Sandvoss, Cornel. Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Cambridge: Polity, 2005. Summary
: After providing a broad overview of the scope and limitations of previous studies of fans and fandom, Sandvoss argues that scholars should refocus their attention upon the consequences of fandom on the individual and theorizes the function of fan object as Heimat
("home"), security blanket, and--most importantly--mirror. Comments
: Those who know me know that being in the presence of fans for any lengthy period of time makes me cranky (to say the least), so you know a scholarly book all about them has gotta
be good if I say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it cover to cover. Although the study of fans and fandom is definitely not a specialty to which I aspire, Sandvoss's work sits squarely in the broader, interdisciplinary field of Media, Culture, and Communication--and suffice it to say I am impressed by the comprehensive sweep of his work (and somewhat amused by the fact that, according to his definition of "fan," I am not a fan of anything). The extensive theoretical background and literature review he provided is surely invaluable...despite his somewhat morally questionable, cannibalistic poaching of everyone elses' empirical legwork (not to mention self-congratulatory use of his own prior research).
Most importantly of all, however, I found myself convinced. Almost against my will. And that's saying a lot, given his reliance upon psychoanalysis and my high school psychology student's contempt for the dubious truth value of much of Freudian theory. Sandvoss argues that, for the fan, the fandom object functions merely as a mirror; the fan unwittingly sees herself in it and falls in love. Note that he does not believe the method of appropriation to be a conscious, individual choice. At last! Someone who does not believe that the media objects are incorporated into a person's active, ongoing project of self-formation!
Thus does popular media, as per the dystopian theories of the Frankfurt School, have a pacifying effect on audiences. Any transformative broadening of one's horizons comes not from interaction with the object but from interaction with other fans...which, Sandvoss is quick to point out, not all fans have.
One last issue raised in this book that I'm still turning over and over in my head: The distinction drawn between the literary text and the fan text. According to Sandvoss, the literary text is a text that is polysemic to each individual; for example, I can understand "Paradise Lost" from multiple points of view and, as per the other theories of reception I've been reading lately, can use it to invent or reinvent myself...or at least help me think critically about the world around me. The fan text, on the other hand, is more or less monosemic to the individual, polysemic from individual to individual; so (say) Cher is only one thing to me--furthermore reflects me to me--but means something totally different, and quite possibly totally contradictory, to the next Cher fan. Therefore whether it's "highbrow" or "lowbrow" has less to do with objective quality than with how it is received by audiences. There's still something vaguely elitist to all this, but I have appalling trouble intuiting my way out of wholehearted agreement. Notes
: trade paperback, 1st edition Rating
- The academic in me says, "Wow!" But I wouldn't recommend it to you if you think of yourself as a hardcore fan of anything. It won't make you feel good about yourself.