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.
Fans And Producers
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.)
TV 2.0: Remixing Battlestar Galactica
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.
Cult Media And Fan Engagement
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.