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as commodifying mechanisms in fan fiction communities 

Andrew Mark Creighton

Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu


Abstract. The intent of this article is to understand the commodification of leisure and labour within fan fiction writing communities. To accomplish this, I attempt a theoretical synthesis of postemotionalism, McDonaldization, convergence culture, transmedial worlds theory, and literature on fan fiction writers and identity. Commodification and rationalisation through the internet have been studied quite heavily, Terranova (2013) and Fuch (2014) for instance have taken more Marxian/Marxist approaches, and Ritzer (2019), and Jenkins (2006) have demonstrated how implosions, or convergences, create exploitative media and mechanisms. However, the increasing rationalisation of the social world through online space calls for a closer look at the formalising and implosive processes within the Internet itself, and I attempt this through reviewing rationalising mechanisms noted in the literature on fan fiction. The article concludes that the emotions and community created by transmedial world fan fiction writers attract and hold writers to said community by blurring leisure and labour. The writers’ continuous interactions through their leisure time activities of socialising and fan fiction writing create said community, while simultaneously offer uncompensated support and labour for the expansion and maintenance of transmedial worlds and media culture products.

Key Words: formalisation, rationalisation, Ritzer, Jenkins, Meštrović, convergence culture

Postemotsionaalsus, mcdonaldiseerumine ja transmeedialised maailmad kui kaubastamise mehhanismid fännikirjanduse kogukondades

Abstrakt. Käesoleva artikli eesmärk on mõista jõudeaja ning töö kaubastamist fännikirjanduse kogukondades. Selleks proovin sünteesida postemotsionalismi, mcdonaldiseerumise, konvergentsikultuuri, transmediaalsete maailmate teooriat ning fännikirjanduse loojate ja identiteedi käsitlusi. Kaubastumist ning ratsionalisatsiooni internetis on uuritud laialdaselt. Terranova (2013) ja Fuch (2014) on näiteks võtnud marksiliku või marksistliku lähenemise, samas kui Ritzer (2019) ja Jenkins (2006) on näidanud kuidas kokkulangemised või konvergentsid loovad ekspluateerivaid meediaid ja mehhanisme. Siiski nõuab sotsiaalse maailma kasvav ratsionaliseerimine lähemat uurimust formaliseerimis- ja kokkulangemisprotsessidesse internetis endas ning seda üritan teha andes ülevaate ratsionaliseerivatest mehhanismidest, mida on käsitletud fännikirjanduse uurimustes. Artikkel järeldab, et transmediaalsete maailmade fännikirjanduse autorite loodud emotsioonid ning kogukond on ligitõmbav seeläbi, et hägustab jõude- ning tööaja piire. Kirjanike pidev läbikäimine jõudeaja tegevuste kaudu nagu sotsialiseerimine ning fännikirjanduse tootmine loob kogukonda, samas pakkudes tasustamata toestust ja tööjõudu transmediaalsete maailmade ning meediakultuuri toodete laiendamiseks ja hoolduseks.  

Märksõnad: mcdonaldiseerumine, postemotsionalism, transmediaalsus, fännikirjandus, kaubastumine, konvergentsikultuur


One of George Ritzer’s most recent editions on McDonaldization, The McDonaldization of Society: Into the Digital Age (2019), presents an interesting and much needed headway into understanding the continuation of rationalisation within the increasing digitisation and the transference of structures, processes, and interactions into online space. This is not only important for understanding how formal rationalisation and the digital world are related, but how these processes relate to commodification. A number of theorists and scholars have taken similar interests. Tiziana Terranova’s (2013) work on internet labour for instance, examines how technological innovations and constructions on the Internet have been accomplished through considerable volunteer and unpaid labour. Christian Fuch (2014) has contextualised labour, and its influence on the Internet within Marxist labour theory. Moreover, Abigail De Kosnik (2013; 2009: 118, 119-120) comes to a similar conclusion stating that fan fiction is largely unpaid labour, but she also notes that fan fiction is coming to a ‘sugarhill moment’ in which those outside of the communities will begin to commodify fan fiction before the actually members. The purpose of this article is to create further theoretical understandings of how formal rationalisation is being used through online means to extract labour from individuals. Specifically, I intend this article to demonstrate how the increasing prevalence of rationalised online space and the blurring of the distinctions between labour and leisure have allowed for mechanisms to commodify fan fiction. 

I will accomplish this by drawing from two general perspectives, the first pertains to sociology, which is largely concerned with theoretical innovations on Max Weber’s work on rationalisation. This will mainly pertain to postemotionalism and McDonaldization, as best seen in the works of Stjepan Meštrović and Ritzer. McDonaldization’s focus on technological and organisational innovations and convergences that emphasis convenience, paired with postemotionalism’s focus on emotional manipulation and control for the benefits of media or cultural industries, will consequently offer a valuable understanding of how emotions, organisation, and technology are connected to social structures and control social interaction. The second perspective will draw from semiotic studies in convergence culture and transmedial worlds theory, as exhibited by the works of Henry Jenkins, Lisbeth Klastrup, and Tosca Susana. These perspectives allow an understanding of how cultural processes and systems engage and control, individuals, and groups, as well as how cultural products are constructed by the media and wider society. This will consequently contextualise McDonaldization and postemotionalism by adding further understandings of the media and its consumers. I will also draw from scholarship on group identities and fan fiction writing to demonstrate the structures, benefits, processes, and pitfalls associated with these writers and their communities. Ultimately, I aim to use these perspectives to illustrate and elucidate upon my thesis, that online formal rationalised spaces incorporate an implosion of leisure and labour to commodify the works of fan fiction writers. I will begin this article with an outlining of the theoretical perspectives I have presented above, before turning to scholarship on fan fiction and identity, then continue to a discussion intended to clarify the relationship between online spaces, rationalisation, transmedial worlds, labour, leisure, and implosions. I intend this section to further my theoretical synthesis by offering preliminary perspectives on the structures and mechanisms that facilitate the commodification of fan fiction writers.

1. McDonaldization

Turning to Ritzer, along with Jean Baudrillard’s work, he utilises Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Guy Debord in his analysis of what he terms the new cathedrals of consumption. These entail means of consumption that are highly rationalised systems utilising constant reenchantment to lure individuals to consume. Weber (1978 [1968]: 85; 2005 [1930]: 18, 70-74) terms formal rationality, based on observations of increasing pushes and implementations of efficiency, within social systems. He noticed that social and economic structures continuously indulge these systems causing them to continuously rationalise. Formal rationalised systems therefore complicate and limit individual abilities and interaction within social systems and structures by aiming to only use the most effective habits, behaviours, and structures within their modes of operation. Further, these formal systems can be enchanting in themselves as such a system “[…] offers consumers, workers, and managers efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control” (Ritzer 2010: 74-80; 2001: 198). Though the enchanting effect seems to be short lived and requires continuous reenchantment (Ritzer 2010: 6, 7, 74-80, 103). Many of these new cathedrals of consumption mix roles between the consumer and the employee, self-checkout machines at grocery stores and filling in order forms for Amazon are examples of this prosuming phenomenon – consuming and producing simultaneously (Ritzer, et al. 2012: 379). This merging is also evident in the structures and functions of these institutions – making use of multiple services, and types of merchandise – once reserved for separate individual businesses, are matriculated not only under one business, but within one website or store. Ritzer draws from Baudrillard to term merging social institutions as implosions, or the breaking of boundaries and loss, or mixing, of meaning (Baudrillard, MacClean 1985: 580-581; Ritzer 2010: 118-122).

Further implosion can be seen in the merging of leisure with consumerism and commodification. The increasing costs and varieties of goods at baseball venues, as well as exorbitant ticket costs are a good example of leisure becoming increasingly dependent on consuming and financial capital, effectively removing working class elements from the pass time, and imposing more control, predictability, and quantity (costs) over the game (Ritzer, Stillman 2001: 107). Moreover, Maria Bakardjieva (2014) has demonstrated that this implosion and rationalising of leisure has extended into friendship. Where once friendships were formed largely through face-to-face interactions, leisure, and sincere attempts at increasing intersubjectivity; these efforts have now, in part, been replaced by online interactions. Such online interactions expedite relationships and rationalise friendships by quantifying (friends lists, cataloguing interactions through ‘Facebook Memories’), controlling (privacy settings), and creating predictability and convenience (friends can always be found in the same online ‘location’) through non-human technologies which remove physical aspects of human interaction.

The new cathedrals of consumption are directly drawn from Ritzer’s own further exploration and treatment of formal rationalisation, which he terms as McDonaldization, that: “A society characterized by rationality is one which emphasizes efficiency, predictability, calculability, substitution of non-human for human technology and control over uncertainty” (Ritzer 1983: 100). The sociologist pushes a critical view of McDonaldization, one that acknowledges the importance of these systems in allowing for the development of economic, bureaucratic, and technological efficiency, however, he also stresses the importance of understanding these systems as transforming social reality in ways that may, and often do, pose dangers and irrational rationality. This rationalisation stems from groups that retain a strong interest in rationalising various systems within ‘Western’ society and the world, which in large part relates to monetary gains. When focusing on the main tenets of McDonaldization, efficiency relates to “[…] the best or optimum means to any given end” (Ritzer 1983: 101). These systems however are not self-contained, in that they do not operate independently of other systems, and as such, the rationalisation of a fast-food restaurant, will require the rationalisation of food processing plants, transportation, and farms. With this in consideration, it becomes apparent how the ‘iron cage’ can spread from a relatively small segment of society to become prevalent throughout society and the world. The importance of predictability within rationalised systems entails the need for “[…] discipline, order, systematization, formalization, routine, consistency and methodical operation” (Ritzer 1983: 101). 

The importance of these factors in creating predictability is due to the need for uniformed commodified goods, which eliminates surprise and uncertainty; ensuring consumers are satisfied in their desires, and that businesses and corporations have a reliable supply of goods to deliver. Further, quality is difficult to gauge and as such is difficult to integrate into a rationalised system, consequently quantifiable elements are focused upon within McDonaldized settings. This emphasis on quantity is argued to be the most important aspect within formalisation. Ritzer (2018: 89-90) focuses on the McDonalds’ hamburger as being advertised as having sold over one billion units, while the product itself is also measured quantitatively; ‘quarter pounder with cheese’. While these techniques do have positive connotations and outcomes, they ultimately exhibit dangers, that are prevalent in what the sociologist terms non-human technologies – i.e., orders of operation, robots, and self-regulating machines that limit the abilities of workers in their choice of work. While this, again, can be positive as it creates uniformity, predictability, calculability, and control. This positivity is negated by negative effects on the workers, who tend to feel alienation, and may even sabotage, under such systems – the replacement of workers, not only with less skilled other human workers, but with machines and robots, consequently eliminating labour positions is another possible, or even inevitable consequence of these systems (Ritzer 2018: 157-160).

2. Postemotionalism

While Ritzer’s McDonaldization allows an understanding of the technologies and systems at work within the formal rationalisation of society, it does not focus on emotive elements, at least explicitly, as Meštrović own treatment of formal rationalisation does. Meštrovićdraws from and builds upon Baudrillard’s concept of circulating fictions to support his arguments that within postemotional societies, emotions have been nullified through confusing emotional symbolic representations and attachments. According to the sociologist, strong action causing emotions tend to be replaced with those of weaker emotions, or these strong emotions may be attached to relatively non-consequential events (Meštrović 1997: xi, 25, 44). These circulating fictions make use of dead and appropriated emotions; like circulating fictions, circulating emotions are associated with events that are no longer consequential within society, or never were to begin with (Meštrović 1997: 62). These fictions and simulations are the results of inner-directed typed people controlling and manipulating other-directed types through emotional simplifications, simulations, and control, consequently creating an ultra-other-directed society; a postemotional society (Meštrović 1997: 36, 44). This section will demonstrate how postemotional and McDonaldized processes within society lead to implosions, whether they are emotions converging with each other, or the use of emotions to manipulate sociability to create convergences, including that of leisure with labour.

The concepts of inner and other-directed types are drawn from the Durkheimian-Veblenian sociologist, David Riesman. The seminal publication by Riesman et al., The Lonely Crowd, argued that an increase in consumerism resulted from the American middle class’s desire and need to, ‘keep up with the Joneses’, so to speak; being self-conscious of the number and prestige of material belongings while exhibiting trends associated with conspicuous consumption (1969: 149-156). Before this trend, American society was dominated by inner-directed types, individuals with traits associated with independence, emotional expressiveness, harshness, and violence, yet paradoxically more unified, and less prone to unpredictable levels of violence (ibid, 14). Riesman believed consumerism established a transition from an inner-directed type, due to constant self-conscious behaviours and envying of neighbours, to an other-directed type, who are characterised by superficial tolerance, nullified and repressed emotions, and larger trends of insincere behaviour in a Goffmanian sense (ibid, 16). Meštrović indicates the televising of the Vietnam War and the JFK assassination, investigation, and trial led to the sacredness of death and American governmental authority being placed into the profane. This ultimately fractured the civil religion or collective consciousness and effervescence of the United States of America. Such fracturing in turn led to vast distrust and suspicion, and ultimately compounded the other-directed type into the postemotional. Consequently, this type experiences yearning for past-emotions, due in part to difficulties fully integrating with the other and others. This yearning leaves the postemotional individual susceptible to the commodification and branding of products and narratives that are marketed as being capable of fulfilling those emotional needs (Meštrović 1997: 49, 5, 127). Consequently, the culture industry, a term Meštrović (1997: 74) borrows from Adorno, sells falsely authentic emotions and fictions to consumers.

In her study of postemotionalism on twitter and in the reality television show Catfish: The T.V. Show, Apryl A. Williams states that: “Viewers turn to reality television for emotional affirmation and a sense of identity but consequentially fail to find either” (2016: 93). She adds credence to postemotional theory by exploring how emotions are commodified through television, twitter, and how participation culture intertwines with online and conventional media technologies. The show itself, presents postemotional responses to what would generally be very emotionally charged situations, Williams (ibid, 99-101) gives the example of a man, Mike, who discovers he had been catfished (led into a romantic online relationship by an individual using a false identity) and understandably expresses anger towards his masquerader, Kristen. He questions her motives for such behaviour, however, upon discovering Kristen’s deceitfulness resulted from an accident causing her physical harm and suicidal feelings and desires, Mike became more sympathetic towards her situation. By the end of the episode, Mike was presented as a sort of hero, as a person who aided a woman in great distress. This, despite Mike not realising he was helping at all, while his emotions regarding the deceit he fell victim to ultimately went unanswered. Williams interprets this: “Although he has the right to be upset with Kristen because of her lies, the postemotional atmosphere dictates that he must show some empathy toward her or risk seeming like a “jerk” in the eyes of his peers which include Max and Nev as well as the entire viewing audience”[1] (Williams 2016: 100). So, Williams clearly shows the postemotional control, and predictability, of the show, regarding Mike’s inability to express anger due to anger not being an emotion desired by the audience. Further, the participation culture evident in the show’s intermingling with twitter reveals postemotionalised aspects, as twitter users responded with belief that the show depicted sincere emotions, and not a dramatized experience. Consequently, these tweeters circulate emotional fictions creating support for the show in attempts to empathise with the show’s characters, and fellow internet users (ibid, 101-102). The author continues and discusses the other-directedness of postemotionalism found in the show and twitter participation culture:

in part, to the other-directed need for emotional affirmation. This need for affirmation drives the people on the show to construct false identities. At the same time, it inhibits their ability to empathize with the people they have fooled both their partners and the viewing audience. The same need compels audiences to tune in weekly and to discuss the show with their friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. (Williams 2016: 102-103)

As the quote illustrates, the media industry, whether it is social media or a television show, manipulates and controls emotions, taking advantage of postemotional needs for sociability, and relationships, as well as insecurities and inabilities to fully satisfy desires through such mediums and media. The relationship Williams shows between older and newer ways of communicating and the postemotional formalisation of society requires further examination, as it is apparent that relationships between these media and their associated culture or media industries have a strong rationalising influence on the emotions and relationships of individuals. Further, it is evident that a merging or implosion of leisure, labour, and sociability are at play here. Viewers watch the show as a leisure experience, but engage in discussions through Twitter and Facebook, which creates more attention and interest for the show; effectively, Twitter users advertise the show. Though few would consider ‘tweeting’ about a reality television show as labour, it still remains that the individuals involved are using their time, to discuss and contemplate, and inadvertently advertise the show. De Kosnik supports this, positioning a similar argument regarding fans as advertisers, stating that: “[…] fan activity, instead of being dismissed as insignificant […] should be valued as a new form of publicity and advertising, authored by volunteers, that corporations badly need in an era of market fragmentation. In other words, fan production is a category of work” (De Kosnik 2013: 127).

The Internet and especially web pages are an important area to illustrate how postemotionalism and McDonaldization merge. Ritzer is explicit in describing McDonaldization’s relation to the internet, that it encompasses and creates new means and modes of consumption allowing for an implosion of labour, leisure, and consumption, i.e., new cathedrals of consumption. Further, I have mentioned how Bakardejieva’s work on McDonaldization demonstrates control and predictability over friendships in online spaces. While Meštrović does not take a strong consideration of the Internet into his analysis, many characteristics of postemotional types can be easily noted as coinciding with the effects and processes of McDonaldization. 

The Internet and online spaces as non-human technologies, allows at once an individual removed from strong action causing emotions, superficial tolerance, and insincerity, which rings strong with social structures and actors influenced by postemotionalism (nullified and controlled emotions). The postemotional actor is characterised as expressing curdled indignation, or other strong emotions, but focused on rather trivial things that inner-directed or even other-directed types may see as baffling to consider of importance; let alone appropriate for strong emotional displays (Meštrović 1997: 57-58). Most noticeably, curdled indignation is a common characteristic of internet users – see YouTube and news site comment sections for examples. Strong emotionally charged expressions directed at seemingly minor incidents associated with fandoms is a common occurrence online, such as the death-threats and outraged reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s critique of gender within video-games; though misogyny quite clearly played a role as well (Chess, Shaw 2015: 218). 

Moreover Shawn P. Van Valkenburgh’s (2018: 13-14) work on the ‘manosphere’ found manuals describing the need to disregard the emotions and feelings of women, in favour of manipulative rationalised tactics for controlling and pressuring women into sex. Viewed from a postemotionalism perspective, these serve as examples of circulating fictions as well as emotional negation. These appropriate narratives and emotions from women and minorities, through claims of discrimination, which are then used to further perpetrate misogyny against women (i.e., women have superiority over men because of society). Moreover, the desire to ignore or mitigate strong emotions, as the men (and others) of the ‘manosphere’ attempt to do, is a common aspect of not only these male subcultures, but wider society as a whole.

So, it is apparent that the structures of the Internet largely lack face-to-face interaction, and this coupled with anonymity are likely to exasperate the postemotional condition (ultra-ultra-other-directed?). The Internet is then, very much a non-human technology in these aspects, as it is used to control emotions and human interaction offering circulating fictions and communities constructed around the reenchantment of misogyny, or controlled emotional reactions as present in Williams’ case study. Further, all of these communities are rationalised around predictability associated with narratives, which are ever present in easy to find and read areas of the forum, or on twitter regarding Catfish. The ‘manosphere’ community also appears to be quantifiable, in that it offers ways to be removed from non-quantifiable elements of human interaction such as emotions. 

Meštrović’s (1997) thesis relies heavily on the notion of Balkanization, or the fracturing of society into smaller and smaller social groups, and causing, emotions, morals, and identities to be increasingly constructed by these smaller groups. The author indicates:

other-directedness leads to a splintering of group identities and reference groups. Thus, the collective consciousness has been Balkanized, which is something that Durkheim anticipated. The result is that postemotional humans try desperately to recapture the emotional energy that used to be achieved through collective effervescence, yet fail more often than they succeed. (Meštrović 1997: 102)

As such, and Thomas Luckmann (2002: 25-26) takes a similar view as Meštrović (1997: xii, 1-2, 68), the lack of national level unification leaves more meso- and micro-institutions within communities to construct more localised collective consciousnesses and effervescences. However, an increased individualisation is also noted, in which the individual is increasingly prioritised, resulting in less cohesive social integration within groups, even primary groups. With this in mind, to dismiss macro-influences, especially media influences would be short sighted, as I will present in the following section, fandom, or fanaticism, within transmedial worlds plays an important role within the postemotionalisation and McDonaldization of society.

3. Convergence Culture, Transmedial Worlds

It is apparent then when these perspectives on formal rationalisation are considered in conjunction, that social structures, technology, and the life-world are experiencing a shift towards operating within systems designed to be efficient, calculable, quantifiable, and controllable, which includes our emotional relations to society and others. Ritzer’s nonhuman technology and Meštrović’s focus on media causes for the rise of postemotionalism suggests a stronger focus on these two aspects is needed to understand how postemotionalism and McDonaldization are being used to create commodifying relationships with fan fiction authors. Transmedial worlds theory and convergence culture, can largely account for how media is taking shape within the contemporary era, and offer a semiotic analysis of media construction that gives a more detailed understanding of media constructs. 

Convergence culture a cultural and technological shift within society terms three common societal trends; media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence (Jenkins 2006: 2). Media convergence refers to the use of multiple media and associated technologies and platforms to convey similar media information, this draws heavily from the activity of prosumers, or individuals in participatory culture, searching for information, and interacting with other actors and entities associated with the associated media (ibid, 3). However, this does not mean prosumers are inherently benefiting from this process, and the scholar stresses the importance of hierarchies and power relations among media executives, prosumers, and other associated actors. A major process of social interaction within these communities is described by collective intelligence, or the ability for members to collectively utilise their intelligence and knowledge of a subject as a form of ‘media power’ (Jenkins 2006: 2-4). 

Jenkins exemplifies collective intelligence with a case study of an internet forum dedicated to predicting and discovering mysteries and spoilers to upcoming episodes of the reality television show, Survivor (ibid, 26-29). The acts of the forum’s members –– searching for information, interpreting, and discussing the show creates a new dynamic related to the television show through online and ‘real’ spheres. This constructs media power, as it further creates interest in the concerned media, attracts interest of the media industry, and creates new information. A noted construction of convergence culture is transmedial worlds, and according to Annika Wik, the narratives associated with these worlds transcend different media and medians, basically media convergence (Wik 2010: 74). 

Transmedial worlds also entail audience interaction, and involvement in production. This interaction is symptomatic of the audience shifting from passively viewing, to actively participating in their media, interacting with technologies and other fans, as well as adding to the construction of the transmedial world (Wik 2010: 74-75, 87). Henry Jenkins describes the transmedial world as “[…] transmedia storytelling. A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole” (Jenkins 2006: 95-96). However, he makes the point that each contribution needs to be self-contained, to be a stand-alone story. The theorist draws from Umberto Eco, to illustrate the point that a film needs to be segmented, memorable, quotable, and reach as many audiences as possible to be a complete world and retain cult status. These characteristics allow a film to be built upon and further transmedialised, and this is materialised through the importance of references and details that allow and facilitate media consumers to analyse a complex depiction, which draws them further into the world (Eco 1985: 3-5; Jenkins 2006: 96).

Participation culture is evident in transmedial worlds as quite a dominant factor in their creation, and consequently these worlds are not solely constructed by media corporations and studios. Jenkins (2006) describes these worlds as convergences between the corporate and individual realities, and that this:

Convergence does not occur through media appliances, however, sophisticated they may become. Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interactions with others. Each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives. Because there is more information on any given topic than anyone can store in their head, there is an added incentive for us to talk among ourselves about the media we consume. This conversation creates buzz that is increasingly valued by the media industry. (Jenkins 2006: 3-4)

The literature supports Jenkins’ argument, as it appears those raised in a society with a large transmedial presence are more likely to be inclined towards transmedial narratives. Consequently, to effectively teach literature and writing skills many types of media integrated with transmedial narration and construction of fan fiction is deemed as beneficial for the engagement of students (Chandler-Olcott, Mahar 2003: 381; Gerber, Price 2011: 69). Moreover, those born within the widespread use and access to transmedial technologies are more likely to take them for granted and view them as parts of everyday institutionalised life, contrary to their older counterparts (Lewis, Fabos 2005: 471-473). 

The institutionalisation and popularity of transmedial worlds does not only come from technological changes and innovations, but as Jenkins describes, they are constructed within individual minds. This in turn means actors are constructing, individually and within collective intelligences, narratives pertaining to morals, emotions, and dramatics. While Pierre Levy believes collective intelligences may have the ability to disrupt corporate capitalist economic systems (2001: 225), and I believe participating in these collectives may encourage greater social cohesion by reconstructing a collective effervescence and consciousness that may create groups organised around other more grassroots economic systems to emerge. However, it is evident that the media industry has a strong grasp on transmedial worlds when the postemotionalisation and McDonaldization of society are considered, therefore I have doubts that such groups or disruptions are sustainably possible.

 I believe this is also apparent per Jenkins description of the media industry’s ability to use massive amounts of information, on multiple platforms that transmedial worlds are constructed from, to take further control and canonise these worlds (2006: 20, 69-70, 255-256). Maria Lindgren Leavenworth (2011) shines some light on canonisation, as she takes an interest in fan fiction and attempts to use “[…] some of the characteristics of transmedial texts and see these in relation to tendencies in the production of fan fic connected to The Vampire Diaries”. The Vampire Diaries have grown from a series first penned by L. J. Smith, to include a television series and a considerable fan-base. The scholar mentions that the series lacks a strong canonising authority, and as such fan fiction writers are able to retain more creativity, especially in alternative universe settings. However, the further development of the books and television series makes it difficult for fans to choose which gaps to fill in (Leavenworth 2011). So, even a lightly canonised or centralised transmedial world can be controlled by canonising forces, as Leavenworth shows through the difficulties fan fiction writers experience as canonised pieces, are capable of complicating and taking authority over fan fiction pieces. These canonisations must also work in accordance with narrative structuring. According to Lisbeth Klastrup and Susana Tosca’s analysis of the semiotic structures of transmedial worlds, to type a narrative or media as belonging to a transmedial word, there must be a similarity in its identification; mainly relating to the text’s genre, themes, and common characters of the world (2004: 1). The scholars offer the three concepts of ethos, topos, and mythos to exemplify this typification (Klastrup, Tosca 2004: 1). They note how these concepts relate to genre as applied to transmedial worlds:

A genre allows for minor variations (think for example of the very different ethos of Alien and Starship Troopers, both science fiction films). If genres are themes, transmedial worlds are themes plus a common background story, which makes them narrower in scope, but also means that its incarnations are more coherent and homogeneous than those of a genre. (Klastrup, Tosca 2004: 2)

They continue and describe mythos as the backstory of a world, including the characters, as well as mythical or fabled objects, mythologies and more concretely or widely accepted aspects by the characters within the world. The topos refers to the setting, geography, time period, and the physics of the world (Klastrup, Tosca 2004: 4). Lastly, the ethos is “[…] the explicit and implicit ethics of the world and (moral) codex of behavior, which characters in the world are supposed to follow” (ibid, 4).

Moreover, the ethos aids in creating characters, as it also encompasses the moral and ethical behaviours of the actors within the transmedial world. The scholars describe the importance of maintaining these concepts by discussing a break in the ethos, associated with The Lord of the Rings[2] book and film franchise, found in the video game adaptation The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings[3]. The ethos of the game is described as mundane in relation tothe films and books, or what Klastrup and Tosca describe as “[…] where the illusion completely breaks apart” (2004: 6). This breakdown is due to the roles and tasks the characters play belonging to the realm of everyday life scenarios such as fetching fruits and vegetables, instead of conducting quests and playing a role associated with courage and bravado – a role that is expected of the Lord of The Ringsheroes. The scholars describe this loss of ethos:

Quests only gain significance if you can relate them to the transmedial world. For example, the first hard quest is to avoid the black riders in order to leave the shire, something that took us quite a few attempts filled with dread at the perspective of being caught by the evil beings. When we finally succeeded, it was with a great sense of triumph and achievement. This quest is actually part of the original story (even if in another form). The problem arises when in order to create more gameplay, the designers expand the cyberworld with meaningless, against-the-transmedial-ethos, quests. (Klastrup, Tosco 2004: 6)

So, it is notable that there is a strong emotional, narrative, and moral aspect to transmedial worlds, especially as proposed by the concept of ethos and collective intelligence, and it is also apparent that their centralisation, within the media industry, ultimately means that these institutions retain control over the canonisation of the world. With this in thought, it is appropriate to consider the financial aspects of these worlds, to understand how convergence culture and transmedial worlds are related to labour, and economics. As stated earlier through Jenkins, they are in part influenced by marketing, as well as presented through marketing, consequently being created by both dynamics; as an example, the popularity of the Star Wars[4] character Boba Fett, once considered a secondary character of the franchise, has grown into the protagonist of a number of Star Wars instalments. This can be related to the popularity of the action figure, and the Star Wars fandom’s interest in Boba Fett; fan interactions associated with Star Wars, were noticed by business savvy marketers, and the character was consequently given more focus within the overall transmedial world (Jenkins 2006: 114-115).

Further, it is important to understand how transmedial worlds relate to affective economics, as: “According to the logic of affective economics, the ideal consumer is active, emotionally engaged and socially networked” (ibid, 20). Consequently, when the moral, emotional, participation culture, collective intelligence, and community aspects of transmedial worlds and convergence culture are considered, it would appear quite easy for media companies to use these characteristics to manipulate fans and prosumers into such economic systems. These dynamics and mechanisms revealed by transmedial worlds and convergence culture perspectives, demonstrate how macro level media influences gain emotional and communal commitments by imploding, or converging media and roles, placing the consumer into a place of participating in a communal, creative, and emotional world.

4. Fan fiction and Identity

Turning focus towards the literature on fan fiction, Steven F. Kruger (2010: 918) illustrates how the Internet allows sexual minorities, in his study of homosexual men, to distribute, create, and merchandise erotica and pornography as various media types. This helps to form communities around similar interests, while also including a shared identity through a commodified product. Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder (2007: 157-158) offer a similar point on fan fiction allowing for those marginalised from more popular franchises to create and form their own related narratives. Further, Catherine Hoad states that: “Through exploring the phenomenon of heavy metal fan fiction and its online circulation, I argue that fan fiction enables a sense of community and fandom for young women who have been marginalized within heavy metal scenes” (2017: 6).

Her study consequently found that fan fiction centred on heavy metal, and largely authored by girls and women in online spaces, allowed for the challenging of gender norms within the heavy metal music scene, as well as helped to create legitimisation for women and girl-fans of the genre and scene. This also aided in adding gender minority themes, further broadening space for a diverse range of people (Hoad 2017: 18). Despite this allowance for community building and creation of inclusive narratives, fan fiction encompasses gender inequalities as well (De Kosnik 2009: 118-119). The majority of fan fiction authors are women, and despite commercial interest in the fiction, and profits being made, most authors do not receive financial compensation for their work (ibid, 118-119).

However, in her case-study of fan fiction and adolescent development, Rebecca W. Black noted that writing fan fiction online allowed for a young immigrant student to shape an identity that was not immediately formed by the interactions and roles placed on her in a school setting (2006: 182). The child, identified in the paper under the pseudonym Nanako, was able to explore her identity, gain support and a fandom, while also working on both her English and Mandarin language skills. The study on Nanako concludes stating that adolescents using fan fiction to engage with online communities may be able:

to discursively position and represent themselves as conversant members in a pluralistic space that fosters a positive sense of self. Moreover, the site also provides a safe, supportive, and meaningful venue, not only for language learning and literacy development, but also for affiliating and commiserating with other youth around social and cultural issues that are central to their lives. Finally, in this site, language learning and identity development are not characterized as movement toward some fixed, monocultural standard. Instead, literate and social engagement in this space involves a great deal of communication and a fluid process of meaning-making and identity negotiation that traverses national, linguistic, and cultural borders, and that is and will continue to be ongoing. (Black 2006: 183)

It is evident, from Black’s study that fan fiction has the ability to aid in positive identity development, community building, and the acquisition of language skills. Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, Kristin Hopper-Losenicky, Cynthia Vinney, Lisa F. Swain, and Jerri Lynn Hogg note similar positive influences from fans meaningfully engaging with texts, where they argue that watching eudaimonic television or audio-visual media allows media consumers to better deal with social issues, by interpreting and relating their own experiences to controlled fictions (Dill-Shackleford et al. 2015: 154). The authors continue to argue that these results are improved through the coupling of eudaimonic audio visual media and social media; that:

the reader will see how fans devote intense energy to understanding the human relationships presented in a fictional television narrative. A good deal of the social media conversation focuses on issues of meaning making – on sorting out social judgments and values, comparing the narrative to one’s real life experiences and to experiencing emotions in the context of the narrative. (Dill-Shakleford et al. 2015: 155)

Fan fiction tends to positively benefit those who partake in it, not only allowing for the exploration and assertion of identity, but for new avenues to recognise, learn about, and understanding one’s own life-world. Fan fiction sites can also become quite communal; Russian language Harry Potter fan fiction for instance, has grown to be a multinational community encompassing thousands of writers who participate in festivals, contests, regulations, and debates. Moreover, this community encompasses a wide variety of demographics regarding age and sexuality, though women are predominantly overrepresented (Samutina 2016: 256-257). Emotions and affect are noted as playing an exceptionally important role within the community: “Excessive emotionality is one of the influential discursive norms for describing one’s aesthetic impressions to the community. Emoticons and exclamation marks, the axiological slang of the internet generation are a must-have in readers’ responses […]” (ibid, 257). The strength of these emotions also tends to result in binge reading, allowing readers to immerse themselves in fantasy for long periods of time. Further, readers make judgments and evaluations upon texts within the community, which include declarations of emotional responses to the literature (ibid, 259). The online structures related to fan fiction help, in part, to allow these communities to be constructed; the ease and multiple locations websites can be interacted with, for instance, allows users to connect with such communities significantly more than if they were only present on personal desktops, or through face-to-face engagements, or mail correspondence. 

Judging from the literature just reviewed, fan fiction has great potential, and for many this potential is realised, for positively influencing lives and communities. However, as the following will note, without the intentions of refuting the above, this may not always be the case, and that fan fiction in contemporary contexts has the potential for negative disruptions for the purposes of commodification. More specifically, when McDonaldization, postemotionalism, transmedial worlds theory, and convergence culture are taken into consideration, the structures surrounding fan fiction and the work itself take on more complicated connotations. Mainly, it becomes apparent how these structures can be used to control and exploit fan fiction authors.

5. Discussion

Fan fiction has been shown to be beneficial for those who participate in the writing process, and the communities these writers participate within are catalysts for this. However, these sites are very much part of transmedial worlds participating in convergence culture and are consequentially inundated with McDonaldizing systems and postemotionalism. Ritzer clearly states that McDonaldized systems have beneficial consequences due to their increased reliability, and the same can be said for postemotionalism, which has resulted in less violence, especially when compared to our inner-directed counterparts. Transmedial worlds and convergence culture also represent engaged, vast, information rich realities for individuals to partake in. So, it is no surprise that fan fiction writers experience beneficial and supportive consequences for participating in fan fiction writing and communities. 

However, manipulative mechanisms and commodification are still quite evident in fan fiction, and its relation to the Internet, itself a non-human technology that greatly McDonaldizes the writings of authors. As stated earlier, the presence of fan fiction on the internet allows easy access to readers, moreover, online space allows fan fiction communities to be easily accessible and removed from the physical offline world, making human interaction more predictable, and controlled. 

Structures within the site aid in McDonaldization and postemotionalisation as well; for instance, search-bars contribute to the ease of finding preferred subjects and titles, the English language Harry Potter fan fiction website, (“Harry Potter Fan Fiction” 2020a, 2020b), specialises their search-bar, allowing readers to search for genre, titles, characters involved and pairings of these characters, eras, spoilers and more. This, in turn, can be used by readers to control the content of stories they read, through filtering out undesired story specifics. Quantifiability and calculability can also be seen through the site’s labelling of stories with word counts, allowing readers to know the estimated amounts of time it may take to read a story. This is taken even further on the page’s twitter feed – visible on the website, marking an implosion between the two pages – which presents an advertisement for “4 of the most intense fan fiction stories” and the accompanying text reads: “Are you in the mood for intense Harry Potter fanfic stories you can read within an hour? Here are 4 of our favorites!”. (“Harry Potter Fan Fiction” 2020a). So, the structure of the website in itself is not only McDonaldized, but the content and its presentation and marketing are also McDonaldized.

The non-technological aspect of online fan fiction also stems from the postemotional. Possibly, authors no longer look to close friends and family, or publishing professionals for advice and evaluations of their work, but present their works to multinational communities, the Russian speaking world in Natalia Samutina’s case. Consequently, their work is evaluated, on emotional and technical levels, from vast communities mediated through non-human technologies. 

While fan fiction emotions and narratives may not necessarily be as manipulative as is evident in William’s work on Catfish, it is apparent that fictionalised emotions, embedded in the circulating fiction that is Harry Potter, are being created, distributed, and consumed through a medium that excludes face-to-face contact, consequently abstracting emotions into semantics, syntax, and personal interpretations. 

Fan fiction as a component of transmedial worlds, is related to marketing and advertisements, especially when regarded through affective economics, and convergence culture as these communities create emotional commitments and participation with multimedia which is capitalised upon through the community’s unwaged labour. This presents an ability for these websites to circulate fictions, which allows the continued labouring and construction of not only websites, but of the associated fictions (though not necessarily canonised) and the associated transmedial worlds. Consequently, it is apparent the leisure activities of these writers within these communities, very much translates to labour. Terranova is informed to this, as she has demonstrated that labours of pleasure are being manipulated for consumption and exploitation throughout online spaces – that industries are using commitment to building online spaces, as a source of free labour (2013: 33, 53-54). Moreover, Abigail De Kosnik notes that the work associated with maintaining and creating fandoms is in fact labour, though classified as leisure, which plays a part in fan commodification, as fan fiction authors do not tend to consider their contributions as labour, and consequently do not expect to sell their work (2013: 141). 

However, when postemotionalism is considered, other aspects accounting for this implosion are apparent (though this does not negate Terranova or De Kosnik) that largely relate to emotions and community. The fracturing of the collective consciousness and effervescence, and the increasing performance of the social through non-human technologies like the Internet, has resulted in individuals searching for a community to satisfy the social need to participation in a collective consciousness and effervescence. 

Further, the exasperated other-directedness of the postemotional actor suggests that the search for emotional and social satisfaction is more likely to take place outside of the family in favour of the other. Per this postemotional consideration, transmedial worlds offer forms of emotional experiences, through transmedial representations, participation culture, and marketing, especially affective economics – media and culture industries are able to create products that are based around emotions, and community. 

Moreover, this community, while facilitated through online institutions, like fan fiction websites and Internet forums, is almost entirely fan created. It is also apparent, especially when Samutina’s binge reading teens are considered – as well as the importance online communities play in allowing minorities to express their own narratives – that the fans create the emotions for these communities, even if the/their construction is largely mediated through non-human technologies. 

So, the exploitation of fans also stems from their creation of a community that gives them a fragment of collective consciousness and effervescence. In other words, these communities enable fan fiction authors to participate in creating an ethos, interact with individuals who seemingly have similar or the same interests, morals, and values, while expressing their own narratives, and receiving and contributing emotional expressions. The lack of compensation for their labour and the consequential exploitation does not seem to be so surprising then; as a postemotional actor, who is able to gain community and the consequential emotions, may value these relationships over proper accommodation for their sold labour. 

Moreover, the mythos, topos, and ethos of transmedial worlds are not only used to attract individuals to transmedial franchises, but act as incentives for individuals to remain within a transmedial community, by allowing members to participate within media creation through collective intelligence. For a postemotional fan fiction writer to participate in creating these worlds, they are able to reproduce circulating fictions and their associated emotions, consequently experiencing them, though never fully effervescing them. 

Further, the communities themselves will develop a history and collective characteristics imitative of a collective consciousness; as friendships, histories, and seminal works are developed, members will become more and more attached to their fan fiction communities due to the emotions and intersubjectivity these situations and relationships will create. However, they will likely never fully gain effervescence, as these communities cannot grow to encompass the entirety of the members’ lives. It is then apparent, that while these communities express emotions from a formal rationalised non-human median, and are commodified and controlled through the media industry and affective economics, these emotions and communities act as enchanting agents over the formal rationalising systems embedded in their structures. As such, community and emotions are used to enchant the implosion of labour and leisure, and non-human technologies allowing for the continuation of the (re)production of fan fiction, circulating fictions, and the commodification of fan fiction texts.


Having examined the relationship between McDonaldization, postemotionalism, transmedial worlds, convergence culture, and fan fiction, it is apparent that dynamic social structures and processes are being utilised to at once create a more organised and technological world, while also alienating an already anomic actor operating within manipulative dehumanising systems. The implosions developed through postemotional, McDonaldized, and convergence culture consumerism have resulted in individuals reliant on others, yet insecure in their relationships and desiring the emotions of a collective effervescence and collective consciousness. 

The implosion of labour and leisure, within online fan fiction communities demonstrates how rationalised non-human technology has resulted in emotionally rich narratives and creativity, though ultimately these emotions and narratives are recycled fictions, continuously circulating to support and continue transmedial worlds, to the benefit of media and culture industries. Effectively, these macro structures and media have resulted in further segmentation and minimisation of the communal. These social mechanisms and structures have allowed for an enchantment and reenchantment of rationalised and exploitative mechanisms, through the creation of communities that play into the emotional needs of individuals, while gaining profits and support from these individuals through the implosion of labour and leisure. 

Ritzer, Meštrović, and the convergence culture and transmedial worlds theorists have demonstrated the importance of understanding organisational, technological, and over all social phenomenon in their entirety, as these perspectives demonstrate how, much like leisure has been imploded with labour, utopia and progress have imploded with dystopia and stagnation, and the communal with a social desire. Consequently, the synthesis of McDonaldization, postemotionalism, convergence culture and transmedial worlds theory is important for understanding the two faces of social reality; postemotional McDonaldized transmedial worlds creating immersive creative communities, that commodify its members’ work and leave them in circulating fictions and emotions.


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          Nev and Max are hosts of the television show Catfish, which has aired on MTV since 2012, and is produced by Catfish Picture Media and Relativity Media. The specific scenario discussed by Williams is from Mike & Kristen, the 7th episode of the 2nd Catfish: The T.V. Show season, which aired August 6, 2013.  (Williams 2016; 2021) [Back]

2          Based on books first authored by J. R. R. Tolkien, the franchise has grown to encompass a transmedial world including video games, films, fan fiction, clothes, and many other mediums. [Back]

3          Released in 2002 under publisher, Black Label Games and developed by WXP, Pocket Studios, and Surreal Software. [Back]

4          Based on the films of George Lucas, Star Wars has grown to encompass a transmedial world which includes toys, videogames, novels, further films and many more products and mediums. [Back]