Fans of Chekhov
Re-Approaching “High Culture”
The academic literature on fandom is both extensive and central within popular cultural studies. Yet there is little comparable analysis of fans of high-culture entertainment forms like theater. Superficially, this may be due to an old-fashioned cultural studies rejection of high culture, even though some of the founding fathers of the field, like Raymond Williams, worked comfortably in both television and theater studies (see Roberta Pearson's polemic—with which I agree—on behalf of the return to discussion of cultural value in the previous chapter). But nor has there been much help from within theater studies. Despite a powerful theorization of performance in recent years, audience studies within theater/performance analysis have tended to remain a marginal activity, and where these have existed (as in Susan Bennett's work, 1997), they have not engaged with theories of fandom.
However, a sociological version of performative analysis, in Abercrombie and Longhurst's Audiences (1998), has focused on fandom as part of a consumer-to-enthusiast spectrum. Their specification of differentiated identities (of consumption and production) among consumers, fans, cultists, and enthusiasts is part of a broader “audiencing” move beyond the “resistant reading” tradition in audience research (see also Alasuutari 1999b).
In turn, though, Abercrombie and Longhurst's underpinning postmodernist emphasis on “the play and the pleasure that is involved in fandom” (1998: 155) is itself being superseded after 9/11 and the 7/7 London bombings by an extension of “risk society,” “risk culture,” and “risk governmen