Organized fandom is, perhaps first and foremost, an institution of theory and criticism, a semistructured space where competing interpretations and evaluations of common texts are proposed, debated, and negotiated and where readers speculate about the nature of the mass media and their own relationship to it. As I have suggested in previous chapters, we tend to think of theory and criticism as specialized practices reserved for an educated elite, for the privileged members of de Certeau’s “scriptural economy.” Academic criticism and theory builds upon years of training and a complex professional vocabulary that seemingly precludes its duplication on a popular and unschooled level. Yet as Bernard Sharratt (1980) suggests, the intimate knowledge and cultural competency of the popular reader also promotes critical evaluation and interpretation, the exercise of a popular “expertise” that mirrors in interesting ways the knowledge-production that occupies the academy. Fans often display a close attention to the particularity of television narratives that puts academic critics to shame. Within the realm of popular culture, fans are the true
experts; they constitute a competing educational elite, albeit one without official recognition or social power.