Currently browsing tag


[QUOTE] From Wilson, Anna. 2016. “The Role of Affect in Fan Fiction.” In “The Classical Canon and/as Transformative Work,” edited by Ika Willis, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 21. (via wildehacked)

Fan fiction often demonstrates a high level of knowledge of and insight into its source texts (or canons, in fan fiction vocabulary) and, as an allusive literary form, rewards equally high levels of knowledge in its readers. This knowledge has an erotic inflection (as, famously, in early English translations of the Bible, where to know is to intimately penetrate); fans have not only understanding but intimacy with their canon, and fan fiction increases this intimacy. Theorists of fan fiction often speak of fan fiction as filling the gaps in a source text, a phrase with its own sexual undertones that also describes fan fiction’s self-assumed role as interlinear glossing of a source text. Silences and absences in the source text act as barriers to intimacy, and fan fiction writers fill these silences with their imaginative activity, enabling their own deeper understanding of the world and characters of the source text. In its current context in popular media fandom, fan fiction is, among other things, a heuristic tool: a mental technology that facilitates understanding of a text by means of an affective hermeneutics—a set of ways of gaining knowledge through feeling.

Wilson, Anna. 2016. “The Role of Affect in Fan Fiction.” In “The Classical Canon and/as Transformative Work,” edited by Ika Willis, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 21.
(via wildehacked)

[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.

[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] 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] Fandoms: Virtual and face-to-face

It’s May, and besides the end of the academic spring term and Mother’s Day, the calendar has also brought in the local Renaissance Fair, conducted every weekend this month in Muskogee, Oklahoma, less than an hour’s drive from where I live.

A couple of years ago I loaded up my two boys and my mom and set off to experience it. Six sunburned, gleeful hours later, the kids were brandishing wooden pirate swords, I had the Gypsy-style ankle bells I’d wanted all my life, and we were all tired and happy and full of turkey legs.

Given this timely local backdrop, I read the article “Bowlers, ballads, bells, and blasters: Living history and fandom” in the latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures with something approaching delight.

Most of my fannish experiences these days happen on the internet. But in this article, Mark Soderstrom draws a wide and inclusive circle around several types of face-to-face activities that he links in “style”, or perhaps in affect, with fandom. He describes his interest in Renaissance festivals, historical music, dance, reenactment, and fandom. And he writes, “The intersections of these interests in the lives of many individuals, and the way these activities organize community and create relationships of reciprocal exchange, function to create social networks that offer an alternative to modern patterns of consumptive leisure and the alienated marketplace.”

There’s been a great deal of descriptive and analytical work done about how fandom and fan works are a gift economy, how we repurpose commercial and corporate creations, texts and paratexts for our own purposes, and how community building happens on the internet. I appreciated Soderstrom’s article so much because it ties these ideas back into face-to-face activities that coexist, and have always coexisted, with internet fandom, and, of course, predate it.

Soderstrom describes, for example, someone who’s interested in morris dancing, SCA and “Firefly”, and who can find at SF cons other people who share these interests, and a venue to pursue them.

He writes, “It seems that shared dispositions bring these interests back into orbit with each other.” Because in a way, they are all fandom. Or fandom-like.

Also, he notes, the word-of-mouth communications that occur in these overlapping fan-like communities can lead to actual job leads of all kinds, based on “who you know.” Kind of an “good ole fan network” instead of a “good ole boy network”.

He speculates, “These social networks of affiliation, discourse, and material interaction account for at least some of the longevity and continuity of fandom.”

I really appreciated the reminder to include face-to-face or “real life” activities when I consider fannish community and affiliations, even though I chiefly experience fandom online these days. In my teens I attended a few SF cons, but my fourth-ever con was Escapade 2010! When I was 48 years old! In between those experiences, I discovered online fandom, but of course face-to-face fandom is equally alive and well, in all its diverse incarnations.

As Soderstrom concludes, “Shared dispositions to envisioning and exploring alternate realities historic, future, or fantastic are complemented by social and material exchanges that result in overlapped history and SF/F fan communities that endure through time.”

[META] Bromance rediscovered

Hannah Hamad made a recent post on the Flow TV blog about the bromance between two members of the UK pop group Take That, and considered this event as an example of the recent trend of bromantic themes in movies and television.

I kind of hate the coined word “bromance,” a conflation of “brother” and “romance,” according to Wikipedia, but I guess we’re stuck with it.

Apparently film and TV critics and scholars are definitely seeing examples of this sort of male/male friendship, marked by emotional intimacy and openness and more physical touching, cropping up everywhere these days. Wikipedia, again, notes that it’s a post-feminist expansion of what is allowable in male friendships.

What is socially acceptable for Western men to do in friendships may indeed be changing, thanks to the impact of feminism, and it makes sense that these changes would show up in the culture, and in the buddy picture genre, from Butch and Sundance to “Boston Legal” and everywhere in between. And that pop stars would spin their friendships this way in their PR.

I’m kind of tickled when I read about bromance, though, because it’s as if the “conventional wisdom” about what happens in male friendships is now basically saying that it’s okay for men to nowadays do friendships the way women always have — hugging, touching, telling secrets, being intimate. More than just getting together for shared activities or sports, the traditional “common knowledge” about how men “do” friendship. So all the dither about “bromance” seems a little obvious to me, perhaps.

And I imagine there’s a huge disregard of history going on here — weren’t there periods in Western history where male friendship looked very different from the way John Wayne or Sam Spade are depicted as conducting it? Where more intimacy was considered ordinary and not a new sign of feminine influence, or perhaps relaxed expectations of gender roles thanks to the influence of gay culture?

And regardless of this newfangled trendy attention to bromance, literature featuring male friendship — and scholarly analysis of same — go back centuries.

The same buddy pictures and buddy TV shows that serve as examples of bromance, of course, are where slash fan fiction finds its characters and stories. In this genre of movie or show, the primary relationship is between the male protagonists, and any female romance is in the background, or relegated to some sort of Babe of the Week event.

Slash fan fiction pushes the friendship seen in these shows and movies further into intimacy, of course — to sexual intimacy and love, and that is sometimes offered as a criticism of m/m slash — that it focuses too much on sex and ignores or discounts other forms of friendship and affection that aren’t romantic or sexual.

Slash, of course, is a special case when it comes to reimagining or expanding what is possible in male/male friendship. For one thing, it’s written overwhelmingly by women. I’ve pondered many times the elegant saying I heard on Live Journal years ago: “Slash is about men the way “Watership Down” is about rabbits.” I tried very hard to track down the source of that aphorism, and both the writers to whom it’s usually attributed disavow saying it, though they both remember the online conversation (apparently now deleted or lost in the mists of time?) in which it was offered.

And while I am fascinated by the way slash fan fiction reimagines or reinterprets male/male relationships, I always readily admit two things: First, slash is, unavoidably, a very small and very specialized part of whatever societal conversation or evolution is going on about men and their gender roles, whether it’s bromance or the Victorian era or Abraham Lincoln’s friendships that is being discussed. And I’m noticing that often, in conversations both about bromance and about slash, the impact or effect or input of gay men isn’t considered much. There seem almost to be three separate conversations there. And they only rarely intersect.

Of course, depictions of gay men in Hollywood are occurring with glacial infrequency, and slash until recently was usually not trying at all to accurately depict actual gay men based on real life or real communities.

But I remain fascinated by all the ways society depicts the changing expectations and roles for men, in the media and in life, and it’s interesting to compare these different conversations.

[META] Fandom: You know who you are

Once I started thinking about fandom in terms of the small group communication theories I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, more and more things from that textbook seemed germane!

As I said, I’ve been teaching this subject to college freshmen and sophomores using the Engleberg and Wynn text. Besides the idea of high-context and low-context cultures that I talked about before, there are some ideas they present about group dynamics that dovetail with some original work I did with two colleagues nearly ten years ago on the subject of community building, in face-to-face environments.

As always, it’s so amazing to see how many of the ideas that come out of face-to-face communication do indeed map coherently onto internet communication and internet fandom. Over and over I’ve been reinforced in my belief that fandom IS just like real life, only we can’t always see each other, and it’s easier to create sockpuppets!

One of the ideas my collaborators and I focused on regarding community, back then, is the fact that there always is a boundary between the community and the people who are not in the community. The boundary may be somewhat permeable or vague, but it’s there. There’s always a way to tell who’s in and who’s out. This dovetails with the Engleberg and Wynn book’s discussion of closed systems versus open systems. Groups (and communities) take in varying degrees of information from outside, depending on their purpose. A corporate board in executive session is a closed system. A city council meeting is open. A friends-locked community on LJ is more closed than someone’s personal journal if that person posts everything public and friends everyone who friends her.

All this got me thinking about how much input fandom allows from outside itself, and the ways that fandom initiates its newbies.

Fandom cred, the idea of “membership”, might depend on knowledge, on skills, on fannish creation, on self-identification, on being part of an audience, on the number of comments one makes — on a lot of things.

And being a newbie, and then watching other newbies, in the LiveJournal and Dreamwidth part of fandom has been a fascinating study of that boundary.

How do you know you’re in? Who gets to evaluate one’s participation in fandom, and the quality and value thereof?

I have more intriguing ideas than answers at this point, but again — I find it fun to use these communication models when thinking about participation in, and internet interactions in, fandom.

[META] Accent Memes, Brit-picking, and Other Perpetually Fascinating Phenomena of Internet Linguistics

Let me get this out of the way right now: I once lived in fear of Anglophilia. This fear has had serious consequences, such as, for example, preventing me from reading the Harry Potter books, and, until a few years ago, watching Buffy (which I knew contained prominent British characters played by American actors, inspiring what I feared would be an awkwardly Anglophilic fanbase). My parents are British, you see, but I have lived my entire life in the United States, and therefore have a solidly USAmerican accent, Central Pennsylvanian to be specific. Starting in early childhood, I experienced the social world of strangers as one utterly fascinated by my parents’ accents, and one saddened by my lack of the same. And so, early on, I developed my Linguistics 101 talking points about the connections between accent, affect, perceived credibility, and social class. Aside from the Linguistics 101 situation, I’ve found that these talking points become relevant in two other situations in which I commonly find myself: when I am meeting new colleagues, for example, a new cohort of graduate students in my program, or when an accent meme goes around among a newly-coalescing group of internet friends. The former situation is not relevant here, but I think the latter one is, if only because it offers a way in to a discussion of internet intimacy, and how it connects to the language politics of fandom. I’ve been through three or four “rounds” of accent memes with various online social circles, and some interesting trends have emerged. Here, I’m talking about accent memes that specifically look for likely points of difference (say, the pronunciation of Mary/marry/merry) among English speakers, rather than, say, the dynamics of a wave of podficcing, which are less predictable depending on the variety of fans involved. Within accent memes proper, I’ve noticed that people seem to produce an attitude toward language that values authenticity and rare speech patterns in ways that would stretch the boundaries of etiquette in a different context. To be clear, I am as guilty as anyone else of this exoticizing impulse, particularly when it’s combined with the inevitable excitement of connecting a person’s textual presence with a new sensory element of their presence, their voice. But it does strike me as somehow strange that it’s so much more common to hear “oh, that accent is so cool” than it would be (I hope) to say “oh, that person’s face/name is so cool.” Certainly, when people post pictures of themselves, there’s an expected chorus of “you’re so cute!” but it feels somehow different. That “somehow” is what drew me to the study of linguistics in college. For a few key historical reasons, English speakers in the U.S. are incredibly confused about what one can and cannot say about language. The most important of these, I think, is the institutional equation of Standard Written/White English with “correct grammar,” and its inherent enforcement of the prescriptive approach to language patterns. Armed with an understanding of SWE versus the deviant, many English speakers in the U.S. create a strict division between the language of education and professional advancement on the one side, and the language of emotion, family, and home on the other. (Obviously I’m generalizing to a ridiculous degree here.) Within internet culture, this distinction can become even more deeply entrenched. Hardly the revitalization of communitarian culture some have proclaimed the internet to be, some spheres of internet culture create their hierarchies entirely based on language use, taking prescriptive mandates more seriously than many English teachers do. But this attention to detail is not without its own insights for social justice vis a vis judgements of linguistic competence. For example, to accompany the exoticization I’ve seen in accent memes, there’s a counter-phenomenon of the Brit-pick. Here the accuracy of non-British fic authors’ representations of British characters’ voices is put to the test by native speakers of particular varieties of British English. I find Brit-picking (and its cousins, such as Yank-wank, which term I’ll have to admit I’ve never seen used) fascinating, especially as it relates to accent meme authenticity. I assume that in the context of concrit, it’s actually quite helpful, but when, as an outside reader, I encounter a comment that says “no British person would say x,” I find it strange. I’m sure it’s true sometimes, but I can’t think of many statements I’d be confident in saying that no native speaker of American English could ever organically utter. I mean, I know I’ve come up with some pretty odd, non-idiomatic sentences while composing this very piece, but I don’t think any of them disqualifies me from my national identity. These issues are all separate, of course, and I’d like to do a post at some point on my perhaps naive confusion as to why so many actors are asked to play characters with dramatically different accents than their own. (Dollhouse offers something of an in-story explanation of this, but that’s a topic for another day.) I’d also like to think more about the space podfic creates for a discussion of the connection between the aesthetic and narrative effects of accents and accent mimicry, and how conversations surrounding podfic differ from the off-the-cuff accent meme responses. But for today, I hope I’ve raised some questions worth thinking further about, related to language and online fandom.

[META] Fandom as a “high context” culture

Stranded cheerfully at home in the snow this week, all university and public school classes cancelled all around me, and thus without my reference books, I’m writing this in brief and from memory, based on a topic that grew out of my Small Group Communication class. We use the Ingleberg and Wynn textbook, and one of the topics in the multiculturalism chapter is the idea of “high context” versus “low context” cultures. This is a useful concept for understanding fandom, and how mystifying it can be for outsiders. I continue to be delighted by the different models of communication and mass communication that I learned for my formal education in journalism, and how they often apply beautifully to fandom. “Low context” cultures, my textbook says the anthropologists tell us, rely on explicit, literal types of communication. They tend to value logical, linear thinking, denotation, and prefer to disregard subtexts, metaphor, and anything that gets in the way of “what you see is what you get.” “High context” cultures, on the other hand, always rely on more than the literal written or verbal words in order to convey the message. History, relationships, subtext, symbolism, connotation — all these things are not extra decoration that can be efficiently stripped away from the message. They are part of the message. I often have to start from scratch with the idea of the importance of “context” in these Small Group Communication classes — the idea that my sister can affectionately call me a bitch, but if a stranger on the street shouts that word at me, I will get angry. Many of my students have never thought about that in any great depth, but it’s pretty easy to understand, given a clear example. They can readily see that intention matters, timing and location matter. That meaning lies not just in the word “bitch,” but who says it, and when, and why. (Something that Dr. Laura apparently failed to learn along the way!) Fandom is an extremely “high context” culture. In fact, it can be almost incomprehensible to someone from outside, because it’s so thickly woven with inside jokes, references to past stories, past fandoms, fandoms next-door, past relationships. To ignore all that and focus only on literal, explicit, written messages is to miss a great deal. “High context” versus “low context” is not a binary, of course. It’s a continuum. But fandom is definitely on the “high” end of the scale. And I light on another binary — the idea of studying fan texts versus fan communities. The connection between them, of course, is context. You can’t fully understand one without the other. So that’s just a kind of a scrap from my “topics to post about” file — more to come later. We should be dug out by next week, but for the moment I’m hunkered down with my immediate family, the dvd’s, the snow shovels and the hoarded supply of hot cocoa, focusing on being a “closed system” and not an “open system,” which is, of course, also a fandom-related post for another day. Let it snow, and stay warm out there, you guys!