This paper was presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and
Mass Communication in San Antonio, Texas August 2005.
If you have questions about this paper, please contact the author
directly. If you have questions about the archives, email
rakyat [ at ] eparker.org. For an explanation of the subject line,
send email to
[log in to unmask] with just the four words, "get help info aejmc," in the
body (drop the "").
Fan Websites: Motives, Identification
and Site Content
Department of English
La Salle University
1900 W. Olney Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19141
(215) 951-5004 (office)
(215) 991-2155 (fax)
[log in to unmask]
Paper presented to the Entertainment Studies Interest Group,
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, San
Antonio, Aug. 2005
Fan Websites: Motives, Identification, and Site Content
As part of a larger study of the creators of celebrity fan Websites,
this online qualitative study examines the self-selected responses of
49 site creators. A set of open-ended questions asking about their
celebrities, fan communities, and creative expression was sent to
these site creators. Actor- and musician-site creators reported
similar motives for creating their fan sites, citing celebrity-based
motives most often, followed by creativity-based and fan-based
motives. Musician-site creators tended to identify more strongly with
their celebrities than did the actor-site creators. An evaluation of
the sites showed that the content matched reported motives.
Fan Websites: Motives, Identification, and Site Content
Over the past few decades, the media have continued to depict fans as
nerdy, obsessive social misfits. A sketch on Saturday Night Live
(Episode 222) portrays Star Trek fans as obsessive and relentless,
bombarding host William Shatner with inane questions and plot flaws,
pushing him to tell them to "get a life" (Jenkins, 1992). In the
cartoon world of Dexter's Laboratory, one episode (75) concerns
Dexter's misadventures of trying to get into a sci-fi convention
dressed as "Star Check" characters. The Simpsons also shows a
recurring character, Comic Book Guy: a lonely, sarcastic, overweight
slob of a man who owns and operates The Android's Dungeon, something
of a play on Dungeons and Dragons and science fiction. These examples
from a variety of television shows demonstrate the far-reaching
stereotypical image of the fan.
Fan culture struggles against the pervasive stereotypes of being seen
as crazed, obsessive, antisocial, or even mindless receptacles of the
media (Jenkins, 1992; Fiske, 1992; Bacon-Smith, 1992; Leets, De
Becker, & Giles, 1995; Pullen; 2000; Baym, 2000; Wakefield, 2001;
Chayko, 2002). Nancy Baym (2000) notes that soap fans are seen by
the larger public as being unable to distinguish fact from fiction.
Perhaps the soap stars themselves are partly to blame since they
often report in the media stories of fans who address them as the
characters they play. The normal or average fan seems less
interesting than one who jumps onto cars or sneaks into a television
studio to see a celebrity. Apparently there is much less interest
from the mainstream media about the average fan; however, academics
are increasingly showing that fans are the down-to-earth,
communicative, social, artistic, intelligent, interpretive producers
of original material, such as Web sites. Current research shows "the
richness, complexity, and meanings of fan activities in important new
ways" (Harrington & Bielby, 2005, p. 799).
Fans have been on the Internet since its inception (Bacon-Smith,
2000), and even more have become active since the advent of the Web
and its vivid graphic-laden, user-friendly browsers. Computer
mediated communication (CMC), including fan use of the Internet to
connect and to maintain connections, has been widely documented
(Garton, Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 1999; Wakefield, 2001; Chayko,
2002). Computer mediated communication is one-to-one, while Internet
communication (such as that utilized on fan Web sites) is both
one-to-one and one-to-many: users can communicate directly with the
site creator via e-mail, guestbook, AIM or ICQ, as well as with other
users through message boards, chat rooms or e-mail lists.
Little attention has been paid to individual fan Web sites, their
creators, and the motivations that compel these fans to produce their
sites, whether to express their admiration for a celebrity, connect
with other fans, or demonstrate their individuality or creativity.
Since there is not much literature on the analysis of fan site
creators or fan sites in general, this study utilized studies on home
pages (Döring, 2002; Papacharissi, 2002a; Papacharissi, 2002b) as the
bases for its theoretical models. Fan pages exist in a unique
category, placing them somewhere between personal home pages (for
their expressiveness of personal interests, creativity, and original
material) and business sites (for their advertisement-like content).
In her categorization of home pages, Papacharissi (2002a) classified
a small percentage (1.7%) as fan pages, illustrating the ambiguous
nature of fan sites.
Research Questions and Definition of Terms
This study, poses four research questions. Since uses and
gratifications motives were examined in the first part of this study,
these four questions were formulated based on the respondents'
answers to our open-ended questions (See Appendix A). For our
purposes, we use the term "identification" to mean parasocial
interaction, "motives" to mean uses and gratifications, and
"connectedness" to refer to connection to other fans. Since
open-ended questions were used, the respondents were unaware of any
of the three categories into which their answers would later be divided.
RQ1: What are the motives for putting up a fan site?
RQ2: Is there strong identification with the celebrity?
RQ3: What is the relationship between the expressed motives and
RQ4: Is there a relationship between expressed motives and site content?
Parasocial Interaction and Uses and Gratifications
First coined by Horton and Wohl (1956) to explain the connection
television audiences felt with media personae, parasocial interaction
continues to be widely studied (Leets, et al., 1995; Fraser & Brown,
2002). Because of the personal, friendly and ubiquitous nature of
the mainstream media, audiences can easily relate to those they
watch, whether they be fictional characters (A. Rubin & E. Perse,
1987; Perse & R. Rubin, 1989; Auter & Palmgreen, 1992; Baym, 2000),
television newscasters (A.M. Rubin, Perse & Powell, 1985), talk radio
show hosts (Beatty, 1996), or the celebrities themselves (Leets, De
Becker, & Giles, 1995; Fraser & Brown, 2002). The relationship formed
in the mind of the audience member can be as intimate as one he or
she may have with a friend in real life; usually developing over a
period of time (Horton & Wohl, 1956), a parasocial relationship is
built upon perceived commonalities with the celebrity (Fraser &
Brown, 2002) and the impression that the celebrity is real outside of
the entertainment setting.
Uses and gratifications identify the motivations for connecting to
media and the needs audience members fulfill by doing so. According
to Papacharissi (2002a), "motives are general dispositions that
influence people's actions taken for the fulfillment of a need or
want" (p.349). Such motives for audience members include passing
time, seeking entertainment, obtaining information, expressing
oneself, and communicating with others (Papacharissi, 2002a). As
noted earlier, open-ended questions were used in this study in order
to allow the respondents freedom in reporting their motives for site
creation; thus, they were able to provide their own answers without
the influence of a pre-categorized list of motives.
It must be noted that our respondents are speaking as creators rather
than as audience members; therefore, the motivations for creating
their Websites will change, e.g., from "obtaining information" to
"providing information," as they are controllers of the medium
instead of observers, which is the move that Papacharissi (2002a)
made in her study on homepages. Categories of uses and gratifications
similar to those used by Papacharissi (2002a) were used in part one
of this study. Similarly, parasocial interaction applied to a creator
is assumed to take the form of identification that endures beyond his
or her time as a viewer.
This qualitative exploration of fans and their sites is part of a
larger study, which examines the site creators' motives, parasocial
interaction, connectedness to fans (Ha & James, 1998; Chayko, 2002),
and the relationships among these.
Two online surveys were conducted: one of fan sites devoted to actors
and the other of sites devoted to musicians. The first online survey
was sent to a randomly selected sample of site creators listed on the
Yahoo! Web directory of actor sites. The sample yielded 725
Webmasters with 301 bouncing back as a result of outdated or unused
email addresses, giving 424 valid addresses, of whom 76 replied (18%
response rate). Of those, follow-up surveys were completed with 20
self-selected respondents who wished to complete the qualitative
questionnaire regarding their sites. Those responses are analyzed here.
The second survey of musician sites was conducted similarly: a random
sample of Webmasters listed on the Yahoo! Web directory of musician
sites was taken. This sample yielded 410 site creators with 104
returned as a result of unused or old email addresses, giving 306
valid addresses, of whom 80 replied (25% response rate). Of those,
follow-up surveys were completed by 29 respondents. Those 29
respondents along with the 20 from the follow-up of the actor survey
are the subjects of this study, self-selecting out of the larger pool
of site creators based on their willingness to further discuss their
sites with us. Although the current sample of respondents in this
study is small, non-representativeness does not seem to present an
issue; while these participants are all over the age of 18 and were
more willing than others to communicate, the range of quality seen in
the sites runs the gamut from amateur to near-professional, denoting
differences in skill, commitment and motives.
Of the respondents to the initial online survey from the first study,
49 (actors and musicians) said they would like to further discuss
their Websites. We sent via-email a list of 15 open-ended questions
(see Appendix A) so that the respondents could write as little or as
much as they pleased and could articulate their answers in their own
words. The questions aimed at getting the respondents to think
about: their celebrities and how they felt about them, e.g., did they
identify with them; whether they connected to other fans via their
sites and how; why, in their own words, they put up the Website; and
others, including what does the word "fan" mean to him or her. The
responses have been broken down and placed into a chart comparing
primary motives, identification with celebrity, and site content (See
Table 1 and Table 2).
Site content was subjectively evaluated by the authors of this study
by recording the kinds of elements found on the sites. Fan content
was represented by the amount of interconnectivity found in items
that measure the opportunity for connection to other fans, whether
those connections are for the Webmaster (such as email, ICQ or AIM,
etc.) or for the viewer (such as message boards, chats, newsletters,
etc.). Celebrity content refers to the overall amount of information
and space devoted to the actor or musician, such as biography,
filmography/discography, photo galleries, and
audio/video. Creativity is the expressiveness of the site, meaning
original work, such as fanfic or original images, as well as the
overall sophistication and innovation of the Website, e.g., using the
site to work on Web skills. The categories were rated from low to
high, based on the respondent's own answers and our evaluations of
the Websites. For ease and for respondents' anonymity, the site
creators will be referenced by their celebrities, e.g., "Jeremy
Irons" and "Annie Lennox," but note that pronoun references will not
Results and Discussion
Respondents were evenly distributed by age group, with the mode being
28% in the 30-39 category. Respondents were older than those in
Dominick's (1999) sample of home page creators, although similar in
distribution to those of Papacharissi (2002a). Those under 18 had
been excluded from further analysis. There were 6% over age 50 and
none over age 60.
Respondents were experienced Internet users. More than 80% had used
the Net for at least 6 years, and less than 1 percent had been on the
Net for less than 3 years. About 76% of the fan sites had been
created at least 3 years ago, with the largest group (48%) being
between 3 and 6 years old. Comments in the follow-up survey indicated
that several respondents began their sites in the late 1990s in order
to develop Web skills, but the sites were maintained for other fan-
or celebrity-based motives over time. Most sites were still being
Respondents were surprisingly well-educated. Only 4% had not gone
beyond high school, with 69% having some college or a college degree,
and 27% having some graduate education or a graduate degree.
Papacharissi (2002a) found a similar pattern, although 17% of her
home page creators had not gone beyond high school.
The modal household income was in the $30,000 - $50,000 range, with
22% above $75,000. Finally, while Dominick's respondents were
overwhelmingly male (87%), this study reports a slight majority of
females (52%). Papacharissi (2002a) reported 47% females. Samples in
all cases were drawn from a restricted population, so generalizations
are to be treated with caution, but it may be that more females have
been developing Web skills in the years since Dominick's study was
completed. Costello and Moore (2004) note that their study followed a
pattern of television fandom research in which samples are
RQ1: What are the motives for putting up a fan site?
For the 49 respondents (both actors and musicians), most responses
were able to be categorized into fan-, creativity-, and
celebrity-based motives. Fan-based motives include wanting to connect
to other fans, to be part of a fan community or to provide a service
to other fans. Creative motives include wanting a space to put up the
creator's own or other fans' fanfic or other original works, to work
on his or her Web skills, and to put up a site that was better than
the others that were already on the Web. Celebrity-based motives
include wanting to honor and/or support the actor or musician, to
provide and/or maintain information about him or her, and to put up
the site because the celebrity had no official site or no fan sites.
It must be noted that many respondents listed more than one of the
three basic motives as reasons for creating their sites.
As can be seen in Table 1, the actors seemed to be most motivated by
celebrity-based reasons, 13/20, or 65%. One creator explains that he
"put up the site to let people know about Jewel so that her music
could inspire others as well." "Jacqueline Bisset" explains that he
"ha[s] been a fan [. . .] for a long time, and thought she deserved a
place on the Web." The second most reported motive for the actors was
fan-based, with 7/20, or 35%. "Lee Montgomery" said that he "wanted
to create a place for other fans to get information about their
favorite actor." The least-reported motive of the actors was
creativity-based, with only 5/20, or 25%. "Michael Biehn" has
designated her site as a center for fan-fiction about the actor. One
creator noted that he had:
noticed a handful of Websites that were devoted to [Elizabeth] Shue.
Few of these sites had a polished look nor an extensive collection of
pictures, so I decided to make my own site; Both to make a better
Elizabeth Shue site than what was available, AND to see if I could do it.
There are, however, two motives (4%) that fall into an "Other"
category. "Chevy Chase" said that he put up the site as a "subversive
parody of fansites in general." He goes on to say that the site's
"stabs at satire weren't obvious enough" since it is often taken as a
genuine site. Surprisingly, only one respondent, "Dolly Parton,"
claims that he created his site to "have something to do in my spare
time." "Chevy Chase's" site will be discussed further in RQ4.
As can be seen in Table 2, the musicians are similarly motivated
mostly by celebrity-based reasons, with 23/29, or 79%. "Robert Quine"
says that he "put up the site as a tribute to [the musician's] work,
which was extremely influential in my taking up the guitar [. . .]"
Another creator put up her site because:
One of Michael Jackson's songs stopped me from committing suicide
following the death of my son. I created my site as a thank you to
Michael Jackson, and as a way to let other fans know how MJ had
affected my life in so many other ways too."
Unlike the actors, creativity-based motives ranked second for the
musicians, with 13/29, or 45%. "Brian Eno" created his site "to
illustrate the capabilities of hypertext and the World Wide Web in
the largely non-commercial form it had in the early 1990s." "Paul
Stanley" noted that "I actually put up the site, in order to express
my creativity and have a place to share my work with people all over
the world. Sometimes it's a little over the top, just loaded with
graphics and gifs, but I have a wonderful time doing it. I have even
gotten some Web design jobs because of my Website." Fan-based motives
were reported by the fewest respondents, 7/29, or 24%. "Warren Zevon
(1)" notes that he started his site because the Webmaster of the only
other Zevon page available at the time "didn't seem interested in
contributions to his site from other fans, and not only did I have
things I wanted to say, I felt fairly sure that others did, too."
Therefore, it seems as if the motives are essentially the same, with
both types of site creators being most motivated by celebrity-based
reasons. Actor sites and musician sites only differ in the ranking of
the fan and creativity motives, creativity being higher for the
musicians and fan motives being higher for the actors. The most
reported motive is celebrity-based, totaling 36 of all 49
respondents, or 73%. Creativity-based motives were the next highest
with 18/49, or 37%, and fan motives were not far behind with 14 total
respondents, or 28%. The two "Other" motives reported by the actors
In the quantitative part of this study, it was shown that expressed
motives for the creation of the actor and the musician sites were
nearly identical in rank order (Spearman's rho = 0.95). Independent
means t-tests showed that actor and musician motives differed only on
three of the 20 motives presented: To show others a little bit about
who I am; To be part of a fan community; To communicate with other
fans. In each case, the musician site makers ranked theses items
higher than did the actor site creators. The latter two motive
rankings suggest that musician site creators are slightly more
motivated by the possibility of interacting with other fans than are
the actor site creators, at least based on the responses to the
Likert items presented in the quantitative portion of this study.
Overall, it seems as though these fan site creators are motivated
most by celebrity reasons, with slight differences in the importance
of fan-based motives and creativity-based motives. It seems
appropriate from these respondents that entertainment fans are
similarly motivated to create their fan sites, the only difference
being that the actors were more motivated by fan-based reasons while
the musicians were more motivated by creativity-based reasons.
RQ2: Is there strong identification with the celebrity?
Surprisingly, the degree to which our respondents identify with
their celebrities varies from cold parasocial feelings to feelings of
a definite connection. In the list of open-ended questions, we asked
several questions that were intended to flush out their feelings
about the celebrities, such as whether the respondent created the
site in the hopes the actor would see it; if the respondent believes
he or she shares common values, beliefs or interests with the
celebrity; whether the respondent feels he/she knows the celebrity;
and if he or she identifies with the celebrity. When asked these
questions, many respondents answered in the negative, that they in
fact do not identify with their celebrity and could not say that they
felt they know him or her since they have never met. On the other
hand, several of our respondents have met their celebrities, either
in conjunction with their Website or independent of it; however,
those who have met their celebrities and know them on a
quasi-personal level from either having met them several times or
having contact with them through or because of the Website make it
clear that these are the reasons for their feeling as if they "know"
the celebrity. Of the actors, 8 reported that they have met their
celebrities but not because of the Website; 6 reported having met the
celebrity or have been contacted by the celebrity because of the
Website, some forming a type of working relationship; and 2 reported
getting to know the celebrity well or semi-well. Of the musicians, 10
reported briefly meeting the celebrity; 9 reported meeting the
celebrity because of the Website; and 3 reported having some sort of
personal relationship with the celebrity. It seems as though that
because many of our respondents have in fact met their celebrities,
the interaction is not parasocial, but actually social.
When asked if they have ever changed their appearances, mannerisms,
values, or beliefs to be more like their celebrities, our respondents
answered overwhelmingly in the negative. Most were shocked that we
asked such a question. "Jackie Chan" said, "No, no, and no. Please, I
do have some sense of reality." Similarly, "Jensen Ackles" noted that
she does "not know him, so I can only say I like how his characters
make me feel." One respondent even remarked that our questions were
"getting strange." "Warren Zevon (1)" said changing his mannerisms or
appearance to be more like his celebrity is "not something I'd do.
Maybe I was too old to be involved in fandom that way, when I got
involved in the first place." "Murray Head" has been contacted by his
celebrity, but feels no connection, even claiming that "he takes
advantage of me a bit, linking concerts and record labels to me, but
not authorizing me to be an 'official' site." Cold parasocial
feelings for the actors were reported by 17 of the total 49
respondents, 11 of actors and 6 of the musicians.
A handful of respondents reported having lukewarm feelings for their
celebrities, agreeing that on some level they identify with or feel
they know their respective actor or musician. Several said that even
what they claim to know about or identify with their celebrity's
persona is quite different from knowing the celebrity as a person
rather than as a media figure. "Elizabeth Shue" remarked that "seeing
a[n] actor play a character does not give any insight into actually
knowing the person." "Celine Dion" surmised that "sometimes I get
this feeling that I know [her] quite well, but this is an illusion. I
am aware of that." Because many respondents have established working
relationships with their celebrities, several site creators noted
that they do know the celebrity, but only to a certain degree.
"Christopher Atkins" said she only identifies with her actor because
of the relationship they have formed over many years of working
together on several Websites: in answering the question as to whether
she believes she shares any common values or beliefs with her
celebrity, "Christopher Atkins" responded:
yes—but that is based on our conversations, particularly about
politics and business practices—not from any perceived commonality
[between us] based on his acting roles.
Even at a somewhat middle level of identification, the respondents
continue to distinguish the difference between actor and character,
public and private person. Lukewarm parasocial feelings were reported
by 20 of the total 49 respondents, by 7 of the actors and 13 of the musicians.
There were 12 of the total 49 respondents who strongly identified
with their celebrities. Two of the actor respondents claimed strong
parasocial feelings, one because she has met her celebrity and has
now known him for several years. Ten of the musicians, on the other
hand, reported strong parasocial identification. These 12 respondents
answered positively to almost all of our celebrity-based questions:
that they identify with their celebrities, believe they share common
values, interests, etc., feel they know what the celebrity is like,
and often regard the celebrity as a role model.
"Connie Francis's" many years of fandom have led her to feel as if
she knows her celebrity: "Being a fan for so long, sometimes I do
feel like I know her. When I see her on TV, I feel like I'm watching
one of my family." "Warren Zevon (2)" became friends with the
musician prior to his death. And although both "Dean Martin" and "Mae
West" never had the opportunity to meet their celebrities, their
deaths have not posed much of a problem for the respondents: "Mae
West" said, "I felt and still feel she has a lot to offer people, as
both a savvy, shrewd businesswoman and entertainer." "Dean Martin" is
a professional impersonator of the musician:
I don't consider myself a fan even though I guess I am. As an
impersonator of Dino, I consider myself a 'reflection' of him…a
living testament to his aura and music.
Similar to the Elvis impersonators studied by Fraser & Brown (2002),
"Dean Martin" illustrates the fine line between professional
look-alikes and fans. "Warren Zevon (2)" noted that he is only able
to identify with the musician because of their friendship:
If I hadn't gotten to know him, I wouldn't presume to think I could
answer this question [about sharing beliefs and interests].
Despite strong identification with the celebrities, the site creators
maintain a grounded approach in their admiration. When asked what
being a fan means to them, several respondents referenced the word's
Latin derivation from fanaticus. "Dolly Parton" remarked that the
label "does connote one who is somewhat obsessed with a celebrity [.
. .]" He went on to say, however, that the foundation of fandom is an
invisible connection: "A fan expresses love for someone they usually
have never met and most likely never will meet based only on the
connection made through art, be it music, film, the written word or
even politics." "Mae West" also referenced fanatic and commented on
the stereotype of obsessive fans:
[O]ne may think a fan must devote their entire existence to a certain
celebrity. That might be true for some people, but I don't devote my
existence to any one thing.
It is clear that the respondents are intelligent; the demographic
information acquired from the first round of each survey of actors
and musicians showed that the majority holds a bachelor's degree or
above (71.1% of the 45 actor respondents and 67.2% of the 64 musician
respondents). And, unlike the Elvis fans studied by Fraser & Brown
(2002), these fans did not downplay or overlook their celebrities'
more unpleasant characteristics. "Dolly Parton" said he sometimes
wished his celebrity would speak standard English, while "Mae West"
condemned her actor's notorious homophobia toward lesbians. "Warren
Zevon (2)," in response to what he does not like about his celebrity, said,
What DON'T I like about Warren? [W]ell, the fact that he's dead's a
good place to start. He wasn't entirely open to a few things I tried
to introduce him. His bedtime was a little late for me.
"Ron Wood" claimed that the musician
stole all of my photographs of him [from my Website] and used them on
the big screen behind him in one of his solo shows in London in
Dec[ember], 2001. I was there. Boy was I surprised.
As compared to the actors, it seems as though the musicians more
often identified on some level with their celebrities. This
difference seems due to the fact more musicians have met their
celebrities in some way, and therefore feel some level of
identification based on their encounters. Sixteen (80%) of the actors
have met their celebrities in some way: 8 (40%) reported a brief
meeting unrelated to their Websites; 6 (30%) reported having met or
been contacted by the celebrities in relation to their sites,
sometimes forming a sort of working relationship; and 2 (10%)
reported having gotten to know their celebrities well or semi-well.
Of the musicians, 22 (76%) reported having some form of contact: 10
(34%) reported a meeting unrelated to the fan site; 9 (31%) reported
contact related to the site, sometimes resulting in a type of working
relationship; and 3 (10%) reported some level of a personal
relationship. "Stan Ridgway" has such a relationship with his musician:
I did put it up in those hopes [of the celebrity contacting me], and
[he] did contact me as a result. These days Stan generally calls once
a week, often more. (I'm his interim Webmaster, and we just chat.)
A related question asked whether respondents would defend their
celebrities if attacked in the media. Most respondents, however, did
not seem concerned. Only a few would unconditionally defend their
celebrities; for example, "Michael Jackson" answered, "You bet!" I
already do!" This might be a reflection of typical fans of this
musician who see him as a victim of media scrutiny. Others were more
guarded, requiring some sort of unjust accusation or false rumor to
compel them to defend their celebrities. "Barry Manilow" said,
"Possibly, but odds are I wouldn't take the time. I don't have a lot
of respect for the media—I doubt that I would waste my time on [media
coverage]." "Stan Ridgway" answered similarly:
Well, it depends on whether or not it was fair. If I felt the media
was being unfair, then certainly. But I wouldn't blindly support Stan
'regardless of the facts.'
Overall, 6 of the 49 respondents said that they would not defend
their celebrities; 29 said it would depend on the situation; 13 said
they absolutely would; and 1 respondent did not answer the question.
RQ3: What is the relationship between the expressed motives and celebrity
Of the reported motives and levels of identification, there seems to
be no clear relationship for most of the respondents. For the 20
actors, 16 respondents reported celebrity motives, and only 5 had a
moderate to high level of identification. Two of these respondents
have also had contact with or have developed some sort of
relationship with their celebrities. "Pierce Brosnan's" moderate
identification is borne from their contact: "Yes, I do feel I know
him somewhat, but more from contact through our mutual friends than
just what I see on TV or in the movies." "John J. York" has even
become "good friends" with her celebrity. Eleven of the 16 reported
low feelings of identification. "Jackie Chan" said, "I only know
their persona, which may or may not reflect some of their
personality." "Catherine McClements" answered similarly:
I feel as if I know a lot about this person, but it's all public
persona, even though I have met her I don't feel as though I know
what she's really like.
Only two others of the actors reported moderate to high levels of
identification, and both cited fan-based motives. Both respondents
have also had contact with their celebrities. "Christopher Atkins"
noted that she feels she knows her celebrity "[o]nly because I've
spoken to him numerous times over a few years. I didn't feel that way
before …" "Gerard Butler" has developed a working relationship with
her celebrity, having contact with him for interviews for her Website.
The musicians, on the other hand, yielded different results. For the
29 musicians, 23 respondents reported celebrity motives, and 17 had a
moderate to high level of identification. Three of these respondents
have also had contact with or have developed some sort of
relationship with their celebrities. "David Sneddon" said that:
over the course of the two years that I've been running the site,
we've become friends of sorts. He's always very good with the fans
and keeps us up to date with what's going on s that we're all very involved.
"Stan Ridgway" also has a working relationship with his celebrity.
Only 4 of the 23 respondents who reported celebrity-based motives had
low levels of celebrity identification. "Annie Lennox" noted that
"the 'fan' element ends more at the music state, although, of course,
I have to admire elements of her personality, too. I couldn't be such
a fan of an artist if this wasn't the case." "Tanita Tikaram" said
that he was unable to say whether he and his celebrity shared beliefs
or values because she "is a very private person."
Four respondents with creativity-based motives, however, reported
moderate to high levels of identification. "Barry Manilow" said that
she only feels a connection with her celebrity
because of the sheer redundancy of the information released by the PR
people for him. I readily acknowledge that Barry could be completely
different from the picture that's been painted.
"Ron Wood" seems to have a stronger identification with her
celebrity, saying that she feels she knows the celebrity "better than
I know my siblings." "Ronan Keating" said,
I identify with [him] thru his music. His mother died of breast
cancer and [he] has written some lovely songs that have touched me
deeply. My mother also died of breast cancer and I lost my first
child to cancer. Listening to his music has brought me great comfort
and I could relate to his loss and feel the pain.
"Warren Zevon (2)" said he "started the site in 1998 out of a need to
learn FrontPage for my work and the site became very popular very
quickly." This creator developed a personal friendship with his
celebrity: "He had contacted me initially to correct some errors on
my site, but we wound up starting a correspondence that would make a
halfway decent book." This respondent's identification, like many
others', comes from his relationship with the celebrity, a social
identification rather than a parasocial one.
RQ4: Is there a relationship between expressed motives and site content?
Site content was analyzed in further detail in another study, but
for the purposes of this study, elements of interactivity were
focused on. The main types of interactive components found on these
sites were guestbooks (54% of sites), counters (40%), messageboards
(36%), e-mail lists (30%), surveys (24%), and Webrings (21%). The
range of pages per site ran from 1-300, with the average number of
pages being 70. The amount of interactivity and interconnectivity,
along with the extensive amounts of information displayed on many of
these sites, illustrated that they are serious endeavors, requiring
much effort to maintain and create connections between the site
creator and other fans, as well as between visitors to the sites.
Evaluation of site content, as noted earlier, was subjectively done
by the authors of this study. Celebrity content was identified by the
overall amount of information and space devoted to the actor or
musician, such as biography, filmography/discography, photo
galleries, and audio/video. Fan content was represented by the amount
of interconnectivity found in items that measure the opportunity for
connection to other fans, whether those connections are for the
Webmaster (such as email, ICQ or AIM, guestbook, etc.) or for the
viewer (such as message boards, chats, newsletters, etc.). Creativity
is the expressiveness of the site, meaning original work, such as
fanfic or original images, as well as the overall sophistication and
innovation of the Website in terms of the employment of basic
aesthetic design principles and Web languages and tools, such as
Macromedia Flash, CSS, and scripts. A match between motives and Web
content was identified if the level of content were moderate and above.
Fifteen of the actors showed correlations between site content and at
least one reported motive (See Table 1). "Dolly Parton" said that he
wished to honor the entertainer. The celebrity content on his site is
high, as the site contains at least 200 pages and includes
filmography, discography, FAQs, photo gallery, etc. "Michael Biehn"
wanted a place to post fanfic and to showcase her Web skills; her
creativity content is high. There are at least 100 stories and
several poems revolving around the celebrity's characters. "Jensen
Ackles" wished to display her regard for her actor and to showcase
her Web skills, but while her actor content is not high like others,
it is moderate and sufficiently represents her motive. Her Web skills
are more than adequately presented on this very professional-looking
site. "Gerard Butler" put up her site for a friend (also a fan),
making her motive fan-oriented. This site contains many feedback
mechanisms to the Webmaster and mechanisms to connect to other fans,
such as message boards, surveys, listserv, chat, etc.
Five of the actors, however, show no correlation between expressed
motives and actual site content, the prime example being "Chevy
Chase." As mentioned earlier, the creator of this site claimed it to
have been made as a parody of other fan sites. The creator
acknowledged the fact that most visitors to the site do not see it as
such, that perhaps "our stabs at satire weren't obvious enough." A
visit to this site shows an actual fan site, despite what our
respondent reported. This site is quite extensive, consisting of more
than 60 pages and a wide variety of actor information and original
material, including detailed movie reviews, images, fan stories, and
wallpapers. "Elisabeth Shue's" site also shows little correlation
between his expressed motive of working on his Web skills and the
main content of the site, a massive photo gallery (30 pages' worth)
featuring his celebrity. "Pierce Brosnan's" motives for creating her
site were creativity-based, that in her opinion, no other sites were
good enough. Site content, however, shows that the level of
creativity is low-moderate, as there is some innovation and an original image.
On the other hand, all 29 of the musicians had correlations between
site content and at least one of their reported motives (See Table
2). "Annie Lennox" reported fan, creativity and celebrity motives;
his site shows a high level of creativity in original artwork and
reviews written by the creator himself, as well as the overall
sophistication of the design. High celebrity content is seen in the
extensive biography, discography, lyrics section and photo galleries.
Fan-based content is low to moderate, as there are polls and a
guestbook. "Celine Dion" cited fan and creativity motives; on her
site, fans post and analyze each other's dreams about the musician,
as well as a few of the musician's own dreams. "David Sneddon" wanted
to "muster up support" for her celebrity, and the celebrity-based
content is high. The site offers galleries, extensive biographies,
and discographies. The site is also high in creativity, shown in the
site's sophisticated design, use of audio and video, and original
interviews and artwork. "Paul Stanley" reported a creativity-based
motive, and her site has many animated graphics and original art and
Overall, then, it would appear that a correlation between reported
motives and site content does exist. It is interesting to note that
the only respondents whose motives did not correlate with their site
content were in the actors group; however, the number of respondents
for whom there was no correlation is small, 5 out of the 20 actors
(25%) and 5 out of the total 49 respondents (10%).
Also asked of our respondents were questions regarding how they
became fans of their celebrities, whether they have posted original
work on their sites, and the amount of memorabilia they own connected
to their celebrities (See Appendix A). One respondent said she
became a fan of the musician having been "a fan of the rock band
Kiss, and Paul Stanley is the heart and soul of Kiss." Many of the
respondents have been fans of their celebrities for several years.
"Bruce Cockburn" said, "That was way back in 1980 when a friend had
listened to a BC album and told me about it." "Connie Francis" said:
I was about 15 years old. I saw a picture of this lovely girl in a
teen magazine. She just caught my eye. Then I heard her on the radio
and her voice just captivated me. I've been hooked ever since.
Many creators post some form of original work on their sites,
ranging from reviews and biographies they have written themselves, to
their own photographs, to original artwork. "Robert Quine" said that he has
posted many stories sent to me by others—in the form of reminiscences
and words of sympathy. Also, many photos. Most of the text on the
Website was either written by me or heavily edited by me.
"Dolly Parton's" site even offers a trading post for fans to trade
In response to the creators' memorabilia, many said they maintain
extensive collections, such as "Michael Jackson," who said she had
even appeared on the VH1 television show Fan Club. A few respondents
also noted that they display their collections on their sites. "Barry
Manilow" displays her collection of original photographs of the
artist on her site. The inclusion of the creators' own personal
collections of memorabilia and merchandise on their sites is another
manifestation of their creativity.
Fans, as seen from our self-selected group, are not the obsessive,
antisocial misfits on the fringe of society as once thought or as
they may still be perceived (Pullen, 2000; Leets, 1995). Our
respondents are intelligent, the majority having a bachelor's degree
or above; creative (many have produced original work and/or have
sophisticated sites that border on professional); and communicative
(many include ways to get in touch with the Webmaster and/or other
fans). As they have shown, they are not crazed nor are they obsessed
(Bacon-Smith, 1992; Jenkins,1992; Baym, 2000): even those who
reported strong identification with their celebrities ground their
admiration, mostly by recognizing the difference between the
celebrity's media persona and his or her real personality.
For the 20 actor respondents, 13 reported celebrity-based motives
(65%), 7 reported fan-based motives (35%), 5 reported
creativity-based motives (25%), and 2 reported "other" motives (10%).
For the 29 musician respondents, 23 reported celebrity-based motives
(79%), 13 reported creativity-based motives (45%) and 7 reported
fan-based motives (24%). Totals for both groups of respondents placed
celebrity motives as the most reported at 36/49 (73%), creative
motives at 18/49 (37%), fan motives at 14/49 (28%) and "other"
motives at 2/49 (4%). Overall, motives for the actors and musicians
are basically similar, both having reported celebrity-based motives
In terms of celebrity identification, it appears that the actors did
not identify with their celebrities as often as the musicians did.
Eleven of the 20 (55%) actor respondents reported no identification;
7 (35%) reported lukewarm feelings of identification; and only 2
(10%) of the actors reported strong feelings of identification.
Musician respondents reported more instances of some level of
identification: 6 (21%) reported no identification; 13 (45%) reported
lukewarm feelings of identification; and 10 (34%) strongly identified
with their celebrities. These occurrences of identification for the
musicians, however, seem to be influenced by the fact that more of
these site creators have met or have been in contact with their
celebrities than those respondents of the actors group. Sixteen (80%)
of the actors have met their celebrities in some way: 8 (40%)
reported a brief meeting unrelated to their Websites; 6 (30%)
reported having met or been contacted by the celebrities in relation
to their sites, sometimes forming a sort of working relationship; and
2 (10%) reported having gotten to know their celebrities well or
semi-well. Of the musicians, 22 (76%) reported having some form of
contact: 10 (34%) reported a meeting unrelated to the fan site; 9
(31%) reported contact related to the site, sometimes resulting in a
type of working relationship; and 3 (10%) reported some level of a
For almost all of the respondents, there was a correlation between
reported motives and site content. Only 5 of the 49 (10%) respondents
showed no correlation between reported motives and site content. The
areas in which the musicians and actors differed most were the levels
of identification and the correlation between reported motives and
site content. The musicians seem to have more instances of
identification due to the greater number of respondents who have had
some form of contact with their celebrities. While the only
respondents for whom there was no correlation between reported
motives and site content were from the actors, the majority of the
actors' sites did show a correlation.
Although most of the respondents were similar in age and education
level, a wide range of Websites were represented; from the very
amateur to the very sophisticated and from the very communicative to
the more secluded, a broad spectrum of fans was represented.
The findings of this investigation shed some light onto the world of
fans on the Web and their motivations for putting up Websites
dedicated to celebrities. Finding that several fan site creators have
contact with their celebrities because of their sites is surprising;
some even have formed friendships and working relationships. As seen
here, these fans are creators, not simply absorbers of media
(Bacon-Smith, 1992; Jenkins, 1992). They create sites that become
portals of information, communication and expression (Pullen, 2000;
Wakefield, 2001). Because of the correlations found between these
motivations, parasocial interaction, and site content within this
sample of the fan population, the subject merits further study.
Auter, P., & Palmgreen, P. (1992, May). Development of a new
parasocial interaction measure: The audience-persona interaction
scale. Paper presented at the Annual International Communication
Association Conference, Miami, FL.
Bacon-Smith, C. (1992). Enterprising women: Television fandom and the
creation of popular myth. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press.
_____________. (2000). Science fiction culture. Philadelphia: U. of
Baym, N.K. (2000). Tune in, log on: Soaps, fandom, and online
community. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Beatty, J. (1996). "Talk radio as forum and companion: Listener uses
and gratifications in
Austin, Texas." Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas, Austin,
Chayko, M. (2002). Connecting: How we form social bonds and
communities in the Internet age. Albany, New York: State U. of NY P.
Costello, V. & Moore, M. (2004). Cultural Outlaws: An Examination of Audience
Activity and Online Television Fandom. Presented to the Entertainment Studies
Interest Group, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication, Toronto, August 2004.
Dominick, J.R. (1999). Who Do You Think You Are? Personal Home Pages and Self-
Presentation on the World Wide Web. Journalism and Mass Communication
Quarterly 76 (4): 646-658.
Döring, N. (2002). Personal home pages on the Web: A review of
research. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 7(3)
Fiske, J. (1992). The cultural econocmy of fandom. In L. Lewis (Ed.),
The adoring audience: Fan culture and popular media. London and New
York: Routledge. (30-49).
Fraser, B.P., & Brown, W.J. (2002). Media, celebrities, and social
influence: Social identification with Elvis Presley. Mass
Communication & Society, 5(2), 183-206.
Garton, L., & Haythornthwaite, C., & Wellman, B. (1999). Studying
on-line social networks. In S. Jones (Ed.), Doing Internet research:
Critical issues and methods for examining the Net London: Sage. (75-105).
Ha, L., & James, E.L. (1998). Interactivity reexamined: A baseline
analysis of early business Web sites. Journal of Broadcasting &
Electronic Media, 42(4), 457-74.
Harrington, C. Lee & Bielby, Denise D. (2005). American Behavioral
Horton, D. & Wohl, R. R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social
interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance. Psychiatry, 19, 215-229.
Jenkins, H. (1992). Textual Poachers: Television fans and
participatory culture. London and New York: Routledge.
Leets, L., de Becker, G., & Giles, H. (1995). Fans: Exploring
expressed motivations for contacting celebrities. Journal of
Language and Social Psychology, 14, 102-23.
Papacharissi, Z. (2002a). The self online: The utility of personal
home pages. Journal of Broadcast & Electronic Media, 46(3), 346-68.
____________. (2002b). The presentation of self in virtual life:
Characteristics of personal home pages. Journalism and Mass
Communication Quarterly 79(3), 643-660.
Perse, E.M., & Rubin, R. (1989). Attribution in social and parasocial
relationships. Communication Research, 16, 59-77.
Pullen, K. (2000). I-love-Xena.com: Creating online fan communities.
In D. Gauntlett
(Ed.), Web Studies: rewiring media studies for the digital age London:
Rubin, A.M., Perse, E.M., & Powell, R.A. (1985). Loneliness,
parasocial interaction, and
local television news viewing. Human Communication Research, 12, 155-80.
Rubin, A. & Perse, E. (1987). Development of parasocial interaction
Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 31, 279-92.
Wakefield, S.R. (2001). An electronic community of female fans of The
of Popular Film & Television, 29(3), 130-7.
1. To start, tell us again in summary why you put up the site (and
remind us who it's about).
2. Did you create the site in hopes of the celebrity seeing it and
perhaps wanting to contact you? Has the celebrity in fact contacted
you as a result of this site or for some other reason? Have you met them?
3. If you use your site to connect with other fans, do you feel any
sense of community with them? How do you communicate with them
(e-mail, chat, Web ring, blog, etc.) and what things do you share?
Have you ever met any of them? Do you feel as though some of them are
4. What does "fan" mean to you?
5. How did you become a fan of the celebrity?
6. Have you posted any stories, scripts, poems or otherwise created
original works for or about your celebrity on your Website?
7. What sorts of merchandise do you own in connection with this
person (posters, DVDs, autographs, etc.)?
8. Do you believe that you share common values, interests or beliefs
with this celebrity?
9. Have you changed your values, interests or beliefs to be more like
this person? Have you changed your appearance, mannerisms or dress to
be more like this person?
10. Do you feel as if you know this person, or that you know what they're like?
11. Do you identify with this person?
12. Do you feel they are a role model?
13. What do you like or dislike about them?
14. If the celebrity was attacked in the media would you defend them?
15. Finally, is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the
site, the celebrity or both? Is there anything that we asked in the
first survey that you have a question or comment about?
Table 1: Actors' Reported Motives, Identification Levels, and Site Content
Given site by a friend
Provide accurate info; honor entertainer; to do in spare time
No sites good enough; Web skills
No other sites
No other sites; honor actor
No other good sites; deserved one
Other fans requesting info
Put up site for a friend
No other site
Not many sites in English; attracted to actors
No sites good enough
Not many sites; Web skills; fans
No sites; honor entertainer
Share information; Web skills; fan fiction
John J. York
No sites; information for other fans
As a parody of other fansites
Regard for actor; share regard with other fans
Table 2: Musicians' Reported Motives, Identification Levels, and Site Content
Share information, excitement for performer
No official site; fans; creativity
Regard for musician
Support the artist
Tribute to musician; Web skills
No official site
Not many sites
Provide information; Web skills
Show appreciation for musician
Share original photos
No other sites; provide information; fan communication
No other sites
Warren Zevon (1)
Provide a place for fan communication
Not many sites; Web skills
No other sites
Analyzes dreams of fans and musician
Not many sites
Promote musician; create fan community
Warren Zevon (2)
Promote self; tribute to performer
Provide information; share memorabilia collection
To create fan community
No other sites; serve as fan resource