Not Just for Geeks and Nerds Anymore

http://www.popmatters.com/feature/135627-doctor-who-and-the-cultural-divide-fandom-in-america/

The above article talks about how Dr. Who, a British Sci-fi/Fantasy show is becoming more and more popular here in the U.S. I first realized this about two years ago when I attended a large multi-media convention in Atlanta. It was the weekend of the Dr. Who U.S. Season Premiere and there was a much anticipated new Doctor character being introduced for the first time. Representatives of BBC America attended the convention and held a pre-screening of the episode for convention attendees. My friend wanted to go to the screening and I went with her. I was stunned when the line for the event was wrapped around the block several times! As I sat in that huge hotel ballroom with people from all over the country, watching a British TV show, I was struck by what a global world it really is!

I love to talk about fandoms, because one fandom in particular has had an incredibly positive impact on my life. That is the 1980’s TV show Beauty & the Beast. When I first got involved in this fandom, Fandom Studies itself was only in its infancy. Over the last 20 years, Fandom Studies has become an acceptable area of communication research. This has been such a wonderful discovery for me!

It all began with the publication of the book, Textual Poachers: Television fans and participatory culture, by Henry Jenkins. It was published in 1992 just as Beauty &t he Beast was being canceled with a major uproar from the fans – who were angry at not only CBS executives, but also at each other. Jenkins devoted a whole chapter in his book to the Beauty & the Beast situation and some of his insights are very enlightening, even all these years later.

In the article that I did my case facilitation on, Plant, Reysen, Roberts and Gerbasi (2014) take a very positive view of fandoms and show how they can be a force for Globalization and prosocial values.

I see this in my own life. Being from a very traditional Italian-American family, I had a very narrow view of the world growing up. This view might have continued into adulthood if not for me falling in love with Beauty & the Beast. Slowly, through attending Beauty & the Beast conventions, I was able to meet and become friends with a wide variety of people. These conventions are mostly held in the U.S., but people from all over the world attend them. I have what I consider to be very good friends who live in Italy, France, and Australia. Not to mention acquaintances from many more countries.

When the terror attacks in Paris happened months ago, my first thought was about the fans that I know in France, one of whom lives near Paris. Years ago, I might have heard about something like the Paris attacks and thought it just a news story, a horrible one for sure, but still one that was very far away from me.

The values of Beauty and the Beast are about seeing beneath the surface of a person and respecting them for who they are, not what they look like, or how much money they have. The world of the Tunnels beneath New York City (where the Beast lives with a group of societal outcasts) was presented as the utopian society that we would all like to see in our world. Beauty & the Beast fans try to uphold these values as much as we can. Like the Furry Fandom mentioned in the article, we also raise money for charity at our yearly convention. We are a small group too, but we often raise thousands of dollars for a charity that we select each year based on how it relates to the shows values. For me, I think the give and take of values associated with the show is definitely bidirectional. That is, I think I always had some of these latent values in me, but being around people who also have them has definitely helped to shape those values even more and given me an outlet to put them into action.

One thing I love about the Plant, et al study is that they see a practical use for the link between fandoms and prosocial values. They say there might be the potential to find alternate ways to correct or prevent negative, anti-social behavior. This would surely be a major breakthrough. Personally, I would love for more people to experience the transformative power that fandoms have had on me, and I hope that fandoms will prove to have an even greater positive impact globally in the future.

 

Plante, C. N., Reysen, S., Roberts, S. E., Gerbasi, K. C. (2014). “One of Us”: Engagement with

fandoms and global citizenship identification. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 3/1, 49-64.

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