Although we have looked at fan culture in class largely as a phenomenon that has found probably its most widespread expression through the internet, fan culture was around long before its online manifestation and might even be something that is intrinsic to human activity wherever there is performance or entertainment. If we think back to the bloody performances of gladiators in the Roman colosseum, it is probably not stretching the imagination too far to presume that certain performers would elicit the type of adulation among the huge audiences that would be similar to what we today classify as fan culture. In more recent pre-internet times the adulation surrounding popular musicians and sports stars or teams, along with the paraphernalia accompanying that adulation, is clear testament to the existence of fan culture as a societal phenomenon independent of modern digital media.
The advent of the internet has, however, provided fan culture with a platform that has massively increased its potential both in terms of the connectivity of fans and new types of expression of fan culture that were not possible heretofore. It also allows for an element of anonymity that enables fans to engage with interests that they might otherwise be reluctant to openly disclose.
Fan fiction http://www.fanfiction.net/, where fans of books, comics, games, movies and other forms of fiction write their own versions of the stories they follow, is a form of fan culture that is particularly suited to the internet and would have been very difficult to bring together in an environment other than the web, certainly on the scale to which it has grown . Also, people with interests that might be considered as niche interests in terms of their local geographic location have the world wide web at their finger-tips in order to find others who have a similar interest. This might be an interest in some comic-book character who has become lost in the mists of time or an author who never quite made it to international prominence. While I would not classify myself as a ‘fan’ of Adam Eterno, it was nice to see that I could revisit this comic-book character from my childhood years simply because there is a fan or fans out there who cared enough to archive Eterno’s adventures http://adameternoforever.tripod.com/ .
The phenomenon of fans appropriating and reworking the object of their affection, as reflected in fan fiction, is seen by Henry Jenkins, former Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, as part of a ‘convergence culture’ in which the consumer becomes the producer and creates the media that he or she wants http://gatheringinlight.com/2009/03/10/fan-culture-and-virtual-communities/ . This is part of an emerging culture of ‘remixing’, in which previously created content is remixed to create something that is supposedly new or different. Depending on how broad your definition of ‘remixing’ is, fan fiction could be regarded as falling under this category. This is not to say that all aspects of fandom constitute remixing, but by its very nature of focusing on the life and work of another person, fan culture and remix culture have an affinity, although having a dislike for somebody could also be reason enough for some to appropriate the image or work of that person and remix it to give a negative impression.
The question of whether fan fiction distorts or detracts from the original work is perhaps better answered by the original authors or creators themselves. Some may feel that imitation is the best form of flattery and that anything that broadens their audience is to be welcomed. Others may be totally opposed to the appropriation and distortion of their work. Best-selling author of Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice, is totally opposed to the practice and makes this clear in a message on her website: “I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.” http://annerice.com/ReaderInteraction-MessagesToFans.html Ultimately, is it not respect for others and their work that should be the arbiter in judging the value or otherwise of ‘remixing’ their work?