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American fans have learned Japanese, often teaching each other outside of a formal educational context, in order to participate in grassroots projects to subtitle anime films or to translate manga. Concerned about different national expectations about what kinds of animation are appropriate for children, anime fans have organized their own ratings groups. This is a new cosmopolitanism - knowledge sharing on a global scale. As the community enlarges and as reaction time shortens, fandom becomes much more effective as a platform for consumer activism.

Fans can quickly mobilize grassroots efforts to save programs or protest unpopular developments. New fandoms emerge rapidly on the web - in some cases before media products actually reach the market. As early participants spread news about emergent fandoms, supporters quickly develop the infrastructure for supporting critical dialogue, producing annotated program guides, providing regular production updates, and creating original fan stories and artwork. The result has been an enormous proliferation of fan websites and discussion lists.

Kirsten Pullen estimates, for example, that as of June there were more than 33, fan websites listed in the Yahoo!

Web.studies: rewiring media studies for the digital age

Web Directory, dealing with individual performers, programs, and films - with websites devoted to Star Trek alone! This increased visibility and cultural centrality has been a mixed blessing for a community used to speaking from the margins. The speed and frequency of communication may intensify the social bonds within the fan community. In the past, fans inhabited a 'week-end only world,' seeing each other in large numbers only a few times a year - at conventions. Geographically isolated fans can feel much more connected to the fan community and home-ridden fans enjoy a new level of acceptance.

Yet, fandom's expanded scope can leave fans feeling alienated from the expanding numbers of strangers entering their community. This rapid expansion outraces any effort to socialize new members. For example, fandom has long maintained an ethical norm against producing erotica about real people rather than fictional characters. As newer fans have discovered fan fiction online, they have not always known or accepted this prohibition and so there is a growing body of fan erotica dealing with celebrities. Such stories become a dividing point between older fans committed to traditional norms and the newer on-line fans who have asserted their rights to redefine fandom on their own terms.

Online fan discussion lists often bring together groups who functioned more or less autonomously off-line and have radically different responses to the aired material.

web.studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Digital Age

Flame wars erupt as their taken-for-granted interpretive and evaluative norms rub against each other. In some cases, fans can negotiate these conflicts by pulling to a metalevel and exploring the basis for the different interpretations. More often, the groups splitter into narrower interests, pushing some participants from public debates into smaller and more private mailing lists.

Levy describes a pedagogical process through which a knowledge community develops a set of ethical standards and articulates mutual goals. Even on a scale much smaller than Levy's global village, fandoms often have difficulty arriving at such a consensus.

While early accounts of fandom stressed its communitarian ideals, more recent studies have stressed recurring conflicts. Andre MacDonald has described fandom in terms of various disputes - between male and female fans, between fans with different assumptions about the desired degree of closeness of the producers and stars, between fans who seek to police the production of certain fantasies and fans who assert their freedom from such constraints, between different generations of fans, and so forth.

Moreover, as Nancy Baym suggests, the desire to avoid such conflicts can result in an artificial consensus which shuts down the desired play with alternative meanings. Yet, MacDonald and Baym suggest a constant tension between these two goals, which can reach a crisis state as list memberships have expanded alongside the expedient growth of net subscribers. Networked computing has also transformed fan production. Web publication of fan fiction, for example, has almost entirely displaced printed zines.

Fanzines arose as the most efficient means of circulating fan writing.

Personal Connections in the Digital Age

In some fandoms, circuits developed for loaning individually photocopied stories. In other cases, readers and editors came to see zines as aesthetic artifacts, insisting on high quality reproduction and glossy color covers. Fans have increasingly turned to the web to lower the costs of production and to expand their reading public. Fans are also developing archives of older zine stories, helping to connect newer fans with their history.

The higher visibility of fan fiction on the web has inspired many new writers to try their hand and spread the practice to new fandoms, yet older fans complain of the lack of editing and nurturing of emerging talents. In several cases, fans have organized themselves to map out alternative story arcs and to script their own episodes when series were canceled or took unwelcome turns. Digital technologies have also enabled new forms of fan cultural production. Photoshop collage has become popular as a means of illustrating fan fiction and now digital art may go to auction at cons alongside illustrations done in pen and ink, colored pencil, or oil.

For a time, mp3s of filk music could be readily downloaded alongside commercial favorites through Napster.


Elena Garfinkle and Eric Zimmerman have documented the emergence of Kitsekae or digital paperdolls, that can be dressed and undressed by the user and programmed to perform simple actions. The Kitsekae become vehicles for erotic play and fantasy - primarily among anime fans. Fans call these new works machinema after a Japanese word that refers to puppetry. The scrapbook function in The Sims has similarly enabled new forms of fan fiction, as fans play the game in order to create the images necessary to illustrate their stories.

In some cases, they also develop "skins" designed to represent favorite television or comicbook characters. Fan artists have been part of the much larger history of amateur film and video production. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, were themselves amateur filmmakers as teenagers, producing low-budget horror or science fiction movies.

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Star Wars , in turn, has inspired super 8 filmmakers since its release in the early s. Some British fan clubs produced original episodes of Doctor Who , sometimes filming in the same gravel quarries as the original series. As the videocassette recorder became more widely available, fans re-edited series footage into music videos, using popular music to encapsulate the often-unarticulated emotions of favorite characters. The World-Wide-Web is a powerful distribution channel, giving what were once home movies a surprising degree of public visibility. Publicity materials surface while these amateur films are still in production, most of the films boast lavish movie posters, and many of them include downloadable trailers to attract would-be viewers impatient with download times.

Star Wars fans were among the first to embrace these new technologies, producing at last count more than web movies. An important genre of fan filmmaking involves animating action figures. Other films take advantage of commercially available costumes and props or raid videos and sound track albums for their sound effects and music.

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These fan filmmakers have used home computers to duplicate effects Lucasfilm had spent a fortune to achieve several decades earlier; many fan films create their own light saber or space battles. Some of these fan filmmakers have gotten offers for professional projects or had their films screened at international film festivals. When Amazon. Amateur film culture has already made an impact on the commercial mainstream. Spike Jonz, the director of Being John Malcovich , for example, got his start making amateur films within the skateboard subculture. Similarly, MTV's Jackass , took its inspiration from the web based distribution of amateur stunt films, while Celebrity Death Match adopts an aesthetic remarkably similar to action figure cinema.

In the future, amateur productions may initiate many innovations in popular culture which gain higher visibility as they are pulled into mainstream media, much as the fans appropriate and recirculate materials from commercial culture. The emergent knowledge cultures never fully escape the influence of the commodity culture, any more than commodity culture can totally function outside the constraints of territoriality. But knowledge cultures will, he predicts, gradually alter the ways that commodity culture operates. Nowhere is that transition clearer than within the culture industries, where the commodities that circulate become resources for the production of meaning: 'The distinctions between authors and readers, producers and spectators, creators and interpretations will blend to form a reading-writing continuum, which will extend from the machine and network designers to the ultimate recipient, each helping to sustain the activities of the others.

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Kurt Lancaster, for example, has examined how commercial works including computer, role playing and card games surrounding the cult science fiction series, Babylon 5 , facilitate a diverse range of fan performances, allowing fans to immerse themselves in the fantasy universe. As the site developed, fans were offered opportunities to correspond in character with Dawson and his friends and thus be incorporated into the commercial text.

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Cult works were once discovered, now they are being consciously produced, designed to provoke fan interactions. The producers of Xena , for example, were fully aware that some fans wanted to read Xena and Gabrielle as lesbian lovers and thus began to consciously weave 'subtext' into the episodes.

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As Levy explains, 'The recipients of the open work are invited to fill in the blanks, choose among possible meanings, confront the divergences among their interpretations. To some degree, these aesthetic shifts can be linked to new reception practices enabled by the home archiving of videos, net discussion lists, and web program guides. These new technologies provide the information infrastructure necessary to sustain a richer form of television content, while these programs reward the enhanced competencies of fan communities. Television producers are increasingly knowledgeable about their fan communities, often courting their support through networked computing.

Babylon 5 producer J. Michael Straczinski actively courted the science fiction fan community, long before his proposed series was approved for production. He cited the fan buzz to demonstrate its market potential and the fans lobbied local stations to purchase the syndicated series. The series producer, known affectionately by his user name, JMS, went on-line daily, responding to questions about his complex and richly developed narrative. Kurt Lancaster estimates that JMS may have made more than posts to the fan community, sometimes actively engaging with flame wars with individual fans as well as conducting what he saw as a continuing seminar on the production of genre television.