Part Four: Audiences & Identity
Having thought about the different ways we can think of and theorize the performance of identity, this section will now turn to look at how we can apply this to one type of identity – the fan.
Fans are those who identify with the enthusiastic engagement with a text. This text might be a book series, a tv show, a sporting team, or a fashion label. If we think about ways of theorizing identity, we can start to see that “fan” is an identity option that an individual can choose to deploy based on actual or perceived feedback from others. Fandom is often a shared identity performance. This section will take a look at one example of a media fandom, but it might be worth thinking about other fans you know (such as sporting fans) and see how many of these identity and reception roles they also adopt.
Bronies are adult fans of the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The term comes from the words ‘bro’ and ‘pony.’ Bronies are generally teens and older, usually male, usually educated. And they are a very active audience of this show.
Bronies as a fandom are interesting to look at for a number of reasons. One is that they conduct their own census, which is very handy for media researchers! Another is that Bronies fit a number of reception categories simultaneously.
Firstly, they are an audience in the sense of a mass audience. They watch the show. They buy DVDs and figurines. The producers of the show may not have set out to attract this particular demographic, but now that they have it, the show’s producers cater to it as they are writing, producing, and even creating merchandise for the show.
Secondly, bronies are users. This status as users is part of their behavior as active fans, in that they exchange information, remix content, have their own websites and clearinghouses of information, and interact with each other. They form social and fan networks within which they share their passion for the ponies.
Thirdly, bronies are prosumers. Prosumer is a portmanteau of producer and consumer, and prosumers drive the remix culture. Remix is where users take existing content and texts, often mass produced texts, and pull them apart to use the pieces to construct new texts.
A favourite form of prosumer text is the fanvid. Texts such as fanvids reconstruct the object of fandom not only through the lense of that fandom (which emerges from the collective experience of the fan network), but also within the wider cultural contexts in which these fans exist. Take for example this My Little Pony fanvid which remixes or ‘mashes’ My Little Ponies as a fandom object with another favourite media text of this demographic, the film The Watchmen (which is not a text likely to be popular with the original pre-teen target audience of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.)
Prosumers take the idea of the active audience to a whole new level. In the age of the mass audience, the active audience was seen as someone yelling back at the screen, or talking about what they had seen or heard over the watercooler at work or school the next morning. And that still happens. But now, thinking of audiences also as an aggregate of users means that the active audiences not only talk back to the screen – they use screens to construct their own texts in a process of bricolage and re-consumption. In this case – taking pieces of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and marrying them to pieces of a completely different pop culture text that also appeals to this audience demographic to create something that is both the product of and speaks directly to themselves as audiences and users, and as fans.
- Given the broad definition of what a fan is, and the activities they are involved in, is it possible we are ‘fans’ and members of a ‘fandom’ more often than we think, unknown to us, and that this occurs within our everyday lives.
- Are you a fan of something? Do you recognize the roles of audience, user, and prosumer in your fandom activity?