Microstatecraft: Belonging and Difference in Imagined Communities – Darshana Jayemanne

Much recent theory has been concerned with defining and examining ‘new media’: the forms of communication and mediation that have arisen through advances in electronics and digital technologies. These new media forms and the speed of their dissemination are paralleled by faster transportation and the movement and subsequent settlement of peoples across the globe in what has come to be called ‘diaspora’. The situation is such that many of the old boundaries and barriers by which nations defined themselves have become less certain, challenged by the increasing power of people to move across them whether literally or figuratively. Diaspora has become a term in academic parlance that is associated with the experience of travel or the introduction of ambiguity into discourses of home and belonging. It is in some ways a reaction to liberal ideas of multiculturalism. Diasporic subjects often seem to be under the ‘law of the hyphen’ (Mishra, 421-237), they defy ‘classical epistemologies’ and ‘jostle to find room in a space that has yet to be semanticized, the dash between two surrounding words’. Today, there are many more people whose bodies do not ‘signify an unproblematic identity of selves with nations’ (Mishra, 431).

According to Vijay Mishra, this gives rise to the creation in plural/multicultural societies of an ‘impure genre of the hyphenated subject’ (Mishra, 433). This subject is in search of an ultimate national identity, with the meaning of such unwieldy nomenclatures as African-American, Asian-Australian and the like not coming to rest on either constitutive term, but being ‘lost’ somewhere in the hyphen. New media both exacerbate and alleviate this exilic consciousness. Video, television, radio and most importantly for this essay, the world wide web, provide means by which geographically dispersed communities can communicate, maintain and perform some of the cultural practices that help to define them. Ways of using such technologies, often quite distinct from official channels or forms of reception, have developed amongst diasporic communities, becoming or adopting technologised social rituals of their own. The metaphor of space, so often used in relation to the internet, is a central concern for diasporic peoples. It is little surprise, then, that the world wide web is an important development for transnational cultures. The ‘space’ of the digital world is mutable and customisable, available for various uses and easily able to overcome the vagaries of distance. Benedict Anderson’s handle of ‘imagined communities’ seems extremely useful in describing such groups and their interaction with information technology.

However, such tactics, rituals and uses are not unique to subjects that are diasporic in an ethnic or racial sense. Fan culture, where a sense of community is generated around the reception and remediation of cultural texts, has developed its own extremely complex systems of belonging. Fandom is variegated not only along the obvious lines of which texts are appreciated and appropriated by a particular group, but also by the medium in which the text is expressed, the specificities of translation, the location of the fans, the engagement with or collection of peripheral merchandise and the particular historical narratives and self-imaginings of the group in question, amongst many other factors.

Fans, far from being ‘passive dupes of the mass media industries’ (McDonald, 132), are in many cases actively engaged in reworking the texts they enjoy. Often the modes of reception espoused by fan communities have little or nothing to do with the intended vectors of consumption of a given corporate product. For example, cosplayers (an abbreviation of ‘costume-players’) create their own outfits in imitation of those worn by characters in computer games, animation, live-action media and even popular music. There is little involvement by videogame companies such as Capcom or Squaresoft in these activities; the spaces in which they take place and the forms of their appreciation have arisen independently of the usual ways in which such texts are consumed.

Fans, like diasporic subjects, are often distributed widely in time and space. As with diasporic communities, the internet has emerged as an important means of communication between fans that live far away from each other. Also like diasporic groups, fans have elaborate rituals and methods of proclaiming who they are in a way that ‘performatively creates their identity’ (See Bhabha 1990). Given these exilic traits, do the properties, structures and ideas of fandom allow a useful contrast with diasporic peoples and concerns as has been done (though not unproblematically) with gay and lesbian people? (Sinfield, 271-293) Is a reluctance to grant ‘diasporic’ status or exilic experience to fans merely another manifestation of the reluctance of academics to take such subcultures seriously? Can we understand fandom better by applying diasporic and postcolonial theory to its forms and functions? Or, drawing from Kachig Tölölyan, is it more useful to describe fan culture as ‘dispersion’ and reserve the term ‘diaspora’ for other groups?

This essay aims to examine these questions. My discussion will have two stages: first, an examination of the correlations it is possible to draw between the ways fan and diasporic groups respectively imagine their communities (the ‘microstatecraft’ by which such people signify and receive cultural practices and texts). Online fan culture (and what Jenkins calls its ‘discursive logic that knits across textual and generic boundaries’)(40) will be examined, with particular focus on Western fandom of Japanese animation as expressed in the forums of the webcomic MegaTokyo (a site where fan subjectivity is constructed precisely around concepts of national otherness). In the second stage I will interrogate these correlations taking a theoretical lead from Alan Sinfield’s considerations on the appropriateness of the ‘ethnicity-and-rights model’ with regards to ideas of diaspora and homosexual people.

Gathered and Dispersed: Fan Culture through Information

In characterising “The Culture Industry as Mass Deception” Adorno and Horkheimer assert that “.Under monopoly capitalism all mass culture is identical. because millions participate in it, certain reproduction processes are necessary.”, that “it is claimed that standards were based in the first place on consumers’ needs, and for that reason were accepted with so little resistance. The result is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger.” (in Rivkin and Ryan, 1037)

The stern Marxist critique of cultural texts brought to task rarefied theories of aesthetics that sequestered culture away from the real world and the conditions of production. ‘Style considered as mere aesthetic regularity is a romantic dream of the past’ when it is considered that ‘unity of style. expressed in each case the different structure of social power.’ Following Horkheimer and Adorno is the work of Louis Althusser towards a characterisation of ideology, where he notes that in order to exist any social formation must reproduce both the productive forces and the existing relations of production (57). Examining the mode of capitalist production in such a way, it seems that the production of supply was followed by the expenditure of significant proportions of that supply simply to generate demand (through advertising, distribution and promotion), as well as the exchange value that elides the labour power (and hence ‘the worker, whose sole source of livelihood is the sale of his labour power’ (Marx, in Rivkin and Ryan, 262) that produced the supply. This conceptualisation, amongst others, led to the attributions of a fetishistic, purely imaginary, nature to capital and the commodity, and therefore Adorno and Horkheimer condemned the ‘mass deception’ of the ‘culture industry’.

But is the situation exhausted in terms of reproduction of the conditions of production? The model given by Horkheimer and Adorno is a circle of manipulation, and Althusser speaks of an ‘endless chain’ (a circular motion through time?) that arises when one follows Marx’s ‘global’ procedure in studying the “circulation of capital through Department I (production of means of production) and Department II (productions of means of consumption), and the realisation of surplus-value” (Althusser,58). Such circular and endless movements and descriptions imply that there can be no discernible ‘production’ any more than there can be a beginning to a circle (if we ask with Althusser “what does the metaphor make visible?” (Althusser, 62). Each arc of a circle sets up the trajectory of what follows- and is only an arc at all insofar as it suits particular criteria. If this is the case, Adorno and Horkheimer are accurate in criticising the claim that ‘standards were based in the first place on consumers needs’- there was no first place. But then they cannot also say with certainty that those needs were retroactive. Retroaction is still action. And we should not forget that the considerations of Adorno and Horkheimer follow only “Under monopoly capitalism” .

What of those facets of media reception that cannot be characterised by class struggle, or that slip out from underneath monopoly capitalism? And is the circle of manipulation as closed as it may seem through a consideration of the purely material conditions of production? Do fans of popular cultural texts do nothing more than reproduce the situation and forces that produced the object of their enthusiasm; that is to say, are imaginary worlds (the structure of specific components or retroactive cells of the ‘mass deception’) worth studying in their own right?

Logging onto the message board of the webcomic MegaTokyo ( www.megatokyo.com ), a fan finds it abuzz with activity. The MegaTokyo Central forum alone, dedicated to ‘Discussions of all things MegaTokyo’, has thousands of posts. There are nine other boards connected to the site alone. In the top right hand corner there is a message reading ‘Ph33r the Ph0rums’, which doesn’t strike my spellchecker as being remotely suspicious despite the fact that no offline dictionary would countenance such a phrase. Entering the MT Central forum, there is a long list of threads. Choosing a thread takes you to a specific conversation.

It is at this depth that the actual messages start appearing. Each person is represented by a small picture, called an avatar. This being a forum dedicated to a webcomic about fandom of computer games and Japanese animation, most of the avatars are drawn from such sources. Each poster also signifies in terms of a row of stars that show how well other users have rated them, and a series of titles that range from ‘Visitor’ (have posted only rarely or are new to the group) to l33t One (posted hundreds of times) all the way to Senior l33t One (posted thousands of times). There is a short line of text describing where the user is from, and following each post is the user’s personal ‘sig’ file which contains some quote or phrase- decontextualised to guard against casual understandings.

The number of cultural influences and confluences present on these boards is bewildering. A quick rundown of some: numerous replacements of ‘e’ with ‘3’ and similar refigurations that are legacies of bulletin board communities, often called ‘elite (l33t) speak’; a sig file that quotes ‘Return of the Jedi’; a reference to Japanese visual rocker Gackt; avatars drawn from the MegaTokyo webcomic itself and another depicting the character Sephiroth from the videogame Final Fantasy VII as well as numerous anime and videogame references including ‘dating’ games. The overall sense is one of intense hybridity at the level of discrete cultural texts, a hybridity whose degrees of separation can really only be theoretically focused by, as Jenkins suggests, ascribing it to a unique kind of ‘fan culture’ that is configured by a discursive logic of its own.

Immediately two things are evident: firstly, that there is no hint amidst this diversity of a ‘monopoly capitalism’ being at work (and the trademarks and copyrights that marshal monopolistic discourses are in fact directly challenged in this space); and secondly, even though this is ostensibly a forum dedicated to the webcomic MegaTokyo, there really is no one ‘source text’ which these fans are gathered to celebrate because true participation in the group requires knowledge of many other fields. The webcomic is more like an epicentre, a non-exclusive focus for the discussion. Online fandom is more complex than avid engagement with a given cultural text (eg. the classic ‘Trekker’ (Jenkins and Tulloch, 1) ‘the experience is first and foremost a communal one’ (See McCrea), and is supported by a discursive logic complex and supple enough to account for the variety of texts we see celebrated, critiqued and lampooned in the MegaTokyo forum. Looking at fans and their interactions with one particular cultural text may be less useful with respect to online communities and subjectivities than thinking about the practices of fandom itself, and how they constitute and are constituted by the individual’s experience.

The exact properties of the discursive logic that allows fans to link wildly divergent texts as objects of fandom to be celebrated in the same (often virtual) spaces aren’t so important as the fact that such a logic seems to act above the specificities of each text. Fan culture, while it may indeed consist of circles of manipulation (in a non-pejorative sense), is not characterised by a ‘unity of system’ at the level of simple cultural consumption of texts as Adorno and Horkheimer would have it. It does, however, display homogeneity at other levels of analysis. Where each fan may profess differing tastes and preferences with regards to specific texts (such as the well-known rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans), their ways of celebrating their chosen narratives and forms are often similar (construction of websites, congregation at conventions in costume, organization of advance screenings or acquisition of key texts and so on).

It is important to note however that individual fans understand the practices of fandom in their own way, and the fandoms of various texts may have their own specific rituals, ways of imagining themselves and methods of maintaining their exclusivity amidst the general hybridity of fan culture. Some fans may indeed be interested in a single cultural text and have no further use for fan culture. By and large, though, we can see that the discursive logic of fandom acts in a broadly similar way to Althusser’s ideology: it interpellates concrete subjects (in this case fans) and is, in turn, constituted by those that fit the subject category (it is expressed by them). As an added bonus we can say in this case that the object of fan ideology is imaginary (for pop culture makes fewer claims to absolute truth than Althusser’s example of Christian ideology). Unlike ideologies however, online fan culture (as seen in computer mediated interactions such as the MegaTokyo Central forum) does not seem to express class positions, although ‘fan hierarchies’ (MacDonald, 133) may be apparent. Also, fans can move in and out of the subject category with varying degrees of ironical detachment and self-awareness.

The idea of hybridity suggests a conceptual link to diasporic and postcolonial theory. Fan culture is constantly and furiously challenging the ‘law of purity’ that ‘thou shalt not mix genres’ (Mishra, 433). Although admittedly the mixing we have seen occurs amidst popular cultural texts (which are not the primary cultural forms that concern most diasporic groups), there is a wider context to that fan hybridity. By staking out such hybrid spaces, fans create ‘fictive universes’ (MacDonald, 134) in which an outsider unfamiliar with fan culture and the chameleon of its discursive logic will find themselves somewhat adrift. Similar performative modes of online community-affirmation are seen in specific case-studies such as those of Andre MacDonald on a Quantum Leap newsgroup and Michele Tepper on alt.folklore.urban , another newsgroup; in the latter, ‘trolling’ (which at the time was a deliberate misstatement designed to catch out people unfamiliar with the group’s particular history) serves as “a creative response to issues of group management in the ‘cooperative anarchy’ that constitutes the AFU community.” (Tepper, 42). The intensely hybrid textual spaces of fannish fictive universes serve as a kind of history quite distinct from commercial product designations, a background that both defines a fan and excludes those who are not. Although it is true that commercial ‘crossovers’ have been produced (between comic book brands for example), such lumbering texts drag legal, logistical and corporate millstones whereas fan-created fiction (fanfic) can dance around these obstacles with ease.

One forum thread on MegaTokyo Central is in fact a serially written shared story in which the participants continue the narrative with each post from where the last left off. It is made a game by the rule that one poster can have characters attempt an action, but the next describes the results of that action. The knowledge necessary to participate can be gleaned only in part by reading the backlogs of the forum; unless one is familiar with the discursive logic that binds them together, acceptable extensions of the story in a way that doesn’t seem out of place (the guidelines for which crystallise in cryptic aphorisms such as: ‘plot holes? What plot holes’, ‘he’s not a bishie. he doesn’t sparkle’, ‘nekos’ and ‘kawaii!’, ‘ph33r the continuity monks’ and so on) can be tricky. In one case a participant who didn’t appreciate the style that the story had adapted was cautioned in a parallel discussion thread. It is interesting to note that the exact nature of the transgression was difficult to pin down:

Does anyone else find Viperomega5’s non-serious attitude towards this thread kinda…I dunno…can’t even think of the word. Between rude and friendly…or something. I dunno. It just doesn’t fit the seriousness, and he seems like quite the power-gamer.

The discursive logic of the MT forum here is shown to exist in practice over theory- it is primarily performative, and only needs to be pointed out when it is transgressed. In this case, talking about ‘seriousness’ with regards to someone who goes by the name ‘Viperomega5’ is a measure of just how nuanced the understandings of fans can become. And they stay nuanced- this is fandom as process, and fans are interpellated or excluded performatively. So although the hybridity of fan culture is at one level different from that experienced by diasporic communities (it involves blurring popular texts rather than national or racial identities – although in this case it can be seen that national identities are indeed actively mixed) it is also possible to see that at another level hybridity generates fictive universes that performatively affirm the subjective category of the ‘fan’. At this level – by performing hybridity and thus creating their own histories, texts and even hermeneutics – it can be said that fan culture patrols its borders against the ‘hostland’; that is, the society outside the convention, the website or the message board. As one fan wrote: “The community is those guys who go on IRC and bicker about plot holes and such. It’s the people who interact. Here, lots of people read and enjoy MT. But the community would be the ones who participate on the boards, or email Piro about stuff. Those who respond to the comic.”

They continue: “.in my limited experience, the boards do not focus mainly on the comic. The comic was more of a catalyst that brought the people here onto the board. The comic and its anime/manga/gamer angles determined what kind of people would become the community. Whatever unity of spirit there is is a result of having so many like minded people together in one place. And those people are like minded because of things that existed long before MT was around.” This seems similar to Arjun Appadurai’s assertion that: “The central problems of today’s global interaction is the tension between cultural heterogenisation and cultural homogenisation.” (Appadurai, 1-24) The webcomic both pulled together specific influences that already existed in fan culture- but in so doing it helped form a new space which was in this case virtual. Fulfilling as it were Adorno and Horkheimer’s odd metaphoric ‘circle of manipulation’, Appadurai would have it that ‘at least as rapidly as forces from various metropolises are brought into new societies they tend to be indigenised in one or another way.” (5) And with the internet, fandom has also become dispersed and a kind of ‘global interaction’. Fans no longer have to be able to attend conventions in order to participate in the fan community (although there is sometimes hierarchical status within the community attached to convention attendance)(MacDonald, 135).

I have deliberately attempted to describe some of the properties of fan culture (using the specific example of the MegaTokyo forum) in terms drawn from diasporic theory. Diasporic peoples and fan communities are in similar engagement with their imagined communities. Online fandom, in creating unique fictive universes perfomatively through hybrid practices, creates an oppositional space which acts in a similar way to the cultural and bodily signifiers that (even in the case of the ‘model minority’ (Hsu, 37)) both naturalize the diasporic subject through discourses of multiculturalism and exclude them from identifying ‘selves with nations’ without guilt. Both diasporic communities and fans have used new media forms to bridge distance and imagine a sense of community over vast distances.

Even the exilic experience of diasporic people has a correlate in the phenomenon of fandom. Although this is not the place to argue for or against pathological understandings of fan culture, there is often good reason for fans to sequester their communities from the ‘hostland’ and define them oppositionally. As Jenkins and Tulloch write, “The fan as extraterrestrial; the fan as excessive consumer; the fan as cultist; the fan as dangerous fanatic- these images of science fiction audiences have a long history.” (Jenkins and Tulloch, 2) Furthermore, anxieties about the links between videogame violence and the Columbine massacre, the ‘D&D scare’ of the eighties and concerns in Japan about otaku or hikikimori (See Hourigan) all contribute to a sentiment in mainstream culture that argues for a kind of exilic experience inherent in fan culture. Withdrawing from the real world to engage in serious participation in an imagined one is a venerable way to be marked as different, and often produces signifiers that can alarm those unfamiliar with their discursive logic.

In cases where fans feel unable to celebrate what interests them in public for fear of ridicule or misunderstanding, they create spaces (both virtual is the form of websites and chatrooms, and physical in the form of conventions) that are hybrid and accepting in a similar way to ethnic minorities. Most importantly, both diasporic community and fan culture are participatory processes; identity never comes to rest and is always negotiated through an imagined world which may gain much of its own consistency by opposition to the hostland.

There is even homology in the split between ‘new’ and ‘old’ diasporas (Spivak, 245-269), and ‘new’ and ‘old’ fan cultures. Given the rise of computer-mediated communications and how ‘networks now supplement or are supplanting the ways fans gain access to fan community knowledge’ (MacDonald, 140), there can be a useful distinction made between old and new in fan culture. After all, old diasporas and old fan cultures often took place in physical locations (the convention hall or Chinatowns); whereas new diasporas, like new fan culture, tends to be technologically mediated, taking advantage of virtual space’s ‘fluid topographies'(MacDonald, 139).

Despite the above evidence, however, I feel that to proclaim fan culture as diasporic would be succumbing to “the impulse to re-name various forms of dispersion and to attribute new, ‘diasporic’ meanings and values to them.” (Tölölyan,3) What if the correspondences I have been outlining exist less between fandom and diaspora as such, and moreso with the fact that both have extensions which can be termed ‘new’?

Refresh Rate: Overclocked Theory

In closing this essay I will follow the theoretical cautionings of Tölölyan and Alan Sinfield and recruit the ‘scapes of Appadurai to argue against the possible dilution by overuse of the term ‘diaspora’. Not every example of microstatecraft need be diasporic.

Exilic experience, a hallmark of the diasporic, is not exclusive to those who suffer cultural or ethnic displacement from a homeland. As Tölölyan points out, diasporas such as the Jewish and Armenian dispersions are older than the concept of the nation state. However, some forms of exilic consciousness are older still, and take place within the homeland. Women and homosexuals can be said to bear a compromised relation to conditions of belonging that equals that of racial minorities. Such groups signify difference with their bodies or (policed and criminalized) sexualities, and thus their identities can be theorised as hybrid in a similar manner to the displacements caused by racial difference.

And yet, Sinfield warns, we must be cautious how we draw comparisons. Despite the similarity of being ‘ineluctably marginal’ (Sinfield, 287), homosexual people often experience exactly the opposite problems to racial minorities. “.as Warner remarks, there is no remote place or time, not even in myth and fantasy, from which lesbians and gay men have dispersed” (Sinfield, 280). He quotes Warner, Fear of a Queer Planet , xvii). Our hybridity is constituted differently. Indeed, while ethnicity is transmitted usually through family and lineage. We have to move away from them, at least to some degree; and into, if we are lucky, the culture of a minority community.” Queer people, rather than facing bodily signification of their difference as racial minorities do, are forced to continually ‘come out’.

For lesbians and gay men passing is almost unavoidable. It rehearses continually our moment of enforced but imperfect separation from the straightgeist. You can try to be up-front all the time- wearing a queer badge or a T-shirt, perhaps- but you still get the telephone salesperson who wants to speak to the man of the house or to his lady wife. Or the doorstep Christian who catches you in only your bathtowel, bereft of signifiers. we come out into the marginal spaces of discos, cruising grounds and Lesbian and Gay Studies. (Sinfield, 280-281)

Sinfield works through Homi Bhabha’s idea of a ‘third space’ by outlining ways in which there can be different attitudes to that space, examining the processes of entering and leaving, demonstrating that the nature of hybridity is complex in itself and not every ‘instability is progressive.’ Through such incisive analyses, Sinfield questions the applicability of an ‘ethnicity-and-rights model’ to the diasporic experience of homosexual people. He inscribes within the Marxist worldview a hollow: “The dominant ideology constitutes subjectivities that will find ‘natural’ its view of the world: hence its dominance (that is an Althusserian axiom). Subcultures constitute partially alternative subjectivities.”(Sinfield, 287) This hollow is not a meta-dialectical ‘third space’, not a simple celebration of difference and resistance. Rather it is able to look at subcultures as alternate subjectivities that are differentially partial – that is, they are subcultures.

Following Sinfield’s lead, I wish to look again at fandom and reframe the question through another model, this time concentrating on the ‘new’ in both new diasporas and new fan culture. Arjun Appadurai, considering the tensions between homogenisation and heterogenization in a global cultural economy (surely what is at issue in new fandom), layers his analysis in a way that challenges the Marxist base-superstructure dialectic. Instead of a hierarchy, Appadurai flattens the topography, tries to conceive “the imagination as social practice. No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is elsewhere), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organised field of social practices.” (5) This field, an imagined world, is a flat surface, but one in which various ways of seeing produce varying interpretations of this unified topography of social practice: ethnoscapes, technoscapes, mediascapes, ideoscapes, finanscapes and so on.

From this point of view it seems that my analysis so far (and perhaps that of Jenkins, MacDonald, and Tulloch) has overly privileged the mediascape (the distribution of the electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information (Appadurai, 9)) and allied parts of the technoscape at the cost of the other ways of seeing. When we look back at fan culture through the lens of the finanscape, we begin to see disjunctions in my previously asserted affinities with diasporic communities.

The MegaTokyo website, for example, has a link that ushers people to an online store in which they can purchase expensive t-shirts bearing logos and images from the webcomic. A similarly popular webcomic, Penny Arcade ( www.penny-arcade.com ), contains a link to www.thinkgeek.com , a website that specialises in selling things that cater to the discursive logic of geekdom (which has many links with fan culture). Green laser pointers, satchels, desk robots based on the Martian rover and other largely useless (but ‘Cool!’) paraphernalia litters the site. If there is a significant correlation between the readership of Penny Arcade and the kinds of people that purchase ThinkGeek materials, we can be fairly sure that online fans or geeks who participate in such cultures have more disposable income than many disadvantaged diasporic groups. This is not even mentioning the fact that many of these people surely possess access to computers, which are hardly inexpensive in terms of acquisition or training. In turn, this financial perspective must ask where the ThinkGeek merchandise and the computer parts are made, by whom, and if their labour power is not being elided by excessive analysis of the mediascape. “Access to the net, for example, is not universal and uniform.” (Shohat, 219)

It seems that the discussion has come full circle, that Adorno and Horkheimer were correct. According to an analysis of the finanscape, online fan culture can be seen as a means of extension of capital markets across global sites and another instance of the replacement of local sites of exchange with technologically-mediated globalised imagined communities. However, to take this view is to ignore the points made in the first part of this essay, as well as the insights gained from other ‘scapes. The interesting thing about Appadurai’s model is that all these perspectives exist simultaneously.

Of course, the possibility of theorizing simultaneously is easier said than done. So, we could argue along with Sinfield that, as far as the ethnoscape goes, fans’ bodies do not have to signify difference unlike racial minorities (although it is likely of less importance to a fan to be ‘passed’ as such than it is for a gay or lesbian person to encounter society’s constant default assumptions of straightness); that the hybridised ideoscape of fandom is centred around popular texts whereas that of racial diasporic communities are more concerned with negotiated relations between the hostland and homeland; and so on for other ‘scapes.

This cursory treatment is enough, I believe, to justify the reservation of the term ‘diasporic’ from new fandom despite the similarities outlined in the first part of my essay. I have little doubt that more disjunctures would arise if the analysis was extended to other kinds of ‘landscapes of images’ beyond the mediascape. This is not to denigrate fandom or popular cultural studies, but simply to contest that the usefulness of the term ‘diasporic’ when applied to fans and fandom and advocate a certain sophistication of analysis as exemplified by Appadurai and Sinfield. In this specific case I believe, following Sinfield, that it is more effective to characterise online fandom as a subculture than a diasporic community.


This leaves an obvious question: what is responsible for the observed similarities in the mediascape between fandom and diasporas? It is difficult to accept that each ‘landscape of images’ is totally independent of any other. So the noted correspondences in the mediascapes of the new fandom and the new diaspora require explanation. I believe that the similar mediascapes are consequences of modern media; that is, new media, and how these forms of communication have shaped the means of expression in new imaginary worlds, whether those worlds be subcultural or diasporic. This is the common ground on which both types of new imagined community create their hybrid space.

“The concept of home is not safe in modernity” writes Nikos Papastergiadis. He continues: “the precise shape and location of the new home of modernity is never specified”. Given the ‘fluid topographies’ of net space, we can see that the ‘virtual’ location is a prime candidate for an experience of home in modernity. The internet in particular provides a way for an imagined community to form amongst dispersed people, but at the same time “Computer networking changes the workings of fandom and fan expression, the difference in communication networks reconfiguring fan authority and hierarchies and deaccenting gender and sexual orientation.”(MacDonald, 149) It is evident that “CMC technologies have not just enhanced fandom. Fan practices are changing in relationship to the new technologies.” (MacDonald, 150) These functions and changes are just as evident in diasporic communities that use the ‘net: “enabling exilic communities to share, teach and inform. Whereas cyberspace allows for the creation of interactive communities of strangers, it an also empower the diasporized to overcome the estrangement of displacement” (Shohat, 227).

The double movement outlined by Shohat allows us to explain the similarities between the two groups under discussion – and their difference. New fandom and new diasporas both use new media, and their ‘practices are changing’. But the increased sophistication of Shohat’s theoretical lens allows us to see the opposite movement that led both parties to the new media. New fandom enables through cyberspace an ‘interactive community of strangers’ while new diasporic communities use it to ‘overcome the estrangement of displacement’.


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