Affect, Emotion, and Fandom

As I wrote last month, the sorting process for my upcoming move to Fitchburg has me feeling nostalgic, especially when I come across artifacts like this:

Colonial Insignia from original Galactica

For those who don’t recognize this pin, it was a product tie-in to the original Battlestar Galactica, meant to replicate the Colonial rank insignias you can see here:

Original Apollo (Galactica)

When I removed this pin from the collar of the now-antique denim jacket where it had “lived” for years (before donating the jacket to Goodwill), I was reminded of the inner fannish struggle I experienced when Galactica was rebooted in 2003. I’ve written about my ambivalence before (both in On the Verge of Tears and Science Fiction Reboot), so I won’t repeat myself here.

Instead, this nostalgic journey made me reflect on the key role of emotion, or affect, in fandom.

Now I am in no way the first fan-scholar to consider this aspect of fandom (see, for example, Henry Jenkins’s excellent blog here). In terms of fan experiences with reboots, though, this was one area of my analysis that didn’t quite fit into narrative theory and so it doesn’t have as prominent a place in Reboot as I believe it does in the fan-viewer experience.

At its core, there is no fandom without emotion, and strong emotion at that. If a text (film, book, game, television series, etc.) doesn’t strike a powerful emotional cord with us, then why would we continue with it at the level of dedication (obsession?) that defines fandom?

This is, of course, both an advantage and disadvantage. The hours of pleasure we experience engaging with our fandom, especially with like-minded (or should I say, like-hearted) others, cannot be over-stated. As anyone who has been to a genre convention like World Con can attest, groups like Brotherhood Without Banners (the fan group associated with the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin) are just one example of the in-person camaraderie, not to mention awesome parties, that result when fans come together.

The emotion of fandom also yields amazing creative production as well. Many scholars have documented the complexities of fan fiction (see, especially, Karen Hellekson and the excellent online journal published by the Organization for Transformative Works) that are inextricable from the affective dimension of fandom. But there is so much more. I am amazed at every con, for example, at the skill and creativity of the costumes on display not only in the Masquerade but in the hall costumes/cosplays as well. Without an enduring emotional attachment to the genre (and/or a particular story), it’s hard to imagine spending the time and attention required to produce such works of art.

But there is a dark side to this emotional attachment as well. Not only can it make us very grumpy and defensive when someone else doesn’t feel the same affection for our favorite stories as we do (or worse, openly mocks them), but being so attached also makes it very difficult to achieve any distance to examine the texts objectively, or even critically. That’s the reason I waited so long into my academic career before writing about Star Wars. I knew I was too close to do it well until I hit upon the narratology approach to provide structure for that distance.

So, for aca-fans like me (academics and fans), we are always walking that fine line between emotion and intellectual curiosity. But, if I may be so bold to say, that is also one of our greatest strengths: our emotional attachments to these stories fuel our intellectual endeavors. And when we get very lucky, our intellectual projects reinforce our affective experiences as well. In other words, we come to love and appreciate our targets of fandom all the more once we finish the manuscripts and hit “Submit.”

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One comment on “Affect, Emotion, and Fandom

  1. […] been nearly five weeks since my last post and I’ve spent that time closing on, painting, and then moving into a townhouse in Fitchburg, […]

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