With my dissertation topic (which is studying the relationships between sci-fi fandom involvement, social media, and mental health) gaining recent approval from my school, and having SO many people on Twitter wish me well and be excited for me (*waves to Twitter*), I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’m actually doing for my dissertation, and what my perfect world end game is.
People have been asking me what I want to be when I grow up for as long as I can remember, as I’m sure they do everyone. The frustration for me is that, despite going through grade school, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and now even a doctorate, until the last year I really didn’t have an answer to that question. My strategy has been to keep going to school (which is something I’m pretty good at) and hope that something would eventually pop up. Interestingly enough, I think that strategy may have worked, if what I have found I want to do is something that I can somehow find a way to get paid to do.
People always tell you that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well that’s fan-freaking-tastic if what you love is arguing with people (law), fixing people (medical, mental health), playing with numbers (accounting, business) or other such things that have a pretty direct career correlation. Well what about people like me whose passions involve fandom and traveling? Last I checked, no one is hiring professional fangirls to fly around the world to sci-fi cons. Sadly. I would be sooooooo qualified for that position. Also, the application would be amazing….
- Current fandom:
- Currently watching:
- Most frequented vacation spots:
- Number of fandom cons attended (please list all con names/dates/locations/photo ops/VIP):
- List at least three references (use Twitter handles please):
I digress. Anyway, I’ve never been able to figure out how to turn my passions into a job, let alone a career, and so I’ve always just accepted that I’ll have to do something for a living that’s at least tolerable, and leave my passions as my hobbies. Until the last year, when I had an epiphany. The way that Capella University sets up its doctoral programs is that all coursework is done online, but there are three in person gatherings (called colloquia) where you come together with other students and professors to begin laying the groundwork for your dissertation. These colloquia were the absolute best times of my doctoral program so far, hands down. And somehow, somewhere (I’m still not sure where I got the idea specifically), I realized that maybe… just maybe… I could write my dissertation on fandom. I got many crazy looks, and noooo one had much of any idea what I was talking about (that’s a whole other blog entry into itself), but through the experience of developing my research plan for dissertation I’ve realized something freaking amazing: there is science to be done in the field of fandom and mental health.
I think that we can all agree that fandom is here to stay. Social media has exploded, and people have taken to Twitter and Facebook (not to mention Tumblr and god knows how many other sites I don’t even frequent) quite literally by the millions to engage in fandom discussion and general fangirling/boying over our favorite pieces of pop culture. While fandom has been around since the dawn of time, social media has made it much more immediate and much, much more easily accessible. I’m no longer writing a pen pal about my New Kids on the Block obsession and waiting weeks if not months to get something back. Now I’m on Twitter meeting new fangirls/fanboys every single day and chatting about shows online in real time. There is scientific research backing up the fact that fandom is growing, and is becoming ever more powerful in bringing people together and in influencing the object of fanships (Obst, Zinkiewicz, & Smith, 2002a, 2002b; Recuero, Amaral, & Monteiro, 2012). There is scientific research backing up the fact that being part of a sports or music fandom can affect psychological well-being and even suicidal behaviors (Andriessen & Krysinska, 2009; Hirt, Zillmann, Erickson, & Kennedy, 1992; Stack, 2000, 2002; Wann & Weaver, 2009; Wann, 2006). There is scientific research backing up the fact that people can become addicted to their parasocial relationships of choice just like they might a drug (Rudski, Segal, & Kallen, 2009). There is scientific research backing up the fact that social media in and of itself can have a massive impact on wellbeing, both positively and negatively depending on the circumstances (Caplan, 2003; Davila et al., 2012; Giglietto, Rossi, & Bennato, 2012; Nabi, Prestin, & So, 2013; Sanderson & Cheong, 2010; Strano & Wattai Queen, 2012). So we know that fandom (especially online) is growing, it’s not going away, and it’s likely affecting our mental health and well-being. But that’s all we really know at this point.
So what do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a scientific researcher who applies science to the psychology of fandom. My fellow fangirls and fanboys, I think it is time that we recognized that we wield a tremendous amount of power. There is a massive world inside our electronic devices, and it is real. No longer should there be a distinction between “online” and “real life” because online IS real life (if you truly want to nerd out on this topic, check out Joseph Walther – his Social Information Processing Theory is one I plan to use in my dissertation, and is super relevant). But with great power comes great responsibility (sorry, I couldn’t resist…). We know that fandom has power, but science and good old fashioned common sense would state that there are likely both massive pros and massive cons from fandom participation. If it’s not going away, and it’s going to be a large part of our lives, then I feel it’s our responsibility to understand it and harness its power. We need research that discovers what the benefits of fandom participation are, not only so that we can feel justified in our involvement, but also so that professionals in mental health can understand it and so it can be used to help more people. But we also need to understand what the potential pitfalls are and how fandom can be used negatively, so that we as fans can recognize the warning signs in ourselves and others if people need help, keep ourselves safe and healthy, and also keep the objects of our fan-love safe as well. We have an amazing thing going here, but it’s critical that we understand it to the best of our abilities. Online fandoms aren’t going away. This is the New World Order. And now it is time that we understand what that means for us going forward.
So yes, this is what I want to do with my life. I’m passionate and excited about it in a way I’ve never been passionate and excited about anything before, not to mention determined. I want to meet all the fanboys and girls, and I want to understand everyone’s stories about fandom and parasocial relationships (I’ll write about those soon…). I want to dig in and see how fandom is both helping and hurting us. I want to validate our love for fandom, while also keeping us all safe. And yes, at some point it would also be super cool to discuss fandom from the perspective of the objects of fandom to understand how that power and responsibility affects them. And if that means I have to travel to all the Wizard Worlds and Dragon Cons and Comic Cons, then gosh, I guess I’ll just have to work through that challenge.;) But for the first time in my life, I can say that I have a deeper purpose in wanting to immerse myself in that world other than just to hope I can speak in full sentences to David Tennant this time, drink Nocking Point wine, and check out all the amazing cosplayers and fan art. I’m pretty damn excited about working on my dissertation, and ultimately digging in to this work that needs to be done. And you know I’ll keep you all up to date on my progress as I go through the process!
P.S. If anyone wants to hire a fandom researcher, definitely let me know. My desired career isn’t exactly mainstream, and I have yet to see any postings looking for fandom researchers on CareerBuilder, though I remain ever hopeful. 😉 @drfangirlphd @Chrisha_DWGrrl
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