Life as a Jena Malone fan: An introspective study of a consumer's fan relationship with a film actress

Wohlfeil, Markus (2011) Life as a Jena Malone fan: An introspective study of a consumer's fan relationship with a film actress. PhD thesis, Waterford Institute of Technology.

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Ever since the dawn of the Hollywood star system in the early 1920s, consumers have always been fascinated by the works and private lives of film stars and any other celebrities (Dyer 1998; McDonald 2000). In fact, the public demand for celebrities is so strong these days that they have without any doubt become an essential part of our everyday culture (Gabler 1998; Turner 2004) and market economy (McCracken 1989; Thomson 2006). Yet, some consumers experience a significantly more intensive level of interest and admiration for a particular celebrity and, subsequently, become what are commonly known as ‘fans’ (Henry and Caldwell 2007; O’Guinn 1991) or ‘celebrity worshippers’ (McCutcheon et al. 2003). And I’m one of them! Ever since I, by chance, bought the DVD of the film Saved! (US 2004) back in April 2005, I have been the devoted fan of the talented young actress Jena Malone, who features primarily in lesser known, but much more interesting and challenging indie-films. But what is it exactly that attracts an ordinary consumer like me to become and remain the devoted fan of a film actress? What does the lived experience of being the fan of a film actress (or any other celebrity for that matter) actually mean for the individual consumer? And how does celebrity fandom express itself in everyday consumer behaviour? While these are interesting questions, surprisingly little academic research has sought to address them. In fact, the existing fandom literature even lacks a coherent understanding of what actually constitutes fandom in the first place, and the interpretation of what fans are often seems to depend on the underlying agenda of the researcher investigating the phenomenon. What is clear, though, is that both academic literature and popular media have placed fans consistently on the receiving end of ridicule, negative stereotyping and bad press (Jenson 1992). As desired, fans are portrayed either as mindless numbs, who are manipulated by popular mass culture (Fiske 1992; Schickel 1985), or as subversive and creative rebels against the corporate establishment (Jenkins 1992; Shefrin 2004). Some authors viewed fans as members of neo-religious cults, who worship celebrities like gods through shared rituals and the sacralisation of associated items within likeminded communities (Kozinets 1997; O’Guinn 1991). Others described them as geeks and alienated, lonely social misfits, for whom fandom is a means of compensating for experienced deficits in their social lives (Jenkins 1992; Kozinets 2001). Finally, somesocial psychologists have in recent years set out to confirm sensationalist media reports by portraying fans as cognitively inflexible, dull and uncreative people (McCutcheon et al. 2003) or as delusional, pathological-obsessive stalkers (McCutcheon et al. 2006). But maybe there is much more to a consumer’s fan relationship with a film star than previous studies have uncovered so far. Thus, in order to answer the earlier questions, this thesis aims to develop an understanding of what meaning(s) the everyday lived fan relationship with an admired film actress has for individual consumer and how it expresses itself in everyday consumer behaviour. By using subjective personal introspection (Holbrook 1995) and taking an existential-phenomenological perspective (Thompson 1997), I examine my own personal everyday lived fan relationship with the actress Jena Malone by drawing on narrative transportation theory. In doing so, the research is also looking for any evidence that either supports, questions or even contradicts assumptions about fandom held by previous studies. The introspective data were collected as contemporaneous data over a period of 15 months and recorded as hand-written notes in a specifically assigned diary (Patterson 2005). The emphasis, thereby, is placed less on factual behaviour, but much more on my emotional experiences such as personal feelings, thought, fantasies and daydreams as the essential elements of real-lived fan experiences. While a number of interesting findings have emerged from the introspective data that contribute to the interdisciplinary literature on fandom, stardom and film consumption, the main contribution is a re-conceptualisation of fans that puts the emphasis back on what should matter the most – a fan’s emotional attachment to one’s admired film star, which revolves primarily around the film star’s creative work and private persona. As the consumer is unlikely ever to meet one’s admired film star in person, one’s personal impression of the film star’s personality is essentially a selective intertextual reading of relevant and ‘reliable’ media texts based on one’s own life experiences, ideals, dreams and inherent desires. A continuous process of introjection and projection (Gould 1993), thereby, strengthens the fan’s feeling of ‘knowing’ the celebrity like a personal friend, despite actually having never met the real person behind the image. Nevertheless, this experienced ‘bond of emotional closeness’ can at times be strong enough to elicit within the consumer a feeling of ‘personal friendship’ or ‘love’ towards the admired film star, which can take the form of a parasocial relationship.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Consumerism, consumer behaviour
Departments or Groups: *NONE OF THESE*
Divisions: School of Business > Department of Management and Organization
Depositing User: Derek Langford
Date Deposited: 22 Sep 2011 15:05
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2016 10:26

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