Fan activism involves “forms of civic engagement and political participation that emerge from within fan culture itself, often in response to the shared interests of fans, often conducted through the infrastructure of existing fan practices and relationships, and often framed through metaphors drawn from popular and participatory culture”. It utilizes the enthusiasm and empathy of the fan community to raise awareness of social concerns or otherwise support the ideals expressed by object(s) of the fandom. The rise of fan activism has been attributed to the emergence of new media, and is described as "not about the mix between political concerns and culture but rather action that looks like political activism but is used toward nonpolitical ends." Nevertheless, a 2012 quantitative study by Kahne, Feezell, and Lee suggests that there may be a statistically significant relationship between youths' participation in interest-driven activities online and their civic engagement later on in life.
Examples of fan activism include campaigns for social equality including representation of minorities in entertainment media, fund raising for organisations with common values, campaigning for the continuation of a television program or sporting team and defending fan works from commercial exploitation and allegations of copyright infringement. Fans may be mobilized to support such causes in response to celebrity endorsements; however, activists may also leverage content worlds and fan-like activities as resources to be reconfigured for political engagement, as in the cases where real-life rights groups have used imagery and tropes from Avatar (2009 film) to attract mainstream media attention in the West Bank village of Bil'in and Orissa, India.
History of Fan Activism
Fan activism was originally geared toward fans wanting to save their favorite television shows. For example, in 1969, Bjo and John Trimble led a letter-writing campaign to "save Star Trek" to guarantee the show survived more series. More recently, Stargate SG-1 fans quickly responded on the Internet to rumor of the show's cancellation. In this case, they were able to use information found on various websites to figure out how networks made decisions regarding TV shows and argued for its continuation. There is some debate whether or not this fan activism represents traditional activism. While fan activism is considered to be a form of cultural activism by fans and some political scientists, it is often overlooked in literature, "suggesting a residual distinction between high and low culture". Gene Roddenberry provided a strong base base for fan activists when he connected a utopian and humanist philosophy with science fiction and further used science fiction to support gender and racial equality.
The rise of fan activism has been attributed to the emergence of new media, and is described as "not about the mix between political concerns and culture but rather action that looks like political activism but is used toward nonpolitical ends." Nevertheless, a 2012 quantitative study by Kahne, Feezell, and Lee suggests that there may be a statistically significant relationship between youths' participation in interest-driven activities online and their civic engagement later on in life." Most recently, there has been a connection made between the students of the MarchForOurLives movement and Dumbledore's Army from the Harry Potter series.
Fan Activist Groups
There are several fan activist groups that have created platforms to promote social change. The three that have attracted a significant amount of research include the Harry Potter Alliance, The Racebending Movement, and the Nerdfighters.
Harry Potter Alliance
The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) consists of more than 100,000 members who support several causes including Doctors for Health, Free Press, and The Gay-Straight Alliance. This movement, which was established in 2005 by its non-profit leader Andrew Slack, parallels Harry Potter's endeavors to combat Voldemort to the broader society's goals to challenge dominant power structures that oppress marginalized groups. The HPA has been active in its strides toward providing financial relief toward populations in need. For example, following the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, the HPA assembled to raise approximately $123,000 to provide five cargo planes that supplied medical resources to the country following this momentous event. The HPA also organizes its members into four Hogwarts houses to strengthen group solidarity and encourage members to spread awareness about social and political issues. Like in Harry Potter, these houses compete to earn points based on their abilities to inspire change and encourage direct action.
The Racebending Movement
Following the release of the 2010 live-action film, The Last Airbender, the Racebending Movement emerged to promote racial diversity in the Hollywood film industry. The film received criticism for casting white actors as the main characters who came from predominately Asian heritage..As a form of protest against the whitewashing of non-white characters, a community of fans created the Racebending.com website to advocate the fair representation of minority groups. On this site, a large number of users post comments that instigate debates among active community members. This movement also has a strong presence on Tumblr where users cast people of color as traditionally white characters such as Bruce Wayne, Hermoine Granger, and Luke Skywalker.
Hank and John Green created the Nerdfighters community in 2007 after gaining popularity from their Brotherhood 2.0 project where each brother posted a video to YouTube every other day for a year. Unlike fan activist groups such as the Harry Potter Alliance and the Racebending movement, the Nerdfighters community does not dedicate its efforts only toward promoting change. Rather, this community has a multifaceted creative output that incorporates music, fiction, and other forms of media with challenges, pranks, and games. The activities of the Nerdfighters community derive themselves from the work and interests of Hank and John Green; for example, the community's Positive Pranking Project consists of pranks that are similar to those found in John Green's novels Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. The commonalities that appear between Green's books and the Nerdfighters include the objectives of establishing an environment that reinforces respect for others, intellectual and philosophical beliefs, linguistic play, and the goal to make world a better place for everyone.
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