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Review

Soap Fans: Pursuing Pleasure and Making Meaning in Everyday Life. Harrington, C.L. & Bielby, D.D. (1995). Philadelphia: Template University Press.

Ever since I read Ien Aang’s book on Dallas, I have had an interest in literature on soaps and romance novels. Certain structures that we tend to neglect when doing research on cult texts (e.g., science fiction, anime) become vital components here and soap analytics often try to reveal structures of fandom by reading the texts closely. This often stands in great contrast with scholars of cult (fans) who assume that meaning is derived from oppositional reading/subversion. The soap fan follows the structure of the narrative, often engages with celebrity culture and is less productive, which often makes for very different fan analyses.

This week I bridged my train travels to Utrecht with a golden oldie. Some pre-internet works on fan cultures tend to be a bit worn out these days but many points in this book are still very valid. Unlike Baym’s book, the focuss here is less on mail lists/discussion boards and more on speaking to individual fans and attending fan club meetings. This data gives a nice personal touch which is also what the authors emphasize. They favour a view of ‘fanship’ (the individual fan acts and making of meaning) as opposed to fandom (the community-driven and organized engagement with a text). Particularly in soap fandom, where creative activities are less visible in favour of speculation/discussion, this is interesting and they make some nice points about the narrative structures of soaps. Obviously, part of the fan activities thriving around them and their diversity stems from a bigger cooperation with the industry, different fan clubs where close relations to actors are possible, and the open-ended story of the soap.

What I like is that this book reminds me that some things that we try to put on the agenda in fan studies now are most apparent in older writing (I also think of The Adoring Audiene now). That is, things as affect and how we invest in fiction as individual viewers, the continuum between fans and viewers and how different narrative structures that facilitate different types of fandom. Much of fan studies today relies on speculative fiction (e.g., science fiction and fantasy series) and mainstream success series but its connections to celebrity culture and other types of fiction have gone a bit lost. And obviously, since the late nineties when internet became a common medium, the emphasis has been even more on participatory culture and the idea that everyone wants to show their fandom rather than the different personal relations and the idea that we do not expose our fan-alliances to everyone.

Another thing that the authors put on the agenda is affect. They mainly use Grossberg’s account and Schowalter’s idea of a ‘wild zone’ (not necessarily a term I would pick or deploy). Though I still don’t think their ideas suffice to show the complex interplay of fans with fiction, they raise a lot of good points as to how we project ourselves on couples. For my discussions on shipping, I will definitely pick parts of this up.

Empirically I was most convinced by the discussions of fan club meetings. I wish they had done a bit more with those interviews and their ethnography but other than that, I had great time reading.

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