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conferences

[LINK] Going on right now: Fan Studies Network 2013 Symposium

fanstudies.wordpress.com/fan-studies-network-symposium-2013/

The Fan Studies Network Symposium is taking place in Norwich right now and being live-tweeted at #FSN2013. Check out the program:

09:30 – 10:20: KEYNOTE
Professor Matt Hills (Aberystwyth University) (Chairs: Lucy Bennett & Tom Phillips)
10:30 – 10:45: BREAK
10:45 – 12:00: PARALLEL PANELS
Panel A: Spaces and Performance (Chair: Tom Phillips)
Panel B: Celebrity (Chair: Sarah Ralph)
12:00 – 13:00: LUNCH
13:00 – 14:30: PARALLEL PANELS
Panel C: Gender (Chair: Bertha Chin)
Panel D: Classic Fandoms, New Narratives (Chair: Ruth Deller)
14:30 – 14:45: BREAK
14:45 – 16:00: SPEED GEEKING (Chair: Richard McCulloch)
16:00 – 16:15: BREAK
16:15 – 17:45: PARALLEL PANELS
Panel E: Transculture (Chair: Nele Noppe)
Panel F: Textualities (Chair: Bethan Jones)
17:45 – 18:00: CLOSE – Lucy Bennett & Tom Phillips (Fan Studies Network)

More info and abstracts

Going on right now: Fan Studies Network 2013 Symposium

The Fan Studies Network Symposium is taking place in Norwich right now and being live-tweeted at #FSN2013. Check out the program:

09:30 – 10:20: KEYNOTE
Professor Matt Hills (Aberystwyth University) (Chairs: Lucy Bennett & Tom Phillips)
10:30 – 10:45: BREAK
10:45 – 12:00: PARALLEL PANELS
Panel A: Spaces and Performance (Chair: Tom Phillips)
Panel B: Celebrity (Chair: Sarah Ralph)
12:00 – 13:00: LUNCH
13:00 – 14:30: PARALLEL PANELS
Panel C: Gender (Chair: Bertha Chin)
Panel D: Classic Fandoms, New Narratives (Chair: Ruth Deller)
14:30 – 14:45: BREAK
14:45 – 16:00: SPEED GEEKING (Chair: Richard McCulloch)
16:00 – 16:15: BREAK
16:15 – 17:45: PARALLEL PANELS
Panel E: Transculture (Chair: Nele Noppe)
Panel F: Textualities (Chair: Bethan Jones)
17:45 – 18:00: CLOSE  - Lucy Bennett & Tom Phillips (Fan Studies Network)

More info and abstracts

[META] Rise Up, Pixelated Young Women of the New Age!

I’m in Seoul for the Third Mechademia Conference, which is taking place through Sunday at the Korean Film Archive and at Dongguk University. The theme of the conference is a mouthful: “World Renewal: Counterfactual Histories, Parallel Universes, and Possible Worlds,” but it’s already provided me with lots to think about. The conference is young, but already several speakers have hastened to report on the death of the otaku as a cultural type, which, if it is true, must mark the passing of an era in terms of the study of subcultures in Japan. Reports of the death of the otaku–now being slandered, in the wake of 3/11, as an aetiolated rich boy consumer, and good riddance–may or may not be greatly exaggerated, but any discussion of “otaku” in which they are taken to be wholly synonymous with “fans” necessarily ignores the existence of female fans worldwide and of fujoshi in Japan in particular, who are certainly doing their thing despite their relative neglect by Japan’s public-academic complex, and by academcis outside Japan too. A conference about world renewal necessarily invites thoughts about how best to encourage and to sustain social change, and I have to admit that my thoughts about the kinds of isms that haven’t been discussed so far–so far the only ism anyone wants to touch is capitalism–led me to be distinctly uncomfortable at the fact that at least some of the presentations have rehashed the tired old cliche of a bunch of dudes sitting around talking about the messianic potential of (Japanese?) girls, regardless of the conditions of actual girls and women in Japan, Korea, or anywhere else. Juxtaposing Christophe Thouny’s discussion of Kino from Kino no Tabi as a “traveling shojo” with the anti-domestic violence ad I saw on TV last night produces some uncomfortable disjunctures–provided one makes the juxtaposition, of course. Thomas Lamarre of McGill University was one of the leading organizers for the conference, but can’t be here due to unforeseen circumstances. It seems particularly fitting that he be absent while I invoke his reading of Laputa: Castle in the Sky in The Anime Machine: “Only a girl can save us now.” If there’s one thing that defined the unlamented otaku, it was their idolization, if not outright fetishization, of girl characters in general and the character type that the unrepentant Freudian Saitô Tamaki calls “the battling beauty” in particular. (Similar statements might be made about female media fans and their idolization of white male characters.) The catch, of course, is that a girl can only save us within a story-world that does not (and must not) impinge on the “real” (I use the term advisedly) world outside the story, the world where gender discrimination is a problem for women in virtually every country. It’s no coincidence that Laputa is the ur-text of the otaku aesthetic mode known as sekaikei (“world-type”), whose foremost practitioner is the fan-turned-directer Shinkai Makoto–his favorite movie is avowedly Laputa, and Marc Steinberg made a compelling presentation about the poverty of the sekaikei vision of the world in which it became clear that the influential 2004 anime Densha Otoko, ostensibly based on real events in which an otaku used the power of the internet message board Ni-channeru to woo a girl he met on a train after helping her avoid harassment, was the beginning of the end of otaku. How could it not be, when Densha’s paramour Hermes gets her name from the expensive brand of the tea set she sends him as an initial thank-you gift? Densha, with the help of Ni-chan, learns to be properly social (and consumerist) and gets the girl in the end, in a decidedly non-otaku fashion. The real death-blow, however, was struck by the rise of the nichijôkei (“everyday”) aesthetic in anime and other mixed media properties, beginning–significantly–with the openly otaku Lucky Star in 2007 and reaching its triumph with the hit show K-On!, which follows a group of schoolgirls who start their own band in music club. Steinberg argued persuasively that the nichijôkei shows are predominantly shows about girls that are intended to impinge on and interact with the “real” world outside the text, partly through using the sort of layered, intertextual fannish references–and depiction of its female characters as consumers and fans of media–in a way that was formerly considered to be strictly otaku. (I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that disruptive, threatening figures such as otaku, and media fans worldwide, are continuously being depicted as “just” consumers. The truth is that fans are unruly consumers who don’t just sit down and shut up and buy things, and that as consumers who are more than consumers, fans pose a real threat to the existing regimes of capital, copyright, and intellectual property.) In another sign of their intertextual imbrication with the social and actual daily life, nichijôkei shows are notable for inspiring fan pilgrimages to sites featured in the shows themselves, as well as for the alleged “triviality” of their subject matter. Well, as Joanna Russ noted, things like family and life and love are only trivial because male-dominated society tells us they are, and isn’t that one of the handy-dandy ways to suppress women’s writing, and women’s stories? Nichijôkei shows, in other words, make immanent in the real world the potentiality of their female protagonists’ stories, as opposed to texts like Laputa, in which the transformative potential of their female heroine’s innate mystical connections with whatever is ultimately restricted to the closed system of the story itself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that K-On! is about girls making music and rocking out together; the other notable recent musical female character, Hatsune Miku, is nothing but immanence verging into the real world, with real and transformative consequences and potential. Miku’s a game-changer, just like Vocaloid software has been, and when she finds her own voice, the world will shake. When the keynote speakers of these kinds of conferences dare to imagine a different kind of alternate world than the future beyond capital that so obsesses most concerned academics, that will be a sign of real social change. In the meantime, otaku are dead; long live fans.

[META] The European Fandom & Fan Studies Conference in tweets

The European Fandom & Fan Studies Conference took place on November 10, 2012 at the University of Amsterdam. It was a relatively small one-day conference, but great in terms of content and people present. I was especially pleased to see so many researchers going beyond English-language online fandoms, tackling offline fan activities or doing comparative studies with other online fandoms that communicate in different languages. There was also a strong emphasis on how fans interact with media industries and deal with fannish activities that involve money, which is one of my favorite topics. I heard a ton of interesting ideas, and others clearly did too. But I’ll let our past selves speak for themselves. Here’s a Storify with all the tweets from the #eurofandom tag, grouped by presentation as much as possible. There were a couple of participants tweeting at least semi-regularly, and I’m surprised at how much of what happened at the conference comes across pretty well by looking at the tweets. With just a handful of Twitter-happy attendees plus Storify, it’s very easy to leave a permanent record of the goings-on at any conference for anyone who wants or needs to see what was said there. It’s not a perfect system. The technology has to work, obviously; I attend plenty of conferences were wifi is still not assumed to be necessary, and even at this one, the network was a bit troublesome. Conferences with parallel panels also need at least a small group to cover everything more or less thoroughly. There were a couple of presentations during which all the really active tweeters happened to be in a different room, or temporarily comatose because of jetlag in my case, and these presentations are conspicuously absent from the timeline. Perhaps conferences should make a bigger deal out of live-tweeting to encourage more people to pick up the slack? And designate a conference historian to make the Storify later on.

[META] Flow Conference 2012: Let the Conversations Continue

I returned last night from the Flow Conference, which exceeded my high expectations, and, of course, left me with an overwhelming list of book and article recommendations to sift through now that I’m back at home and within walking distance of my university library. The great thing about media studies is that much of this material is available online, and without any particular subscriptions or memberships. For example, just on the online schedule for the conference, you can read over 150 position papers by conference participants on such a wide variety of topics as Twilight anti-fandom, NASA technology and video games, and public television in New Zealand. I made it to five panels throughout the conference, and, at every single one, I learned something memorable from every single panel participant, as well as an audience member or three. It was the most genuinely interactive academic conference I’ve ever attended, and I was delighted to be a part of it.

It’s something I wouldn’t have thought possible ten years ago, and one particular experience from this weekend brought that fact home to me. (It’s also worth noting that the conference did not begin until 2008, so it would not in fact have been possible for me to attend ten years ago.) While preparing for my panel, on the future of queer media studies, I ran into someone I knew from the past, and who I didn’t quite recognize at first. I knew that I knew him, which was confirmed by his personal greeting to me, but I couldn’t quite put together from where. It turned out to have been my very first film professor, Jim Roberts, who was at the conference with his colleagues. I took his evening film history and theory class in the winter of 2001, when I was a junior in high school, and he was teaching at Penn State. He reminded me during our conversation at Flow that I had written a memorable evaluation for him in that class, which made me laugh nervously. I wondered what my sixteen-year-old self could possibly have had to say on a teaching evaluation, and hoped I had not embarrassed myself too much. I remembered the first comment he raised, which was that I had learned from the instructor that you should not begin a sentence with the word “this” when it does not appear to modify any particular noun. Secondly, and I have no recollection of having left this comment, I said that I liked that the instructor “didn’t take the films too seriously,” and that he would fast forward through scenes that didn’t seem to matter, even making funny comments about the extended depictions of people walking down hallways. “I was so happy to be in college,” I exclaimed on hearing this story, marveling at the extent to which I’ve been desensitized to the pleasures of the media studies classroom.

I learned so much in that first film class I took. I learned that there were a lot of different versions of Dracula, for example. I learned that Hal Hartley was a person who existed in the world, and who said smart things that were worth quoting in my LiveJournal. I remember those. What’s harder to remember is a moment as simple as the fast forward revelation — what I must have seen in that moment was that academic analysis did not have to entail a comprehensive interpretation of every second of a film. Instead, it was a process that necessitated making choices about what seemed really important, and gleefully discounting the parts that didn’t help to build an interesting argument. I had never really gotten that experience from my English classes in high school. I had always assumed that everyone else in the room fully understood, and even cared about, what was going on at all times in the books we read, and that strategic reading, as I would come to know it later, was flawed and lazy.

Looking back to that realization helps me to contextualize the many other realizations that led to my ability to appreciate the Flow conference as deeply as I did. I first had to learn that you could pause and fast forward. I then learned that, if you wrote a compelling enough paper proposal (or were in your instructor’s good graces by virtue of being a high school student), you could write your final paper about the movie Heathers. The next year, when I started college full time, I learned that you could read graphic novels as literature. The next summer, I learned that you could quote Ani DiFranco in your final exam. (On Felicity, the titular character’s best friend Julie experiences a similar thrill when her stodgy-seeming freshman English professor “[gets] her Liz Phair reference.”) In my senior year, I learned that television could constitute a section of an English class at the college level. In my final year of coursework during my PhD program, I learned that you could take an entire seminar on HBO series (okay, and Victorian novels). It’s worth remembering this series of developments, because I still get frustrated when I meet people who simply laugh at the idea of working on television in an academic capacity. It makes us laugh because it is a delight. Reading media texts strategically in order to form academic delights is, in the best of circumstances, a genuine delight. The Flow Conference reminded me of that, and I’m deeply grateful for it.

As fans know, one doesn’t need a university classroom or official institutional approval to read strategically and experience pleasure from it. However, the university is an important space where many people do get access to that kind of reading for the first time, and it’s nice that scholars who continue to work in fields of textual analysis are making more and more of their texts accessible to everyone. There is much more to be done, but I think that the Flow schedule site offers an exemplary model for sharing the most current work in media studies. Check it out!

[META] AdaCamp, Wikimania, and Console-ing Passions wrapup, part one: Fanworks as open source cultural goods

This is the first in a series of posts on fandom-related thoughts springing from three conferences I’ve attended in the past month, AdaCamp, WIkimania, and Console-ing Passions. All three consolidated into one great fandom and open source idea extravaganza for me. These after-conference posts come royally late, but I think the time elapsed has helped me clarify my thoughts a bit. I’ll be talking mostly about AdaCamp, although I’ll reference Wikimania and Console-ing Passions a couple of times when relevant. A few quick basics. As Staci Tucker summarized at Fembot,

“AdaCamp is an Ada Initiative unconference focused on increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture. The invitation-only event gathered professionals, fans, hobbyists, academics, and activists to build community, discuss issues impacting women across open technology, and strategize ways to inspire positive change and build community resources.”

The Fembot post neatly lays out the basics of AdaCamp, who was there, what was discussed, what was eaten, and so on, so I’ll just refer to that one for all those things and dive straight into some personal reflections on fans and fanworks in open movements. (AdaCamp has a policy of not referring to conference attendees by name without permission, so there will be a lot of “someone said”.) What I took away from all three conferences is that more and more people see strong links between fan communities and communities built around open source and other “open” things. Especially at AdaCamp and Console-ing Passions, I had the pleasure of talking about fandom and open source with many great people engaged in either or both of those communities. I agree with them that it would be very beneficial for both fandom and “open” movements to recognize that they’re both creative communities that have very similar principles, goals, and issues, and that they can help each other solve said issues instead of laboriously re-inventing the wheel. Issues include but are not limited to the lack of women in open source, and the precarious legal position of fanworks. I think it’s important that we start talking about this a bit more loudly. First of all – what is “open” stuff, anyway? There’s plenty of nebulous definitions around, and since adding to them isn’t the purpose of this post, I’ll just mention my personal definition and leave it at that. This is a tad confusing since we talk about open “things” a lot, but “openness” is basically a characteristic of a process. It’s the way things are made or accomplished that makes them open or not. The key aspect of all open processes for me is that they empower people to do things for themselves, because the inner workings of said things are visible, and because people have the tools to change said things and share the results with others. Open processes tend to crystallize into movements of people who see a similar philosophy behind all those open processes, but most people who create things using open processes are either unaware of or uninterested in the philosophical side; they just use open processes because they work. It’s certainly not unheard of to see people who identify as members of fandom or some “open” movement to frame fannish activities like fanwork creation as something that fits in with more famous “open stuff” like open source software. Skud does it here, and the Ada Initiative did so by explicitly inviting fans to AdaCamp. I’ve discussed the concept with many fans and academic colleagues, and it even pops up in a couple of academic works. Still, the idea that it may be correct and useful to frame fanworks as a sort of “open source cultural good” definitely isn’t broadly accepted yet. Lists of open stuff tend to include all sorts of creative works and activities, from software to ways in which people organize themselves to do something collectively. However, most lists of open stuff that I’ve seen – like this one – don’t include any sort of “open” cultural work. The Wikipedia article that lists “open” things that function according to a philosophy similar to the one behind open source has a subsection for “arts and recreation”, but it only has a brief mention of copyright getting in the way and no examples of “open” cultural works. That’s a pretty conspicuous blank in those long lists. It suggests that most human activity has an “open” equivalent these days, except for cultural works. That’s not very desirable: if there’s one thing that’s important enough that it should have a parallel movement of people creating the open equivalent of it, it’s cultural creation. And when you think about it, it’s also not very likely that we would somehow manage to invent an open equivalent for every possible activity except cultural creation. There’s just no way we can fail to invent an “open source” way of making cultural works. I’m firmly on board with the idea that we invented that particular process of cultural creation ages ago, and fanworks are one of its most representative results. Before we start picking apart the relationship between fannish stuff and open source in later posts, let’s go back the beginning and consider why fanworks can be considered part of the same “open” movement that also encompasses more well-known “open stuff” like open source software, open access in academia, and large-scale peer production like on Wikipedia. As mentioned earlier, open processes empower people to do things by exposing how those things work and giving individuals the tools to make changes and feed them back into their communities (whereas in the non-open alternative process, individuals are not allowed or able to make changes). Some examples of open processes are very clear-cut. Open source software is the most famous and uncontested example of open stuff for a reason: it’s pretty eye-catching and easy to understand. Nobody needs to be convinced that it’s empowering to be able to change the technology around you. It obviously works, and it obviously results in useful technological tools, and it’s all (mostly) nice and legal. But I’d argue that fanwork is a great example of open stuff, too. It’s just as empowering to be able to change the culture you live with, to be aware that changing that culture is possible, and to have the tools to do it. People in fan communities know that legitimate culture-making isn’t just about making a perfectly “original” thing and laboriously building an audience for it. It’s also about building on what others have made, about analyzing what’s going on in the media everyone’s watching and making it better, and about feeding those improvements back into the community of people who are also watching that “original” product so they can build on your improvements in turn. And just to get the porn thing out of the way at once: “making it better” includes everything from writing critical meta about social issues in a show to creating the sex and relationships-focused content that the source book or film doesn’t provide. For very many people, adding more shipping and more porn about their favorite characters is really, truly one the big thing that makes their favorite media better – more fun, more meaningful, and easier to share and enjoy with others. In the next post, I’ll consider what fan communities might have to offer to open source communities and vice versa.

[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.)