Fan Sites

Film Tourism and Contemporary Fandom

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Pub Date 01 Dec 2021 | Archive Date 01 Dec 2021
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press

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Theme parks break attendance numbers with the promise of “stepping inside” a film’s world. Pop-up “experiences” are a regular part of promotional cycles. All this is accepted in the contemporary media environment—but why? What is the appeal of film tourism, and what can its rise tell us about contemporary fandom? Fan Sites explores why and how we experience film and television-related places, and what the growth of this practice means for contemporary fandom. Through four case studies—Game of Thrones tourism in Dubrovnik, Croatia and Northern Ireland, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks in Orlando, Florida, fandom of The Prisoner in Portmeirion, Wales, and Friends events in the United Kingdom and United States—this book presents a multifaceted look at the ways place and fandom interact today.

Fan Sites explores the different relationships that fans build with these places of fandom, from the exploratory knowledge-building of Game of Thrones fans on vacation, the appreciative evaluations of Harry Potter fans at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, to the frequent “homecoming” visits of Prisoner fans, who see Portmeirion as a “safe vault” and the home of their fandom. Including engaging accounts of real fans at each location, Fan Sites addresses what the rise of fan tourism and places of fandom might mean for the future of fandom and its relationship with the media industry.


Theme parks break attendance numbers with the promise of “stepping inside” a film’s world. Pop-up “experiences” are a regular part of promotional cycles. All this is...

Advance Praise

“An intriguing entry in the growing field of research on fan media tourism. Waysdorf provides an attentive analysis to the fan pilgrimages embarked on by a diverse set of fan communities. Her conception of each visit as a ‘fan homecoming’ is particularly exciting.”—Maura Grady, author, The Shawshank Experience: Tracking the History of the World's Favorite Movie

“A much-needed contribution to the fields of fan studies and pop culture tourism, Fan Sites provides fresh perspective and analysis to established scholars and postgraduates alike.”—Lincoln Geraghty, author, Cult Collectors: Nostalgia, Fandom, and Collecting Popular Culture

“An intriguing entry in the growing field of research on fan media tourism. Waysdorf provides an attentive analysis to the fan pilgrimages embarked on by a diverse set of fan communities. Her...

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Featured Reviews

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher (University Of Iowa Press) and NetGalley, and I am *exceedingly happy* about it, and getting happier the more I think about it.

(By the way, this is an academic book; which does mean that, while I feel it's quite accessible compared to some things I've read, it's written in an academic mode, not in a popularizing mode. I don't consider this a drawback.)

I'm a reclusive person, and not much into holidays in crowded places. My interactions with fandom have mostly been digital, with a couple of exceptions when I was dragged along to anime/manga conventions or to East European Comic Con. As such, despite being in fandom for twenty years, I've mostly been into the fanfiction and fanart sides of it, with a few forays into forums, back in the day.

The social side of fandom is something I'm on the sidelines of; my MA dissertation was on fanfiction and innovations outside the strict rules of traditional publishing, with only the slightest glance at cons and such, to explain who the writers are and what the world they come from is like.

"Fan Sites" is a book about my opposites: people who enjoy traveling, seeing things for themselves, touching them, being a part of something larger through physical interaction. Sometimes, they are <i>polar</i> opposites to me: entirely uninterested in online communities, fanfiction and fan art; people with whom I share a passion, but with whom I might never get the occasion to meet.

Waysdorf approaches the topic of film tourism in two different ways, through interviews with fans and thr-...

No, wait. First. Waysdorf approaches the topic of film tourism <i>respectfully</i>. Back in 2012, as I was working on my dissertation, the books on fan studies I had access to were often <i>othering</i>; when they weren't, they enjoyed broad generalizations. Fans were treated almost like unknown tribes ("Enterprising Women") or their/our motivations were explained with a degree of certainty that I felt was unwarranted. Fandom is huge; fans are (different) people. Every broader trend tends to have a number of reasons behind it.

Waysdorf is aware of this, though; she speaks of this degree of variation, of differences between individuals. There's nothing here that I feel is cookie-cut out of the way for the sake of making a theory pretty.

She approaches film tourism from a fandom perspective and uses two methods: interviews with fans who visited film-related locations on holiday; and reading the marketing materials for a certain set of locations.

Waysdorf identifies three modes of interacting with locations: the hyperdiegetic mode (which I'd describe as: "It really feels like you're <i>there</i>!"); the production mode ("Oooh, how did they do it?!"); and the historical mode ("This is an interesting place to film in; tell me more about it."). She specifically calls them "modes" because they don't refer to fan typologies, since any one person can go through either/all modes.

The four locations she chose for this are:
1. Game of Thrones' castle in Dubrovnik.
2. The Prisoner's village of Portmeirion.
3. Harry Potter's "Wizarding World" theme park in Orlando.
4. Friends' reproduction of sets for FriendsFest and the Friends pop-up.

I've only interacted with three of these - I've watched "Game of Thrones" entirely and was aware of the fandom; I used to be <i>very</i> into the Harry Potter fandom; and I watched some of Friends, but not all. Kudos to Waysdorf for making me interested in "The Prisoner", a TV series I've never even heard of before and which first aired in the late '60s, and in the village it was filmed in, Portmeirion.

I love how varied the four are: a new fandom, with historical sites; an old fandom in a quirky and usual site; a large, well-established fandom with what seems to be an extraordinary theme park; and what was until recently a non-fandom, but one that's starting to emerge in a corporation-guided way. They run the whole spectrum from fan-built and lovingly curated over the years to experiences created by companies; from small to large; from creative to re-enacting.

It's exciting to read the impressions of people visiting sites, their reasons for going, and their thoughts on how the spaces relate to them. In every chapter, I looked forward to their stories and words - however, Waysdorf only interviewed people for the first three. For Friends, she chose to focus on the marketing around the sites, the wording used in articles about them, and the suggested activities, in order to better explore how the fans are encouraged to act, and how to interact with texts. (Spoiler: consuming and re-enacting the series as such is encouraged; transformative re-imaginings are omitted.)

While it's not within the scope of her work, precisely, Waysdorf is quite aware of the developments of fandom recently and points out how things change as fandom becomes mainstream, and as companies become more aware of fans and of wanting their investment (and how that clashes with the subcultural past of fandom). It's exciting to see these changes through a tourism lens, and to have them commented on in an optimistic fashion, while not failing to mention potential downsides.

This is a book I feel I might refer to often in the coming years, when discussing fandom.

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Fan Sites by Abby S Waysdorf presents four case studies as well as her attempt at creating criteria through which to assess film tourism. The book is quite accessible for any reader and while her theoretical ideas aren't particularly strong she still brings a lot of the nuance of film tourism to the fore.

Sometimes scholars, particularly younger ones, try to reinvent the wheel in order to establish themselves. While not quite to that extreme, a bit of her attempt at establishing criteria is largely restatement of foundational methodology with a couple changes in word choice for dressing. So it is certainly valid and usable, just not particularly original. This is not really a negative about the book, just a statement about the need to "establish" criteria that are already in place.

That said, the analyses are quite good and bring a number of things to light for me that I had not really considered. One drawback of fan studies is often being what is called a fandemic, or more accurately how one juggles or blends the two. I have been mostly blinded to the aspect where fans truly immerse themselves, as in pretending they are actually in the fictional text rather than just pretending they are in the fictional world. I was, as a fan, more likely to get lost in the world (with the knowledge I was pretending to be in a fictional world) but not get lost in the fictional text. Even when "reenacting" a scene it was done more tongue in cheek than with any real immersion. Thus I was blinded by my fanhood to how some fans do truly get lost in the immersive aspect of the text as well as the place.

I think most people who consider themselves "fans" of a movie or television show, not even necessarily the ones covered here, will recognize themselves in some elements of the case studies. I would venture that some might even see ways in which they could get even more enjoyment from their fanhood. At the very least anyone who knows anyone who is such a fan will gain some insight into what they experience.

In looking at the industry itself it is interesting to note the extent to which governments, companies, and even simply fan groups have found new and varied ways to incorporate film tourism into their income and/or leisure time plans.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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