have I found my adornofanboy in Matt Hills?*

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

*I am kidding, of course. My plate is full. My gf blogs here.

In all seriousness, I’m so glad I picked up Matt Hills’ 2002 book, Fan Cultures, because 1) it was so much more ideologically subtle than Nugent’s American Nerd, 2) it gave me a fantastic account of fan studies in the academy from 1992 (Textual Poachers) – 2002, and 3) it offered the systematic defense of Adorno as unacknowledged grandfather of fan studies that I’d been fearing I’d have to write myself at some point. Thank you, Professor Hills. In a single chapter, you elucidate precisely the extent to which my Theodor has been maligned in the American academy, starting with his caricature in Textual Poachers (although of course you note that the rhetoric of this book was highly strategic and necessary in its day), and inadvertently support the claim I made in my recent examination, that Minima Moralia is the foundational text for understanding 20th Century American Literature and Culture. You said British, but you meant American. We’re on the same page.

You published claims I’ve tried to make elsewhere about Adorno actually being fairly utopian about investments we would call fannish, and showed how much more ideologically simplistic “common sense” oriented academics are than this wunderkind of the Frankfurt School, especially when they characterize fandom as an “idealized university seminar,” rather than foregrounding the meaningful differences between fan culture and academic culture.

You remind me why I’m so excited to focus on fictional fans as they are characterized in 21st Century literature — the ground you traverse between social and psychoanalytic theories of fandom has, as you demonstrate, been best mapped by the Freudomarxist Adorno, but I think that contemporary literature, in its tendency toward serial aphorism and recursive character development offers another, equally exciting, way across the terrain. (Quick shorthand: characterization in my analysis takes on the psychoanalytic, “action” in my archive = the shaping of social worlds.)

It’s such a pleasure to read a book like yours in which the references are not only so familiar, but are often precisely those that were formative for me! When you get to the part about Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, I wonder if you were sitting across from me in the train car in which I tore through that book, shocked at being so engaged by a story about sports, in which object, as object, I have zero interest.

Of course, my absolute identification with your assessment of fans as they’ve been reductively characterized by scholar-fans reveals exactly the problem you’re talking about: having academic parents from the UK and being a graduate student in the humanities means that my social location is remarkably similar to yours at the time you were drawing some of these conclusions, although, importantly, I have less investment in the masculinity you bravely describe in your autoethnography.

By contrast, I have a pretty serious investment in my femininity — my fandoms, with the exception of Adorno fandom, can all be described as being part of “women’s culture,” and I glaze over quickly in the face of geek hierarchies that have no room for my Daria fanfiction. I guess in this way I do use my academic credentials (in a rhetorical sense, not meaning diplomas and such) in just the way you suspect scholar fans of doing — “I’m just literalizing general tendencies of culture, not buying into MTV culture,” I’d have scoffed at one point. Of course, these days, I’m pretty sure that MTV’s one of the more promising institutions of intellectual inquiry. (Perhaps I should note that I’m currently putting together the syllabus for a documentary course this winter, and MTV will dominate it, having rightfully garnered so many awards in the genre over the last few decades, as well as the bulk of my attention in the years 1997-2002.)

Back to you. Your deconstructionist take on the cultish and the fannish is intriguing, and certainly of use for my project. After all, I will open said project with a discussion of Noel Alumit’s Letters to Montgomery Clift, in which the protagonist prefers to send his prayers to the movie star, rather than praying to saints or dead relatives, as his aunt encourages him to do. Later, I’ll be looking at Kim Deitch’s Alias the Cat!, which contains an extended meditation on cult formation and stuffed cat fandom. I’ll even be looking at Felicia Day’s The Guild, which is built around the “cathedral-like” world of Warcraft. And so your insistence on parsing the religious from the cultish from the fannish, at least in concept, will help me to remain attentive to these dynamics as they inform my own devotional characterization of a series of fan protagonists.

And finally, can I thank you for this:

“[this book] is not a call for greater ‘accessibility’ or for the jettisoning of ‘jargon.’ Instead it is a call for impassioned thought rather than the parroting of academic discursive mantras.”

I’m going to assume that a more theorized version of accessibility, one which retains its disability-related valence, rather than reproducing Jon Stewart’s monolithic mode of mansplainy “common sense,” would in fact be of interest to you, as your project tries to get closer and closer to taking into account the social world of fandom as one inhabited by plenty of people with disabilities. Indeed, the reflexivity you call for in academia, to reflect on our own exclusionary practices, must take on the academy’s inaccessibility, not because it houses discipline-specific vocabularies, but because it operates according to ableist (as well as other untheorized) assumptions about who’s welcome and who’s qualified. The accusation of ‘jargon’ is merely a distraction from this more salient inaccessibility, currently being negotiated to limited effect in both academia and fandom. I hope these debates will serve as a site where academia can indeed learn from fandom, which, if nothing else, has regulatory mechanisms in place for calling attention to injustices that have occurred within its purview. You say that you “call for academic commitment which is modelled on fan commitment.” In which case, we should make sure that Benjamin Nugent doesn’t provide our model of fan commitment, and that, instead, we find a way to infuse the attentiveness and range of metafandom with the ideological savviness of Adorno, as admired by his fangirls and fanboys.




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