Transformative Works and Cultures Interview with Henry Jenkins

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Transformative Works and Cultures Interview with Henry Jenkins
Interviewer:
Interviewee: Henry Jenkins
Date(s): 2008
Medium: online
Fandom(s):
External Links: interview is here
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Contents

In 2008, Henry Jenkins was interviewed for an issue of Transformative Works and Cultures.

Some topics discussed were academia, acafan, Textual Poachers, white privilege and fandom, the graying of fandom, and fan communities.

Some Excerpts

At the time I wrote Textual Poachers, fan studies would have been understood as part of a larger move within cultural studies to explore subcultures, readers, and audiences. I was working with John Fiske, who had been a key American advocate of this kind of ethnographic approach to understanding the agency and activity of media audiences. There was a growing body of research that was sympathetic to soap opera fans, say, but not much that was engaged with the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or action-adventure fans who have been central to my own work. There was clearly something in the air since Camille Bacon-Smith, Constance Penley, and I ended up writing about the fanzine community at about the same time, working independently with only limited contact with each other.
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.
I realize not all fans agree that the presence of academics in their midst is a good thing. Some of this has to do with abuse by a small number of academics who didn't necessarily have the best interests of the community at heart. Some of this has to do with other issues they've had with academic life in the past. Some of it reflects the legitimate claim that fans have always theorized their own practices and that writing "meta" is as much part of fandom as writing fan fiction or editing vids, and academics have not always respected the meta written by nonacademic fans. As a community, academics doing fan studies work still have to make a greater effort to become part of the intellectual conversations within fan culture and to write work that speaks to and with nonacademic fans. We've spent so much time trying to shore up our academic credentials that we haven't always maintained our fan credentials.
One side effect of this work may be that more young people will discover fandom, but that's a trend we've been seeing since the rise of Internet fandoms, and especially since the emergence of Harry Potter– and anime/manga-focused fandoms. But more generally, I think everyone might benefit from learning how to build a more playful and speculative relationship to the texts they read, from feeling empowered to take media in their own hands and coming to recognize a world where, as in fandom, all readers are assumed to be potential authors even if they haven't written anything yet.
I am working much harder now to try to reengage with issues of gender and sexuality through my work. As I note above, my most recent work is about the exclusions within participatory culture and about the unequal relations between corporations and different kinds of fan communities. I am struggling to reconnect my work on participatory culture with the latest rounds of work in feminist scholarship. Fan scholars should try to acknowledge and address these questions of inequality and exclusion in their work. It's one reason why I speak so much right now about the participation gap and make the point again and again that a participatory culture is not necessarily a diverse or inclusive culture. Fandom is certainly not exempt from these concerns. For a long time, as a Star Trek fan, I was concerned that we spoke about "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," yet those attending conventions are overwhelming white. I now worry a lot about the generational segregation of fan communities. When my wife goes to Escapade, she hears lots of talk about the graying of fandom and sees far fewer fans who are not middle-aged; when I speak at a Harry Potter con, I am shocked by how young most of the fans are. What does this suggest about the social structures of fandom?