Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Another belated post on "Pinning Down Fan Involvement."

First, this was an excellent article, and the author shows an incredible grasp of both wrestling culture and the nascent discipline of fan studies. He is a gifted researcher, and presumably a kind grader.

That said, this mysterious Ford breaks suggests five non-exclusive modes in which wrestling audiences engage with the text: spectators, critics, performers, community members, and theorists. (Out of curiosity, what's with the mention of "fans as patients" on page 18? Did I read this wrong?) I think, between the various members of this class who happen to be fans, someone in the room knows about each of these behaviors firsthand at any given time, and listening to my classmates has demonstrated quite well the ease with which some fans can shift between them.

My question is, assuming these modes of engagement are learned--I'd be very impressed if anyone comments on this and suggests that people interact with wrestling in a certain way due to inborn tendencies, but it strikes me as unlikely--are they learned in a specific order, and is that order consistent? Presumably most fans begin as spectators. Beyond that, it seems difficult to predict what the next logical development would be. Becoming a critic tends to occur spontaneously in any fan culture in which the fans are sufficiently familiar with the texts to discern repeating patterns. Learning to function as a performer seems to imply a similar process, but applied to the audience; conversely, it could spring spontaneously from the more imaginative fans who are skillful in their suspension of disbelief. The theorist mode also seems to draw on familiarity with audience conventions, with a greater focus on introspection, an awareness that the audience includes oneself. Finally, community would encourage the growth of all of these modes, and may (in some cases) precede the status of spectator itself.

Since I lack the time, resources or inclination to do legitimate ethnographic research, do any of the fans in this class perceive a progression in their roles over time, or does it all happen at once?


Sam Ford said...

Peter, you win the No Prize for this week. Very keen eye. This piece is actually in revision for a journal, and this is the current version of the manuscript, only recently revised. What actually happened is I started out with seven modes of engagement I identified, the five presented along with "fans as colloaborators" and "fans as patients." The collaborators defined their performances as their working with the promoters to protect the fiction of the show, the "suspension of disbelief," but I decided that these behaviors were really part of their performance and their theories about that performance and that there was neither enough evidence to constitute another category of behavior nor enough to distinguish the collaborationists from performers to have a distinct category, so I eliminated that category.

The fans as patients were those who explained wrestling as catharsis, that they go there to release tensions, use it as a safety valve, etc. As I was working my way through the ethnographic evidence, again I decided that this group clearly belonged in "fans as theorists" and were not a seperate mode of engagement. However, I neglected to remove those two modes of engagement from the original listing.

I applaud you for catching this error, and I am in the process of fixing it in my manuscript.

Please, if anyone else finds any errors that make little sense, don't hesitate to tell me.

Oh, and also don't hesitate in sucking up. It won't make up for not making enough blog posts, and it won't improve your grade any, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

narwood said...

To Peter- I think my recent posting "wave" post ends up trying to answer the question of order. Essentially, I think I *would* argue that it's due to innate tendencies. The categories Sam lists are a good way to describe wrestling fans, and would probably overlap significantly with a similar project for any 'fandom.' I can't imagine there'd be any natural progression through them, unless the text itself forced particular manners of engagement over time. Even then, people being people, some will break the pattern.

There does seem to be a natural progression, at least insofar as spectator seems to come first, but I think that's more due to the fact that, firstly, you need to know something about wrestling (ie, have first hand knowledge of some time) in order to do anything with it, and secondly, the primary texts are currently readily available.

But my answer would have to be that it's all context based, and depends on pre-existing relationships a potential fan has to the media, other fans, and the fan community as a whole. If your best friend likes to shout, you're more likely to construct your own behavior, at least initially, with relation to his - you shout along, learning by imitation, or refrain, because you think he's acting retarded. From there, who knows?