AU Students Research ‘Shawshank’ Fan Culture

AU Students Research  ‘Shawshank’ Fan Culture
Ashland University students pose in front of the former Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield with one of the two AU professors who assisted in gathering fan culture and film tourism research at events held as part of the reunion of the filming of the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption."


11/13/13 ASHLAND, Ohio - A total of 20 Ashland University students assisted two AU professors in gathering fan culture and film tourism research at events held as part of the 20th anniversary reunion of the filming of the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Dr. Maura Grady, assistant professor of English at Ashland University, and Dr. Richard Roberson, assistant professor of hospitality management at AU, presented their research at the Northeast Popular Culture Association conference in Burlington, Vt., in late October.

Their presentation, titled: “The Shawshank Redemption, Fandom, and the Shawshank Trail: Fan as Creator and Consumer in Film Induced Tourism,” detailed their interdisciplinary qualitative and quantitative study of fans attending the 20th anniversary reunion of the filming of “The Shawshank Redemption.”

The 20 students, which included 16 honor students, aided in data collection and, with Dr. Grady and Dr. Roberson, they interviewed more than 250 fans who participated in the events held over Labor Day weekend in the Mansfield, Ohio, area.

“This is a unique opportunity to participate in a tourism event that is important as both because it is a significant film and a significant part of the local history and culture,” Dr. Roberson said. “The students get hands-on participation in learning about tourists in general and for this event in particular. All of the local organizers were very supportive and excited to allow our students access to the event and to interact with the participants.”

Dr. Grady agreed, noting that “it was wonderful to get so many of our students involved with studying such an important and popular film right here in our local area.”

One of these students, Ericka Gallion of Canton, is an English and creative writing major and she described the weekend activities.

"During the first section of Honors 390 this semester, Dr. Grady introduced the Honors class to the study of fan culture. The timing couldn’t have been better for this section: Mansfield and Ashland would soon be teeming with fans because of the Shawshank Trail’s 20th Reunion.

The Shawshank Trail is an annual opportunity for fans of the film “The Shawshank Redemption” to gather in certain filming locations around Mansfield and Ashland. The trail was expected to be extremely busy this year because of its 20-year reunion, therefore inspiring Dr. Grady to conduct research on the basis of “The Shawshank Redemption’s” fan culture.

On the first day of the Shawshank Trail, I went with three other classmates to survey fans visiting the Ohio State Reformatory. The survey asked fans questions regarding their interests in visiting filming locations, their topmost desires for visiting Mansfield and/or Ashland, and how important the film was to the fan’s everyday life.

During my research, I met a family from Illinois who were die-hard fans, locals who were simply interested in the prison itself, and a man who acted as an extra in the film (he had a folder full of pictures from the set—so cool!). The fans I met did not seem to be like one another; rather, Shawshank fans were widespread and unpredictable. This movie spoke to all kinds of fans, therefore attracting both genders, multiple age groups and people from any profession.

Through this project, I discovered that fan culture is stereotyped way too often. The word fan has a connotation of being nerdy, introverted, and obsessive, but as I got to know Shawshank fans, I discovered the truth: fans are those people who have a passion for a specific thing that has impacted their lives. I think it’s a good thing to be a fan -- I know I’m a fan for a lot of things, “The Shawshank Redemption” being one of them.”