Nancy Baym and Music Fandom

Nancy Baym, associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, covers media fandom. She has published various academic journals and studies regarding internet’s effects on how fans interact. She recently gave a talk (PDF version) regarding specifically music fandom

As she stated, her main point was this: “In many ways this is NOT about the artists, let alone the music business or the recording industry, it’s about the fans’ relationships to each other.” 

According to Baym, music fandom involves the following behaviors:

  1. An emotional connection
  2. A social identification
  3. Collective intelligence, such as set lists and fan reviews (ex.
  4. Sharing interpretations, such as analyzing lyrics (ex. SongMeanings)
  5. Sharing personal creations, such as fan videos, remixes, and playlists


What has the internet done to give fans more power? Baym thinks it:

  1. Eliminates physical distance barriers
  2. Elimates social distance barriers
  3. Provides group infrastructure
  4. Provides a means of archiving information

What I found most interesting is the application for artists now. Sure, the internet has helped music fans connect with one another, but it’s also paved way for another thing: illegal downloading. So what should artists do? How should they connect with fans? Do they even need to worry about illegal downloading?

Baym believes that there are mutually beneficial ways to connect with fans. By using and maintaining multiple platforms (cd, digital, concerts, videos, etc.), artists have a better chance of reaching their fans. The key here is personal connection. Artists need to provide social resources and encourage the fans’ creativity. Involve the fans in their creation. If they do this, they won’t have to worry about illegal downloading. This is the nature of engaged fandom: fans will eventually pay for music as a show of support (and to be morally correct).

It may seem like a far-reaching ideal, but we’ve seen it work. Just look at Radiohead’s latest album, In Rainbows. The band provided its entire album for download online at a price determined by the fans. Which meant, if you wanted to pay nothing for the album, you could. The result? Probably not what you would have thought. Most fans still chose to pay the normal retail price.

Another example would be Weezer’s music video for their single, “Pork and Beans.” Here, they involved various YouTube viral stars like the Daft Punk dancers, the Numa Numa guy, Chris Crocker, and more. At nearly 18 million views, this video has brought the fans closer than ever to the music they love.



The newest (but really not so new) trend that is chic to follow is one that would rather not be noticed at all-the hipster.  The hipster look is gaining a huge fan base lately, seeping into every aspect of the follower’s life.  Changing the way the dress, to the music they listen to, to the lack of shaving, the hipster is the newest trend that the under 25 crowd is embracing.  Take a peek, and maybe you’ll find that you, too, are a fan of the hipster…

Look At This Hipster!

MuggleNet: Wild Wizards

One of many examples of  Harry Potter online fan communities. Founded in the fall of 1999, in 2005 alone this website had more than 27 million visitors in more than 183 different countries! On this site you can get to know the webmaster and website staff as well as interact with other muggle fans. There is also JKR news, podcasts, memorabilia, fan art, fan fiction and games to download.

Check out some of the Fan Art from the past few weeks…

Fandom as Pathology: “Us” vs “Them”


Media Scholar, Joli Jensen, in her essay “Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization” highlights the academic characterization of fans as the other. Jensen notes the classist and elitist depiction of the fan and questions the illustration of the aficionado in contrast to the representation of the fan. Furthermore, Jensen proposes, the academic representation of Fandom is rooted in a critique of modern life, via the social decay of modern society as illustrated by mass and popular culture.

The majority of the literature on fandom is characterized by ‘deviant’ fringe cultural groups. Fans are characterized as excessive and often participating in deranged behavior. Jensen notes two common characterizations of fans; the obsessed individual and the hysterical crowd. Fans as ‘them’ are distinguished from ‘people like us’, referring to students, professors, and social critics (Jensen 11).

Jensen notes that the majority of literature concerning fans discusses fans in relation to celebrities or fame. These critiques blame media influences on the irrationality and obsession of fans. In this mode of thought celebrities are constructed to function as role models for fans. Fans engage in “artificial relations” with celebrities to compensate for the lack of authentic social relations in the isolated modern day society (Jensen 14).

In this vein, iconic fans are depicted as crazed and frenzied. The pathological fan is described as an obsessed loner who engages in fantasy relations with a celebrity figure. Examples of obsessive fans killing the object of their desire, such as the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman serve to further the dangerous and irrational characterization of fans.

The second common characterization of a fan consists of fans as members of crazed mobs. Images of hysterical teens at rock concerts or animalistic sports fans form the frenzied fandom perception. Furthermore, stories perpetuated by the media about the trampling of fans at concerts function to construct the ruthlessness and depraved behavior of fans.

In both the characterization of the fan as the obsessed loner and the fan as a member of a hysterical crowd, fans are described as victims of their fandom (Jensen 13). Fans become irrational because of the external corrupting forces of the media and the modern narcissistic society.

Jensen poses that the sensationalized characterizations of the fan are rooted in a scholarly desire to critique modern society. “The pathological portrayals tell more about what we want to believe about modern society and our connection to it, than about actual fan-celebrity relations” (Jensen 18). Thus these extremist representations of fans as deranged and marginalized ‘others’ stems from an academic critique of the present as “materially advanced” but “spiritually threatened” (Jensen 15). Fans are depicted as fragile self-esteem, weak, and without social alliances. Thus fandom is described as a consequence of the decline of community and the increasing power of the mass media, instead of reflecting upon fandom as newly constructed modern communities which serve as sources of joy and pleasure for the community members.

In contrast to the extremist, emotional fan, suffering from psychological inadequacy, there is the rational, intellectual aficionado. Jensen notes there are two factors serving to differentiate fans from aficionados; the modes of enactment and the objects of desire (Jensen 16). This differentiation stems back to the ‘minority culture’ theorist critique of popular culture in contrast to intellectually engaging, ‘high culture’.

This “cultural hierarchy” rests on the ‘high culture’ product denotation as wealthy, well educated, and rare, in contrast to ‘low brow’ cultural objects as inexpensive and widely available. These ‘low brow’ interests are characterized as fandoms, while the ‘high culture’ interests are noted as intellectual.

Jensen compares fan activities to academic activities and finds striking similarities between the two cultural groups (Jensen 19-22). A fan letter can be found in academia in the form of essay reviews. A fanzine can take the form of footnoted bibliographies and critical appreciations of academic work. Furthermore memorabilia in academia are collected as bibliographies, reviews, and commentaries of a subject or author of interest. Thus there are inherent similarities between fandoms and academic community interests, however fandoms are viewed as irrational and academia interest groups are depicted as rational and genteel. Jensen believes that the “ascription of dysfunction of fandoms is misguided and insulting” (Jensen 23). Furthermore the negative portrayal of fandoms falls victim to class and status stereotypes that overwhelm the modern societal landscape.

Jensen closes her essay by warning that the stigmatization of fans as the deviant ‘other’ only serves to hinder us from understanding how “value and meaning are enacted and shared in contemporary life” (Jensen 24). Jensen proposes looking at fandom in terms of the larger question of what it means to cherish, long, and admire within modern society. Furthermore, Jensen proposes that fandom should be viewed as a piece of how we understand our environment in relation to mass media and should be researched within the context of cultural location and social landscape of the era.

Jensen’s essay shed light on the modernist critique roots of fandom analysis and how the limited view of fandoms as a cultural extreme and cultural ‘other’ only serves to damage the modern understanding of sub cultural groups and the exploration of group fascinations. Her ability to draw upon the similarities between aficionados and fans is particularly insightful and highlights the classist elements of the academic critique of fans. I agree with Jensen that instead of depicting fans as the ‘other’ we can gain far more by viewing fans as ‘us’ and attempting to understand how value and meaning are constructed and experienced in the present.

(Lewis, Lisa, and Joli Jensen. Adoring audience fan culture and popular media. London: Routledge, 1992.)

Click on this link to view Jensen’s lecture, Picasso’s Fame: Art, Celebrity and Becoming a Fan.

DOs and DON’Ts

Let’s just say we are all fully aware when someone looks ridiculous.  We might just think it, but many people will comment to a friend about something too shocking.  For those people that are wearing said ensemble, however?  They have a confidence we can only dream of.  But, would we say that we are fans of that confidence?  Or of the outfit, even?  

Being different has been chic for ages, but that does not necessarily say we are all fans of what people are wearing.  Dick Hebdige first wrote about a “different” type of culture in his book, Subculture: The Meaning of Style.  He wrote about the English Punk style that was emerging, and how the youth were embracing the idea of not caring about what they look like.  This was a new concept in the 1980’s.  Today, though, people care a lot about what they look like, and what others look like–too many people are obsessed with it, in fact.  From plastic surgery, to purple hair, to anorexia, to skinny jeans, people are fans of themselves and what they look like compared to others.  But these people?  They’re not fans of any one trend.  Wouldn’t it be nice to not care at all?


You just have to wonder…what did they say “No, no, this is just too outrageous,” to when they were getting ready that morning…

In The Parlance of Our Times

Here is a short glossary of terms and preferred nomenclatures for all things Lebowski

ABIDE – To endure, sustain, or withstand without tielding or submitting.  Such as the Dude does after having his head shoved into a toilet, his rug peed on, hig bungaloq burgled, and his car dinged up.  I don’t know about you, but we take comfort in that.

ACHIEVER – The preferred nomenclature for a fan of The Big Lebowski.  Derived from the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers, inner-city  children of promise, but without the necessary means for a higher education.  And proud we are of all of them.

AMATEUR – Someome whohas never seen The Big Lebowski or doesn’t “get it.”  Someone who is obviously not a golfer.  Also known as FUCKING AMATERUS.

CAUCASIAN – An alternate name for the beverage known as the White Russian.

CHINAMAN – We’re not talking about the guy who built the railroads here, we’re talking about someone who took Mr. Lebowski’s legs in Korea.  Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature.  Asian American, please.

DUDE – A man of his time and place.  Someone who takes it easy for all us sinners.  Also knows as DUDER, HIS DUDENES, or EL DUDERINO if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

NIHILIST – One who believes in nothing.  Pastimes include techno-pop music, severing toes, marmot wrangling, threatening castration, and passing out in pools.  May cause exhaustion.

ROLL – To bowl, as in <Fucking Quintana–that creep can ~, man.>  Thus, if you’re rollin’ rocks, you’re having a good night.

VIETNAM – A world of pain, where Walter watched his buddies die facedown in the much so that we could enjoy our basic freedoms and family restaurants.

Refer to this guide in the event of confusion, a lot of new shit has come to light, man.


The Allure of XENA!!

Anybody remember this duo?


I certainly do, but probably because of this episode (I was in middle school at the time):


Xena Warrior Princess (XWP) and her meek sidekick Gabriel, what a team. I guess there are obvious reasons as to why so many people have followed this show (see above), but I found an interesting article by Kaarina Nikunen that explains the cult attraction a bit better:

The multidimensional narrative includes playing with sexuality constructing the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle as a possible lesbian love affair. This subtext element has attracted a wide lesbian audience for the series. The subtext interpretation of the series is also heavily debated among the fans.

Dressed in leather corsets the figures of Xena and Gabrielle combine a sense of the past with the exaggerated and erotic femininity of action heroines.  As Sara Gwenillian Jones notes XWP offers a suggestive structure but few rules, encouraging audiences to explore the world of XWP and produce their own texts. Thus it is an example of the way television series address audiences as fans in specific ways. The textuality of XWP leads fans to develop the series further, to write fanfiction and create fan sites.  As a multilayered, open text it enables multiple interpretations of the story and its characters, such as the subtext reading of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle.

So I guess the heart of cult classics, at the core of fandom, is the interpretative nature of the text.  The more ambiguous, the more appealing.  Right?  But what about the role of technology?

Moreover the generic elements seem to interlink XWP fandom together with the culture of science fiction and fantasy fandom. These fan cultures have traditionally used various media side by side such as films, books and magazines. At present, the Internet is the main platform for fandoms, thus not surprisingly Xena fans gather in the virtual world. Therefore the text and the genre encourage and connect audiences towards certain existing intermedial fan cultures and practices.

So if nerds like tech stuff, and internet is tech stuff,then nerds like internet.  Of course, by this syllogism, fanfic and collections of fans will always utilize the most recent technology to express their love of… well whatever it is about XWP that they drives their obessison.  I don’t know what the hell to think about it, I never really watched the show with the intent of interpreting it and writing out my own storyline… But the washtub scenes are pretty cool.  What do you think?