Fandom, The Next Generation edited by Bridget Kies & Megan Connor
Fandom, The Next Generation, edited by Bridget Kies and Megan Connor is a collection of essays exploring, unsurprisingly, fandom, but with a particular focus on transgenerational sources and fan communities. I.e., those fandoms centered around “rebooted or perpetually rebroadcast media texts” whose long-lived and/or resurrected nature maintains and creates several generations of fans — those who came to the text in its original form, those who discovered the text in later years, and those who came to the text as an adaptation or reboot. Think the many decades of the various Star Wars films or Dr. Who shows, the long-running but also rebooted Star Trek universe, but also non-SF/Fantasy works such as the multitude of Jane Austen adaptations over the past decades.
The collection is divided into three broad sections: the way fan groups respond to reboots/remakes and why, the way fan groups sustained themselves over long stretches of time and brought in new fans, and finally the ways in which those multiple generations of fans are sometimes at odds with each other and at other times find ways to build bridges across the span of years. Given the recent and ongoing controversies that have bedeviled fandom — the over racist and misogynistic reactions for instance to the Star Wars or Ghostbusters reboots — the material is clearly topical and rich for mining.
Unfortunately, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the book was a major disappointment, mostly due to the fact that it was all too rare that I felt the essays delved deep enough, skating along the surface of concepts and offering up what too often seemed self-evident or thinly supported points. As a few representative examples of the former, we get told that older fans sometimes gatekeep their community to keep out newer ones (and this is often tied less to fidelity to canon than to misogyny, racism, and queer hatred), that older and more knowledgeable fans are seen as more authoritative, that female fans are treated differently (as are female-centered texts), that generations are not monolithic, that younger fans are often introduced to texts by family members, that fans respond better to reboots where the original actors have aged well than when they have not (and again, that women are held to different standards in that vein), and so on. These are all placed in their specific textual contexts (Sherlockania, Star Wars and Alien fandoms, etc.), but honestly, one feels you could take have switched out the texts and much of these points would remain true no matter the source material, nor would any of them be particularly surprising. These sort of conclusions felt more like introductory concepts, jumping off points into a deeper dive rather than what they were—the meat of the essay. The editors do acknowledge this book “begins [the] conversation,” but I needed a more substantive, thoughtful entry into that conversation than Fandom provides.
The writers clearly did their research, and their methodology is well explained, but still, a number of the essays felt thin, with internet surveys, sometimes large but sometimes not as the bulk of the research and lots of quotes from respondents but with little sense of scale. When someone says, “two people say”, it doesn’t leave me with a strong sense that this is representative of anything. Other times pronouncements were made that seemed a leap to me, as when it’s said that when a showrunner describes herself as a “Kristy rising”, “it is hard not to read this incorporation of astrological language as coded signaling to queer communities.” I’m the first to admit I don’t know if this is true or not, but I need something beyond the pronouncement itself so I can follow the author into this conclusion.
Somewhat similarly, when a claim is made that “Twilight fans are ridiculed in ways fans of more male-oriented-series are not”, this is true if it means the mode of ridicule is the same, but I’m not sure it’s true if it’s meant to say those latter fans haven’t been or are not mocked (as one of the most famous examples consider the famed SNL Shatner “get a life” skit). Again, there’s a point to be made here for sure, but it needs more depth of discussion. With multiple such instances, the essays felt not rigorous enough for academic readers and not plainspokenly insightful or entertaining enough stylistically for lay readers.
It didn’t help matters that the essays multiple times repeated the same basic definitional points, such as the difference between transformative and affirmative fandom, something that perhaps might have been better placed in an introductory section.
In the end, I wrote “thin” or “weak” as my closing notes to a majority of the essays, wrote “good” in my notes to only one, and ended up with next to no highlights or notes, which is my best gauge for the impact of a non-fiction work. As such, I sadly cannot recommend this title, despite the authors’ clear enthusiasm for their subject and the amount of work they put into their pieces.