Report: La Culture du Fan Symposium, Paris-Sorbonne University

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NB: As the morning session was conducted in French – and my own grasp of the language is poor, at best – this report will cover just the English afternoon session. However, those of you more cultured than I may find the Storify live tweet report of the event useful, as the #CultFan hashtag was used throughout the day. A special mention must also go to Sebastien Francois, who provided English commentary on the French content.

Organised in association with the Maison des Sciences and held at Paris-Sorbonne University on 27th April 2012, the Culture du Fan Symposium brought together European scholars of fandom in a bilingual event that featured papers both focused on specific case studies, and asking larger questions about the state of the field.

The first afternoon session, ‘Fandom, Cultural and Creative Industries’ was a solid and cohesive panel that featured much thematic crossover. Devin Beauregard’s (University of Ottawa) ‘The Politicization of Fans and Fan Culture’ (based on his MA thesis, available to read online here) was useful in establishing many of the dominant themes of the panel. Citing examples of cultural policy and copyright law in fan production, Beauregard discussed how fan activity had now entered the political arena, with their practices increasingly monitored by media producers. Beauregard noted how the nature of such producer-fan relationships are not always definable as a producer-fan binary, for the figure of the “divided” producer has become apparent in regards to the preservation of cultural history. Such notions of preserving history were perpetuated by Marsha Siefert‘s (Central European University) entertaining paper ‘Piracy on the High C’s: Opera Fans, Recording Technology and the Artifacts of Live Performance’, where fan notions of “authenticity” were discussed in relation to the pirated recording of live opera performances. This fan opinion was contrasted with the apparent “original goals” of opera, again demonstrating the differing positions that fans and producers bring to texts.

Diva (1981). Cited by Siefert as the ‘best opera film ever made about opera fans’.

Following this was Luca Barra‘s (Università Cattolica) examination of an online fansubbing community, ‘Subbing, Talking Online, and Beyond. TV Fandom as a Distributor and Translator for US Contemporary Sitcoms’. Discussing how Italian audiences consume US texts, Barra argued that the online dubbing/subbing culture constituted a national reappropriation of TV texts. In opposition to the producer-fan tensions cited by Beauregard and Siefert, Barra noted that the legality of fan subbing was irrelevant to the culture, which instead operates on notions of “integrity”. Presenting differing examples of  a dubbed/subbed sequence from How I Met Your Mother, Barra  demonstrated how the varied approaches respectively prioritise moments of cultural and comic integrity in their translation, promoting the idea of fans as “distributors” in their own right.

Barra’s depiction of fans as distributors. Photograph: Aurore Gallarino.

Rounding off the panel was Bexy Cameron (London South Bank University), who introduced her discussion on fans as brand ambassadors, ‘Manufacturing Fans & Teenage Brand Ambassadors’ with a video she wrote and co-directed for creative firm Amplify:

FanCulture. The Evolution of Influence from Cameron and Amplify.

Cameron detailed the way in which brands such as E4, Converse, JD Sports, and Nike have been utilising their young fans to act as ambassadors for the companies within in their social networks. Asking whether he term “fan” has been diluted, Cameron returned to a definition of fandom that defined the young participants as  ‘naturally obsessive’ about the products in question. Citing the startling statistic that the 47 unpaid E4 ambassadors had a social reach of over 50,000 people, Cameron presented a fascinating account of the corporate “dialogue” that is employed (taking the form of “money can’t buy” benefits, such as rare, exclusive pairs of trainers) in order to communicate with fans and discover what they want from their favourite brands. Such an example of particularly civil (producer)-fan relations provided a nice counterpoint to the examples previously cited by the panel.

Due to schedule changes, the ‘Fan Studies Reloaded’ panel was the final session of the day. Featuring papers from Matt Hills (Cardiff University) and Eric Maigret (CIM), the panel debated the future of fan studies. Hills started his paper ‘The Uses of Acafandom Towards Proper Distance in Fan Studies’ by noting that in order to discuss the future, one must look to the past, and as such began an interrogation of the popular methodological approaches to aca-fandom, citing what he feels are the discursive mantras of such an approach:

Hills’ ‘discursive mantras of scholar-fandom’. Photograph: Aurore Gallarino.

Similar to his participation in the Acafanconvo blog debate from 2011, Hills took issue with the fact that these mantras are simply accepted, and instead proposed a method that prioritised ‘proper distance’, rather than the more readily definable ‘normative’ or ‘transitive’ acafan positions. By taking such an approach, Hills argued, acafandom can avoid “speaking for” just one fragment of a fan culture, and can instead produce fan studies scholarship that represents a less restricted canon. Similarly, Maigret’s paper ‘The End of Fan Studies?’ discussed the evolution of the figure of the fan, pointing towards a greater breadth of audiences to study. Questioning whether cultural representations of the “geek” are useful to fan studies, Maigret noted how the geek is rapidly becoming a key figure in new fan studies, whereby the practice of fandom (or “geekdom”) eradicates hierarchies between high and low on a cultural level (but socially is still an issue).

Yet despite the provocative (and tongue-in-cheek) nature of Maigret’s paper title, the success of the symposium demonstrates that fan studies still has the potential to enter new and exciting areas. Far from the end of the field, the event showcased the work of the next generation of fan studies researchers, and suggests that the evolving nature of what “fandom” actually is provides new research opportunities rather than sounding the death knell.

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2 Responses to “Report: La Culture du Fan Symposium, Paris-Sorbonne University”

  1. Barry Willams Says:

    Wish I could have been there! When is the next one–or others like this (in France, Italy, Europe region)?

  2. Bethan Says:

    Sounds like a really interesting conference, Tom. Thanks for the report, and the links.

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