Fandom and the idea of transformation

Once we start to be honest about the things that we are fans of, it appears that most of us participate (to a greater or lesser extent) in a fandom of sorts. Fan behaviour can range from the simplest form of engaged interest – buying a band’s music, for example – to something more committed (perhaps going to a single gig and buying a t-shirt, following them on Twitter, joining a fan club), right through to the furthest extreme: going to every gig, buying everything ever made that has any connection to the band and collecting every possible remix of every single song they recorded! Where we come in on that spectrum does not really matter, as long as we use it as a starting point to understand the behaviour and interests of others.

The shift to understanding, rather than pathologising, fan behaviour is something that we have already discussed. A useful round-up of the key aspects and ideas around this can be found in  Jolie Jensen’s article ‘Fandom as Pathology’ can be found on this blog, posted on a blog about fans which sadly seems only to have stretched to a couple of entries. And once we unpick the prejudice that can surround fan behaviour and deconstruct the us/them binary, there is space for us to think more creatively about what fans do.

One such area is in relation to fan fiction, which is one aspect of what has come in some circles to be known as ‘transformative work’. Transformative work is creative; it represents a response to a book/tv show/film/artwork etc. which does something new with that material. You could read Roberta Pearson’s 2010 article on ‘Fandom in the Digital Era’, published in Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture and available online here, for a discussion of it in relation to a wider perspective on digital fandom.

In order to find out more about transformative works and how you can think about them, have a look at Transformative Works and Cultures, which is by its own account ‘an international, peer-reviewed journal about transformative works, broadly conceived,…media studies, and…the fan community’. You can access articles from its website here. The journal is full of fascinating articles that take perceptive approaches to areas you might not have thought about before; it is well worth browsing for a while.

In the context of all this, spend some time thinking about how fandoms work and how your own interests and behaviours are expressed in relation to these ideas. It is particularly interesting to see how referring to texts as ‘transformative’ rather than categorising them as derivative opens up our thinking to make connections with literary composition across several millenia. And it is a helpful reminder that it is not the underlying story you tell that sets you apart from anyone else; it is how you tell it that counts!

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