Here's the abstract I submitted. Comments, as always, are welcome.
The 800-pound gorilla of soft political capital, anime is not coincidentally an economic powerhouse. It’s also wildly popular, to boot. It should be no surprise, then, that the number of fan groups dedicated to distributing fan translations (“fansubs”) of anime has exploded in recent years: MyAnimeList, a site that crowd sources information about fansubbing groups, currently lists close to 1500 groups or partnerships between groups dedicated to this form of participatory fandom, an exponential leap from a decade ago when the number of groups numbered in the dozens. The majority of those listed, however, fall into a category fans call “speedsubs,” groups who rework the subtitles of another organization and re-release an updated version hours after the original broadcast.
Many in the anime fansubbing community do not consider speedsubs to be legitimate exercises in fan engagement as they do not produce original work. In this sense, the outrage is tacitly backed by Henry Jenkins’ definition of fandom— “a way of appropriating media texts and rereading them in a fashion that serves different interests, a way of transforming mass culture into popular culture”—in that speedsubs maintain the “mass” part of culture through their focus on cookie-cutter translations. What often gets overlooked in theorization, however, are the roles discrete media objects, the technological ecologies upon which they are built, and the regulatory environments in which they operate inform this fan production.
This paper offers an intervention into the theorization of fandom by arguing that speedsubs represent a valid—albeit qualitatively different—form of appropriation. At stake in Jenkins’ definition is how we conceptualize what gets appropriated and reworked: in short, the “content.” Typically approached in terms of narrative appropriation (fan fiction, doujinshi being archetypical studies) this standpoint overlooks McLuhan’s theorization that the content of a medium is another medium; from this vantage, speedsubs constitute an equally valid form of participatory fandom in that their appropriation and rereading of texts rests with tweaking media themselves. In developing this argument, I rely on Virilio’s theorization of hypermodernity and the fetishization with speed that accompanies it, linking the development of speedsubs to wider technological advances centered on instantaneity such as the development of distribution networks (e.g. BitTorrent, MegaUpload) emergent from broadband technologies, and the democratization of personal video capture and editing tools (e.g. freeware such as Aegisub). In discussing the impact of these innovations on speedsubs, I acknowledge that regulatory schema play an essential role in their maturity.