Friday, December 01, 2006

"It's Hard for Fen to Explain it to Mundanes": Fanspeak and Media Mediated Discourse

Meeting with my friends Marguerite, Iris, and Abby on a Friday night to watch anime was not a special occasion of any sort. Drawing on my interest in media fan studies, I had hoped to capture some form of “fanspeak” for the purposes of this assignment, but rather than analyze talk at a more formalized event like a fan club meeting or convention I instead decided to focus my research on an area primarily ignored by fan scholars – the highly informal, everyday fan interaction in a private setting. In this type of interaction a media text will usually provide the focal point for discussion, but I discovered that it actually acts as a basis for social interaction on a wider scale. While a large portion of the talk on that Friday evening did revolve around the actual television series we were watching, the text acted as a medium through which the four participants mediated discussion on their daily lives.
Due to the fact that it is usually viewed in Japanese with English subtitles, the act of watching anime actually allows for socialization as the subtitles can be read while talk between the viewers occurs simultaneously. Before turning to the specific content of this talk, I would first like to address the use of fan slang in our conversation. Fan groups are well known for each having their own distinctive jargon, but while writing this paper I realized just how foreign such language is to an outside observer, as indicated by the fact that I felt compelled to include a glossary of fanspeak, and by the number of quotes I eschewed as I thought that they would not be readily understood without a complicated explanation. I attempted to seek some feedback on this issue from one of the participants, Abby, and she remarked, “It’s hard for fen to explain what we do to mundanes”. Even this sentence would not make sense to a non-fan, and includes a value judgement about the non-fan perspective (namely, that it is “mundane” and boring).
Upon review of the recording of Friday’s conversation, a pattern of narrative immediately became clear. The watching of a fan text functioned as the starting point for all the other topics we discussed, but through association led to a variety of other subjects. Past social events around the watching of the show were related, with other members adding commentary, constantly asking for clarification on the narrative and inserting anecdotal narratives of their own. The topic, though, always returned to the current media text we were viewing, which led again to the social context in which it was last seen. For example, I offer the following topical associations:

Looking through the DVD collection  discussion of terrible
acting of English voice actors  Iris’s birthday party several
years ago when one text was watched in English and the party
attendee’s reactions  current participants’ reactions to the same
text  other examples of awful English dubs  differences
between English and Japanese women’s speech  events in
Iris’s and my own Japanese class  the protagonist of the
current show being viewed as a Japanese female archetype…

The talk seemed to follow this same circular pattern of subject association throughout the entirety of the two hours that was recorded, as the text was again and again used to mediate conversation about our personal lives, funny anecdotes, and fan gossip.
As interruption and successful topic changes can be a marker of dominance in discourse, I paid special attention to this feature of talk as I analyzed my data. Interruptions were extremely prevalent in this case, often occurring so frequently that I found it difficult to transcribe as large portions of the tape are unintelligible due to all four participants speaking at once. However, rather than revealing unequal power, the interruptions appeared to be used to construct narrative interactively, with each participant adding new information or opinion to the discussion which was acknowledged by the others:
Extract (1)

1. Katie: One thing the English can never get right is the kawaii, they just don’t
2. know [how to do it-]
3. Iris: [Their women never] sound cute enough, you [know-
4. K: [-yeah, they just sound whiny, 5. like, like, oh [my God-]
6. Abby: [-No, they] need to take young British actors, b-
7. because they can do the cute voice.
8. (2.0)
9. Marguerite: Yea::h, like in Howl’s Moving Castle [they-
10. A: [-yeah, ‘cause] the British-
11. M: Sophie-
12. I: -Yeah, Sophie was 13. really good in [that-
14. K: [Yea::h.]
15. I: There’s a couple of them that I-I really don’t mind watching in English, and
16. Howl’s- Howl is one of them. I will watch it in [Eng-
17. K: [Fucking Batma::n, ma]:::n-
18. I: [-Christian 19. fucking Bale-
20. M: O::h yeah!-
21. I: What’s the other one? Uh Bebop’s not bad in English-
22. K: Man I just watched Howl last week [and-]
23. M: I ca::n’t [wa:tch the Japanese version of Ranma.]
24. I: [I just saw it last week too!]

As is clearly seen in the above extract, the four participants in this conversation do not use interruption as a method of exerting dominance but rather as a cooperative means to co-construct the narrative, as indicated by the frequent use of the agreement hedge, “Yeah” (lines 4, 9, 10, 12, 14, and 20).
Members of the conversation also were noted to spend a great deal of time helping others understand any references to inside jokes, past events, or details of a text. In particular, the participants shared behind-the-scenes information in order to increase the group’s knowledge as a whole, following Jenkins’ (1992) account of fan gossip practices. An example may be seen in the subsequent interaction between Iris, Abby, and myself:
Extract (2)
1. K: Don’t you remember that thing with –with Seki on the DVD-
2. I: -what thing?
3. K: You know, th-the interview he had with that- that gi::rl, he was with the actress 4. who plays [Tohru-]
5. I: [No, wha-]
6. K: [-and she was] like, ‘what’s the most embarrassing thing that’s 7. ever happened to you?’-
8. A: -What the-
9. K: Don’t you remember? She was all like, ‘what the most embarrassing thing
10. that’s ever happened to you when you [were filming?’]

At first, I presented a few general details about the particular anecdote I was referring to, and when Iris and Abby both indicated they were unfamiliar with the story (lines 2, 5, and 8), I proceeded to embellish the telling with additional information (lines 3-4, 6-7, 9-10). This may be contrasted with a “successful” telling of an inside joke:
Extract (3)
1. M: Shut up! It’s mine-
2. K, A: No! It’s mine! It’s a hundred! Shut it off!

In this case, Marguerite needed only to recite the first four words of the anecdote, and both Abby and myself immediately caught the reference to an online joke and joined Marguerite in the recitation.
According to Jenkins (1992), another important feature of fan gossip is analysis of the characters of the text. The characters are taken out of the show space, and discussed in real, human terms, as the fans require the character to act as realistically as any human being. This was the primary topic of discussion over the course of the evening, with an extremely large portion of the talk dedicated to the protagonist of the show we watched (approximately one hour of the two-hour recording). This type of talk was usually similar to the following example:
Extract (4)
1. I: She’s so cute- But she’s very- She’s actually a shoujo uh protagonist that I
2. don’t find that annoying.
3. A: Which is weird because she’s like the protagonist, like everything ideal about a 4. protagonist-
5. K: She’s like the ideal protagonist but the thing I like about her is she manages to 6. pull it off with sincerity!
7. I: Yeah, and sh-she’s- I don’t think she’s annoying-
8. M: She’s got the voice that could be annoying but she’s s::o stu:::pid! HHH
9. K, I: HHH

This type of localized fan interpretation of a character is co-created through these types of interactions, based first on evidence in the media text, filtered though communal discussion and finally related to larger fan groups through fanfiction and other online communication. In this way, fans in many various locales are able to develop a coherent and standard interpretation for their chosen texts.
Through the topical association, co-construction of narratives, sharing of fan gossip, and fan interpretation of characters, the four participants of this conversation, myself included, used fanspeak jargon and speech practices in order to relate to popular culture texts, our daily lives, and to each other.


Glossary of Fanspeak Terms

• Anime – Japanese animation
• Dub – the English voice-over of an anime
• Fanfiction – a fan-written work using characters and situations from media texts, also known as “fic”, commonly explore sexual situations undeveloped in original text
• Fen – plural of “fan”
• Kawaii – Japanese word for “cute”, an integral feature in anime, and especially of female protagonists
• Manga – Japanese comics
• Mundanes – non-fans
• Shoujo – Japanese word for “girl”, also a genre of anime and manga for girls with standard characteristics
• Sub – the Japanese language version of an anime with subtitles

Fan Texts Referenced
• Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), dir. Hayao Miyazaki
o Reference to Batman occurs because Christian Bale provided the English dub for the main character, and also starred as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins (2005, dir. Chris Nolan)
• Cowboy Bebop (1998), created by Hajime Yatate, TV series
• Ranma ½ (1989-2002), created by Rumiko Takahashi, TV series, also includes 34+ volumes of manga, several movies, and an OAV
o One of the longest running and most popular anime/manga of all time, and also one of the first anime/manga to be translated into English
• Fruits Basket (1991), created by Natsuki Takaya, TV series, also includes 21+ volumes of manga; known as “Furuba” to fans
o Protagonist is Tohru Honda, whom is discussed in detail in the body of the paper; considered to be one of the best shoujo anime/manga
o Reference to Seki: Tomokazu Seki is the actor who portrays one of the male leads on Furuba, and he is interviewed by Aya Hisakawa (actress who portrays Tohru Honda) in the special features of the DVD

Works Cited

Fairclough, Norma. Language and Power. Second Edition. Toronto: Longman, 2001.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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