A conversation between me and Jason Mittell is up at Henry Jenkins’s blog here.
Please feel free to head over there and comment!
A conversation between me and Jason Mittell is up at Henry Jenkins’s blog here.
Please feel free to head over there and comment!
The SFRA Review, a publication geared to academics in the field of SF, has published in #279, Jan–Mar 2007, a review of the book I coedited with Kristina Busse, Fan Fiction And Fan Communities In The Age Of The Internet. The review, by Christine Mains, does a good job of describing the contents of the book and contextualizing the discussions.
Mains concludes, “[T]his anthology is a useful and thought-provoking addition to the library of any scholar interested not only in media studies or fandom studies, but also in the practice of storytelling as it is shaped by the episodic nature of sequels and television series, by the world-building concerns of science fiction, by ever-changing technological capabilities” (12).
[1.1] I chose as the name for this blog “res gestae,” or “things done,” which in history is the thing that is studied, just as archaeology studies the physical things left behind. In addition to its legal meaning, the term also alludes to Res Gestae Divi Augusti, a funerary inscription for the Emperor Augustus (63 BC–AD 14). The Wikipedia entry for the latter text notes, “By their very nature the Res Gestae are less objective history and more propaganda for the principate that Augustus instituted.” Augustus, like Everyman, in the end, has only his deeds to accompany him after death. Yet the inscription puts a spin on his deeds: they may be objectively true, but they are not the whole story. The title of the blog foregrounds my interest in the construction—the spin—of a narrative meant to link together elements of the trace.
[1.2] What follows is the bare bones of a longer paper I’m writing about truth claims, authority, and analysis. I argue that the Internet may best be read not as a text with a truth claim, but as fiction. These fiction-interpreting strategies may be the best ones to bring to bear on Web texts in the aggregate because of the contested notion of truth claims. I use the LiveJournal blogsphere as my practical example. I consider it a huge, sprawling novel-like text that tells me something about the culture it’s embedded in.
[1.3] This work will be coupled with another project I’m starting that’s about constructing “truth” when it’s possible to continually delete, alter, and rewrite pages, thus altering the trace. I will probably use Fandom Wank (and an associated wankfest) as my practical example.
[2.1] In the Web 2.0 world, truth claims are particularly hard to uncover, especially because notions of authority have come to mean less and less. The catch phrase for this has become “the cult of the amateur.” Lately, the uninformed amateur has come to be valorized over the expert, turning the usual notion of authority on its head. The Web has taught us that anybody can generate content, not just trained professionals—and that some of this content is pretty good. Nicholas Carr, in The Amorality Of Web 2.0, privileges the expert over the amateur because of the checks and balances in place for quality control and accuracy:
[2.2] They can hire and pay talented people who would not be able to survive as sole proprietors on the Internet. They can employ editors and proofreaders and other unsung protectors of quality work. They can place, with equal weight, opposing ideologies on the same page. Forced to choose between reading blogs and subscribing to, say, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Atlantic, and the Economist, I will choose the latter. I will take the professionals over the amateurs.
[2.3] Andrew Keen discusses the fraught space of the amateur versus the professional in more detail in his new book, The Cult Of The Amateur (New York: Currency, 2007). The overabundance of content, with no way to sort the chaff from the grain, results in an inability to find the truth, or worse, a confusion about what sources have authority and what sources do not:
[2.4] Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite, that they’ve undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary. These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com. For these Generation Y utopians, every posting is just another person’s view of the truth; every fiction is just another person’s version of the facts. (5)
[2.5] Also distressing to Keen is the likely eventual collapse of the structures currently in place to create and disseminate truthful knowledge. His fear is that age-old one: the structures that underpin making meaning will collapse, and thus so will our very civilization.
[2.6] Contrasting with Carr’s and Keen’s anxieties about the inappropriate valorization of the rabble are those take the opposite tack: those who valorize the meaning created by aggregates of people. Such truth claims have the weight of numbers behind them, but are numbers really the way to go when constructing a text meant to confer truth? Web 2.0 has changed the way we view construction of knowledge because the expert and the amateur exist side by side, each with valid points of view.
[2.7] Larry Sanger, cocreator of Wikipedia, argues in Who Says We Know that “It is particularly the aggregation of public opinion that instituted this new politics of knowledge.” With hundreds, even thousands, of people working on constructing a single text, some kind of truth claim will emerge by consensus, creating a “collective authority.” Yet for Sanger, there’s a place for the expert: “I believe experts should share the main responsibility of articulating what ‘we know’ in encyclopedia projects; but they should share this responsibility with the general public. For Sanger, there’s room for both, and together, they will create a truth that has the weight of consensus.
[2.8] This two-sided argument is really all about authority, of course: “Why should we believe anything put up on the Web?” Carr and Keen may well wonder, to which Sanger’s response might be, “Because the consensus will result in meaning.” I want to take this one step further: the consensus will result in meaning, but not necessarily in factual or truthful meaning, however those terms may be construed. I want to consider not the truth claims themselves, but what underlies these truth claims.
[3.1] Students of both literature and history realize that objective reality is a difficult thing to get at. In history, eyewitness accounts may need to be married with the same event captured, say, on surveillance tapes, or from another competing source with equal validity. The historian then sorts through everything and constructs a text that is meant to represent a truth. In literature, the writer creates a fictional world in order to say something about our own world, and the tension between the two constructs a new truth, which readers imbue with meaning. But none of this means anything without the inferring mind making connections. Hayden White was the one to famously consider history to be literature, with historians using literary strategies to construct their texts in order to bring about a way of reading. Literature, history, and the Web are presented to us through text, and thus it is not reality itself, but rather a representation of reality, mediated by language through the mind of the writer.
[3.2] To accompany our reading of texts with subjective or objective truth claims, we need flexible interpretive strategies. It’s too simple to say, “The New York Times published this news report. They are reputable. Therefore, what they say is true.” To me, the more interesting question is, “The New York Times published this. What does this tell me about the New York Times or the person who wrote it? What is the agenda here? Why does the NYT think that I, in this historical moment, in this context, would find this interesting? What is it about it that makes me think that it is true? And if it is true, what is the implication for me, for my family, for my country, for my culture?”
[3.3] These are the kinds of questions that I think need to be asked more frequently. They’re big meta questions that attempt to place something specific into the realm of the general, then think about how the meaning resonates. As a practical example, let me apply this reading strategy to a blogsphere where I spend a lot of time: LiveJournal (LJ).
[4.1] LJ is the place to go for media fans, with well-established fan communities available for almost everything. My on-again, off-again relationship with LJ ebbs and flows according to the amount of work I have to do: the more work I have, the less LJ I can fit in. Whenever I have to return after time away, it takes me a while to catch up. People disappear or change their names; people I like find new fandoms and go off on new tangents; new pairing-specific fan fiction communities spring up and I have to decide whether they’re worthwhile. While at a recent conference, as my friends and I chatted about LJ over dinner, it struck me that we were having the same conversation we’d have about a film, say, or a novel. “Did you see…” one person would begin, and another would exclaim, “Yes! Let me tell you what I thought of that.” And off we’d be, as if someone had said, “Have you read the latest Anita Shreve novel?” or “What do you think of the whole D.C. Madam thing?”
[4.2] LJ is one huge text all by itself. It’s a text that those of us who blog over there are invested in keeping up with. Sure, LJ is fractured. I can’t say that I know much about what is on LJ other than the stuff I’m interested in. I’m there for the fannish bits, and I keep up mostly with the people and communities who share interests in common with me. Increasingly, I find I’m keeping up with people I feel like I know, even though our interests have diverged. That’s the beauty of blogs as opposed to targeted newsgroups, such as Yahoo! groups. With blogs, the personality, the persona presented, is really the topic. I keep up with news, but news as it applies to my friends, or the TV programs I engage in the fandoms of. It’s a microcosm of my fannish engagement.
[4.3] This text—and I’m not even going to call LJ a metatext, because, recursively, it meta’s itself—should be read like fiction, with all the implications of truth-claim and reading strategies that the word fiction implies. Reading LJ requires specific strategies, and one thing that is not included in this way of reading is a presumption of truth. LJ is like a huge, sprawling, multiauthored, unfocused novel, Tristram Shandy going down a flight of stairs, only to take his fancy elsewhere for two chapters, rules of narrative storytelling tossed to the side:
[4.4] Is it not a shame to make two chapters of what passed in going down one pair of stairs? for we are got no farther yet than to the first landing, and there are fifteen more steps down to the bottom; and for aught I know, as my father and my uncle Toby are in a talking humour, there may be as many chapters as steps:—let that be as it will, Sir, I can no more help it than my destiny:—A sudden impulse comes across me—drop the curtain, Shandy—I drop it—Strike a line here across the paper, Tristram—I strike it—and hey for a new chapter.
[4.5] The deuce of any other rule have I to govern myself by in this affair—and if I had one—as I do all things out of all rule—I would twist it and tear it to pieces, and throw it into the fire when I had done—Am I warm? I am, and the cause demands it—a pretty story! is a man to follow rules—or rules to follow him? (chap. 2.XLV)
[4.6] LJ is constructed by its users, who use LJ’s tools—its posting interface, its ability to embed artwork, its user images, its handy way to refer to other LJ users, its ability to lock a post so only a particular readership can access it—to engage with one another. Online texts like LJ lead us to toss aside the rules of reading because we are distracted by things like threaded comments, the ability to hyperlink, and the expectations of genre—because we are distracted by intertextuality and metatext. LJ is a blogsphere, and implicit in the notion of a blog is the idea that somehow, someone is stating a subjective opinion, or telling the objective truth, or presenting fiction with no truth claim at all, and all of this is meant to be consumed and commented on. If you wait long enough, everything old becomes new again, and we need to return to an old way of viewing texts instead of being seduced by new forms. LJ should be read as a fiction that tells us a truth, not a truth whose form causes us to read it like fiction.
[4.7] We aren’t changing the world. We aren’t really even creating it. We’re expressing our relationship with it by constructing a huge text, into which we code all our worries, fears, wishes, loves, and desires. Here’s what the novel of LJ tells me: in this particular time, space, and culture, people all over the world are constructing meaning out of visual texts. Films, TV shows, and popular music provide us with something to interpret that is relevant to our culture and our construction of things like good and evil. LJ presents derivative texts, such as fan fiction, that bring the writer and the reader joy—but the construction of the derivative texts is itself a creative endeavor worthy of acknowledgment and study. Authority is still conferred, and quality is still valued. Genre distinctions are maintained. Sexuality and gender are overtly constructed. Each of these things—truths?—deserves an analysis of its own, with an expert deconstructing why we do what we do, because of what it can tell about us in this particular historical moment.
[4.8] A hundred years from now, or even ten years from now, a scholar will analyze LJ as a relic indicative of a particular historical moment. She will use hindsight to place it into a larger context, a moment we can’t understand because it’s still becoming. We at LJ may move on to the next big thing, whatever thing that will be invented that comes after blogs, just like we moved away from mailing lists and hard-copy circular mailings. It’s hard to interpret something when you’re in the middle of it, when you’re standing on the stair, telling two chapters of a story as you descend a staircase.
[1.1] This continues my MiT5 conference report. Here I discuss some of my thoughts about the historical moment we’re in and the notion of authorship.
[1.2] During Plenary Session 1, Folk Cultures And Digital Cultures, Thomas Pettit spoke about a moment in time (1600s, 1700s, 1800s) that he calls the “Gutenberg parenthesis.” This singular parenthesis (not a dual parentheses) is a moment in time that privileges original composition and passive reproduction, and he argues that this time is coming to an end. The preparenthetical time (1400s, 1500s) focused on unstable, traditional, collective, and performative texts; and the postparenthetical time (1900s, 2000s) appropriates, recontextualizes, borrows, and, again, performs. During the parenthesis, notions of individuality, originality, and canonicity are important, but the focus is on composition rather than performance.
[1.3] Pettit’s ideas were echoed by Heather Blatt in her paper on “Medieval Fan Fiction: The Manipulation Of Continuity,” in which she talked about a particular text that she saw as an antecedent of derivative texts, and she mentioned that during the medieval period, originality was not as highly valued as skilled appropriation and allusion. This links a text’s reception to the worldview of the culture that creates it: What is valued? What is rewarded, and how? During the medieval period, a derivative text that continues the Canterbury Tales is regarded in a way perhaps similar to the reception of a mashup today: a derivative text that comments on a text even as it is itself a new piece of artwork.
[1.4] I’ll discuss the implications for authorship below. But implicit during the entirety of MiT5 was the understanding that the Gutenberg parenthesis, along with all the modernist baggage that allowed it to be privileged in the academy during the 1900s, is coming to an end, and this end is causing anxiety. Part of the anxiety is the need for a new interpretive framework to place the works in: postmodernism? deconstruction? posthumanism? post–something else in some other field? And part of the anxiety is the lack of structures in place to permit a smooth transition. Copyright law regarding derivative works has not kept up, for example, which stifles an entire mode of creativity; and academics who work in the postparenthetical mode also have to worry about things like getting jobs, getting tenure, and getting published while the very validity of their field of study is being contested. Related to validity is, of course, gender, with women more likely to create more derivative, and therefore less valid, work on the margins.
[2.1] Roland Barthes‘s 1967 poststructuralist essay, “The Death Of The Author,” collected in Image-Music-Text, argues that the reader, not the author, is the locus of interpretation, thus reversing the traditional view of texts, where the reader tries to find a meaning presumably placed there by the author. Language creates meaning for the reader; the author (or, as Barthes has it, “scriptor,” because he wants to get rid of connotations of authority) generates a text, but the text itself is endlessly reread and recreated, each reader and reading unique. The reader and her interpretation are privileged over the author and the author’s intent.
[2.2] The idea of the death of the author takes on a new meaning when we apply it beyond this author-reader reversal and consider it in terms of a postparenthetical era. The move here is in the nature of the reader’s engagement with the text through analysis: appropriation, not citation. The reader disregards the author’s authority in that the integrity of the canonical work is violated. The reader will borrow snippets of the author’s creation and create something new. This new thing simultaneously critiques the original artwork and is itself an artwork, thus turning the active reader into an author and rereversing Barthes’s reversal. Yet for this to happen, the reader-author’s creative engagement with the text is needed. Many readers will simply access and consume the new artwork, with their interpretations still overriding authorial intent even as they perform the work of linking together allusion and inferring new meaning. Some readers will always be lurkers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t creatively interpreting through the work of consumption.
[2.3] Here is a new kind of death of the author: we see an author less as a creator and more as a provider of content to be borrowed. The new author might be called the remixer. Yet the remix itself is a creative act. Recontextualizing information to generate new meaning brings together text, context, primary source author, remixer, and reader-consumer in a sophisticated rerendering of deploying meaning. The move to appropriation results from both the cultural moment and from the new tools available to create texts: wikis, blogs, mashup Web pages, image manipulation software. Kristina Busse and I argued in the introduction to Fan Fiction And Fan Communities In The Age Of The Internet that the tools will affect the creation. Out-of-the-box fic-archiving software such as eFiction, for example, results in Web pages with a particular kind of organization, including title, author, date, length of text, genre, and rating. This replicates and continues well-understand, useful, but existing modes of organization. Yet this same software can be used to create recommended-reading lists, or to organize voting for a fanfic award—the software repurposed to fit a situation it wasn’t intended for. As new tools develop, fans and others will appropriate these tools and put them to creative new uses. The tool itself, not just the artifact created by the tool, may also be appropriated, and redeploying it is also a creative act—the traditional act of an author.
[3.1] The Gutenberg parenthesis relies on composition as a writing activity versus performance. But I’d like to extend the term composition to include the term as used by the publishing industry. During composition, the corresponding author is the person who approves or overrides my copyediting choices, corrects the page proofs, corresponds with the production team, and in general shepherds the document through the printing process into its final form. This final form may be traditional printed pages, or it may be an online publication. Increasingly, particularly for journals (as opposed to books), it is both, with the same XML-tagged electronic document used to generate both online and print versions. All this active work goes toward what will become the passive reproduction, on giant printing presses or on the computer screen, of an immutable text.
[3.2] In the publishing industry, we talk about “authors,” never about “writers,” continually reminding ourselves of the primacy of the author’s will in the creation of the text by invoking their authority. “Do whatever the author wants, no matter how insane!” is our motto, because when all is said and done, the publishing industry serves to bring about the will of the author. The reason this is so is attribution: the author’s name appears on it, and so she has the final say, even if it was rewritten by the copyeditor, or entirely ghostwritten by someone else, or written with extensive input from colleagues and students. The entire collaborative corpus of people responsible for bringing a text into being can never be properly acknowledged.
[3.3] Rebecca Tushnet, whose MiT5 presentation was about “Fandom, Fair Use, and Technology: The Uneasy Relationship?”, discussed attribution in legal terms: credit may be given in lieu of money, and in fact, if the author can’t be found to release copyright, it’s acceptable to make a good-faith effort, then reproduce the text or image while crediting it with the information at hand. In derivative texts, particularly those that fly under the copyright radar and are not part of the publishing economy, credit is all that can be given. Fan fiction, for example, relies on attribution. Most Web sites that archive fanfic include a disclaimer line on every page that hotlinks to the copyright holder. Such footers usually also emphasize that the site is the result of fan activity and that no money is being made. Money literally cannot be exchanged, and so attribution is provided in lieu of it. Tushnet noted that the owner or author, as part of her role, has three things: control, compensation, and credit.
[3.4] I argue that the author exists at the intersection of creativity and economy. In the Venn diagram of these two realms, the part that overlaps is the site of the author. She creates, and she stands as the person to credit. Yet this space is contested. Authorship is fraught when the text is collectively formed: a piece of fanfic posted at the blog site LiveJournal is embedded in its context, Kristina Busse has argued, and the fanfic can’t really be considered apart from the comments appended to it, or the social climate and concerns of that moment that inspired the work. In this sort of instance, the author becomes a shorthand way to categorize the text so it can be found. Authorship is also fraught when the basis of the economy moves away from the one created as part of Pettit’s Gutenberg parenthesis—the kind of economy where a stable text is composed and distributed. Underground economies, like those that hold up activities like vidding and writing fan fiction, have different mores and rules, many of which serve to bolster, not undermine, the existing economy based on sole ownership and control.
[3.5] One main reason why derivative activities are so contested is that copyright holders—the big corporations that own the content—continue to agitate to keep the economy the way it is, because they profit by the old organization. YouTube may remove all Comedy Central content, or more than 100,000 Viacom clips uploaded by fans. Star Trek fans have been asked to remove content from their sites for reproducing infringing materials. Trademark Wars On The Web outlines some of the infringing sites and the copyright holder’s response. Sheila Williams, in a wonderful editorial for IAsfm entitled How My Heart Breaks When I Hear That Song, bemoans the impossibility of reprinting modern song lyrics or poetry. Quoting such things, she notes, can have tremendous emotional resonance—and yet current law forbids their use.
[3.6] In such a climate, fan response is to try to fly under the radar. As Tushnet noted in her MiT5 talk, to avoid litigation, they make themselves complicit in maintaining an economy that does not benefit them, and in fact curtails their creative activities.
[4.1] The realm of the author, poised between creativity and economy, has become more difficult in the postparenthetical era because ways of creating, interpreting, and disseminating texts are moving faster than intellectual, economic, and legal networks can be created that will legitimize this activity. Although ad hoc methods have sprung up, including intellectual realms like postmodernism and digital realms like YouTube, the transition to a new economy that values and rewards activities that are based on borrowing, appropriating, and recontextualizing has not yet occurred. Even YouTube, which has managed to straddle both economies and make money off the derivative activities of others, has to bow to The Man and remove huge swaths of content.
[4.2] Much is needed before appropriating and recontextualizing can be legitimized. Copyright law needs to be broadened to include a space for creative, derivative texts that will permit free play, and eventually income. Systems of reward, such as tenure, need to be unlinked from the Gutenberg parenthesis of publishing, particularly as texts continue to move away from print. A system of aesthetic evaluation flexible enough to permit performance as well as composition needs to be created. Remixers themselves need to stop making content so difficult to get: they hide it behind locked Web sites, don’t permit copying and distribution, and won’t permit it on YouTube. And derivative authors need to start talking about new ways to handle content that moves beyond helping the corporations with their task of reiterating sole ownership, even when the text has been reshaped.
I just got back from MiT5, a three-day extravaganza focused on media studies. What follows are quick summaries of the panels I attended and my thoughts. The abstracts of the conference are available but I can’t link to them individually. I have more thoughts about the conference, but I will post them separately.
Nathan Scott Epley spoke about “Feminism, Cynicism, And The Return Of The Pinup.” Epley discussed the new pinups, which take the iconography of the old pinups (similar poses) but sex it up for a new sensibility: SuicideGirls (tattooed, Goth, punk, emo, alt—but they’re still all girls). This kind of pinup mimics, displaces, and commodifies the convention of the pinup, yet they are conventially sexist, presenting women as objects to look at, a form of consumption with a dash of irony. The consensus during discussion was that neo-pinups, like classic pinups, don’t reflect anything beyond the sexist gaze. The neo-pinup is not a subversive rereading of classic pinups, but an uncritical, nostalgic look back.
James Nadeu spoke about “Appropriation And Creation In Queer Cinema.” Nadau presented a timeline of gay cinema, beginning with the early filming of stage plays, progressing to documentaries, the independent queer film, and finally Hollywood. Sundance 1992 saw the creation of the so-called New Queer Cinema, and the queer romantic comedy as a genre emerged. Nadau, who showed and commented on clips from several films, including Ernest and Bertram and Gay Propaganda, concluded that queer filmmakers appropriated existing genres in order to comment on both mainstream and queer culture. Discussion centered around the way the gay film inserts the gay experience into the mainstream.
Lien Fan Shen, a published anime author, spoke about “Anime Pleasure As A Playground of Sexuality, Power, And Resistance.” Shen linked anime to Foucault’s notion of pleasure and consumption, noting that pleasure may destablize regulatory powers, and this rupture is performed by anime and manga. She found that the pleasure in anime was linked to (1) common ground; (2) deployment of sexuality; and (3) resistance (because anime is tied to a youth subculture). She provided specific examples in recent manga of void signifiers (unreal landscapes), bodies (inhuman), liminal conditions (women), and taboos (sex, including incest, rape, and homosexuality; nudity; and violence). She concluded that pleasure is related to the will of power, and she posited pleasure as a new way to read anime. Discussion touched on yaoi as texts about gay men written for women.
Linking all the texts was the theme of the process of resistance—versus the products—of the culture that is creating the product.
Joan Giglione and Robert Gustafson copresented on “Media Exposure And Fans.” They spoke anecdotally about how fan contact through such media as message boards can result in the producers changing their minds or bringing about change. They suggested that the medium of communication needs to be reanalyzed so that fans and producers can engage better. Their point of view was based in practicality rather than grounded in theory—for instance, they suggested that time spent behind the scenes can greatly inform fans about producers’ agendas. Discussion attempted to link their discussion to theoretical concerns, particularly the notion of producers presenting a persona rather than speaking the truth when they engage with fans.
Sam Ford spoke about “The Changing Modes Of Discourse Between Fan Communities And Soap Opera Producers.” Ford sees soap operas as social texts: the soap provides a pretext for social engagement among fans. The fan interpretive function results not in fan fiction, where missing scenes are literally written, but in conversations along the lines of, “What the writers should have done was…” Soap operas are a huge open-ended text that permits almost endless analysis, with many gaps that fans feel the need to fill, and this filling is performed in a way that results in social engagement.
Derek Kompare, in “Fan/Producer: Cult Television Authorship,” talked about Doctor Who 2005 and its writer-producer, Russell T. Davies, a larger-than-life fanboy who made it big when he became the guiding force behind Doctor Who. Davies’s engagement with the show, foregrounded by the many media outlets he has appeared in, is interesting in terms of the role of authorship when the text being written has a long history. Kompare provided examples of Davies foregrounding his own authorship, including the lack of care of fan response. Doctor Who is being rewritten by Davies to rescue it from cultish oblivion and give the show its rightful place as a cornerstone of British TV.
Note: I moderated this panel.
Kristina Busse presented on “Intense Intertextuality: Derivative Works In Context.” Her argument centered on the idea that derivative works such as fan fiction cannot be taken apart from their context, and that the artwork that results is not an artifact in itself but rather a trace of a specific time and place. Place, time, and community all alter reading and judging. She found three aspects in fanfic: (1) intertextuality, (2) performativity, and (3) emotional intimacy. She concluded that the standards used to judge fan fiction and other derivative texts, which tend to assume that the text (the story) is the point, instead will result in its being misread, so different standards must be used for evaluating densely intertextual work.
Francesca Coppa spoke about “Female Video Editors And The Literary Music Video.” She traced the history of the music vid or songvid, which first appeared in Star Trek media fandom in 1975. Coppa showed an early slide vid about Mr. Spock made byKandy Fong that created a story of emotion about an emotionless character. Vidding activity then moved to VCRs, then to today’s vids, which are made on computers. Coppa pointed out that vids are narrative texts: they tell a story with clips set to meaningful music. Because vidders, out of fear of copyright violation concerns, kept tight control over their works, their post-YouTube history is now being overshadowed by genres such as machinima. Coppa metaphorically linked the activity of vidding to Star Trek‘s change in direction between the orginal pilot and the show as it eventually aired, with the rational Number One, played by a woman (Majel Barrett), replaced by a rational alien, after which the actress went on to play more stereotypically feminine characters in the Trekverse, eventually becoming the voice of the computer. Vidders, like Number One’s reduction to a disembodied voice, lost their representationality, but they gained control by creating vids.
Rebecca Tushnet, who is a professor of law, spoke about “Fandom, Fair Use, and Technology: The Uneasy Relationship?” She spoke about the trouble copyright law has with dealing with works that are not created for money. Transformed works, versus strict copies, are troublesome in the legal world, and the reasons behind certain legal rulings are not entirely rational or clear, depending on subjective notions of parody and sometimes even on close readings of the texts in question. Attribution as a right of authorship may be provided in lieu of money—and in fact is often preferred. What Tushnet finds troubling is that fans who create derivative works will never be permitted into this economy. Fans self-police to ensure that certain deriviative works, such as vids, are kept locked down, and that no profit is made. This pits fan against fan as their own fellows work against them and traps fans in the existing economy. (Tushnet talks about some of these ideas at more length in her essay Legal Fictions.)
Melanie E. S. Kohnen presented “Battlestar Galactica and the Reimagination Of Contemporary American History.” She linked part of the pleasure of BSG to the fact that it comments on contemporary American politics, particularly 9/11 for the new BSG and the Vietnam war for the old BSG; the programs reverse the wars. The war in Iraq is dealt with in BSG’s occupation/resistance storyline. She pointed out that the obsolete technology so central to BSG’s struggle against the Cylons comments on the freedom of information sharing through the Internet. BSG provides an exploration of America’s mind-set in times of war.
Sarah Toton spoke about BSG’s history in “Reimagining Fan Culture: The Long Journey of Battlestar Galactica.” She ran down the major Web sites associated with BSG, as well as the convoluted history of its resurrection. Fans were upset because the new show was far different in sensibility than the old show—darker, less pleasing, less campy. In a discussion of BSG fan sites, including BattlestarWiki and Battlestargalactica.com, Toton found a gendering of fan activity. Men preferred to generate and organize factual material, and women preferred to generate narrative. Women learn about BSG in order to embed themselves in it, to become a part of it, whereas men learn it to own it.
Anne Kustritz spoke about “Fans’ And Producers’ Manipulation Of Fictional Love Triangles.” The genres of melodrama and soap opera have been made part of new SF shows, in part to appeal to a broader demographic to increase viewership. BSG has a convoluted love triangle at its center. Because there are so many characters, and so many of them interact with each other, canon provides the possibilities of many romantic readings and entanglements, but she argues that this subtext is best left as subtext rather than realized. However, in the end, BSG adheres to today’s heteronormative and class/status distinctions—for example, no overtly homosexual characters have been presented. Stereotypical male and female pleasures are present in the text, but they can’t be fulfilled or sustained.
Julie Levin Russo, in “Labors Of Love: Capitalizing On Fan Economies,” which she suggested might also be called, “There Are Many Copies,” spoke about love and its integral part in BSG’s world. Love, for example, is the Cylon’s method of reproduction. Russo donned pink girlslash goggles and spoke of the difficulty in finding lesbian desire in the interstices of the program—as well as the viewer’s joy in finding gaps and fragments where she could insert herself. The girlslash goggles are an example of an unauthorized mode of interpretation. Russo discussed fans’ concerns with love and motherhood and linked this to an increasingly unstable consumer/producer opposition.
Heather Blatt, in “Medieval Fan Fiction: The Manipulation Of Continuity,” used the fifteenth-century text The Siege Of Thebes, by John Lydgate, a sequel to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Blatt sees this kind of work as an antecedent of fan fiction, and like fan fiction, it requires interpretation not just of the text but of the community that created it. Blatt places the text in the medieval tradition of literary creation in which originality was not as highly valued as skilled appropriation and allusion.
Piret Viires spoke about “Innocence Revisited: The Possibilities of Fan Fiction.” She used the Russian girl band t.A.T.u. as an example of Baudrillard’s simulacrum and simulacra; like fanfic, the band is a copy with no origin, their personas read and interpreted by fans without regard to any notion of underlying reality. However, Viires sees this not as ironic but as a return to the innocent, the opposite of today’s preferred reading. This return to the innocence permits rewriting of the originary text and intertextuality, and thinking about it in these terms may provide a new opening for analysis.
Aubree A. Lawrence and Rebecca Herr Stephenson spoke about the upcoming end of the Lost and Harry Potter canons in “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It: Anticipation And Anxiety Over A Closing Canon.” John Fiske’s work (“The cultural economy of fandom,” in The adoring audience, ed. Lisa A. Lewis, 30–49 [London: Routledge, 1992]) was used as a base: fan activities involve semiotic productivity (making meaning), enunciative productivity (expressing meaning), and textual productivity. But what happens when the elements that anchor fan production (canon and memes) disappear? They provided a diagram of the movement of networks from inside boxes, to a few focal centers that reach out, to a complete breakdown of any kind of center, which they linked to notions of authorship and to notions of fans and producers.
Keidra Chaney and Raizel Liebler discussed “Canon Versus Fanon: The Manipulation Of Continuity.” They opened with a discussion about categorization and the way it affects the way we construct and organize knowledge, then linked it to the organization of the two realms of canon (the primary source, such as the TV show) and fanon (the fan-created extrapolations from canon that are open to interpretation; it might be called “canon by inference”). They made complex the gap between canon and fanon, suggesting that the stuff in between is in flux and moves, and they also suggested that differences in fandoms might result in different constructions of canon. They posit the existence of an aggregation of content emerging through bottom-up consensus by the public and by fan communities.