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The historical process of fandom as a participatory pastime: film discourse in newspapers from 1911 to 1918.

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posted on 2021-06-08, 12:22 authored by Jessica L. Whitehead

"Who Will Be Ruth?" was a headline that dominated small town newspapers from 1915-1918. This headline corresponded with a contest that targeted young women to participate in the new national pastime of cinema by having local women vie for the roles in a film with citizens voting for their favourite woman to play the lead character of Ruth. The "Who Will Be Ruth?" contest became a local phenomenon, which garnered tens of thousands of votes in each town the contest ran. The contest exemplifies the film contest trend that occurred in newspapers from 1911-1918, which elicited audience participation in the creation of film content. Movie contests reveal an early participatory culture, which contradicts critical theory's notion of a passive audience. Mass produced cinema in fact actualized publics that participated in the creation of the very content they consumed. The formation of movie fans can be studied by exploring early participation in collective practices, as reflexive circulation of discourse is integral to the creation of a public (Warner, 2002). My research involves studying three distinctive film contests that demonstrate the historical process of creating fandom through the use of newspaper texts. The transformation of film into American mass culture in the 191 Os is directly connected to fan groups who were largely made up of female fans who both legitimized film going and created a distinctive fan public. Film contests gave women agency in creating content for mass culture before voting rights were universal. An exploration of movie contests from 1911-1918 will provide new insights into the relationship between participatory cultures, aesthetic objects and discourse.





Master of Arts


Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type