Abstract: Since the early 1990s, fan studies has sought to counter perceptions of the ‘pathology
of fandom’ and the devaluation of fans as feminine and infantile. In recent years,
some scholars have claimed that fans are newly normalised in popular culture, and it
is no longer necessary to contest problematic or pathologising stereotypes of fans.
However, the near-exclusive stereotyped representation of ‘hysterical’ crowds of
adolescent female fans, and the routine dismissal of ‘fangirls’ in mainstream media
and fandom itself, would indicate that not all fans have escaped pathologisation. It is
also the case that not all fans have enjoyed equal levels of academic attention. By
virtue of their age and gender, girl fans arguably carry the greatest burden of negative
stereotyping. Yet they have been notably marginalised in fan studies scholarship and
their stereotyped construction has remained largely unchallenged.
This thesis seeks to address this imbalance as it offers a timely examination of the
cultural construction, circulation and pleasures of fangirl fandom, seeking to challenge
and expose the tenacity of what I refer to as, ‘fangirl as pathology’. Using iCarly
(2007-2012) fans across three online fan spaces (LiveJournal, Blogspot, and Tumblr)
as a case study, it presents an empirical, observational study that aims to further
understand the implications of the cultural construction and negative stereotypes of
girl fans, and the extent to which they come to shape the landscape of tween TV
fandom, or ‘tweendom’.
Combining fan studies and girls’ studies, and analysing girls’ fan culture from an
intersectional, gender/age perspective, this thesis examines the ways in which fangirl
identities are performed and the ‘fangirl’ label is negotiated, and how fans identify
with iCarly in relation to their own gendered/generational subjectivities. Strategies of
defence and legitimisation are considered within the contexts of hierarchical
distinctions in inter-/intra-fandom, how fans are textually represented within the show,
and online interactions with the series’ creator-producer. This thesis argues that
fandom performs important functions for these young women. As active producers,
consumers, and negotiators of media, girl fans’ reproduction of negative and
pathologising discourses of fangirls demand reconsideration outside
resistance/conformist binaries, and specifically in the context of their stigmatisation
and structural age/gender inequalities.