This post is brought to you by the recent special issue of Flow on Aca-fandom.
I suppose I could be called a classic Aca-fan. I decided to write about television partly because it was what I was enthralled with at a certain moment in my academic career. I’ve always tended to towards fannish behavior. In 1995 during my freshman year of college, I discovered Tori Amos. I died my hair red and afterward made quippy references to Take to the Sky. I collected B-sides from the Internet and any rare singles I could get my hands on. I joined RDTRN (holla!). In 1996, I ran to the music store to buy Boys for Pele the day it came out and saw my first show in October of that year. She played “She’s Leaving Home” and “The Wrong Band” (only played a handful of times ever in her entire career). From that moment on, I became a superfan. It’s safe to say that, for an avid Tori fan, seeing her live for the first time is something akin to a religious experience, and I was converted into the cult of the redheaded fairy queen. Until, and even a little after my son was born, I marked my young adult life with my experiences being a Tori fan (EWF). In 1998, I saw the very first Plugged show; another transcendent experience. I also got married that year, and I don’t know what was more exciting, my wedding or meeting Tori a month later. At this point, I’ve seen Tori over 30 times live, traveled hundred and even thousands of miles away.
When I first began my PhD I had thoughts about doing a ethnographic study of Tori’s fans (where I would need to get used to referring to her as “Amos” instead). There is an interesting intersection in the community between young women, often who have experienced abuse (but not always) and young gay men. My interest in wanting to write about Tori’s fans was a direct outgrowth of my personal experience with the community. My subsequent moving away from active participation into distracted lurking and attending the occasional show, was part of the reason I decided to pursue other projects. But it was also because of how close I was to my possible object of study that gave me pause. I was concerned I couldn’t cultivate the distance necessary to do the project justice, even as I thought, if the research was going to be done, it should be done by a fan because the mainstream representation of her fans was almost never kind. It was also, in part, that I didn’t want to kill my experience of being a fan by analyzing it to death.
What does any of this have to do with TV, Erika? I mean get to the point already.
My dissertation essentially came from my obsession with Battlestar Galactica. I spread the good news of BSG and told anyone who’d listen to me just how awesome it was. Shortly thereafter, I began watching Lost, because, hey everyone else seemed to be, and I was immediately struck by the many thematic parallels between the two series and *poof* my project was born. Safe to say, it ended up being almost nothing like what I had originally thought about. Lost and BSG are in there but they share a chapter rather than a complete thesis.
As my project began to take shape, I started to have similar feelings of apprehension in working on these two series, one I was a huge fan of (yes, I used frak in everyday conversations), the other I was a moderate fan of. Since I was working primarily, at the time, on representations of torture, I realized I’d need to expand my research. I needed to watch 24. All of it. I was not pleased about this. I do not like it Sam I am. I complained. I moaned and groaned. And I was embarrassed. Sure, people might giggle a bit when I discussed BSG, but it had gained enough critical clout that I could justify serious research on it. But, 24, well that was a different story. When I said I was watching it, fellow students would cringe and apologize for me. “Oh, that’s awful.” “Why are you doing that to yourself?” But, if I was going to say anything at all about the torture debate, I had to watch 24. What I realized in watching the series was first, that most people who talk about it (in any capacity) haven’t seen very much of it, second, while some seasons were really awful, other seasons are actually good (see, here my inclination was to say decent, lest I indicate that I might have actually enjoyed the series). Maybe my ability to see merit, as opposed to just cultural relevance, in the series is a function of Stockholm Syndrome; I came to love that which imprisoned me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a fan of the show, but I would say that my reluctance to engage with it on its own terms came out of my fannish and academic apprehensions about it, and if I had listened to those apprehensions, I think my work would have been far less interesting or relevant.
So, by now, I’m not really sure where all of this is going. I started in one place and ended in another, which is bound to happen, and as this is a blog, I feel no need to correct it. My original sense was that there was some kind of connection between how I saw myself as a possible scholar in relationship to my identity as a Toriphile and how I think of myself as a TV scholar now. I still write about stuff I like, because, well, I can. But I make an effort to not mirror my scholarly interests with my fannish ones. Not to say that those who do, shouldn’t, or anything like that, but that for me, escaping my specific interests has been fruitful.
I think, as TV scholars, we need to continuously approach our object of study is from multiple angles and that, if anything, the questions and concerns surrounding aca-fandom, that it’s not rigorous enough or critical enough, or too elitist, or not elitist enough, etc. throw light precisely on this issue. Why do we write about certain things and not others? Why does the discourse of lowbrow, middlebrow, and highbrow persist? Why is there no work on the cultural phenomenon of the “man cave” a space often exclusively dedicated to the optimal consumption of stuff on a hugely large TV screen? (And maybe there is, and I’m not aware of it, always a possibility – and if you do know of it, please leave a comment). Why do we continue to talk about certain shows way more than others, while the vast amount of television content is ignored?