OTW Guest Post: Patrick Doyle

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Patrick Doyle is a PhD student in social and personality psychology at the University of Georgia under the direction of W. Keith Campbell. His research combines data science methodology with social theory to better understand the influence of celebrities on their audiences, specializing in computational linguistic approaches. He can be found talking about science, music, his life on Twitter, Instagram, and the University of Georgia’s website.

How did you first find out about fandom or fanworks?

By being a part of some! I had a few thousand followers on tumblr thanks in part to my involvement in a couple of music fandoms. The insider understanding of how fans relate to each other and talk about their favorite artists, along with a familiarity with so many of the media outlets used, has definitely informed my research. While my (near) professional level blogging days are over, I keep in touch with a lot of friends from that time in my life and still keep tabs on a lot of the same artists. I actually think much of the mainstream fan behavior you can find on Twitter is incredibly similar to the content we were posting back in 2012 on tumblr. 

I also spent way too much of my childhood watching E! True Hollywood Story series. From Britney (who was my first album) and Kevin to Anna Nicole Smith, I think I’ve always had a special fascination and reverence for the dynamics of fame. I started developing this personal interest into research questions while I was an undergraduate at the University of Dayton thanks to the support of my mentors in the Psychology and Communication departments and have continued exploring these themes since.

Some of your work has involved LGBT YouTubers and their experiences with coming out. What did you study?

Given my own experience with coming out online before coming out in the “real” world, I was really interested in investigating what that process was like for people who had a much bigger audience than I did. Specifically, I wanted to learn about the digital environment that YouTube content creators built when they posted their video to their millions of subscribers. This project, which my co-author Andrew Graham and I are still working on, is made up of two parts: the audience comments and the creator interviews.

I downloaded close to half a million comments from some of the most viewed coming out YouTube videos of all time in an effort to understand what people were talking about in the comments section. Since taking a more traditional approach to this kind of research by reading each comment would take an absurdly long time, I ran some fancy statistics to create linguistic themes that I could explore. That analysis suggested that, overwhelmingly, the comments were full of support and kindness…except for a select few that were loaded with terms about hellfire. Luckily those were few and far between.

The next step was to meet with some of the posters of these videos to understand what their motivations were for posting and the experience that they had before, during, and after the video went up. We set up a handful of interviews with these content creators and talked about the process. We’re still working on data collection for this phase so I can’t talk about the initial results quite yet, but it’s definitely been an eye-opening project.

In researching both sides of the celebrity-fan relationship as well as the media that is used, what have some of your findings been?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that people use media to accomplish a variety of goals; I’m most interested in the satisfaction of the need for connection and belongingness with others, especially for LGBTQ people so that’s what my research focuses on.

What stands out to me about the projects I’ve done so far, in addition to my own personal experience, is that media use isn’t just for entertainment or information-seeking — though those are happening too. People are also using media to connect with others and express their stigmatized identities. YouTube, which I think people perceive as a fun time-wasting site filled with make-up artists and Cardi B videos, is a place where people are going to express a stigmatized identity — potentially for the first time — and receive support that may be unavailable to them in their face to face interactions. Not only that, but these celebrities are facilitating these conversations. That, to me, means a whole lot.

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

This is my first time hearing about the OTW but I’m a huge fan of the mission of the organization! I’ve done a bit of reading since being asked to write this and what really stood out to me is the self-authorship that OTW offers to its users. There’s a reason why I do the work I do in the field of social psychology instead of other related disciplines; being a fan of something and engaging in fandoms is inherently social — it’s what allows people to satisfy that need for connection and belonging. OTW is an incredible resource that allows for this really niche self-expression while facilitating meaningful networks of friends across the world.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

I’m going to answer this question in two ways: as an observer and a participant. I was lucky enough to join the singer Daya on her Sit Still, Look Pretty tour for a few weeks where I helped out with merchandise sales and meet and greet sessions which is where I had the observer experience. Seeing, every single night, the look on fans’ faces when they would have a few seconds to hug their idol really helped remind me of the social power of these celebrities. The only part of the night better than that was watching an entire crowd sing along to a song. That always gave me chills.

As a participant, there was no bigger rush than when a new album would drop from one of my favorite artists. My friends from across the world would all log-in to listen together, sharing posts about our favorite songs or what we thought certain lyrics meant. I absolutely think about those days when I write about the way people find other people like them who support their interests and hobbies.

Catch up on earlier guest posts

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