In our discussion of HPA and Imagine Better, we distinguish between two modes of fan activism: fannish civics and cultural acupuncture. Unlike the HPA’s earlier work, Imagine Better moved from focusing on pre-existing fan communities (fannish civics) to an emphasis on reaching a broader public by experimenting with cultural acupuncture. We examine the difference between the two modes through two large-scale national campaigns that Imagine Better launched around the release of the first two movies in The Hunger Games series.Whereas the first campaign (Hunger is Not a Game) employs fannish civics, the second campaign (The Hunger Games are Real) moves further on the continuum towards cultural acupuncture, with its accompanying video reaching over 450,000 views.
Yet this model is not the only possible approach to fan activism. Consider the example of the Nerdfighters. Nerdfighters are an informal online community that took shape around the YouTube channel of the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. The two brothers upload two videos a week, about “nothing in particular”, though always with their unique look and feel, including a fast pace of speech, multiple jump cuts, and elaborate use of inside jokes and jargon. Nerdfighters are not connected around a fictional content world, but rather around their affiliation with the Vlogbrothers and a broader “nerd” identity, yet the group has developed a shared social agenda, broadly characterized as "decreasing world suck". Beyond the Vlogbrothers’ own videos discussing current affairs (e.g. “Revolution in Egypt: a 4 minute introduction”), the young participants also are creating and posting their own videos in support of diverse charities and non-profits. The Nerdfighters have shown a capacity to mobilize rapidly around short-term, high impact civic goals: for example, the Foundation to Decrease World Suck raised $483, 296 in two days in 2012.
This chapter considers several approaches to connecting popular culture and civic engagement, looking across the Harry Potter Alliance, Nerdfighters and Imagine Better. All these groups, while unconventional in their language and civic style, have been successful in deploying popular culture engagement toward participatory politics. In this chapter, we identify different mechanisms through which this deployment works, and what forms of activism it enables, describing the intersections and interactions between fan communities, content worlds, and participatory politics.