- The Fan Fiction Studies Reader ed. by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse
The Fan Fiction Studies Reader, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, who also edited Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, offers a vital set of shared resources to old, new, and future fan studies scholars.1 Although it cannot completely avoid the pitfalls intrinsic to canon construction, the volume navigates and negotiates those limitations admirably. As the editors rightly point out, changes in both culture and scholarship make this an ideal moment for the publication of a scholarly reader about fan fiction, or stories written by amateur authors about a previously published source or public figure. Fan fiction’s importance to contemporary culture is most clearly summarized by Hellekson and Busse when they note that “the unprecedented success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, and the media attention it has prompted, might single-handedly justify a need to critically and comprehensively theorize fan fiction studies.”2 Our modern post–Fifty Shades of Grey media world, in which Twilight fan fiction can become a multimillion-dollar enterprise that mainstreams once-underground female sexual expression—rebranded by the suddenly ubiquitous term mommy porn—encapsulates the incredible influx of industry and scholarly interest in fan activities; yet simultaneously, heightened mainstream awareness of fan fiction also indicates the dangers of mistakenly separating Fifty Shades from a much longer history of fan production and scholarship as the industry repackages fan works for new audiences.3
Fans and fan fiction have become increasingly prominent in contemporary culture for at least two entwined reasons: first, fan practices [End Page 165] once seen as unusual or even abnormal now make up a large portion of mainstream digital culture and the daily lives of many nonfans; and second, the media industry places ever-greater emphasis on cultivating, maintaining, and communicating with fan audiences. Digital technologies like file sharing, television on DVDs, DVRs, and computer video-editing software extend the practices of cult audiences to mass audiences, normalizing repeat and binge viewing, as well as ripping, remixing, and recirculating both professional and amateur media. In this environment, even once relatively hidden practices like fan fiction circulate much more visibly online, finding new audiences while also drawing the scrutiny of media professionals.
For the industry, changing technologies and audience practices have provoked many responses, from protective panic to wholesale embrace of digital fandom’s opportunities. Corporations attempt to tap fan fiction either by republishing fan works for profit, as in Fifty Shades; monetizing existing fan works through legal means by asserting copyright claims; constructing their own private online spaces and inviting fans to produce works there; or viewing independent fan communities as a form of free advertising and amplifying their existence and visibility through closer contact with industry professionals. Actors like Misha Collins and Orlando Jones, who read fan fiction about themselves and promote it through social networking platforms like Twitter, mark an extreme of the latter strategy, and show how far fan fiction has moved from underground to mainstream culture.
In response to fandom and fan fiction’s rising visibility and influence in mass culture, the amount and scope of scholarly work on fans has also expanded in recent years, bringing a wave of new scholars, methods, and productivity; fan-related panels currently appear in most media-related professional conferences; the journals Transformative Works and Cultures and Journal of Fandom Studies dedicate themselves solely to fan studies texts, and scholarly books increasingly appear in the listings of a variety of presses. Hellekson and Busse thus note that transformations in the scholarly (sub)field can be partially measured in the distance and difference in tone between Henry Jenkins’s two landmark books: Textual Poachers, published in 1992, and Convergence Culture, published in 2006.4 They write that, “whereas Jenkins’s early work suggests that fans are an ideal audience and that producers should pay attention to them, his latter work on media convergence addresses how producers mobilize fans and simulate fan spaces.”5...