- Fandom at the Crossroads: Celebration, Shame, and Fan/Producer Relationships by Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen, and: Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls by Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis
Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis published Fandom at the Crossroads: Celebration, Shame, and Fan/Producer Relationships and Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls in quick succession in 2012 and 2013. Both books take on a similar subject—the authors’ immersion in the fandom of Supernatural, a horror and dark-fantasy television series airing on the CW network from 2005 to the present, and their subsequent desire to take on the “pervasive sense of shame” that “permeates both fan spaces and academic approaches to the subject.”1 Nevertheless, the two texts are quite different: the first represents the authors’ academic analysis of fandom, whereas the second is more biographical in its approach, recording the authors’ journey into fandom and their own joys and difficulties in negotiating their status as fans, while also performing research on the topic as academics. What both books share is [End Page 175] a belief that, contrary to the recent theorization of fandom as “a common and ordinary aspect of everyday life in the industrialized world,” stereotypes of the libidinous, crazed fan (particularly in regard to female fans) still persist.2 Rather than disavowing this stereotype (though certainly problematizing it), the authors set out in these two texts to instead embrace the affective aspects of fandom, answering Henry Jenkins’s call to “get intimate with [popular culture], let it work its magic on us, and then write about our own engagement.”3 Pointing out that in the academic study of fandom “few fan theorists grant us access to their own fan lives beyond the safety of academic analysis,” the authors promise to write from “their own immersion within Supernatural fandom.”4
While the authors successfully bring their own passion for Supernatural under the lens in ways that open up interesting concerns for fan studies, I was left with several questions: When academic fans open up about their own engagement in fandom, is that engagement taken to be representative? Are academic fans substantively different from other fans? Or is the category of “aca-fan” in itself a construct that in fact contributes to the perceived separation of fans and those who study them? How should we, as researchers, place ourselves in relation to other fans, and at which point might one identity be in conflict with the other? Negotiating their roles as both fans and academics during the course of researching and writing these books was, by the authors’ own admission, somewhat awkward: “We found that the hybrid text we wanted to write could not be written. Clearly writing as academics to an audience of fans would not work, and writing as fans to an audience of academics was an equally untenable position.”5 This is, presumably, their explanation for writing and publishing two separate books on the subject, but I disagree with them on this point: for me, Fandom at the Crossroads is that hybrid text, representing in and of itself an admirable negotiation of the authors’ dual identities as fans and academics, particularly in its successful bringing together of affective response and critical analysis. Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, unfortunately, somewhat undid that good work for me. Rather than providing the insider view of fandom that it promises, Fangasm instead made me question the authority of Zubernis and Larsen to speak for other fans and raised concerns about the role of academia in their negotiation of fan spaces.
In Fandom at the Crossroads, the authors cite academic research on fandom and successfully combine it with fannish media and discourse, such as icons, convention photo ops, and “squeeful” captions. For example, their caption for an image of one of the main actors of the series, Jensen Ackles, playfully reads, “Fig. 3-3: The disturbingly attractive Ackles.”6 The text draws on...