Between fiction and reality: the continuous back and forth for fan communities 3/3
by Aurore Gallarino, published on 21.05.2012
Aurore Gallarino offers a new perspective as part of a series of articles which provide a complete overview of certain fan practices, many of them related to storytelling, and their transmedia potential. She has given us a look at “fan community story factories” and explained “expanded universes: home-made franchises”. Now she shows us the overlap between life as an expanded universe fan and the reality of daily life.
The storytelling fan sometimes goes beyond the fictional environment when they don’t just write follow-ups or missing scenes for a work but go beyond that and create content as if it was straight out of the universe. If there is one thing we need to understand then it is the ‘expert’ nature of fan activity. Access into the world of fandom is not determined by race, gender, or social class, but by attachment to a work (Jenkins, 2008). This attachment and commitment are characterised by the fans’ hyper-specialisation in relation to a work. To get an idea of this commitment we need only to consider the example of Lord of the Rings fans who learnt how to speak Elvish, or Star Trek fans who speak the Klingon language, as portrayed in the TV series The Big Bang Theory, with characters fully versed in the game of Klingon Boggle.
This fan ‘expertise’ demonstrates knowledge of the work and the author’s world which often surpasses adaptations by commissioned directors or licensed merchandising. We need to be bear in mind fans’ desire to create something ‘real’, and stay as close as possible to the official version and not get into approximation. For certain fans, there should be no tie-in products. Indeed they think the aim of any creation or fan product is for it to be a ‘genuine’ and ‘authentic’ item. These products are not gadgets, but items from the universe itself, with the fictional world juxtaposing the real world. This desire for ‘authenticity’ drives fans to extend the universe into all media and realities available to them, making the boundaries between the fictional and the real world increasingly porous.
Certain fans are not content to know that “The Daily Prophet” or “The Quibbler” are two publications in the expanded universe of Harry Potter. No, certain fans actually write and publish “The Daily Prophet” and “The Quibbler” as if they were being published in the world of Harry Potter itself. Here we are not talking about either fan fiction or fiction period. This is ‘fan reality’. For fans it is a case of playing the game through role-playing and forgetting the ‘fictional’ nature of published content. For example, ‘Obscurus Press’ is a group of Harry Potter fans who publish wizard publications.
The concept of the music fan is not a new practice linked to the development of the web and social network sites like MySpace. In the past, there was what was known as ‘Filk’ where fans met for performances by singers on stage and song lyric booklets were sold as fanzines (Jenkins, 1992, 2008). Nowadays, music and video file-sharing platforms, with their easy access to content and simplified distribution possibilities, have given a new boost to the practice of singing about one’s favourite fan universe.
In the original world of Harry Potter, wizard music, and in particular a group called ‘Weird Sisters’, is mentioned. The fans themselves have created musical groups under the collective name of ‘Wizard Rock’. The group Harry and the Potters, for example, has albums available on iTunes and perform live in several towns in the USA.
There is even a wizard radio station which broadcasts these Harry Potter-inspired songs via podcasts.
In terms of content, the fans’ song lyrics go from fan-fiction (in the sense that the songwriter observes the universe in question from the outside) through to fan-reality (in the sense where the songwriter writes ‘as if he was part’ of the universe itself). And this music sometimes plays a critical role in relation to franchises and attempts at transmedia by the entertainment industry. Indeed there are singers who produce songs which ridicule fan expertise and the entertainment industry’s reaction to it. Recently, Alex Carpenter, known for his parodies and his involvement in Wizard Rock for many years now, wrote the song ‘Pottermore’.
In this song he asks ‘What if Pottermore puts me in the wrong House? So he’s wondering what will happen to him, as a fan right from the outset, whose reading of the books when they came out always made him think that he belonged to the red and gold Gryffindor House, when many years later he finds himself belonging to the green and silver Slytherin House in Pottermore (the official website from the owner-creators of the Harry Potter universe)?
Extract : « The last ten years theres only one thing I’ve known for sure
Thats where I’d be sorted if I went to Hogwarts
Thinking back on all the sweaters, robes and ties I bought
All my clothes are my house colors, then again maybe not
What if Pottermore sorts me in the wrong house? »
So this song questions how fans that are faced with an official extension can see their expertise and knowledge about the work threatened. This problem is real and shows the reflexiveness of fandom in the face of the entertainment industry and authors’ acts, but also the limits of transmedia set up retroactively. By adding to the work belatedly the official creators of content put themselves at odds with extremely qualified audiences of fan communities.
Sport is another element that the fans can transpose to the real world. While certain fantasy communities replay big battles from their favourite universes, fans of Harry Potter transpose into the real world the wizard sport of Quidditch (a game with teams of seven players flying around on magic broomsticks). But some fans do not buy the replica of the broom that Harry Potter flies on in the film. Instead they make their own brooms and use them to play ‘real’ Quidditch. In fact there are groups of fans who play regular Quidditch matches. These teams got together in 2011 for a Quidditch World Cup with more than 2000 competing athletes.
Time and the duty to preserve the memory of universes special to fans are themes which are continually brought up by fans so that fandom does not die out. Because beyond creating and living the culture of an expanded universe fan in reality, fandom members use all their knowledge to keep key dates in mind and match timelines from the fictional world with everyday life.
Twitter is especially useful for matching timelines. The hashtag is notably used to re-tell the Harry Potter story day after day.
When it is a character’s birthday, the fans take the opportunity to flood social networks with birthday messages like this #HappyBirthdayRonWeasley.
It should be noted that official Harry Potter accounts on Twitter and Facebook run by Warner Bros also talk about Ron’s birthday and use it as a commercial tool:
This daily narrative of the story demonstrates the amount of energy devoted by fan communities to continually rekindle the memory of the work.
There is one fan production’s aspect which takes a step right out of a fictional work and takes the values of the universe as its reference, rather than the universe itself. Here, the values of the fictional universe become real and are transformed into political action. The most striking example of this political shift in fan practices is the Harry Potter Alliance. This group of Harry Potter fans says it fights for the rights of everyone, including werewolves and the LGBTQ community. The Harry Potter Alliance is not just a showcase or joke among friends, but an organisation which is active on the web and in the field. The organisation has 100,000 members and 60 ‘offices’ around the world. JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, has herself said that the Harry Potter Alliance was the expression of the ‘spirit of Albus Dumbledore’, one of the key characters in the books.
Extract from their manifesto: “The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) uses parallels from Harry Potter to inspire hundreds of thousands of Harry Potter fans to act as heroes in our world. The HPA has sent five cargo planes to Haiti, donated over 88,000 books across the world, and has made significant contributions to the anti-genocide, LGBTQ equality, environmental, and media reform movements. Currently, the organization is in discussion with the CEO of Warner Bros. to make all Harry Potter chocolate Fair Trade.”
This demonstration of fandom in the real world is the ultimate example of fan activity. Transforming the principles of a fictional universe into real acts and citizens is the clearest expression of the richness and resources potentially found in fan audiences. Like myHogwarts, the Harry Potter Alliance fulfils the desire to realise the actual switch from the virtual and fictional world to the real world. By rethinking the boundaries between reality and fiction the fans are going beyond transmedia, storytelling, and translating the story across various media. They are making reality and daily life a medium and a place; a medium where the work can be trans-posed, trans-formed, and trans-cended.
It is clearly not by chance that the researcher Henry Jenkins, an icon for fan studies, was also the man who developed the idea of transmedia. Fans who have already been developing their own franchises, their own films, their own games, and their own networks for a long time are still stronger than the media-cultures that bring out tie-in products, successfully adapt books for the big screen, and publish guides for people to learn more about universes. With their wild imagination and patience in the face of adversity, fan communities effectively adapt the universe they love using all available media and using all the human and technical resources found in fandoms.
Now the need to extend and share content inspired by their favourite universe has been enhanced and increased in visibility and accessibility thanks to the web. The ‘Do it yourself’ aspect is especially well represented in fandoms where content production is shared with an eager audience and can quickly snowball thanks to an already captive audience (already more than 2 million views for ‘A Very Potter Musical’). In the case of a long-term fan community such as the Harry Potter one, the survival of fandom depends on the capacity for fan production to tell the story again and again. Through its profusion and creativity, it provides a framework for everyday immersion into the narrative and a perpetual resurrection of that initial work.
RESSOURCES EN LIGNE
This Fantasy League Gets a Stage in New York, for Real : The Wall Street Journal
State of the League Address – December 2011 : InternationalQuidditch.org
About The Harry Potter Alliance : TheHPAlliance.org
The full bibliography can be found at the end of the first article ‘When fan communities embrace the principle of storytelling’