Students explore the culture and politics of anti-fandom -
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Students explore the culture and politics of anti-fandom

woman seated in front of a screen with the words Welcome to Anti-Fan Popcon
Emily Contois

Politics, culture and the rest of it feels more divisive than ever, but what can we learn from the way we love to hate certain shows, celebrities and public figures? University of Tulsa students found out this semester in the course Media and Popular Culture.

Teaching through the fourth semester of a pandemic may have slowed or dimmed the teaching energies of many faculty and students around the country, but not so for Chapman Assistant Professor of Media Studies Emily Contois. “After all we’ve been through, this was the right moment to try creative approaches, especially as we returned to the classroom together after a year online,” she said. “It’s one thing to read, learn and discuss a theoretical concept. It’s another to experience and embody it, to see yourself in it.”

Learning from what we love to hate

cartoon-style book cover featuring a woman in a green top and the title Anti-FandomBuoyed by leading scholarship on anti-fandom and cultural analysis, students addressed a number of complicated questions:

  • How and why does hating on a show, celebrity or public figure produce pleasure and drive cultural exchange?
  • How does it define and reinforce community boundaries and drive other insights into our media environment in often contradictory ways?
  • When is the work of being an anti-fan healthy and when is it corrosive?

“I had written briefly on Guy Fieri anti-fandom in my book Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture and was excited to explore this field of scholarship with my students,” Contois remarked. “Most of them immediately recognized the behaviors of hate-watching and bitter tweeting that blend pleasure and pain, love and hate, in our media practices. Now, they have the tools to critically evaluate them.”

Putting theory into practice

Then came the creative part.

For their final project, student groups recorded energetic and conversational podcasts on the targets of their anti-fandom: TV shows, such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Riverdale; polarizing celebrities, such as Elon Musk and Tom Brady; and even the British royal family.

Some of the groups recorded podcasts on their laptops and smartphones, while others used TUTV Media Lab’s Studio 151, a new student-led podcast studio, under the leadership of Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Film Studies Justin Rawlins.

five students seated in front of a screen
Students left to right: Rory Seidel, Sara Nasreldin, Mary Allison Norris, Julianne Tran, Caiton Beesley

“Our anti-fan podcasts were a fun and challenging way to put our anti-fandom knowledge to practice,” said Julianne Tran, a political science major who is minoring in media studies and Spanish. “As a podcast-lover myself, I especially enjoyed being on the other end and putting together a podcast with my group. This entertaining and worthwhile assignment was definitely a highlight of my semester!”

As a playful conclusion to the semester, Contois hosted Anti-Fan Pop-Con in the style of Comic-Con. “Even from behind COVID-19 face masks, you could feel students’ enthusiasm for their podcasts and their personal anti-fandom, which is something we always strive for as professors: To truly engage our students in concepts that will be meaningful not just in the classroom, but in how they view the world in their everyday lives,” she said.

Anti-Fan Pop-Con caught the eye of Associate Professor of Anthropology Danielle Macdonald, the director of the Henneke Center for Academic Fulfillment. “Courses like Professor Contois’ highlight the creativity of TU faculty in the classroom. Her use of novel assignments like podcasts, and using popular (or unpopular) culture, engages students in critical analysis of the world around them and is a wonderful example of teaching excellence at TU,” Macdonald said.

Emily Contois’ podcast grading rubric is available here. You can also follow the TUTV Media Lab online at @TUTVnews.