Currently browsing tag

acafan

Issue 14 of Transformative Works and Cultures is out!

Congratulations to the editors and writers! Links to all articles below. As usual, we’ll be posting some good quotes from these in the coming days, and you’re very welcome to submit your own.

Editorial

Spreadable fandom - TWC Editor

Theory

Metaphors we read by: People, process, and fan fiction - Juli J. Parrish

Sub*culture: Exploring the dynamics of a networked public - Simon Lindgren

Praxis

A Japanese media pilgrimage to a Tasmanian bakery - Craig Norris

Trans-cult-ural fandom: Desire, technology and the transformation of fan subjectivities in the Japanese female fandom of Hong Kong stars - Lori Hitchcock Morimoto

Fannish discourse communities and the construction of gender in “The X-Files” - Emily Regan Wills

Capital, dialogue, and community engagement: “My Little Pony—Friendship Is Magic” understood as an alternate reality game - Kevin Veale

Symposium

So bad it’s good: The “kuso” aesthetic in “Troll 2” - Whitney Phillips

Translation, interpretation, fan fiction: A continuum of meaning production - Shannon K. Farley

Fan/dom: People, practices, and networks - Katherine E. Morrissey

Fandom, public, commons - Mel Stanfill

Review

“Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture,” by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green - Melissa A. Click

“Reclaiming fair use,” by Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi - Josh Johnson

“Genre, reception, and adaption in the ‘Twilight’ series,” edited by Anne Morey- Amanda Georgeanne Retartha

[META] What I Write About When I Don’t Want to be Writing

I am behind on a blog post–this blog post, in point of fact. Being behind is nothing new for me; it’s a consequence, in part, of my chronic habit of taking on too many obligations while trying my darndest to also have that thing we are pleased to call, nebulously but certainly, “a life.”

I’ve been pondering that thing called a “work/life balance” and its role in my program and career, particularly as, this summer, I will be embarking on a significant research project focusing on fandom as part of a team headed by Prof. Abigail de Kosnik. Like my friend Prof. Sandra Annett, whose recent post on the subject got me thinking about this, I’ve found that my reading and relaxation habits have changed as I’ve shifted my academic focus more to anime and manga and as my work with the Organization for Transformative Works (I’m a committee chair for the 2012 term) has come to take up more of my attention. I watch much less anime; even as I’ve gotten better and quicker at reading manga, having to sit down with a dictionary at my elbow feels a lot like work. I daydream less about writing fiction, fannish or original, than I do about making vids. True luxury seems to be lying on the couch with a work of fiction, and I read way more manga in translation and English language comics than I ever did before.

Prof. de Kosnik recently remarked to me that in her experience, of any three things you’re fannish about, you can definitely teach classes about two of them in your academic life. I think, though, that as much as I like history, and came to it via my deep interest in narrative, which I think underlies all of my interests to some extent, I don’t really want to think of myself as “fannish” about history. Moving the focus of my professional life over to the “fandom” side of the line seems to me to be courting burnout, which, given my aforementioned tendency to do too many things at once anyway, I also want to avoid.

I suspect this is something every acafan has to negotiate for herself, but for me, I do know that as much as I like writing about fandom, and as much as I believe that it’s important for fans who are academic to write about fandom to the rest of the academy, in the end there’s a degree to which I don’t want to take that analytical step back about every aspect of my fannish life. At some point I just want to do fandom; I want fandom to continue to be a place that, for me, isn’t dominated or constrained by my academic concerns or habits of thought (even as, being a whole person, I do bring those academic habits of thought, certainly, to my fannish activities).

As usual, I don’t know that I have a larger point tying these thoughts together. I’m really excited to participate in Prof. de Kosnik’s research project (about which much more will be said anon; we’re currently waiting for final IRB approval). I’m really excited to start doing research that will have a genuine place in my dissertation project this summer. I’m excited to have a little more free time to, hopefully, read and watch and vid things, anime and manga and cartoons and novels. I’m excited to talk about fandom with some of my good friends on several panels at Wiscon 36 next weekend. But as much as I do believe that fandom is a way of life, and as much as fandom has had a hugely positive impact on my life, it can’t be everything. It isn’t necessary or good for everything I do to be something I’m fannish about, and that’s okay.

[META] The Encounter

Don’t you love when this happens? A person you had heretofore known merely as an acquaintance, possibly-maybe a friend but it’s too soon to tell is suddenly revealed to you as a fan of your show/movie/book.  And you are revealed to them.  In that instant you are no longer strangers but in some strange and entirely impactful way you achieve an instantaneous, intimate understanding of each other.  You may still not know much about each other in a lot of ways; you don’t know where she lives or if she has children, when her birthday is, her favourite foods, and on and on.  But you know something very important.

Case in point:  I have been easing (read:  plunging head first) into the institutional culture of my new teaching gig.  Not surprisingly, I am sharing an office.  The woman with whom I am sharing seems quite nice, and quite well-installed in her space, having attempted to make it more homey by bringing in candles and posters and other personal items.  I like this approach – so far, so good.  We have been in the space together a few times this week,tentatively feeling around each other, not yet sure if we will be friends or just colleagues.  We’ve spent virtually no time talking about our personal details other than to establish What You Teach and What I Teach and Where We Went to School.  Today we were chatting and discovered that we both long to paint the office red, hate beige and consider pastels to be failed colours.  Thus a tentative bridge of understanding was formed.

Then she saw that my computer desktop image is the cover from this year’s winner of the Fan Favourite TV Guide poll, the one featuring Sam and Dean from Supernatural.  “You watch Supernatural?” said she, and this was all it took for us to catapult past all our mutual reserve.  Within five minutes we had established that we were both Deangirls (important information within SPN fandom) and I had invited her to my apartment to marathon seasons five and six.

There is intimacy here, is there not?  Is it not real intimacy but of a very special kind?  In some ways we remain entirely strangers to each other.  But we have discovered that we each have this secret, intense love, a love that is with us virtually every moment yet we know better than to speak about.  Work and life have to be gotten on with, after all.  Unexpectedly, we have had this chance to reveal a huge piece of our inner world, and that is not to be taken lightly.

Critics of fandom question the substance of the relationships formed through fandom, especially the relationships maintained through web-based social networking technologies.  It is only a tv show, they would say.  It isn’t real.  They would say that, like my unexpected connection to my office-mate, my relationship to my show is not a thing of any substance.  And okay – fair enough.  Speaking as an academic, I understand why we need to question the social, economic and emotional nature of our investments but, speaking as a fan, it seems like those relationships are the most real, the most important.

And here’s a question:  If a relationship feels real, doesn’t that, by default, make it a relationship?

I’m not psychotic, by the way.  I’m not talking about the imaginary relationships that some infamous characters have had with celebrities like Jodie Foster or Monica Seles.  That is something entirely different in kind than what I’m talking about.  I am quite aware that I have not met either Dean Winchester or Jensen Ackles in the flesh.  I’m also quite aware of the difference between fantasy and reality.  But I do have relationships with them, of a sort.

(Jensen, if you should happen to stumble across this, don’t be alarmed.  I’m not coming after you and I don’t believe we’re secretly married).

My point is, maybe the criteria for a “real” relationship have a lot to do with the meaning derived from that relationship.  In the case of fans, the quality of meaning we find in our shows, our stars, our interactions with our fellow fans, is very high.  What more do we need to prove that these relationships are real?

All of which is to say, I think the new job is going to work out just fine.

[META] Bringing Fandom to the Classroom

Most fans know how it feels to contemplate sharing their fandom with the outside world.  You dwell, you ponder, you cogitate and you finally decide that you are not gonna hide, dammit!  You are gonna fly your geek flag, because this is important to you and you have nothing to be ashamed of.  (Or maybe you decide for very good reasons not to reveal yourself, but let’s assume otherwise for the purposes of the moment).

So you “come out” to someone.  You tell them about your love.  You explain all the ways that you express your love and you brace yourself for judgment.  You are ready with your arguments:  You do know the difference between fantasy and reality.  You do have a life.  You are a contributing member of society and it isn’t just a tv show/movie/book/game, it brings you meaning and pleasure and friendship.  It allows you to express parts of yourself that wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise.

Except, to your surprise, the judgment doesn’t come.  You get vague, puzzled expressions and shrugs but little more, and you leave the encounter feeling oddly disappointed and maybe just a tad uncomfortable, as though you just tried to write a really cracky crossover fic and the characters just refused to exist in each other’s worlds.

Bringing fandom into the classroom is a lot like this – except entirely different.

I write on this topic today in the genuine hope that other acafen might have wisdom to impart.  You see, I just finished teaching an introductory level course called Media and Society.  On the whole, it was a great experience.  The students were engaged and talkative.  They were full of opinions, so I imagined that when we got to the section on fandom there would be a plethora of exciting conversation.  Some might react, others would challenge the reactions…. or if not, I would intervene gently but firmly.  Perhaps some would admit to being fans themselves, even talk about their own transformative works.  We would debate whether or not fans are harmless, folksy innovators  or the dupes of capitalism.  If nothings else, we would have fun.  I brought to class some great examples of fan vids, fan films, machinima, fan art.  I told them about slash, yaoi, hurt/comfort, and I waited for the questions.

The party was a bust.  Just as with my more generic revelation fantasies, I got silence and blank faces.  There were the occasional giggles and expressions of shock but otherwise the galvanizing encounter that I had expected did not materialize.  (I did have a bunch of athletes in the class who quite willingly owned up to being sports fans, but in this sport-centric society who would feel the need to hide it?)  At the very least I expected the subject of slash to inspire curiosity or outrage – but no.  The void I that I contemplated in response to slash was particularly gaping.

The way I see it, there are four possible explanations for this.

One:  I was too obvious and the students didn’t want to risk getting on my bad side.  Now, I did not make a secret of the fact that I am myself a fan, but I did not name outright my fandom, nor did I tell them that I have written fanfic and slash.  Still, they may have been able to figure it out.  I did show an excerpt from an episode of Supernatural and followed it up later with a Supernatural fanvid.  But this only made sense, didn’t it?  I had discovered early on that I could make no assumptions about them having seen any show or film, regardless of its popularity, and if I was going to show a vid then they ideally needed some context for it.  It’s not like it was all-Supernatural-all-the-time.  In fact, I thought I had done a good job of being not-too-overly-enthusiastic when I mentioned the show, using it as just one (very apt) example of what Sharon Marie Ross has called “participatory viewing”.

However, it is entirely possible that I was not as inscrutable as I had hoped.

Two:  I was not obvious enough.  In my desire to not seem too partial, to have a balanced dialogue about fandom, perhaps I undersold fandom.  I did not express how I adore the unquenchable, idiosyncratic, joyful creativity of fans.  I did not manage to make my students understand the depth of feeling that we fans invest in our loved objects, how strange yet ordinary that emotion, how necessary and yet how secret.  And even though I touched on the gender divide in fandom, I did not adequately convey my wonder at women all over the world turning media to our own purposes the way that we do.  I did not advance any arguments about slash being more than just gay sex.  Perhaps I should have told them how slash is so much more than dirty stories, how it is an entire woman’s genre built from our desires and fantasies – exciting, mundane, cute, sentimental, passionate, sometime violent.

Maybe I failed in all this because still, after everything, there is something about fandom that is embarrassing to me.  I don’t care if people know that I read and write sexy man-on-man stories but I do mind people knowing about all the sentiment.  There is something squirmful about the fact that I need a fix of emotional goop every day.  Even if I know cognitively that there is nothing wrong with it, I still find it hard to face the discomfited sniggers when displaying a piece of fan art that depicts excessive tenderness between two naked male characters.

Third:  Fandom is no big deal.  Maybe these kids are just too accustomed to the idea that people are entitled to their pleasure as some inalienable right.  Maybe they secretly think “Yeah, total geek…but hey, to each his own” along with “I like my shows/games/movies too.  I’m not going to wear a costume though…I’m not a fan like that.”  Maybe they figure there’s nothing much to argue about and that, again, would be my failure.

Fourth:  Now I’m going to make a confession.  I’m exaggerating a bit.  My students did ask some questions.  There was even a group of four or so who stayed after class one day (I had just shown the first 30 minutes of Trekkies), to argue about the meaningfulness of fandom relationships and the ethical implications of spending thousands of dollars on collectibles.  It was an energetic, intellectually satisfying discussion that we never had the chance to resume.  I had hoped to pick it up in class but the same students didn’t seem interested anymore.  So I was disappointed, and that just may be my problem.  It is possible that the “fan” in “acafan” will never be able to find the experience of teaching fandom satisfying, either because her students are not fans and don’t quite get it, or because her students are fans and they do get it but, like her, they aren’t willing to expose their quivering, emotional, fannish self.  Perhaps there must always be a limit on how much of the fannish experience she can reveal, not because there is anything inherently wrong about what she does and feels and believes but because it will simply never translate into the classroom.

Am I once again being the idealist, comparing my imagined experience with reality and finding reality wanting?  And wouldn’t that just be typical of me.

[META] Harry Potter, History, and Endings

Like much of the rest of the world, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 last weekend. The Harry Potter books, and fandom, hold a very special place in my heart, and the seventh book in particular holds a very special place in my reading experience as well: namely, it’s the only book I can recall in years that, while reading, I deliberately forbade myself from flipping to the back of and reading the ending. Just about every other book I read, especially fiction, after about twenty pages I find myself turning to the ending and reading the final chapter or so. I’ve gathered from people’s reactions that this is something of an odd reading practice. The only other person I’ve met who does make a habit of it, actually, is a professor in my department, and we had a satisfying moment of solidarity when we discovered that we both read the endings of books before reading the rest of the book. I’m frequently asked why I read this way, and I often answer that, for me, the plot of a book is often the least interesting aspect. Did I suspect that Harry would (eventually) vanquish the Dark Lord when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1997? Yeah, I had an inkling. Whether or not there are only seven stories in the world, there are certainly a limited number of plots; for me, how the author gets there–language, characterization, style, subject matter, setting–is usually far more important than the actual ending itself. My professor, however, told me that I should be taking the same approach to academic works that I do to fiction: namely, reading the introduction and the conclusion before the actual core of the book, to see whether an author actually fulfills the claims they make. This is certainly good advice; I’m constantly surprised at how many scholars’ introductions and conclusions don’t quite match what their books actually say. But, as is perhaps inevitable, the entire conversation got me to thinking about fanfiction. To wit, part of the pleasure of fanfiction in general–and Harry Potter fanfiction in particular, because there are oceans and oceans of Harry Potter fic out there, as befits a rich, sprawling, transcendently popular canon–is how much we as readers and writers already have in common when we come to the text: we’ve read the books, we’ve seen the movies, we’ve sampled the Chocolate Frogs and Every Flavor Beans and we’ve listened to our wizard rock. So we’re free to focus our attention on other things: characterization in light of whatever canonical aspect has been transformed, whether the fic is critiquing or celebrating a particular aspect of the text, the hotness of any included sex scenes. No matter how many brilliant fics I read, I’m never unhappy to read another fic covering the exact same emotional territory or scenario, for the pleasure of getting a new spin on a concept I love. All this being said, I’m glad I didn’t spoil myself for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when I first read it, though I hardly wept any less in the theater than I did at the resurrection stone scene in the book. Just as in fanfiction, one of the pleasures of the Potter films has always been the simultaneous impossibility and possibility of spoiling them. We walked into the movie theater already knowing the plot every time, and yet how the filmmakers would transform the books into movies remained a mystery. And even in this final film, which only covers the last half of the final Potter book, my friends and I were quite happy to be unspoiled about just how the filmmakers would interpret everything. (We were, on the whole, quite satisfied.) I’ve come to believe that this same fascination–not what but how, not actual events so much as means, causes, and consequences, hidden realities within familiar stories–is part of why I enjoy studying history. History too offers us a closed, finite narrative that most of us are familiar with at some level of detail; it’s the historian’s job to dig in to the inner workings of that narrative and explicate how events took the shape they did, to excavate forgotten, actual and possible pasts while illuminating possible futures. Lacking a Time-Turner, a Pensieve, or a position in the Department of Mysteries, more often than not for my own research I’m following Hermione Granger’s lead to the library, but even magic takes effort and study. We in fandom know well that canon is only one possible version of any given story; similarly, just because the past worked out the way it did doesn’t lend that past any authority beyond that of the actual. Both are crying out to be disassembled, remixed, and transformed.

[LINK] Signal boosting: Check Out the Acafan Convo!

One of the organizing concepts of the Symposium Blog is the intersection of academic and fannish modes of analysis. Sometimes, these converge in a single acafan (an identification I myself am perfectly comfortable with, as I spend equal portions of my time on my academic and fannish work), and other times, they refer rather to the possible terrain of an argument, a feeling of accountability to the very different, but equally intellectually exciting “rules of engagement” in the academic sphere and in fandom. The term “acafan” is controversial because, like “queer,” it is in flux, and has different meanings within and outside the academy, as well as within and outside fandom.

This summer, Henry Jenkins is hosting a series of conversations called “Acafandom and Beyond,” which bring together some of the “people from Game Studies, Critical Race Theory, Performance Studies, Queer Studies, and Gender Studies, who are confronting similar issues surrounding the role of subjectivity and cultural criticism,” which are at the heart of the acafan debates.

Now that fandom has finally gotten a momentary fair shake from the mainstream, I’d say that it’s high time to return to the complex questions that self-reflexive fans are so good at asking, like: the role of passion in serious debate, the importance of complex media engagement, and the intersections of various forms of privilege and taste. It is certainly not the case that one needs to be a practicing academic to engage, either. However, academics who form part of the critical sphere created by the media landscape, especially those who also value fannish as well as institutionalized methodologies, are uniquely equipped to have conversations that fascinate me.

The first installment, an overview, is located on Henry Jenkins’s blog here, and the latest installment, in which participants talk about everything from Comic-Con to foodies, is located here.

Check it out! And feel free to join the conversation on the blog, or on the Dreamwidth mirror site.

[ADMIN] A Historian Says Hello

There’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in an apartment in Kyoto, Japan, as I write this post. Three and a half years ago, on a Fulbright Fellowship to Doshisha University in Kyoto, faced with a lot of free time and nothing in particular with which to fill it other than reading manga, biking around the city, and searching for interesting things on the internet, I fell (back) into fandom, and thence into the Organization for Transformative Works. I didn’t know it then, but that was a transformative moment for me. But let me back up for a second. Greetings, salutations, and hello! 日本語が話す方に、初めまして!My name is Andrea Horbinski, and I am an academic in training, a historian, and a fan. I’m also a member of the OTW’s International Outreach committee, and I’m very excited to begin blogging for Transformative Works and Cultures‘ Symposium blog! So, let me give you a bit of an extended self-introduction. At the moment I’m a Ph.D. student in modern Japanese history at the University of California, Berkeley, with hopes of writing a history of manga for my dissertation. Manga, you say? You mean Japanese comics? Yes and yes. Watching anime in high school–are there any Revolutionary Girl Utena or Outlaw Star fans around?–got me into Japanese language classes at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where I eventually got my degree in both Classics and Asian Studies. My Fulbright Fellowship after college saw me researching hypernationalist manga in Doshisha’s media studies department, and I’m in the history department at Berkeley now, so as you can tell, I’m someone who believes passionately in the virtues of interdisciplinary approaches! My fannish curriculum vitae, as it were, is also a patchwork. I’ve been watching and reading science fiction and fantasy since about the age of four, but despite putting a few toes into Star Wars fandom when the first of the prequel movies came out, anime was the first thing I self-defined as a fan of, in high school, followed by manga in college. I still think of myself as an anime and manga fan first, but over the past few years I’ve greatly enjoyed expanding my fannish interests beyond anime and manga back into book and media fandoms, and my fannish output beyond AMVs into fanfiction and vids. It would take too long to give you a full list of my abiding fannish obsessions, but I have to mention Star Trek as well as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings as well as Harry Potter and the Young Wizards, the manga of CLAMP and Urasawa Naoki and Arakawa Hiromu, just to give you a sense of my interests. Some of my current fannish obsessions are CLAMP’s new manga Gate 7, the Narnia books and movies, the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series, Doctor Who and X-Men: First Class, and I’ve been watching the Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime in utter fascination. For me, the passion of fandom is a necessary part of my academic work, and the insights I’ve gained through fandom into a wealth of topics and issues, including history and writing (about) history, are invaluable. I’ll be writing from Kyoto, where I’m studying classical Japanese, for the rest of the summer before heading back to California for another full year of reading, writing, watching and working. I don’t know what exactly I’ll write about yet, but I’m hoping to give back a little of the enriched perspective I’ve gained here on the blog, and I’m very much looking forward to the conversations that will undoubtedly arise from writing and reading here, both online and in person. So, until then!

[ADMIN] Dana says farewell

It’s been exactly a year since this blog was launched, and I am proud and pleased to have helped get it started. Thank you, Nina and Karen, for inviting me to the party! This will be my final regular post — I’m handing off blogging duties to what feels, to me, like the “Next Generation” of acafans! Andrea, Lisa and Alex will keep you thinking and entertained as our Symposium blog marks the beginning of its second year.

Back in 2007, when the founders of the Organization for Transformative Works announced the goals for this new group, I was immediately an enthusiastic supporter, and I remain a believer and a dues-paying member. No organization or group can speak for all of fandom, of course, but the OTW is doing things in regard to fandom that I completely support. The OTW and the journal with which this blog is affiliated are examples of the fact that fandom appreciates its own history and recognizes its importance, and that our fan works aren’t merely disposable scribblings, but worthy of celebration, preservation and study.

A formal affiliation with an organized group, or volunteering with the OTW or the journal, is by no means necessary to doing fandom, of course, and there are pretty much as many ways of doing fandom as there are fans.

That said, here are some things fandom has done for me personally — some benefits and some gifts I have in my life because of fandom.

–Friends around the world, mostly women, including some awesome and inspiring creative collaborators. (My touchstone here is the quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Well-behaved women seldom make history”!)
–An appreciation for a bunch of shows and movies I would never have discovered any other way, and the discovery of the myriad joys of fan fiction, vids and art inspired by those shows and movies. (I knew about The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek way before I found fandom, but there are a baker’s dozen of new-to-me fandoms I would never have discovered without the squee of my friends-lists.)
–An outburst of creativity unprecedented in my life before fandom, and a serious recommitment to fiction writing. Related to this: If I had not discovered fandom, I doubt I would have had the experiences that led me to volunteer for teaching creative writing at my university.
–Knowledge and growth in a range of subjects I would never have researched, studied or even cared about without being exposed to them through fandom, and the opportunity (and a platform) to share and discuss my learning.
–A sharpened commitment to feminism and minority issues, including LGBT issues, a heightened attention to media depictions of same, and also, new appreciation for how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.
–An internet community that’s helped me feel less isolated, particularly when my kids were in diapers and face-to-face socializing and support was hard to find in the almost suburbia/almost rural area where I live. Anyone who thinks online friendships aren’t real? Has never had one.
–New and amazing flavors of joy, fun, and humor.

I look forward to continuing to participate in fandom (and you might very well see guest posts from me here in the future), so this isn’t really goodbye. Keep misbehaving, fandom, in all your multifaceted identities and ways! And do keep in touch. You can find me on Dreamwidth at sterlinglikesilver.

[META] I Am Acafan, Here Me Roar?

“I”, meaning whom?

I am Lisa Schmidt, writer, thinker, debtor, and life traveller, and this is my introductory post.   I’m very pleased to be joining the Organization for Transformative Works, truly.  I am one of those academic types who was a fan first, always and forever a fan.  I was a fan — for a very long time! — before I knew there were other people like me, people who shaped themselves into groups and found ways to communally refine their gorgeous obsessions.  Some of us even thought to harness our emotional and intellectual energies and fashion them into a career — thus was born acafan.

So, I think it important to begin with a sort of fannish curriculum vitae.  As with any C.V., one picks and chooses a little, lining up the major entries for maximum effect.  In other words, this is only a partial list.  It goes:  Star Wars, Remington Steele/Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Depp, Star Trek: TNG, Star Trek: Voyager, The Sentinel, LOTR, OMG LOTR!, Everything-Associated-With-Elijah, Supernatural, Stargate Atlantis, did I mention Supernatural/Dean Winchester/Jensen Ackles? In between and during all of these, I’ve had my various obsessions with films, books, shows, topics and personages ranging from T.E. Lawrence to Kate Bush to the Dragonlance novels.  I don’t just like Bette Davis; I WORSHIP her.  I think that Joss Whedon is a true genius and if I could I would throw myself at his feet and ask him to hire me.  I think that Bjork is a GODDESS.  I don’t how to NOT be a fan.

I have to say this because it such a huge part of the picture:  I love fanfiction.  I love it as an academic and as a human being and as a reader of fanfiction and — oh, yeah, as a writer.  I’ve been a writer my whole life.  I have boxes of unfinished fantasy novels, most of them written in my teens.  They shall probably never see the light of day, and that is just as well.  The point is, my blogging may skew towards fanfiction, particularly slash.  To me, fanfiction is a particular formation of a very basic sort of human creativity, an activity that pre-dates the Internet and electronic media and even the novel.  It is not something that supposedly uncreative people do because they don’t know how to do REAL writing…. but I digress.

So as I was saying, I am Lisa, and I am a fan.  I am also an academic.  As I write this, I am sitting in my apartment in Sherbrooke, Quebec, home of Bishop’s University.  I just finished teaching one course (Hitchcock) and will begin two more next week (Media and Society, Sex and Gender, whee!).  I did my Ph.D. at the University of  Texas at Austin, which means that you may hear me rant about the weather in Texas, or American politics, or grad school, or all of the above, at some point.  But I am a Canadian girl, born and bred. I went to McGill and the University of Toronto.  I like to think that being Canadian makes me cool, but I’ve never really been cool, to tell the truth.

Because I am an academic, I can’t bear the thought that anyone might have read the title to this post and said “Hmm, can’t she SPELL?”  I can spell, I promise you.  I thought I would try for a clever sort of double meaning with “HERE”, as in this blog.  In this blog, I will roar.  Why ROAR?  Because I am a fan.  I think I’m pretty darned rational most of the time, but I can get very passionate about certain subjects (Hello?  Fan here).  And on the subject of fandom, I do feel like roaring sometimes.

Of course, being Canadian, I try to remain polite even as I roar.

[META] Media in Transition: Fannish Presence at an Academic Conference

This weekend, I’m in Boston, enjoying the seventh (and my first) Media in Transition conference at MIT. For me, the best part so far has been meeting some people I know from the OTW and other digital spaces — it’s nice to see digital connections materialize IRL, and it’s always so exciting to talk to people who you know share a fundamentally fannish sensibility, even if you’re not sure what other investments you may share. I haven’t gotten the chance to attend the other kind of con before, but I’m definitely interested in doing so someday, and seeing what it’s like to know that everyone around you is a fan.

I mean, it’s common enough to say that it’s easiest to bond with people over media texts — “seen any good movies lately” comes just after “my, this weather!” in my personal small talk repertoire. But then, you know, there’s the whole dance around “but do you love it like I love it?” and the whole affair has the potential to get really awkward. When you’re accustomed to really high-context engagements around media texts, the low-context “yeah, I used to watch Smallville in high school” requires a significant recalibration of the conversational mode.

You’ll notice I’m not talking about the paper I delivered, which was about The Guild — I was pleased with the paper, and pleasantly surprised by the extent to which shared themes ended up emerging out of the Women and Media Change panel of which it was a part, but it was sadly not an opportunity to fangirl. It was a productive challenge for me to explain what I think is so important about The Guild to an audience of academics who not only hadn’t seen it, but were in completely different academic fields, and it’s exactly the kind of experience that will help me to produce better work on the series. But I would have gone home somewhat disappointed if I hadn’t met a fellow graduate student in the elevator who, as he prepares to write a dissertation on webseries, was up for talking about The Guild as a storyworld, as a creative achievement in its own right, and as an innovative transmedia narrative. An innovative transmedia narrative about awesome people, played by awesome actors, full of potential for much future awesomeness.

But then, when I think about these events together, I realize that perhaps there’s not so much that differentiates the engagements made possible by fandom and the engagements made possible by the academic world. In both spaces, I have the privilege to be part of an evolving intellectual community, to sit quietly with my notebook in hand while others curate brilliant arguments and beautiful artworks, about which I can either comment extensively, or simply sit back and appreciate. And in both spaces, to be perfectly honest, there’s much that I simply can’t intellectually access, because I have too much trouble understanding the stakes or connections held as significant by unfamiliar subfields or fannish factions. But overall, those moments of non-encounter are important, too, because they help me to value my own fannish and academic happy places, and be comfortable with the fact that there are so many networks in place that welcome participation by those who are not yet experts. I’ll stop before tying it up with a Carrie Bradshaw “and aren’t we all in transition?” (Apparently I won’t.)

[META] Whose pregnancy?

Mary Ingram-Waters wrote an article in the most recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures called “When Normal and Deviant Identities Collide”, about her experiences trying to collect information from authors of mpreg fan fiction stories at a Harry Potter fan convention. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

“Mpreg” means “male pregnancy,” and it has its own subgenre niche inside fan fiction. Ingram-Waters quotes a fan author as ruefully explaining, “It’s definitely a ‘guilty pleasure’ for some and a squick for others, and is in general not that well regarded [among fan fiction readers and writers], mostly because it allegedly turns the male characters into whiny, feminized versions of themselves.”

Ingram-Waters writes that there was a distinct difference in the way she was treated by the authors she interviewed in person compared to the authors she interviewed via email. The authors she interviewed at the convention seemed to make more mention of the stigma of writing mpreg when faced with an actual pregnant woman. They seemed defensive and took pains to note that they had done research on pregnancy before writing. One writer refused to be interviewed at the convention, after previously agreeing.

Ingram-Waters writes, “One explanation for the negative interactions is that my physical presence illuminated the extent of deviance of their mpreg stories.”

Deviance can certainly be found in fan fiction, however one wants to define the term (I immediately thought of that tag line, “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”), but I am focusing on the dictionary definition of the word, seen in the way she contrasts “normal” and “deviant” in the title of her article. I think by that contrast, we can see that mpreg is not all that “out there” in fan fiction terms. One of the things fan fiction does with mpreg is the same thing that commercial science fiction that speculates with gender roles does – it experiments. It plays. What does it mean to be pregnant – socially, culturally, personally? Would it mean something different to a man than it does to woman? What do we learn about pregnancy if we posit that it’s the men who do it and not the women, like sea horses? What is gender, anyway, and what does it have to do with reproduction?

A lot of this sort of questioning and playing goes on in fan fiction, as it does in science fiction, and I have always found those kinds of questions deeply interesting, and also at times downright entertaining.

This particular Ingram-Waters article was confined, however, to the methodological issues, and did not go on to actually examine her findings as she researched the subgenre of mpreg itself, although I am hoping that at some point she’ll publish the outcome of her research on the stories and the authors! That would be fascinating too.

She found that unlike other scholars who have conducted field research while pregnant, the experience of being a “visible normative reproducer” was of no help in establishing rapport with mpreg writers. Some scholars in other fields, she found, have written that being pregnant makes them seem nonthreatening and gives the people they meet something perceived as positive to talk about, something familiar.

Ingram-Waters also noted that she had gone to some pains to identify and establish herself as an acafan as she pursued her research into the mpreg subgenre online, but that face to face, her identity as a pregnant cisgendered woman trumped that pretty completely.

She found a silver lining in even her negative interview experiences, writing that perhaps she’d stumbled on an efficient way to elicit “stigma management strategies for mpreg authors.” I share her fascination with subjects concerning “identities of gender, sexualities and normative bodies,” and I look forward to getting to read more, someday, of her actual research into mpreg fan fiction.

In the meantime, her description of how she was received made a fascinating story.

[META] Mad Men and Aca-Fen

I wanted to write something about the recent online dust-up (micro-kerfuffle?) in media studies sparked by Ian Bogost’s post, Against Aca-Fandom, which riffed off of Jason Mittell’s essay On Disliking Mad Men and in turn sparked another post from Henry Jenkins, On Mad Men, Aca-Fandom, and the Goals of Cultural Criticism. But the more I tried to disentangle the various threads (in these posts, and the comments to them, and Twitter, and elsewhere) the less clear I became about the substance of Bogost’s critique and its relationship to Mittell’s essay. So I decided to go back to the beginning and look again at what Mittell actually wrote about Mad Men. I should probably caveat that I am a fan of Mad Men, and a semi-fan of Mittell’s work (dude kind of lost me with his posts on the final season of Lost).

So Jason Mittell vs. Mad Men: he starts by saying that on paper, he should like it as a fan of a certain brand of cable-style “quality TV” which falls within the genre of complex serialized narratives that he’s made a name for himself out of analyzing and championing. Moreover, his peer group of critics and academics all seem to love the show. Which leaves him at great pains to try to advance a critique of the show which is not a critique of its fans/his friends — “that I can offer my negative take on the series without implicating its fans in my critique” — by “highlight[ing] [his] own aesthetic response to shed some light on the mechanics of taste and televisual pleasure.” So far, so good, right? (Though I’m not entirely sure what he means by “aesthetic response”, which seems to be a synonym for affect, as he repeatedly links it to pleasure while bracketing off his respect for the caliber of the acting, writing, set design, etc. as objective qualities which fail nevertheless to provide him with pleasure.)

But he chooses an odd strategy to insulate fans from his critique, by articulating his “absence of pleasure” in Mad Men “dialogically, in comparison [with] what the show’s admirers find so enjoyable. In discussing Mad Men with friends and reading celebratory criticism, I believe the three core types of pleasure that they take from the show (and that evade me) are in the visual splendor of its period style, the subtextual commentary on American history and identity, and the emotional resonance to be found with the characters and their dramas.” Spoiler alert: each of these “core types of pleasure” end up eluding Mittell, and he never ends up reconciling his displeasure with his friends’ enjoyment of the show.

Mittell never makes clear the origin or status of the types of pleasure he describes — specifically, whether they’re inherent to the show, cultivated by the fans, or forged in complicity between the fans and the show’s creators. But his displeasure — his inability to find pleasure in Mad Men, to recognize himself amongst his peers as a fan of the show — circles around contradiction and ambivalence. He can’t find pleasure in the contradiction between the glossy veneer of the show’s period style and its cultural critique, in the ambivalent politics of “social critique [which] seems to promote a sense of superiority to the characters and the 1960s milieu, while simultaneously inviting us to return to this unpleasant place each week.” He’s left cold by the narrative’s “emotional distance”, the characters “we are seemingly supposed to find… both appealing and repellent at the same time”: Mittell “ultimately doesn’t care about these people.”

At one point Mittell, discussing Betty Draper in the first season, describes her as the character he found “most off-putting”, with her depiction in the show “making us complicit in her degradation and generating contempt for her frail character.” Yet later on he reserves special contempt (“disgust and disdain”) for the lead character Don Draper, who he deems less sympathetic than “quality TV”‘s murderous rogues gallery of Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, or Vic Mackey. Mittell cites an episode where Don ruins his daughter’s birthday party as cause for singular scorn: “as a father, I found this unmotivated behavior a step too far.”

In a suggestive phrasing, Mittell suggest that “[t]he missing ingredient from Draper and nearly all of Mad Men‘s characters is empathy, as virtually nobody’s behavior or situation invites me to place myself in their shoes. Instead, I watch the characters from an emotional remove….” But surely the lack of empathy that Mittell locates here resides in himself; he eschews complicity with Betty’s plight, and actively disidentifies with Don — a man with “the most agency” and “copious opportunities” who “created his own destiny”, “a charmed life of limitless professional and romantic opportunity.” I can’t speak to Mittell’s love life, but surely some of the phrasing he uses to describe Don’s achievements and capabilities could also apply to a certain degree to his own position as a tenured media studies professor with several publications and a solid reputation in the field — solid enough at least to be invited to contribute to a volume on a show that he doesn’t even watch?

My take on Mad Men is that the show operates in a deeply ironic mode — contradiction and ambivalence are features, not bugs. What Mittell identifies as incongruities and incompatibilities in his three core types of pleasure are in fact irresolvable and a continued source of tension for the viewer that alternately evoke empathy and distancing. The aesthetic of the show thus lies much closer to modernist novels than the “serial fiction of the nineteenth century” to which Mittell has frequently compared recent the complex serialized narratives of shows like The Wire which he favors. For me, the subtext of Mittell’s complaint is his refusal or inability to find pleasure in that ironic mode, to secure a pleasurable place as audience and potential fan within those contradictions and ambivalences that threaten to overwhelm him with complicity and contempt. The pleasures of Mad Men, and the experience of being a fan of the series, thus remain opaque to him as they don’t align with his own.

Yet I think the experiences that he describes, even as he rejects them — complicity, contempt, disidentification — can also function as valuable critical tools for the aca-fan. If aca-fandom is to extend beyond the purely celebratory, the range of affect in question should encompass more than pleasure. Perhaps what we really need is an aca-fandom capable of operating in ironic modes of critique.