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Supernatural

[QUOTE] From Review of Playing fans: Negotiating fandom and media in the digital age, by Paul Booth | Gregory Steirer | Transformative Works and Cultures

Less a form of antisocial (or subsocial) behavior, fandom is shown as a way for individuals to creatively manage, at both the personal and the interpersonal levels, the “rules of play” imposed upon them by a variety of social institutions (economics, education, family, etc.). At least, this is what the episode itself suggests has happened for the protagonists Dean and Sam, who are depicted leaving the fan convention with a new appreciation not only for Supernatural fans, but also (…) for each other.

Review of Playing fans: Negotiating fandom and media in the digital age, by Paul Booth | Gregory Steirer | Transformative Works and Cultures ift.tt/2eSabXq

Call For Collaboration-Textual Analysis of Supernatural

Posted on request from Liorah Golomb:

I am looking for a collaborator with computational linguistic skills for a project mining the dialogue of the U.S. television program Supernatural (CW Network, 2005-present). My goal is to demonstrate, through textual analysis, the originality of the dialogue, the breadth of words and phrases used by the writers, the way language is used to distinguish characters and reveal character traits, etc.The product of this project will be an article for publication in a peer-reviewed venue. Presentation at an appropriate conference is also a possibility.

A chapter that I’ve written about my exploration of this project thus far is forthcoming in Digital Humanities in the Library: Challenges and Opportunities for Subject Specialists (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, March 2015). That chapter documents my process of creating the corpora from fan-created transcripts, testing and selecting concordance tools, and examples of the type of results these efforts will produce. It also discusses the limitations of examining only the dialogue in a visual medium and my own limitations as a non-linguist.

My hope is that a partner with the skills I lack will be able to help me with linguistic concepts as well as determine (1) whether there is a way to codify non-verbal action and communication for analysis and (2) whether it would be useful to encode the text for analysis. Interest in or familiarity with Supernatural is a plus.

I am an academic librarian and Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma with a long history of publishing scholarly work. My CV can be found at ou.academia.edu/LiorahGolomb.

Please contact me to discuss this project further: liorah.golomb@gmail.com.

[META] Fannish Moments in the Poetry Classroom

Regular co-blogger Lisa Schmidt has posted two excellent reflections on teaching and fandom, and I thought that today might be the day to share some of my own. The course I taught this quarter was Introduction to Poetry, which sounds much more conventional and less potentially fan-friendly than Lisa’s Media and Society course, or, say, a course in the History of Audiences, or Transmedia Storytelling. But in fact, I find that I can relate better to her experiences this quarter than I was able to while teaching Reading Popular Culture. I have my suspicions about why this is so, and I hope that my reflections will be of interest to anyone who, like me, sees themselves not only at the intersection of academia and fandom, but also at the intersection of literary studies and media studies.

I tried to introduce fandom into my Reading Popular Culture course in several ways. The first time I taught it, I assigned Kim Deitch’s graphic novel, Alias the Cat!, which tells the story of the evolution of the mass media in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century in the United States from the perspective of a hardcore collector. I introduced students to Lostpedia. I assigned blog reviews of Dollhouse episodes alongside academic articles in order to start a conversation about the investments of different kinds of media critics. I got my point across, more often than not, but I was rarely able to feel a fannish energy in my classroom, outside of a few post-class one-on-one interactions. This experience is normal, as commenters on Lisa’s first post suggested, but it’s not satisfying. There was part of me that felt like I was giving away too much for too little reward — part of me that was disappointed that students who came in unimpressed by Twenty-First-Century storytelling left feeling the same, rather than having been called to critical practices that would help them find their rightful place within a more democratic interpretive landscape, one defined by fan practices.

I’m sure that those readers who are teachers can easily recognize what I’m describing as the standard utopianism of the newish instructor, but fortunately, I’ve finally started to find what I’d been looking for. In order to excite fannish energy, it turns out, one must alter a portion of the work of the course into creative production. Lisa describes in her first post the experience of showing an episode of fan favorite Supernatural, and then later, a Supernatural fanvid, but she remained disappointed until she asked students to create a fanwork for their final project. It doesn’t even have to be anything as significant as a final project, as I’ve learned this quarter, and it doesn’t have to be a fanwork. In Introduction to Poetry, I simply gave students the opportunity to write an imitative exercise once during the quarter, which would be worth 5% of their grade. Initially, I created this assignment because I thought that students who didn’t already love poetry might get into it more if they experienced the challenge of writing for themselves. And indeed, a complex form like a sestina or villanelle almost demands to be imitated — I even remember writing a (very bad) sonnet almost automatically in high school, because it seemed like the only logical way to take notes on Shakespeare. I even thought that students whose talents were in quantitative fields might be impressed by the mathematical demands of rhythm, and then produce poetry in spite of whatever shame is associated with articulating one’s feelings in verse.

However, while a few did take on these pseudo-mathematical tasks, more took on the task of writing in a famous poet’s voice, or drawing from their tactics, especially found poetry. Those who wrote in the voice of a poet revealed to me a depth of critical engagement I might have completely missed out on, had I tried to extrapolate it from their descriptive claims. Those who, inspired by Alice Walker and Hart Seely’s found poetry, proceeded to “find” their own poetry in documents addressed to them, inspired me to think about incorporating a found poetry assignment into any future writing course I teach, because I was so impressed by their clear senses of humor and subtlety. Part of what I’m describing is my own journey from being a lover of essayistic critique and meta first and foremost, and only then the fiction and art that share the same source material, into a more broad-minded thinker and fan. It would, of course, be inappropriate for me to convert an Introduction to Poetry course, whose major goal is to instruct students in tactics for reading poetry, into a creative writing course inadvertently. I am not qualified to teach creative writing courses, and there are plenty of people who are. However, I have been thoroughly convinced that at least part of what I’ve been looking for, in terms of inviting students into an exciting, multi-faceted contemporary reading landscape, can be attended to via targeted imitative exercises.

I’ve heard more and more about literature professors assigning fanfic or fanfic-like work to college students, although perhaps less often than I hear about media studies professors and Digital Composition specialists assigning remix projects that lend themselves to a comparison with fanvids. I think that it’s an exciting development, because, while it turns out that it’s difficult to impress people by just insisting that there is fandom, and it is intellectual and awesome (which it is!), it is easy to excite a certain fannish energy by inviting students to participate in creative tasks that reward their skill at capturing voices and filling gaps, without requiring the accompanying expository justification.

I’m very jealous of people who teach courses on fandom in which both come together somehow — courses in which there is time enough to explore the history and culture of fandom, as well as incorporate fannish critical and creative practices. But until I am given the opportunity to teach such a course, I will happily incorporate assignments that give students, as well as me, the instructor, a glimpse of the reading community that is made momentarily visible by an archive of creative responses to literature, enabled by the course website. It can even make grading momentarily feel like checking out a trusted friend’s latest fanwork recommendations.

[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] A look at “Supernatural”

The most recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures (the link is at your right) was a special issue about the show Supernatural. Many of the articles examine the way that show has “broken the fourth wall.” The idea of the “fourth wall” comes from live theater — the action of a play happens inside a sort of cube that is the stage, except the front wall of the cube doesn’t exist, so that the audience can see the action. But the wall is undeniably there, separating the actors and their imaginary world of story from the audience, which exists in the real world of time and matter. Supernatural reached out through that wall and, in a very self-aware way, involved the audience in its narrative. From what I could see at the time in various online communities, fan opinions were mixed as to whether, on the whole, this was a good thing or a bad thing. Melissa Gray writes about this phenomenon in her TWC article ”From Canon to Fanon and Back Again”. She starts out by noting that to be part of the audience for a storyteller (in any medium) is to extend trust, and to willingly suspend disbelief, to enter the imaginary world, as long as the story lasts. She goes on to describe the elements of Supernatural, what is familiar about the show and what is fantastic, and how the writers have cemented the audience’s involvement by creating emotionally compelling characters, especially the Winchester brothers. She also describes how the things fans love about the show can help them negotiate its problematic aspects — the gender politics, the separation of the brothers and their conflict, and the racism. And she also presents what to me was a fascinating description of why, in her opinion, Supernatural has changed from being classifiable as horror, to classifiable as fantasy. She writes, “Layered revelations are created [and] they are important in integrating the horror and fantasy episodes and forming them into a seamless myth arc.” And, fans who love the show have actively engaged with its material and added to it, creating, as she notes, “print, vids, comics, dolls, and other media.” She spends some time explaining what an active, engaged, creative fandom looks like — and Supernatural has this in spades. Fan-produced material, and the fan interpretations known as fanon, enrich the viewing experience while often skewing that experience away from the writers’ intentions. Unlike some shows that preserve the wall between audience and story, the show runners of Supernatural have introduced characters who are fans of Sam and Dean. Gray describes the fan characters who are featured, and evaluates them in terms of what the writers might have been trying to say about their perceived audience as well as how the fans received them. In her judgment, the plotlines that featured fan characters were not gratuitous and were well integrated into the main story. She says three of the four fan characters received a positive response from the audience. Also, the show writers included a reference to the thousands of fan stories about an incestuous relationship between Sam and Dean, and Gray says, “Many slash fans were happy to be immersed in their own world away from the mainstream [audience] and really did not want have to discuss the concept of slash fan fiction, especially incestuous slash, with their ‘mundane’ friends and family.” In short, they felt outed. Gray explains the mass media’s reporting on this turn in the Supernatural narrative: “With male/male romance being the next big thing on the romance novel front, along with the lure of the forbidden and the thrill of reporting sensational news, the media attention is not surprising.” I was disappointed that her consideration of the mass media reports on this show included a link to an L.A. Weekly article on gay romance novels. That article was poorly researched, poorly reported, shallow, and completely inadequate. It was basically very bad journalism and was not a good basis for any sort of evaluation of the market category of gay romance novels. Gray’s article was one of several in this issue that explored the breaking of the fourth wall by the writers of Supernatural, and fan reaction to those events. It was definitely a major topic of interest among the acafans who contributed to the special issue. Other Supernatural topics featured included examinations of the religious themes and icons in the show, as well as the range of plots and themes of its fan fiction.