Category Archives: fandom

a fan studies crisis of the existential kind

SCMS day 1! Early this afternoon I attended the workshop “The ‘F’ Word: Fan Studies in and beyond the Academy,” chaired by Casey McCormick and featuring Paul Booth, Louisa Stein, Anne Kustritz and Bertha Chin as participants. The workshop used as a launching-off point the fact that a bid for fan studies, as a discipline, to host a special interest group at the SCMS conference has been postponed, as the organizers felt fan studies hadn’t quite yet articulated its raison d’être, as distinguished from, for example, audience studies. The workshop therefore posed a set a questions toward the end of developing a more concrete definition of fan studies or—as it was put a few times—”legitimization.” These questions included why claim fan studies as a distinct discipline; how has fan studies influenced media studies pedagogy; and what are the the ethics of fan studies scholarship.

The ensuing perspectives and discussion were great and—as someone who feels she spends a lot of time on the sidelines—it was fascinating and exciting for me to hear top minds and voices in the field (such as it is) hash this problem over, introduce new complexities, and poke at each other’s reasoning. Most of the conversation centered—reasonably—around fan studies in the university setting: its marketability as a discipline for job candidates, the responsibilities and risks in “teaching fandom,” what “best practices” can be—or whether they should be—implemented as a means of delineating the work done within fan studies, etc. The topic of what fan studies means for those “beyond” the academy wasn’t as widely touched on. There was talk of fans’ recognition of their subject position as a objects of study, but not, say, how one might explain fan studies to one’s mom. Or what it is to be a fan scholar without an institution behind you or a PhD candidacy to blame your interest on. Or how to tell your boss/hair dresser/customs agent that, well, see, actually you’re going to this conference you’re paying money and taking time off work to attend for fun.

With that in mind, yes, as independent scholar it would be nice to lean on an accepted, “legitimate,” traditionally respected field when explaining what I do and why it’s important. But as a fan, the idea of becoming The Man I’ve spent years gleefully subverting makes me squeamish. Plus, you know, it’d be nice for fan studies—and fans—to be respected just for existing (i.e., isn’t it the world that needs to change, not us?). In some regard, I don’t have a stake in this—I’m not, and don’t want to be, in the academy. I don’t need tenure. I’ll never teach students to “do” fan studies. Seen another way, though, I am the stake in this—independent scholarship is my fan practice, it’s how I fangirl. I am the “beyond.”

Toward the end of the session a little dust was kicked up over whether someone can be called a fan based solely on participation in practices typically considered “fannish.” There’s a difference, it was asserted, between self-identifying as a fan and labeling someone a fan. So, for example, as my friend/colleague and I broke it down later: is reblogging a .gif from a television show on Tumblr a performance of fandom whether or not you label yourself a fan of that show? (And if it’s not, necessarily, then what’s with the impulse to tag those posts with things like #i don’t even go here?) It’s a little bit of a false equivalency but just as a thought experiment, from my position outside the academy, I almost feel the reverse can be asked: does attending academic conferences about media make me an academic? Is there a difference between academic and scholar the way there is between liking a thing well enough and feeling fannish about a thing? Who gets to do the labeling? Am I more “legitimate” if others call me a scholar/academic than if I call myself one?

I don’t know how to square all this yet. Or if I have to. But it’s damn well satisfying to think about.

In fact, my favorite point during the session came from Ashley Hinck (@hinklet), who proposed that perhaps it’s more useful to think of fan studies itself as a question rather than an object. I love that. Maybe we have to be okay with open-endedness. Maybe fan studies isn’t a path, but a useful intersection of many different roads. Maybe it’s kind of important to be illegitmate.

As a side note: I was surprised by how viscerally I responded to the ideas and perspectives floated today. Whether I agreed or not is sort of beside the point; the point is that I felt it every time. Heart flutters, brain lightbulbs, gut wrenches—the whole shebang. It was cool, if weird, to feel physically engaged as well as mentally. Makes me think maybe I have a stake in this after all.

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back when the show was good

Whenever I reblog a photo or gif from Supernatural season 1–5 on Tumblr, I tag it with “back when the show was good.” And, okay, so it maybe it’s a little passive-agrressive, but it’s also an honest expression of an opinion a lot of SPN fans hold but try to be polite about. Unfortunately, I think I left “polite” behind a while ago when it comes to Supernatural, and I have a lot of unpopular fandom opinions (so many that I have a tag for those too), so I figure why not own this one? Sure, it’s gotten me in some hot water with other fans on Tumblr—I’ve been told that tag is wank and I’ve been grumbled about as a malcontent (which . . . yes, that’s precisely what I am. duh?). But sometimes, very occasionally, there’s someone bubbles up out of the deep blue Tumblr depths and says, “Oh, I see that. I feel that too.” One particular anon’s heartbreak inspired me to spend a little time articulating what it means to say “back when the show was good” in hopes of easing—of maybe sharing—the burden of what it is to be an SPN fangirl who’s falling out of love with her show. What follows has been reposted from Tumblr.

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Oh anon. ♥

I’m actually sorry to hear that. I’m sorry because it sounds like you share, to some degree, my disappointment and frustration. I’m sorry because it’s harder than we often feel allowed to admit when a show lets us down, when its magic begins to wear off. And that seems particularly true for a show like Supernatural.

There are folks who see no or little difference between now and then, and who openly love everything the show offers in its current form, and good for them! Sometimes I wish I could be one of them. And there are other folks who feel bitter, who stopped watching out of anger or a broken heart, or who can now only hate-watch and, okay, sometimes I am one of them. But then there are the folks mostly in between—like me, and maybe like you—who are, when you get right down to it, just sad.

“Back when the show was good” to me means back when the story and its direction were tightly controlled and the pacing kept us holding our breaths or breathless. Back when the villains were thrilling and the monsters were scary. When characterization wasn’t sacrificed for a joke, and when drama didn’t come at the expense of character development but grew out of it. “Back when the show was good” is my way of saying I’m sad the show only came into the popular spotlight only after the main story arc was over. I’m sad the writers floundered for so long in finding a new direction and sad they preyed on fandom to maintain their ratings rather just writing us a good show deserving of critical attention and worthy of our love. I’m sad that the hard truths and major themes of the original arc have been undercut and overshadowed by rehashed plot lines and character assassinations (both literal and figurative). I’m sad that I have to look for individual writers’ names to determine whether there’s a chance an upcoming episode “might not be so bad.” I’m sad that most days I just want the show to end.

I’m really, profoundly sad that what I want more than anything is for the show to find a (peaceful?) resolution and for the writers and producers to be brave enough to end it, really end it—money and the network and ratings be damned. To put us all out of our misery, whether it’s the misery of eternal shipper angst and the struggle with TPTB or the misery of pretending, of trying very hard, to love something you’re afraid to admit you’ve grown to resent.

It may not be the best version of itself, anon. It may not be what it was when we first fell in love or loved it best. But I still know I’m in it to the end. All my angry railing and ranting and wishing it were otherwise? It may not seem like it, but that’s hope. Hope that the show will do better (because I know it can—I’ve seen it) and hope it’ll get to a place where I can finally let go feeling good about how both the show and my relationship to it ended, rather than forever sad or forever bitter.

Maybe that’s naive. But maybe I’m okay with that.

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a funny thing happened on the way to subversion

In case you hadn’t heard: Amazon is launching a platform to help fanfic writers publish/sell their work. It’s called Kindle Worlds. And it’s not OK.

Fic is for fun not for profit. End of story.

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in defense of darkness

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I spent most of the day yesterday reading fan and critical reactions to Into Darkness and some of the negative ones sent me into a little bit of a funk. There have been some very pointed critiques of the movie, and I felt the need to shore myself up in the face of them. So this is me hammering out my headcanon by contrasting what reviewers saw with what I saw, or how I’m choosing to interpret/justify/connect the events without blinding ignoring any potentially problematic aspects. I should probably be waiting to do this until after I’ve see the movie a second time, but I’m impatient. Maybe there will be more meta posts like this in the future after I do get another viewing under my belt and find more bloggers and columnists to argue with.

This is just all my own blather, guys. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, just setting it straight in my head. And I’m only picking on public reviews here, not private fan reactions.

The post got gigantic, so I’ve broken it down by subject: Starfleet and philosophy, then and now; Kirk, Spock, and their antagonist; McCoy and Kirk/McCoy. Feel free to just scroll through to your relevant header. And there are, of course, gobs of spoilers after the jump. Continue reading

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