in the wake of government policies in Japan promoting Akihabara as a tourist destination and championing otaku culture as a new national paradigm for economic prosperity, some otaku were quick to point out that the prosperity of otaku culture was built by otaku, not by government policy makers or corporations. It was otaku prosperity, and otaku wanted not only credit for it but also their share of it. Such a response returns to and deflates the mass deception theory. It demonstrates not only the increased significance of user activity but also an increasing awareness on the part of consumers about their role in the generation of value in the context of commodity-worlds. As such, even as user enhancement results in value-added commodities, the value of those com modities, taking the form of commodity-worlds prolonged both by producers and consumers, is not solely the property of corporations. And the questions of “To whom does a commodity-world belong?” and “Who belongs to it?” are becoming a site for the construction and contestation of social paradigms. Thomas Lamarre, Introduction to Mechademia 6: User Enhanced
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Though its most important function is still to provide a physical place, Comic Market has also become a symbol of the otaku and dōjinshi communities. It is not only by a wide margin the biggest dōjinshi event in Japan (and therefore related to many subcultural and independent media in Japan), it is also the oldest such event, and the one most famous in the mass media. As the center of attention, with its size and its links to the industry, it is undeniable that Comike possesses the power and the means to influence social, market, and even political developments. In recent years it has not been reluctant to use this power. Whether through conferences on copyright issues or on the establishment of a “National dōjinshi fair liaison group” (Zenkoku dōjinshi sokubaikai renrakukai) in 2000, it has taken on the responsibility of representing and of regulating Japanese dōjinshi culture.
When the Tea Party rose to national prominence in 2010, the movement’s cosplay of American icons, including the Founding Fathers, immediately made news (Walsh 2010). One of the most remarkable costumes worn by Tea Party demonstrators was that of the Star-Spangled Avenger. As Nicolle Lamerichs (2011) argues, when fans cosplay they are expressing their fondness for, identifying with, and making statements about the narrative associated with the character whom they are playing. The statement made by political Captain America cosplayers is that Cap would agree with their point of view. For instance, at a 2011 Tea Party rally, a man dressed as Captain America personalized his shield with a bumper sticker that read “Please don’t tell Obama what comes after a trillion” as a way to assert that his support of limited government is the sole authentic American perspective (White 2011b). Similarly, the Star-Spangled Avenger waved the star-spangled banner at a March 24, 2011, rally in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Shelly 2012).
While in both these cases Captain America’s iconography was used to support right-wing causes, his use in political action transcends partisan boundaries just as the character does in the comics. In October 2010, the Sentinel of Liberty showed his support for “reasonableness” at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (Calhoun 2011). A year later he defended labor unions at a protest in Madison, Wisconsin (Mills 2011). Furthermore, Cap’s iconography has been used at multiple Occupy rallies: one protestor wore a makeshift Cap costume and flashed the peace sign while another attached a figurine of the Star-Spangled Avenger to the top of a sign bearing a handwritten anticorporate slogan (Moscamaurer 2012; jamie nyc 2011). Additionally, an activist advocating for homeless veterans addressed Occupy Oakland clad in the costume of the Sentinel of Liberty (addio33 2012).
While Captain America was first created as a fervent nationalist who wanted American children to “free our country of our traitors” (Yanes 2009, 58), he has developed into a very different character. Fans have embraced the modern incarnation of the Star-Spangled Avenger because he is one of the few embodiments of an Americanness that encompasses a wide swath of the nation’s political spectrum, from the most conservative Tea Party member to the most liberal Occupier (Johnson 2010; Mroczkowski 2011). This near-universal American appeal renders any political use of his image inherently divisive and questionable, yet makes his political appropriation irresistible.
Forrest Phillips, Captain America and fans’ political activity
Transformation is a political act. Whether it is slash fiction’s challenge to heteronormativity, cosplay at political rallies, or editorials that question the white male privilege of fandom, whenever fans appropriate cultural artifacts they transform them for rhetorical purposes. Fandom thus becomes the battleground through which cultural meaning is constructed and as such is always contested terrain.Matthew J. Costello, The super politics of comic book fandom
The tenth issue of Participations, an online open access journal for audience studies, has a section full of new articles about fan culture. The section was put together by the Fan Studies Network, a network for fan studies researchers.
I haven’t had time to read any of the articles yet, but it sounds like there’s some very interesting stuff in here about many fandoms and fan practices – from Doctor Who, Glee, and Star Wars to Tumblr, kink memes, fandom and politics, and dojinshi. Here’s a list of all the fan-themed articles in the issue (all links go to PDFs):
Bennett, Lucy & Tom Phillips: ‘An introduction: The Fan Studies Network – new connections, new research’
Booth, Paul & Peter Kelly: ‘The changing faces of Doctor Who fandom: New fans, new technologies, old practices?’
Chin, Bertha & Lori Hitchcock Morimoto: ‘Towards a theory of transcultural fandom’
Whiteman, Natasha, Joanne Metivier: ‘From post-object to “Zombie” fandoms: The “deaths” of online fan communities and what they say about us’
Bury, Rhiannon, Ruth Deller, Adam Greenwood & Bethan Jones: ‘From Usenet to Tumblr: The changing role of social media’
McCulloch, Richard, Virginia Crisp, Jon Hickman & Stephanie Jones: ‘Of proprietors and poachers: Fandom as negotiated brand ownership’
Freund, Kathrina & Dianna Fielding: ‘Research ethics in fan studies’
Jones, Bethan & Lucy Bennett: ‘Blurring boundaries, crossing divides: An interview with Will Brooker’
Delmar, Javier Lozano & Victor Hernández-Santaolalla & Marina Ramos: ‘Fandom generated content: An approach to the concept of ‘fanadvertising”
Sturm, Damion & Andrew McKinney: ‘Affective hyper-consumption and immaterial labors of love: Theorizing sport fandom in the age of new media’
The latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, “Transformative Works and Fan Activism,” is now available for your reading pleasure. There’s so much great content here to peruse, much of it offering context for ongoing debates among fan activists, many of which speak to still-unfolding current events. Just last week, for example, Andrea Horbinski and Alex Leavitt updated readers on the latest developments surrounding the Metropolitan Tokyo Youth Ordinance, whose implications they had explored at length in their article. The piece I first clicked on when I accessed the issue, however, was on an issue closer to my immediate context and long-term concerns: Jonathan Gray’s moving Symposium piece, “Of snowspeeders and Imperial Walkers: Fannish play at the Wisconsin protests.” This piece describes the morale-boosting role played by fannish signs and chants at protests, and argues for their incalculable contribution to the large-scale registering of political dissatisfaction.
The topic of activism is inherently emotional, which is part of why I think that its union with transformative works is so illuminating. Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova begin their editorial introduction to the issue with two quotations that speak to this point, one by Liesbet van Zoonen, from her book Entertaining the Citizen, and one from Stephen Duncombe’s own Symposium piece on More’s Utopia, and his own relationship to that concept, such as it has emerged in his own experiences with fandom and activism. There is a clear thread that ties each piece in this issue to the rest, as well as tying the issue as a whole to a long series of debates, online and off-, about those most seriously critical, and thus, seriously hopeful energies within fandom, and how these intersect with those same energies in activist movements, often within the same subjects. From my own standpoint in the Midwestern United States, no single recent event has filled me with as much hope, and then disappointed me so strongly, as the fannishly-inflected 2011 Wisconsin protests against Scott Walker and his union-busting legislation, which, sadly, did not in the end lead to his replacement.
That aside, I think that Gray’s piece archives much of what was exciting about the 2011 protests, which moved so many people, and were so misrepresented by the mainstream media, first by not being represented at all, and then, worse, being mischaracterized as “riots,” as Gray describes:
As the protests continued and as they drew national media attention, for many protesters, and for the organizers especially, it became important to ensure that the protests remained peaceful and upbeat, countering Fox News’ images. The fannish signs aided this mission, offering reasons to smile and laugh amidst the anger and angst, and often inspiring discussions between fellow fans.
Gray is, of course, careful not to reduce the protests to a momentary fannish community-building exercise, although he is just as careful not to subordinate fannish caontributions to countable actions such as petition signatures, absolutely. Instead he inhabits the ground of the short-form social archivist, who witnessed positive social and political actions bolstered by fannish energy and tactics, and wishes to record it alongside the ultimately disappointing political verdict on Walker.
Gray’s piece exemplifies what I love about the Symposium section of Transformative Works and Cultures. The author guidelines for the Symposium section read as follows:
Parallel to academia’s tradition of compact essays, often published as letters, fandom has its own vibrant history of criticism, some of which has been collected at the Symposium archive. In the spirit of this history, TWC’s Symposium is a section of concise, thematically contained essays. These short pieces provide insight into current developments and debates surrounding any topic related to fandom or transformative media and cultures. Symposium submissions undergo editorial review. (1,500–2,500 words)
And indeed, in just over 2000 words, as well as photographs of six different fannish signs seen at the Wisconsin protests, he articulates a material intersection of fandom and activism, and one that will likely ring true, both for those of us who anxiously followed the protests as they happened, and for those who take pleasure in memes well-executed. He fleshes out the experience of the protests with memorable details, some of which speak to us quickly and generally, like his description of the protests’ occurrence “in the middle of a characteristically long Wisconsin winter,” while other descriptions speak to perceptions specific to the fan activist’s worldview. I love the idea that, “when the Capitol Square was covered in snow, it seemed distinctly Hothlike,” because it’s that level of observation that invites the reader into the process of forging lasting connections between different spheres of her life.
From Gray’s piece, the reader might move on to Aswin Punathambekar’s essay, “On the ordinariness of participatory culture,” which offers a different national context for the intersection of fandom and activism, namely, the Indian context, as well as a different kind of activism, namely how, in response to Indian Idol 3, “people in the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya had cast aside decades-old separatist identities to mobilize support for Amit Paul, one of the finalists.” The issues at stake here are very different than those in Wisconsin, but Punathambekar’s argument in fact shares much with Gray’s, although he uses a slightly different critical vocabulary. Punathambekar summarizes his argument as such:
We need to develop accounts of participatory culture that take the sociable and everyday dimensions of participation in and around popular culture more seriously while remaining attuned to the possibility that such participation might, in rare instances, intersect with broader civic and political issues and movements. Using Indian Idol 3 as a case, I want to suggest that sociability should be as fundamental to our analyses of participatory culture as civic/political engagement.
Like Gray, Punathambekar argues that we should make sure to value those moments of sociability that are often subordinated to specific political activity, as they share much with the energy that is needed to enact large-scale change and, ultimately, to create better societies. Both authors’ arguments are at home in the Symposium section, because it is a space in which this subtlety of individual and social experience can be articulated, and preserved alongside more long-form academic analyses of phenomena within fandom.
We are actively seeking Symposium submissions for upcoming issues, and all readers of this post, this blog, Transformative Works and Cultures, and other sources of fandom analysis to consider submitting. Thank you!
Two weeks ago, in the wake of the hacker collective Anonymous shutting down U.S. government and Big Content websites in avowed revenge for the U.S. Attorney General’s taking down the upload service MegaUpload, I asked my Twitter followers (only half in jest) whether I would one day be writing an article about the Internet War of 2012. The consensus was “Quite possibly!” but even a cursory glance over the last two weeks or so of events around the Internet and the public domain reveal that the conflict between those who are advocating for more open laws and formats around content, and those who want to lock content down and throw away the key on “pirates,” is about more than one upload service, or even more than one frighteningly broad piece of “anti-online piracy” legislation (and no, that link isn’t talking about SOPA/PIPA).
Fandom intersects with all of these events in a number of large and complex ways, and as a global phenomenon, it’s no surprise that fans in different parts of the world have had different reactions to various recent developments. Just among my digital acquaintances, reactions to MegaUpload, for instance, have ranged from the general sentiment that its operators’ alleged violations were so flagrant that they deserved to be indicted, to noting the detrimental effect the demise of file-sharing sites has on emerging economies in particular, since people working in emerging economies literally cannot afford to legitimately buy the media that Big Content sells.
The rise of “intellectual property” rights over the past century or so is part and parcel of the neoliberalization first of so-called advanced industrial societies, and then the rest of the world; the shredding of social safety nets globally; the commercialization of scholarship and the reduction of the value of all knowledge to the price it is projected to fetch in the so-called “free market”; the patent-ization of scientific research part and parcel with increased corporate profiteering therefrom. IPR are used systematically to disenfranchise and disempower vulnerable groups at all levels of societies globally, and then, the disenfranchisement complete, to sell that content back to those groups at immense profit–but only at fair market price, of course.
As a historian, I’m painfully aware that today’s current, very stringent global intellectual property regime is very much a recent and contingent phenomenon, and as a classicist and a fan, I was particularly dismayed to see the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of copyright maximalists in Golan v. Holder, finding that works could be legally re-copyrighted and removed from the public domain. It would be foolish, as a historian, to claim that fandom predates the age of mechanical reproduction and the rise of seriality in storytelling, but one doesn’t have to be much of a literature scholar to see that creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that creative works have always been inspired by one another. If Vergil had had to pay money to Homer’s estate to use characters from The Illiad, there probably would have been no Aeneid, and that loss wouldn’t just have diminished ancient Greek and Latin poetry.
I mentioned my work for the Organization for Transformative Works to a mutual acquaintance (the business manager of a well-known fantasy author) recently, and it was almost comical how my interlocutor’s defenses rose the instant I uttered the words “fair use.” I understand, and absolutely support, the desire and right of creators to make money from their own creative works, but one of the things that I think tends to get lost in these discussions is the fact that overall creators aren’t being very well served by Big Content. In the first place it’s a myth, as someone on my Twitter feed observed, that content is only created by “professionals”; and in the second place, Big Content is not in the business of giving creators money: as an industry, it’s in the business of making money for itself. Advocates for SOPA/PIPA and ACTA like to position themselves as defending the rights of creators, but the current intellectual property regime is set up to favor corporations. Furthermore, the global scope of that regime, and the way in which restrictive additions in one part of the world tend to be taken up by the rest of its participants (Golan v. Holder was held up as an instance of bringing U.S. law into line with global practice, and actions in the MegaUpload case were taken as far away from the States as Hong Kong and New Zealand) only increase the margin of that favorability.
Fandom, to try to knit the two halves of this post into a coherent union, is very much somewhere in the vast creative territory between outright plagiarism–which no one, I think, would support or condone–and the avowed creative debt of explicit borrowing and that position has only become more difficult to maintain in recent years. The OTW’s work to extend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption for vidding that we won in 2010 is an excellent example of how difficult it is to carve out a legal space for fair use fan practices even under current law (I invite you to sign the petition to uphold the right to create remix videos before February 10, 2012, cosponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation). I’m proud of the OTW’s past and continuing work in this area, but the events of the past fortnight are more than sufficient proof that the battlefield is anything but stagnant, and vigilance remains the price of the very limited liberties we now possess.