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[META] Writing Sandcastles Versus Playing in Sandboxes: The Writing Life in the Twenty-First Century

Rich Juzwiak recently announced on Gawker that he will no longer write recaps of currently-airing television shows. He will continue to write about television, of course, but he will never again be “a recapping machine,” because it is “thankless work” that leads inevitably to fatigue. To illustrate, he cites the fact that recapper extraordinaire Tracie Potochnik has written over 1,350,000 words about America’s Next Top Model. In another place and time, this word count could constitute multiple novels (War and Peace *2), but in the blogosphere, all is lost to the accelerated time scale of popular culture. Because they were funneled through the recap machine, her words, in Juzwiak’s view, lost value as quickly as they acquired it, thus depriving the writer of time for creative development, as well as the audience from engaging, long-form thoughts about the show. Juzwiak suffered similarly from his years of recapping, and, although he concedes that recaps helped him to build his audience, he laments that he expended so much energy and stress-inducing, time-sensitive labor on this ultimately ephemeral genre of writing.

I have a lot of sympathy (at least in comparison to some of the harsher commenters) for Juzwiak’s perspective, but I think that his disappointment offers an opportunity to explore and celebrate why fandom sustains such an important alternative sphere of popular culture criticism, including the transformational as an essential complement to the affirmational. That energy to transform is, as far as I can tell, exactly what Juzwiak is longing for when he laments that recaps are rarely crafted to the point where they can sustain their value for more than the sad few hours in which viewers will hungrily be seeking them out. I read his complaint that Potochnik could have written War and Peace twice over in the words it took her to recap ANTM as a genuine desire for writing to take form and communicate something deeper than sharp observations and topical humor. Writing can mean, and not only when it’s written by Nineteenth-Century Russian men, and, as Juzwiak himself makes clear, not only when it is a novel. He notes that there is high quality long-form television writing, for example, but that recaps, even while experimental and enjoyable, are unlikely to contribute to its flourishing.

So why not just seek out good long-form television writing? For me, it’s because the War and Peace comparison betrays transformational desires, and so, I think it’s worth taking a look at the writing landscape of transformational media fandom, in order to see if its participants offer a way out of Juzwiak’s resentment at his years spent on “sandcastles.” At the beginning of last month, lunabee34 posted a thoughtful essay on her feelings of fatigue in fandom, entitled “Fannish Trajectories: Isolation, a Sense of Disconnection from Fandom, and How We Deal.” Her piece, like Juzwiak’s, speaks of her declining energy to produce a certain kind of writing (here, fanworks) at the pace she once did. Already in the titles, though, a clear difference in focus emerges between the two authors. The Juzwiak piece, “Tune In, Recap, Drop Out: Why I’ll Never Recap a TV Show Again,” focuses on an individual “I,” and makes a claim for “never.” In “Fannish Trajectories,” however, the focus is on “we,” we who also sometimes lose steam for articulating our every thought on our favorite television shows, but we who experience this loss as temporary and social, more than we do as evidence that our mode of participation has failed us. (I should make clear that I identify strongly with the “we” of lunabee34′s piece, although it’s just as likely that any given fan will not.)

Juzwiak’s claim gains strength from its definitive refusal: Recaps are not a shortcut to serious engagement with popular culture. lunabee34′s claim gains strength rather from its openness to the many different possibilities of engagement with fandom over time. The reality is that, as RL responsibilities take away from the free time required to participate actively in transformational media fandom, one must set individual boundaries in order to maximize one’s time with her fan community. Both Juzwiak and lunabee34 rely on writing IRL. Juzwiak is a professional blogger, and lunabee34 is an English professor. Both write in a variety of genres on what I assume is a daily basis, and therefore, there’s much the two share in their descriptions of writerly fatigue. Writing recaps for a show can get old. Writing conference papers can get old. One of my favorite aspects of the blogosphere and the LJ/DW fandom sphere is the way in which they provide space for reflection on the writing life, both when it’s a narrative of fatigue that leads to a drop-off in a certain kind of production, and when it’s a celebration of inspiration, the kind that leads to War and Peace-length fanfic. (Confession: I have never read a War and Peace-length work of fanfiction.)

But there is a difference, and it’s important. One of the major problems with recaps is that they guarantee page views, which, in the world of for-proft blogging, constitute the difference between profitable and not. In fandom, we have the privilege of saying no to an episode, a show after it kills off the character we were watching for anyway, even a whole medium. We can switch entirely from television to comics without leaving fandom. We can switch from writing drabbles to writing multi-media analyses of individual episodes of television shows from the 1970s. Sure, entertaining and beloved writers will always be burdened by requests for more, but in fandom, they are welcome to change their tune at any moment. It’s simple but true that the machine-like quality that Juzwiak describes as being acquired by the recapper is more threatening in professional writing than in fandom. It doesn’t mean that fandom is low stakes, of course. Every day, people are writing their novels, and many of them, the most talented and serious, inhabiting the most-beloved sourcetexts, can be confident that they will have readers both right away and in the future. But even if they don’t, they knew what they were getting into when they added the “for fun” disclaimer at the top of the page. “Fun” is a broad enough term to account for the incredible range of pleasures fanworks can offer us, but it keeps them free from the thing that will undoubtedly make them not fun at some point — money.

[LINK] The Fan Studies Network Launched

Guest post by Tom Phillips and Lucy Bennett

As young researchers, we are frequently told to place an emphasis on networking. It is certainly true that making connections with others can help boost your career, whether in terms of finding a co-author for a research project, or simply knowing someone at an institution that will let you know of any vacancies.

In addition to the more traditional mode of meeting others at conferences, networking websites such as Academia.edu have also proved useful, giving an overview of scholars’ academic profiles.

However, what we felt was lacking in terms of having a relatively informal space in which to bounce around ideas. The “traditional” mailing lists are useful in terms of disseminating information, but creating a dialogue via these formats is often not welcomed – mailboxes can become full of conversations about subject matters considered irrelevant by some.

In creating the Fan Studies Network, we wanted to cultivate a space in which scholars of fandom could easily find others with the same research interests, and could also converse in a non-judgemental way. To this end, we are encouraging all those who sign up to the mailing list to introduce themselves and their research. This should have the effect of allowing a sense of community – all other subscribers know that only interested parties will be seeing their messages. It also allows people to talk about their research, and in the process hopefully make new contacts.

We welcome scholars to join the network by signing up to our Jiscmail mailing list: FanStudies@jiscmail.ac.uk. You can also visit our website, which features CFPs and events of interest at
fanstudies.wordpress.com, and our Twitter account @FanStudies.

With the assistance of the team members who help us run FSN – Bethan Jones (Cardiff University), Richard McCulloch (UEA), and Rebecca Williams (University of Glamorgan) – we aim to host an event within the next year.

As a project in its infancy, we would welcome any feedback or suggestions from blog readers.

[LINK] Yaoi Research Blog Launched

Guest Post by Mark McHarry and Dru Pagliassotti: Dru Pagliassotti and I have launched a blog, Yaoi Research: www.yaoiresearch.com. Formal work about yaoi and boys’ love is finally beginning to appear but we saw a need for a central place to publish more informal content than that in a journal or book. If you study, create, and/or enjoy yaoi, BL, and/or male/male romance and would like to contribute well-informed descriptive or analytical writing to our blog, please contact us: admin@yaoiresearch.com. We’re hoping for posts about ongoing work, observations and opinions, reviews, commentary, analyses, and research notes and queries. Discussions of fanfic, artwork, original stories and novels, including slash and gay comics and fiction, are welcome, as are posts about context, creation, or consumption across historical periods, regions, and cultures. Graduate students, professors, independent scholars, publishers, and published mangaka, dōjinshika, and novelists are especially encouraged to contribute. If you do, please take a look at our submission guidelines. You don’t need to present original research or in-depth analysis, just interesting ideas that may stimulate thought. Although we request that posts be in English, if it is not your first language we will help you copyedit your contribution should you wish. Best Wishes for the New Year / あけましておめでとう.