On Anti-fans

A few people said they wanted to hear more about anti-fans after one of the last posts I made so I thought I’d copy and paste that section from my lit review. I did refer to anti-Fowley fans elsewhere in lit review but I haven’t copied that here (I can if anyone wants to see them). Hopefully what I’ve got here will make sense (though further changes will be made to it after the last meeting with my supervisor) and you’ll find it interesting.

So far, I have discussed preferred meanings and how fans of a show decode meanings in a variety of ways and dependent on a range of factors. Before I begin the next section and examine the literature surrounding fan fiction, I wish to turn to anti-fans and non-fans of a series, and ask whether we can also learn something about a text from the ways in which they read it.

Jonathan Gray raises an important critique of reception studies, arguing that by focusing so intently on the fan it distorts our “understanding of the text, the consumer and the interaction between them. […] To fully understand what it means to interact with the media and their texts, though, we must look at anti-fans and nonfans too” (2003, p. 68). In his analysis of The Simpsons’ fans, anti-fans and non-fans, Gray proposes we imagine the text as an atom:

Right at the very centre of the text, in its relatively stable nucleus, first we find the aptly named ‘close reader’[1] […] such a reader ignores the text’s outlying regions and interactions with other texts, and chooses instead to remain in a realm of supposed denotation and stability, determined that here, at the very centre of the text, lies the key that will unlock the entire work, answering the multiple mysteries of the atom. (2003, p. 69)
Moving further from the centre of the ‘atom’ we encounter the fan, who actively looks ‘outside’ the nucleus to intruders and intertexts, yet whom we can count on to be aware of and close to the text. And beyond the fan is the anti-fan, whom Gray refers to as ‘electrons’. Gray suggests that although fandom and antifandom could be positioned on opposite ends of the spectrum they perhaps more accurately exist on a Mobius strip: “many fans and antifan behaviours and performances resembling, if not replicating, each other” (2005, p. 845). He further argues that the anti-fan can provide an “interesting window to issues of textuality and its place in society” (p. 71) as anti-fans, as well as fans, construct an image of the text – and moreover an image strong enough to cause them to react against it. In discussing The Simpsons’ anti-fans, he notes that he
found a fascinating near-perfect correlation between loving or disliking The Simpsons and seeing it, respectively, as critical of America and American life, or as yet another symbol of crass American cultural chauvinism. This correlation had little to do with differences of culture or predispositions to America, but rather to a difference in the text itself as perceived by close or ‘distant’ readers. Particularly for anti-fans who have not watched the show and yet judge it so vehemently, a textuality is born into existence in large part separate of what might be ‘in’ the text as produced. ‘Oppositional’ readers in Hall’s terminology are one thing, but anti-fans may not even be viewers in the sense of people who have watched a show. Thus while much analysis of texts is steadfastly stuck to close reading, if we can show that people engage in distant reading, responding to texts that have not been viewed, and more importantly if we can track exactly how the anti-fan’s text or text stand-in has been pieced together, we will take substantial steps forward in understanding textuality and in appreciating the strength of contextuality. (2003, p. 71)
Catherine Strong, in her paper on Twilight anti-fans, suggests that one useful application of the study of anti-fans is in “examining the role they play in enforcing the dominance of certain taste cultures” (2009, p. 5). She argues that cultural hierarchies are not created just through certain forms of culture being praised, but also by the denigration of other forms. Anti-fans’ attitudes to Twilight, for example, naturalise the position of feminine culture at the bottom of the cultural hierarchy (2009, p. 10). The taste cultures enforced in X Files fandom are, I would suggest, intelligence, scientific enquiry, critical thought and liberal ideals. Yet anti-fans of the series seem consider the show’s fans to be gullible, paranoid conspiracy-theorists who believe willy-nilly in ghosts, UFOs and hidden government agendas. Richard Dawkins said, in his 1996 Richard Dimbleby Lecture:
soap operas, cop series and the like are justly criticised if, week after week, they ram home the same prejudice or bias. Each week The X Files posts a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses. But it is only fiction, a bit of fun, why get so hot under the collar? Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it by saying: “But it’s only fiction, only entertainment.”
Let’s not go back to a dark age of superstition and unreason, a world in which every time you lose your keys you suspect poltergeists, demons or alien abduction. (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dawkins/lecture_p12.html)
Similarly, David Whitehouse in his review of Fight The Future suggests that science in the series is weak and critical thinking is pushed aside but that is okay “just as long as you stop being gullible in the real world which I am afraid is what many X-Files fans fail to do” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/146482.stm). This image of The X Files (and X Files fandom) constructed by anti-fans contrasts sharply with that constructed by fans, but it is interesting in what it tells us about the perceptions of anti-fans. As Gray notes, “a study of antifandom and what it ‘does’ to the text […] could illuminate fandom and nonfandom too, allowing us to place and distinguish their own characteristics and textualities” (2005, p. 845).

So far then, Gray considers anti-fans to be those who actively dislike a cultural item. I would suggest that further to this idea of anti-fans of a programme, we should also examine anti-fans of aspects of a programme. As a member of The X Files fandom I know viewers who identify as fans, and who have attended conventions, collect memorabilia and have read the X Files novels and comic books, yet who have never seen seasons 8 and 9 and have no desire to do so. I would contend that these fans are anti-fans in the sense that Gray discusses them (that is, they engage in ‘distant readings’ of the seasons and respond to texts which have not been viewed) but they do so with an intimate knowledge of the prior seasons and the paratexts surrounding the series.[2] I would suggest that this is different to the “angry or upset fan discussion [which] often bordered on antifandom” that Gray noticed in his study of the Television Without Pity forums (2005, p. 847). The fan relationship with a text is a complex one and, as I have discussed elsewhere in this chapter, fan decodings of texts may result in readings which fans are unhappy with. I contend that fans respond to those readings by recoding meaning using meta, picspams, fan vids and fan fiction. The ‘anti-fan fans’ that I am discussing here, however, fail to engage with the text even in order to reclaim it – they are aware of the text through discussion with other fans, reviews or fan fiction, but have not and will not view the source text itself.[3]

Another category of anti-fan which must be discussed in this context is one which I have previously referred to – the fans (mainly shippers) who hate Diana Fowley. Of all the characters in the series she is perhaps the most vilified, and while these kinds of anti-fans are closer to the upset or angry fans of Gray’s study I would suggest they transcend those labels because of the amount of vitriol they direct at Fowley. Fans who are upset or angry at a turn a series takes often take that frustration out on the shows’ producers. Derek Johnson in his study of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom noted that many fans vilified Marti Noxon, who managed Buffy’s sixth season while Joss Whedon (Buffy’s creator) worked on Firefly. Noxon was criticised for producing ‘angsty and depressing’ episodes akin to soap opera and melodrama, and “assigned the blame for the series’ perceived dalliances in devalued, feminised storytelling forms” (2007, p. 292). With The X Files, however, anger at Fowley is directed at the character herself.[4] Examining why, as I will do later in this thesis, would prove fruitful in understanding what anti-fans of an aspect of a programme can tell us about readings of that programme.

Gray also argues that the attitudes of non-fans to a text should lead scholars to assess the impact this has on the study of texts, for

the very nature and physicality of the text changes when watched by the non-fan, becoming an entirely different entity […] Until now, media and cultural studies have often been content to ask what power or effects a text may have, how an audience might resist a text or what role context plays, but non-fan engagement with the televisual text denies us the existence of the solitary, agreed-on text with which to anchor such discussions. (2003, p. 75)
For Gray, non-fans are those are indifferent to a text but still (occasionally or frequently) view it. I would argue that by its very nature The X Files interrupts the ‘dip in, dip out’ form of viewing. Johnson notes that the series “combined one-off ‘genre’ episodes centred on a single investigation, with an ongoing and increasingly complex ‘mythology’ narrative” (2005, p. 105).  While she does then go on to argue that “this dual narrative structure enabled the series to be accessible to the casual viewer, while simultaneously rewarding the loyal viewer with character and story development” (ibid) I would argue that the series blurred the lines between the stand alone ‘monster of the week’ episodes and the underlying ‘mytharc’ narrative, thus resulting in the viewer requiring a greater deal of knowledge about the series than could be gleaned from infrequent viewings. Instead I would argue that non-fans of the series are aware of it predominantly through references to the show in pop culture. It has been widely noted that The X Files was a pop culture phenomenon, with references made to it in The Simpsons, Felix the Cat, Bones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many other popular texts (Delasara, 2000; Gradnitzer and Pittson, 1999; Kozinets, 1997). At the height of its popularity in the 1990s it would have been difficult for most in the Western world to be unaware of the series, even if their awareness of it reached only as far as an understanding of the series as a show about aliens. As Gray notes, many programmes are part of a common language, and they grow through media talk to something “more than just the moment(s) of viewing” (2003, p. 76). References to The X Files’ in song, television drama, cartoon series and newspaper headlines all tell us something about the perception of The X Files in the world outside of fandom.


[1] I would suggest that the ‘close reader’ does not exist within fandom, but instead in a professional relationship to the show/s – those academics, critics and reviewers who focus on the text itself rather than fans who engage with fan communities and paratexts. Indeed, many reviews of The X Files discuss its strong female character, yet this notion of Scully is widely contested within fandom itself.

[2] Interestingly, urban dictionary defines anti-fans as “any fangirl/boy who purports to be a fan but who is actually engaged in dissing down, covertly or overtly, the object of a fandom, often for hidden agendas of their own” (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=anti-fan) while fanlore notes that anti-fans were sometimes “fans who became increasingly disenchanted and finally angered or repelled by canon or fanon developments” (http://fanlore.org/wiki/Anti-fan).

[3] A study of fanfiction written by fans who have not seen seasons 8 and 9 would, I suggest, prove fruitful in understanding how these fans respond to what they perceive to be the problem with the text.

[4] Chris Carter is blamed for bad writing by some fans, but these seem to be fans who have some sympathies with the character.


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