Popular cultures studies is not the right approach to understanding sport fandom online

This entry was posted by on Wednesday, 30 March, 2011 at

In my lit review for my dissertation, I’m going to have to spend more than three paragraphs dismissing the work of popular culture studies as inappropriate for my analysis.  The problem is that I’m going to get at least one assessor who is from communications and popular cultures, or at least familiar with that type of analysis.  (And if I really, really wanted to, I could bug my department or supervisor to get me one of the prestigious guys and see if they wanted to assess it.  The problem is that they might very well fail me for not following the particular line of that academy.)

My arguments against this type of analysis tend to be that it is inappropriate for my subject matter.  My research does not focus on the relationship between the fan and the text.  In this case, the athletes competing at the sporting event.  If I’m looking for a relationship between parties involved, it would probably be between fans of several types on the scale of fan type and the management of team.  This is the case for situations like Jason Akermanis, the Melbourne Storm, the courtship of Greg Inglis and St. Kilda.  It also likely is the case for situations where we look at the following patterns on sites like Twitter and Facebook.  (The research is quantitative.  You cannot determine the motive for following and most accounts provide extraneous information largely unrelated to the text unless text is widely defined.)  Another case probably looks at the selection process for information by interested parties: The relationship between fans and the texts they seek meaning about sport stories from.

Most of the research in sports is done from a sociological point of view that understands the fan perspective based on a fan’s relationship with other fans and a fan’s own sense of identity.  The body of work done in sport cultures is just unique from that of popular culture.  For example, football hooliganism material that I’ve read has largely ignored a team’s performance as the integral aspect of understanding football hooligans.  It gets mentioned sometimes, but its importance if often low down on the list of priorities.  In some cases related to football hooliganism, a team’s victories or losses seem to be an excuse for certain types of behaviour, not the contributing factor (of a fan’s relationship to the text) for acting out violently.

Television, movie, music and theatre fandom do not appear to have the same cultural patterns surrounding them that sports has to deal with based on the notion of a team being the text.  Are those four communities largely defined in the media by their ability to perform relative to other texts of the same type, with plans placing weight on beating one team over another?  No.  The Melbourne Storm’s loss of points and inability to compete for the premiership does not have a parallel in television, movie, music or theatre fandom.  If a film was stripped of its academy awards (how would that even happen?) or a television show stripped of its Emmys or  a musician of their Grammys or a theatre production of its Tonys, the impact would be much less damaging.  In fact, some of these popular culture products may be “complete” so the impact on advertising dollars or ticket sales would likely be minimal for the producers.  The direct competition aspect really changes the nature of the text.

Television, movie, music and theatre fandom are also largely uninherited allegiances: People do not become Harry Potter fans because their grandmother was a fan and their father was a fan and the Harry Potter fan would be unlikely to pass their allegiance to their child who have a lifelong allegiance and sense of identity around the team.  There would unlikely be the same sense of betrayal felt if a person switched their allegiance and identity from Harry Potter to Twilight: These changes from one fan group are much more accepted in television, movie, music and theatre fandom because so much of what happens is not mediated through core personal identity.  Thus, it is another example of the popular culture model not being appropriate for sport.

The last argument I can think of involves cultural studies focus on production.  Sport fandom, on the whole, involves fewer acts of production that are shared in the same way that television, movie, music and theatre fandom share.  Fan fiction is not an important component of sport fandom.  Costuming is not defined the same way.  (How does one costume as a sport fan?  That’s generally viewed as buying a jersey, which ties in more to merchandising than it does into costuming.)  Some other aspects of sport fandom are culturally acceptable and not necessarily viewed as distinct acts defining sport fandom.  When the city of Chicago puts a Cubs hat or a White Sox hat on a Picasso statue, that is a large act of production but not necessarily a fandom one.  Rather, it is seen as being about community support, marketing for the city as a whole, community identity that almost transcends sport.  Sport fandom also has the issue that fanzines and other explicit production activities take a back seat to things like tail gating and watching the game.

This is all wrapped up in the other issue in that on social media sites, it is harder to differentiate the fan archetypes or to assume that all sport fans following a team are involved with production.  A case could more easily be made for this on sites like FanFiction.Net for media fandom.  Social media is a great equalizer to this degree and you cannot separate out the fan types based on viewing patterns or follow patterns.  Thus, it feels dangerous to assume that social media behaviours are typed up to production on sites that are not fundamentally about production.

Now I have to find the sources to demonstrate some of the above and figure out how to integrate it into my dissertation.

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  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/ANYPWFYQMNG7NRB55Q7C3PR6C4 Adelaide La Blanche-Dupont

    Some great points especially inherited allegiances and the production aspect of sport.

    In literary awards at least, all texts may be held as “not good enough” for that particular year according to the award’s criteria. Or the author/producer might decline that award, like Jean-Paul Sartre and the Nobel Prize.

    (I too wonder about the Oscars and what might happen if the awards got stripped).

    Does sport have an impact on core personal identity and behaviour that popular culture doesn’t? How do you meditate that in the research methodology?

  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    If a movie was already out on DVD and the television rights had already been sold, I don’t think that a movie being stripped of its Oscar would have any impact on fandom in terms of its reflection back on the needs of the producers and their ability to make money. Depending on how long ago the source was released, I ‘d think the fan reaction might be less just because people would have moved on. (Which might be a point worth looking into if I can find a source: Length of time in a fandom.)

    I think the sport literature makes it clear that sport allegiances are tied up into identity and the body total of popular cultures towards fandom is about production. Just seems very apple/orange.