There is at least two ways of defining fan culture. Fan culture may be conceived of as the culture emerging from fan activities and the ways in which these activities generates various communities in which fans are playing out their love and affection for their fan object, communicating about it, sharing knowledge and thoughts about it with each other and so on and enunciating their fandom (Sandvoss, 2011) both inside of the community and to the outside world. On the other hand, fan culture may be conceived of as descriptive for contemporary culture as such: a culture which sociological, political and economic characteristics to a certain degree are influenced by fan-behavioral logics. As suggested by Jenkins – from his seminal work ‘Textual Poachers: television fans and participatory culture’ (1992) and onwards – fan culture can be understood as a specific ‘participatory turn’ characterized by dedicated, active audience; they are consumers who are often also media producers who may be analyzed as a significant part of contemporary consumer culture. The study of the participatory and creative mode of media users in the perspective of fan culture have also been pioneered by sociologist Camille Bacon-Smith in ‘Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth’ (1992) and by media scholar John Fiske in ‘The Cultural Economy of Fandom’ (1992) – all three books founding works in academic research on fan culture.
What is a fan then? The word itself being short for fanatic hints that what distinguishes the fan from the average user of cultural products (music, movies, books, TV shows etc.) is the level of intensity and engagement. As such fans may be divided into e.g. simple, enthusiastic and advantageous enthusiastic fans (Emmanouloudis, 2015) depending on the amount of time and resources allocated to being a fan. A fan spends a substantial amount of time (and often also money) on the object of his or her fandom and the act of being a fan becomes a crucial part of his or her identity-work. The fan is not distanced or detached to whatever the object of whatever cultural product/phenomenon constituting the object of fandom may be (a specific sport, sports club or player, a specific band or musician, a specific movie or TV series and show, specific actors, reality stars, various types of franchises like games and story worlds: fans are engaged on a personal level not only delving into e.g. the music of a specific artist, but also into the personal characteristics and the private life of said artist thus striving for the sense of intimate relations by various acts like sending fan mails, birthday greeting and so on. Taking pride in knowing details, acquiring specific items (merchandise in all shapes and forms), dressing like the fan object and being part of a specific and exclusive club devotees are important parts of being a fan and when looking at e.g. contemporary pop icons like Lady Gaga, we can observe how facilitating a fan community (“Little Monsters”) and creating the sense of intimate attachment and inauguration becomes an important part of the artistic and strategic communication (Bennet, 2014). As such, facilitating fan engagement is a matter of putting fans to work in establishing and enhancing Lady Gaga as a pop icon.
This productive and creative characteristic of being a fan is significant to fan culture: as stated by Jenkins (1992) fans continuously build their own culture out of media products and by selectively “poaching” meanings and interpretations from favored media texts. It has bearings on how communicational structures are shaped and cultural content is being produced: “Media producers are consciously building into their texts opportunities for fan elaboration and collaboration – codes to be deciphered, enigmas to be resolved, loose ends to be woven together, teasers and spoilers for upcoming developments” (Jenkins 2003: 200).
Facilitating possibilities for drilling into, exploring and engaging in new features is an important part of contemporary franchises from the average ‘behind the scenes’ of movies and TV series to the continuously expanding of story worlds like Harry Potter as we see it with Rowling’s continuously adding to the tale e.g. on Pottermore or like Star Wars with its proliferating and expanding structure of films, games etc. But we also see how the creativity of fans are put to work in creating new content and new products as part of the production logic. Gamers have enthusiastically for years contributed to the development of computer games in the role as bug fixers, modders and designers using existing game codes to create new games, a prominent example being the gamer-based creation of Counter-Strike on the basis of the Half-life game engine. And the same type of fan community based production can be observed in LEGO’s use of fans as developers in features like Cusoo and LEGO Ideas.
Dedicated fans do not just consume, they also produce: they remix content, create their own content in the shape of fan art, fan fiction and so on. Even though this co-creative or even independent artistic activity is not new, it has increased in scale and intensity with the advent of digital and online media enabling not only building online fan communities but also the production and spreading of media content (e.g., creating home-made videos for YouTube, or using games like World of Warcraft for creating their own ‘machinima’ films). As such the mediascape in which contemporary fan culture is embedded enables fans to conduct their creative fandom as distributors, remixers, as well as producers in their own right.