Chapter 4 of Henry Jenkins's book deals with fan cultures, fans' newfound means of expression afforded by new technology, and the changing relationship between fan cultures and the “culture industries” to which they are inextricably connected. Although new iterations of technology always seem to alarm the entertainment industries with the degree of control they give fans over content, the difference today, Jenkins argues, is the degree of “visibility” that the internet has given to fan culture; with the internet, fans can show their home-made digital videos and fan fiction to anyone in the world. This trend of widely available fan appropriation of content has vexed the culture industries and driven them, Jenkins argues, to one of two responses: the “prohibitionist approach,” whereby the industry attempts to subjugate fan activity, or, less often, the “collaborative approach,” where industries attempt to actively include fans in the development and promotion of content. Jenkins examines George Lucas's Star Wars franchise as a heavily fan-dependent, cross-media cultural phenomenon whose mixed responses to fan activities reflect the confusion of the larger culture industry. Lucas first encouraged fan fiction, then tried to eradicate it, and then set up a website to contain it—with the stipulation that everything posted on it would become the property of Lucasarts. Lucas has likewise attempted to regulate fan films, sponsoring Star Wars fan film competitions but prohibiting works that proposed new, “non-canon” stories set in the Star Wars universe. Such mixed messages sent by mainstream content creators have confused fans, but have not—and ostensibly never will—successfully end their attempts to participate in the work that they love. Jenkins concludes by asserting that the interests of mass culture industries like Star Wars are identical to those of the fan base that supports them--fans want the franchises they support to succeed just as much as the men and women who created them do. He predicts that the franchises that recognize this mutuality will flourish, while those that stubbornly cling to copyright privileges and commit themselves to quelling fan creativity will decline.
Jenkins makes the unique argument that the “visibility” of today's fan culture is at stake, not its expression; fans will continue to privately engage with the works that they love, even if companies force them to do so “underground.” He warns, however, that such a prohibitive policy will ultimately harm culture industries which depend so heavily on the support of their fans. Jenkins's article is significant in my studies because it focuses on American fan culture; he does not refer to foreign fan phenomena like dojinshi, where Japanese cartoon companies abide the sale of infringing amateur manga and have accordingly grown in popularity and profit. However, the benefits of American fan activity that he itemizes are incredibly similar to those of the Japanese system: both have fostered artistic innovation, raised new professional artists, and promoted the underlying material. The great difference between the two is the widespread acceptance of dojinshi and the generally negative (or, at best, schizophrenic) corporate reaction to American fan activities. If western companies were to follow Jenkins's rationale and regard their fans as collaborators and creative participants, rather than mere consumers, Jenkins contends (and I agree in my paper) that a cooperative and successful industry akin to Japan's dojinshi system might appear.