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.)