Tulloch and Jenkins point to the fact that the Science Fiction fan has long been labelled as ‘extraterrestrial’, ‘excessive consumer’ ‘cultist’ and/or ‘dangerous fanatic’ asserting that the Start Trek audience is constructed as ‘exotic, unknowable and irrational’. These characteristics, although used to describe S.F. fans, are also commonly attributed to videogame fans. The way in which S.F. fans are seen as strange and somewhat outcast from mainstream media in spite of the popularity of their object of fandom might well be paralleled with the way videogame fans are perceived.
Striving towards a balanced approach to audience study, Jenkins and Tulloch
Attempt to consolidate theoretical and methodological advances by adopting an integrated approach in analysing readers, texts and contexts and bringing together ethnographic studies with textual analysis.’ Using a variety of approaches including interviews in different social contexts, they seek to not only establish how fans relate to the specific media texts being discussed in this study, but also how reading formations affect their input. The authors therefore refuse to oversimplify the processes of reception and manipulation of media texts by fans.
The authors acknowledge the importance of sociality to fandom, yet refute the notion of a utopian all-accepting community of fans. They stress that many prejudices present in dominant cultural discourses are reproduced in fandom, framing interpretations that are consistent with the prevailing aesthetic of that particular group. This in turn highlights the importance of recognising fandom as a collection of subcultures as opposed to a homogeneous group.
The authors describe fans as a ‘powerless elite’, at the mercy of producers who control the object of their fandom and mass consumers upon which the continuity of their favoured media product depends. Regarded by many as ‘subliterate’ and compulsive consumers (conjuring images of drug addiction much like those applied to videogame fans) fans are not credited with enough intelligence or media awareness to form resistant readings of their object of fandom. The authors, on the other hand, point to the possibility for cultural struggle over meaning of mass-produced media products. The authors, however, point to the ‘possibility for cultural struggle over the meaning of mass-produced media products, realising the utopian potential of such texts including friendship and community. They believe that activities such as fan writing offers possibilities for fans to rethink their relationship to these texts, offering a highly optimistic perspective of such activities.
It is suggested in this book that part of what draws people to fandom is that it ‘can be more accepting than the real world’ (quote by Kate Orman, of the Doctor Who fanclub of Australasia) although the authors do caution that it is far from undiscriminating, highlighting the fact that ‘Many of the high culture prejudices maintained by academic critics seem to be reproduced by the fans themselves’. The main differentiating factor in the approaches is that academics criticises from a position outside the narrative’s fictional framework, focusing on larger social determinants or institutional contexts, while fans operate within that fictional framework, framing interpretations that are consistent with fandom’s prevailing realist aesthetic.
The authors are very keen to emphasize that fan culture is made up of many different factions and subcultures, each with its own set of values that are favoured above others. These multiple fan communities are drawn to these texts for different reasons and adopt different reading formations for their reception. Fans are therefore best understood – according to Tulloch and Jenkins – ‘not as unified individuals at all (whether ‘deviant’ or ‘normal’) but rather as a subculture with sets of discourses appropriate to a ‘powerless elite’, positioned in relations of expertise and intimacy with ‘their’ show.’’
Even though the authors assert that there has been a ‘Shift to the acceptance of fan as self rather than other’ with many people admitting various degrees of fandom to popular cultural products such as Star Trek, the culturally accepted mainstream format of fandom adopted by this majority bears a much lower level engagement with and knowledge of the text. The image of the hardcore fan is often loaded with negative connotations such as the ones previously highlighted. Tulloch and Jenkins therefore feel the need to differentiate between these two forms of fandom forging a ‘distinction between ‘fans’ active participants within fandom as a social, cultural and interpretive institution, and ‘followers’ audience members who regularly watch and enjoy media science fiction programmes but who claim no larger social identity on the basis of this consumption.
Although fans are regularly branded as ‘subliterate’ and therefore (unfairly) not credited with the ability to apply resistant readings to a media text. The authors believe there is a ‘possibility for cultural struggle over the meaning of mass-produced media products even within the framework of the capitalist cultural industries.’ Jenkins argues that ‘audience activism and cultural production realizes the utopian potential of a wide array of popular culture texts’ including ‘desire for affiliation, friendship, community’.