Before I committed myself fully to transformational media fandom, tattooed “I heart vampires” across my forehead, and started trying to explain the appeal of slash to men in suits at dinner parties, I was into “CLACK” fandom. For those not in the know, CLACK stands for “Contemporary Literature And Criticism, Kay?” Basically, I mean I was an English major with an internet connection, as well as enough spare time to hang out in the Current Periodicals section of the library, and see what all my potential friends in thought around the world might be up to. I knew they were out there, because they kept appearing to me in sentences I read for school, although they just as often disappeared in the following section of their article. In that moment, though, I’d get a glimpse of the Perfect Conversation, and I’d know that others must be looking to have it, too, realizing the clear superiority of the ephemeral perfect sentence to the knots and tangles of the rest of the argument. Later, I’d discover that the perfect conversation is actually to be had across multiple platforms with committed fans of the Perfect Media Franchise, namely, Buffy. But I’m grateful to have experienced CLACK fandom, as I think it prepared me well for media fandom proper.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, it is an article in CLACK Central, which best articulates the experience I’m talking about. CLACK Central is the magazine n+1, which confirmed for me that others were actively pursuing the Perfect Conversation, the one that would make up for their years of not having had it, and being forced to talk about the wrong details of their days. In n+1, there were book reviews that didn’t shy away from citing insignificant moments from other books. There were articles about what, specifically, is oppressive about the fact that other people go to the gym. There were judgments and love-fests and polemics. It felt like home. The writing was so good that it freed up mental space for me to think about other things. It sounds like I’m being hyperbolic, but the experience is real, of feeling like a good writer is answering a question you’ve had for ages, and freeing you from the fear that it wasn’t even an important question to begin with.
But this peaceful feeling, it turns out, was not the sum of what I’d wanted when I went looking for friends in the library. I’d wanted the Perfect Conversation, and, now that I knew that it was possible, it was time to find the perfect interlocutors. To experience Chathexis. And I was a reader, alone with a book, sometimes giving someone a speech about what I’d read, but not properly entering into conversation based on a shared reading. I was still in the position of closing the magazine and then trying, as fast as possible, to convey the good parts of it to someone else, not realizing that the good parts are not actually the individual quotations, but rather the parts where the writing works for you. According to the n+1 editors in “Chathexis,” I was missing a key component of the Perfect Conversation: “Where have we had our best conversations? When we were sharing a booth with someone in the back of a dark bar, or lying in bed, or walking somewhere, or nowhere at all, our faces turned in the same direction: outward, toward the world, into which we moved forward together. We arrive at a shared perspective when we do, actually, share a perspective—when we take, quite literally, the same view of things.” Thrusting a witty summation of everything one has ever though at an uninitiated reader, it turns out, is not the way to establish this kind of shared perspective. It’s funny, actually, that the above quotation is excerpted from the editors’ case against video chat, which, while internally consistent with the CLACK mantra that the written word is uniquely capable of conveying truth, is something that media fandom has convinced me is inherently reductive. Their argument is that, in video chat, as compared to text chat, we over-focus on one another’s facial features and not one another’s ideas, from which we could look out into the wider world together.
This dichotomy between video and word reveals the disconnect that led me to media fandom. While “Chathexis” impeccably describes and contextualizes my pre-Buffy experience of digital life, it rings false in its ignorance of fandom, not just of the emotional resonance of gifs and the significance of the perfect graphic, but also the kinds of fannish friendships that are made possible by television shows. The perfect conversation, for me, it turned out, requires images, some moving, appropriated from what, to me, is much more than a sleep-encouraging good choice on Hulu. I don’t know where this need came from — was there always something suspicious about the “and critcism” part of CLACK? Have I fallen prey to television’s seductive bright lights, at the expense of the purity of the word? I’m pretty sure that’s not it, although it does speak to a certain fear I have, that my insistence that television (with its happy complement, fandom) is nearly perfect falls into some unfortuante traps, of which I should try harder to make myself aware.
I do feel, though, that it’s a good intellectual exercise to connect the experiences described at the upper end of the CLACK hierarchy, and had within my various, intersecting fandom homes. There’s pleasure to be had in finding the thread that connects the two. What I want, sometimes, is to argue that television + fandom is the rightful heir to CLACK. But what is more important is the lively conversation between the two spheres, in which the level of immersion in image-inclusive conversation technologies remains up to the individual user. After all, the core concerns of criticism and fandom, I think, unite in the n+1 editors’ suggestion that “In Gchat, as in life, we are happiest when paying attention—when we belong completely to a conversation that continues. Might this be a model of commitment: truly felt on both sides, mutually desired, without exclusivity?” I’m reminded of Andrea’s excellent post about “disrupting the intimate society.” If this, indeed, is what we are after, then obviously neither minimalist gchat, nor fannish gifspam is the end in itself anyway, and so both must be valued for the readers for whom they work, as well as the conversations for which they work. After all, one can, and almost always does, have accounts on multiple platforms.