Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth

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Academic Commentary
Title: Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth
Commentator: Camille Bacon-Smith
Date(s): 1992
Medium: book
Fandom: media fandom
External Links:
front cover by Suzan Lovett. The illustration appeared in Nome 8. -- From the book: "Lovett's death-and-resurrection illustration for the poem "All Stories New,"... Note the religious referents: cross, flames, touching hands from Michelangelo's Creation of Man, and the three principals from Star Trek, all set against a background of stars and planets."
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Enterprising Women is a book by aca-fan Camille Bacon-Smith. It was published in the same year as Textual Poachers and the two books signaled a beginning in the study of fannish culture.

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."[1]

Bacon-Smith talks about this book quite a bit in Camille Bacon-Smith and Henry Jenkins at Gaylaxicon 1992.

On Mary Sues

Camille Bacon-Smith includes a subsection on the Mary Sue concept in her book, Enterprising Women[2], 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 said they did 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."[3]

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.[4]

Other General Reactions and Reviews


Speaking of fannish behavior, what's the current reaction to Enterprising Women? After a first quick read, I found it fascinating and fairly accurate in its description of a large part of fandom. She certainly described many of the reactions friends and I have had over the years to a great deal of fanac and fanfic. I've heard that some fans object to a presentation that gives a less than "normal" bent to our activities/writings. Well, what the hey, I have to admit that I'm one of those who always assumed that we were fully aware of not being part of the norm. So very many of us were considered outies/nerds/strange while in school -- a lot of us still are now that we're in the office. yours truly included. After all, if we had been busy with acceptable social behavior for young females (for those of us female; you guys speak for yourselves). we wouldn't have had time to read all those or make costumes or write hundreds of pages of fanfic. Fandom was our escape, our redemption, a place where we could feel "normal" for the first time. [5]

I didn't find his book any more _dry_ or academic than Camille's. A lot of fans I know like his book quite a bit better. She (Camille) makes it very clear at all times that she is just an observer; Henry is more willing to call himself a fan (as well, of course, as an observer of fans.)

He had the guts to prints slash art, though most of it is pros (i.e., won't step on any toes in *this* country) and the one MUNCLE one is very clothed and romantic. Still, I appreciated him doing it. Camille chickened out, and didn't include slash art. She said protecting the artist. I have a feeling it was to keep her publisher sweet.

[Jenkin's] book has a beautiful color Jean Kluge TNG print. It also has a chapter on songvids; including slash songvids, and another on filksongs.

More importantly, they have vastly different theses. Hers appears to be fandom is a way of dealing with pain and risk in our 'normal' lives. It totally begs the question of why fandom? why not garden societies, etc. She especially makes the point that fan writers are writing to deal with pain. My question is how is that different than pro writers, many of whom have stated over the years that they write to exorsise (sp, sorry) devils. What makes fan writing different. (Her take on slash is mostly to say it isn't important, that hurt/comfort is where the real important stuff is going on.

Henry's thesis is more simple. He is just writing to refute another writer who said that readers can interact with written materials. They can "scribble in the margins" but that TV/movie watchers are totally passive consumers of images. He uses media fandom to say, bullshit. Look at these people interacting with these images, playing with them, adjusting them, etc.

I recommend both of them; they don't repeat that much, and both gave me great insight into my own hobby. [6]

Camille Bacon-Smith set off a few sparks back in 1985 when she had a piece in the New York Times Book Review called "Spock Among the Women," which discussed the peculiarly feminine sensibilities of fan writers. This premise has been expanded into a major study called "Enterprising Women," published by the University of Pennsylvania as part of their series in Contemporary Ethnography. It's an absorbing study of Star Trek/Media fandom, its mores and its rituals, with particular emphasis on fanzines and fan writing.

Camille interviewed fans around the country, and got deeply involved in what she calls "core circles." She collected and read hundreds of fanzines, not only in Star Trek, but also in Blake's 7 fandom. She attended conventions, equipped with a tape recorder and a button that read "Intergalactic Ethnographer." This reviewer was one of those interviewed, and many of my remarks were quoted at length. This is definitely an in-depth study of a way of life.

How well does Camille treat fandom? She explored one segment of female Trek/Media fandom, but some of her conclusions are already dated. There are more male faces popping up at cons like MediaWest and Shore Leave, and men are contributing to mediazines more. On the other hand, the sections on "slash" and "hurt/comfort" stories are right on the money.

This is a serious work of scholarship, with plenty of footnotes, photos and examples of fannish writing. Many of the people interviewed will be familiar to the readers of this Writers' Exchange. It's odd reading for someone who's been involved in certain aspects of fandom (although I never got as deeply involved in a core group as she did); one feels like a microbe on a slide. However, it's a good examination of a community of writers, done with serious intent.

Bravo, Camille! Live long and prosper! [7]

I generally read fiction for escape/entertainment. If I want to be depressed or saddened, I read a newspaper. And I experienced all the catharsis I could ever want whilst being an English Lit major way back when. No more, thanks. Sandy says that Camille Bacon-Smith's theme in "Enterprising Women" is that fandom is a way of dealing with pain and risk in our "normal" lives. I disagree with Bacon-Smith, as least in terms of my own fandom. For me, writing and reading fanfic is done for sheer pleasure--it's very enjoyable and I have a great deal of enthusiasm for it, and I'm not exorcising any personal demons (being possessed of a rather arrogant amount of self-confidence and feeling damn good about myself and my life). So, I do it for the joy of it... [8]


There is this notion going around, promulgated by Russ, Camille Bacon-Smith and the Religious Right that women need to 'identify' with characters, that we need to have male characters androgynised so that we can experience vicarious pleasure.[9]

Camilla Bacon-Smith does not get it when it comes to slash or to hurt/comfort, a fan genre that is close to slash emotionally, but sometimes with no sex. She does not understand why women read it, and I certainly don't recognise myself in her chapters on slash and hurt-comfort. It is my opinion that we learn more about CBS and per personal hang-ups in those chapters than we do about those who read and write slash and hurt-comfort. [10]

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. [11]

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. [12]

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 focused 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 the underlying feeling-tone. Members of academia, it seems, can be just as susceptible to misunderstanding as members of fandom. [13]

I think someone brought it up before... but the book "Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth" by Camille Bacon-Smith has just come across my desk. It is mostly a literary dissection of fanfic created by women, as well as a somewhat disturbing anthropological/ethnological examination of the women fans who create fanzines. Covers mostly Star Trek fandom, but there is a lot in there about B7, The Professionals, etc. Very well researched, I'd say, from my cursory glances (i.e., checking the index for all the B7 references....) What I liked in it (because I'm new to this wild B7 world) was the history she gives (briefly) of B7 fandom in the U.S. She divides it into 2 stages: pre-1986 and post-1986, and dwells on the factioning caused when the program began to be aired here in 1986. Also mentions the great Paul Darrow/homoerotic fanfic feud (but does not go into great detail). Includes a few quotes from Darrow, Michael Keating, and Terry Nation about attending the first

Scorpio con in 1984. [14]

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'. [15]

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 the vocabulary for... [16]

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" . . . [17]

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![18]

... 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. [19]

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. [20]

I'm interested in this "Enterprising Women" thesis that Mary Sue writers are disturbed women, and I'll have to read the book. I think that most human beings are disturbed, when one thinks about it! It is "normal" for men to be obsessed by fast cars, and "normal" for women to read romances or women's magazines. Doesn't that kind of "normality" still smack of a lifestyle where something is profoundly lacking? Some kind of wish fulfillment, where men can boost their male egos by gaining a sensation of power through their cars and women can escape their humdrum lives by reading literature of some kind of ideal life and relationship. [21]

I just finished Textual Poachers and enjoyed the book very much. It's a good complement to Enterprising Women. In this reviewer's opinion, TP addresses Slash the better of the two books, while EW is best on the Mary Sue question and the sociology/politics of developing fandoms. TP seems to place fandom more securely in greater society, too. The author is quite comfortable as a fan himself, while EW seems to be a bit hesitant when confronting some aspect of fandom that seems - er - unusual to her. I definitely think they should be read as a pair; I certainly wish someone would gather together all the articles on fandom that they refer to in their texts. [22]

... if you read Camille Bacon-Smith's introduction to her book, she says that's how she got involved in studying media fandom, because she was originally studying Star Trek fandom, and she would go to cons and talk to the fens, and she got a lot of men complaining about these women, doing these weird things to their fandom, and so she started going, well, this is interesting. What are these women doing? And wound up studying something that she had not meant to be studying, because it was interesting. But that's what directed her to it was all these men bitching about the women. [snipped] It's not a bad book. This is all my personal opinion here, you all got that. It's not a bad book.

It's not nearly as good as Henry's, it's not as good as Constance's shorter articles. Its whole style of anthropology is very outdated. She is very much doing what Henry was talking about at the beginning, of "I am an academic, and I am we. And I am studying fans, and they are they." Very strong on that. She overgeneralizes her own experience, so that what hit her as important, she then assumes is important to everybody; and the way she went through fandom she assumes is the way everyone went through fandom and discovered fandom. That's just... She never — yeah — [gets it]. [23]

It's so alienating that it makes fandom unrecognizable. I read her description o f us and I didn't recognize us. So her agenda is one thing, but as you read Henry's book, Henry's agenda is much more user-friendly. It's much more about showing us as being real people with brains, and strengths, and occasional quirks. [Laughter] But it's a much better way o f doing it. And when you read Constance's things, again, you have a very different point of view. Again, you're not trying to aggrandize

yourself, and you're not trying to portray women as being passive, manipulated, poor helpless little things, which has always been how I have seen academia stand back and look at women. Academia as a whole tends to stand back and look at women as being things there. ... there's also been a view in a lot of the writing that the reason we do what we're doing is because we can't do something else that's better. [General sounds of agreement.] It's out of a lack. And I have always seen it as tremendously creative, extremely positive, extremely empowering, and extremely fun. Everybody gets together and has fun. And you read this Camille thing where we're all dealing with this pain, this inner pain [General chimings - in of "oh, the pain"] of living in a male-dominated world where we're all terrorized by men, and you're sort of going, what? Excuse me? [Laughter] [24]

Spotted in the new Locus: "Camille Bacon-Smith...sold an untitled first fantasy novel to DAW."

Hmmm....does she write from her pain? Will there be hurt/comfort? Any sex? inquiring and salacious and gossipy minds want to know!

Cynic that I am, somehow I have a feeling it will be about a blue-eyed dark and handsome action figure and his auburn curly-haired green-eyed partner...doubtless *someone* will be injured, and *someone* will have to comfort him...but she's an ethnographer--she doesn't *have* any pain to write from! [25]


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! [26]

Many female fans rolled their eyes in frustration with the publication of Camille Bacon-Smith’s book, Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. First, Bacon-Smith referred to some of her sources as informants, essentially giving fandom an underground, cult status. She also attempted to explain particular genres of fan fiction.

Hurt/comfort is a type of fan story where the writer develops a plot where one character becomes injured (either physically or mentally) and the other character offers comfort. Women writers are notorious for producing this type of story where the male characters are cast in the traditional female role of nurturer.

Bacon-Smith couldn’t mask her distaste for this genre in her book. She chalked up these literary efforts to personal turmoil in the writers’ lives. Pain is so pervasive in these women’s lives that it effects their creative efforts; that women are either casting themselves as heroes in their stories or are wishing for rescue in their lives.

The slash genre didn’t fare much better in the book. Slash stories feature explicit, male homosexual material using media characters. Kirk/Spock (K/S) is an example of a slash pairing. 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.

I cannot say that Bacon-Smith’s conclusions are wrong, but I do suggest that the conclusions are incomplete. She did attend conventions, read mediazines, and interviewed fans for her book. On the other hand, I "speak" with fans practically everyday due to the wonder of the e-mail system on the Internet. Never, has any writer told me that their hurt/comfort masterpiece was based in part on personal experience or the "working out" of tragedy or unhappiness in their lives. [27]

Camille Bacon-Smith's take on h/c is strange indeed. As those of you who have read Enterprising Women will have noted, she regards h/c as the secret, hidden heart of media fandom. She believes that when, in her daring investigation (on p. 226 she actually refers to herself as "the intrepid ethnographer." I kid you not.), she came too close to this hidden heart, she was deliberately deflected and distracted by being shown slash instead. She takes this to be an example of "conservation of risk" on the part of fans, but that notion strikes me as an over-elaborate explanation of something much more simple. It seems obvious that people avoided discussing h/c with her because she had made it clear early on that she didn't like it (she admits as much on p. 268); in other words, what she interprets as fannish secrecy was merely common courtesy. I have never been able to decide whether this misinterpretation is simply a display of extraordinary stupidity, or whether it is a deliberate attempt to inflate the significance of her research project by making it sound far more difficult than it actually was. Bacon-Smith insists that h/c is not intended to be erotic (it is presumably for that reason that she writes it with a dash instead of a slash), and that writers and readers are interested only in the comfort and not in the hurt. I hope I have made it clear that while that may well be so for some people, it certainly isn't true of all of us; and I think there's plenty of evidence in the stories themselves... It's interesting that on this point she ignored the good advice of scholars who suggested to her that h/c stories have an erotic element (p. 259). She continued to maintain that they don't, based on what she was told by a handful of people, presumably the same ones who had been reluctant to discuss h/c with her in the first place. I find it odd that here she stuck to what her informants told her, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, while at the same time she insisted on a bizarrely literal interpretation of a satiric Classic Trek story (One Way Mirror by Barbara Wenk, discussed on pp. 107-110) even though all the fans she consulted, including the author herself, told her she was mistaken.


One thing she does get right, in my opinion, is her conclusion that slash is indeed about men and not about women, as some other writers on the subject, e.g. Joanna Russ, have implied. But she then takes the opposite tack with h/c and claims that that is not really about men at all. What it's about, she thinks, is the terrible pain in the lives of the women writing it and the desire to ease the pain, as shown by the emphasis on "comfort" over "hurt." Well— I wouldn't say that interpretation is completely inaccurate, but it's only a small part of the total picture. Certainly there is a degree of identification or at least of empathy with the sufferer in a properly wallowy h/c story; and undoubtedly the writing of fiction, whether fannish or professional, does often serve as a catharsis for unpleasantness in the author's own life. But this elaborate theory of identification with the victim overlooks something much more obvious: a lot of women are really, really mad at men, and with good reason. Who's causing us all that pain, after all? It seems to me that if a woman going through a messy divorce writes a story in which, say, Captain Kirk is raped and humiliated, it's not so much about her own pain as about her anger at her husband (as pointed out, very sensibly, in Edi Bjorklund's article in Nome #11.)[28]

I read both Camille's and Henry's book. [...] Henry seemed to approach his book more *intimately.* As a fan, he probably sat in on a lot of *informal* gatherings that make fandom so special, ie. late night viewing marathons, zine collating parties, etc. As a result, his conclusions seemed more complete than Camille's book. She took the pure academic approach, IMO. Her use of the word "informant" for her un-named sources gave fandom the mystic of a cult or secret society where members who talk to outsiders would be bumped off or something. Henry seemed to want to *present* fandom while Camille wanted to *explain* fandom within psychological and ethnographic theories - must of which were BS in my opinion. Like M.Fae said, it was hard to recognize fandom in Camille's book. I would recommend both books, however, because they're interesting to read. Are the books accurate, somewhat. Are they incomplete, most definitely. [29]


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. [30]

Reading excerpts from the book "Textual Poachers" piqued my curiosity about the fandom psyche in general. I have discovered another book that I found very interesting and would like to pass on to SND readers. The title is "Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth" by Camille Bacon-Smith. The copyright is 1992 and it is published by University of Pennsylvania Press. I found this book in our local university's library. I'm not sure if it would be available through your city's public library or not.

A quote from the back cover — "Enterprising Women" is a study of the worldwide community of fans from "Star Trek" and other genre television series who create and distribute fiction and art based on their favorite series. This community includes people from all walks of life: housewives, librarians, secretaries, and professors of medieval literature. Ninety percent of its members are women . . . who rework the plots, create new characters, and invent new interactions among old characters.

The fiction and art that result from this recreation are published and sold through an intricate network of conventions, word-of-mouth, cross advertising, and catalogs . . . Camille Bacon-Smith asks the question: Why do members of this community... spend time, energy and money creating and sharing pictures and stories about worlds they have only seen on television? Using a theoretical framework drawn from ethnolinguistics, mass communications studies, literary theory, the sociology of play and feminist studies . . . the author shows us how members of the community use their fiction and art to help them cope with real-life problems and to find support and comfort in community ... It will be a unique resource for students and scholars of literature, American studies, women's studies, and popular culture."

While most of this book is devoted to the "Star Trek" fandom and its phenomena, so many of the philosophies and stories mimic the ones I have heard in our own "Beauty And The Beast" fandom. Our motivations and satisfactions manifest themselves very similarly across all known fandom groups, even though characters, plots, or settings may differ wildly.


As I mentioned, this book deals with fandom using "Star Trek" as its model, but the narrative rings true for all fandoms and I found it fascinating reading. More than once, I found myself nodding in complete agreement, seeing myself and my reactions to fandom on the written page. I highly recommend this book for those of you who are interested in the whole fandom phenomenon.

I'll close with a great excerpt: "A book about women who produce a massive body of literature, art, and criticism about their favorite television and movie characters is of necessity awkward to begin. On the one hand, the ethnographer wants to jump up and down and scream, 'Look what I found! 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! Not a place or time, but a state of being — of giving each other permission — in which each may take freedom of expression into her own hands, wherever she is, whatever else she is doing!' Then, a colder mind prevails. The creation of this art, the bending of popular culture artifacts — in some cases, popular icons — is a subversive act undertaken by housewives and librarians, schoolteachers and data Input clerks, secretaries and professors of medieval literature, under the very noses of husbands and bosses who would not approve, and children who should not be exposed to such acts of blatant civil disobedience.

Happy Reading! [31]


If anyone is curious to know more about fandom or even if they want to maybe read about someone they know - I highly recommend a book I just bought (thanks to advice from my friend Kati!): it's "Enterprising Women" by Camille Bacon-Smith, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. A fascinating work {although a little scary because it reveals more than some of us would like to have revealed to the mundane world), it goes into cons, h/c, slash, even Mary Sues! t bought my copy at Borders, its copyright 1992, and even contains illos by some of the more famous artists in fandom. (Yes, it talks about Starsky & Hutch even though ST fandom mainly started the trend) Really interesting to read![32]



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] [33]


I haven't read Penley or any of the other "fanfic scholars" I've heard mentioned during my lurkdom. Perhaps many of the things I question would be crystal-clear if I had some familiarity with their work. My questions re: 'what is the objection here' come from an impression I've gotten which is: when these works are mentioned, it looks like fandom rushes to refute them (except for Jenkins who I guess people like because he seems supportive of fanfic in general). So I can't help wondering if the problem has little to do with scholarship or lack thereof and more to do with the way our community sees itself. There seems to be a mixed feeling here of excitement that the mainstream culture is becoming more aware of our activities and annoyance that they do see it and us as we do. When the various shorter online articles are discussed, there's quite a bit of "look how wrong they got it" and "obviously they talked to the 'wrong' people or read the 'wrong' stories." So I'm just wondering if our self-image (and defense of that) is interfering with our giving consideration to the opinion of someone who comes to this with a very different agenda than we do. ...the scientific method involves reproducibility, measurability, quantifiability, and I can't see how that works in a sociological study (soft science, IMO) or a literary study (not science at all, again IMO). If Penley talked to 1,000 fans and 2/3 supported her conclusions and 1/3 didn't, I still don't think that would make her "right" because this isn't science (where numbers count for a lot) or democracy (where numbers count for everything). It's art and community dynamics and all kinds of unmeasurable things and because of that, I think each of us has hir own view and for each of us, that view is valid. It's when we try to draw conclusions about the overall picture that it gets messy. I'd be very interested to hear about a scientific method that could be applied to something as unscientific as human society and the humanities. [34]


Although I'm glad to see when fanfic gets scholarly recognition, I am bothered by the tone that Bacon-Smith often takes in her book -- that rather smug "I'm a scholar-ethnographer studying strange, fanfic-writing 'natives'; aren't these people weird?" I know a woman who served as one of the external reviewers for Bacon-Smith's manuscript before it was accepted for publication, and she (the reviewer) said that this superior tone was even worse in the first draft. [35]

External Links


  1. ^ Academia Explores the Final Frontier, Strange World, 1994.
  2. ^ Bacon-Smith, Camille, Enterprising Women, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
  3. ^ Smith, p. 110. A footnote states this was reported to her by Judy Chien, who attended the panel at MostEastlyCon 1990 in Newark.
  4. ^ Smith, p. 97.
  5. ^ comments by Maggie Nowakowska in Southern Enclave #34 (1992)
  6. ^ comments by Sandy Hereld on Virgule-L, quoted with permission (December 8, 1992)
  7. ^ from A Writer's Exchange #3 (June 1992)
  8. ^ quoted anonymously with permission from Virgule-L (Dec 2, 1992)
  9. ^ from Identifying with characters and other insults to women
  10. ^ Lysator, Susan H, dated October 8, 1993.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ from Comlink #53
  13. ^ Subject: "Enterprising Women" post to Lysator dated April 19, 1993.
  14. ^ Subject: "Enterprising Women" post to Lysator dated April 3, 1993.
  15. ^ from Trekzine Times v.3 n.1
  16. ^ Subject: "Enterprising Women" post to Lysator dated April 20, 1993.
  17. ^ from The LOC Connection #54
  18. ^ from The LOC Connection #54
  19. ^ from The LOC Connection #53
  20. ^ a review in Trekzine Times v.3 n.1 by Joan Marie Verba
  21. ^ from Southern Enclave #36
  22. ^ comments by Maggie Nowakowska in Southern Enclave #37
  23. ^ comments by Sandy Hereld at the 1993 Escapade, in which Constance Penley, Henry Jenkins, Meg Garrett, and Shoshanna were panelists, quoted with permission
  24. ^ comments by M. Fae Glasgow at the 1993 Escapade, in which Constance Penley, Henry Jenkins, Meg Garrett, and Shoshanna were panelists
  25. ^ comments by Nicole V, quoted with permission, response quoted anonymously from Virgule-L (Nov 2, 1993)
  26. ^ Subject: Re: Indoctrination and other baggage post by Nicole V. to Lysator dated May 10, 1994.
  27. ^ June/July 1994 Strange New Worlds #14
  28. ^ from Strange Bedfellows APA #5 (May 1994)
  29. ^ quoted anonymously from Virgule-L (09 May 94)
  30. ^ from Bringing Home the Bacon in Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine? #5
  31. ^ by Peggy McNabb Soulmates - An Neverending Dream #5
  32. ^ from Black Bean Soup v.2 n.6 (October 1996)
  33. ^ from Fans and Fan Spinoffs from Favorite Popular Culture, January 1997
  34. ^ 2001 comments at ASCEML
  35. ^ 2002 comments at ASCEML