Fandom and Audiences by Sophie Moss

Advancements within digital technology have influenced many aspects within our daily lives. This has expanded into the realms of fan and audience behaviour. A recent article, published online by the Independent, highlights the increasing capacities of consumer level digital technology. YouTuber T7pro has gained attention with the release of the short film DARTH MAUL: Apprentice – A Star Wars Fan-Film (T7pro, 2016). The production and exhibition of this fan film has only been made possible due to changes within digital technology. This essay discusses the nature around such developments and the influence of digital technology on fan behaviour. Fiske’s theories of fan behaviour from 1992, as cited by Hills (2013), are discussed and evaluated as to the extent they can still be applied to today’s digitally driven fans. Due to the now wide spread use of the internet Fiske’s theories are discussed in regards to the impact of the internet in contributing to change in fan behaviour. Finally, concluding with whether such internet usage has had a positive or negative effect within fan and audience behaviour, in regards to fan interaction and distribution of fan made content.

These changes in digital technology have ignited debates within academia. In 1992 Fiske, as cited by Hill’s (2013), defined three types of fan productivity ‘semiotic, enunciative and textual productivity’ (Hills, 2013, p.132). The debate has arisen as to whether these categorise can be applied today. Semiotic productivity involves the fan culture as a collective which in today’s world can be observed within online digital communities as fans come to together to discuss their fandom. Enunciative productivity can be seen to have changed as by Fiske’s 1992 definition this productivity circulates around one’s own physical appearance e.g. hair style and clothing. Today fans can be solely active within an online community therefore no physical definition of how a fan looks, acts and dresses can be applied. Yet, it could be argued that online profiles act to form an individual’s identity in a similar way.

Online profiles allow fans to share their own fan content and that of others. This production of their own content is known as ‘textual productivity’ (Hills, 2013, p.132), and is defined by Fiske, as one of creative means i.e. not looking to make a profit (Hills, 2013, p.133). Changes within digital technology have influenced the way in which fans create this content. Today’s fans are able to produce high quality films using technologies which we carry in our pockets every day. For example, the specification of the iPhone 6S advertises 4K video recording capabilities (Apple, 2016). Fans today are seen to take advantage of this increase in digital technological capabilities to produce high quality fan content. An example of this seen within T7pro’s Darth Maul short film as mentioned previously.

The changes in the widespread usage and availability of the internet has allow T7pro’s short film to be distributed and seen by fans at a global level. Before the invention of the World Wide Web, in the 1990s (Greenstein, 2001, p. 157), fans were limited in the ways in which they could express their feelings, opinions and fan made content regarding their fandom. Previously, fan content would have been shared in physical forms, such as letters, magazine and physically made fan material (Booth, 2010, p. 87). However, with the dawn of the internet this has spawned the age of the digital fandom. Fans can now share their opinions and own fan creations 24/7 with fellow fans around the globe through use of online forums, blogs, social media, official websites and fan made websites. Additionally, Paul Booth describes how fan internet usage has had a larger influenced on the way in which the internet is used today. The internet is no longer purely for research purposes, as originally intended, as fans now use it as a space to build communities and socialise. This change has been defined as ‘Web Commons’, contrasting that of the ‘Informational Web’ (Booth, 2010, p.23).

The idea ‘Web Commons’ presents online fan interaction as a community which in itself allows for easier interaction. However, issues have occurred such as the formation of a hierarchical format within such online communities. Online fan forums often have guidelines explaining usage of the site and also restrictions on new members. For example preventing new members from posting or engaging within the first few weeks of membership (Dellar, 2014, p.10). This highlight possible problems within fan communities built solely online. Meikle and Young, as cited by Hill’s (2013), argue that ‘successful performance in such a forum is also a way of building recognition’ (Hill, 2013, p.141). If individuals are unable to engage in content then this prevents them gaining recognition in that community.

However, this prevention of engagement does not occur throughout every online site. For example YouTube allows individuals to upload any video within the websites guidelines. Therefore the internet provides means for fans to share their own content. If considering T7pro’s short film, DARTH MAUL: Apprentice – A Star Wars Fan-Film (T7pro, 2016), this act of producing fan made content, under Fiske’s definition, this can be classified as textual productivity. T7pro presents their content within a public online space to be received and commented upon by fellow fans via the YouTube comments section.

Advancements of digital technology at a consumer level have enable T7pro and many other fans to create almost professional quality work. This alongside easier distribution via the internet has sped up the process in which fans interact. Fans are no longer restricted to slow dial-up connections, associated with the 1990s, as super-fast broadband provides faster ways to communicate. Additionally, the increasing capabilities of consumer technology has enable fans to engage and create more sophisticated fan content. T7pro provides evidence that fan and audience behaviours may still be similar, to some extent, as the behaviours described by Fiske in 1992. However technological and digital changes have caused such interactions to move more so onto an online space. Suggesting that, as digital technology continues to develop fan and audience behaviour will continue to change alongside.




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