Downton Abbey fandom is knee-deep in Season 3. My goodness me, every magazine and blog has turned into a smorgasbord of content both official and fan-generated, not to mention the gorgeous influx of new fan text (and more importantly, fellow fans to experience it with).
Is it possible we have that unusual specimen, the perfect fan object? Whatever the reason for an individual’s fandom, this show can provide: for class-conscious identity builders we’ve got a enjoyably upper-class Anglophilia. For those seeking to up their cultural capitol there’s quote-happy text galore, and who-did-what-to-whom trivia to memorize. And for the merely lonely we’ve got hoards of fellow admirers to idolize, mimic, and impress.
Not so a fan of Regency House Party, a little known 2004 historical recreation reality series. A few articles, interviews, and fan activity may have trickled out briefly around it’s release, but these days even the most assiduous researcher will find neither a grain of news, nor a fellow fan with whom to commiserate about it. A couple of the participants have Facebook pages, carefully locked, and one has a twitter account where he talks about advertising. The message boards have long gone dead and the bloggers have moved on.
Both these fan texts have the same titillating veneer of English drama and romance. The difference? Without a robust fan context the Regency House Party fan finds themselves gasping like a fish in a dry stream bed.
It’s surely the goal of all fan objects to produce such a robust context that it becomes self-fueling long after the text is complete (think Star wars, Jane Austen, or Rosie the Riveter posters). But at the same time, proclaiming the value of an under-appreciated fan text is one of the purest marks of fan status, or for that matter, regular old boring status too. This illustrates an interesting paradox potential fans might find themselves asking: how obscure is too obscure?
Depending on an individual’s motivations the answer might be: never! This is a familiar cry for many an indie music fan (“I’m a fan of bands so new they don’t even exist yet!”). But that’s only true when there’s a possibility of spreading the love, engaging in a group, having your personal taste mean something to those about whose opinion you care.
There’s a status to being known as that lady who likes that group that’s still unknown, or better yet, that group who is too innovative to be famous. Whereas there’s no satisfaction whatsoever to being known as that guy who keeps going on about that random soft drink they only sell in one store in Ireland, a breed of dog that went extinct in the 1100’s, or that board game they don’t make any more and there are no copies but you would have loved it.
The answer is probably a Bell curve – up to a certain level of obscurity, devotion to a fan object allows a user to really pinpont that self-definition. The more obscure the higher the possibilities (“I’m not just a wine lady, I’m the type of lady who prefers a 1994 vintage of Vino Davvero Oscuro from Luogo Lontano over the 1995, but only if I have enough time to let it breath…”).
After that point it gets more complicated. How satisfying can it really be to be the last and only fan of Regency House Party? The answer is probably not very – the possibilities for fan-like activities are simply so limited. You might watch the show over and over, and perhaps do a little evangelizing to your friends. You might even go as far as to take a pilgrimage to England to trespass on the Chateau used as its set, but without any fellow fans to report back to, it’s rather unlikely.
Fandom just can’t thrive in a vacuum – at its heart fandom is a performative ritual, and it fast uses up the surrounding oxygen without someone to perform for. But never fear, oh devotees of Regency House Party, I hear that Downton Abbey has just been signed on for a 2014 season.