- "You Are Invited to Participate"1:Interactive Fandom in the Age of the Movie Magazine
There exists a significant critical literature about motion picture marketing and advertisement, especially concerning the related subject of American movie fan magazines. Much of this scholarship revolves around the gendering of discourse aimed at the fan magazine reader, especially over the course of the 1910s and 20s, and the degree to which these magazines increasingly spoke to women who were confronted with a range of entertainment options and related forms of consumerism.2 However, there have been few attempts by scholars to account for the ways that the readers of movie magazines both were encouraged to behave and, indeed, responded to this institutionalizing of fan culture. Jane Gaines makes a point akin to this in her 1985 essay "War, Women, and Lipstick": "Our most sophisticated tools of structural analysis can't tell us who read fan magazines, in what spirit or mood, or in what social context. Were they read on magazine stands next to bus stops, in waiting rooms, or under the dryers at beauty parlors? Or maybe they were never read at all, but purchased only for images, to cut up, tack on walls, or paste into scrapbooks" (46).
Where Gaines abandons this quest, casting it aside as an ancillary and perhaps even futile pursuit, I want to investigate one relatively unexplored avenue for understanding how fans both read and responded to movie magazines and the culture they created. Although this article begins somewhat conventionally with a discussion of how fan magazines from Hollywood's heyday (the 1910s through the 40s) were encoded, its ultimate aim is to assess how the magazines shaped their readers' understanding of their own relation to star culture. I argue here that one way to discern how the fan magazines motivated certain aspects of fan behavior is by looking to fan letters. This strikes me as an especially important task given the reluctance of many scholars to venture into this admittedly difficult territory. The tendency to abandon fans' reactions at the theoretical level leaves us at a critical impasse that is not, I think, entirely insurmountable. By looking at fan magazines and the ways in which they constructed and trained a particular kind of ideal reader, and then by turning to written evidence in the form of fan mail for substantiation of the ways that at least some movie fans represented themselves, we emerge with a sense of the interactive culture that was being generated in the magazines' pages.3 I cannot hope to answer Gaines's particular lines of inquiry; however, I can suggest some very concrete ways that the fan magazine reader was spoken to and then spoke with regard to the cultures of celebrity and fandom. [End Page 3]
In her work on celebrity, Adrienne McLean notes, "The relationship of the fan magazine itself to advertising, product tie-ins, and consumerism is clear, but that women experienced fan magazine discourse only or predominantly as consumers is not" (Being Rita Hayworth 74). Indeed, I hope to both affirm and extend McLean's formulation here by analyzing at least one way that fans acted beyond, but not outside of, the commercial paradigm laid out in the magazines. Fan mail reveals the ways that fans were led not just to an ongoing cycle of consumption, but also to aspirations of a social nature involving both star qualities and the stars themselves. These ambitions often exceeded the boundaries of interaction offered in the magazines' pages. As the following analysis demonstrates, the magazines sought to train their readers to take an active role in their spectatorial and consuming lives, but this training also led fans elsewhere, particularly to the stars themselves. Fan magazines are, as Anne Morey writes in an essay about the fiction published in their pages, "readily available reservoirs of information about how viewers might have used films" (334). I would add that this reservoir of information can lead us to other, even more personal sources of knowledge about how viewers interacted with the motion picture industry.4
Across the body of fan magazines—Photoplay, Motion Picture World, Motion Picture Classic, Modern Screen, Motion Picture...