Until fairly recently, fan engagement seemed low on the corporate priority list. Case in point: the sale of props and clothing from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, described in the article “The Clothes Make the Fan: Fashion and Online Fandom: When Buffy the Vampire Slayer Goes to eBay”1, was purportedly “for the fans” but was really financial in motivation. From that point of view, the sale was a success: 20th Century Fox made a great deal of money. From a fan engagement point of view, however, it left something to be desired.
There’s a common saying that any press is good press, and in fandom, we say the same thing of engagement. Any engagement is good engagement, purportedly. But I would attach an addendum to this: any engagement is good engagement, but positive engagement is better than negative. The Buffy sale exposed longstanding divisions in the fan community, and caused some negative engagement. Because the actors of the show are sexualized by the show, there is no cultural norm of the fan community to refrain from commenting on this. However, the overt fetishization of the clothes for sale in this eBay auction caused some negative reactions from the fans, making one fan comment that they “shudder to think what some people may do with … outfits that are up for sale.” (36) It also exposed other divisions amongst fans, especially the divide amongst rich fans and poor: “I am bitter! It’s not fair! All of us Buffy fans want something but the rich bitches’ll get it all!” (38) Fans were upset by the unequal distribution of goods, and the top two bidders got 10% of the items. Another winner turned out to be a reseller, and fans were extremely upset by his destruction of the fan objects to sell in fractions.
Additionally, the sale was poor engagement for going against the spirit of the text of the show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was built to be egalitarian in nature, with nerds and cheerleader types alike being key members of the Scooby Gang. The eBay sale set the balance of egalitarian fan communities off balance by creating an explicit hierarchy of fans: fans who’ve acquired more items versus fans who failed to buy anything. It transformed the show from a thing that everyone owns to something owned explicitly by a small group of people. Although the show fetishized the characters, it also had a strong feminist streak: the majority of the heroes were female, and it heavily promoted the idea of female empowerment. With the eBay sale, however, it emphasized the sexualization and deemphasized the feminist elements of the show. Actresses were reduced to fetish objects, and not the fully-fleshed female characters as written.
However, the Buffy fan community was resilient, and this sale did not have a large effect on the fan community. Fan engagement was already high, with an active message board wherein the show creator and writers would talk to fans directly, engaging in acknowledgement and flattery. The show would even create plots that responded to fan wishes, with episodes that felt very much like fan content (“The Wish”, “Doppelgangland”, and “Once More, with Feeling” are some examples.) Although the fan auction could’ve been better and more positive fan engagement, it’s still fan engagement and better than nothing.
Stenger, Josh. “The Clothes Make the Fan: Fashion and Online Fandom When Buffy the Vampire Slayer Goes to EBay.” Cinema Journal 45.4 (2006): 26-44. Web. ↩
Subscribe via RSS