Books

All Academics Must Become Fans of 'Fandom as Methodology'

It would be a snap to design a super engaging graduate-level course in a variety of Humanities disciplines around Fandom as Methodology.

Fandom as Methodology: A Sourcebook for Artists and Writers
Catherine Grant and Kate Random Love

Goldsmiths / MIT Press

December 2019

Other

My experience of fandom has been intense and surprising. As a rebellious punk of a teenager, I doubt my 16-year-old self would have been psyched to identify as a fan of anything or anyone at all, but I sure as hell was a fan of many kinds. Image source:

Twenty years later, I am thriving as a cultural critic and author/editor of books on prominent celebrities like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, RuPaul and Andy Warhol. Each promotional sprint for these books ultimately generated a variety of love letters and hate mail from communities of passionately engaged fans of these celebrities. As a result I've somewhat inadvertently stepped into self-identifying as someone who studies fandom itself. In touring one of these books last summer, the one on the Boss, I had a particularly smart interlocutor in Philly, for a "conversation with" type Q&A event.

She keeps in touch every now and then—she would probably describe herself as a fan of my work—and I suppose I am now mentoring her. Just as I began to read Fandom as Methodology: A Sourcebook for Artists and Writers, I had to drop it to deal with an email from this lovely person who needed my help with what was basically a fandom emergency. She was obsessed with a particular band during the 1990s and she was now working on notes toward a manuscript about this band.

On a whim, she entered some dumb "meet the band" contest, figuring the odds were against her so the stakes were low. And of course she won it. Of course she did! It was a sage, mystic lesson from Fandom 101. She was going to meet her idols and wanted my opinion of what do to and say, or not do and not say. She needed someone with whom she could process the extent to which this encounter could ruin her fledgling book project.

A major conundrum! It's not important what I said to her in reply, or how meeting the band turned out, or even how her book—which is blessedly still in play—is turning out. What matters is the excitement of this type of problem and problems like it, which is really what the editors of the Fandom as Methodology anthology, Catherine Grant and Kate Random Love, understand exquisitely well.

Let me remind both of us: I am only a critic today because I studied the Retro Eighties as 8 program on my local radio every night as a teen, and then later I went to graduate school so that I could learn the biggest available words for talking about things I simply love. The line between an academic and a fan is quite blurry, and the editors are precisely engaged in bringing this indeterminacy to light.

The collection is divided into four sections: Artist as Fan, Artist Pages, Fan Communities, and Art(ist) Historians and Fan-Scholars. "Artist as Fan" contains three essays that trace the ways in which artists in a variety of mediums might incorporate their fandom into their own creative practices. Catherine Grant's essay on Amy Adler's drawings of photographs of female pop stars is very articulate at flushing out the issues at stake. I giggle to myself using phrases like "flushing out", because one of the big challenges for an "aca-fan" is to admit the hotly prurient component of fandom while still treating the art seriously at some relative distance. Dominic Johnson's essay on Jack's Smith's fandom of the critically panned actress Maria Montez is also superb for its contextualization of Smith's work within the queer filmmaking avant-gardism of Warhol and Kenneth Anger.

Over and over again in this anthology, the collapse of the distinction between a fan and an academic proves queer (as in gay, certainly, but also as in strange). The dozen features in the 32-page section of "Artist Pages" are beautifully strange, depending on how much the reader might know about the source material. I most enjoyed the sections on the band Depeche Mode, the actress Gloria Grahame, the actor Donald Sutherland, and the poet Hannah Weiner. Some of these love objects are ones I do love, while others are merely crossing orbits of other people or ideas I have loved, and still others simply convey so thoroughly the intensity with which they have become expert in the kinds of useless knowledge that aggregate into a fannish nature that I couldn't resist them.

The section on "Fan Communities" is probably the most relatable to an American audience. Maud Lavin's essay examines Cao Fei's short film Haze and Fog side by side with AMC's The Walking Dead. The Chinese film is not widely known, but Lavin's evocative descriptions and choice of stills from the movie, combined with the counterweight of the American show with a huge fandom all its own, yields clear arguments about homage and variation.

A stand-out essay in the collection, mainly for its superior exercise of performativity, is Owen G. Parry's "'Shipping' (as) Fandom and Art Practice". Parry is a fan of the boy band One Direction. He has created art around the idea of a fictional gay relationship between two of the band's members. He has also created this essay in such a way that it makes a much less fictional but no less gay relationship between the practices of fandom and artistry themselves. This essay is a wallop of a great read, and I couldn't care less about One Direction.

The final section on "Art(ist) Historians and Art Scholars" also contains a performative work from Alice Butler, who's essays on the fannish, epistolary generation of "pink steam" ends with decently embarrassing love letters to Cookie Mueller and Kathy Acker. Indeed, each of the four essays in this section are very solid. SooJin Lee's account of starting a fake but still very real fan club for performance artist Nikki S. Lee highlights the fun that is possible where the boundaries between historian and artist are blurred.

Jenny Lin's essay on researching a particular fan of Chairman Mao ends with a surprising ideological upside to the Cultural Revolution. Judy Batalion's essay on the perils of directly interviewing one's PhD dissertation subjects was delightfully nerve-wracking.

It would be a snap to design a super engaging graduate-level course around this anthology in a variety of Humanities disciplines, especially if you're already interested in Sedgwick, Barthes, or Derrida. Fandom gives life. Academics must permit themselves to be fans. In writing. Or in painting. Or performing. Or whatever else we do. I am officially a huge fan of Fandom as Methodology because the articulation of these concepts ultimately leads to our liberation from the tyrannies of paranoid strong theory in favor of play and experiment, from the presumption of distanced academic writing in favor of up close and personal loving of one's subject.

Long live hybridity of genre! Long live hotness of intellection! Long live the fans!

9
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.