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Date Posted: Monday, May 09, 08:55:40am
Author: sk
Subject: research on fan life

The following thread is from the Popular Culture Association listserv, and I though you all might get the same giggle out of it that I did, in part from the description of fannish behavior, but mostly from the idea that the scholars involved were surprised by any of it...

I am hoping you might be able to point me in the right direction with some research. There is a phenomenon out there in which TV viewers send fan mail to people on a show. It is not out of the ordinary that they want to send fan mail to actors on a show, but there is something interesting about them sending letters to the actual characters. For instance, George Costanza still gets mail at Yankee Stadium even though Seinfeld stopped production seven years ago.

I have been trying to find more documented cases (articles, books, etc.) about this ritual. Do you have information on this topic?

+ + +

The earliest instance of such activity that I know of is from an essay in Harlan Ellison's "The Glass Teat" about Dan Blocker, the former Bonanza star. He said that Blocker said that folks would approach him all the time as Hoss Cartwright and inquire about the Ponderosa and so forth.

Blocker would explain that while he was flattered the fan recognized him, he was actually Dan Blocker, and Hoss was just a character that he played, and on and on. The fan would usually always say, "I know that, what do you think, I'm simple or something?" and then continue to ask questions about the Ranch, the Chinese cook, and Hoss' Father as if the real interruption never took place.

Being that I'm not Harlan Ellison, I assure you he told it with much more verve and panache. Nevertheless, I would argue that such behavior as described above qualifies for your research.

+ + +

My favorite instance of this is from the 25th Anniversary (I believe) show of "Sesame Street". Kevin Clash, who plays Elmo, was describing how his daughter would ask him if she could "talk to Elmo" and then "talk to Elmo" about her dad, not knowing she was talking to her dad (this was on the phone).

+ + +

Having just seen the documentary Trekkies on Cable this morning, there were similar examples of this in that film. Furthermore, this seems related as well to the fan fiction phenomenon and there is lots of critical writing about that subject. I also think this is popular with soap operas and there may be a literature there to be accessed as well.

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