Academia and Fandom: What is the Role of the Ivory Tower?

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Title: Academia and Fandom: What is the Role of the Ivory Tower?
Creator: alixtii
Date(s): July 29, 2005
External Links: Academia and Fandom: What is the Role of the Ivory Tower?; archive link
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Academia and Fandom: What is the Role of the Ivory Tower? is a 2005 essay by alixtii at Fanthropology.

There are 225 comments to this essay.

There are six internal links within the essay; all but one go to journals which require a log in. The one live link is to dammit, nos' is making me feel guilty..

Some Topics Discussed

  • cultural appropriation
  • jargon and language
  • Marxism
  • what is an acafan?
  • making class and race assumptions
  • middle-class bias
  • the early zine Spock Underground

Excerpts from the Essay

I find it hard to believe there are many fanthropologists who haven't discovered metafandom, but if you haven't, I highly encourage you to check it out right now. They've linked to discussions, here and here, which I find particularly interesting and relevant. They started out wondering why fandom in general and acafen in particular seem to focus on questions of sex--reading canon and fanon from feminist and queer theory perspectives--while ignoring issues of class, religion, race, etc. I'm not convinced that's actually the case, but it's a relatively old tune--it's exactly the criticisms that have been launched against second-wave feminism for about a generation now. What the discussions have become, however, are discussions as to the place of academia and acafen and the rôle they do and should play in fandom. Does the use of academic terms, theories, etc. provide a greater degree of sophistication to our treatment of literature and communities (as I would argue), or does it just exclude the lower class?

I thought this would be relevant here because a) we're precisely the people being attacked for our academic/middle-class bias (in an earlier post fanthropology is mentioned explicitly), and b) if true, this is exactly the type of fanthropoligical phenomenon we study/discuss/are interested in here. Navel-gazing about navel-gazing, so to speak--itself the type of second- or even third-order meta which really intrigues me (for threatening a potential infinite regress) but could potentially turn off some fen as too "Ivory Tower"-ish. Much of my comments here are cannibalized from my comment here.

I wonder if kayjayuu is right, and it's the content of academia rather than the language per se, which pushes people off--because the "academic language" acafen use, like "authorial intent" and its cousin the "intentional fallacy," really don't do all that much to exclude non-middle class individuals. If one can't figure out the meaning from context, one can always look it up rather easily (always assuming one has internet access, which is a sort of systemic bias). I don't really see acafen talking about the pre-eschatological ontology of Buffy, the phenomenoligicalesque lack of teleology in Firefly, or even the deontology of Angel. Although if someone is having these discussion, please please pretty please point me their way!

But acafen are good at problematizing things--anything!--as that is what we're trained to do, basically. It's a good part of what we do here at fanthropology. This is especially true of feminists, (the second wave problematizes the first wave, but is in turn problematized by the third wave, which is problematized in return by the not-dead-yet second wave. . .) who constitute a large chunk of acafen. But could the negativity, the lack of an actual, practical solution (since everything's potentially problematizable), the masturbatory character of the whole thing, cause some to recoil against this perceived "ivory tower" mentality?

Perhaps. But non-acafen don't seem to recognize that this is not "wank" for us; this is our paradigm. (This is where the the generalizations begin--see the disclaimer above.) These are the lenses through which we see the world. People call it "B.S." and make jokes about our supposed oversensitivity to phallic symbols, but it is how we're taught to think, and, IMHO, for good reason. (I'll stand behind a) it's explanatory power, and b) the political need for that power.) As an example, I believe feminism needs a more secure epistemological foundation, even if it's not obvious how that'll make women's lives any better directly. And the epistemological issues I'm concerned with just happen to intersect with the issues raised by, say, the Buffy episode "Normal Again." If I were to ignore that when discussing the show, I'd be ignoring part of what I love about the show, but even more so--I'd be ignoring a part of myself.

So, IMO, these types of activities are appropriate because they are worthwhile, damn it, no matter what anyone else says, and because they ultimately don't have to be worthwhile, since we're all just having fun--and this is how acafen have fun.

Excerpts from the Comments

liminalliz: So.....if I'm reading this right.... you're saying, "We the acafen can analyze anything we want." Which....yeah. What's wrong with analyzing anything you want? I think what the Nos is saying is that those of us who consider meta and high level fandom analysis fun and enjoyable and sometimes the focus of our l33+ degrees in the Ivory Tower shouldn't close off the OTHER theories and OTHER schools of thought (re: not focusing 24/7 on gender issues, power struggles and sexuality). *is* healthy.
alixtii: ...fandom seems to be deathly afraid of making any normative statements at all, but I don't think we can ignore the possibility that we ought to be priveleging one set of authors over the other--and I'm more than willing to amicably disagree over which set should be priveleged. Myself, I'm a feminist most and formost, so I think, as a normative statement, Greer and Dworkin should be priveleged (well, maybe not those two in particular, but the general symphony of second- and third-wave feminist voices). I have no lack of respect for someone who feels Marx takes center stage over and above Greer. Indeed, the claim that we ought to consider the issue from the entire array of perspectives almost seems to border on relativism--are we including Hitler, Osama bin Laden, or Christian fundamentalists (proposing no moral equivalency between the three) among these perspectives? Is there any reason we should?
lesbiassparrow: But I think this all originated from a comment that class and race are important issues like gender, but that we don't examine them because of a sort of automatic bias based on who we are and where we're coming from. I may be misunderstanding you but it seems like you're saying that's fine because that's what you're interested in. That's fair enough, but it is also fair enough to reflect upon how what you are saying is heavily reflected in studies of fandom. Why is economic so verboten? Why have I yet to see in The Journal of Popular Culture one study on how much it costs to be a modern fan, while economics is such a part of other periods of looking at popular culture. I'm not sure that somehow equating reading Marx with (say) having the value of listening to the point of view of Hitler is all that useful a point to make. It's a reductio ad absurdum, which you seem to know. But I have a feeling I've missed your point here.
alixtii: I've probably failed to communicate effectively. I'll give it a nother shot, although I'm not sure how much better I'll do. After examining why issues of class and race are underrepresented, it's possible to just decide that they're just less important. I wouldn't agree with that statement, at least not in those terms, but it's not an incoherent thought. Not all biases are automatic are invisible--some are quite conscious and deliberate--and treating someone who spends more time or energy on X or who says "X is better than Y" as having an automatic bias is somewhat insulting. (Not that you've done any insulting; I'm speaking in general.)
thelastgoodname: I think a severe deficiency in academics and fandom is the exclusion of highly conservative perspectives and theories; not because I believe them, but because a lot of people do, and unless we understand how to think from that standpoint, we won't understand what's going on. Spike-as-misogynist-abuser makes as much sense to me as Spike-as-cult-follower, but we never get the latter, only the former.
partly bouncy: It would depend on the nature of the discussion would it not? If the context is that you are discussing young teen authors in the Good Charlotte fandom, than I think norms can be discussed, along with cultural attitudes and patterns specific to that sub group of fandom.

But taking an analysis to a broader scope becomes some what problematic as there are not demographic matches. At one point, I did some demographic collection from Yahoo fan fiction mailing lists, LiveJournal users who responded to fan fiction oriented polls and FanDomination.Net. I was looking at country and year of birth. I compared these using I think a T-Test to see if they were all samples that were part of the same group or were indeed different demographic groups. According to that analysis, they were different sets, were not part of the same larger pool even though I know that they are all part of the broader, loosely defined fan fiction community.

And a lot of people are viewing fandom from their own prism, their own perspective. When they speak in broad generalities assuming a universality of their experience as a model, they are inevitably going to run into conflict with people who know this is not true. And because a lot of fandom feels a need to step up to er defend what they feel are repressed communities, communities that are discriminated against in the broader fandom, when universal statement mades, kerfluffling, flaming, wanking, academic analysis will result.

That I think is where that feeling of fear comes from, of making waves, of offending people, of not wanting to deal with that fall out.
alixtii: I meant to mention this last night, but I'm hugely sympathetic to Nos' claims--but the thing is, I think most of us are. S/He says "what about class?" and we either a) demonstrate how we have been thinking of class the whole time, or b) say, "that's a good point." In short, I think it's a self-correcting error, and nostalgia's post has gone quite a bit of a way to making class/race issues more visible--as I would have no problem at all with fandom doing. What I found fascinating, though, was when people responding to Nos began to laying more and more evils at acafen's door, until the problem began to seem to be fandom being "too academic." We don't talk about class enough is a legitimate claim--indeed, it's one made in academic language, from within the ivory tower. We talk about sex too much, and deconstructionist techniques don't belong in fandom, are on the other hand claims about which I was somewhat less sanguine.
lesbiasparrow: I don't think you've been accused of wank. But I think you might need to define 'acafen' a bit better. I know you say you're speaking in general terms but to say that you're speaking for a large group of people without defining that group is perhaps not the best way to start an academic argument. And can you not be academic if you talk about race and class? Or class? Or how much it may cost to be a fan? Economics and sociology are also academic disciplines and ones that have long held interest for feminist academics.
alixtii: In my mind, bringing up issues of class and race pretty much makes one an acafan. I can think of instances where that wouldn't be the case, but quite clearly any Marxist or post-colonial critiques would be coming from a very academic place.
jaybe65: In my mind, bringing up issues of class and race pretty much makes one an acafan.

Here I would disagree. I think bringing up these issues in a certain way -- that is, using specific terminology and applying particular theories and modes of analysis -- is generally the mark of an academic, but not the mere act of bringing up the issues themselves.

Then again, I also believe that non-academics are entirely capable of conceiving of and expressing some of the core ideas of many academic critiques, albeit without using the accepted jargon in so doing. Of course, when it comes to race and class, the non-academics most likely to bring up these issues are fen for whom these issues are concerns in real life, and so this brings us back to the issue of fandom itself screening out segments of people. After all, it is a very middle-class pursuit -- not just in terms of the cost of computers and internet access, but perhaps even more importantly in terms of access to the leisure time necessary to participate at anything other than a superficial level.
alixtii: ...when I use "acafen" I tend to be thinking of people who work in academia, along with students who identify primarily as students (and I think most fannish university students tend to be more engaged in the academic/intellectual life at their colleges than their non-fannish students), recently graduated students who miss being students, and people who graduated 15 years ago but keep up on a field and are professors in their secret dreams. Basically, people demonstrating the tendencies I've given above are acafen, which is ultimately circular but doesn't bother me as all definitions are circular.
partly bouncy: And maybe that's my only point, that in communities that attract all sorts of people from all over it is useful to explain things from time to time.

Explanations are helpful, both in terminology and in explaining cultural practices. There is a kerfluffle that has been ongoing on ... well, it has been spread across four different mailing lists I think at this point. And some one asked basically "I'm new to fan fiction. Why can't people archive other people's fan fiction with out permission? Isn't it all a copyright violation? Why should it matter?" There were a sundry of answers but the long and short of it is that it is a cultural practice with in that fandom, possibly in all of fandom, a secret coded fan practice that most people know and rarely think to articulate, except maybe in the author notes of their stories to label it with their own policies regarding their own fan fiction. It is confusing.

You can say that people can ask and that's true, but there is a certain reluctance to frame oneself as part of an out group.

Framing oneself as an outsider is not always the best way to frame oneself. I've been in the position where I've basically defined myself sort of as part of a peer group that I kind of badly, wrongly define as a mother hen and erf. I hate when I, the people I view myself as a mother hen are defined as abnormal to the fannish experience. Or when I define my fannish experience as primarily a reader or an archivist or a fan historian or an educator... or when I say that my primary fannish peer group is composed of males, straight males reading het or gen and the occassional piece of f/f that I am ramming down their throats, who are primarily involved in fandom because they want to become professional authors or because they want to improve their programming skillz.

And some of the terminology I guess really is a turn off. The academic stuff that comes from a perspective alien to mine I really can't always follow. I'm not an English person. I do not know how to do serious literature critique. Post modern whatzit? Relativism thingamjobber? *boggles* So the academicy stuff is not just kind of exclusionary by the virtue of being academic but by field. I don't think everyone could follow me if I went off about Dewey, Kozol, discussing game theory, educational theory, the elements of design, CSCL, ICT, discussed the upcoming coference for AECT.

Academic reterm their jargon all the time; they won't use the same langauge for a public lecture that they use for a seminar.

True. We taylor our discussions for who we are chatting with, conversing with, writing for. I've no problem with academic stuff but my posts to FCA-L and fanthropology differ vastly from my discussions with users at FanDomination.Net. And I like each type of discussion for different reasons and if I don't, I can always sever the conversation, hit a back button, etc.

And my discussions with my HP, Anime and GC writing fen all have different tones. (Like the GC fen, I explain fen is the plural of fans, that I use it because I consider it retro cool. Otherwise, my spelling can get critiqued on occassion by people who want to kindly help me.)
nostalgia lj: Mmhmm, that. Fannish cleverness is an ever-widening field, and by now it is going to include people who don't have the necessary background.
partly bouncy: Um. I don't consider myself an academic persay. I do sometimes use a lot of terminology in stuff that I guess might be exclusive in some posts but I figure blah, if a person wants to know or dialogue with me, they can want to enough to know. The only time I really tone things down is when I'm doing quasi funky survey research on AIM. Though ha ha ha! Given the right people on AIM, I use big words and play the run for the dictionary, reference books while chatting. I find those conversations the most fun as it is like intellectual masturbation and masturbation! Yeah!
alixtii: The thing is, most academics have the ability to become totally opaque to people not in their field--I tried it above when I gave an example of using extreme philosophical language to describe the Jossverse. But academics know how to temper their use of jargon for the sake of their students, their colleagues in other fields, and their non-academic friends/family. In my experience, acafen tend to be quite judicious in deciding the amount of academic jargon they bring into a discussion, defining the more obscure concepts.
thelastgoodname: There's a distinction in this conversation that isn't being made about jargon per se, and language more broadly. I have used a single term of jargon thus far, but the everyday language I employ (see! there! I could have said, "the way I talk," but that's not how I talk), I am being told, is opaque to people anyway, without the use of jargon (just good old English in all it's irritating glory).
bovil: Let's look at acafen (for lack of a better term) and fanthropologists.

Most of us are without serious academic credential. Not all, but most. We're amateur academics, or in some cases pro academics enjoying a soujourn outside our primary academic focus.

Most of us haven't just "gone native," we started native. Critical detatchment is difficult to achieve and maintain.

I don't see a lot of academic bias here (and I work at a University in an administrative position, having to regularly remind folks with Ph.D's that while they know a lot, they don't know jack about what I do and that as a generalist I have a broader range of expertise than they can comprehend). People aren't chased away because they can't provide a proper academic credential, nor are they chastised for not being conversant in jargon associated with a particular field of study. We're pretty much all forced to argue in English, which is a great equalizer. Jargon speeds up business, but if we can't translate it back to English we're greatly limited.

I do see a middle-class bias here, but that's because most of our questions turn towards analysis of and perspectives of fannish groups that interact through email, web-fora and other internet media (and for me, internet activity is just to tide me over between RL fannish gatherings, so I do think that's a bit short-sighted).

My fandoms are strongly rooted in literature. That's going to push towards a middle-class bias, because it's going to push towards folks who read for pleasure, and reading for pleasure tends to push one upward socially.

Folks who aren't versed in debate may have problems in general, but that's going to be a problem even in general fandom; to argue is fannish. Even sports fans argue; there's a whole cable network (ESPN2) dedicated to arguing about sports.
thelastgoodname: the middle-class bias is systemic due to the nature of the medium. - now this I certainly agree with to an extent, but the phrasing seems to suggest that it's a monolithic exclusionary bias that nothing can alleviate. Perhaps my understanding of systemic is different from yours. I read that sentence to mean that there is a strong correlation of middle-class person plus middle-class education in meta conversations due to the fact that middle (and upper)-class people are the people most likely to purchase and use computers for home use and to engage in on-line discussions, because they have the cultural background to participate in online discussions. The implication in this sentence on the digital divide (where people who can't afford to get online or can't afford to participate are excluded from the experience), which is also systemic, is simply that it exists; a middle-class bias almost always comes with a divergent lower-class bias (in this case, against owning and using a computer or participating in online discussions). There's nothing in the statement that suggests monolith; systemic situations are just that: typical for a certain system. That problem is not alleviable by being more aware. The issue of language might be, but that's also due to the nature of the medium: written, rather than spoken. Written language tends toward (is systemic for) more formal and more complete vocabulary.
eveningblue: This whole question of inclusion is very interesting, but I'm curious to know if you have a solution you'd care to propose?

In the Yahoo group I was in, there were lots and lots of non-academic fans, some working-class. Tapes were shared, for people who did not have cable. It was not at all a "privileged" group. But I left because they were simply not having the kind of conversations I was interested in. Example:

"Did he call him 'baby' in that episode?"

"No, he called him 'babe.' "

"Are you sure? It sounded like 'baby'."

"Yeah, you have to put on the closed captioning but you'll see it."

"what other episodes does he call him 'babe' in?"

And so on.

I think the reason they're not here, in these metadiscussions, is because they don't wanna be. They're not interested in discussing fandom on this level. There are some people from my Yahoo group on LiveJournal. I never see them post in these discussions.

LiveJournal, after all, can be free if you want it to be. A dial-up connection is cheap, and it's not hard to get a cheap computer these days. So only the poorest of the poor cannot have access to the Internet, and they have other things to worry about besides fandom.

So I wonder if you have a plan for luring all these working-class non academics to participate in these discussions. Because I really don't think they're gonna get here by themselves.
kayjayuu: I wonder if kayjayuu is right, and it's the content of academia rather than the language per se, which pushes people off--because the "academic language" acafen use, like "authorial intent" and its cousin the "intentional fallacy," really don't do all that much to exclude non-middle class individuals. If one can't figure out the meaning from context, one can always look it up rather easily

I could make the argument for both.

I remember fandom before meta. I really do. I remember being captivated and thrilled by a universe, or a set of characters, or a story line or just an episode, and wanting to see more. Revelling in it, living for it, being accused by my mother of being obsessed by it. (True enough, but that's a bad thing? I was making straight A's in school, for god's sake. In fact, it's a good thing she's long passed on because I guaran-damn-tee you she'd think I'm in a cult or something with the amount of time I spend in fendom now.)

I was in it for the fun. For the way it made me feel. For the worlds and stories and fantasies it would spin inside my head, with no concern for subtext or even just plain text... I was eleven when I discovered Star Trek, and reruns five nights a week on the independent UHF station made all of fandom at that time completely accessible to me. When I discovered other kids that watched it, we became 'fandom' at that time, for us. And it was good.

As I got older, I discovered the parables stuck within some of the episodes ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield") and read about the groundbreaking first interracial kiss and the existence of slash fiction all in the same book (Star Trek Lives!). These things meant little to me at the time, because it wasn't within the realm of what was relevent to me. I started writing fan fiction about the time I graduated high school, at the same time as I attended my first sci-fi convention. That there was an entire world of fen like me outside of the recounting of the original Save Star Trek letter writers and attendees of the NYC convention in the early seventies was a revelation, and I steeped myself in a whole new world, now shifted to Doctor Who. I became involved in conventions themselves, getting to know actors and producers and generally being in awe of the BNFs of the day (omg, fangirly without knowing there would someday be a term for it).

But I did it because it was fun. And if someone had tried to engage me in deep philosophical discussions such as I regularly read today, the breakers would have shut down. Utterly. I enjoyed a good discussion about episode issues as well as the next person, but both terminology and content, as you point out, would have been a huge turnoff to me at that point in my fandom experience because it can tend to suck the fun right out of life. The eyes glaze over, the mouth dries out, and I'd just want to move along and go out in costume amongst the mundanes. Because all the talky-talk and analyzing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of philosophical teeth was what mundanes did. Fandom was the way for thousands of people who weren't accepted -- either in their minds or in reality -- to band together and find a way to enjoy living, no matter how nuts we were doing it.

"Why be normal?" was the battle cry of fandom back in the day. Now, we metafen descend into the same prattling on of issues of import, who is lacking, who is privileged, how someone's love-pairing of choice becomes the breeze from butterfly wings that severely affect someone else's quality of life half-way around the globe. Suddenly I have to worry about being politically aware that I may be excluding someone in fandom because I have a computer and they don't, and therefore they can't read my most excellent Mary Sue fic. Fye! I have sinned.

Pfft. No, I wrote a story I enjoyed and no one will ever see other than a few of my friends, and I'm eeking together the money for my internet bill, maybe even choosing between paying that and getting a better cut of meat at the grocery, because why? Because I can have an impact on someone's life? Because I'm bettering the socio-economic stratta of the people of my country? No.

Because I'm having fun. And when it stops being fun... then I'll stop doing it.

And if the words thrust in front of me are too much for me to understand, I'll either look them up because it interests me, or I won't because it doesn't. Understanding is work, work can take away from the fun. And... if the concept raises my hackles because it sounds too much like the rest of the outside world trying to pry its way into my safe haven... well, it can take a flying leap too.

So pass the beer nuts, I hear a Quantum Leap marathon is playing on Sci Fi. That Sam Beckett... my oh my.
gwynfyd: What is the role of the Ivory Tower? Uh... to be knocked down?

I only have a BA in Anthropology, so I guess that makes me a non-Academic. Certainly I notice that those with Higher Degrees are pretty scathingly dismissive of us ordinary mortals without impressive letters after our names. I remember very interesting discussions at University about civilization and literature that never became as boring as some discussions on Fanthropology about TV shows. Sorry, but some of them are boring. Why does everything have to be turned into A Problem? Why can't 'acafen' -- for God's sake, these invented words! -- escape their paradigms on occasion? Perhaps if they're so trapped in their paradigms, they should be worried. I remember when I was at University, someone told me that uneducated people had narrow minds and lived in a limited reality. I told him everyone had a limited reality. The reality lived in by Academics may be wider than that lived in by non-Academics, but it's still limited.


Are academics a tribe? If so, they're an artificially created one.

Academics aren't in the same boat as Christian fundamentalists, or at least, they shouldn't be. Do academics think only their way of seeing the world is the true one? If so, isn't that the completely opposite way an academic should think.

I'm somewhat conflating language with the viewpoints and concepts it tries to express when I talk about 'world views' in this context. In other words, I'm not separating academic language from academic concepts, because I seem them as the same thing, essentially. If you use complex language, you make a concept more complex. If you always think in 'big words' you separate yourself from people who think in simpler terms. That's what I meant when I said I wasn't talking about 'world views in the classical sense'. Anyone from, say, the Yanomamo tribe, can share the Yanomamo world view, without knowing all the 'big words'. They absorb it with their mother's milk, so to speak. In order to absorb the academic world view, you have to have suffered through decades of education in order to learn all the academic language which defines its world view.

It's not the precise and complex language of academia I'm complaining about. It's the bafflegab that at times does not clarify, but rather obscures meaning. This does happen in academia, for the reasons I outlined, and far too often for my taste.
thelastgoodname: I think you mistook my example; fundamentalists can't imagine a conversation about morality that doesn't include God. A well-trained academic can't imagine a conversation about anything that doesn't include rigorous thinking and precise language, even if the ideas themselves are flexible.

The ideas are always already complex. Using simple language doesn't make the ideas simple, it makes them misleading. I think we're approaching this from opposite positions, and while I think you may be right in some cases, it's not true always, and it's not the point. Calling for simpler language just to be clear (without admitting that simple language is often more obfuscating than complex language) is also misleading.


I'm enjoying this discussion a lot. And I don't think all academic language is obfuscatory or annoying. It's just that I think academics define their own language and terms as the best, and the most clear, and so on, from the start, and see 'simple everyday terms' as misleading from the start. It's their world view, that they can't, or won't see beyond. But, as academics, they should try. The Yanomamo don't need to, as long as they live in their jungle environment.
partly bouncy: If I asked on fanthropology what was going on in the Real Person Slash communities on fanthropology, I am probably not going to get those views represented... nor am I going to necessarily get those demographics represented with their perception as to what is going on.

Fandom operates on a number of levels, with a number of versions of how an event took place, with perspectives on what was important, when it was important, who it mattered to, etc. Those different perspectives are helpful in getting a fuller, better understanding of what is happening. The disparate, non-LJ teen voices of people posting on more obscure archives I find is helpful because the LJ experience can sometimes be rather codified and written, with people's tales spelled out in their journals, on various communities with sometimes a harmony in thought. The other perspective is less public.

Er. If that makes sense. :)
thelastgoodname: See, I know this, and I respect it, and the reason I don't ask is because I'm not interested. (Although I think someone ought to.) I don't actually want to care about what's going on in fandom, because this is my fun. I want to do the dabbling in the lit crit that I don't do in my everyday life, not the ethnography that I do already.
partly bouncy: Well different strokes for different folks. :)

Fandom Academic Kinks. :) I like knowing that. Lit crit does nothing for me any more.


The demographic stuff and the educational theory and history pulls together a number of interests for me that litcrit doesn't because at this point in time, I like my entertainment as fluffy candy, escapism into that fictional world. Analysizing it to deeply, at this point in time, zaps my fun. :)
shiv5468: And what harm does it do anyway? Do non-middle class people the world over cry into their cornflakes because they've been deprived of our insightful comments on fandom? In the days of universal education, online dictionaries and free internet access in public Libraries it's entirely possible that any exclusion results from someone having better things to do with their Friday afternoon.

When I was at school I was told off for being clever, I spend my entire working day transforming complicated technical concepts into baby speak that can be understood by the layman, so at the end of the day it's nice to come home and slip off the corset and balance my dinner on my knees and actually use the vocabulary and brain I've spent twenty years honing.

All groups are exclusionary - you tip up, you hang around the edge of them for a bit and see if you can pick up how to interact and what terms are acceptable and then you dive on in. And if you still don't understand, ask.
nostalgia lj: Man, that's such a bourgeois thing to say. O_0
alixtii: And there's nothing more bourgeois than discussing our own and others' bourgeois characteristics. :-)
st crispins: A lot of the acafen (and I count myself included in that term) tend to come from English Literature and Cultural Studies (particularly Feminist and Gender Studies) backgrounds. This isn't surprising since so much of fandom activity is about writing.

However, the result is that (a) the meta-discussions tend to be rooted in those perspectives using the language of those disciplines and (b) fanfic tends to be written around the issues that concern those disciplines.

I come from Communication, and since we intersect the other two (among many others) I'm familiar with the terminology of the usual meta. However, I can tell you that my friends and fellow writers who do not have MA degrees and higher find the *language* more off-putting and the esoteric and particularized expression of those ideas, not the ideas themselves. They also like to talk more from the practical writer perspective, not from the reader/critic.

As for the concerns of fanfic, again, a few academics I know from other disciplines also write have complained to me in passing that there's too much emphasis on sex and gender issues in fanfic and not enough on politics and other concerns. I, myself, tend to find political and ethical questions fascinating so I write about those probably just as much as about sex.

The simple answer, of course, is that sex sells and appeals across the board. And many folks have expressed the opinion that fanfic is a place to create what can't be found elsewhere including sexually explicit material that appeals to women.

As for the disability issue, I once tackled the issue and found it very challenging to depict realistically. I'm not disabled (at least, at the moment) myself, but my son has complicated learning diability issues, my father is recovering from a stroke, and I have disabled friends. So, I did my homework before writing the story.

Perhaps because it does require sensitivity and effort and it's not the sort of thing one can or should toss off in a couple of hours worth of writing, realistic disability is not a subject a lot of folks wish to tackle. Still, this surprises me since there are a number of disabled folks in the fanfic community.

I think we should have an Acafan Shibboleth Radio Button:

[] I think "privilege" is a verb and "gaze" is a noun

[] I think "privilege" is a noun and "gaze" is a verb

see how easy?

If the purpose of fanfic were to give a rounded picture of the world as it currently exists, or the historical past or extrapolated future or alternative worlds, then lack of discussion of class and disability issues would be a serious flaw. But in fact fanfiction is seldom written from a realist perspective and often from an anti-realist one.

There are a lot of books about the kind of social, political and philosophical issues you've mentioned; there's even a whole pop culture "Buffy and Philosophy," "The Simpsons and Philosophy," etc. series. Perhaps it's more of a book topic than an online topic?

Fanfic and meta are also things that we do for fun (bearing in mind that for a lot of people a good cry *is* fun) so enjoyable subjects are more likely to be tackled than non-enjoyable ones.

And, although I suppose glossy magazines are sort of Consumption Porn or even Class Porn, not a lot of us are here because we're tired of having Class with ourselves and fantasize about other people we could be having Class with (or watch them having Class with each other).
cathexys: Just jumping in here and getting all annoyingly arrogantly academic, but as i was reading your post that's exactly what struck me as one of the problems. There is a disciplinary field called fan studies with loads of articles and books in it and an (at times well-defined) terminology of its own. As I read your post I initially assumed that this is what you were talking about, that you defined acafan in the way acafen use it (for a good definition, you might check out the intro to Hills' Fan Cultures).

And just one more comment about fanthropology: as far as I'm concerned this is really *not* a good arena for acafen. One of the things that has put me off this community is the fact that very few of the posts work within a scholarly framework, i.e., read up on what others have done/said/written before them. In its stead, we continually see the wheel get reinvented...which is fine, but as someone whose central academic area *is* fan studies and fan fiction studies, I find it ultimately not very productive.

i'm not sure you saw, but I used our discussion as a point to articulate my feelings about argumentative structures. It really didn't hit me until I was struggling to pull out philosophical debates years in the past what was makingme so uncomfortable. I hope you don't see it as an attack on you. If it comes across like that, I'll gladly delete the link.
thelastgoodname: Yes, it does take disposable income and leisure time to have a discussion on the internet. Either you have the means, or you know people who have the means (and your local council counts; if they're spending money on computers, it's because they don't have to spend it on clean water. This means you are suffering from a middle-class countenance); either you have the time, or you're not online. I'm not saying anything about relative intelligence, only about access. [In fact, no upper-class person could have written Shakespeare; he's too bawdy to be well-educated.]
liminalliz: Seriously now, what the fuck? Not to be all ZOMG MY FRIEND ROBERT AT THE 7/11 AGREES WITH ME ON THIS AND THEREFORE IT R TRUE but many of my lj friends are poverty class and struggling to pay rent and yet pay for online access and spend their free time arguing over this that and whatever fandom related thing they dig. And they're fuckin' brilliant people. Also? "Poor people" go to college sometimes, ZOMG IT HAPPENS, where there is high speed online access.
ex_spockette108: Wait, what? My local council spends money on computers, therefore, I must be middle class? Or, I have access to clean water, therefore I must be middle class? I am completely confused as to what in the hell you're saying here.

Where I live, council tax pays for clean water and computers in the library - and my family gets council tax benefit, because we are too poor to be able to afford to pay. So... you're saying because I live in a town where there are people who CAN afford to pay council tax (even though I'm not one of them), I am "suffering from a middle-class countenance"? WTF?

leisure time to have a discussion on the internet.

So, you're saying in order to have the time to go on the internet, you must be middle or upper class? Even working class scum like me can't work ALL the time, y'know. Some folks in my social class like to go down the pub in their leisure time; some like to watch TV; me, I like to go online. Again, using an example from my own life, somebody who works 40 hours a week at minimum wage can't, after a long day, relax by going online and participating in academic fandom discussion?

If that's not what you're saying, then please, feel free to enlighten me.
stexgirl2000: As someone who taugh in school districts where the majority of families and their children were working poor, on welfare, or at the very best, very lower middle-class (i.e. the parents went to junior college and had some sort of associate's degree so they could fix electronics-cars-appliances, work as dental hygenists or do office work but in general aren't really middle-class in wages or in college education) I would love to tell them that hey, they aren't really poor and struggling to make ends meet. That they don't deserve days off or family vacations or heck, the time to kick back and bbq with friends in the back yard if they were truly poor.

That because they either sacrificed to have computers and on-line access, took advantage of programs that gave them refurbished computers or new ones, or make due with the computers at the local library or some other publicly financed spot where computers are available, that they aren't truly struggling to make ends meet.

That because having free time, being able to think, reason and enjoy some sort of pop-culture means that you're just not poor enough, and gosh darn it, too intelligent to be below the poverty line.

Because hey, if you're intelligent enough to figure out how to go on-line and talk about your favorite t.v. show, pop group, movie, or other fandom, you just can't be poor. Because everyone knows that the poor are lazy, stupid, unwashed masses who are doomed to stay that way and not have any part of any type of intelligent discourse about any subject, much less fandom.

Yep, all the kids I used to teach and were into anime and cartoons will be glad to know that because they're fans of those things and can :gasp: discuss them in an intelligent manner are part of the middle class bourgeois and don't have to worry about working hard, because they have the leisure time to prove that they are not poor.

Yeah, they and their families will be thrilled to know that they really aren't poor because they have the time to enjoy pop-culture. Just thrilled.

nostalgia lj: I don't really have the words. If I did they would be these words.

That firstly, this assumes your classic middle and upper-class conviction that leisure is always a luxury, that those who are not financially comfortable should not aspire to and certainly not obtain the means to alleviate emotional and intellectual boredom.

Secondly, that one should not find time for leisure if not affluent. This itself entailing something of the middle-class conviction that they upper-classes are lazy by dint of not needing to work and the poor are lazy by dint of obviously not working hard enough not to be poor. This is very closely related to that Protestant Work Ethic and a shot-glass of Social Darwinism.

Historically, working-classs leisure has been seen as both lacking in merit and as waste. You cannot easily afford to see this piece of theatre, therefore it is not for you. If you do see it, you betray pretensions of higher status than you deserve.

In terms of the modern information apartheid we see this in the belief that the internet is comprised only of the financially-secure, that cable or satellite television is an unforgivable vice for the poor. Even the social distaste for smoking and consumption of alcopops as opposed to that of cocaine or champagne.

It includes an assumption that things that belong to the wealthy by default cannot move down to include other social strata, that the poor and poorer have no right to want, to desire, to consume. All this against a constant and unrelenting societal pressure to conform to middle-class standards of living. The disenfranchised are told to want things but never, ever to actually obtain them. Do we ever such contempt and casual dismissal of those higher up who run two cars when this strains their resources? Or of those who take holidays they can only pay for with credit? These things become somehow essential to a 'worthwhile' life, the problems are apparently trivial when held against the psychological benefits. If people obtain anything that has been deemed to be above them, they are demeaned by loss of 'authenticity'. One cannot be poor and own a car, one cannot be indebted and have internet access. To do so is to become bourgeois - a special, exclusionary subset of that class intended to contain all of the problems and none of the advantages. This is an existant, incredibly powerful form of class-based oppression.

We say "beggars can't be choosers" as though it were a universal truth. But why can't they? Why can't they have standards, aspirations, beliefs? Why must people disown and lose all cultural capital to be acceptable to their social superiors?

And that, my friend, was Marxism in action. *collapses*
jaybee65: I agree with your scathing critique of those assumptions; however, I'm not entirely certain the assumptions necessarily follow from the statement made above.

To say that issues of income and leisure time tend to skew fandom demographics somewhat more toward the middle class is not the same thing as saying that all, or even anything approaching all, fans must be middle-class/bourgeois, or that working class people shouldn't aspire to leisure-time activities.

There's also the question of how one defines "middle class" to begin with. I tend to look at it from a global perspective -- to me, even the working class in a country of the global center (such as North America or Europe, Australia, etc.) can be said to be highly economically privileged compared to people living in the periphery. And with that societal privilege comes a certain level of leisure time and access to material resources.
nostalgia lj: I do find it quite difficult to in all seriousness accept the idea of the global class definitions. You can, after all, live in a First World country and thus be far better off than people in the Third World, but that generally does not matter to you. It's comforting to know that you're better off than those with nothing, but it's not exactly helping pay the rent or even helping you navigate social exclusion in your community.
jaybee65: You can, after all, live in a First World country and thus be far better off than people in the Third World, but that generally does not matter to you.

But isn't that a perfect example of the kind of bias we're discussing here? The inability to see beyond one's own environment? The lack of interest in the fact that one *is*, in fact, privileged? (Not to mention the possibility that that very privilege might derive from the exploitation of those far-away people in the first place.)

It seems to me that if one is going to bring up the lack of class analysis in fandom, it's just as legitimate to bring up the lack of global perspective as well.


Personally, I'm quite interested in some of the contradictions of fandom: it is, at the same time, deeply immersed in the consumerist culture of the dominant global societies, and yet also contains elements that could be said to be subversive of that culture industry (for example, fandom's activities related to intellectual property). But one rarely sees meta discussions about that or similar issues compared to the innumerable discussions about sex and gender.


I am a lawyer and not an academic, and so my "vested interest" would certainly play a part in the issues I'm interested in focusing on.

However, I raised the issue not from a legal perspective, but from a broader social one.

I often see fandom, with respect to gender and sexuality, being posited as a subversive activity -- giving a voice to the marginalized and "othered" and so on. But how socially subversive is it in other respects? Does it embrace the dominant paradigm of Western 21st century consumerism, or does it in some ways challenge or weaken it? I think one could argue both sides very effectively.

I think the above is a broad enough issue that it ought to attract the same kind of "acafan" interest as gender, and yet it does not. Or at least not that I can see.
femmenerd: Hmmmmm, trying to collect my thoughts here. Here is what comes to me.

The very idea that only academics bring up issues of race and class is a very scary one for me.

If this were the case, how in the hell would we ever have any kinds of mass movements for social change (i.e. Civil Rights, Women's lib, etc.)?

Scholars serve a certain function in our world and you will never find me devaluing theory but I think it is important to recognize that this is only one (albeit multi-faceted) mode of dealing with the world. And theory is always, in my opinion, something that should be relevant - it should integrate and harmonize with other kinds of activity and thinking. I like words as much as the next nerd, but I think it is important to consider the power of language and recognize that it can sometimes be exclusionary.

I was very happy to see people above talking about how it is possible for "acafen" to talk about race and class as well as the fact that these issues are not the exclusive provence of highly educated people.

Also, there has been a lot of discussion about how academics problematize issues of gender, race, etc. blah blah but I think it is also important to be constantly problematizing the category "academia."

Which of course is exactly what we are doing here so...Yay!

"Slayage" and the like are in themselves a form of fandom, just with different terms and producing a different type of secondary text than fanfic.

I, for one, strongly believe that when I write papers about Buffy AND when I write fanfic, in both cases I am both expressing my love for the show as well as being critical of it. Just as I like to be a fandom whore sometimes because it's FUN to wander into different universes/paradigms/discourses/fantasylands, I also like to use different lenses. Which is not to say that academia and fandom do not interact with one another and overlap at times. But unfortunately it seems that too much emphasis is put on what "Academia" is doing to fandom. Why can't we think about what fandom can/does do for academia? I personally believe that academia could use a jolt of the joy and passion in fandom. I also think that academics of all types are more like fans than they want to admit - they are obsessive, opinionated, and fancy certain authors/texts/objects over others.

I think it is important to LOVE the things that we are critical of and the idea that this is impossible is BS in my opinion. Who is more critical of canon than a fan? And to use a somewhat different comparison, who are we more critical of than our partners, family or ourselves?

It's the love and the joy that brings the "juice" to analysis, to wank, and to fanfic alike. I don't want to read somebody's jargon-filled exegesis on whatever if they can't convince me that they care. And I read fanfic in the hope that I will find a trace of the spark that I too found and treasured in the source. I also read it to see what different ways other people could interpret this thing that we both loved enough to spend hours of our lives cranking out stories.

I am a fan. I am also an academic (well not currently, I'm trying to breathe before I go to graduate school, to maintain balance between being a thinker and other aspects of life). But I do not value one of those identities over the other.


I'm not talking about distinguishing between various types of "acafen." I'm talking about acknowledging the fact that, as it seems clear from the very impetus of this discussion, and the fact that "acafen" exists as a term, that "Academia" exists as a conceptual and discursive site that is not always easily accessible to all fen.

And I say this as someone who intends to do their graduate work in television studies and fandom. We ALL need to be aware of the friction and the potential for "snobbery."

I don't think it has to be this way and don't want it to be inevitable but it would be blind not to admit that it is a slippery slope.