Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Let's all do the *wave*

Trying to blog last night, I realized I was stuck on one point: what's a fan? Having thought on it, I would define a fan (to first approximation) as someone who actively seeks (whatever they're a fan of). And they do this because they derive some satisfaction from their engagement. This helps to distinguish a “true fan,” as well as indicates the admittedly fuzzy boundaries of any fan community. Which was important for me, because even though I'm positive that I'm not a wrestling fan (or a fan of soccer, Nine Inch Nails or comic books) I yet have engaged in fan-like behaviours with each of these media. Instead, like 6 of the people Sam interviewed, I'm not really a fan, but there are a few possible qualifying statements I could make about that statement.

I only watch wrestling, even my RAW experience, because I am meant to. But I enjoy analyzing my experience watching, as well as learning about wrestling itself insofar as it helps me learn about other's engagement because I am a fan of fan communities.

I've always defined a fan community as centered upon a body of shared knowledge. Entrance to a fan community is then self gated by the same factors that ethnographers find themselves dealing with. What knowledge does an individual possess that allows him to interact with 'fans?' This can be specific facts (can I talk about historic matches), modes of engagement (can I participate in the taunting of a heel in a time and way appropriate and thus gain respect), can I theorize about wrestling in ways that are true enough for the fan that we can dialogue about it. Success is then determined by the preferences of the individual or group I'm trying to engage with, but since we admit that everyone has a personal relationship to media, that's not the point.

The relationship of a fan exists within a series of potential interaction patterns defined by the media itself, and the surrounding community. The successive navigations of these patterns is then the route to 'becoming a fan.' Example: having feelings of affinity with Calgary, I might love the Hart family. Nothing in wrestling engages me, but I like watching them. Over time, I build knowledge about the sport, allowing me not only to discuss not only the Harts, but the relationship of the Harts to other wrestlers. At some point I can abstract away from individuals, and discuss wrestling moves, styles, and the reasons one story line appealed to me in particular. If I'm inclined to storytelling itself, I may go online and create fanfiction. Eventually, I learn to appreciate, and even love, other wrestlers, which may subsume my previous obsession with the Harts. Thus, in various ways, even though I began as a non-fan of wrestling, we see me becoming a spectator-like fan of one wrestler, then a participant, which by the gaining of knowledge and my preferences for types of engagement with the media, transforms me into a fan of wrestling itself.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Very good points, Tess, and the point I was struggling with in that piece was distinguishing between whether people self-identify as fans or not, on the one hand, and whether they act like fans or not, on the other. Wrestling is especially one of those dirty little secrets, where many people try to explain away why they are there, for instance moms or girlfriends, but who were engaging in the show nevertheless. A whole range of behaviors fall under our catch-all label of "fan," it seems.