- IntroductionMedia Scholarship in the Contact Zone
Bringing two fields into conversation with one another is no easy task. This issue of Mechademia: Second Arc, "Transnational Fandom," seeks to bridge the young, interdisciplinary field of fan studies with the established, institutionalized field of Asian studies. In the current era, in which the humanities are under siege across the globe even as the interconnectivity of the internet is threatened by political and regulatory constraints in the so-called advanced industrial countries, these conversations are more urgent than ever: if we do not hang together, assuredly we shall all hang separately. Moreover, using the strengths and weaknesses of one field to highlight the potentials and biases in the other should enable scholars working in the zones where they intersect, such as the authors in this volume, to wield both as necessary in forging a path forward in both disciplines. Where we go from here will be decided by all of us.
"Transnational fandom" is on one level redundant and on another a term that needs some explication. For those who, like me, have been embedded in online fan cultures from the 1990s onward, the idea that fandom has always been transnational is self-evident, a conclusion that research into fandom history has consistently supported. My own fan history over the past two decades spans sites such as LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, Twitter, and Tumblr, as well as volunteering with the fan advocacy nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works. Across all of these platforms, I made connections with fellow fans who spanned languages and continents from South America to Europe to Asia and Australia. These relationships were and are primarily digitally mediated, and many of them were anchored in the practices of "convergence culture," as Henry Jenkins dubbed it in his groundbreaking 2006 study of the same name.1 What Jenkins called "transmedia" was already known to practitioners and media theorists working in Japan as the anime media mix, the powerhouse of the Japanese contents industry in which fan practices and cultures play a vital part. The young field of fan studies, which was in large part founded by scholars from the previous generation of fans-those who made the transition from offline to online fandom as adults-has in many ways taken the transnational nature of fandom as axiomatic, even if individual studies have broken fans into discrete (and more easily researchable) [End Page 1] tranches based on specific characteristics ranging from fandom objects to gender to nationality or language.
As scholars have turned their focus on the pre-internet era, however, national boundaries have appeared to reassert themselves as particularly salient in determining fandom and its limits, especially in terms of language and political geography. For nearly two decades, the guiding star for discussions of fandom in Japanese studies has been sociologist Koichi Iwabuchi's Recentering Globalization (2002), in which he argued that Japanese contents industry companies were seeking to promote their media exports abroad by constructing their products (Iwabuchi's prime examples were "animations" and video games) as "culturally odorless" (mukokuseki).2 Although Iwabuchi's findings, based on his fieldwork interviews with contents industry professionals, were primarily couched in terms of Japanese exports to the rest of Asia, they have been taken to apply globally in Japan studies ever since.
The only problem with applying Iwabuchi's argument in such a broad fashion is that, for those of us who remember fandom in the 1990s in Anglophone countries, it does not pass the smell test. Specifically, the idea that people who became anime fans in this decade, after anime fandom had made a definitive break from science fiction fandom in the Anglophone sphere, did not know that we were consuming Japanese media or that we were not interested in the aspects of Japanese culture displayed in the media we loved, is simply not accurate. In the United States and related Anglophone anime fandom, the 1990s were the era of "flipped manga" controversies and the "subs versus dubs" wars as a fandom legitimacy test, to say nothing of endless arguments about whether and how to translate honorifics and sound effects. On the video game side, the continuing discourse about "JRPGs...