Fans Vs. Freaks: Media Coverage of Fandom

It’s always amusing (and mildly annoying) when mainstream media outlets cover fandom and pop culture. The underlying smugness of their commentary often seems to rear its head, even when it’s hardly warranted.

Take for example, Yahoo Buzz Log’s recent coverage of the Warner Bros. decision to push the release date of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince to Summer 2009.

Upon hearing that Warner Bros. would delay the release of the sixth film from November to June, fans turned to the Web to voice their displeasure in ALL CAPS. Warner Bros., eager to keep the herd of angry nerds from storming its gates, quickly responded.

While this is not too far removed from reality (apparently many fans did flood the Warner Bros. offices with angry e-mails), much media coverage of non-sports fandom (and I’m talking blogs as well as mainstream media) still falls into the usual stereotype of the obsessive anti-social nerd, dressed in a costume and taking their fixation WAY too seriously, or the child/adolescent who hasn’t yet discovered “grown-up” pasttimes.

This, despite the fact that Harry Potter arguably is one of the more mainstream worldwide pop culture phenomena – J.K. Rowling certainly didn’t become the wealthiest woman in the U.K. solely because of the support of nerds and children.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts and Henry Jenkins has certainly posited numerous times, pop culture fandom (particularly fandom that revolves around science fiction and/or fantasy) is still popularly covered by media outlets as the subversive activity of a maladjusted minority, despite the fact that fan culture more mainstream than ever, perhaps one of the few common global languages we share.

It’s also a driving force in the international economy; the Harry Potter franchise create significant economic impact, that’s part of the reason why the Half-Blood Prince delay made news in the first place. Some reporters recognize this, check out the L.A. Times coverage of the story – and the fans:

To some degree, that success motivated Warner to shift “Half-Blood Prince,” Horn said. The film will now hit theaters the same midsummer weekend that “Dark Knight” was released this year. Horn said the young, core Potter audience would be out of school and give the film a longer theatrical life. It will now open opposite Universal’s special-effects comedy “Land of the Lost,” which stars Will Ferrell. But Horn said there was nothing next year compared to this summer’s especially dense slate of big-budget releases.

The shift in schedule is already roiling Potter fans, who are among the most intense devotees in contemporary pop culture. Petitions were circulating, rumors were flying and angry screeds were being posted on Internet sites within minutes of the Thursday announcement … Horn acknowledged that the studio would have to pacify fans in the months to come.

So we are certainly seeing the lines blur between fan culture, mass culture and mass media, and certainly more journalists are seeing the value of covering fan culture as a legitimate beat with an economic/cultural relevance rather than a freakish curiosity (though entertainment journalists have been doing that for ages.) but the stereotypes still remain.

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