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Analysis of the Mel Stanfill's Article Intra-Fandom Stereotyping Critique, On the Issue of Subculture Stigmatization

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The arthur of this article is Mel Stanfill, Stanfill is a PhD Candidate in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois. Stanfill presented this paper in 2008 in a conference for the Semiotic Society of America. Stanfill published the paper in 2013, and interviewed over fifteen individuals to come to reach her conclusion and prepare her data for the negative misconceptions and stigmas that exist in fandom culture. (Stanfill, 2013).

Firstly, in order to understand the stigmas that are embedded in fandom culture one must know what a fandom is. According to Cambridge Dictionary, fandoms are a subculture which involves individuals who are especially interested in a common interest. Individuals see fandoms as a place to gather for a sense of belonging, community, and to share similar interests. (Cambridge Dictionary, 2018). Stanfill explains that experts in media studies claim that fans are free of the outdated and negative stereotypes that they once experienced. However, within Stanfill’s research and observations she finds that this is not the case. She claims that from her interactions with fans they do not feel mainstream and most of them have negative misconceptions about fans, even individuals in their own fandoms. (Stanfill, 2013). Stanfill interviews fans of the show, Xena: Warrior Princess. According to Stanfill, within her interviews she found that the fans thought the negative portrayals of fans to be valid and they didn’t critically think of a different meaning for themselves.

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Additionally, Stanfill argues that the acceptance and refusal of stereotypes means that being in a fandom comes with this ‘baggage’ from historical and modern media representations that heavily involve negative misconceptions. (Stanfill, 2013). These negative stereotypes and representations of fans, over the years, have been constructed from non-fans in mainstream news media. The stereotypes frame fandom as, “a practice of uncontrolled, socially unacceptable desire. ” Although, typically fans have are thought to have more control over their experience with media by either fighting these ideas or accepting them. However, Stanfill found in her interviews that the Xena fans accepted the majority of these negative misconceptions.

According to Stanfill, her interviewees saw their behavior as borderline inappropriate and they believed several of the stereotypes to be true. (Stanfill, 2013). Stanfill brings up the point that while contemporary media states that fandoms are mainstream and they no longer face negative misconceptions. Although, within her research she found the exact opposite to be true. Stanfill argues that in order to be a fan one must interact with media in the “correct way”, and become emotionally invested in these fandoms and subculture that violate socially accepted norms. Stanfill found that her interviewees were constantly torn between their pleasure and subcultural desires and the need to be socially appropriate. (Stanfill, 2013). Most scholars have come to the view that fans are now being championed, specifically from cultural industries. Although, they state that this is only though because the fans are feeding into the principles of capitalism and continually consuming their media.

Additionally, in the earlier studies, scholars had dismissed negative stereotypes and representations of fans. Stereotypes that were initially dismissed were that fans are out of control or crazed. However, more recent studies from scholars have come to an overall conclusion that the idea of fandoms are now a “new normal”. Stanfill argues that since most scholars have agreed that fandoms are more socially accepted they have not considered how fans are perceived by non-fans. (Stanfill, 2013). Stanfill also mentions how critics have recognized the marginalized representation that contemporary media has portrayed fans. One example that Stanfill expands on is the show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, this popular television show represented the fans by symbolizing them as the antagonist in the sixth season of the show. One reason that critics believe why the producers did this was to discipline the more vocal fanbase.

Additionally, critics have also pointed out the producers of the show, “Supernatural”, who have also represented their fans by having characters portray them on the show. The producers of Supernatural have made it clear that they did not do this out of affectionate, but to display their power. Essentially, they wanted to call out a small group of fans who are committed to the idea of a incestous relationship between the two main characters. (Stanfill, 2013).

However, Stanfill states that the amount of analysis and research on this subject is small, and needs more attention. Additionally, Stanfill brings up the fact that because more research needs to be done, scholars have a skewed idea on what currently exists in the fandom community. The issue is that scholars refuse to come to an agreement and analyze the representation of fans in the fandom community. This dismissive behavior has exclusively led to the mocking and negative representations of fans from non-fans. Stanfill argues that this is important to consider, because these negative stereotypes have not only circulated our culture as a whole. (Stanfill, 2013). Although, according to Stanfill, she has built on the research even though there is more work to be done. She analyzed several aspects of this negative contention that thrives in fandom culture. Upon her research she found three aspects which exist in the current research that scholars have agreed to. Conflict, hierarchy, and normalization are what scholars have mainly researched and focused their work on. Stanfill explains that conflict and hierarchy includes the constant dispute on what the correct way to read, write, or behave as a “proper” fan.

However, these disputes rarely occur due to the direct or even indirect normalization that exists in the fan community. (Stanfill, 2013). Stanfill attempts to find out more about the negative stereotypes that exist in fandoms. She chose to interview fans in the Xena fandom, because of their heavy involvement in the internet. She sought out fans in 11 different websites and chose to ask 15 different questions. She found that Xena fans were aware of the world that exists beyond the show. According to Stanfill, the fans that she interviewed saw fandom as fans and non-fans. They perceived fans through the a more mainstream and stereotyped view of what behavior was considered normal and unacceptable. (Stanfill, 2013). The stereotypes that she found through her interviews and observations were the following. These stereotypes included “excessive fan behavior”, to which they found to be negative.

Additionally, fans are viewed as overestimating the importance of their fandom. This overestimation is believed to be an obsession and leads to overindulgence. These stereotypes connect to the idea that fans have a lack of control and they become confused about fantasy and reality. These negative misconceptions lead to the connotations of crazed fans who lack the acceptable social behavior. (Stanfill,2013). When Stanfill interviewed the fans in Xena, she found that most of them agreed with these negative stereotypes of fans. Most of the fans even saw themselves to be better or separate then these fans who fit the stereotypes, even if they were in the same fandom. (Stanfill,2013).

In conclusion, I believe that Stanfill brings up several valid points. I think that those stereotypes exist in fandoms, also, I believe that certain fans will try and separate themselves from negative stereotypes even though they are in the same subculture. Although, I think most research is needed. Stanfill only interviewed fans involved in the Xena fandom, I think that she needs to expand her research and find more individuals to interview. I agree with her that fans are seen as more mainstream now, although, non-fans still have these negative misconceptions of how fans act. It would be interesting to dig more into the minds of non-fans and fans and find the root of where these misconceptions have rooted from. ReferencesFandom Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (2018).


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