Dragon*Con is the largest fan-run popular culture convention held in the United States. Every year over 50,000 fans journey to Atlanta, Georgia over the Labor Day weekend, flooding the city with costumes, commerce, and entertainment. Based on fieldwork conducted between 2010 and 2013, my research examines how fans materialize and embody various semiotic elements from mass mediated public texts (film, television, internet memes, viral videos, video games) and reanimate them in a practice known as cosplay. Cosplay, a portmanteau term that joins the words “costume” and “play,” and describes a performative action in which one dons a costume and/or accessories and adopts an alternate “body rhetoric” (Laude 1993) and speech style in order to generate meaningful correspondences and contrasts between one’s body and a set of texts from which that body is modeled and made to relate. I examine how cosplayers replicate, revise, and modulate these public textualities and employ them as an intertextual currency. I am particularly interested in how fans work these public texts into the flow and texture of everday life.
My long term research will address two issues in the study of fan culture. First, research on fan communities and practices has and continues to be logocentric. The pioneering works of Henry Jenkins, Janice Radway, and Camille Bacon-Smith established fan studies as a hermeneutic discipline wherein fans were conceptualized as critical readers, writers, and “textual poachers” and their communities were defined by their relationships with texts. As a result, many of the somatic, material, and ritualistic elements of fandom have been neglected because they fall outside the purview of textual analysis. Second, although folklorists are uniquely positioned to study the traditional expressive practices of fan communities, few have done so. In our absence, media and cultural studies scholars have conceptualized fandom as a folk culture without so much as consulting folkloristics and folklife studies, its canonical texts, and scholars and have used the term “folk” with little understanding of its complicated history and significance. In my research, I argue for a more phenomenological or material-semiotic approach to the study of fandom, for increased folkloristic research on fan communities and media audiences, and greater intellectual exchange between media and cultural studies scholars and folklorists.
I need to mention one last thing. My research is multimedia. I use video, still photos, audio recordings, animated graphics, etc. as a means to create ethnographic documents that, I hope, extend beyond the possiblities of traditional publication formats (that is, printed documents). At present, I am working on ways to produce an interface that would allow me to publish hypermedia or media augmented documents that would allow my readers/viewers to engage with my data in new and more interactive ways.
I've attached a few photos from my most recent fieldwork at Dragon*Con (2013) below.
Dual PhD student. Folklore and Communication and Culture - Indiana University, Bloomington.