Henry Jenkins

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Name: Henry Jenkins
Also Known As:
Occupation: academic, acafan
Works: Textual Poachers (1992), his Christmas Carol fan fiction, other works
Official Website(s): Confessions of an Aca-Fan
Henry3 at MIT
Henry Jenkins Wikipedia page
Fan Website(s):
Henry Jenkins, photo from his blog
On Fanlore: Related pages

Henry Jenkins, a professor and acafan, is the author of the massively influential Textual Poachers, as well as many other books about media fandom.

Jenkins, who self-identifies as a fan, is a frequent attendee at fan cons and has created fanworks of his own.

He wrote a slash Scrooge/Marley story in the zine, Not What You Expect [1], Blake's 7 meta for Shadow #5, was a member of the APA Strange Bedfellows, and wrote Letters of Comment to at least one Star Trek: TOS letterzine, Hellguard Social Register.

During Gaylaxicon 1992, Jenkins appeared on a panel with fellow acafan Camille Bacon-Smith, moderated by Shoshanna, to discuss, among other things, queer issues in fandom. [2]

During Escapade 1993, Jenkins appeared on a panel with Constance Penley, Shoshanna, and Meg G called "Academia and our Culture." [3] He is a regular Escapade attendee.

During the FanLib brouhaha, the CEO of fanlib.com, Chris Williams, chose Jenkin's blog [4] to respond to questions and criticisms about the site. The choice of Jenkins as a representative or authority figure of media fandom was criticised at the time [5], and persuaded some fen of the need to create Organization for Transformative Works.

In the summer of 2007, Jenkins hosted an academic debate on "Gender and Fan Culture"[6], which was mirrored on LJ at fandebate.

See Confessions of an Aca-Fan for Jenkin's current going's on.

See: My Secret Life as a Slasher (2006).

Two Famous Fandom Quotes

Repairing the Damage...

Textual Poachers has a quote that fans often employed in discussion, and as a statement, on their websites, particularly in the late 1990s and early 2000s [7].

Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk.

The Wall of Glass

The "glass wall" and/or "wall of glass" is a Jenkins' touchpoint. From Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking:

When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series. Almost everyone who watches the scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass. The glass, for me, is often more social than physical; the glass represents those aspects of traditional masculinity which prevent emotional expressiveness or physical intimacy between men, which block the possibility of true male friendship. Slash is what happens when you take away those barriers and imagine what a new kind of male friendship might look like. One of the most exciting things about slash is that it teaches us how to recognize the signs of emotional caring beneath all the masks by which traditional male culture seeks to repress or hide those feelings.

The Mainstream Press' Go-To Guy

Jenkins was the person many journalists in the mid-1990s/early 2000s went to for quotes about fandom.

In 1993, Jenkins commented on frustrations he had with how mainstream press and industry voices tended to go for the easy, the shrill, the simplistic quotes, interviews, and descriptions of fans (not unlike, he pointed out, how serious discussions of pornography and the Iron John/men's movement topics were simplified and pushed through a very small, biased filter), and how he was optimistic that his work and that of UCSB film studies professor Constance Penley were, hopefully, broadening some horizons. At a panel in 1993 at the Escapade convention, Jenkins said:

Constance and I were talking about, yesterday, this Lingua Franca piece, that really made both of us look rather silly — or, that was the intent; in practice it made the writer look rather silly — we've gotten tremendous numbers of letters and phone calls, people who've said, I could tell it was a lousy article, but what you're writing about seemed interesting and important. The message gets out even imperfectly, when you deal with the press. And it's very important to me that... There are certain spokespersons against television in our society — you know, Neil Postman is one, and is quoted everywhere — who have access to the media, and will be quoted extensively. If people like Constance and I don't also go out there and aggressively engage with it, those are the only voices that are going to be heard, and we're going to be told over and over television destroys literacy, we have no common cultural capital today, television produces passivity, there are no such things as television fans, I mean, I've heard a range of statements by people who have the authority to speak to the press, asserting things that are diametrically opposite of the experience that people in this room have had of the media.

His cunning plan may have worked a little too well; as some fans noted in 2002. One fan commented wryly about a Jenkins quote in an article: "And of course it won't surprise you to find Mr Rent A Quote himself Henry Jenkins in there. I'd love to know how much lecturing he gets to do in between his media appearances!" [8]

In 2002, another fan referred to the professor's ubiquitous presence as a quotable commentator: "OK, now the Aussies are getting in on the act. And they still manage to track down Henry Jenkins for a quote. The day man lands on Mars, the good Dr J will be there with a quote for the bemused Martians, no doubt!" [9]

In 2008, Jenkins commented about the mainstream attention he received after the publication of Textual Poachers, and noted the difference in reporters' attitudes sixteen years later:

Another factor must be acknowledged here—a similar pattern among reporters. When all of this began, I was being interviewed by reporters who were unfamiliar and often openly hostile to fandom. Now, most of the reporters who interview me for fan-related stories are themselves fans or have had some casual engagement with fandom. There are still negative stories being written, but by and large, there are really supportive stories emerging as fan academics are interviewed by fan journalists, thus providing a context for the other kinds of fans they are talking with for these stories. And as the media coverage shifts, as more people going through school are exposed to fan culture in their classes, and as the Internet makes fandom more visible, then fans are gaining much greater acceptance from friends and families. [10]

Textual Poachers

Perhaps Jenkins' best known book is 1992's Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (Routledge 1992). It features chapters about fan activity including fanfic, fan art, vidding, and filk.

Written prior to the digital revolution, it is somewhat outdated now in its focus on old-school slash fandom. Jenkins has also been criticized for assuming that most fans are straight white middle-class college-educated women, and his conclusions about their motivations from this characterisation.

Jenkins was adamant about preserving fan anonymity and permissions. In 1994, Gayle F wrote:

I can vouch that Henry Jenkins asked for my permission to use what material of mine he has in his books, and did not use stuff he wanted to when I vanished into Indonesia for two years and he did not know how to reach me. He did not do it, even though the permission I had given him could easily have been loosely interpreted to include the art he would have liked. I've heard him disapprove of academics using fan source material without approval. Yes, he could at some time do a major about face and overturn his character and ethics for some juicy fan goody, but I doubt it. I hope he does continue to write about fandom, just because I think that its fun to invade academia in that way. He said it was always possible that he'd think of some other fan subject that he wanted to write about, but that his career would be better served by treating some different subjects now, rather than be known for that one specialty. [11]

For more, see Textual Poachers.

One of the First Acafans

While some fans enjoyed, or were neutral in their opinion, about Jenkins' attention of study, other fans were resentful and suspicious of him, and other newly-minted acafans.

From a discussion in early 1993:

I really want to avoid aiding anybody in their STUDY of fandom. Henry Jenkins, etc. are making their bucks (publishing for tenure, going to conferences, etc.) on fandom. It was really annoying to read SCREEN-L messages to him from other academics treating him like the grand poobah of fandom. I'd like to ask new people right up front [who want to join Virgule-L] if they plan to write on fandom for the academic community. If they are, let them do their own research.

I don't mind giving my spin on fandom to other fans who have figured out how to charge conventions to their research grants. I mind outsiders spoiling my fun without my knowledge, or painting me and my friends as being weirder than bowlers or tenured professors.
Camille has spent some serious time in fandom (paid her dues? I don't know). But, she *herself* says she is *not* a fan. She wants to keep her distance, her "objectivity" (as if there is such a thing in the social sciences). I'm not saying this makes her a bad person, but I do think that, as with many choices made, it carries consequences. Henry Jenkins, on the other hand, is willing to admit to his academic peers that he is a fan, a member of the community that he is observing, and take the flak for that. Again, this doesn't make him god, or make his observations more (or less) valid/interesting than Camille's, but he is taking responsibility as a member of the community.
But to heck with a lot of that; I think *I* learned things about fandom, and the ways I play (if not particularly *why* I play from both Camille and Henry's books. So I am glad they were written, That doesn't mean that I wish either of them were reading our (semi)personal fan mail. (A totally different thing than fanmail, eh?) I am very much looking forward to the panel at Escapade, and as a crazed extrovert, offer to ask any question (and even try to remember the answer and post it) to either of them, that anyone comes up with [12]

Another fan said:

My (granted, brief) experience of the man was that he was a fan who had managed to turn his hobby into a meal ticket, about which he was tickled but surprised. I have it on good authority that he quoted no-one by name without express permission, and he made every attempt to avoid potential misunderstandings or problems by having fellow-fen proof his work before printing. I may not always agree with what he says, but I do believe he went out of his way to be fair and accurate. [13]

Jenkins said this at a 1993 panel at Escapade:

I want to say ... what had changed within the academy over the last ten years that allows this work to be done. That is — I'm thinking about film and media studies — we as a discipline had to define ourselves in opposition to fans and buffs in order to gain admission to the academy. That is, if you're going to be taken seriously, and you're writing about popular culture, the last thing you want to do is be accused of being a fan. Right? You want to say, I am an academic.

I'm studying this just like you study art history and you study music history, and you study literature. And you push away those personal implications of this stuff in your own life, and you devalue them. And I think a lot of the attacks on fans by academics previous to us grew out of their desire and discomfort at the relationship or parallel between academic engagement with popular culture and fan engagement with popular culture. I began a conference paper recently by turning to the audience and saying, you know, we've been talking about television this entire weekend, many of you traveled all the way across the country to be here with us today, and I just wanted to say — get a life, will you? [Laughter] And sort of turn the table around and realize that the stereotype of the academic and the fan are virtually the same. It's only now that there is a secure base for film and media studies within the academy that it is possible for people like me to go through graduate school publicly as a fan, to assert to out myself as a fan, which a number of people, academics and fens, have referred to in letters about Textual Poachers, that I outed myself as a fan within the academy. And I've in fact heard very negative things from some academics as a result o f that. I was quoted in Lingua Franca as saying that I'm a fan first and an academic second, which is actually a misquote. It was a chronological statement; it wasn't a statement of priority. But I said that the things I write about grow out of things that I care about as a fan, and that I choose to write about them and engage with them as an academic as well. But I got a lot of ribbing and uncomfortable remarks from other academics because of that statement. But I think it is now possible to be a fan academic in the infrastructure of the academy as it's now evolved.

Notable Works

  • Textual poachers: Television fans and participatory culture. New York: Routledge. 1992.
  • Foreword to Interacting with "Babylon 5": Fan performances in a media universe, by Kurt Lancaster. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press. 2001.
  • Digital Land Grab. Technology Review (March 2000)
  • Convergence culture. New York: New York Univ. Press. 2006
  • Fans, bloggers, and gamers. New York: New York Univ. Press. 2006


A Sample of Meta and Press That Quotes or Mentions Jenkins


  1. ^ "Golden Idol" (22 pages), excerpted with his comments here
  2. ^ Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith at Gaylaxicon 1992 (Part One), [Part Two, TBA]
  3. ^ Transcript of Academia and Our Culture, Part 1, Part. 2, 6 February 1993
  4. ^ Chris Williams Responds to Our Questions about FanLib 25th of May, 2007 (Accessed 8th of November, 2008)
  5. ^ bethbethbeth: Henry Jenkins and FanLib 22nd of May, 2007, (Accessed 8th of November, 2008)'
  6. ^ When Fan Girls and Fan Boys Meet (Accessed 8th of November, 2008)
  7. ^ Zine Union and the deconstruction of pop culture: my fanfiction and Idylls of the Wizard and An Apocrypha of Muses and The Library: GreenWoman's Fanfiction and Iolausian Library
  8. ^ Comment in DIAL #23 about the 2002 Sunday Times article When Hamlet met the A-Team
  9. ^ from DIAL #24
  10. ^ from Transformative Works and Cultures Interview with Henry Jenkins
  11. ^ from Virgule-L, quoted with permission (June 21, 1994)
  12. ^ from a fan on Virgule-L, the first two are anonymous quotes, the last one is by Sandy Hereld and quoted with permission (January 13-Feburary 2, 1993)
  13. ^ a fan on Virgule-L, quoted anonymously (February 18, 1993)