but I'm not convinced it isn't meant partly as a joke. ("Partly" because she *is* an ethnographer, and to her *academic* audience, that self-designation is serious. But wearing a button at a science fiction con which reads "Intergalactic Ethnographer" and posting a sign stating "The Ethnographer Is In" can't have been intended as anything but ice- breaking humor.)
I have to say also that I find many of her speculations about fans' motives for their participation in fandom to have merit. I've thought similar things myself long before reading the book. The hypothesis that women take refuge in fandom from the pain of "real life" and try to work out personal (and collective) psychological issues there doesn't apply to all fans, but it certainly applies to many. Which doesn't mean that it's not *simultaneously* true that fans (the *same* fans) participate in fandom for the sheer fun of it... More importantly, to say that someone is in fandom for reasons originating in personal pain is NOT AN INDICTMENT of that individual, and I'm somewhat puzzled as to why it's been responded to as if it were. Particularly as regards those amongst us for whom fandom is a primary (if not *the* primary) community of psychological identification, wouldn't it be more insulting to suggest that participation *isn't* meeting deep-seated personal needs? After all, someone would have to be downright stupid to invest that kind of time and energy (and often money) in an activity that was peripheral to her needs!
As one who probably belongs somewhere around the middle of the spectrum (I identify very strongly with B7 fandom, but I don't draw my identify *from* it--I identify equally strongly with several non- fandom communities and don't draw my identity from them either), I'm perfectly willing to admit that reading and writing fan fiction and engaging in discussions (apas, letterzines, private correspondence, etc.) with other fans meets important needs of mine and that the TV series itself is a source of continuing gratification to me and has transformed my life by helping me to resolve certain personal issues (albeit not the ones Bacon-Smith posits as common!).
On "sensitive" subjects, such as slash, the theories put forth by Bacon-Smith do not strike me as that radically different from those explored by Jenkins. I've been asking myself why then these two authors come across so differently to (most) fans, and I wonder if part of the reason may (paradoxically) lie in their gender difference: This is pure conjecture, but perhaps as a woman Bacon-Smith felt even *more* drawn into fandom than Jenkins (who openly admits to a pre- existing participation via his wife) and, therefore, felt a stronger need to guard against possible loss of her objectivity as a researcher (and tried so hard to draw the line that she's inadvertently ended up alienating those she was writing about).
None of the foregoing addresses Bacon-Smith's description/analysis of how fandom operates as a society unto itself. I'm not sure to what extent I *can* validly address that because my only experience is in B7 fandom, and her research was focussed primarily on Star Trek fandom (ie, there may be significant differences between the two that I couldn't know about). But, for whatever it's worth, I haven't found the degree of "secrecy" she describes to be typical. It certainly didn't take me two years to learn of the existence of slash or hurt-comfort (more like two weeks). Nor have I observed the degree of pressure to conform to a particular outlook ("the characters are to be interpreted this way, not that") which she postulates. There clearly are majority and minority views on a whole variety of subjects, and I've heard stories about fans being teased at cons for such "heresies" as liking Tarrant, but (except as relates to "the controversy"), I've never seen it get truly nasty or seen anyone drummed out of the ranks for holding a dissident viewpoint.
Where my own experience most diverges from Bacon-Smith's is on the matter of the sharp line of demarcation that fans supposedly draw between fandom and their life in the "real world." Like everything else, this probably runs the whole continuum, and it may be that I fall at the far end of the bell curve, but my involvement in fandom is totally integrated into every other significant aspect of my life. All but the most casual of my associates in my other significant reference groups know about my fannish activities, and all my closest friends have been "successfully" introduced to B7 through tapes and/or my fan fiction (although only one has actually gone on to participate regularly himself in fandom per se). Conversely, many of the fans with whom I've had regular contact through discussion forums know by now a number of salient facts about my personal life, know my political background, my ethical philosophy, my beliefs about human nature and some of what I'm up to in the "real world" (which is often every bit as subversive of mundane norms as fandom). A smaller subset of fans, with whom I've developed a closer relationship through private correspondence and telephone conversations, even know my core spiritual beliefs (which I suppose corresponds functionally to what Bacon-Smith calls the "core" of fandom: those aspects not casually or promiscuously shared with outsiders).
In conclusion, I would recommend *both" "Textual Poachers" and "Enterprising Women" to other fans--provided that with the Bacon-Smith book, they're willing to work at distinguishing the lingo from theunderlying feeling-tone. Members of academia, it seems, can be just as susceptible to misunderstanding as members of fandom."
"The feeling I got overall from EW was that fandom is a gigantic
therapy/encounter session--which I certainly have not found to be the case! It isn't that we are getting needs met--which I do agree is very good when it happens--but the implication that that's WHY we do it--no, no, no, that's why we would go to a therapist! I guess it's not so much what she says, as the emphasis she gives things which I consider peripheral to my experinece of fandom... Certainly there a re people I've met in fandom who have become friends, and like other friends, we try to help each other--but this is a function of being friends, not of being in fandom, which I think has other purposes entirely (creative exchange of ideas, discussion of concepts with others who share a vocabulary--in the same way that opera lovers, or librarians, or mathmaticians, get together to discuss things that people not involved in the field lack thevocabulary for..."
"Camille B-S annoyed me a lot with her condecending tone describing fan writers, expecially these women, as people who write out of thier pain, as tho that were an earth-shattering revelation, and that somehow she was absolutely shocked to find it. Now I believe *some* people write out of their pain, men and women alike, and some write painful paragraphs *without* personal pain. But it ain't new, and just because you live and/or write in fandom doesn't mean that all your fantasies will be sweet and cute. Henry's book at least treats fans as creative people. However, Camille borders on chatty gossip several times, and she does a better job of delineating B7 fandom history, which is worth a book in its own right (Paul Darrow as a 'problem in taxonomy'). Let's hope no one writes it!"
- Science Fiction Culture commentary from the blog, Stromata, by Tom Veal
- Temple University's Enterprising Women Collection. Temple University hosts a number of fanzines related to Camille Bacon Smith's book Enterprising Women (the "Enterprising Women Collection").
- Academia Explores the Final Frontier, Strange World, 1994.
- Bacon-Smith, Camille, Enterprising Women, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
- Smith, p. 110. A footnote states this was reported to her by Judy Chien, who attended the panel at MostEastlyCon 1990 in Newark.
- Smith, p. 97.
- a review in Trekzine Times v.3 n.1 by Joan Marie Verba
- from Trekzine Times v.3 n.1
- a fan’s review in 1992 from Comlink #53; while flawed in many ways and quite frankly all over the place, it illustrates the distrust fans felt for this new field of study and how a aca-fan has an almost impossible row to hoe
- from Comlink #53
- from The LOC Connection #54
- from The LOC Connection #54
- from The LOC Connection #53
- from Bringing Home the Bacon in Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine? #5
- from Fans and Fan Spinoffs from Favorite Popular Culture, January 1997
- Subject: "Enterprising Women" post to Lysator dated April 19, 1993.
- Subject: "Enterprising Women" post to Lysator dated April 20, 1993.
- Subject: Re: Indoctrination and other baggage post by Nicole V. to Lysator dated May 10, 1994.