Pop Politics


Like Ron Paul, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and the John McCain of eight years ago, Hillary Clinton was a cultural phenomenon as much as she was a politician. Abigail De Kosnik, who supported Clinton's presidential campaign, takes that fact and runs with it in an interesting new study:

In this essay, I will examine Clinton's supporters as a fan base, and I will analyze their expressions of antipathy toward their own party as a case of marginalized fandom. Framing the Clinton-Obama rivalry as a war between two fan bases, with Obama's followers constituting a dominant fandom and Clinton's constituting a marginalized fandom, allows us to interpret the deep emotional response of the Clinton backers to [Obama's victory] as more than just sour grapes, more than just resentment at being defeated, from which little or nothing can be learned. Fan culture studies does not dismiss the passions of affinity groups. Rather, it asks, what social, cultural, economic, and psychological structures inspire their strong feelings and motivate them to organize? How can their passions be read as evidence of, or commentary on, aspects of culture and society that have gone previously unnoticed or undertheorized?

I have my problems with the paper. Most importantly, I think De Kosnik skates a little too quickly past the 2007 stage of the race, when Clinton's supporters were dominant and Obama's backers were marginalized. One result, which would have added more nuance to De Kosnik's analysis if she had discussed it, was that both groups then spent the primaries viewing themselves as underdogs fighting the establishment.

But I appreciate her approach, and I think she's on to something important here:

Rather than dismissing the impact of failed presidential campaigns that had managed to recruit enthusiastic followings, the electorate, and especially party leaders, must ask: what can be learned from the marginalized fandom of Ron Paul? Of Dennis Kucinich? Of Mike Huckabee? Of Hillary Clinton? What articulations and critiques emanating from these groups should not be missed? What perceptions and longings did these fans articulate, what frameworks did they pioneer that should be attended to, answered, and dealt with openly?

The article appears in the debut issue of Transformative Works and Culture, a new online journal. Speaking of which: Those of you who enjoyed my interview with Francesca Coppa about the vidding subculture might want to read her contribution to the same issue, which covers some of the same ground in greater detail.