PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

'Fanfiction and the Author' Gives Well-Blended Discourse for Maximum Fan Enjoyment

Garret Castleberry

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.


Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Cultural Texts

Judith May Fathallah

(University of Chicago Press)

April 2017

Fanfiction and the Author represents the latest addition to the Transmedia: Participatory Culture and Media Convergence series from Amsterdam University Press. As the title suggests, Fathallah analyses fan communities and their traversing patterns online. Specifically, the scholar identifies patterns where fan fictions orbit mainstream and cult television properties including The CW's Supernatural, BBC's Sherlock, and HBO's Game of Thrones. The texts are selected based upon researcher familiarity, but the artifacts also contain highly active fan communities. Meeting the tenets of what Henry Jenkins dubbed participatory culture, the author employs online ethnographic data collection while rigorously coding patterns that emerge over time. Rather than cherry-picking from outlier comments or fan behaviors, Fathallah effectively identifies patterns of significance that arise from the text (think episodic genre conventions) and the paratext (innovations provided by fan fictions that circulate online).

Fanfiction and the Author dskews toward academic audiences, but unlike many frothy offerings from the Ivory Tower, this work never tries on the insular trope of its contemporaries' ring-kissing. Indeed, there's plenty for fans of these texts to devour. The author writes from personal experiences, as fan, and her personal passion for the subject matter will no doubt tap into designated fan factions familiar with the literary/televisual series dissected under Fathallah's scholarly lens.

Mixed Method Framework

In terms of research grit, the author-scholar utilizes a mixed methods approach, which strengthens her overall assessment. Earlier pages suggest this work intends to draw heavily from vanguard postmodernist Michel Foucault. Fortunately, Fathallah steadies a relatable and digestible understanding of Foucault's contributions to discourse analysis. The researcher combines an assessment of discourse analysis with taut reviews of Internet Studies and Fan Studies. As a trained academic, her work is robust and impressive. Delving through the research references will be a treat to grad students and faculty readers alike. Fathallah remixes old and new sources that showcase a quality of fit between the author and her subject. In effect, she's practicing meta-genre mixing in textual and mixed methods form.

Blurring Textual Boundaries

Some of the strongest articulations come from Fathallah's close reading (and subsequent coding) of the texts themselves. For example, the researcher frames a shared understanding of masculinity in Sherlock by isolating recurrent themes of mind, body, position, and place (53-64). She then juxtaposes these textual patterns (considered canon) against those re-appropriated by fan communities, primarily through the creation and circulation of alternate narratives collectively identified as fan fiction (fanfic). The results spotlight how mainstream texts that skew toward heteronormative white male modes of power and privilege come to bend based upon alternative readings.

These textual renderings blur concepts of "canon" and provide contrary interpretations that extend narrative potentialities. Such a negotiated framework extends textual meaning whereby previous heteronormative standards hazily reject or limit alternative readings invitational to dialogic meanings. Suddenly, the core elements that construct "masculinity" within the Sherlock diegesis (BodyàMindàPlaceàPosition) expand and contrast in destabilizing ways to the shared notion of authorial intent. Examples stressed include characters swapping gender or sexual orientation, as well as re-imaginings of the titular character as humane enough to emit paternal love. Ultimately, these new renderings communicate as much about fan needs and contemporary cultural shifts as they work from outdated or problematic figures and conventions in literary history.

Locating Authority and Authorship in a Game of (Pwns)

Fathallah next explores authority-ownership in HBO's Game of Thrones (or GoT). Currently the most popular global brand of the three texts assessed—the author infers that GoT's online fan base is "smaller" with "less variation" (155)—the GoT analysis chapter tenders considerable reader appeal due to naturally occurring tensions between text, author, and audience. These tensions can be read on two fronts. First, GoT involves tensions between previous-current fans (book readers) and new-current fans (TV viewers). Second, tensions now exist between the "Author-God" of the still-unfinished books, George R.R. Martin (103), and the TV showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who have eclipsed Martin's narrative and the book series' popularity with their televisual translation. Thus, the text itself becomes marred by point-counterpoints and fractured interpretations. It only makes sense, then, that fanfic texts further mar a central interpretation of the A Song of Ice and Fire world (101).

Given that Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire popularity arises from his own genre mixing and critiquing of vintage medieval tropes and conventions (princesses fighting for agency, heroes cut down in atypical tragic fashion, etc.), the possibility for fanfic contra-readings sparks curiosity. Fathallah observes how online fanfic bends notions of Martin's authorial claims (115), as well as the showrunners' TV boundaries (117), to suggest "fluid" recombinations between "TV and book text" (119). Fan readings bestow fascinating processes in how they attempt to predict or interpret certain character deaths from an ongoing show, which may or may not align with its sacred source material.

There's a sense of catharsis making on the part of Fathallah's highlighted fanfic excerpts. Such insights enrich fan studies' understanding of patience-impatience as well as predictive behaviors steeped between narrative logistics versus personal preference. The scholar goes old school with callbacks to classical rhetoric and variations between traditional / patriarchal, relational-legal, and charismatic approaches to authority and power (104-119). As with the Sherlock genre study, Fathallah's analysis of GoT representations and subsequent fanfic renderings cultivate the book's most insightful sub-sections.

More Meta Than Meta

In the author's final analytic chapter, she tackles an elite meta cult TV text in recent decades, the indefatigable Supernatural. The series builds its internal mythology, like most popular culture, by referencing and reassembling concepts already prevalent in genre storytelling: monster, horror, and fantasy tropes, religious figures and their symbol systems, television's history as a medium that toggles between episodic and serialized formatting, the repackaging of a "family drama" and of course, the metatextual presence of the TV writer-author's voice within the series. Supernatural is known for its metatextual relationship between author and text, as well as increased self-aware writing that recognizes Supernatural's distinct fandom. Such reflections become baked into the storytelling itself, particularly in the seasons following the initial narrative arc's completion in season five (157).

It may or may not come as a twist ending, then, that Fathallah's concluding analysis encompasses one in which the researcher incorporates her own autoethnographic experiences. In other words, as aca-fan (academic superfan), the scholar charts her own meta-involvement as a fanfic author alongside alternative fanfics produced by Supernatural's fandom communities. The topical nature of "researcher bias" is a traditional critique to raise. However, a strong argument exists that only an insider would have the sustained passion and liturgical devotion to follow leads betwixt and between fanfic subgenres. Would an unbiased coauthor counterbalance investigative insights into fan discourse without becoming ensconced within the flurry of textual expressions? Perhaps. But what fun would that be? for the neutral observer or the reader.

The author contests the traditional boundary between authors, their texts, and the roles audiences play. Fathallah suggests, "the legitimacy of authorship itself begins to be questioned" (10) as fans and fandoms gain paratextual hold over what semiologist Roland Barthes identified as the pleasure of the text. Fathallah's passion flourishes amidst the cumbersome academic writing style (cumbersome if only to readers outside the academy; I gain personal pleasure from smoothly performed academic style structural form). Such passion elevates this analytic text beyond fanfic naval-gazing toward something sustainable and usable.

Ultimately, this work offers several companions essays that could be broken up to satisfy varied interdisciplinary reading packets. Or taken as a whole, Fanfiction and the Author could strongly function as a co-lead textbook for special topics courses emphasizing audience-reception studies, television studies, or ethnography readings on fanfic and Internet studies.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


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.