Global Fandom Jamboree Conversations (Round Four): Ivveta Jansová and Hattie Liew (Part Two)
Thank you for the new series of inspiring inputs. The latent "monoculturality" partly reflecting the socialist times (meaning the Czechoslovakian performance of socialism) is indeed something that is inscribed to the mainstream culture to this day. Exemplar in this context is TV and movie production in which we can see only very little diversity in depicted identities (e.g., race, sexuality, etc.). With the content being also often apolitical, it is not surprising that we identify a cleavage between contemporary fandoms, which are more internationally oriented and more common for younger audiences, and "older fandoms," inextricably marked by the socio-political history of the region. However, it is impossible to make such a clear (and in a way generalizing) division; it is only illustrative here because we know that one person can mix different interests, fandom belongings, and tastes.
Concerning the contemporary "outward-looking fandoms," I would like to shortly come back to a topic we both touched upon – the recent popularity of K-Pop and Korean production abroad. I am mentioning this in the context of the record-breaking Korean TV series Squid Game, which became a hit in more than 80 countries worldwide. It also currently holds a position in the top ten watched in Czechia. It is the first Korean production to get in the first place of the top ten on the Czech Netflix ever. Moreover, we can already witness Czech children dressing as characters from the series, series of memes, satire, etc. I am interested in how Czech audiences will appreciate, and in cases of fans maybe appropriate, the TV series further on. Moreover, in the context of Netflix not being that widespread among Czech audiences and deeply habitualized downloading of desired content.
My final point deals with your elaboration on microcelebrity in fandom as unremarkable and something almost anybody can engage. Your argument shows the contemporary user practices' performative nature in general. Consequently, it seems to be utilized by fans as some new kind of fan practice, as you indicated. Further inquiry into this topic, which could be significantly influenced by the locality of such a practice, contrary to other examples we discussed, would be fascinating.
Thanks so much for your response. While I don’t have specific questions in mind this time round, I do find some things that you mentioned throughout our conversation quite interesting. The first is that you mentioned several times that music and music fandom are quite different from TV and movie fans (for e.g. in mobilization of fans) in Czechia. Of course, the nature of the object of fandom itself produces different kinds of fans and fan practices, but this got me thinking “how different?”. One would assume that with TV and movies, there would be more “raw material” to work with, with complex characters and relationships, time for more themes to develop, entire fictional worlds, and a whole cast of celebrities, which seems to be a prerequisite for developing a transformative fandom so to speak. In Singapore, this assumption seems to be true, as the more rich fan practices seem to be from fans of video games, film and TV, perhaps with the exception of K-pop music (again!).
The second thing I noticed was that in Czechia, there seems to be quite a vibrant culture for fan festivals. Some of those you mentioned throughout our conversation include Festival Fantazie, Co.con and Utubering. You also mentioned that they are Czech-organized. I found this quite novel, as despite certain similarities in the fandoms in Czechia and Singapore, we never quite developed such an appetite for fan festivals. Of course there are fan festivals – Youtube Fanfest Singapore and Singapore ComicCon are some well known examples. However, the former is an “imported” global event organized by Youtube, while the latter is hosted with the support of the Infocomm Media Development Authority and the Singapore Tourism Board. While there is no doubt that fans in Singapore do enjoy these festivals very much, it is very much different in essence from the festivals in Czechia, which I understand to be a more ground-up and localized effort.
With such a thriving culture for fan fests, I wonder how fans in Czechia have been coping with the current covid pandemic, since many events in 2020 and 2021 have been cancelled or moved online. For us, Singapore ComicCon was cancelled in 2020 and has been moved online for Dec 2021, and the good thing out of this situation is more inclusivity, as entrance to the virtual festival will be free. However, we’ll have to wait and see how such virtual fan festivals pan out without the in-person elements that fans enjoy the most like cosplaying, networking with other fans and celebrity sightings.
As an outline for my closing words, I will use your final questions in the third installment of our conversation. Our discussion revealed some apparent similarities and differences between our contexts. While the Czech environment is still very much influenced by the socio-political past, we do not see such an impact in the Singaporean context. While in the Singaporean case, the TV series, movies, and video games are sources of various rich fan practices, this is not the case in Czechia. We see only negligible manifestations of fan creativity around local entertainment media. Slightly different is the case with music that, as you suggested, warrants a different set of fan practices. Not only is it connected to the various “texture” of the subjects/objects of interest, but it can be once again connected to the past. Music was a source for subculture identities offering a space of resistance (see my mentions about rich fanzine culture history). From a different point of view, certain conservativity of the Czech entertainment industry (and consequently of some audiences) allows for several artists from before 1989 (the fall of communism in the area) to still ride out their success (often a few popular songs) thirty years on, singer Michal David being a prime example here.
In my last point, I will react to your inquiry into the vibrant culture of fan festivals in Czechia. Despite being such a small country, we have a rich set of regionally organized festivals and conventions. The pandemic halted any live events, and most of the more significant events ceased their existence for a year. Some of them are continuing with the hiatus until further notice. However, if we look at the “usual business,” we see that even though the Czech festivals stem from the efforts of local fans and offer a space for some local fan interests (as I suggested in my opening statement), they still predominantly address international objects/subjects of such an interest. This tension between locality and globality among Czech fans illustrates how challenging this topic is in various contexts and how important it is to bring it up in our international scholarly conversations.
Once again, thank you so much for the lovely conversation and sharing your knowledge and experiences with fan culture in Czechia. As I admittedly do not know much about Czechia’s culture and media industries, it has indeed been inspiring to gain some insights on the media scene and fandoms there. As we close this series, I am heartened to know that despite geographical, historical and cultural differences, Singapore and Czechia share similarities in their small, diverse, outward-oriented groups of fans. As with many places across the globe, the addition of the Korean pop culture fans into the mix has made things rather interesting. You mentioned Squid Game being the first Korean production to reach the top 10 in Czechia. I’m looking forward to hearing more in future about your observations and research on the fandoms that surround Squid Game and other k-pop/k-drama.
As someone who is from Asia, I have frequently observed the idea of “cultural proximity” being used to explain the success of Korean cultural exports and the quick rise of fandoms around them in Singapore. While the actual picture is more complex, cultural proximity no doubt contributes to the quick adoption of Korean pop culture, at least for some segments of the population. In a context like Czechia, where this cannot be used as an argument for the formation in kpop/kdrama fandoms such as that of Squid Games, future research from you and your counterparts would certainly be an interesting addition to the discussion on K-fandom!