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Participatory fandom in American culture


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Participatory fandom in American culture a qualitative case study of DragonCon attendees
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Fleming, Katherine L
University of South Florida
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ABSTRACT: With the rise of the mass media over the last century, fame and celebrity seem to have evolved into ever-growing phenomena. Likewise, audience members have sought increasing involvement with people or activities related to the focus of their interest. These individuals are not content to simply watch their favorite actors or films from home. Instead, they take a more active approach, engaging in activities related to their fandom as well as seeking interaction with each other in organized groups (in person and on the Internet), attending conventions, and seeking interaction with celebrities. This study presents a discussion of fame, celebrity, and participatory fandom, to examine what motivates certain individuals to seek active involvement in fandom. Using the theories of Uses and Gratifications and Social Learning, it looks at this unique relationship and possible causes for certain members of an audience to actively participate in fandom and seek interaction with each other and with celebrities. Areas examined include social group identification, personal identification with celebrities, false intimacy with celebrities, parasocial interaction, the possibility of meeting celebrities and a feeling of empowerment as a member of a fan community. This qualitative research took an ethnographic case study approach, using in-depth interviews and participant observation of attendees and activities at DragonCon, a large annual media convention in Atlanta, Georgia. This study sought to examine what themes might emerge to identify motivations for fans' active participation in fandom. Seventeen participants were chosen using convenience sampling and interviewed about their experience at the convention. In data analysis, three major concepts emerged in regard to the participants' motivation for attending the convention: Fans seek out social interaction, interaction with celebrities, and enjoy being a part of a participation environment.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
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by Katherine L. Fleming.
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Participatory Fandom in American Culture: A Qualitative Case Study of DragonCon Attendees by Katherine L. Fleming A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts School of Mass Communication College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Timothy Bajkiewicz, Ph.D. Kenneth Killebrew, Ph.D. Randy Miller, Ph.D. Date of Approval: November 16, 2007 Keywords: Fans, celebrities, stars, media, audience Copyright 2007, Katherine L. Fleming


Table of Contents List of Tables i Abstract ii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Participatory Fandom 2 Power of Participatory Fans 5 Chapter Two: Literature Re view and Theory 7 Defining Fandom 7 Fandoms Reputation and Public Perception 10 Fame and Celebrity 12 History of Celebrities and the Emergence of Fans 13 Defining Celebrity 14 What Makes a Participatory Fan? 16 Social Interaction 17 Personal Identification and Wishful Identification 20 Parasocial Interaction 21 False Intimacy 22 The Possibility of Interaction with Celebrities 23 Empowerment 24 Theoretical Background 25 Uses and Gratifications 25 Social Learning Theory 27 Chapter Three: Methods 29 DragonCon 30 Data Collection 32 Research Participants 34 Data Analysis 36 Chapter Four: Findings 37 Social Aspects 43 Attending the convention with friends 43 Interacting with like-minded people 46 Family influences 47 i


Celebrity Interaction 49 Meeting celebrities 49 Getting autographs and photographs 53 Fan perception 54 Participation Environment 57 Costuming 57 Gaming 58 Panels 59 Dealers room 60 Chapter Five: Discussion and Conclusion 62 Discussion 62 Response to the research questions 62 Literature review discussion 66 Limitations 68 Further research possibilities 70 Conclusion 71 References 73 Appendices Appendix A: Participant List 80 Appendix B: Interview Guide 82 ii


List of Tables Table 1 Concepts, Classifications, Code Types, and Descriptions for 40 Social Aspect Table 2 Concepts, Classifications, Code Types, and Descriptions for 41 Celebrity Interaction Table 3 Concepts, Classifications, Code Types, and Descriptions for 42 Participation Environment iii


Participatory Fandom in American Culture: A Qualitative Case Study of DragonCon Attendees Katherine L. Fleming ABSTRACT With the rise of the mass media over the last century, fame and celebrity seem to have evolved into ever-growing phenomena. Likewise, audience members have sought increasing involvement with people or activities related to the focus of their intere st. These individuals are not content to simply watch their favorite act ors or films from home. Instead, they take a more active approach, engaging in activities related to their fandom as well as seeking interaction with each other in organized groups (in person and on the Internet), attending conventions, and seeking inte raction with celebrities. This study presents a discussion of fame, celebrity, and participatory fandom, to examine what motivates certain individuals to seek active involvement in fandom. Using the theories of Uses and Gratifications and Social Learning, it looks at this unique relationship and possible causes for certain members of an au dience to actively participate in fandom and seek interaction with each ot her and with celebrities. Areas examined include social group identification, personal identification with cel ebrities, false intimacy with celebrities, parasocial interaction, the possibi lity of meeting celebrities an d a feeling of empowerment as a member of a fan community. This qualitative research took an ethnographic case study approach, using in-depth interviews and participant obs ervation of attendees and acti vities at DragonCon, a large iv


v annual media convention in Atlanta, Georgia. This study sought to examine what themes might emerge to identify motivations fo r fans active participation in fandom. Seventeen participants were chosen us ing convenience sampling and interviewed about their experience at the convention. In da ta analysis, three major concepts emerged in regard to the participants motivation for atte nding the convention: Fans seek out social interaction, interaction with celebr ities, and enjoy being a part of a participation environment.


Chapter One Introduction American society contains both celebrities and their fans, members of the media audience who take specific interest in these celebrities as well as the media with which they are associated. Some fans go a step further by seeking out participation in fanrelated activities and interaction with celebriti es themselves. In or der to understand this relationship, this study examines both fame and fandom; more specifically celebrities and participatory fans. This qualitative resear ch took an ethnographic case study approach, using in-depth interviews and participant observation of attendees and activities at DragonCon, a large annual media convention in Atlanta, Georgia. It seeks to understand what motivates certain fans to seek out i nvolvement with celebrities and fan-related activities. The concepts of fame and renown have existed since the formation of the earliest societies. Originally those people w ho achieved such status were recognized for being particularly accomplished at some skill or talent, or they were known by the masses as political, military or spiritual leaders (B raudy, 1997). Of course, such categories of famous people continue to exist today. Ho wever, with the rise of mass media over the last century, fame seems to have evolved into an ever-growing phenomenon. Todays society consists of stars, superstars, and celebrities, all of wh ich are churned out at an increasing rate as new avenues to fame ar e created. In fact, the growing number of 1


reality programs (particularly those whose obj ective is to make the contestants famous, such as the Fox networks American Idol ) have become celebrity factories themselves, creating celebritie s out of unknowns as well as vehicles to boost aspiring performers to fame (Wolk, 2002). Along with these celebrities come their fa ns dedicated individuals who not only support the careers of th eir favorite celebrities, but whos e very existence drives the mass media to cover celebrities, encouraging public interest in these stars and therefore creating an enormous star/fan machine (Gams on, 1992). This machine only gets larger as the mass media and technology allow for the crea tion of more celebritie s, easier access to celebrities, and the ability of fans to intera ct with each other, the media, and sometimes even the celebrities themselves. While fans seem secondary to the attention celebrities are given, they are the backbone of the celebrity/fan machine. Fans, a more active subset of mass media audiences in general, are important to bot h the mass media and the general public in a number of ways. Even the average fan helps to keep programs on the air, films at the box office, and celebrities in the news. More av id fans, those who choose to participate in various fan-related activity, cont ribute more to this process. Some of the more active fans have even had an impact on the outcome of television series and film, because ultimately they have power as a consumer force (Jenkins, 1992). Participatory Fandom Some fans do more than just enjoy watc hing their favorite shows or reading their favorite authors. Instead, they go a step fart her, by engaging in activities related to the 2


object of their affection, as well as seeking in teraction with each ot her in organized group activities. In other words, these people go out of their way to participate in fandom, more so than the average fan. It is this group that will be referred to as participatory fans. One could argue then, that if there is a con tinuum that goes from the most casual fan to the most active, the more active, participatory fans will have a larger impact on the mass media and society (Jenkins, 2006). Additi onally, considering the medias focus on celebrities and their lives, it is important to examine the effect the celebrities have on their fans. This thesis focuses on particip atory fans and seeks to understand why they have taken an extra step towards becoming i nvolved in various activ ities related to the objects of their affection. There are many ways fans participate in fandom, from simple activities such as reading entertainment magazine s and watching entertainment news programs in order to keep up with their favorite celebrities, to attending (or even orga nizing) varying sized conventions (cons) where fans from numerous genres can get together to participate in an array of activities with each other and so metimes with the celebrities they admire (Harris, 1998). Other fans may run Web sites dedicated to a favorite actor or television program, and others still may enjoy creating costumes, buying and tr ading colle ctibles, writing fan literature (called f an fiction or fanfic), enga ging in lengthy discourse of favorite shows or actors, and even creating fanwritten songs (filking), to name just a few (Jenkins, 1992). In todays society there are a number of factors that make it easier for fans to participate in a variety of fan-related activit ies. The Internet allows fans to easily communicate with each other, and also allows celebrities to create a venue where they 3


can communicate (usually indirectly) with the public. For exam ple, actor Stephen Collins, star of the television series 7th Heaven has his own site with news about himself, a place to send him e-mail messages, and links th at allow fans to purchase other projects (movies, video games, TV programs) he has worked on (Collins, 2003). For those fans who wish to gather with each other in person or to get a chance to meet their favorite celebrities, there are a gr owing number of both media conventions and other fan/star meet-and-greet events. For example, four times a year since 1990, there has been a Hollywood Collectors and Cele brities Show (Nashawatu, 2001). The celebrities featured are primarily actors w ho have not been in the public eye for some time, from big names like 2001 attendee Char lton Heston to now-obscure 1950s scream queen Maila Nurmi. Country stars, particularly those su ch as Trisha Yearwood who have branched out into acting, can be found at the Annual Nashville Country Music Fan Fair, which has been attracting celebrities and their autograph-seek ing fans for 32 years (Wuckovich, 2002). Here, the stars not only perf orm for the guests, but they also meet with them for pictures and autographs. Because conventions, particularly the larger ones, are popular places for fans to not only interact with each other, but to meet with celebriti es, they make an excellent venue in which to study particip atory fandom. This thesis examines participatory fandom by interviewing and observing fans and celebri ties at a large, annual media convention called DragonCon. 4


The Power of Participatory Fans Generally speaking, fans are first and foremost members of an audience. Without an audience (regardless of th e degree of fandom of the a udience members), television executives could not sell advertising, author s could not sell books and feature films could not sell tickets. Television in particular does not provide progra mming for audiences; on the contrary, it delivers audiences to advert isers (Ang, 1991). Therefore, if audiences maintain the existence of the mass media, they are invaluable. It then follows that the more avid the viewer, the more valuable th ey become. These fans, many participatory, are the people who not only watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer but who will also buy Buffy merchandise, pay particular attention to pr ogram sponsors, and purchase expensive VHS and DVD boxed sets of the series. The Star Trek franchise stands as an excellent example. In its first 25 years, over $500 m illion in merchandise sold, including over four million novels every year (Jindra, 1994). Fans have even been known to affect the outcome of a television series, even saving it from cancellation (Jenkins, 1992). Fan access to entertainment information, particularly on the Internet, can have a huge effect on word-of-mouth and thus, box office results. According to Chip Meyers, president of, the sites 1 million monthly users can make or break a movie (Gruenwedel, 2000, p. 58). New Line Cinemas vice president of worldwide Inte rnet marketing and development, Gordon Paddison, agrees and recognizes the power of the fan audience, explaining that [fandoms] audience are the early adopt ers, and they are avid movie goers (Gruenwedel, 2000, p. 64). It would seem to fo llow that the more avid or participatory 5


the fans, the more valuable they will be to the media and as consumers, and the more power they will have. In order to understand participatory fandom, this thesis examines both fans and celebrities, as well as their re lationship to one another. A dditionally, it looks at the role of the news and entertainment media, both as they influence the audience and how the audience in turn can influence the media. It also examines various theories and previous research that helps to understand this relationship, as well as offe rs some reasons why certain fans choose to become active participants. Chapter Two is a review of the literatur e and research relatin g to celebrities and fandom, leading to three resear ch questions to guide the rese arch process. In Chapter Three, the methods for conducting the resear ch are given, which in this case is a qualitative, ethnographic case study using in-dep th interviews and participant observation of fans and celebrities attending a large me dia convention. Chapter Four details the findings in which three primary motivations for participation emerged: Social interaction, interaction with cele brities, and inclusion in the pa rticipation environment. In Chapter Five examines the themes that emerged from the research and places this study in the context of research discussed in the l iterature review. The c onclusion looks at the importance of research into particip atory fandom and how it can benefit the understanding of the media audience. 6


Chapter Two Literature Review This chapter looks at the history and emergence of both fandom and celebrities in mass media and society, and follows with li terature and research relating to these phenomena. Based on existing studies, a numbe r of motivations for participatory fandom emerge and are explained. This chapter ex amines fame and fandom, defining each and examining possible reasons for their existence. It specifically defines participatory fandom and examines various theories as to wh at creates and contributes to it, such as social interaction, personal id entification, para social interaction, false intimacy and actual interaction. Additiona lly, it looks at the public percepti on of the fan community, as well as ways in which fans may feel a sense of empowerment. The chapter concludes with a discussion of related theoretical approaches th at aid in the understa nding of participatory fandom. Defining Fandom The word fan is an abbreviated form of the word fanatic, from the Latin word fanaticus, meaning of or belonging to the temple, a temple servant, a devotee. In its 7


abbreviated form, the word fan first appeared in late 19th century journalis tic reports of sporting events, referring to the followers of those events (Jenkins, 1992). Another of the earliest uses of the word fan referred to fe male theater-goers who, male critics claimed, had come to the theater to admire the male actors rather than the plays (Auster, 1989). Later, with the development of both the moti on picture industry a nd the reporting media, more information on celebrities was available to a larger segment of the public, and the idea of fandom grew. Most recently, com puter-mediated communication by way of the Internet and e-mail has allowed fans from all over the world to easily connect and create a global community unlike anything before (Giles, 2000). But what exactly makes a fan? Andr ew Tudor (1975) suggested that there are four central ideas that draw people to celebri ties: (a) Emotional affinity (the individual feels a loose attachment to the celebrity), (b ) self-identification (t he fans involvement with the celebrity reaches a point where the fa n puts himor herself in the same place as the celebrity), (c) imita tion (usually in reference to younger fans, where the celebrity acts as a role model), and (d) proj ection (the most extreme fando m, where the person lives his or her life as the star, or completely dedicated to that ce lebrity) (P. 97) John Fiske (2001) defined fandom and its li nk to the production of celebrities by examining the subject from a cultural economy standpoint: Fandom is a common feature of popular culture in industria l societies. It selects from the repertoire of mass-pr oduced and mass-distributed entertainment certain performers, narratives or genres a nd takes them into the culture of a selfselected fraction of the people. They are then reworked into an intensely pleasurable, intensely signifying popular cu lture that is both similar to, yet 8


significantly different from, the culture of more normal popular audiencesAll popular audiences engage in varying degr ees of semiotic productivity, producing meanings and pleasure that pertain to thei r social situation out of the products and of the culture industries. But fans often turn this semiotic pr oductivity into some form of textual production that can circul ate among, and thus help to define, the fan community. (p. 30) Henry Jenkins (1995), a professor at MIT and a long-time researcher of fans and fandom, defined fandom as: A cultural community, one which sh ares a common mode of reception, a common set of critical categories and practices, a tradition of aesthetic production, a set of social norms and exp ectations. I look upon fans as possessing certain knowledge and competency in the area of popular culture that is different from that possessed by academic critics a nd from that possessed by the normal or average television viewer. (p. 144) At the very least, fandom points to an ac tive and interested audience. Fandom is linked with knowledge about characters and plot in a program (or pl ayers and games in sports); active, participat ory, viewing; concern about outcomes; and emotional responsiveness to the action and activity as it unfolds (Gantz, Wang, Paul, & Potter 2006). Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998) noted that fans are those people who become particularly attached to cert ain programmes or stars within the context of a relatively heavy media use (p. 138). The term fan is often linked with thos e who follow sports. A full discussion of sports fandom is beyond the scope of this pape r. However, it should be noted that many 9


findings in the research of s ports fandom parallel that of me dia fandom, particularly in the area of social identity. Fandom offers such social benefits as feelings of camaraderie, community and solidarity, as well as enhanced social prestige and self-esteem (Zillman, Bryant, & Sapolsky, 1989). Additionally, fandom a llows people to be a part of the game without requiring special skills (Branscome & Wann, 1991). According to Zillman et al. (1989), it appears that sports fanship can unite and provide feelings of belongingness that are beneficial to indivi duals and to the social setti ng in which they live (p. 251). Melnick (1993) agrees, noting th at participating in sports fa ndom allows people to enrich their social psychological live s through quasi-intimate relations hips and a sense that they truly belong to the group. Thus, the identity of a sports fan, as with any fandom or group identity, is beneficial to th e individual in that it may provide a sense of community. For the purpose of this literature review all of the preceding definitions will be considered when defining exactly what constitutes a fan. Fandoms Reputation and Public Perception Fans, particularly those of science fiction and fantasy, have been plagued with a bad reputation and negatively stereotyped for decades (Jenkins, 1992). For example, fans of the series Star Trek often come to peoples minds when they think of fandom. Even the comedy series Saturday Night Live (Franken, 1986) spoofed Trek fandom with the help of its star, William Shatner, in the famous Get a Life skit, whereby Shatner, playing himself appearing at a Star Trek fan convention, gets frustrated with the Spockeared, t-shirt-wearing fans and tells them to get a life and get out of their parents basements. 10


Eric Hoffer (1951), in his study of mass movements (and fandom can certainly be considered a mass movement), identified one category of followers of such movements as misfits. These misfits, unable to achieve what they want (stardom, interaction with celebrities, or usually direct involvement with the object of their fa ndom), eventually lose themselves in the collectivity of a mass move ment. Perhaps it is this perception of the misfits of the world and their connection with fandom that might also contribute to its often negative reputation. Of course, not all fans are societal misf its or resemble those portrayed in the Trek skit. Fandom as a subculture consists of a range of people as di verse as the population itself (Jenkins, 1992). Perhaps participating in fandom is not generally seen as so bad in itself, but rather, it is the de gree to which the fan participates that may earn fandom a bad reputation. For every fan wearing Spock ear s at a convention, there are certainly many more normal people dressed in street clothes milling about nearby, who are just as excited at being there. Fandom can perhaps be seen as a continuum, from those casual fans at one end to highly participatory individuals at the ot her (Harris, 1998). Unfortunately, those probably most responsible for fandoms bad reputation are crazed fans and stalkers, from John Hinkley shooting Ronald Reagan to get attention from actress Jodie Foster, to the fairly regular reports of fans attempting (and sometimes succeeding) in breaking into celebrities hom es (Jenson, 2001). One might argue that these people are not fans but fanatics. They have crossed the line between socially acceptable behavior and criminal activit y. When a person becomes obsessed with another, famous or not, and the obsessed person goes as far as to stalk or hurt the other person, then he or she has become more than a pesky fan who lacks the decency to leave 11


an actor alone at a restaurant. This type of criminal exists within our society, and when he or she attacks a celebrity, that person is often labeled a crazed fan. Yet when this same criminal behavior is exhibited agai nst an anonymous person, the perpetrator is simply another stalker (Jensen, 1992). Therefor e, for the sake of this thesis, I will not include celebrity stalkers as me mbers of participatory fandom. Fame and Celebrity It would be impossible to discuss fans and fandom without looking at the coexisting phenomena of fame and celebrity th at seem to be constantly growing in American culture. The idea of everyone gettin g his or her fifteen minutes of fame is expanding as reality television programs tu rn game show contestants into overnight celebrities, and computer-generated animation allows for the creation of near life-like characters. The Internet not only provides a form of quick and relatively inexpensive communication, but allows anybody to express himor herself to a worldwide audience. Celebrity, fans, and the media are everywhe re. And the lines dividing them are beginning to blur. The concepts of fame and celebrity date back to the beginning of written history. According to cultural historian Leo Bra udy (1997), Alexander the Great could be considered one of the first famous people. By the time of his death in 323 B.C., Alexander ruled most of the world as known to the Greeks. While Alexander was not the first person to seek honor and glory through military success, he was the first to claim that honor and glory for himself instead of for his people. Additionally, those who followed Alexander in later generations could be considered his fa ns, although he did not 12


interact with them (Giles, 2000). Perhaps this offers a possible differentiation between what is meant by fame and celebrity. Cultural critic P. David Marshall (1997) conducted a thorough etymology of the term relating it back to the French clbre (meaning well-known, public) and the Latin celere (meaning swift). Perhaps this usage of swift could speak to celebri ties becoming quickly famous, as opposed to earning fame though years of accomplishments. T oday, celebrity can certainly be seen as more of a media phenomenon or social construct (Gamson, 1994). The History of Celebrities and the Emergence of Fans While the concept of fame has been around for centuries, it has been only recently that actors have managed to reach such a high level of notoriety. Certainly a major contributing factor was the introduction of mo tion pictures in the early 1900s. Movie directors, particularly after studios were es tablished, would use the same performers from one film to the next, to create actors with international recognition. The use of the motion picture camera also allowed the viewer to get closer to the actors than ever before. Instead of viewing actors on a stage from a distance, audience members could see them so closely that they could watch a tear deve lop in the eye, a lip quiver, or the subtle change of expression on a face. This intimac y, along with the repetitive use of actors, soon gave rise to the publics interest in the actors as people outside their roles as storytellers (Schickel, 1986). Encouraging this interest in actors and their private lives was, of course, the press. In addition to repor ts on celebrities activities in the usual news sources of the time, the first fan magazine, Photoplay began publication in 1910 (Schickel, 1986). 13


When actors became an economic asset outside of the film distribution itself, the studios began to exploit their talent to an eag er press and public. As the actors realized their own worth, they in turn began dema nding higher salaries, which studios were usually willing to pay. Between about 1912 and 1916, salaries for leading players went from around five dollars a week to $2,500. In 1916, Actress Mary Pickford became the first player to receive a $1 million contract (S chickel, 1986). With their riches, the actors began living the lifestyles of the wealthy, draw ing even more attention to themselves and their personal activities. And thus, the celebrity system churned into existence. Defining Celebrity When, in 1968, Andy Warhol said, in the future, everybody will be worldfamous for 15 minutes (Gamson, 1994, p. 15) he probably had no idea how true his words would eventually ring. Even those w ho have quoted him over the years probably did not realize just how fast and easy fame, ev en if fleeting, could be. So what makes a person a celebrity? Why does our culture escala te certain people, particularly actors, to such a high status? What makes people fall in love with faces on a screen? Certainly a truly great actor is deservi ng of recognition, as is anyone who excels at his or her profession. But if acting is just another j ob, why are some actors es calated to near godlike status? Is it simply visual recognition or increasing mass media attention? In any case, the creation of celebrity involves the creation of fans, who then help drive the celebrity-making machine. Certainly a key ingredient to celebrity is recognition, particularly visual recognition. When a viewer sees a celebrity repeatedly in tele vision and movies, and 14


then reads or hears about that celebritys prof essional and private lives in the media, it is possible for that viewer to feel as if he or she is actually getting to know this stranger, creating a sense of false intimacy (Schickel, 1986). Of course, the media (both the news medi a and the entertainment media) play an integral role in perpetuating the celebrity/fan relationship. With so much news coverage of celebrities available for consumption by the public, the media create a need and demand, and the cycle of celebrity production an d consumption continues. If it were not for the media, we would not get to see our fa vorite actors and shows or read about them. And if people were not interest ed in celebrities, they woul d not consume those celebrityrelated products the media offer. The media help to manufacture celebrities and ways to use them, making the star system pure media manipulation (Dyer, 1998, p. 97). At the same time, the media can be seen as obsessed with celebrities. As Braudy (1997) stated, the media are no longer only what their name implies: intermediaries between events and audiences. Now a metamedia has come into being, committed to, imprisoned by, and frequently bored to death by its ow n preoccupation with fame (p. 617). Not only do the media help to bolster the fame of current cele brities, they are partially to blame for the existence of the pseudo-celebrity. Here a person who has not reached a level of fame through the usual ch annels (e.g., starring in a popular film or being noted for excellence in a pa rticular art form), can be elevated to a level of celebrity. An early example of this can be traced back to a woman named Angelyne who, in 1987, bought a huge billboard with her portrait on it which stood at the infa mous intersection of Hollywood and Vine. She reportedly was of ten stopped for photographs and autographs, yet she had never done anything noteworthy beyond the attempt to have note taken of 15


her (Gamson, 1994, p. 1). According to her assistant, a celebrity is famous for being a celebrity (Gamson, 1994, p. 4). Not unlike the Angelyne phenomenon of the 1980s, the 21st century has ushered in the age of the r eality show, where normal people, who are often no more than contestants on an elaborate game show (such as Survivor ), and technically only viewers themse lves, reach levels of fame rivaling those of traditional stars. Houran (2003) notes that celebrities are no longer people who have special talents and attributes. Many celebrities are simply marketing products (p. 26). According to business professor Bernd Schmitt (1999), celebri ties arising out of reality programming reflect a change in this wired economy, a new example of people power. They are the ultimate dream of any business an enterpri se in which the public makes the product. Adds Schmitt (1999), this is very modern, I could even say postmodern, because it is about interactions, about crea ting a reality through conversat ions, through discourse, and that is the product (p. 49). Thus, as we enter the 21st century, audiences are litera lly deluged with celebrities from various sources but all w ith the media behind them. And the more celebrities that are created, the more room there is for fandom. What Makes a Participatory Fan? The term participatory fan is intended to contrast with older ideas of media spectatorship (Jenkins, 2006). In this sense, fans are actively enga ged with various forms of the media and with each other. They s eek out ways to interact with media figures, primarily celebrities, and with other members of fa ndom. So who are these participatory fans and why do they choose to participate more directly than do other 16


members of the audience? There are a number of possible explanations for the phenomenon, some of which have been prev iously published, are defined and discussed here. There may also be yet un-explored explanat ions that will be identified in this thesis and suggested for future research. The po ssibilities suggested by this thesis and expanded upon in the next sec tion of this chapter are: Social group identificat ion with other fans. Personal identification with a celebrity, or wanting to be like the celebrity (wishful identification). False intimacy with celebrities (believi ng they have a rela tionship with the star, which does not exist). Parasocial interaction (one-side, vica rious involvement with celebrities). The possibility of meeting celebriti es (actual social interaction). A feeling of empowerment by being a member of a group. Social Interaction For most fans, participating in fandom is not solely a private pr ocess, but rather a social and public one. Fan editor Allyson Dyar (1987) argued that most accounts of fan culture wrongly focus on aspects of the prim ary text rather than on ways the common references facilitate social interactions am ong fans (p. 87). Group viewing is common in fandom. P opular attractions at many conventions are the video rooms where fans can watch movi es, television episodes, and other visual media together. Fans can also be seen waiti ng in long lines to see the first showing of a greatly anticipated feature film, knowing that the initial audience will consist largely of 17


fans like themselves who will have a simila r experience in viewing the film (Jenkins, 1992). Amesley (1989) studied comments made by Star Trek fans while viewing the series in a group. She concluded that a ne w discourse emerges from the viewers which exists as a counterpart to the original te xt, playing off it but providing creative pleasure for its participants (p. 337). In fact, sh e argued, within the real m of popular culture, fans are the true experts; they constitute a competing educational el ite, albeit one without official recognition or social power (Jenkins, 1992, p. 75). Among the largest gatherings of fans in the United States is an annual convention held in East Lansing Michigan called Me diaWest (Mediawestcon, 2007). Unlike most conventions, it consists of only fan attendees and fan guests (who ar e usually fans with some extensive knowledge about a particular area of fandom). This convention is not about meeting celebrities or some other fee ling of closeness with the object of their affection, but instead is a community inte raction among people with similar interests (Jenkins 1992). If social groups have the ability to cha llenge or resist cult ure and insert their own meanings in place of those offered by othe rs, the reward for that resistance might be personal and social empowerment. Ang ( 1991) saw empowerment as a function and possibility of participation in popular culture. This resistance appeared to provide group members with a sense of empowerment in th e face of seemingly hegemonic forces. Or, the feeling of empowerment may simply be found in fans consumption of popular culture, specifically televi sion programs (Harris, 1998). Mann (1969) studied people waiting in line, proposing that the waiting line could become a social system. He noticed that wh en people wait in lines for long periods of 18


time, particularly when those lines are crea ted on a regular basis with similar people, a number of informal culture rules and behaviors develop. Although Mann was looking at Australian football (i.e. American soccer) audiences who regularly waited in lines for the same games, it can be related to fan a udiences who wait in lines to see movies, and particularly convention attendees waiting for events, autographs, a nd pictures. Manns major findings concluded that: (a) large numbers of fans return annually to share the experience of waiting for tickets overnight; (b) the formation of unofficial pre-lines to recognize the priority of people who arrived before the beginni ng of the official line; (c) the principle of first come, first served and alliances made to regulate and allow temporary absences from the line; and (d) social constraints designed to control line jumping and place keeping (p. 184). Similarly, in his study of spectators at an Academy Awards ceremony, sociologist Joshua Gamson (1994) noted that during the l ong wait for the arrival of the celebrities, the spectators formed a camaraderie born of waiting together and focusing on the same event and of being identified together as spectators (p. 134). One of his subjects reported that in earlier years, before security became more strict, fans would arrive two days early and camp out on the bleachers with hibachis and beer, as if it were a huge tailgate party. Gamson conclude d that people seem to be there as much for the event of waiting as for the event of watching; as much for the spectacle as for the celebrities (p. 135). In a study of the members of a fan group called Viewers for Quality Television (VQT), Harris (1998) endeavored to find how fans define th emselves and how this selfdefinition related to the practice of fandom. In her survey of 1,100 VQT members, 19


virtually all admitted to being fans, alt hough their levels of participation in fan activities varied greatl y. Harris concluded that several underlying variables affect the level of participation and that fandom s hould be seen as existing on a continuum. She also found, when looking at the group as a whole, that the more active members were more likely to feel they personally exerted influence over the entertainment industry or the object of their fandom than VQT did as a gr oup. Also, the more th e fans felt able to influence the television industry (individually or as a group), the more enjoyment they had with television and film. Fans may desire this soci al interaction and group membership and find it to be a positive aspect of participatory fandom, whether they feel their group membership is empowering or simply socially rewarding. Group membership also allows them to converse with fellow fans about subjects that they might not discuss with members of other groups (family, co-worke rs) to which they belong. Personal Identification and Wishful Identification Some fans become involved in participatory fandom because they are personally drawn to a celebrity through some kind of iden tification with that person, either because the fan feels he or she has something in common with the celebrity, or the fan sees something about that celebrity he or sh e would like to model (Schramm, 1961). Similarly, fans may identify with media characters (fictional characters or on-screen personas). This particular identification may be defined as an imaginative process invoked as a response to characters pres ented within mediated texts (Cohen, 2001). 20


The media contribute to the identification issue pr imarily through constant coverage of celebrity activities and intimate views into their private lives. Audience identification with celebrities is the backbone of advertiser s using celebrity endorsement of products. If a person identifies with or wants to be like the celebrity endorsing a product, he or she will be more likely to purchase that product (Agrawal & Kamakura, 1995). In his examination of identification as a mediator of celebrity endorsement effects, Basil (1996) concluded that the str onger the perceived simila rity, the greater the likelihood of identification. A dditionally, the greater the id entification, the greater the likelihood of modeling the celebritys behavior or attitudes. In this sense, modeling behavior (such as buying an e ndorsed product) might be seen as a form of participatory fandom, in addition to other avenues of participation that a fan might seek out. Parasocial Interaction The concept of parasocial interaction was first researched, and the phrase parasocial interaction coined, by psychologist s Donald Horton and Richard Wohl (1956) who looked at the perceived relationship w ith media personalities that audiences can create. At the time their research was conduc ted, radio and televi sion were considered new media and the researchers found an interesting phenomenon emerging with audiences: One of the striking characteristics of th e new mass media radio, television and the movies is that they give the illu sion of face-to-face rela tionships with the performers. The conditions of response to the performer are an alogous to those in a primary group. The most removed and illustrious men are met as if they were in 21


the circle of ones peers; the same is tr ue of a character in a story who comes to life in these media in an es pecially vivid and arresting way. We propose to call this seeming face-to-face relationship between specta tor and performer a parasocial relationship. (p. 215) The concept of parasocial interaction can be extended to include any type of media personality, including film and televi sion actors, presenters, game show hosts, announcers, theatrical stars and other celeb rities who appeared in the media as themselves, fictional characters, even puppets anthropomorphically transformed into personalities (Giles, 2002). Horton and Wohl (1956) called these people who became the object of parasocial re lationships personae. Audiences came to know these personae through the media as if they were actually pers onal acquaintances. False Intimacy False intimacy can be seen as similar to parasocial interaction, except that it refers to a more one-sided, self-orien ted type of vicarious involve ment with mediated models (Schuh, 2000). While parasocial interaction describes the media users vicarious involvement with the media figure as other, false intimacy is a more personal vicarious relationship where the fan sees himor herself as more closely involved and intimate with the media personality. Film critic Richard Schickel (1985) described a situation in which fans (and audiences in general) are drawn into an ill usion of intimacy with celebrities, resulting from constant and intimate exposure to them in the mass media. This false intimacy as he called it, leads to vicarious involvement with celebrities in which fans begin to believe 22


they actually have a relationship with them. This false intimacy could lead fans to greater participation in fandom, particularly where meeting or communicating with the celebrity is concerned. The Possibility of Meeting Celebrities Actual Interaction Some fans become involved in fandom hopi ng that their activities will somehow bring them into actual contact with their favor ite celebrities. This might include starting a fan club or Web site, or simply attending a convention where the celebrity is present. With the preponderance of media conventions today, personal interac tion with celebrities has become increasingly possible for many fans. Sociologist Joshua Gamson ( 1994) studied the spectators of the red carpet arrival of celebrities at a Golden Globe ceremony in Be verly Hills. He divided them up into two groups, which he called hobbyist s and tourists. The hobbyists would include the participatory fans, those who have come to the event specifically to see certain celebrities. The tourists came out to watch the celebrities on a more casual basis, much like spectators at a parade. Members of both groups would call out to celebrities in hopes of receiving anything from brief eye c ontact to an autograph or handshake. The field of research on fandom and celebri ties fails to spend a great deal of time on this aspect of the fan/star relationship. Each group has been exam ined individually, as have the reasons fans feel close to stars, as mentioned earlier. However, there is very little literature devoted to what happens when fans and media persona lities actually meet and interact (outside of the subj ect of celebrity stalkers). Part of what this thesis explores 23


is that very subject: what happens when fans actually interact with the objects of their affection, the action being among the reasons for participatory fandom. Empowerment Of course, there may be other reasons as yet unexplored about why fans seek out ways to actively participate in fandom. As mentioned earlier, fans have power in that they can affect the actions of the media a nd those who produce and deliver celebrities to the public. But fans also may enjoy a feeli ng of empowerment themselves, either over a particular celebrity or the me dia in general (or even both). According to Harris (1998), who researched fan involvement, it is likely that the more active fans are, the more power and control they f eel they have (p. 48). Grossberg (1992) also examined empower ment relating to fandom from a cultural studies standpoint, stating: Empowerment refers to the reciprocal natu re of affective investment: that is, because something matters (as it does when one invests energy in it), other investments are made possible. Empowerment refers to the generation of energy and passion, to the construction of possibility. (p. 64) Thus, it is understandable that if fans feel they have some influence over the celebrities themselves, the media in relation to celebrities, or both, this could be among the motivations for seeking out participatory activities. 24


Theoretical Background for Unde rstanding Participatory Fandom While there is not a large body of scholarly research to be found that specifically covers participatory fandom, or even fandom in general, there are at least two major theories that not only help e xplore the subject, but also ha ve given rise to research (particularly in the area of audience research) that is closely related to creating a better understanding of fandom. These theories ar e Uses and Gratifications (Rubin, 1994) and Albert Banduras (2001) Social Cognitive Theor y. Both of these theories relate to the previously proposed reasons for participatory fandom. Uses and gratifications Early work in uses and gratifications centered around Laswel ls (1948) findings on why people attend to the media. This theo ry considers the audience to be comprised of active viewers who make us e of and obtain satisfaction from the media, as opposed to being passive viewers, complete ly influenced and controlled by the media. According to this concept, the media are sources of in fluence amid many other sources, such as peoples needs and motives to communicate, f unctional alternatives to media use, the psychological and social environment, communi cation behavior and the consequences of such behavior in addition to the mass media. Early researchers believed the media to be able to deliver messages as a magic bullet (Lowery & DeFleur, 1995) to influen ce the public. But later research led to theories of limited effects, stating the media did not have the power and control to have such influence over the public. Those studies, in turn, led to what we now call uses and gratifications theory, whereby audiences are not used by the media, but instead use and 25


select media to gratify their needs or wants. It is this perspective that gives a theo retical background not only to participatory fandom, but fandom in general. Participatory fans in partic ular not only make use of what they see and read, but even find ways to further involve themselves with it, including modifying some of the texts to fit their own purposes (Jenkins, 1992). Once researchers began to study mass co mmunication and develop theories, new ideas began to emerge about its effect on audi ences. Among the resear chers in this area was Harold Lasswell. Lasswell (1948) began hi s research into media to demonstrate their possible effects, and in particular how propaganda can be use d. While he believed in the power of media and propaganda, he rejected the simplistic magic bullet theory. He also stated that by performing certain activi ties (e.g., surveillance of the environment, correlation of environmental parts, transmission of social heritage and entertainment) media content has common effects on people in society. Although Lasswell (1948) was studying the effects media had on the public, his research served as a jumping-off point for other audience studies, leading to the shift in thinking to a limited effects pa radigm. Some researchers proposed that the media serve many functions for people and society, and early gratifications rese arch sought to learn why people use certain media content (Rubi n, 1994). Cantril (1940), for example, studied peoples reactions to the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast. He noted that people who had been frightened by the radio program had tuned in late, did not look for verification of the programs authenticity, and spread incorrect information. Most people, however, were not taken in by the fake story, instead relying on their own critical ability to check the va lidity of the broadcast (Baran & Davis, 2000). In similar research, 26


Cantrils colleague, Paul Lazarsfeld (1940) ha d been studying why radio had such a wide appeal to the public. Additionally, Herzog (1940) studied the appeals of radio quiz programs, as well as the gratifications obt ained by women who listen to radio serial programs. Subsequently, Horton and Wohl (1956) proposed that television provides viewers with a sense of parasocial interaction with media personalities, which is part of what we now call fandom. It was this type of audien ce-centered study that led researchers to investigate audience motives rather than th e effects of the media (Rubin, 1994). This research then led to investigations of audience subcultu res, including fans. Social learning theory According to social learning theory, people are both products and producers of their environment (Bandura, 1994) In relation to the media, individuals are influenced by and use what they watch. With obser vational learning, or modeling, people watch how others act, interact, and suffer the c onsequences of their actions (Vander Zanden, 1984). Thus, one can argue that by watching celebrities, fans can make assumptions about how the world works and decide whether or not to incorporate that behavior into their own lives. Social Learning Theory assert s that symbolic models, such as the models presented in the mass media, play an infl uential role in shaping human thought and action (p. 187) because they display a greate r diversity of behavior and activities than what the average individual witnesses in hi s or her daily life. Bandura (2001) also asserted that people can l earn attitudes as well as behaviors by observing models, particularly those presented by the media. This theoretical perspective applies well to 27


the idea of both identification and wishfu l identification. For example, in an ethnographic study of Elvis Presley fans, in cluding Elvis impersonators, researchers Benson Fraser and William Brown (2002) f ound that Elvis fans and impersonators developed strong identification with him by consciously role modeling his values and by changing their lifestyles to emul ate his. Thus, fans may eith er see traits of celebrities they feel they share, or they see desirable behavior by celebrities and wish to imitate it. Fans who strongly identify with a media personality are more apt to engage in participatory fandom (Basil, 1996). This chapter has looked at what makes a fan, what makes a celebrity, and possible reasons why some fans extend their interests to actively participate in fandom. This study examines possible motivations for fans to actively participate in fan-related activates. In order to guide the research process, the follo wing research questions were asked: RQ1: What are the motivations for fa ns to seek participatory activities? RQ2: What perceptions about fandom a nd celebrities do fans take away from their participatory activities? RQ3: How do fans conceptualize the phys ical setting when attending a large participatory fandom event? 28


Chapter Three Methods This thesis takes a qualita tive research approach. According to Creswell (1998), qualitative research is undertaken in a natural setting where the researcher is an instrument of data collection who gathers words or pictures, anal yzes them inductively, focuses on the meaning of participants, and de scribes a process that is expressive and persuasive in language (p. 14). The primary methods used in this qualitative study were an ethnographic case study usi ng participant observation and in-depth interviews. The data was then analyzed using a grounded th eory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The study was conducted over three days at a large media convention in Atlanta, Georgia, called DragonCon. While the convention took place in a number of venues, most of the observation and selection of in terview subjects were carried out in the dealers room (where fan-related merchandise was sold) a nd Walk of Fame (whe re celebrities were available for autographs) because these areas provided the most convenient and effective access for observation of participatory fan ac tivity and selection of interview subjects. This thesis, as well as some of the literature cited, refers to DragonCon and other fan-related conventions as media conventions . This is not to imply they are for members of the reportin g media, but rather, because they feature guests and exhibits from different forms of entertainment media. Gues ts include (but are not limited to) film and 29


television actors, print models, authors, artists and musicians. Representatives from film and television production and distribu tion companies, comic book publishers and merchandise dealers occupy booth areas to prom ote and sell their products. Because the convention is not devoted to a single genre or television show (such as a science fiction convention or Star Trek convention), it is generally referred to as a media convention. This thesis examines why some fans actively participate in fandom. Attendance at a convention constitutes participatory fandom in itself, so any attendee is considered a proper interview or observation subject. Addi tionally, because this particular convention offers a variety of activities for fans with di fferent interests, it pr ovides the researcher with subjects who have a wide range of fan-related interests. DragonCon For many years, fans did not have much chance of meeting their favorite celebrities, or even meeting with each other outside small local get-togethers. Occasionally, celebrities would attend media, comic, and Star Trek conventions, where fans could meet to talk, participate in gaming, watch videos, buy memorabilia, and possibly get an autograph from the celebrity guest. Often, such conventions were held only in large cities. But in the past few years, all that has been ch anging. Today, literally hundreds of science fiction, fantasy and media conventions are held each year in the United States. Conventions vary in both si ze and organization. Some are run by fans while others are professionally organized. Smaller conventions often focus on a single genre or subject while larger conventions, such as DragonCon, MediaWest, or WorldCon, focus on multiple subjects and genr es. These large medi a conventions attract 30


both fans and celebrities of va rying degrees of fame. Some celebrities, usually those who are currently enjoying a high degree of popularity, are paid to attend, while others, usually a cadre of has-beens, wannabes, bit-players, and those who never quite became famous but have some link to fame, also s how up but must finance their own way and recoup their money by selling pictures and autographs. DragonCon, an annual media convention held in Atlanta, is one of the largest such conventions, boasting hundreds of activitie s for fans as well as dozens of celebrity guests from all genres, media, and levels of fa me. Fans come from all over the world to attend. In 2003, the year in which this study was conducted, there were over 20,000 attendees from over twelve countries and seve ral hundred celebrity guests (Kloer, 2002). The convention organizers claim on the Web site (DragonCon, 2003) that they run the largest annual convention for fa ns of science fiction, fantasy and horror, comics and art, games and computers, animation, science, mu sic, television and films. According to author and occasional DragonCon gue st Ray Bradbury, this convention is science fiction (DragonCon, 2003). The 2003 convention occupied two of dow ntown Atlantas largest hotels, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta (which hosted most ev ents, panels, fan activity and gaming), and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis (which held th e dealers room, the celebrity meet-and-greet area, exhibitors halls, additional panels, and the art show). The attendance level reached over 20,000 fan guests, and hosted over 300 celebrity guests (DragonCon, 2003). The programming includes many of the usual ac tivities found in most media conventions, along with some that only large conventions such as this can a ccommodate. Events include panel discussions (with or without celebrity particip ants), celebrity interviews, 31


book readings by authors, video rooms, gami ng, comic and card trading, filking (fanwritten songs about fan-related subjects ), a parade through downtown Atlanta by costumed participants, fan club meetings, fan club tables, promotions of upcoming feature and independent films, art shows, costume contests, and a massive dealers room filled with merchandise and collectibles. Among the main attractions are the autographsigning sessions. Held in one huge room, calle d the Walk of Fame, dozens of celebrity guests (including actors, comi c artists, writers, filmmakers, animators and models) sit behind large tables where fans come by for pictur es and autographs. It is literally a buffet of media personalities. Fans walk around the massive room looking at who is there and deciding on whom theyd like to meet, in a situation not unlike c hoosing a meal at the cafeteria or deciding which zoo an imals are worthy of a snapshot. Data Collection I chose to use qualitative research over quantitative methods because I felt this would allow me to gain a deeper understanding of the subculture of fans and their interest in participating in fan-related activities. Kaplan and Maxwel l (1994) stated that the goal of understanding a phenomenon from the point of view of the participants and their particular social and institutional context is largely lost when textua l data are quantified. Additionally, I am already a me mber of this subculture myself, allowing me to gain access and acceptance into the community in orde r to perform my resear ch with little or no distraction to the participants. To comple te this research, I used a grounded theory approach consisting of participant ob servation and in-depth interviews. 32


Participant observation involves not only watching the members of the group being studied, but joining in with them. This can be done by a researcher who is or is not part of the group prior to hi s or her research (Angrosino & de Prez, 2000). Adler and Adler (1987) identified three categories of participant re searchers which they called membership roles as opposed to roles grounded in pure observation. These were: 1.) Peripheral-member-researchers (those w ho are not members of the group but who feel they can gain an understanding of its membership through observation). 2.) Active-member-participants (those w ho become involved with the central activities of the group but are not committed to the groups values and goals). 3.) Complete-member-researchers (composed of those who study settings in which they are already members). (p. 380) I would fall into the third category of those above. I have attended DragonCon (as well as many other media conventions) severa l times in the past, so I am familiar with the setting and most of the activities. As a fan participant myself, I have an insiders insight to the convention and its attendees. I am able to easily immerse myself in the convention and communicate freely with the fa ns, allowing them to feel comfortable interacting with me. Thus, my entre into this particular community was easily established, which allows me to share the emic perspective of that group. In-depth interviewing involves asking que stions, listening to answers, and then posing further questions to expand upon either a previous question or the current discussion. The questions are open-ended and conversational, allowi ng subjects to speak in a detailed manner and express their own ideas (Fontana and Frey, 2002). The 33


interviews were audio taped with the permission of the partic ipants for later transcription and analysis by the researcher. According to Fontana and Frey (2002) Unstructured interviewing can provide a greater breadth of data than the other types, given its qualitative nature (p. 652). They argued that the traditional type of unstructured interview, the open-ended ethnographic (in-dept h) interview, provides the best data in ethnographic case studies. They observe that many qualitative researchers differentiate between in-depth (or ethnogra phic) interview and participan t observation. Yet the two go hand in hand, and many of the data gathered in participant observation come from informal interviewing in the field (p. 652). Data collection took place primarily in and around the dealers room (where attendees could purchase fan -related merchandise), and the Walk of Fame (where celebrity guests were set up to meet and gree t fans). These are large areas that provide excellent access to fans, celebrities, and memorabilia dealers for both participant observation and locating particip ants for in-depth interviews. Additionally, I contacted fan acquaintances who I arranged to meet there. Research Participants Interview subjects were c hosen using a convenience sampling process. In-depth interviews were conducted with 17 people, a nd all interviews took place in public. The interviews were audio taped with the verbal permission of the participants. Each interview took between 20 and 45 minutes. Those interviewed were both male and female (nine male and eight female) between the ages of 18 and 48 who were attendees of the convention (see Appendi x A). Attendees could be recognized by his or her 34


admittance badge. The participants were asked open-ended questions relating to why they had come to the convention, what activ ities interested them, why they enjoyed participating in fan-related ac tivities, and their feelings about fandom and celebrities in general (see Appendix B). Questions also a ddressed specific experiences the participants have had regarding the convention and within their persona l lives as fans. As is common in qualitative research, this study relied on responses from a relatively small number of people, in this case 17. However, each interview is lengthy and covers a great deal of ground. As Wei ss (1995) notes, because each respondent is expected to provide a great de al of information, the qualitati ve interview study is likely to rely on a sample very much smaller than the samples interviewed by a reasonably ambitious study (p. 282) During my partic ipatory observation research, I identified the more active fans in the area and watched how they interacted w ith each other, with celebrities, and what activities they engaged in. I took both verbal and written notes on their activities for inclusion in the final data analysis. It is interesting to note th at most attendees of the convention were Caucasian. In the gaming area there were many fans of As ian descent. However, because these attendees were primarily there to take part in gaming (which by its nature must be a participatory act) and not any other of the conve ntion activities, they were not part of the sample unless they were witnessed also participating in other fan-related activities. Over a four-day period, there were very few Asian-Americans in convention areas not related to gaming. African Americans were present, but in a vast minority. There were so few that none were present during sampling. As fa r as this particular study is concerned, the 35


lack of black interview part icipants echoed the low number of black attendees and was thus representative of the overa ll population of the convention. Data Analysis Grounded theory is a research method that seeks to develop theory derived from data systematically gathered and analyzed through the research process (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The process of data analysis within this method involves open, axial, and selective coding. In open coding, the researcher identifies initial general categories of information about the phenomenon being studied. In axial coding, the researcher uses a paradigm in which a central phenomenon is identified, then assembles the data around the axis of the central category, linking categorie s at the level of prope rties and dimensions (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Finally, using se lective coding, the researcher identifies a story line (Creswell, 1998) which integrat es the categories found during axial coding. This allows the researcher to write a narrative which give s the reader a good, overall understanding of the study and its findings. To analyze the data, I transcribed the interviews in their entirety equaling 98 pages. After thoroughly and repeatedly read ing the interview transcripts, I began open coding. During my analysis of the data, I attempted to identify whether or not the participants comments and behavior fell into one or more of the categories I have already described. In acco rdance with the methodology of grounded theory, there was a continuous interplay between collecti on of the data and its analysis. 36


Chapter Four Findings This chapter details the findings of the qualitative case study with 17 participants interviewed at DragonCon in Atlanta, Ge orgia. DragonCon transforms two large downtown hotels into gathering areas for s eething masses of fans, some dressed in elaborate costumes representing media characters, others in t-shirts announcing what they like, and some without any specific identificat ion as a fan other than perhaps a camera with which they snap pictures of their surr oundings. It is standing room only, and much of the mass moves in unison, su rging down the escalator or across the street from one hotel to the other. The atmosphere is al most electric with expectations of meeting celebrities, getting autographs, purchasing memorabilia, and interacting with other attendees. The night brings numerous pa rties, hotel-room get-togethers, band performances and discussions at bars that can last into the next day. As a convention attendee, one can easily feel overwhelmed by not only the vast number of fans, but by some of the costumes and the generally raucous atmosphere. Yet at the same time, there is a feeling of being unconditionally accepted as a part of that group. Most attendees are not only friendly but so outgoing they ofte n treat strangers as if they were old friends. Someone in the most frightful costume will happily give up a chair to a tired guest, and a pierced and ta ttooed Goth rocker will hold a place in line 37


while others take restroom breaks. In the rare event of unnecessary rowdiness or disrespectful behavior, convention securi ty guards step in to return order. The primary venues of the convention in cluded large meeting rooms that housed the various activities, such as costuming, gami ng and art shows. Another large area held both the enormous dealers room, where hundred s of merchants sold collectibles, as well as the Walk of Fame, where dozens of celeb rities sat ready to si gn autographs and pose for pictures. The corridors between the venue s remained crowded with attendees heading to and from activities, standing in lines for events, or just meeting up with others to discuss their experiences. No matter where you ended up within the convention, you were bound to be surrounded by happy, excited and often costum ed fans looking forward to the next activity they planned to attend. It was within this atmos phere that the research was conducted. The purpose of this study is to identify wh at themes would emerge as reasons that fans participated in the conve ntion, including their perception s of the overall experience. As discussed in Chapter Three, the sample consisted of 17 convention attendees chosen using convenience sampling. A qualitative, ethnographic case study was performed using in-depth interviews and participant observation. The interviews and participant observati on of fan-related activities provided a wide variety of data. The following sections describe and discuss three main categories that emerged from the data: (1) social aspects: How fans in teracted with other fans and what effect this had on their attendance; (2) ce lebrity interaction: The types of celebrity interaction the fans experienced and what th eir perceptions of these interactions were; 38


and (3) the participation environment: What aspects of the overall convention environment was enticing to the fans (see Tables 1, 2 and 3, respectively). Social aspects include meeting up with previous friends and acquaintances, making new friends at fan-related activit ies, and simply being around like-minded people. Some fans grew up with relatives who were fans themselves, and others met their significant othe rs through fandom. Meeting celebriti es includes getting autographs and photographs, as well as attending pane ls or question-and-answer sessions with celebrities. There is also the chance of meeting celebri ties on the street or around convention venues. And finally, participati on in fan-related activities includes gaming, costuming, attending band performances and shopping in the dealer s room. These are the primary activities mentioned by the pa rticipants of the study, but not the only activities available to attendees of the convention or to fans in general. Pseudonyms have been used for all of the participants in order to protect their privacy. None of the participants of this study was in full costume at the time of their interview. However, each of them was wearin g something that identified them as both an attendee of the convention and as a fan of some specific person, genre or production. Most of the time this meant wearing a tee-shirt or jacket related to the area of their interest. 39


Table 1 Concepts, classifications, code types, and descriptions for Social Aspects Concept Classification Code Type Description Attending the convention with friends Open Etic Examples of attendees who participate with their friends Travel to the convention with fan friends Property Etic Travel to the co nvention with a group of friends Meet up with friends at the convention Property Etic Meet up with ex isting friends at the convention Make new friends Property Etic Attend the conv ention with or without friends but make new friends once there Interaction with likeminded people Open Etic Attendees desire to be around others who have similar interests Share a hobby Comfort Free to be geeks Property Property Property In-vivo Etic Etic Interaction with others who share the same hobby within fandom. Feeling of comfort being around similar people. Comfort in acting like a geek, which they cant do at home Family influences Open Etic Fans with other fans in their family Grew up in fan family Property Etic Parent(s) is also a fan Created new family Property Etic Met their spouse through fandom Attendees are like a family Property Etic Fans who feel th at they are part of a larger family comprised of all convention attendees 40


Table 2 Concepts, classifications, code types, and descriptions for Celebrity Interaction Concept Classification Code Type Description Meeting celebrities Open Etic Personal interaction wi th celebrity guests Seeking out specific celebrities to meet Property Etic Fans had a spec ific celebrity or group of celebrities they planned to meet Interest in meeting a variety of celebrities Property Etic Fans were interested in meeting celebrities in general Chance celebrity interaction Property Etic Chance interaction with celebrities outside organized convention activities Getting autographs and photographs Axial Etic Meeting celebrities wa s part of beginning or adding to a collection of autographs, photos or memorabilia Favorite celebrity Property Etic A ttendance centers around obtaining the autograph of a specific celebrity Any celebrity involved in a specific production Property Etic Fans interested in obtaining autographs and pictures of celebrities from a favorite production or project Fan Perception Axial Etic Perceptions and reactions to celebrities Enjoyable experience Property Etic Fans were happy after having met or seen a celebrity No longer a fan Property In-vivo Fans were offended or put off by their interaction with a celebrity Ordinary people Property In-vivo Upon interacting with celebrities, fans saw them as being ordinary people Intimidating Property Etic Some fans were intimidated by meeting celebrities New appreciation Property In-vivo Af ter meeting a celebrity the fan had a new appreciation of that person Empowerment Property Etic Some fans felt a sense of power by choosing which celebrities to meet and purchase items from 41


Table 3 Concepts, classifications, code types, and de scriptions for Participation Environment Concept Classification Code Type Description Costuming/Parade Open Etic Dressing up in costume or attending the costume parade as a spectator Dressing up as a known character Property Etic Fans create and dress up in costumes to look like specific science fiction or fantasy characters Dressing up as an original character Property Etic Fans envision original characters and wear costumes to represent them Participating in or watching the parade Property Etic Fans who dress up in costume to participate in the parade or who attend the parade as a spectator (with or without a costume) Gaming Open Etic Participation in competition or classes related to all forms of gaming Role-playing games Property Etic Play ers participate in games as a specific character using a board or cards Robot wars Property Etic Fans build or learn to build robots to compete against each other Panels Open In-vivo Venues for discussing topics of interest for both fans and celebrities Fans seek specific panels Property Etic Panels involving a specific celebrity or production is of interest Question and Answer sessions Property Etic Panels where ce lebrities take questions from fans Dealers room Open Etic Area where fans can purchase merchandise related to science fiction and fantasy Fans seek specific items Property Etic Fans seek items from specific celebrities, programs, areas of fandom or to complete a collection More fun Property In-vivo Purchasing items here is more fun than other places Items that arent available elsewhere Property Etic Provides merchandise that might not be available to fans locally or on the Internet Complete collections Property Etic Provides merchandise that allows fans to add to or start memorabilia collections Provides items for autographs Property Etic Fans can purchase photographs or other items to have celebrities sign 42


Social Aspects Social interaction stood out as a dominan t theme when asking participants why they attended DragonCon and participated in fan-related activities (including other conventions) in general. In the context of th is study, social intera ction can be described as having interpersonal relationships w ith people at the convention, experiencing camaraderie associated with involvement w ith attendees, and a feeling of belonging and membership in specific or related groups. The subculture of fandom spans the entire United States as well as many foreign countries. DragonCon is such a large and wellknown convention that it attracts at tendees from all over the world. Attending the conventi on with friends Some fans travel to the convention with other fan friends, often from distant cities. Cate and her boyfriend, Lee, are two such attendees. They drive from their homes in south Florida all the way to Atlanta. Bo th are college students in their mid-twenties who are eager to speak inte lligently and at length about anything related to the convention. Neither is in costume or even w earing fan tee-shirts. However, both have a subtle Goth look about them, as a good por tion of the attendees do. They have jetblack hair, several face piercings, and dark makeup to match dark clothes. Offering an explanation as to why she and Lee make the effort to travel all the way to DragonCon, Cate says: A lot of it is the social aspect of it. Weve made so many friends just going up here. Even if theres no one going to be at DragonCon that I really wanted to see 43


[referring to celebrity guests ], I would still go because Id have a lot of friends up here. Kris, a 29-year old from Augusta, Georgia, attends with her fianc. Apart from her convention badge, Kris wears nothing that overtly identifies her as a fan (although her interview is conducted at the very beginning of the convention, before she may change clothes or purchase clothing items from a deale r). As to why she and her fianc travel to DragonCon, Kris says: We hang out with people at DragonCon that we wouldnt at home Here I get to meet new people and sometimes its the same group each year, so thats cool. Yesterday we were listening to a panel, and it got pretty lively and everybody was talking. So after it was over and some body needed the room, a whole group of us stuck together, still talking. We ended up at the caf in the Hyatt just talking and hanging out like we were friends. Mallory, who is fortunate to live relativ ely near to the convention in Smyrna, Georgia, is able to attend w ith a number of friends. We a ll like [the television series] Buffy, and with DragonCon right here, we tend to try and come together in a group sort of thing. Then you have somebody to stand in line with! She proudly dons a tee-shirt with an image of actor James Marsters on the front. Kurt, from Florida, is a regular attendee who usua lly drives up alone but sometimes brings a fan friend. His arms are overflowing with items he intends to have autographed by various celebriti es. As he says, the people he knows back home are more fans than not. 44


Cate and Lee, both from Tampa, always attend DragonCon with each other and sometimes bring fan friends. Lee says, Most of our friends are fans and were fans, so its natural we travel up here together. You know, like I could even go to a con without [Cate]. Some fans arrive at the convention alone, but once ther e they meet up with other fan friends. These fan friends might be peopl e they have met at previous conventions (DragonCon or elsewhere) or friends they know in other parts of the country who share their interest in the convention. Most ag ree that the general atmosphere is very conducive to meeting new people. Walter, a local Atlanta re sident, comments, It really is just kind of a communal experience. As Carrie, who flies in from Portland, Oregon, says, You meet people really quickly. Cooper agrees, People have told me that they meet people here and they make friends with them instantly. And theyll come back and meet them every year. Its a way of meeting people and making friends. Mike, who enjoys building robots as a hobby, attends DragonCon to meet up with other robot-building friends. Its not like everybody on my block builds bots, so most of my friends who do that come here. Its the only time all year I get to see most of them. Kris also meets up with out-of-town fr iends at the convention, in addition to meeting up with friends from home. Although th ey spend a great deal of time together, Kris and her friends all have slightly different interests: My fianc is into Trek and all. And Star Wars. He does the costume contest. Hes a storm trooper. He likes the sci-fi part more; I like fantasy. And my friend Beth is pretty Goth, and shes into Buffy Back home we wouldnt even know 45


people like Beth and her friends. Here I get to meet new people, and sometimes its the same group each year, so thats cool. Interaction with like-minded People Another attraction to the social aspect of participatory fandom is the ability to gather with or simply be around like-minde d people. DragonCon provides a place for fans to be fans, and for people who have something in common to share that with people that they might not be able to do elsewher e. Kurt describes it as a happy, charged environment with people who have the same interests. Walter, whose jacket is adorned with dozens of buttons and patches related to all things science fi ction, comments, Its an environment where its just nothing but people who are as into their hobby as [other people are]. Cooper agrees, People like to be around other people who do the same things. Wanda, a middle-aged woman, admits, Nobody back home knows I like this kind of thing. If they knew what I did here, and all I really do is wear a movie tee and hang out, if they knew what I did, theyd think I was nuts. Stacy, who is wearing a Battlestar Galactica tee-shirt and a Dr. Who scarf, also fears being considered odd outsi de of the convention and says: I think its great that everyday people have the same crazy, by societys standards, interests. Here, I get to be myself, act as crazy as I want to, and no one will fault me for it. There is no judgment at Dr agonCon, everyone is accepted. I love that there are so many different types of people from all walks of life. Gordon agrees, You meet so many diverse types from all over the world and they all have a common ground in fandom. 46


Kris sees DragonCon as a way to be more involved in her fandom than she is at home, explaining: We dont hide our fandom at home. I mean, I have a Buffy poster in my cubicle. My friend Beth dresses pretty Goth al l the time, but she works in a book store where I think they see that as cool. A nd I have some [fan-related] stuff on my wall in my bedroom. But thats about th e extent of it. Here you are more involved. You participate more. I guess because everybody is into the same thing or something similar. Many fans identify themselves as geeks because of their fandom and enjoy using DragonCon as a way to let their geek out as Cate says. Walter comments, Here, I mean, everyone, you know, kind of has that geek badge. A young man named Doug proudly describes himself and his friend as sweaty fan boys. Kurt sums it up by saying, I love the atmosphere of a con; se eing the fans and the celebrities and going to the panels, describing it as the environment of geek celebration. Family influences Some fans grew up in an environment that embraced fandom, with one or both parents being participatory fans themselves. Lee says he feels he feels connected with fandom because: My mom and her boyfriend are both huge g eeks. My dad was a huge geek. I was named after [an actor known for playing a number of famous fantasy characters]. I was a geek in the womb. I didnt have a choice, I came out geek. 47


Lees girlfriend, Cate, calls her family painfully normal, but admits, I dont have any friends who arent in fandom. Staceys mother is also a fan, and while Stacy has always enjoyed fandom herself, she says her mother embarrassed her as a child. She recalls: She used to wear a sweatshi rt with a Starfleet Academy logo on it. I mean, I liked Star Trek too, but the sweatshirt still bothered me. And now I come to conventions and wear that kind of thi ng and hang out with other people who do. But I still wouldnt wear something like that back home. Its just something I do here. Neither Jay nor his wife Samantha came from families of fans, but after meeting at a science fiction convention ten years earlie r, they got married and created a family of their own. Jay recalls: Samantha was at the convention with so me friends, and I was there with some friends. And we all went to the bar a lot between events and got to know each other. So we got to talk a lot. And we had mutual friends and were into similar stuff, so we started dating. And some of our dates were going to conventions. Now, here we are! Some fans experienced such a feeling of connection with the fan community, particularly at conventions, th at they likened the experience to being part of a kind of extended family. Carrie says: People who dont even know you treat you like family. Some of the people might look scary, especially if you arent a fa n, because they are dressed like a Klingon 48


or theyre Goth or something, but I swear Id trust these people more than Id trust about anybody out on the street. We look out for each other. Cooper agrees, Its almost like a family here. You come back and visit them every year. And you do different things he re then you would with your friends back home. Celebrity Interaction The second major finding that emerged from the data was the fans interest in seeing and interacting with ce lebrities. The access to celebrities from a variety of industries is among the main draws of DragonCon. The simplest and most popular way to do this is to visit the Walk of Fame. This is the area of the convention where celebrities give autographs a nd pose for pictures. Fans might also run across a celebrity on the street or in nearby restaurants. Celebrities also participate in panels and question and answer sessions where they discuss various topics with fans and other celebrities. Several hundred celebrities from many diffe rent genres and forms of media attend, making DragonCon among the best places for fans to meet the most celebrities in a single setting. Meeting celebrities The Walk of Fame is a large conference room filled with approximately 40 celebrities at any given time, mostly actors a nd actresses from film and television (comic artists, authors, and other celebrities are of ten located in a separate area). Some are currently enjoying the po pularity of starring in a television series or a recent film. Most 49


others are known from past pr ojects, and some are hardly kn own at all. They sit behind long tables, usually assisted by convention staff or their own aides, where they sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. They all sell photographs of themselves, but they are also often asked to sign items the fans bring with them. And most of them charge for these experiences (including posing for a photograph). Some celebrities on the Walk of Fame have enormous lines of waiti ng fans stretching out the door and onto the street. Others can be seen sitting at their tables with no one approaching them for hours. The atmosphere of the Walk of Fame is among the most energy-charged areas of the entire convention. Fans line up excitedly to get pictures and autographs of celebrities while others watch the celebrities from a distance, taking in the experience and snapping candid photographs. The dealers room is located adjacent to the Walk of Fame, allowing fans to purchase photographs and other memorabilia to have signed by celebrities. Many fans hurry back and fo rth between the rooms purchasing items and heading off to have them signed. Conven tion volunteers and secu rity are seen in abundance as they try to keep control of th e fans, manage lines of people intertwined throughout the room, and keep cel ebrity guests comfortable. For fans who attend the convention to meet their favorite celebrity or add autographs to their collection, the Walk of Fame is their primary venue of interest. In one long line, eighteen-year-old Mallo ry mentioned that among the main draws of the convention for her was to meet actor James Marsters, probably my favorite actor of all time, along with any other celebrity in attendance who was associated with the television series Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off series Angel She specifically intended to meet everyone attendi ng the Buffy panel. She added, And, not 50


to mention, some other major actors, like, the guy who played Biff in Back to the Future. Hes here! And from [the motion picture] Neverending Story Noah Hathaway. Kris is also a fan of Buffy and James Marsters, crediting her Buffy fandom for bringing her to the convention. I watch Buffy and Angel and I like to meet any guests from those shows. Especially James Marsters, hes my favorite. Actor and television presente r Peter Woodward drew a sl ow but steady stream of fans, including husband and wife Jay and Samantha. Samantha was a fan of the television series Babylon 5 and was there to meet Woodwar d, who had a recurring role on the show. Jay was also a fan of that series but he was more interested in Woodwards current role as host of th e History Channels series Conquest Jay commented that Woodward was so cocky on that show [ Conquest ], itll be interesting to see what hes like in real life. Samantha added, Im goi ng to get the photograph that also has his fathers [actor Edward Woodwar d] signature. Both were also anxious about their time schedule, since they were also interested in s eeing other celebrities wh ile they were there. We want to catch Marsters panel, Samantha said. The line is already so long, I hope we make it. But I dont want to miss meeting Peter either. Friends Doug and Mike, the self-procl aimed sweaty fan boys, claim meeting celebrities isnt their primary reason for atte nding, but both admit to wanting actor David Carradines autograph. Mike says, You know who kicks ass? David Carradine. I want to see him. Hes the man! Doug adds, hes an icon. Oh, and I want [to meet Buck Rodgers actress] Erin Gray. Shes hot. Or she was hot. I dont care, I just always see her in that jumpsuit. 51


Like Jay and Samantha, some fans si mply wanted a chance to see or meet whatever celebrities they might come acro ss. Gary, attending with his girlfriend Lizabeth, says they particularly enjoy going to the Walk of Fame in order to see the celebrities. You can see lots of stars in one place, like the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Only you can talk to them; interact with them. Lizabeth adds, Except they arent all as famous (laughs), but they might be people you are more interested in meeting. Wanda, a heavy-set woman in her late 40s, attends DragonCon alone from her home in Macon, Georgia. She has a very la rge bag of memorabilia with her, which she says is filled with both purchases she made in the dealers room, and various items she brought from home to have autographed. Her first interaction with a celebrity came as a bit of a surprise: I was outside the hotel smoking a cigarette, and this guy was standing next to me, and we started talking. He was dressed up as a character in [the television series] Babylon 5. And I remember thinking that he looked really good, just like the actor. Some of these people can do that like the guy dressed up as Blade? He looks just like him. So I was just ki nd of impressed. After a few minutes he mentioned his ride was there, and a car pul led up and I recognized a couple of the stars of Babylon 5 inside. Then I realized the guy was really the actor, not a fan in costume! I guess I didnt expect him to just be hanging out on the curb like us regular people. 52


Getting autographs and photographs For many attendees, just meeting celebriti es isnt enough. They have come to get autographs and possibly get ce lebrities to pose for pictures with them. Some purchase publicity photos sold by celebriti es while others bring various items like movie posters or DVDs for celebrities to sign. A few inventive fans pose for photographs with their favorite stars, have the photographs developed and printed at a nearby mall, then return to have that celebrity sign the photograph. Buffy fan Kris is building an autograph collection from the shows actors. Im trying to get everybodys autographs [on indi vidual publicity photos], and I also have [group] cast pictures that Im trying to get signed by everybody. Ca te has an extensive list of autographs she wants, including A nne McCaffrey so she can sign her books. And Marsters, of course. Some people in bands I havent met yet. Oh, and the Star Wars people, especially Ray Park. Kurt had an armful of collectibles he brought from Florid a to have signed by various celebrities. I want Carradine to sign this Deathrace one-sheet. And Tracie Lords to sign this picture I got last year. He was particularly proud of a poster for the original release of Star Wars which he had been bringing to dozens of conventions over the last couple of decades saying, I think I have only one more person to sign this onesheet. After visiting the Walk of Fame, Stacy decided she wanted several more autographs and photos than she had origina lly planned on getting. Lorenzo Lamas is here. I dont know what he has to do with sc ience fiction and all, but I loved him in [the 53


television series] Falcon Crest Ive got to get his signatu re. And I really should get David Carradine. Fan perception In relation to fans interest in and ability to meet celebrities, it was interesting to note their reactions after having met the object of their affection for the first time. In many cases, this experience allowed the fans to perceive the celebr ity in a new light. Most participants were happy with what they saw, but others came away with a negative perception. In some cases the perception was influenced not only by the celebritys personality but by the fact that most of them charge for signing autographs and even for posing with fans for photographs. In Kurts case, he had wanted to meet actress Traci Lords. He planned to have her sign both a photograph and a movie poster. He also wanted a photograph of the two of them together. He was able to accomplish all this, but at a substantial financial cost, having been charged twenty dollars for each experience. Kurt has attended many large media conventions, including several DragonC ons, and he came away with a negative experience, saying: Ive seen more celebrities at the con exhibit more pure greed, for lack of a better word, than I ever have. Traci Lords has to be my biggest example. I was a huge fan of hers before meeting her, but her dismissive attitude and her charging an excessive amount for every little thing completely turned me around on her. I would no longer consider myself a fan of hers. 54


In some cases, fans have met industry in siders at conventions and ended up with a working relationship. Cate met her favorite author and they are now friends. We met here one year and now when I come here we hang out. Cate is now given advance copies of the authors work for her opinion. Lee has a friend who got a job as a game developer by meeting the right people at a convention. He notes, Theres not a lot of other subcultures or even cultures th at will take people in like that. Primarily, fans mentioned that meeting celeb rities in person helped them to view the celebrities as ordinary peopl e; they were more human after an actual contact. Kris said: I guess mostly you realize they are just regular people. Sometimes its kinda funny. Like, when I met Darla [actress Julie Benz who portrays a vampire on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer ]. I had to wait in line for a while, and while I was there I was listening to her talk to the ot her fans. And she was so nice and, so regular. Not that shed be like her char acter. Shes not going to turn into a vampire. But after being around her and ta lking to her it was hard to imagine she played Darla, if that makes any sense. Cate, a regular attendee at a number of conventions, has met many celebrities over the years and says: Ive noticed that after I meet someone whos either in a band or in a show or on a movie that I really like, um, I find that I can appreciate what theyre doing a lot more. And I can understand where they re coming from a little bit more. Kris remains in awe of her favorite celebrities, becoming nervous when she meets them. Upon meeting James Marsters she said, God, I was a wreck! My knees were 55


literally weak. Seriously. In person hes just so, I dont know, like having a crush on some guy in junior high school. Marsters was offering to sign photographs for twenty dollars, and for fifty dollars fans could have a professional, posed picture taken with him. Only about one in ten fans did this. Even though Mallory considered Ma rsters her favorite actor right now, she chose to buy only the twenty -dollar photograph. However, she came away very happy with her experience, saying, H e stood there and talked to me for like, ten minutes, and he was just making jokes, and, you know, having a good time. He encouraged me to come see his band play tonight, stuff like that. After her first experience meeting celeb rities in the Walk of Fame, Stacey commented, You see the celebri ties selling autographs or promoting something, and you realize they are just a product. Or a salesperson of a product. Its a job. Some fans perceived a sense of empowerment over the celebrities because they could choose who to support by purchasing items from that particular celebrity. When discussing the Walk of Fame, Carrie said: Some of the stars, the ones who arent really famous right now and dont have a lot of people at their tables, are kind of like vendors at a flea market. When you walk by you kind of feel them looking at you hoping youll stop by their table and get an autograph or buy something from th em. Its like they need you, they want your attention, and usually its the other way around. In Kurts opinion, the power of fans extends far beyond this, influencing the entertainment industry in general: 56


When studios pay huge amounts of money to insure that their top directors and actors appear here or at Co mic Con in San Diego to push their summer films, that says something about fan power. Over th e past few years, I think movies have been made and broken at cons. Immediate negative buzz about [the motion pictures] The Hulk Elektra and Stealth hit the streets right after their first unveiling at a panel. Within a few hour s, fans around the world can generate intense word-of-mouth either positive or negative about a m ovie or show and it has shown at the box office. Participation Environment The third major finding to emerge from th e data was that fans were eager to participate in and be a part of the overal l environment offered by DragonCon. Because of its large size, DragonCon offers nearly every fan-related activity imaginable, and it is these activities that draw many fans to participate. On any single day of the convention, one can enjoy costuming, gaming, a wide variety of discussion panels, and a visit to the enormous dealers room to pur chase or trade memorabilia. Costuming One of the main activities of the conv ention is costuming. Fans dress up as characters from their favorite book, movie, comic or whatever they like. Others simply dress in a way they would only dress around othe r fans, such as wearing fan-specific teeshirts, medieval outfits, Goth ensembles, or a ny type of clothing that might be considered outside of the norm of aver age American street clothes. 57


Carrie has enjoyed costuming since she wa s a child, and now she enjoys not only dressing up but creating her ow n outfits. She is wearing a DragonCon tee-shirt from a previous year and has a dragon puppet perched on her shoulder. I usually make my own creations. You know, not an established char acter. She participates in the annual costume contest and scours the dealers room for additions to her collection. Other fans may not enjoy making costumes or even dressing up, but they attend the annual costume contest. Too large to be housed in any hotel faci lity, this event takes place at a nearby auditorium and attracts over a thousand spectators. Mallory makes a point to go every year, saying, The contest is amazing. Peop le have costumes that look like they were made for a movie. Gary agr ees, Its not like youre watching fans, its like youre watching characters righ t out of the movie or comic book. Gaming Another popular activity is gaming. This programming track can include a number of types of activities such as electronic or card-base d role playing games, board games such as Dungeons and Dragons, and mo re recently, robot battling. Doug, a fan of the show Robot Wars, is attending to participate in robot building and battling panels and workshops. Im building a bot with some guys, Doug says. Im hoping I can pick up some stuff here about it. Meet some people I can compete with. Gary also enjoys the recently added robotics programming, noting, I ts really the only place you can do this kind of stuff, I mean, outside of your garage. Walter enjoys viewing the gamers and plans to return with his kids. They play Pokemon cards with, like, adults. Just a bout every age group is in there playing. 58


Panels Nearly every type of programming include s a panel, where fans and sometimes celebrities discuss a particular topic of inte rest. There are also celebrity question-andanswer sessions, mini-game shows, and a variety of unique activities. Kris says, I go to any Buffy or Angel panel. And the celebrity Q and As. Last year I was in the Buffy trivia game, but Im kind of shy. Like, Im not usua lly on panels, but I go to a lot of them. I usually get into the discussion. Carrie notes Theres a panel on everything here. You can find anything youre interested in. Like What Xena Wore in Episode Three. Anything. Kurt also enjoys pa nels, saying, I try to go to a lot of panels. Some I go to because Im specifically interested in them, or they have guests I want to see. And others I go to because I dont have anything else go ing on but I want to be doing something. The dealers room Gary is among the many fans who are packed into the dealers room where fanrelated merchandise is sold. I always have to go to the de alers room, he says. You can buy a lot of this stuff on the Internet now, but theres someth ing more fun about coming here. His girlfriend also enjoys the s hopping aspect. I have to admit I like the dealers room. I let [Gary] buy all his stuff first. He has more, I dont know, collections (laughs). But if we havent spent all our money, I buy some things too. Like I always have to get a convention tee-sh irt. Gary agrees, Yeah, gotta get a con tee. Especially here. Then, if we go to another convention, people will see weve been here and think 59


its cool. Cate shops in th e dealers room because she can find things that I cant necessarily find locally [in Tampa]. Jay collects knives and swords, so for him, the dealers room offers a place to both buy and trade from his collection as well as a place to attend related activities. He particularly enjoys performances by The Cr ossed Swords, a group that performs routines and stunts using various swords and knives. He says, T he Crossed Swords perform here, and this is the closest place we can see them. And I almost always pick up a new piece [knife or sword] when Im here. I like to look at things before I buy them, so this is much better than the Internet. Among the more popular aspect of the dealers room is that it provides photographs and memorabilia for fans to ha ve autographed by celeb rities. Doug says, You can get pictures and all in here, and pr obably cheaper a lot of times then the stars are selling them for. Mike agrees, You can get more variety of stuff, items, that might be interesting to have autographed besides just a standard glossy. And finally, Kurt offers his strategy for making the most out of both the dealers room and the Walk of Fame: Get all the really important stuff, you know, stuff you came specifically to get like autographs of your favorite actor or whatever, first, so you dont miss it. But get everything else on the last day. Some of the dealers will unload stuff cheap. Or you can make some trades. And even the stars, whoever is still around, might not be busy because people are leaving. Ive talk ed to celebrities for like an hour or whatever because no one else is aro und and theyre just sitting there. 60


The last day of the convention is, in fact interesting to observe. As Kurt noted, the Walk of Fame is nearly empty by early afternoon. There are very few fans still walking about and only a handful of celebrities. Of the celebrities that remain, only a few are actively speaking with fans. Most are chatting amongst each other or occupying themselves by reading or working crossword puzzles. Stacey notes, You almost feel bad for them. Id go talk to some of them but then I feel obligated to spend money on an autograp hed picture. And I can t afford any more. The atmosphere of the previous days ha s changed from fans eagerly seeking out their favorite celebritie s to the celebrities hoping to meet a final few fans before the convention ends. And in the final hours, as all the convention venues close down, celebrities, fans, and convention employees ca n be seen wandering wearily out, mingled amongst each other like anonymous members of a crowd. 61


Chapter Five Discussion and Conclusion This study investigated the reasons w hy some people enjoy participating in fandom, particularly by attending fan-related activities and seeking out celebrities. As discussed in Chapter Four, the participan ts consisted of 17 adults who attended DragonCon, a large annual media convention in Atlanta, Georgia. This qualitative research took an ethnographic case study approach, using in-dep th interviews and participant observation of convention activities. Discussion During the interview process, it was intere sting to note that wi thout exception, all participants were very happy and excited to speak about th eir experiences. Even those attendees who were approached but declined to respond appear ed enthusiastic and willing to talk, but they were unable to participate due to time restrains or pr evious engagements. Many of them offered to be interviewed at a later date if necessary. This demonstrated both their overall enthusiasm for their partic ipation in fandom, but also gave a look at their friendliness and openness. A number of fans, both interviewees and those who declined, voiced great interest and happiness th at a researcher was interested in taking a 62


serious look at participatory fando m. This likely led to their ea gerness to take part in the interviews. This chapter explores the answers to the proposed research questions and examines how the results compared to the con cepts and theories give n in the literature review. Using grounded theory as an analytical tool, general themes emerged from similar answers and descriptions given by partic ipants. The results helped to answer the research questions posed in the beginning of the study. Finally, it looks at the importance of the research, possible limitations and ideas for further research. Responding to the research questions The first question sought to id entify the motivations for fa ns to seek participatory activities. It was clear that social inter action was the primary reason fans attended and enjoyed participating in Dra gonCon. Whether they traveled to the convention alone or with someone, they enjoyed meeting new people and the camaraderie offered by the convention. Interaction with like-minded peopl e was important because it allowed them to share common interests and to feel free to engage in fan-related activities, often acting like geeks, without fear of judgment from non-fa ns. It was also inte resting to note that some participants not only had fan friends but family members who shared in the same fandom. In several instances the participants met their significant others at a convention, and one couple even married after meeting at a previous DragonCon. An interaction with celebrities was also an important motivator. Most participants were eager to meet either a specific star or any celebrity they might encounter during their attendance. Many were interested in getting au tographs and photos of celebrities or collecting autographs relating 63


to a specific movie or television show. The second research question asked what perceptions about fandom and celebrities that fans might take away from their participatory activities. After meeting celebrities, the fans had varying reactions to their in-person encount ers, some of which changed their previous perceptions. Most were happy to have had the chance to meet the celebrity (or celebrities), while some had a negative experience. In many cases, fans access to celebrities depended upon how much th e celebrity was charging for autographs and pictures. Some fans coul d not afford to pay the cost or chose not to because the celebrity was not worth it to them. The at tendees would assess which celebrities were present, how much they were charging, and often what the celebritys demeanor was, then decide who they would meet. They appr oached the stars not just as fans, but as wary consumers of the celebrity product. Some fans also perceived a definite sens e of empowerment when interacting with celebrities and participati ng in the convention. This empowerment was shown most notably by the existence of the convention itsel f. If it were not for the demand for such activities on the part of the fan community, there would be no DragonCon or conventions in general. It was also up to the fans whic h celebrities they would pay for autographs or pictures. Additionally, there were not only fans in attendance, but celebrities and representatives from various merchandisi ng companies and movie studios. These vendors and celebrity guests all are there because of the demand of the fans. Fan feedback, whether by purchasing autographs or showing interest in upcoming films, provides marketing information which may be used later to influence some area of the entertainment business. Finally, because of the large number of attendees, guest 64


celebrities and vendors, the entertainment and news media take interest in the convention and what goes on inside, thus generating furthe r interest about such activities for their viewers. All the interviewees were interested in participating in one or more of the many activities offered by DragonCon. These include d dressing up as a fictional character, taking part in one of the various gaming activ ities, attending fan or celebrity panels, and shopping for merchandise and collectibles in the dealers room. Such activities are usually difficult or impossible to come by in the fans hometowns, so they must seek them out at conventions such as DragonCon. The third and final research question as ked how fans conceptualize the physical setting when attending a larg e participatory fandom event such as DragonCon. This question is answered by looking at the fi rst two answers toge ther. The overall atmosphere of the convention setting was attr active due to the social aspects involved, whether making new friends or finding comf ort provided by being surrounded by similar people. The specific fan-related activities offe red also added to the attractive aspects of the convention. From attending panels to getting celebrity autogr aphs, attendees had a variety of engaging and even exciting activitie s available to them for the duration of the convention. It should be noted that a nu mber of properties of the primary themes overlap. For instance, social interaction is technically a part of most fan-related activities, even if it is not the primary reason for attendance at a c onvention or participation in activities. Additionally, enjoyment of the overall conve ntion experience or atmosphere can be considered both an activity and a social aspe ct of attendance. Ce lebrity interaction in 65


itself could be considered a social activity, albeit brief. Obtain ing autographs, which constitutes celebrity interact ion, is also an activity. A nd finally, the participation environment can encompass every experience and activity available at the convention. Literature review discussion In Chapter Two, this paper explored a number of aspects of the fan/celebrity relationship in conjunction with participatory fandom and related theories. One of those theories was Uses and Gratifications, which states that the audience is comprised of active viewers who make use of and obtain sa tisfaction from the media, as opposed to being passive viewers, completely influe nced and controlled by the media (Laswell, 1948). At DragonCon, the fact that fans had to pick and choose which celebrity was worth their time and money lent itself to this theoretical aspect of participatory fandom. The fans were encouraged to be consum ers of the celebrities and whatever those celebrities might be promoting. However, the fans generally had an idea of what they wanted to get out of the cele brities and the convention in ge neral. If a celebrity was charging more than fans felt they could a fford afford, the fans would choose not to approach that person. The celeb rities were the main attraction, but the fans were running the show in terms of what they chos e to take away from the experience. In regard to social lear ning theory, in which people (in this case the fans), look at models available in the mass media to offe r role models in shaping their thoughts and actions (Bandura, 1994), there was not eviden ce of this in the comments made by the interview participants. However, because th e interview subjects were all adults, they may be less susceptible to modeling behavi or than younger subjects. Also, further 66


questioning on this subject might have unc overed modeling behavior and celebrity influence that was not addressed in this study. Observationally, however, one might conclude such an influence might exis t where costuming was involved, because motivations behind dressing up as a certain character or actor may be a result of a more in-depth interest in modeling themselves af ter that person. Additionally, one could argue that the fans are modeling themselves after other fans, particularly those attendees who are new to conventions. In orde r to fit in with other fans, as well as to make the best of their convention experience, atte ndees can watch how their fello w con-goers act. In this way they might learn when to start standing in a line, how to conduct themselves during a panel, how to interact with merchandise deal ers, and even how to mingle with each other during lunch. If anything, witnessing fans being chastised for some inappropriate action by other fans is a quick way to learn what not to do. The concept of false intimacy, in which fans may feel a relationship with celebrities that does not actually exist, did not appear to be an issue with the subjects of the in-depth interviews. While most of them were interested in meeting or having some type of contact with various celebrity guests, they appeared not to identify with the celebrity. Instead they were looking for the simple opportunity to interact with them and perhaps get an autograph. Re gardless of the degree of in terest the fan had in any particular celebrity, they all approached the experience of meeting celebrities as more of a business transaction (meet the celebrity, get a photograph, move on). Similarly, the participants did not express that they identi fied or wished to identify on any level with celebrities. The fans were interested in mee ting celebrities but were more interested in interaction with other fans with whom they did identify. 67


Parasocial interaction, which might have b een a factor in attendees initial interest in participation, gave way to actual interacti on with the celebrities in attendance. Thus, parasocial interaction is be tter looked at in relation to fans who are not involved in activities that provide acce ss to media personalities. Limitations As with any observational research, there is the possibility of bias on the part of the researcher. The researcher must also inte rpret what he or she sees, and this is done through his or her own preconceptions. The possibi lity of bias or misinterpretation in this particular study is lessened by the research er having prior knowledge of the people and situations being observed. Offering direct quot es from the participants also allows for interpretation by the reader in addition to the conclusions drawn by the researcher. Another possible limitation to this study is that partic ipants were chosen through convenience sampling. Subjects were primarily from the United States and specifically from around the Atlanta, Georgia area. Ho wever, those observed comprised a much larger portion of the attendees and may have included fans from all over the world. In any case, all those who were interviewed and observed were participatory fans. A different perspective on fandom might have been interesting to study by interviewing non-fans who witnessed convention activit ies and fans. A comparison of non-fan observations about participatory fans might le nd more insight into the study of the fan community. It should be noted that most attendees of the convention were Caucasian. In the gaming area there were many fans of Asian descent. However, because these attendees 68


were primarily there to take part in gaming (which by its nature must be a participatory act) and not any other of the c onvention activities, they were not part of the sample unless they were witnessed also participating in other fan-related activities. Over a four day period, there were very few Asian-Americans seen in convention ar eas not related to gaming. African Americans were present, but in a vast minority. There were so few that none were present during sampling. As far as this particular study is concerned, the lack of black interview participants echoed the lo w number of black attendees and was thus representative of the overall population of the convention. Additionally, because of the large number of attendees, there could be some relationship of ethnic origin and participatory fandom that coul d be generalized to the larg er fan community. Further research might look at the fan culture on a much larger scale to determine ethnic representation. Researcher effects were minimal due to th e researcher also being a member of the group being studied. Members of the group we re not aware that I was doing research unless I told them. Interviews were conducte d in a relaxed, social manner without being overly formal. It should be noted how the topic itself was chosen. Being a member of the participatory fan community, the researcher ha d a prior interest in and knowledge about this topic, as well as having family memb ers and friends who are members of the fan community. Additionally, the researcher has worked as an entertainment business insider. Witnessing the interplay between pa rticipatory fans and the celebrity community from different perspectives over many y ears was the inspiration for this study. 69


Further research possibilities The study of fame and fandom is wide ope n to further research in a number of areas. These phenomena are continuously growi ng, due to the constant manufacturing of celebrities by the media, and a growth in technology, particularly involving the Internet, which allows dissemination of information to the public, and public interaction regarding this information. The media has a growing access to fans, and fans have an increasing ability to seek information about the objects of their interest as well as communication with each other. Such access also facilita tes participation in fandom, allowing fans to discover activities to attend, and of course to interact with each other socially. To further examine participatory fandom, a larger sample could be used to examine differences in gender, age and race among fans in relation to their motivations for participation in fan-related activities. Additionally, a series of more intensive interviews could give a broader pers pective on fandom and its participants. Similar studies could be conducted at di fferent participatory venues where fans and celebrities are present to determin e if similar motivations could be found. In conclusion, this research shows that fans, not unlike the population in general, are looking for a group with which they can id entify and participate. Regardless of how they feel their fandom might or might not se t them apart from others, they can feel comfortable and enjoy themselves around a gr oup of like-minded individuals. Even though the fan community in general has a wide variety of interests and participates in many different activities, there is a camarade rie among them as well as a respect for each others interests. This bonds them all as a community that accepts and encourages their participation in the fan culture. 70


Conclusion The study of participatory fandom is important because fans are members of the media audience and consumers. The more actively involved they become in fandom (whether attending fan-related events or communicating amongst each other), the more they drive the celebrity phenomena and help to influence the media. Within the field of audience research, the study and understanding of participatory fandom, made up of more active and dedicated audience members, coul d lead to vital info rmation that could augment existing data. This study uncovered a number of motivations for fans interest in participating in fan-related activities. Thes e motivations can aid in the understanding of how this segment of the media audience behaves, partic ularly with regard to how they consume certain media products such as ce lebrities and related activities. The results of this study could aid organi zers of large media conventions such as DragonCon to best serve both its guests and vend ors. If the particip ants of this study are generalized out to the overall fan population, then the resu lts could help larger entities attract larger audiences (or consumers), as well as to best serve that audience. By watching what participatory fans do, the media can get a sense of what this active portion of the audience is interested in and what motivates them. That information can then aid in their production and delivery of content. Observing audience reaction in this way may become more important in the future as traditional methods of audience measurement become more difficult to apply. In turn, the audience can benefit from having larger and more targeted media opti ons available as a result of the medias observation of participatory fandom. Within the emerging atmosphere of convergence, 71


the audience and media will have an increasingly symbiotic relationship, the center of which may very well revolve around th e activities of participatory fans. 72


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Appendices 79


Appendix A Participant List Name* Age Gender From Regular convention attendee? Gary 28 Male Marietta, GA Yes Lizabeth 27 Female Marietta, GA No Mallory 18 Female Smyrna, GA Yes Cate 26 Female Tampa, FL Yes Lee 27 Male Tampa, FL Yes Walter 28 Male Atlanta, GA Yes Cooper 37 Male Atlanta, GA No Doug 24 Male Atlanta, GA Yes Mike 27 Male Atlanta, GA Yes Carrie 23 Female Portland, OR Yes Kris 29 Female Augusta, GA Yes Kurt 39 Male W. Palm Beach, FL Yes Stacy 26 Female Dunedin, FL No Wanda 40s Female Macon, GA Yes Roger 48 Male San Diego, CA Yes Jay 30 Male Valdosta, GA Yes 80


Samantha 31 Female Valdosta, GA Yes All names are pseudonyms. 81


Appendix B Interview Guide Interviews will begin with an explanation of this thesis, permission of the subjects to be audio recorded, basic demographic data will be gathered, and the subjects will have the opportunity to ask me any questions th ey might have both before and after the interview. The subjects will also be told their information will remain anonymous and confidential. The following questions will act as a template for guiding the interviews. The participants interests and answers will help dr ive the direction of the interview to best discern their motivations for partic ipating in convention activities. What specific activities do you plan on pa rticipating in while at the convention? Where did you travel from to come here? What are you primarily a fan of? (specifically, to the point where you participate in the fandom of this person/thing) Why do you enjoy attending fan activities? Are you attending the convention with friends? Are your friends (outside of th e convention) primarily fans? What do you like most about fandom, where you personally are concerned? Are you attending the convention to meet a particular celebrity? Who? 82


83 Do you feel any connection with any of th e celebrities, as if you have something in common with them? Do you feel you somehow know a celebrity you have never met? How would you characterize that relationship (ac quaintance, close friend, etc.). Do you identify with any celebrity specifi cally? Why? What makes that person stand out to you? What do you think makes a celebrity? What do you think makes a fan? Do you feel fans ever have any pow er over celebrities or the media? How do you feel about paying celebrities for autographs and pictures? Have you done so? Have you declined? Why? Do you talk about your involve ment in fandom with people outside of fandom, or with only fan friends?

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Participatory fandom in American culture :
b a qualitative case study of DragonCon attendees
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by Katherine L. Fleming.
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University of South Florida,
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ABSTRACT: With the rise of the mass media over the last century, fame and celebrity seem to have evolved into ever-growing phenomena. Likewise, audience members have sought increasing involvement with people or activities related to the focus of their interest. These individuals are not content to simply watch their favorite actors or films from home. Instead, they take a more active approach, engaging in activities related to their fandom as well as seeking interaction with each other in organized groups (in person and on the Internet), attending conventions, and seeking interaction with celebrities. This study presents a discussion of fame, celebrity, and participatory fandom, to examine what motivates certain individuals to seek active involvement in fandom. Using the theories of Uses and Gratifications and Social Learning, it looks at this unique relationship and possible causes for certain members of an audience to actively participate in fandom and seek interaction with each other and with celebrities. Areas examined include social group identification, personal identification with celebrities, false intimacy with celebrities, parasocial interaction, the possibility of meeting celebrities and a feeling of empowerment as a member of a fan community. This qualitative research took an ethnographic case study approach, using in-depth interviews and participant observation of attendees and activities at DragonCon, a large annual media convention in Atlanta, Georgia. This study sought to examine what themes might emerge to identify motivations for fans' active participation in fandom. Seventeen participants were chosen using convenience sampling and interviewed about their experience at the convention. In data analysis, three major concepts emerged in regard to the participants' motivation for attending the convention: Fans seek out social interaction, interaction with celebrities, and enjoy being a part of a participation environment.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
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