We live in a time of more access and more diversity in popular culture than ever before and we have only begun to explore its meaning. Popular culture refers to the places, ideas, stories, and artifacts that establish connections in a culture. These are the things and spaces through which we share a connection – this connection is anything but trivial. What we consider to be popular says something powerful about who we are.
Whether we choose to buy the trendiest music or scoff at the kids these days, what is popular invites us into a shared conversation. We might wave to someone driving the same type of car, wear a jersey that demonstrates we have something in common with other fans at a game, or we anticipate the buzz around the proverbial water cooler the morning after something major happens on our favorite show – the popular has the power to both connect and divide.
As scholars, we consider ourselves adventurers in the world seeking out meaning and thinking critically about what popular culture says about us.
A wise mentor of ours, Bob Krizek, once told us that ethnography is “going there to study them” and that our goal is to “excavate narratives.” Ethnographers are witnesses, questioners, participants, and examiners of human interaction. Through ethnography, we can better understand how cultures function and are established. We can gain insight to how people create connection and disconnection. We can also try to see beyond just our initial reactions and explore beyond what is on the surface. Through observation, participation, and interviews, ethnographers seek understanding and insight. It is more than just “being there,” through training, reading, analyzing, understanding, and listening (so much listening), we can begin to see the worlds that are being constructed all around us.
Fans are everywhere. Did you play Pokemon Go when it came out? How many fans did you come across while trekking through your community to catch them all? How did that make you feel? Understanding Fans and Fan Culture is what this project, in part, is all about.
Three types of fans can be spotted in almost any space*. The clothing or costuming they wear, the words the use, or the things they are into vary depending upon the subject of the fandom, but we can see these three types all over:
The Voyeur – Level 1 – “Just passing through …”
This is the person who is the furthest on the outside of the circle, but is not one who is there to mock (though, that does need to be considered as well). The voyeur is akin to the flaneur – the dandy from 19th century France who spent (typically) his time observing and recording all that could be seen in the arcades and shopping districts of the day. The voyeur of fan gatherings is interested in that culture, might even desire to become part of that culture, but does not feel comfortable with all the contextualities that are attached to a member or a player of a particular phenomenon.
The Member – Level 2 – Jack/Jane of All Trades, Master of None
Though this is the second of the three types . “The member” is in the space between the two other “bookend” types. In some ways, the member is the gateway point between those looking and those looking out. In other ways, perhaps the member is unwilling to completely commit to the insider position, yet has enough knowledge and connection to not want to go back outside.
The Playtron – Level 3 – The Devotional
The playtron is the most devoted and committed of fans to the subject of their fandom. The playtron is one who shifts from watching to expressing their interest to the performance of their fandom to those that are around them. Costuming, character creation and performance, even changes in profession for some, all signify the playtron level of fandom that can be identified. Someone can wear the jersey of their favorite NFL player. This would be the member. The playtron constructs an identity that is performed to exemplify the ideologies signified by the NFL team’s logo (think the Cleveland Brown Dog Pound or the post-Apocalyptic dress taken on by the devout Oakland Raiders’ fans). This is the playtron.