This week in Fandom, we discussed Fan Motivations and read chapter 2 of Buying In by Rob Walker. The author depicts Fandom through the DesireCode as both an escape from conformity as well as joining-in to find belonging in a community when and where there is no belonging elsewhere. Deep down, each of us is different, unique, and special. We are also all just the same. We all want to feel like individuals. We all want to feel like part of something bigger than our selves. Resolving that tension is what the Desire Code is all about.
The Desire Code presents a Fan Identity paradox where people are under more pressure than ever before to find identity themselves, when historically societal class structures and family backgrounds dictated who someone was and what they were able/capable of doing. In youth culture today, they are trying to find a role in society and find a way to live authentically to who they are and what they enjoy doing. Kids are adaptable and have the flexibility to try new things and reinvent themselves until they find what works for them. In a way. they have a bit of identity leisure in that they are able and capable of doing things that were not available to their families in past generations.
The author interviewed, Ed Templeton, a professional skateboarder and owner of Toy Machine (a popular brand of skateboards) and exposed a very interesting fact that there was an “outlaw aspect” to riding skateboards in the 1980s, and that a lot of kids who were into skateboarding were from broken homes. His skateboard mates were “outcast kids” and skateboarding was illegal in many public spaces of Templeton’s home town in Orange County, CA. In a place where these kids did not have stability at home, they were in turn able to create that safety within their community and skateboarding culture.
In these communities, mainstream or not — many skater kids would either get sponsored by brands to advertise their level of belonging/status/clout, or create their own fandoms within their individual groups. They would introduce their own commodities (stickers and graphics) and create underground zines as well. Within these outlawed groups, Templeton and others were able to form an identity and become an individual when outcast was all that was known before.
When I was in middle school (late 90s/early 00s), skateboarding was definitely carried a different meaning — especially if you were sponsored. I went to a middle school in a predominately white neighborhood that was on the upper middle class side of the city, where kids who skated ‘professionally’ had the best reputations. Completely opposite of what the author states here. I was a novice at best and wore the shirts, had the gear, and sold merch I collected at various competitions/expos. I was a poser and merchant simultaneously, yet I belonged. It was an identity that I had until I joined and begun my hockey career — also very similar in nature.
Adversely, Walker discusses the Red Hat Society and how they are counter-cultural in nature. They grew quickly and are known for wearing bright costumes, having exuberant group behaviors, and are typically all over the 50 year age marker. The subculture motive is to challenge the way that society expects older women to behave — they are rebelling by conforming to a new group that is highly individualistic and multicultural. Their exotic nature of wearing purple dresses and red hats grew to a network 0f 850,000 members worldwide, and a retail shop where hundreds of varieties of hats and dresses were sold as well as other commodity elements and items.
What’s so interesting is that even the most mundane items (like pens, buttons, stickers, etc) can be subverted and take on even more symbolic dimension. In skateboarding and even in custom Red Hat items, both classifications of groups have immense buying power. There is an unexpected consequence of advertising where individualization and commodity have an un-measurable amount of buying power. Marketing and advertising both fuel these groups in their claiming of cultural capital.