In his article “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching” Henry Jenkins writes about fan writing as a mode of fan engagement with a particular text. As Jenkins writes, fans develop “not by being a regular viewer of a particular program but by translating that viewing into some type of cultural activity, by sharing feelings and thoughts about the program content with friends, by joining a community of other fans who share common interests (Jenkins 473). However, fan writing is not the only method of fan engagement. As Jenkins writes,
“Fans appear to be frighteningly out of control, undisciplined and unrepentant, rogue readers. Rejecting aesthetic distance, fans passionately embrace favored texts and attempt to integrate media representations within their own social experience. Like cultural scavengers, fans reclaim works that others regard as worthless and trash, finding them a rewarding source of popular capital. Like rebellious children, fans refuse to read by the rules imposed upon them by the schoolmasters, For fans, reading becomes a type of play, responsive only to its own loosely structured rules and generating its own types of pleasure” (Jenkins 471).
|My Dinner with Andre Dinner with Abed from the episode "Critical Film Studies"|
With Community, there is a sense that the producers are similar to fans in the ways in which they are able to meld multiple texts into one episode. As Jenkins describes, these fan writers take “fragment[ed] texts and reassemble the broken shards according to their own blueprint, salvaging bits and pieces of found material in making sense of their own social experience. Far from viewing consumption as imposing means upon the public, de Certeau suggests, consumption involves reclaiming textual material, ‘making it one's own, appropriating or reappropriating it’” as the fans see fit (471). I believe this provides much of what fans consider pleasurable while watching Community as the writers and producers are employing many of the same techniques fan writers use. Take for example, episode 6 in season 3, entitled “Advanced Gay.” In this episode, the unabashedly homophobic, racist, and inappropriate character of Pierce (played by Chevy Chase) suddenly becomes a Gay Rights Advocate after he discovers his family’s moist towelette brand has become an icon in the Gay Community. In order to explain this sudden shift, Abed chimes in saying, “Pierce’s positrons have been negatized, creating anti-Pierce. It happens all the time on Inspector Spacetime.” For a fan-viewer of the show, they would immediately recognize this very quick line of dialogue as a reference to the cult show Dr. Who as well as pick up on the similarities to the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within” in which through a transporter malfunction, Captain Kirk had been split into “Good Kirk” and “Evil Kirk.” In this same episode, the b-story involves continuing the homage to Good Will Hunting, which started in season 1 and periodically resurfaces, in which Troy (Donald Glover) is a plumbing savant. By layering so many intertextual references into one episode, Community functions in a way similar to the fan writers by providing an outlet for fans to engage with the material outside the mainstream through this “insider” knowledge community.
|Abed and Troy as Inspector Spacetime and Constable Reggie|
Community’s engagement with the fan community was so strong that when the show was on the chopping block to be cancelled by the network, not just once but two times, the fans were able to successfully rally together to save the show. After the disappointing fourth season, fans took up the cry of “six seasons and a movie”, once again reappropriating a throw away line from season 2, episode 21 (“Paradigms of Human Memory”) and turning it into a media hashtag to save their beloved show. Interestingly, the fan rallying cry of “six seasons and a movie” was an insider text that fell on deaf ears by the NBC network executives who, in an article published by Entertainment Weekly, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said, “that sixth season thing was created by them — I’m surprised they didn’t say ‘10 seasons and a movie.'” This just goes to show how even among so called “industry insiders” there is still a layer of meaning that is only available to those “in-the-know.” After being renewed for a fifth season on NBC, the show was once again on the verge of being cancelled and this time the digital streaming service by Yahoo stepped up to save the series, once again, for its fans. The show ended after the sixth season and now fans are just waiting for their hashtag dreams to come true and for the Community Movie to become a reality.