Post-Object Fandom: Television, Identity and Self-Narrative by Rebecca Williams

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In a time of convergence and transmediality, endings of television shows seem to have lost some of their meaning. The recent revivals of shows such as Arrested Development (Netflix, 2013) and The X-Files (Fox, 2016) have also breathed new life into fan cultures that had been considered dead. This rise of revivals and nostalgia projects runs parallel to important changes in our media landscape, characterized by an increase in transmedia projects and a [End Page 171] participatory culture around television. A text may be continued through on-demand services, graphic novels, or fan creations themselves. Moreover, the rise of Netflix and other on-demand streaming services has changed how television is viewed, produced, and experienced. Television is in a moment of transition. How do fans deal with storyworlds that are increasingly expanded on? When does a text end, and how do fans respond to endings? These and many more questions are central to Rebecca Williams’s Post-Object Fandom: Television, Identity and Self-Narrative, which makes endings the starting point of an exhaustive study of fandom.1 Through an analysis of online discussions at fan sites, she investigates the lines between fandom, self-identity, and narrative closure. Post-Object Fandom is an important, and timely, contribution to the fields of television and cinema studies, audience studies, and cultural studies on identity. Williams builds on previous studies of fans and audiences, with her focus on endings being particularly new. She connects formal studies on television endings and fan responses to the psychological interrogation of fandom as a narrative of the self. Her cases include The West Wing (NBC, 2000–2006), Lost (ABC, 2004–2010), Doctor Who (BBC One, 1963–1989, 2005–), and Firefly (Fox, 2002). Methodologically, Williams relies primarily on studies of online forums such as Television without Pity. Williams’s online research is restricted to message boards rather than a wider array of (social) media platforms, and she argues that “forums continue to be useful sites for fan research, given the space they offer for lengthy conversations as well as their ability to archive and maintain older discussions in the future.”2 Williams supplements her online analysis with surveys that enable her to ask more detailed questions; however, the full results are not shown systematically, which makes it hard to comment on the quality of the questionnaire. Williams is always careful in phrasing that the end of a television show does not mean the end of a fandom. Fans still engage in post-object fandom and experience shows anew through DVDs, streaming services, and fan creations. By using the terminology of Anthony Giddens, Williams argues that fan objects create stability in one’s life, or “ontological security,” which endings threaten on various levels. Similar to divorce and bereavement, endings in fandom necessitate closure. Williams is concerned not just with narrative closure but also with periods of transition for fans themselves, whether that ending is when a source text concludes or when members leave a fandom. Similar to the experience of joining a fandom, endings are affective moments and life-changing events. They require “a period of adjustment and re-narration of the self.”3 Engaging with post-object fandom “offers a way to preserve that sense of established self-identity, not just as a fan, but as the broader cultural self who was embodied across the period of fandom.”4 Rather than providing a formal analysis of an ending, and responses to it, Williams theorizes the meaning of endings in fan cultures. The ways endings are written and produced by the industry itself is also significant to Williams and her respondents. An unplanned ending or sudden cancelation inspires different fan activities and discussions than does a purposeful ending. Williams [End Page 172] compares the endings of Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–2013) and The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007) to Lost and The West Wing, allowing an aesthetic of endings to emerge. Fans consider some approaches to endings more fitting than others and envision hierarchies of good and bad finales. Williams examines endings in...

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