Category Archives: Research

Crossroads

So, Saturday (the 6th) was my birthday. My – god help me – 38th birthday. I don’t usually get too affected by birthdays, and truth be told I’m not that affected by this one. But for whatever reason, 38… it just seems really old. Far older than I actually am. And it also feels like time is running out for a lot of major life decisions for me, whether that’s an irrational fear or not. To give you a small glimpse into my neurotic fascinating mind, I’m having trouble with 38 because I’m now closer to 40 than I am 35. And for some reason that bothers me.

On the way to my birthday dinner (which is always an evening commanded by Murphy’s Law, no matter what I do), we got turned away from one restaurant because our party was too large, and were driving to Plan B (Carrabba’s, btw… and if you read all my blog entries, you know why. 😉 ). On the way to the second restaurant, we were stopped at a red light. The light turned green, and Chris went to make a left turn. Except that a driver came up on our left, doing probably at least 60mph, and obviously hadn’t seen the light change. There was a split second where we weren’t sure if we were going to live or die. That sounds very melodramatic, but… it really was that dramatic. For a split second, there was nothing we could do. Chris slammed the breaks, but when a car is coming up that fast, there’s nothing to do but sit, wait, hope they swerve, and try not to pee your pants. The car did swerve at the last millisecond, missing us by inches, nearly hitting yet another car, and then continuing on his/her way. But that feeling of terror lingered.

As we drove on, we attempted to compose ourselves. I was shaking, our daughter (who is 3) was crying and asking why a car wouldn’t stop when they’re supposed to, and Chris was seething with such a potent mixture of fear and rage that he could barely talk. And in those few moments after the incident, I had a few profound thoughts, as people who have near death experiences are wont to do. The first is that being upset that we had to change restaurants is officially ridiculous and I could let that go, because even if we’re inconvenienced, having everyone together is something that I should – and am – extremely thankful for. The second is that… I think I’m on the right track with this whole life thing. I didn’t have that “OMFG REGRETS REGRETS” reaction that I definitely would’ve had ten years ago, and probably would’ve had five years ago. I’m happy in my marriage, I’m happy in my abilities as a parent, and I’m happy in the path that my career is taking. And that was one hell of a nice surprise.

But while I’m content right now, I know there are some big decisions that have to be made. And they have to be made soon.

It’s easy to be content with my current career, such as it is, because right now my career exists entirely of going to school to get my PhD, and writing my dissertation. Going to school is what I am good at, and is firmly in my comfort zone. I have finally, in my mid 30s (yes, dammit, I’m still saying my mid-thirties), found a community that I love, and a topic of research that I love, in fandom. Those memes that you see online that ask you when was the last time you felt truly alive, and how that’s where you know your passion lies… for me that’s at sci-fi cons, talking about fandom and mental health. I LOVE it. And in writing my dissertation on it, it’s been given validity in terms of being something that’s truly worthwhile and professional. But turning it into a post doctorate profession isn’t as easy.

I am getting ready to start my research, as opposed to just talking about, as I’ve been doing for more than two years now. It’s time to get real. And it’s also time to start thinking about graduating and no longer being Dr. Fangirl, PhD (almost) and actually being Dr. Fangirl, PhD. But… what happens when that happens? I know what I want to do… ish… but how? Do I go the route that most PhDs take and go into academia, to become a counseling or psychology professor and study fandom on the side for my publish-or-perish projects? Do I try something else entirely and attempt to get a job as a researcher somewhere, researching whatever I’m paid to research, even if it’s something like glorified market research, just to get my feet wet? Is there a market for academics in con life, to where I could work with sci-fi conventions in some capacity? I would love to moderate panels and ask some real questions… feelings based ones, like a Geek Oprah. But is there a market for such a thing? I’m sure it can’t be a full career. So, to supplement that (if that’s even a thing, which is a long shot), should I find a way to research on my own, and perhaps write books about it? And/or do more blogging and maybe podcasting? Give talks at conventions/conferences?

Whenever I talk to people about my research, the response I get is excitement. People want the research I’m doing. They want to understand fandom for themselves, as participants, and they want some validation for their excitement and dedication. I’ve gotten that reaction from other fangirls and fanboys, but also from academics who know what I’m talking about and want the information to be able to help their clients. I’ve found my niche. I’m beyond thrilled. But… what’s the next step?  I know I’d love to give more academic talks, as I greatly enjoyed the ones I gave at SkydogCon and NolaCon. But how do I find places to let me talk? And what would I talk about? If I write a book, what would it be on, precisely? And how would I research it? If I did a podcast, what would be my primary topics or prevailing themes? Can I do any of this while I’m writing my dissertation, or do I have to wait until that’s done? What can I do with the information from my dissertation after it’s published? How am I going to pay my bills immediately upon leaving school? And who in the world would I even turn to to ask for guidance on this kind of thing, since very few people in academia know what I’m talking about when I discuss fandom?

This week I read the book Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton for the first time. I cannonballed the whole thing in a day. It’s sort of an autobiography but in pseudo-blog format, and focuses on the time in his life when he decided that he would leave the career that for him was mainstream and obvious (acting), and instead embark on something different and much scarier (writing). The book was written in 2004, and obviously Wil has done pretty well for himself since then, so I’d say that whole career change thing worked out in his favor. He certainly figured out a way to make fandom work for him while also making it awesome for us. But he’s Wil Freaking Wheaton, and I’m… me. His book was inspirational, and exactly the kind of thing I need to read right now, but the fear and anxiety are still real.

Meanwhile, there are other major life choices that I’m working on. I’m 38, but the possibility of another kid is still on the table. I have two step-daughters, who are both older (teens/20s… yes, there is a human on this earth in their 20s that calls me “mom”… no wonder I’m having age freak outs this year!), and my bio daughter who is 3. I had always envisioned having two kids, but circumstances in my life have always been nothing if not convoluted and challenging. I’d resigned myself to having one biological child, and for a while there I was comfortable with it… but I have never fully been able to shake the feeling that my family isn’t yet complete. But nor can I shake the feeling that if I have another child now, I may not get the career that I want (insert feminist rant here). Which is, of course, a feeling made even more frustrating by the fact that I’m not even precisely sure what that career will be! People have two kids all the time and make it work, and I think I’m a fairly high functioning individual who would also be able to do so, but trying to carve out my career niche while starting over with an infant is daunting. There are so many what ifs about the scenario (what if there are pregnancy complications, what if the kid never sleeps, what if she’s totally chill and I can easily manage her while doing other things, what if my relationship with my current kids suffers, what if my marriage suffers, what if this child is exactly what we all need, and I’m too scared…), but I guess the best and most applicable advice I could get could be borrowed from my favorite author, Karen Marie Moning:

Hope Strengthens, Fear Kills.

I try to repeat that to myself as often as possible. Because I really do believe it.

Overall, the kid decision is a decision that will be made by me and my husband, but with this latest birthday, the kid stewing has set up shop right alongside the career stewing, and so my brain is in hyperdrive. I’m 38 and ABD*. As my Papaw would say, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. I guess I just have to find the pot.

 

*All but dissertation – a description of someone who has completed all of their coursework for their doctorate, but hasn’t yet completed the dissertation to formally get the degree.

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Filed under Journal, Mental Health, PhD, Research

Our celebrity significant others: The what, where, why, and how of parasocial relationships

On social media these days, the term fandom is thrown around a lot. I don’t know if we can say that the general public knows what the term means, but on Twitter, Tumblr, and many corners of Facebook, the word is used liberally and unashamedly, which warms my little fangirl heart. I’ve even heard some celebrities use it, giving further credibility to the term, which is also very exciting! However, there’s one term that I haven’t heard thrown around much, despite the fact that we all engage in it every day… and that is parasocial relationship.

The term is probably not used much because it’s a little daunting and not at all self-explanatory, despite its importance. So what is a parasocial relationship? It is essentially the relationship that an individual has with media or a celebrity. Such relationships tend to be one sided (I say “tend to” because social media is changing this somewhat, but I’ll get to that in a bit…), but are still immensely strong. When you think about pieces of popular culture that have affected your life — television, movies, music… maybe even games or comics – I think many if not most of us can look at our interactions or feelings about those things as a kind of relationship. Dictionary.com defines the word relationship as a “connection,” and I absolutely have a connection with many popular culture icons or entities. The difference between a parasocial relationship and fandom is that parasocial relationships are one on one between you and the media or celeb, whereas fandom is a community and is therefore many, many connections with other people who love what (or who) you love. The idea that parasocial relationships tend to be one sided, where as fandom is not, can make parasocial relationships both safer and more challenging all at the same time.

I will preface this now by saying that I’m not an expert in the field of parasocial relationships. I’ve run into the term multiple times while studying fandom, and thought it was super intriguing and wanted to write about it, but the more I look into it, the more I understand that the rabbit hole surrounding the term is a deep one. Research on the topic isn’t new by any means, and has been around since the 1960s. There’s studies looking at how these one sided relationships can help individuals form identity and self-esteem (especially in childhood), how they can lead to dangerous/stalkery type behaviors (yes, stalkery is totally a word), and how social media is changing things. Maybe someday when I’ve read all of that research I’ll get more in depth, but for now I’ll just keep it superficial and tell you the basics of what I’ve learned and what I think you may think is cool about it.

The primary reason I think parasocial relationships are interesting is because literally everyone has them. Whether you’re hard core into fandom activities, or you’re more of a recluse, everyone in this day and age has some kind of relationship with some kind of media. While it’s not really possible to be a part of a fandom without some kind of parasocial relationship, you can totally have a parasocial relationship without being part of a fandom. For example, my relationship with the New Kids on the Block is one of the longest and strongest relationships of my life, parasocial or otherwise. They were there for me during the Backstage to meet husbanddark and traumatic days of my adolescence, and I would imagine some researcher somewhere would love to know how that affected my identity development, self esteem, moral development, and overall attachment (spoiler alert: it did, a LOT). When they came back together in 2006, they were one of the first celebrities to use Twitter, and it brought the relationship that I had with them to a new level. However, despite my most valiant efforts to be a part of the fandom, I found most of the people in the fandom to be… well… less than welcoming, we’ll say. Not all of them – trust me, I have some AWESOME NKOTB fan friends — but most of my interactions were negative enough that I no longer felt comfortable in the fandom itself. So. My relationship with the New Kids (parasocial) continues to be massive and real, but my existence within the fandom not so much. I’m sure others can relate with their own parasocial/fandom experiences.

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David Tennant and I at Wizard World Philly.

What I also think is interesting is that people involved in media (celebrities, execs, who knows who else) are starting to recognize the strength and power in these relationships, and are looking to encourage them. The sci-fi/fantasy world has cons all over the place where people can go and meet their favorite celebrity (Wizard World, DragonCon, ComicCon, etc),  musicians are offering more and more meet and greets before shows for hardcore fans, and even authors are not only having book signings but massive book launch parties and conventions to celebrate the universes they’ve created, not to mention places like the Hogwarts SelfieWizarding World of Harry Potter which are now all over the world. Lots of celebrities are taking to social media to interact with fans, and sometimes it seems even developing some real relationships with them. Parasocial relationships are becoming somewhat less para, and somewhat more social. But that brings with it its own set of challenges.

Obviously I’m not a celebrity and I don’t really know any celebrities so I have no idea what it’s like from a celebrity’s point of view, and while I’d love to talk to some and understand, at this point I can only guess. What I can say is that from down here in the land of civilians, there are a lot of pros and cons about interacting with celebrities as much as we get to these days. The pros are obvious. When Jonathan Knight from the New Kids joined Twitter and I got to see the stupid, mundane stuff that he does on a regular basis, he went from being this ultra private man who I knew very little about (and yes, had put on a giant pedestal), to being a real guy with feelings and a job and 3rd grade boy humor (god I love it, even though I roll my eyes so much at his tweets…lol) who I felt closer to. Even though he rarely, rarely responds to me, just being able to have a platform to communicate with him in an immediate way which he MIGHT see is so extremely cool. And on those few occasions when he’s Jon DMtweeted me (twice to be exact), the squeeing has been REAL.;) Knowing that our worlds can possibly brush against each other’s so regularly makes the parasocial relationship feel less one-sided, which is exhilarating. The time that he spends sharing his life with us also makes me feel that he’s thinking of us even as he goes through his day to day life, which also makes me feel valued as a fan.

The downfalls are there though too. The more a celebrity puts themselves out there on social media, the more open they are to negativity, harassment, and even abuse and stalking. I know Jon has had people take clues from his tweets and show up at a job he was doing (working in real estate) that he was less than impressed with. David Tennant has called Twitter “stalking by committee,” I would imagine because he’s seen some things he can’t unsee there, and then of course there’s Stephen Amell and the recent Amellygate. I believe those things are likely frustrating for celebs, but they do have the opportunity to express their outrage pretty publicly and get some catharsis. But what about us?

I know countless people who have had strong, deep parasocial relationships with celebrities who have then met those celebrities and been disappointed. Never meet your heroes, right? Well, back in the day it was pretty rare to be able to engage with your heroes, but these days the chances are greater. But as many of these interactions are either under high-pressure in a few seconds at a con or backstage, or through text-based social media which is notorious for misunderstandings, all of this celebrity interaction can lead to high (or even impossible) expectations that aren’t met. But worse yet, despite the issues with these interactions being relatively small most of the time, it’s also hard to resolve them and move on since the relationships are still so primarily one-sided.

What do I mean? Well, here are a few examples I can share, as I seem to have a Felicity Smoak-esque level of social awkwardness when interacting with celebrities.

SentenceFragmentsExample 1: We all know how strong my relationship is with the New Kids. Well, when they reunited, I fully bought VIP passes which had backstage passes so I could FINALLY meet these men who I’d loved for so long. Backstage, when I went to say hi to Danny, he basically didn’t acknowledge me, as he was very, VERY clearly eyeballing some hot girl in our VIP group and literally following her around. As I had some real body image self-esteem issues at the time, it was hurtful. But obviously since I only had 3 minutes in their presence, and that included meeting all five and taking a picture, I didn’t exactly have time to mention it, talk about it, or process it with Danny himself (plus I was so star struck I wouldn’t have been able to talk anyway, even if I’d had an hour). So, even though I had a 20 year long relationship with this man that was life-changing for me, I had no way to work through this negative thing that had happened, as I have no access to the guy. Just enough access to be dangerous, apparently, which was tough. Logic states that it was their first reunion tour, he was single, and he had a momentary lapse in judgment and so obviously I’m not going to write off 20 years because of one interaction. But it did suck, and having no way to resolve it sucked too.

Example 2: Last year (2014) I went to Vancouver on a grand adventure to see David Tennant filming Gracepoint. Not because I’m a stalker (I swear), but because my life was epically boring, I needed some excitement in my world, and I’d never done anything like that before. So a Twitter friend and I lost our minds, and off we went! While we were there, we discovered we were staying at the same hotel as David. And though we tried to meet him on set (and leave him alone at the hotel, despite seeing him there several times), we weren’t able to. So on our last day we got desperate and approached him at the hotel for a picture. He was super nice and completely wonderful, but I’m also pretty sure he was fairly annoyed. So I felt awful. But then we ran into him again later that evening and he said a very animated “HIYA” to us. And feeling bad about earlier, we just smiled and left him alone, all standing around different parts of the lobby awkwardly doing nothing (we were waiting to be seated for dinner, he seemed to be waiting for a ride). But then later realized that THAT was probably rude too, since he likely wanted to try to talk like a normal person and instead we acted like star struck teenagers. *head desk* Now I get to live with this forever, because even if I *did* get the chance to explain it to him (highly unlikely), I’m quite sure he wouldn’t even remember. Which should somehow make me feel better about it, and yet doesn’t! Sigh…

Example 3: During a recent Facebook live chat, Stephen Amell stated that he wasn’t sure when Season 3 of Arrow was coming to Netflix but that he really wished he did know because people keep asking. Wanting to get that answer in quickly, I typed out “October 7, I believe.” Well, Stephen went on to chat about the premiere of Arrow Season 4 (also on Oct 7) and then looked at his feed, saw my statement, and I guess thought I was correcting his math, since he’d said it was a certain amount of days to the premiere? So.. he said my name (SQUEE), but was a bit snarky about it because he thought I was being snarky. This is the tiniest of tiny misunderstandings… seriously no big deal… but considering this is literally the only direct interaction I’ve ever had with him, and he thought I was being a jerkface, and so then he was a bit of a jerkface, it’s irritating. Lol. I tried to tell him what I meant, but with 20,000 people also typing, there was no chance he’d see my clarification. Sigh. Not a big deal, and I’m over it, but just another example of how social media can lead to interactions with celebrities that don’t go as planned, but with us having no chance to rectify these small issues, leaving these lingering little things unresolvable. Don’t worry Stephen, I still love you. But I wasn’t being a jerkface. Promise. 😉

As fans, we now ultimately live in a world that is radically changing the entire landscape of how one goes about being a fan. Whether you’re into sports, music, science fiction, superheroes, books, fantasy, or any other host of media productions, if there’s someone you really want to meet or interact with, chances are if you give it a solid try, you’ll get that opportunity. SocialDelete Tumblr internet history and gifs media has made the world smaller. I know for a fact that at the time I wrote the original draft of this blog, Jonathan Knight was sitting on a cruise ship in the Atlantic with several thousand fanboys and girls on the New Kids cruise, and I know much of what he did the day I originally wrote this because social media (from him, the other guys, and my friends on the ship) had let me know. I also know that if I had enough money, I could’ve been on that damn boat with him (and I will one day, if it kills me). As of the day I’m posting this, some current happenings are that Jon’s extra pissed off at Texas, Stephen Amell in coming to Louisville this weekend with damn near the entire Arrow cast (and also nearly froze his boy bits off last week filming in the ocean), and Emily Betts and Colton Haynes had the most epic Halloween costumes ever. I think this has a lot of implications for parasocial relationships as technology grows and changes.

This weekend I’ll be meeting Stephen Amell for the first time, which I am rather ridiculously stoked about. But meeting him is going to be a bit strange because of the ways technology has changed parasocial relationships. Stephen is on social media almost every day, and is ridiculously open in the things that he puts out there. I know more about what Stephen is doing day to day than I do about most of my extended family members, let alone the celebrities whose work I adore. I’ve met numerous people online over the years, and have shared those day to day things. You come to know people — or at least feel like you do — despite having never met in person. And then when you do meet in person, it’s like getting together with an old friend. It’s one of the things I love most about the Internet! But with Stephen, it’s that type of online relationship, but it’s one sided. So when I meet him, I’ll have this level of comfort or familiarity (like meeting an old friend) that he won’t have, because I’ll be a complete stranger to him. Just an odd dynamic that I haven’t run into or really thought about before. I’m sure that Stephen deals with that a lot — people that think they know him for real, when obviously none of us do — but it certainly must affect the way he interacts with fans, and how fans interact with him. The psychology of it all is just very interesting to contemplate.

Ultimately, I believe that we are always going to have those connections with media, because that is the very purpose of media. Reading or watching stories, listening to music, watching sports, etc, these are all ways in which we process and reflect on our own emotions, which is why we find things we so readily connect with. That’s been around for centuries if not millennia, and won’t change. What has changed, however, is our access to the creators of these things which are so important to us. While this can absolutely mean that we can become that much closer to these things that are so near and dear to our heart, it also means that our heroes are likely not going to be able to live up there on the pedestals we used to create for them. This can be inspirational in showing us that they really are just like us, and any one of us has the potential for greatness. It can make us feel a part of the process, and a part of their world (cue Little Mermaid singing), which I know is exciting for me. But I think that it means that we also have to be somewhat more forgiving of the humanness of the celebrities that we love so much, as if we have additional access to them, it means that they are going to make mistakes because they are human, just like us. But of course on the flip side of that, with so much media, so many celebrities, and so many ways to communicate with the rest of the world, it also means that celebrities will need to take much greater care with their interactions with their fans, as it will become harder for them to live in their ivory towers, being arrogant, aloof, and separate from the rest of us. I love David Tennant because he seems like a genuinely nice, caring, and good person on top of his incredible talent. If he was an ass, it absolutely would affect my feelings on supporting him and his career, no matter how epic is acting is. This means that the celebrities of today have to be not only talented, but decent people as well. I have to say, while that does seem like a tall order, I think being a decent human being should be part of the job description for basically everyone, so I don’t feel too bad about it. And so even though I’ve had some awkward interactions with the New Kids, David Tennant, and Stephen Amell, I still look forward to seeing them again at concerts and cons, because I’m confident that I’ve chosen to engage in parasocial relationships with the right people, and I guess as fans in this day and age, that’s the most important thing we can ask for.

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Filed under Fangirling, Mental Health, Research

What I Want to be When I Grow Up

Little Engine That Literally Can't Even

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:
  • OTP:
  • 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

References

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Caplan, S. E. (2003). Preference for online social interaction: A theory of problematic Internet use and psychosocial well-being. Communication Research, 30(6), 625–648. doi:10.1177/0093650203257842

Davila, J., Hershenberg, R., Feinstein, B. A., Gorman, K., Bhatia, V., & Starr, L. R. (2012). Frequency and quality of social networking among young adults: Associations with depressive symptoms, rumination, and corumination. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(2), 72–86. doi:10.1037/a0027512

Giglietto, F., Rossi, L., & Bennato, D. (2012). The open laboratory: Limits and possibilities of using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as a research data source. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 30(3-4), 145–159. doi:10.1080/15228835.2012.743797

Hirt, E. R., Zillmann, D., Erickson, G. A., & Kennedy, C. (1992). Costs and benefits of allegiance: Changes in fans’ self-ascribed competencies after team victory versus defeat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(5), 724–738. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.63.5.724

Nabi, R. L., Prestin, A., & So, J. (2013). Facebook friends with (health) benefits? Exploring social network site use and perceptions of social support, stress, and well-being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16(10), 721–7. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0521

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002a). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 1: Understanding sense of community in an international community of interest. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 87–103. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.1052

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002b). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 2: Comparing neighborhood and interest group sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 105–117. doi:10.1002/jcop.1053

Recuero, R., Amaral, A., & Monteiro, C. (2012). Fandoms, trending topics and social capital in Twitter. Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2, 1–24. Retrieved from http://spir.aoir.org/index.php/spir/article/view/7/pdf

Rudski, J. M., Segal, C., & Kallen, E. (2009). Harry Potter and the end of the road: Parallels with addiction. Addiction Research & Theory, 17(3), 260–277. doi:10.1080/16066350802334595

Sanderson, J., & Cheong, P. (2010). Tweeting prayers and communicating grief over Michael Jackson online. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 30(5), 328–340. doi:10.1177/0270467610380010

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Stack, S. (2002). Opera subculture and suicide for honor. Death Studies, 26, 431–437. doi:10.1080/0748118029008676

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Wann, D. L. (2006). Examining the potential causal relationship between sports team identification and psychological well being. Journal of Sports Behavior, 29(1), 79–95. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/215874095?accountid=27965

Wann, D. L., & Weaver, S. (2009). Understanding the relationship between sport team identification and dimensions of social well-being. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 219–230. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2009-08708-002&site=ehost-live\ndan.wann@murraystate.edu

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Allons-y!

allonsy

The first post always seems to be the hardest for me. Yet here I sit with my laptop in the middle of the night looking to get on with it. While academic writing has always been a strength for me, writing in a more informal tone is one that has escaped me over the years, though I used to enjoy it a lot. I am hoping that beginning this blog will have the benefit not only of helping me regain that skill, but also to document this rather unique time in my life: the time of dissertation, mixed with parenting a toddler, step-parenting two teenagers, managing a household, attempting to build a career, dealing with sandwich-generation issues, and attempting to not go completely and utterly insane in the process. No problem!

I do feel like I may have some interesting insights to offer regarding this whole PhD situation, as my situation is anything but traditional (if there is such a thing as a traditional doctoral student?). I am currently working on my PhD in Advanced Studies in Human Behavior (essentially a PhD in counseling) at Capella University, which is a program that is almost entirely online. With my understanding being that only a very small percentage of the population have their PhDs, my guess would be that those who’ve received this degree through an online format are even teeny tinier. The other thing that may make my educational journey a bit different than most is that, though most of my colleagues are writing their dissertations on things such as services for autistic children, care-giving for individuals with Alzheimer’s, or narcissism in teenagers (all of which are TOTALLY valid things to study, and are all dissertations I look forward to reading), my dissertation is going to be on fangirling. Yes, fangirling. My passion within the field has always been the relationship between psychology and technology. I am forever fascinated by how the Internet has changed the way we form and maintain relationships, the way we communicate, and the way we spend both our professional and our leisure time. I fall into the generation that remembers life before the Internet, but was young enough to enthusiastically embrace it when it became readily available. Forget experimenting with marijuana and lesbian relationships in college – I truly discovered the Internet in my freshman year of college. I was experimenting with chat rooms and list-servs! I have therefore always been intrigued and passionate about the online world, including communities and relationships formed there. In my dissertation, I plan to bridge the gap between fangirling, the Internet, and mental health, which hasn’t been done before. I want to know if fangirling, and specifically fangirling online, is good for you. And I can’t wait to get started finding out!

I have a host of ideas as to different topics for entries going forward. Even at this early stage in the dissertation process (I’m waiting for results on comps as we speak, and will formally begin dissertation in July, 2015 *knock wood*), I’ve had some interesting experiences with my topic. Doing research that is on a non-traditional topic brings with it is own set of challenges, as does conducting research that involves online components, as the research world is still trying to figure out how to handle the Internet in terms of ethics (despite me being in school online… ah, the irony). I look forward to sitting down and going into detail on some of these topics, as I believe they may be of help to others getting ready or currently going through similar avenues as I am.

Ultimately, what I’d love to get from this blog is conversation. If I write something you think is cool, please drop me a line and say so. If you disagree with something I said, or want to discuss things, same goes. The Internet is this magical place where having access to really smart and interesting people from all over the world is right at your finger tips. I love meeting new people and sharing ideas. I’m also well aware of the fact that while I have some decent ideas, I have loads of room to grow. Collaborating and discussing things with others I find to be all kinds of awesome, so please feel free to reach out! I look forward to getting my fangirl and my scholar on, all here in one centralized place. 😉

-Chrisha

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