The Cultural Economy of Fandom
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This essay examines the situation of fandom in society, and its’ effect; both ethnically and frugally. I really enjoyed reading and interpreting what the author had to say, which I thought he portrayed well through his use of language. The author proposes a discussion on the characteristics of fandom under the following headings; Discrimination and Distinction, Productivity and Participation, and Capital Accumulation. He applies these three attributes liberally, as a general application to fandom. The author also fringes on the topic of fans and commercial (popular) culture and how there is a symbiotic or facilitative relationship between the two.
To begin, the author shares his definition of fandom and how it is universally, an accepted aspect of popular culture in society. In my view, the author furthers his definition by implying that fandom is like a cyclic process, whereby certain groups of people take turns selecting from the vast collection of mass-produced and mass-distributed entertainment within popular culture, and how this process is constantly being reworked to appeal to a new audience or fandom within the spectrum. The author then proceeds to describe how fandom is perceived within society, especially by those in the dominant value system, whereby they associate fandom with a subordinary class. I must intercept here to say that the phrasing of “the dominant value system” is quite misleading in my opinion, as it does not necessarily refer to the majority of society, which I think many people would otherwise conclude.
The author states that popular audiences engage in semiotic productivity because it reflects their social situation. But the fans transform this semiotic productivity into textual production thus better defining the fan community. And for that reason, fans create a fan culture with its’ own systems of production and distribution which draws similarities with cultural industries-what Fiske refers to as “shadow cultural economy”.
In his essay, Fiske uses and develops Bourdieu’s paradigm of describing culture as an economy in which people invest and accumulate capital. The cultural system works like the economic system by distributing its’ resources inequitably, thus widening the margin between the privileged and the deprived. This cultural system the author refers to privileges certain cultural tastes, particularly those promoted through the educational system and other institutions. For example, museums, art galleries, concert halls, and state subsidies to the arts. These foundations therefore constitute an empowered “high culture” which the author refers to as being the official culture. And, because it is unlike popular culture, it receives social legitimation and institutional support. I quite liked Fiske’s comparison of the official culture to money, and how they are both a representation of power. He furthers this idea by arguing that cultural capital and economic capital work simultaneously to produce social privilege and distinction. Therefore, by investing in the official culture, one can expect a social return of a high socio-economic status.
Although Bourdieu created a productive model, Fiske believes there to be two flaws with it. The first is that there is a general emphasis on economics and class as the only dimension of social discrimination. For the purpose of his essay, Fiske focuses on class, gender, race and age as the key axes of discrimination. The second flaw in Bourdieu’s model is his inadequacy to discuss the culture of the subordinate with the same sophisticated analysis as that of the dominant. Another concept of Bourdieu’s that Fiske mentions is the habitus. It is basically the associated dispositions of mind, cultural tastes and ways of thinking and feeling. It therefore, reformulates the relationship between domination and subjectivity: In Bourdieu’s model there lies the idea of movement within the social space i.e. one can acquire or loose capital thus affecting one’s position in the model and therefore changing socio-economic status.
In this essay, the author wants to show that fan culture is a form of pop culture that draws similarities with the institutions of official culture. Fandom itself is juxtaposition in that although it is formed outside and against official culture it takes and reworks certain values from it. In Fandom there lies discrimination and distinction, similar to that of the official culture. There is an emphasis on authenticity, whereby fans try to justify their culture by drawing comparisons to the legitimate culture. Gender and age are also mentioned, in relation to studies of fans that have been done, but are not discussed in detail. Because pop culture is a product of the cultural industry it must be understood in terms of productivity, not of reception. The author categorises fan productivity in to three characteristics;
1. Semiotic productivity: is a blend of social identity and of social experience from the semiotic resources of the cultural commodity.
2. Enunciative productivity: is basically when semiotic productivity is orally and visually shared. This leads to challenging society for the fan who takes pleasure in doing so.
3. Textual productivity: this is associated with the artistic production by the official culture. Fans don’t write for a profit and in actuality they loose money. They are further prohibited by their limited access to high-quality equipment, thus resulting in a less professional finish to their work.
Fans are very participatory. For example fans of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” emulate themselves after the characters in the film just so that they can feel part of the performance. If the audience start shouting out lines that aren’t in the film, then their over participation can change the meaning of the text.
There is strong distrust of making a profit in fandom, among the fans. This now brings me to what the author calls “capital accumulation”. Similar to the official culture, knowledge is fundamental to the accumulation of cultural capital in fandom. Knowledge like money is a source of power and thus can be converted into career opportunities. Textual knowledge is used for discrimination in the dominant habitus but for participation in the popular. The accumulation of both popular and official capital is represented by a material collection of objects such as books, posters, etc. For the official collectors, quality and how much they pay for it, is what matters. Whereas in popular culture it is quantity in the cheap, mass-produced range. Although some fans choose to discriminate between the authentic and the mass-produced, due to their economic status. But because the fans are so inter-active they provide “valuable feedback on market trends and preferences”, for the industries, thus creating a mutual relationship whereby everyone is satisfied.
In conclusion, I admire John Fiske’s work and thought his essay was quite in-dept. He had evidence to back up his claims and his point’s made clerical sense, although he was possibly too insightful on some occasions. Overall it provided an excellent read!