Note: This post was written by Miranda Ruth Larsen, a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo
During my presentation at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies annual conference in March of 2018, I mentioned a concept — affective hoarding — as an aside. Afterwards I was met with many questions in person and via Twitter, and I’d like to take a moment now to elaborate on the term.
Fan studies has, for years, engaged with the concept of subcultures in one way or another, usually referencing Dick Hebdige’s seminal work. Stemming from this are frequent discussions of subcultural capital since Sarah Thornton used the term in the mid 1990s. Fan studies scholars often employ both of these structures to examine the fannish mode. Critically, these analyses happen both within, outside of, and in little nodes in-between academia and fandom. However, given the mainstreaming of many fan practices and the continuous policing of ‘proper’ fandom, further complicating both of these ideas may make them even more useful (Booth 2015).
Within fan studies subcultural capital points to access and knowledge, such as attending all of ComicCon or having an encyclopedic command of Buffy plot points. The associated fan practices might be motivated by a desire to distinguish oneself from other fans, but that usually isn’t the driving force. Rather, particular fan practices — and available modes of consumption — frame the accumulation of subcultural capital. It happens alongside what fans do but is usually not the reason the fan does any fan practice in the first place. Subcultural capital is also subjective, as there is no one fan community for any text — communities are fractured via consumption habits, platforms, language, gender, class, and a variety of other factors. One cosplayer, for example, may hold immense subcultural capital within the cosplay community associated with a particular anime convention, but the same person may have little impact when attending an anime convention in another country.
This is why I employed the term affective hoarding in my paper at SCMS, speaking specifically about my fieldwork in the Tokyo K-pop scene. I found the many interactions with K-pop idols were structured around the potential for affect, including handshake events, taking selfies together, and autograph sessions. More than just a tangible object, each of these interactions was ‘charged’ with potential for connection and intimacy. Rookie idols based in the neighborhood of Shin-Okubo offer even more potential than their major counterparts: for example, fans are welcome to give them gifts (anything you can think of including jewelry and alcohol). Additional affectively charged moments are available by accompanying the idols on PR, having them record private videos on one’s cell phone, or even having a recorded 5 Minute Date together. All of these instances were further intensified with transcultural connections.
In these spaces I found some fans practiced “affective hoarding” — that is, monopolizing chances for affect or affectively charged physical objects with a conscious aim to lessen the experience of other fans. Essentially, while someone’s status (subcultural capital) might increase because of their affective hoarding, the main motivation for their hoarding is to keep an experience away from someone else in the first place.
This often plays into differences in class and social status, especially in Japan. Fans with the capital, free time, and connections are often privileged in contrast to those on a smaller budget, subject to working schedules, and alienated from schmoozing staff and management. Some K-pop events are free to attend, but entry into the performance space is dictated via numbered tickets handed out hours beforehand. For an event starting at 1PM, tickets are handed out at 11AM, and fans with an aim for the front row and their own transportation line up at 4AM. Again, some of these factors are similar to the accumulation of subcultural capital, but affective hoarding requires the conscious decision to diminish another fan in favor of oneself or one’s friends.
I’ll reiterate the example I gave at SCMS when an audience member prompted me to elaborate about affective hoarding. At a Tokyo send-off concert for a mid-level K-pop idol embarking on military service, the management company advertised a limited number of polaroid tickets available before the concert. While the company’s bylaws stated that each fan was supposed to only have one ticket per concert (so two in a day), many fans ended up with four or five. The polaroid tickets disappeared almost immediately, with some fans buying extras from others. When I arrived at the venue and lamented to a friend about not getting a polaroid ticket, another fan turned and told me that I “didn’t need” the ticket to take a picture with the departing idol, as he “remembers you easily because you’re foreign”. This was unsurprising as within that particular fandom I was frequently dismissed because of my status as a native English speaking multiracial American because I instantly “stood out” to the idols, even the ones that I barely exchanged words with.
At the rookie K-pop level, affective hoarding happened often with the implementation of the “random picture” system for an idol group I worked with regularly. In this case after each concert a staff member took over fifty small polaroids of the idol group (usually taken backstage) and put them in a lottery box. Fans could reach into the box blindly and withdraw a number of photos at 500yen per picture. A few were signed by the members, and entitled the fan to a 5 Minute Date. Again, the fans with the most disposable income were able to participate regularly in this game of chance.
While pulled photos not bearing a signature were a “loss” in terms of the 5 Minute Date prize, they were also tangible objects depicting backstage moments of the idol group. Some featured the group members together, but most were of one idol on his own. Like many K-pop fandoms, the Japanese K-pop scene encourages the selection of an “ultimate bias” or favorite member within the group. In other words, fans were often finding themselves with piles of “losing” photos not of their favorite member, and suddenly facing the decision to A) trade them for photos they wanted B) sell them or C) keep them for themselves — all options giving more opportunities for affective hoarding.
Of course, judging another fan’s actions as conscious or unconscious requires careful treading. In all of the instances I described above, someone verbally assured their motivation to lessen someone else’s affective experience. However, many other moments of affective hoarding are only admitted to via SNS, quiet talks with allies, or not at all. Even so, I still find this framework useful, as it points to the antagonistic side of the fandom spectrum Lori Hitchcock-Morimoto mentions: “the nature of fandom is love of a thing; what follows from that love, be it altruistic or antagonistic, comes from our subjective experience of it, and its intersection with other fans’ squally subjective love of the same” (Hitchcock-Morimoto 2017).
Affective hoarding is in no way limited to Japan or K-pop fandom, but my research so far has given me plenty of examples in these areas. I do believe that in transcultural fandom situations the potential for affective hoarding is higher because of the inherent challenges of geographical and linguistic distance. Nevertheless, I hope that others will continue to engage with the term and see how it fits in to the daily goings-on of other fandoms worldwide.
Booth, Paul. Playing Fans: Negotiating Fandom and Media in the Digital Age. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Hitchcock-Morimoto, Lori. “‘First Principles’: Hannibal, Affective Economy, and
Oppositionality in Fan Studies.” Fan Studies Network Conference 2017. University of
Huddersfield, UK, June 24-25.