Book Review: Millennial Fandom
A very lacking scholarly study on fandoms in the millennial generation
August 27, 2015 at 12:00 pm
You scour the Internet for every scrap of trivia you could possibly fit into your brain. You find the funniest gifs full of inside jokes and send them to your friends. The memes make you laugh until you cry. You might read, maybe even write, fanfiction. All of us have done it; you can’t deny it. It’s all part of being a fan. Millennial Fandom explores what it means to be a fan and how fandoms can shape a generation.
Louisa Ellen Stein’s Millennial Fandom is an academic work about fandoms (particularly television fandoms) and how they work in and define the millennial generation. Stein argues that both the “millennial” and “fan” labels are rooted in self-identification, as both terms are “calling cards indicating one’s own particular cultural outlook, experiences, interests, practices, or pleasures.” Stein brings her thesis to light by “map[ping] an emerging picture of millennials and millennial fandoms” through diverse media like press coverage, televisual text, and online viewer participation, among others.
Stein draws from Millennials Rising by Neil Howe and William Strauss as a primary text in defining the characteristics of millennials, and relies on those definitions in conjunction with her media sources in solidifying her argument. This, to me, is a huge problem. Millennials Rising is a great and thorough text on millennials, and Howe and Strauss do a good job predicting the characteristics of the generation and how they would change in the future. Unfortunately, Millennials Rising was published in 2000. The World Trade Center attacks in 2001, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 respectively, and the financial crisis of 2008 undoubtedly shaped millennials in ways that Howe and Strauss could not have predicted. To use a text that precludes these events puts Millennial Fandom at a huge disadvantage. My gut instincts tell me that Stein chose this text because it looks at millennials more positively than the sociological texts published later, which makes it a better fit for Stein’s narrative. However, this is disappointingly poor research on Stein’s part. The research should influence the text, not the other way around.
Another weakness of Millennial Fandom is its focus on the Glee fandom. While Glee had a strong fandom at its heyday, it is just a bit dated. Glee was at its peak popularity in 2010, and while its viewership remained strong for a couple more years, it took a complete nosedive after the 4th season, losing half of its audience. Viewership continued to decline until the show’s cancellation in early 2015. By the time this book comes out, Glee will have been off the air for over 5 months. Drawing from stronger and longer-lasting fandoms, like Doctor Who or Supernatural, would have been more relavant (both shows are still airing new episodes) and could resonate with a larger audience. Once again, I suspect that Stein chose Glee purposefully in order to create an argument that fits her narrative as well as the narrative of Millennial Rising. Stein often alludes to the diversity of the characters’ race and sexuality as proof that millennials have a more progressive outlook than previous generations. However, the “lessons” that Glee imparts about tolerance and acceptance can easily be found in other, stronger fandoms.
Millennial Fandom‘s best feature is its readability. For a scholarly analysis, this book was a fun, informative, and accessible text. Media studies are becoming more and more popular in academia, so Millennial Fandom is at the forefront of this burgeoning area of academia. While it’s not the strongest example available, there is a definite lack of scholarly texts about fandoms. I believe that Stein’s ideas can help build a foundation for future, stronger arguments about fandom and its impact on millennials in the field of media studies. For this reason, Millennial Fandom is a recommended read for academic and casual readers alike.
Three out of Five Crones
I was given a free e-galley from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Pub Date: August 15, 2015
Retail Price: $24.00