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MIT Technology Review

The keys to the fandom

Flourish Klink, SM ’10

Flourish Klink portraitFlourish Klink portrait
Sylvie Rosokoff

If you’ve ever dressed up as a character from your favorite movie series, or read a 200,000-word story about that character written by a fellow aficionado, you might be part of a fandom. According to Flourish Klink, SM ’10, that term describes a community of people who build their own world—lovingly, and also sometimes critically—around whatever piece of pop culture makes them ravenous for more. 

“There’s a real element of luck and alchemy when something gains a fandom,” says the Manhattan-based Klink, an alum of MIT’s Graduate Program in Comparative Media Studies. Even so, “it is clear that there are patterns in things that are successful.”

Klink cofounded Chaotic Good Studios in 2014 and now serves as chief research officer. The company consults with major media corporations, using a process it calls Fanalytics to monitor fan engagement—helping clients assess the popularity of books optioned for film, identify appealing plot ideas for sequels, and develop social-media plans for new properties. “We cover everything from small niche communities that are really, really deeply engaged all the way to the biggest that you can imagine,” Klink says.

Klink also cohosts a biweekly podcast, Fansplaining, with Elizabeth Minkel. Since meeting on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015, the duo has released more than 150 episodes on such topics as slash fiction (romantic fan fiction typically featuring two male characters) and the “found family” trope (when characters not related to each other forge familial bonds, which Klink argues is integral to attracting a fervent fandom).

This focus on fandom has deep roots. After a youthful obsession with The X-Files—“My mom thought Scully was a great feminist role model”—a teenaged Klink cofounded FictionAlley, which became the largest Harry Potter fan fiction community online, and helped run the first Potter fan convention. These activities caught the attention of Henry Jenkins, then an MIT professor, who interviewed Klink for his 2006 book Convergence Culture. Two years later, Klink became Jenkins’s grad student at MIT, writing a thesis on Twilight “antifans” (those who hate the vampire series as much as others love it). 

“Having a degree from MIT sort of gives you the license to say ‘This thing is important’ and have people believe you,” says Klink, whose side projects include building a database of thousands of Star Trek books—“a public database, if anybody else cares about it.” 

No doubt there are more than a few fellow fans who do.