Monday, February 20, 2017

Creating a Fan "Community" (Core Response #4)

     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).
Through their engagement with their beloved texts, fans are able to take existing material and create something entirely new and exciting just for themselves. Fan engagement with the text could be looked at as a type of cultural repurposing. As acceptance of fan cultures have grown, so have the media texts that engage with fans. The television show Community, which ran from 2009-2015 on NBC and then Yahoo, was known for its “meta” references and engagement with the fans and fan culture. In fact, I would argue that the intertextuality found in Community could be seen as a form of fan engagement by the producers, and especially show creator Dan Harmon, and another way for media fans from all fandoms to engage with the show.
My Dinner with Andre Dinner with Abed from the episode "Critical Film Studies"
        The character of Abed (played by Danny Pudi) on Community represents the cultural idea of socially awkward, completely obsessed fan type, or a “[kook] obsessed with trivia, celebrities, and collectibles; as misfits and crazies” as fans are described by Jenkins (470). Abed as a character, represents this fan culture and it is through him the fan-viewers are able to enjoy and experience these inside jokes. By openly engaging with so many different media texts, Community is providing another way for fans to experience their favourite programs. The producers are assuming that the viewers are also media savvy and fans of what they are referring on the show; therefore, the writers have created a particular “in crowd” to which a number of the show’s jokes and meta references are geared. Additionally, similar to what Jenkins described with the fan writers of Star Trek, by creating an “in-the-know” subculture, the creators of Community have allowed fans to find a feeling of belonging to an elite group that is part of something larger.
         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.


  1. I like that you brought Community into this discussion because I love the show, but also because this strikes me as an apt example of how passionate fan cultures usually dismissed as juvenile hyper-consumers are often creators as much as they are consumers. Community's relentless citations to an array of pop culture are also accompanied by constant meta-textual references to the show itself, winking at fans and positioning the show's creators as fervent fans themselves. It seems as though part of Community's success was sense of kinship (I refuse the pun) between creators and fans, dismantling the more hierarchical, at times even adversarial, relationship that Jenkins describes between Star Trek's creators and fans.

  2. I love all of this! and was really hoping that somebody would bring up community and fan culture. What's interesting in shows like Community and Archer, which you have already alluded to, is that they treat pop culture references as easter eggs. They never slow down or stop to explain the joke. This certainly adds to that sense of superiority that fans feel when they get that fun little throw away joke in an episode. But I think that it goes even further, particularly with Archer and Community. What I mean by this is that fans are encouraged to participate in aspects of the show beyond the show itself. Fans are expected to familiarize themselves with both the producers and the actors involved in these shows in order to have a truly enriched experience. For example, Dan Harmon (creator of Community) speaks at length about his hatred of Good Will Hunting in his podcast "Harmontown" and in fact added the Troy plumber storyline to poke fun at it. With this knowledge a fan can enjoy the Good Will Hunting throwaway all the better