Photographer:Fotograaf: Specially for Star Trek fans
Conference on developments in media culture on 4 and 5 July
A Susan Boyle Fan community, Game of Thrones fan site, Sherlock Holmes Fan Club site. These are just a few examples in a vast jungle. Fans of television series, films, games, or music express themselves in all manner of ways. Virtually on blog sites or forums, but also in real life at meetings. There will be a conference about fan cultures, called Making and Sharing, or MASH for short, in the Maastricht art house Lumière on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 July.
Fan culture is a flourishing field on the Internet, says Nicolle Lamerichs from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She is doing a PhD on the subject and is working with a number of colleagues on the NWO project Narrative Fan Practices. “Fans are groups of people who feel socially connected by a media product: a TV celebrity, athlete, genre, game, or film. Some fans take this to extremes, turning it into an object of devotion.” Fans come in all shapes and sizes. The casual fan: the individual who likes to watch a series like Homeland or Sherlock Holmes, loves Harry Potter books, or is a passionate about Star Trek films – and maybe even keeps an occasional blog about it on the Internet. Other fans go a little further and join an online community, visit clubs or meetings. “It is a subculture, something that is created bottom-up and shared by people. Some make magazines, others put on costumes. A colleague of mine, for example, is researching the world of LARPers (Live Action RolePlay) where participants depict a story in the form of a role play.” The fact that science fiction often monopolises the scene, does not surprise Lamerichs. “One can be more creative there. Fantasizing about planets where nobody has been before, for example, like in Star Trek.”
Lamerichs has seen quite a lot during her fieldwork. “I went to Japan, which has the largest comic market for fans in the world, with about half a million visitors: Comiket. In San Diego (US) there is Comic-Con, which is held once a year and attracts some 100 thousand people. In Germany I visited the largest Star Trek convention (FedCon) in Europe. There is so much going on: workshops, lectures, film programmes, sales, signing sessions …” The Netherlands is little out of it, although the Elf Fantasy Fair, a commercial fair, according to Lamerichs is doing “very well. The audience is varied, from youths to housewives in their fifties. What you see is that this latter category is mainly interested in manga things (Japanese cartoon style, ed.).” The online fan world is, Lamerichs emphasises, so much bigger than the offline one. “I can imagine that some people really have to cross a threshold, if they want to participate in such a convention. Dropping a line on a forum is much easier and anonymous.”
At the two-day MASH conference in Maastricht foreign researchers speak about different aspects of the fan culture. It’s about copyright, mash-up videos (in which various videos come together), games, the Asian fan culture, but also about anti-fan activism. Lamerichs: “There are fans, but there are also haters. Take the book by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, mommy porn (targeting housewives and mothers). Some love it, others don’t. The writer broke the taboo about SM, but then also chooses a female character that is manipulated and because of this does all kinds of horrid things. There are sites on the Internet where bad sentences from the book are being quoted. The same thing happened with Justin Bieber. He sometimes does or says such stupid things that there are plenty of people who hate this teen idol.”
“With the development of the Internet and the game culture, our research is becoming more and more accepted. Internet studies are booming. That was quite different thirty years ago. If I had had to do research on fans, it would maybe have been about readers of doctor novels.” What Lamerichs and her colleagues have in common? “We find it interesting how people deal with stories, love them and express that.”