Borderless Fandom and Contemporary Popular Cultural Scene in Chinese Cyberspace
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This dissertation introduces the current Chinese internet fan culture, a subculture basing on consumption and rewriting media and literary texts of various national origins. In seven topics and case studies, I discuss the relationship between the online fan subculture and the mainstream cultural value system, showing the dynamic of consumption, reproduction and community building process of media fans. I argue that Chinese fan culture is far from a subversive community in the periphery that simply rebels against the center, but a constantly negotiating subculture that adopts various evaluation system and hierarchies from the mainstream culture and the educational institution. Compared to the pre-internet age, reading and (re)writing practices of the online fan culture do not present a significant break in its taste, content or form. Instead, online fan culture manifests its uniqueness in the special intimacy that each individual enjoys with the texts he/she likes and the idiosyncratic evaluation systems contingent to personal preferences and desires. This dissertation uses ethnography, including self-ethnography as the main methodology, also incorporating textual analysis and historical analysis. I assume double identities in this study as both a scholar and a fan, taking both perspectives and being responsible for both communities. This position does not guarantee that I have privilege in knowledge, but it constantly reminds me to question the relationship between the studying subject and objects in ethnography. Fan culture’s research value lies not in its literary merit as the canonical literature. It should be understood and studied under a new logic of a decentered and tribalized global society, but not without a neoliberal cultural hierarchy. Fan culture has thoroughly saturated into people’s daily life experience and shifted the meaning of being an audience in the new digital world. Fan culture is never an independent entity, but is deeply rooted in the contemporary social and cultural environment, responding to social issues and cultural debates, including the convergence of global popular culture, the complicated interactions between the internet and the print media, the blurry boundary between the mainstream and the subculture, among others. These issues directly present the unique cultural experience of contemporary Chinese youths and provide an insightful perspective to view social changes that are taking place in China. Because fan culture and community manifest themselves on the internet as decentered but interconnected tribes, they are not easily generalized and quantified. The phenomena I study are biased and localized. I do not aim for a conclusion based on a generalized view but instead, focus on the particularity of each phenomenon, especially its relationship with contemporary sociocultural details. I aim to provide a glimpse into the authentic online subculture in China, not as an example for youth subversion, but as a mode of cultural experience on the internet in a globalizing world.