Shareware or Prestigious Privilege?
Television Fans as Knowledge Brokers

by Ursula Ganz-Blättler
University of Geneva

8,313 words
posted:  december 19,  1999

[This is the text of a paper presented at the Media in Transition Conference at MIT on October 8, 1999.]


To have knowledge means to have power. And yet there is hardly anyone actually knowing what to make of this term, in terms of academic science. There is an array of definitions to be found in different disciplines, from sociology to memory studies and informatics. But no consensus has been established so far: "In short, knowledge is essentially treated as a black box" (Stehr 1994a, 92).

Knowledge seems to be a good too delicate, too complex to grasp with bare hands. And yet it is considered one of the most pre-cious goods in these times of a breaking new age - call it the information, the knowledge or communication age. If we define knowledge as a good necessarily dealt with in communicative ex-change - we usually trade some mediated knowledge against other mediated knowledge - this trade should actually be studied as a model case for future economics. But so far the history of know-ledge broking hasn't been written yet. Part of it has been put down as a history of institutional encouraging and preventing of sharing. That's mostly a history of government rules and offi-cial media channels, which then allow (some) people to know and share and prevent others from accumulating and sharing their precious knowledge. And part of it has been rewritten as the counter-history of subcultural knowledge distributed and spread via more flexible media channels leaving no (or at least: no visible) traces.

Looking back, one thing seems certain: The transfer and exchange of knowledge does work - and always did work, to a certain ex-tent - without the necessity of involving money being transfer-red. The main credo of the industrial age - "time is money" - doesn't need to be applied to knowledge broking, since it can be, as I just stated, "knowledge against knowledge". Call it the Linux principle; it goes for our spare time as well as the work-place. Maybe there is no such thing as a distinguished "know-ledge profession": According to Stehr (1998), there is no job to be found that wouldn't involve any kind of basic knowledge.


If "knowledge is power", that goes for industrial societies as well as others. In case such systems are based on principles of hierarchy or patriarchy, there are certain stocks of knowledge considered worthy of knowing, in terms of the accumulation and extension of power. Those stocks of knowledge ("Wissensbestän-de") are highly selective and deliberately kept secret or sca-rce. On the other hand there are - and always will be — margina-lized other arrangements of knowledge not considered worthy or legitimate, which may even harm their carriers instead of con-tributing to a higher status (see Ginzburg 1989).

So, what is knowledge, and how can knowledge as a good be de-scribed? In this paper I'll use a metaphorical analogy: Know-ledge works as processed information. The word "processed" re-fers to a specific treatment inducing structural chance, but also to specific functions of that treatment, which results in an increased stability, or durability. Seen from that viewpoint, processed sausage is meat that lasts longer. And dried fruit is food treated specifically to loose humidity - and therefore the attractiveness for insects and bacteria willing to "restructure" and invalidate those goods.

In both examples a specific treatment leads to a higher degree of value. And the time to proceed the goods is well invested since it results in those goods lasting considerably longer. Sometimes addenda, which have to be officially declared, may support the saving procedure - and "processing" is then to be identified with the term of chemical treatment. But time always plays a crucial role.

If we switch from the realm of material goods to the realm of immaterial, or symbolical, goods, we see that fleeting ("flüch-tige") information is processed into knowledge by distinct procedures of saveguarding. Call it backup processes: You put the goods in cans and make them usable over time. Such procedu-res necessarily involve media and thus structural changes. To give an example: A person tells another person a story. Live speech and telephone calls are transcripted or saved by means of analogical media like a taperecorder. A teleplay is put onto specifically normed videotape and can be replayed over a con-siderable amount of years.


A lot of different media can serve as a memory - or mainframe - for saving procedures: I, as long as I am alive. Any person with a working memory who's willing to tell, and every group of people trading collective memories (see Faulstich 1998). Words, written on paper or worked into more durable material like wood or stone - with or without the decoding manual. Magnetic video and audio cassettes in different formats, or writing / reading norms. Film material, used as an end product (in the case of film and foto negatives) or as an intermediary safeguarding de-vice, when it comes to printing processes. Digital media such as disks, CD-ROMs or DVD.

What's different from case to case is the degree of complexity regarding coding and decoding processes, but also the degree of efficiency. Unforeseen changes of form and content are to be expected with all kinds of attempts at increasing durability.

Such processes of selective "writing down" car we ask for it's value as a currency (in copyright matters, for once), or we ask for its social value: What does it mean to know - or not to know - something? In which place and at what time? Exceptional know-ledge of specific television shows or genres may not be conside-red very useful in school or professional contexts - it doesn't help your pedigree. In a group of fans of the specific show or genre, however, the same knowledge may work as a distinctive attribute. The capital is the same in both cases: Saved infor-mation, which may be classified according to specific criteria, for example as "everyday" or "specialized" knowledge. As a social capital it promises those having access - be it temporary users or collectors / administrators - prestigious longterm advantages in terms of power, wealth or education. Or whatever is considered, in a specific society, of extraordinary value.

In those days of radical social change knowledge is about to be-come the most precious ressource of all - quite similar to the value of physical materials such as gold or other metals in times of colonization and industrialization. That is why struc-tural changes and changing conceptions of knowledge value ought to be observed with increasing interest. Because every transfer of "knowledge", may it be conscious or unconscious, by intention or chance, strategically induced or not, is to be read als a political as well as an economically and culturally important act.


In the model used here "information" and "knowledge" are bound into an even more complex system. If informations can be under-stood as selected stacks of specific data - or, to quote Niklas Luhmann, as "distinctions making a difference" (or: making sen-se) - we can stick the label "competence" at the very high end of the pyramide. Competences, or skills, are stacks of knowledge which are put to use in a specific context. They are practized and, thus, become functional in a everyday or (for example) professional surrounding.

Table 1: Knowledge contextualized

The main difference between stacks of knowledge and competences lies in their functionality: While knowledge can be isolated from an original context and is of value even when stacked away in a cellar, an archive or a library, competences always are meant to be interdisciplinary: They get to develop their value in the overlapping area between two fields. Knowledge of speci-fic musical conventions is made useful - or develops its practi-cality - only with regards to other musical conventions, or with regards to the knowledge of how to play an instrument, how to write down music, how to sing, etcetera. Or: A professionally educated electrician needs experience in the handling of buil-ding materials, before he can "read" the complicated system of tubes leading through an old building.

Interdisciplinarity here describes the capacity of linking stacks of knowledge to other stacks of knowledge: It means versatility. It is also a powerful means for social action: "Practise", then, means the active handling of different stacks of knowledge in order to "know more" and get more competence. After all, it is "knowhow", in this era of increasing communica-tional needs, where new privileges of those "knowing better" supposedly are derived from. In an ideal world authority might be granted to those not just knowing more, or getting access to knowledge faster than others. But to those actually capable to put their accumulated knowlege to work in a specific context, or at the intersection of different areas of knowledge.

Expert witnesses "bottom up"?

In this paper I look at distinct stacks of knowledge in terms of "cultural capital" (see Fiske 1987) and describe it with regards to its diffusion in a public, but also narrowcasted circle of people sharing an interest for the same subject of study. The object of my study is fandom, which means I don't focus on traditional knowledge transmitted through schools and other pro-fessional educative institutions, but through all members of the once-chosen community alike. I suggest that

  1. the distinctions between scientific and non-scientific know-ledge, between professional expert knowledge and everyday knowledge are arbitrary - social constructs with a recogni-sable political background (see Stehr 1994a, 92: "On the whole, our knowledge about knowledge, was, until recently, derivative of and deferential to dominant philosophies of science"). I suggest that this viewpoint is valuable since
  2. the traditional institutions of public or private education have lost the unique monopoly to institutionalized teaching. They share that privilege with other institutions such as the public media, and media experts (or: opinion leaders) right there in the social network, among peers with similar inter-ests. And that
  3. the rules and conventions of knowledge transfer probably are, with regards to fandom, not (yet) that strongly established as when knowledge transfer works within more traditional channels of education. In other words: When it comes to spare time activities that are relatively independently chosen it might be expected that communication works in significantly distinc-tive ways than in more classical situations of teaching and learning. Distinctive in terms of specific linguistical and cultural codes, that is.

I am going to talk about knowledge acquired by fans of a speci-fic cultural phenomenon, which is accumulated and shared with other fans of the same cultural phenomenon, or genre. Such know-ledge can be put to use and work as a specific competence in different interdisciplinary contexts, which may go back to the everyday handling of hard- and software aspects (of how to set a taperecorder, or what to make out of certain television programs such as newscasts or advertisement). Or to intertextual referen-ces placed at the intersection of different media and textual genres. Or to the establishment of a dialogue with other initia-ted fans of the same cult object (see, for example, Brown 1994).

The object of such a conversation may be: The development and outcome of certain episodes, or of the series in itself. Deve-lopments of the series with regards to the genre's history. Any kind of conflict evolving behind closed curtains and heard or read of in the yellow press. The private life of members or the series' cast and crew. More serious stuff as well as trivial matters - whatever is suitable enough to enhance the pleasure shared and fuel the communication even further.

Communicative competence also means that fans may succeed in rendering the dialogue meaningful even beyond the realm of television or genre. What a character says or does may become the starting point for reflections on what has been said or done in one's own family and social life. Dialogues evolve around double-entendres developping a surprisingly rich array of signi-fication. The X-Files (Fox, 1993 -), for example, has induced some members of the usenet discussion group to drive the subject from one specific episode further to an explo-ration of "the carnevalesque" and to Bakhtin's work in general.

In that sense communication in fandom circles, practised in more traditional media such as newsletters or fanzines, and spread over into electronical media such as the internet, works in more than one sense: It's about the distribution of information, or knowledge, as well as about the establishment and maintenance of social bonds in a community of dispersed members.


Fandom as pathology und profession

With regards to the functionality of (mass-)mediated entertain-ment, German scholars tend to cite the concept of the so-called "parasociality", when referring to the often long-lasting rela-tionship between series' audience members and series' charac-ters. Such relationships are analyzed in terms of daydreaming and can - according to the theory - become pathological in the sense of addictive. Truth is that fans do develop emotional bonds with "their" characters - it's an important part of one's involvement with narrative fiction. That bond may be flexible enough to include series' stars as they are - as media-construc-ted, fictitious persons appearing on talkshows, in interviews and advertisement. All of this, again, enhances the pleasures of identification.

When looked at closer, fan discourse regularly includes the re-flection on identification strategies as well - the "parasocial" is something fans work with in an often playful, teasing way. It is hard to imagine that it might be exactly that communicative activity in fandom circles leading to isolation and dependency - even if this communication takes place over space and time and may in itself be called "parasocial".

If followed over a certain time-span such discussions clearly aim at two goals: The pleasure lies 1. in the building of common stacks of knowledge and in the continuous enhancement of one's own media competence. And 2. in the constant building and main-tenance of specific relationships in the group, which may, over time, shift among individual members, or smaller groups of people and intensify or get weaker and fade.

In this sense the pathology-discourse works as sort of an ideo-logical weapon, used by self-claimed members of an educational elite to discredit the "deviant" worshippers of a subject deemed unworthy of such intense study (see Jenson 1992). Both claims have yet to be proven to be true - that cult phenomena automati-cally result in heresy and stigmatization, and that fandom leads to social isolation. If we replace the term of deviant with "ex-pert witness" and isolation with "concentration", we may recognize communicative patterns that can as well be identified with those found in any kind of expert group, be it in dispersed academic circles communicating through bulletin boards on the Internet or in the flocks of specialists attending an academic conference.

When it comes to cult phenomena we have to consider contexts, and we have to address aspects of pleasure. What, then, is more pleasurable under which conditions and with regards to which specific group structures: Restrictive handling of knowledge (in the sense of reserved territories and criteria of admission) or the participative handling of knowledge as share-ware?


Primary, secondary and tertiary text as intertext

Like any other symbolical good (and that famous cake) knowledge can be shared and yet be kept in full. It is inexhaustive in the sense that it multiplies when communicated. What gets to be diminished, depending on the circumstances, is it's material value: When copyrights get infringed on a regular base, income losses may result. Here I am talking about the symbolical, or cultural value of knowledge, and about communication politics that may either result in an unrestricted exchange of knowledge or in a handling of knowledge as restricted, scarce good much too precious to be given away "like that".

My distinction between different sorts of text is based on John Fiske's (1987, 108 ff) typology regarding primary, secondary and tertiary texts. As "primary texts" I define series' texts in all imaginable stages (including scripts, dubbed episode versions for the foreign market and printed or handwritten memos). "Secondary texts" are all kinds of accompanying materials approved of and canonized by the producers, such as trailers and other promotional articles, merchandising articles such as books and magazines, but also comments and reviews in all kinds of media, may they be favourable or not. "Tertiary texts", finally, are texts composed outside of the copyrighted realm of canoniza-tion: The term defines whatever is produced by viewers and works to enlarge the narrative universe of the series further, be it through comment, through imaginative acts production companies wouldn't necessarily approve of or through the more or less improvised establishment of connections between narrative universes themselves.

Tertiary texts may consist of collective interpretations regar-ding the ongoing series' plot, but also of fan fiction - the deliberate rewriting of series' events and ongoing plotlines (see Bacon-Smith 1991 and Jenkins 1992). What remains to be categorized in this model is academic (v. journalistic) analy-sis. Such texts might either be counted as comments from the (canonized) expert viewpoint or as an active viewer contribution to the ongoing collective contextualization through the sugge-stion of new and unforeseen "intertexts".


All three types of texts are to be understood as interdependent - one kind of text has it's influence on the other two. Seconda-ry texts work as fodder for fan discussions just as primary texts do. And fan discourse can easily be borrowed and adapted to be incorporated into the primary text, and thus "canonized". What seems unavoidable here are conflicts regarding the autonomy and original authorship of texts. While the entertainment indu-stry hopes to attain a higher degree of acceptance, and thus identification, fans turned into co-authors may sooner or later claim their own copyright in the production process. And what's hard to maintain in this ongoing merging process is the sense of distinction between "text" and "intertext". Maybe we end up with a much simpler description of primary texts as materials written and rewritten constantly throughout several media and several realms of what we call "public sphere".

A good example is The X-Files: Here the producers regularly incorporate names of active members of the fan community into their show - names they get from the usenet groups devoted to their product. And some of the more expert fans, over the years, have been invited to join forces. Among them is Paula Vitaris, once a contributor to, who, in the meantime, has become a regular contributor to a science-fiction review called Cinefantastique.

Another interesting case is Magnum, P.I. (CBS, 1980-1988): It is yet to be decided if the more characteristic features of the show, such as the flashback, and the voice-overs, evolved into a structural backbone before or after the printing of a ground-breaking article on the way this specific show dealt with collective memories of the Vietnam era (see Newcomb 1985). After Newcomb's definition of the cumulative narrative was coined producers would openly refer to that term and even claim in backsight that they used his analysis as sort of a manual for later seasons of the series.


Politics of knowledge as politics of pleasure

John Fiske's term of the "politics of pleasure" suggests that the establishment of the pleasure always involves negotiation processes of dominance and marginality (1987, 19): "Pleasure results from a particular relationship between meanings and power." Is it, then, to be understood as a result of one's own superiority in a certain field of meaning? Not necessarily, since Fiske clearly refers to Stuart Hall and his three-fold reading of meanings as either dominant, oppositional or nego-tiated (Hall 1973 et al.). A pleasurable relationship between meaning and power not only derives from dominant readings, but from oppositional - and all kind of alternative and negotiated - readings as well:"Pleasure for the subordinate is produced by the assertion of one's social identity in resistance to, in independence of, or in negotiation with, the structure of domination" (Fiske, ibidem).

Viewed from this perspective the construction of meaning always takes on the character of appropriation, and is thus politically motivated. And pleasure results, if not from the confirmation of an existing dominant status, from a, somewhat unexpected, empo-werment in seeing one's own position as the one equipped with the power of definition.

Fandom communities can thus be read as circles of initiated "literati" that are more or less familiar with a specific popular cultural interest. Those circles are similar to the elitist "saloons" dating back into the 18th and 19th century which have been described by Jürgen Habermas to generate a somewhat limited "public sphere" and become their times' opinion leaders (Habermas 1990). If described as circles, they should be seen in as concentric circles, with the more advanced and competent opinion leaders at center stage and the "satellites" (unvisible participants / lurkers) at the margins of the fan activity going on.

To take part in fan activities is then pleasurable in two ways: On the one hand fandom circles provide safety because there is a room where you don't have to defend or legitimate your peculiar interest. Nobody lectures you because of "waste of time" or "asocial behaviour" and wants you to read a book instead. On the other hand fandom is political subversion in it's purest form: Dominant discourses may be questionned and discarded. Oral tra-ditions rule just as in gossip networks. And free speech is guaranteed even where copyrights are infringed.


What I am focusing on here, in terms of communication politics, is the interaction between members of fandom circles. And again I do refer to John Fiske, who, in an article on "The Cultural Economy of Fandom", addressed the problem how new cultural eli-tes may easily just replace old cultural elites by establishing new hierarchies of (definitional) power (1992, 42): "In fandom as in the official culture, the accumulation of knowledge is fundamental to the accumulation of cultural capital."

While he's pointing to the cultural industry, which is well aware of the undermining strategies used by fans and tries, through the continuous production of secondary texts (and the providing of platforms such as fandom conventions) to actually secure a position in that market segment, I would like to point out to another arena as "site of struggle": I do ask for border-lines and strategies of demarkation in the realm of stacks of knowledge (or cultural capital) which are used for distinction in the midst of communicative fandom networks.

What is to be kept in mind is the fact that social behaviour of fans is always influenced by a vast array of other affiliations brought in from the outside of the community. And with these affiliations may come strategies how to establish and maintain power. In Fiske's words (1987, 36), and referring to a term coined by Pierre Bourdieu: "Those who are subordinated (by gender, age or class) are more likely to have developed a habi-tus typical of proletarian culture (that is, one without econo-mic or cultural capital): the less a fan suffers from these structures of domination and subordination, the more likely he or she is to have developed a habitus that accords in some re-spects with that developed by the official culture, and which will therefore incline to use official criteria on its unoffi-cial texts."

Fan communities then, understood as concentric circles, most certainly contain more "dominant" fans or groups of fans trying to use their cultural capital as strategical advantage to gain or maintain status, while other fans / other groups of fans deliberately invest their cultural capital to put it to use to the mutual benefit of the community. They conceive their know-ledge as a currency on the open market, and by spreading it they expect to get a comparable amount of knowledge back as a bene-fit. Both strategies are highly political: The use of knowledge as prestigious privilege - or as share-ware.


Genre competence

There are already several studies dealing with the basic social structures of (different) fan communities, in the United States as well as Germany. In the following table I've put down three examples, two German studies dealing with fans of the slasher film genre and the X-Files (see Winter 1995, and Wiemker 1999) and one American study dealing with fans of television soap opera (Stempel Mumford 1995).

Table 2: Genre competences


grade 0


grade 1


grade 2


grade 3


grade 4


grade 5
















Stempel Mumford







Differences are to be found in the quantity of steps (four or five), in the analogy applied (travelling in foreign countries, professional skills), in the perspective (from the outside or inside) and in the labelling of fandom activities in terms of social practice. While Winter and Wiemker, by referring to tra-veller metaphors, talk about territories to be staked out and claimed, Stempel Mumford clearly refers to amounts of time invested. Time to get familiar enough with a certain subject to develop an expertise; time also in terms of a certain regularity in practicing one's own skills in dealing with this object.


Approaches vary also in terms of self-involvement. On the one hand side we get explicit self-definitions of happily "deviant" fans as well as a more or less explicit distance between the researcher and his sample of fans (Winter), while Stempel Mum-ford steps out of the closet and claims to be a fan of at least of at least the competent status (regarding the genre in gene-ral), if not the expert one (with regards to some of the soaps examined). Markus Wiemker remains ambivalent, since his "X-tremist" doesn't show if the researcher also indulges in the newsgroup activities analyzed or merely participates as an academically motivated lurker (and hence, tourist).

The most interesting difference lies in the overall labelling of the activities leading to the classifications above. While in Winter's and Wiemker's case we speak of "Aneignung" (appropria-tion), for Stempel Mumford it's "participation".

Keeping Fiske's observations in mind, we're prone to find a more subversive, and empowering kind of political negotiation with dominant (producer) positions in a strategy leading to appro-pration than in a strategy leading to a sheer "taking part" in the ongoing construction of a mutual textual network consisting of primary, secondary and tertiary texts. Appropriation, in Winter's and Wiemker's terms, does address the symbolical occu-pation of a personally claimed territory. Those playful activi-tites indulge in competition, and pleasure is to be found right there in the fight over who owns the rights to the object in question. Participation, on the other hand, isn't that much interested in ownership - only as far as there are other contri-butors included. Authorship, in that concept, may be "borrowed" to make a specific statement, but the main interest - or plea-sure - lies in contributing to the building of a communicative network by means of ongoing storytelling.

And thus, these more or less participant observers in the field suggest again two possible strategies that lead to fan-specific pleasure: Knowledge used as device for distinction and the esta-blishment of authority - or knowledge used as tool for identifi-cation and the establishment of community.


Little Voices, and de.rec.akte-x

My quotes are taken from different fan circles that are more or less accessible to foreigners. The "love interest", in both cases, is a network television show with an edge on crime, or mystery: Magnum, P.I. (CBS, 1980-1988) und The X-Files (Fox, 1993 -). Little Voices is a series of newsletters, or fanzines, in traditional photocopied form, distributed by mail to a limi-ted number of subscribers. It's content is mostly letters - hence the self-description as "letterzine". It contains also secondary texts such as ads and reviews, photographs, cartoons and hard-to-find trivia. In my classification, the letters count as tertiary text - and so do poems and does pictorial fan art-work, which can be found throughout the pages.

Both usenet discussions groups mentionned here, as well as de.rec.akte-x, still do exist in 1999. The first one was founded around 1994, and due to the enormous success of the series the fan activities on the net have expanded dramatically since. The second one is devoted to the broadcasting of the same series in the German-speaking television market (Germany, Austria, northern part of Switzerland). Just as with Little Voices, those usenet groups provide platforms for the discussion of the series' content and context or the exchange of secondary materials. Differently from hand-printed handouts they are much quicker to respond to actual events surrounding the series and had thus to develop specific guidelines and devices (such as "spoiler spaces") to prevent certain informations to sicker through prematurely.

The longer a usenet fan group exists, the more likely it will diversify over time and generate subgroups devoted to special fan activities such as the exchange of binary pictures (see alt.binaries.x-files) or fan fiction (see and, founded only recently, Here I do concentrate on the "original" groups and threads devoted to the exchange of information and original viewer's opinions surrounding the show.

When it comes to analyze fan discourse in analogical and electronic media there are ethical questions to be considered. How "public" or "private" is it? And how meaningful is this public character, or privacy to the ones writing letters, or posting them? Are we dealing with some kind of an alternative public sphere here, which needs secrecy for it's own protection, or is it mere "narrowcasting", such as in the case of a specia-lized magazine devoted to growing roses instead of gardening in general? Whatever the case, it is rather up to the members of the community to decide than to the researcher in question. Which means that consent and authorization should be seeked for the publication of any larger portions of text, and that the guidelines for ethical net research apply for citations of all other kind (see The Information Society 12, 1996, 2; especially King and Polancic Boekefeld).


Since I didn't seek consent I remove personal data or encrypt them in a way to prevent guessing of gender, or age, or the wherefrom. Headers and titles of threads, as well as addresses and alias names, have been removed. The same applies for diffe-rent types of forum representing different kinds of public sphe-re on the net. If it is not necessary to know if materials came from a usenet forum or a chat room, that information should be left out. But, in every case, originals of the text should be kept in a way to prove one's point, should the integrity of the study become questionned.

If fan discourse gets analyzed as tertiary text (here applied to letters, since I leave out fan fiction and graphic artwork), we do find striking differences in linguistic styles between the english-spoken Little Voices / and the German-spoken de.rec.akte-x. On the one hand there is a lot of personal addressing going on, such as "I'd love to know other specula-tions." Or: "What do you think?" Or paralinguistically enhanced utterings such as: "Hmmm ...: Any ideas?" The pleasure of having found a platform for the exchange of opinions gets regularly expressed: "Finally, MPI is even more fun now that 'Little Voi-ces' is around. I look forward to reading everyone's comments about the new season!" Or, in a more poetic manner: "Little Voices, you're here at last! / A letter zine for the Magnum cast. / A finer group you could not honor. / Your wisdom I need not ponder. / reaching out to another fan, / sharing opinions about our man. / Thank you. Thanks. And thanks again. / Where on Earth have you people been?"

A newcomer in one of the english spoken usenet threads regarding The X-Files introduces him- or herself by adding: "This is the kind of thread I simply cannot resist." First-time-postings of-ten address one's reasons for going online, pointing out to the guilty pleasure of leaving "more important" tasks - such as work in an office - behind for a while.


In contrast, German postings are far less concerned with matters of politeness. When the German private network "Pro 7" started to air The X-Files (in German: Akte X) with respect to the na-tional guidelines regarding violence and scheduling, there were rumours about the network actually altering content by means of censorship. In those statements there is hardly a sense of sharing to be found, but rather a distinct rivalry for more, or better information: "Ich rate jedem sich einmal im AkteX-Forum von Pro7 umzuschauen. Da gibt es genug, die sich LAUT dazu geäussert haben." "Also hier kann ich wieder einhaken. (...) PRO 7 strahlt Akte X mit etwa einem Bild pro Sekunde mehr aus, als in den USA, so mein Bekannter. Daher läuft Akte X etwas schnell, ist also von der Zeit her gesehen kürzer. Das darf aber nicht der einzige Massstab bei der Behauptung, PRO 7 würde Akte X kürzen, sein. Im übrigen ist das eine viel bessere Methode, um mehr Platz für Werbung zu haben (wenn man es denn wollte), als einfach nur was rauszuschneiden, das muss doch jeder einsehen." "Ich habe mich mal schnell mit meinem Bekannten in Verbindung gesetzt. Sicher ist es das Beste, wenn jemand von PRO 7 selbst auf Dein Posting antwortet."

In English: "I advise everyone to consult the official forum of Pro 7. There are enough people there that had their say." "Here I can say something: As my friend (at Pro 7) told me, the series is broadcast here in a different mode from the US. Episodes run faster and are thus slightly shorter. But surely that can't be the only reason to claim that Akte X gets altered. And, besides, that would be such a lot more efficient way for making room for additional advertisement then cutting out something; everybody has to aknowledge that." "I just went back to my friend for confirmation. I think it's best if someone from the network answers your posting"

Different opinions don't come packaged in polite formulas such as in the english-spoken fan discourses on the net, but get to be confronted directly against each other: "Es spricht für sich, dass die Verfasser solcher Pamphlete keine Ahnung haben, welche Stadien und Institutionen eine Serie bis zur Ausstrahlung durch-laufen." Or: "Das ist eine Unterstellung die unhaltbar ist, und in den Bereich der Mythen und Legenden verwiesen werden kann." ("Obviously the posters of such pamphlets don't know a thing about television production and distribution." And: "That is a intolerable insinuation, and true as much as myths and legends are."

If this sounds, to American ears, like an on-going flame war, there is more to it: the sheer pleasure of topping somebody's knowledge with one's own. Expertise is to be claimed, or proven, by lengthy comments on "how things really are", by direct con-frontation of rivals deemed unworthy to be here, and by the ca-sual "name-dropping" of experts as allies whose competence sim-ply cannot be challenged - just because they are closer to the primary text than anybody else in the group.



Examples like those mentionned are not exhaustive enough to be called representative in any way. But they may serve as clues leading to a more structured discussion. If seen in the context of the utterings, and in consideration of gender and social status: There are by far more women using Little Voices as a platform for communicative exchange. And there are more female posters in the usenet groups devoted to the X-Files that regularly include explicit or implicit invitations to "share". All of which fits quite well into the sociolinguistical findings of men arguing in different ways than women when it comes to information transfer in conversations (see Tannen 1990). There-fore men tend to emphasize on the content and its immediate value, while women tend to emphasize on the relational aspects of the conversation.

When American fan discourse appears to be so much more oriented towards institutionalized politeness than German fan discourse, other possible reasons habe to be considered as well. For once, US fandom circles have been around for much longer a time - they have already been established long before the times of the Internet, as can be seen with Little Voices and a lot of other fanzines (see Jenkins 1992 and 1995a / 1995b). And so it is probably more of a "woman's thing" to use fandom circles as a means to establish networks of shared knowledge, while men ra-ther seek for the knowledge itself, happily challenging other people's competence on the way. But that has to do with gender-specific uses of media technology as well.

Both gender groups, "men" as well as "women", build their commu-nicational behaviour, or habitus, on examples learned from out-side of the fandom circle, be it online or offline. And the same is true for "Americans" and "Germans", whose modes of "netiquet-te" have been established at different times in different ways. Cyberspace, back in 1995-1996, was still a mostly new and unmap-ped territory for German explorers on the net, which were mostly male and informatics-oriented. And German, just as other non-English languages, had yet to be established as a net language.


Even if my findings do actually confirm the thesis of fandom knowledge used either as privilege or shareware, there are certain contexts in need to be explored further. As for the three hypotheses stated above, knowledge transfer in fandom circles actually may serve as a model for knowledge transfer in general. And knowledge generates power, with regards both to communicative competence and the actual handling of object-related problems. But we have to keep in mind the intermedial aspects of knowledge acquirement and distribution - where do one's communicative skills derive from, and how does specific object-oriented knowledge gets to be organized in different media?

At any rate there are more, and more complex, arguments to be taken into consideration in addition to the ones discussed here. Beyond those dichotomies in gender and nationality, or lingui-stics, there are more differences that can be explored in terms of systems' organization, or institutionalization, as well as media literacy. Fans of both television shows, Magnum, P.I. and The X-Files, have at least theoretical access to more than one inofficial fan forum, be it offline (fanzines exist for all kinds of shows, no matter if there is a usenet group or not) or online (see, and a variety of more private, subscripted e-mail lists devoted to the X-Files). Institutional differences are to be found in the varying degree of self-regu-lation in different fora (traditional witten fanzines are always moderated, and so are some of the usenet groups), but also in their specific appeal to television audiences more or less at ease with distinctively new media technologies such as the Internet.

On behalf of the strategies applied it is safe to state that knowledge thrown onto the open market helps a lot more to esta-blish a continuous relationship between participants in the group than knowledge thrown into general competition does - not only because it may be considered "nicer" but because there are more options left open how to proceed any kind of discourse further. On the other hand, where there are control issues at stake, they are much more safely handled when dealt with in a more hierarchically structured environment.

Over all I suggest not to analyze huge quantities of fan dis-course material without keeping in mind their intermedial and intercultural contexts. Also to be thought of are the different expressive forms for what I've called "pleasure" - including the more competitive forms that strive for establishing distinctions between "one step up" and "one step down". What if this is con-ceived as communicative strategy just as well - and as a means to establish a relationship between members of the community?
It would imply that there are still some basic terms in need of definition - terms such as "appropriation" and "participation", according to their primary function in everyday communication politics.


Source material

Little Voices (fanzine, devoted to Magnum, P.I.; 13 issues 1985 - 1987. Courtesy of David Romas, keeper of the Magnum Memorabi-lia, Detroit and Selected postings, 1996 - 1998

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