In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Paul Booth of DePaul University explores the cultural importance of the BBC science fiction series Doctor Who.
Paul Booth is an assistant professor of media and cinema studies at DePaul University where his teaching and research interests include new media, technology, popular culture, and cultural studies. His written works include Digital Fandom, which examines fans of cult television programs. He earned his Ph.D. at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Dr. Paul Booth – Cultural Meaning of Doctor Who
What does it mean to be a fan of something? How is this identity owned, explored, and performed by fans themselves? I’m interested in the emotional attachment people can feel for a TV show, for the people on that show, and for fellow fans that follow that show.
In my research, I’ve shown how fans are the future of media audiences. More and more media texts are being created to appeal to fans. At the same time, the devotion that fans feel towards their loved text is one of the oldest, most universal feelings. We see it in religious rituals, in imaginative play, in the earliest forms of literature and campfire stories. Fandom unites us and shows us what it means to be human.
In particular, I’ve looked at fans of the BBC television series Doctor Who, which is 50 years old this year. Doctor Who tells the story of an alien (with recognizable human virtues) who can travel through time and space. He brings with him various Earthy assistants as they investigate historical events as well as future societies. The Doctor sees beauty in the foreign and unknown, humor in the face of danger, and truth in darkest of places.
The Doctor Who fans that I’ve talked with and written about are not the “mindless consumers” that popular culture might portray them as. Instead, they use Doctor Who as a way to become better people, to communicate and learn from one another. Doctor Who fans write original stories, create clever and powerful videos, and even learn to make clothing in order to share their emotional connection with others. I’ve used Doctor Who in the classroom as a way to discuss changing cultural norms of morality and ethics. From a fictional program comes immense real-world meaning.
Studying fans tells us about human desire and motivation. But it also tells us about the power of emotion and attachment, and the joys we all feel when faced with something we love.
Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.