Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been

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If only I looked this pretty getting shit done.

A few quick updates on the (seemingly all-Supernatural?) academic front:

1) As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be participating in A Celebration of Supernatural at DePaul University next month. It’s free! and open to the public, so if you’re in or near Chicago, come hang out with us! Here’s the schedule for the event.

2) Me and my friend and colleague JSA Lowe are working on a new project, to be presented at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in October 2015. We’ve posted a copy of the abstract for our nascent study, if you’d like to take a look:

3) And finally, I’ve posted downloadable copies of my two most recent conference presentations + slides:

Whew. And then there’s that dang (totally not Supernatural) dissertation to finish…

It is I who will make you play

about to kiss for real

A quick and dirty update on my project-in-progress, “Unbuckle Your Belt.”

Biggest shift at present: I’m now reading “Just Relax” as part of a larger pattern, an ongoing game, rather than as a singular instance of Collins substantively contributing to Destiel fandom.

The theory side of this project started with this wee snippet of Lyotard from The Differend:

One will not link onto To arms! with You have just formulated a prescription, if the stakes are to make someone act with urgency. One will do it if the stakes are to make someone laugh. But there are other means to achieve an end. The idea of seduction needs to be extended.

A genre of discourse exerts a seduction upon a phrase universe. It inclines the instances presented by this phrase toward certain linkings, or at least it steers them away from other linkings which are not suitable with regard to the end pursued by this genre.

It is not the addressee who is seduced by the addressor. The addressor, the referent, and the sense are no less subject than the addressee to the seduction exerted by what is at play in a genre of discourse. (Lyotard 84)

Reading Just Relax” through this lens suggests that the short is funny, in part, because the discursive linkages it invokes between the TSA, Destiel, and seduction are deliberately infelicitous. That is, these links are unexpected, almost to the point of incongruity.

Ok. So what?

Perhaps part of that answer might be provided by Baudrilliard, who manages to say some useful things about seduction in the midst of a whole lot of terrible sexist nonsense in his Seduction (1978).

To wit, he suggests that:

This is what occurs in the most banal games of seduction: I shy away; it is not you who will give me pleasure, it is I who will make you play, and thereby rob you of your pleasure. A game in continuous movement…

“The law of seduction takes the form of an uninterrupted ritual exchange where seducer and seduced constantly raise the stakes in a game that never ends. And cannot end since the dividing line that defines the victory of the one and the defeat of the other, is illegible. (Baudrillard 22)

So perhaps part of what makes the infelicitous discursive or thematic linkages in “Just Relax” productive—and yes, I know I have to define what I mean by that—is that the short is part of a larger game: not a unique instance of Collins contributing to the Destiel narrative from outside of the Supernatural canon, but one example of such in an ongoing game of seduction, of mutual seeking of pleasure that’s always unresolved.

Take this vid, for example, that Collins posted in the fall of 2013 (I think? Need to find out for sure):

So who is the seducer/ee here? Are the fans being seduced by Collins playing to their favorite ship? Or has Collins been seduced by fan practices around the ship? Again, Baudriallard may be helpful here when he argues that:

to be seduced is to challenge the other to be seduced in turn (Baudrillard 22)

More consideration is needed here. But this line of thinking feels promising, as well as entertaining.

On a semi-related note, I’m toying with Linda Williams’ discussion of what she calls “body genres” of film, in which

the success of these genres is often measured by the degrees to which the audience sensation mimics what is seen on the screen. (Williams 4)

Now, no one is going to come from watching “Just Relax” alone, but fandom can make/take the text one step further and make it so. As 51stCenturyFox, the author of the hilarious TSA America fic “Two Fingers Under the Belt” puts it, “Fandom do porn. That is how we DO.”

To invoke Williams again:

What seems to bracket these particular [film] genres from others is an apparent lack of proper esthetic distance, a sense of over-involvment in sensation and emotion. We feel manipulated by these texts—an impression that the very colloquialisms of “tear jerker” and “fear jerker” express—and to which we could add pornography’s even cruder sense as texts to which some people might be inclined to ‘jerk off’ (Williams 5)

I love thinking about slash as a “body genre.” HA! Have to keep thinking about this.

Finally, my investigations of TSA America fic has me stuck on the idea of “Just Relax” as a closed narrative: that is, the way in which the story ends makes it hard(er) for fic writers to revise and extend the story as is. Admittedly, there are only 6 fics tagged TSA America on AO3, though I suspect there are more floating around on tumblr that I need to find. However, most of these 6 begin with the authors having to re-open the story in order to find a way into porn.

For example, in “TSA America: Level Rainbow,” the Texan (whose name in the script is “Duke,” apparently) physically leaves the airport terminal and then reenters so that he might go through the TSA line again. When he reaches the front of the line, he tells the semi-suspicious agent on duty: ‘I had to go back out to pick up to pick up a … package” of his grandmother’s cookies. Like you do. Hee!

I need to think and write more about this, but for now suffice it to say that I suspect that, because of the way in which the short is constructed—with a very definitive ending that leaves Duke and Officer Franklin, the TSA agent, separated and with seemingly little chance of being reunited—it may be easier to repurpose the short’s narrative for Dean/Cas in visual, rather than textual form.

Like this:

Hmmmm.

Gotta be honest: I didn’t expect there to be fic about the short. I thought there’d be fic that straight-up repuprposed the story for Dean/Castiel purposes, but I didn’t expect to read (and enjoy!) stories that take up the story of Duke the Texan and how Officer Franklin rocked his world.

Anyway! Progress. We’ll see where this goes next.

The sensitive areas?

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So the whole “write about research in progress” deal has already paid off, thanks to some thoughtful pushback from the lovely fanspired.

In response to “Unbuckle Your Belt,” she wrote:

Maybe I’m misunderstanding Misha’s intent with this video but it doesn’t come over to me as ‘porn’ but as a serious political critique and, although I find it amusing (in a creepy way), it doesn’t strike me as sexy. It makes me very uncomfortable, and that’s the point isn’t it? Which makes me wonder if the use of the Destiel parallel isn’t distracting fans from the serious message behind the short.

Her comment brings up some interesting questions I’d not considered.

First, based on the text itself, who seems to be the audience for “Just Relax”? For TSA America as a whole (that is, as a body of three connected short films)? Are these audiences the same? Why or why not? What assumptions does each short (and TSA America as a whole) make about its audience, about the people who are watching?

Note: I am going to sidestep questions of intentionality, as I always do, because a) I don’t care as viva le morte d’author; and b) I’m more interested in what the audiences DOES with the shorts, rather than in what the films’ creators (Collins and his wife, Victoria Vantoch) might have expected or wanted the shorts to do. [Also, note to self: be sure not to talk about these films as if Collins created them on his own. According to him (speaking at DCCon, I think? Must find source), Vantoch wrote as much, if not more, than did he.]

That said, I hadn’t previously considered how “Just Relax” fits into TSA America more broadly, or how it sits in relation to the other two shorts. I need to give this some thought.

Second, fanspired’s comment suggest that I need to be careful not to universalize fans’ responses to “Just Relax.” Here my own experience at DCCon weighs heavy: because this project was inspired in large part by my own initial reaction to the short, coupled with the response of the room–at 300 people, just a small sub-set of Destiel fandom–and of some fans on tumblr, there’s a potential for me to cast my argument in terms that are too broad. There are some tangled fan politics at work here: fans of Supernatural vs. fans of Destiel vs. fans of Collins. And here, I don’t mean “vs” to suggest that these forces are in opposition (though one could make that case), merely that they are elements of fandom that at times overlap but aren’t always the same thing.

In addition, I need to come to terms with my own perving over the short—something writing my last post helped me start to do. Desire is a potent generator of research, but in my experience, it’ll only drive the car but so far. Maybe I’ll work some of those issues out by writing a slash fic. Who knows. Either way, acknowledging said issues upfront has been useful for me, I think.

To that end, as fanspired reminds me, just because I (and others) find the short incredibly fucking hot does not mean that everyone does—that should be a duh, right? Further, her comments point to other ways that fans can and do take pleasure in the short: as a satire. To me, the other two shorts in TSA America,Yeah, But Is It Ticking?” and “Suspicious Bulges,” read as more sharply satiric than “Just Relax”—particularly “Ticking,” in which a new TSA agent frantically tries to convince his colleagues that the man he’s stopped is a terrorist, with unexpectedly bloody results. [The short reminds me of a MUCH dark version of this Monty Python sketch, in which Michael Palin can’t get taken seriously as a smuggler despite his best efforts (and suitcase full of stolen clocks). But that’s me.]

That said, perhaps the critical edge of “Just Relax” is dulled, as fanspired suggests, by the introduction of the Destiel narrative into a satiric space, a move that complicates the short’s messaging. I don’t know. This assumes, I think, that all three of the shorts have the same (or very similar) purpose: to skewer the increasingly perverse pantopticon of security theater we’re required to submit to at airports. Certainly, the first and second short point straight at this idea, I think.

But “Just Relax,” the short that appears last in the the three-film sequence, does something different. Yes, it’s still playing in the political arena–in which we must submit to public groping in order to prove that we’re not a threat–but there’s much more emphasis on the relationship between the two main characters, not-Dean and Collins’ TSA agent. It’s a scene of seduction—although, as the audience and not-Dean discovers, it’s a false one—and in this case, satire takes a backseat.

That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing, but I don’t know that I agree that the Destiel narrative is “distracting fans from the serious message behind the short.” I think Collins as a rhetor is generally damn good at knowing his audience(s), knowing how to get them to listen, and perhaps the introduction of Destiel here can be read as a rhetorical tactic [oh hello! yes. I like this] one in keeping with his decision to cast Daneel Harris, the wife of Collins’ Supernatural co-star Jensen Ackles, in the second short, “Suspicious Bulges.” That is, it’s a way of getting fans’ eyeballs on the films, fans who may not have otherwise chosen to settle in of an evening and watch some political—some TSA-related!—satire. Perhaps Destiel here is the cheese sauce that gets us eating our broccoli.

Heh! I don’t know. Clearly, I need to do some more thinking here.

(And thank you for the mental kickstart, my friend! I appreciate your willingness to share your discomfort with me.)

Unbuckle Your Belt

belt

Inspired by my excellent colleague Karra, I’m going to try blogging about my next research project/conference paper while it’s in progress. It’ll help me think through things, I think. And bonus, doing so gives me an excuse not to be haunted by my dissertation for a few minutes, which is always a relief.

So! My next project is about fan production, seduction, and Misha Collins.

Hardship, y’all. I tell you.

Here’s what I’m working towards presenting at the national PCA/ACA conference in April (and yes, what follows is the conference abstract. Hence its alternately ham-handed and semi-awkward phrasing):

Continue reading “Unbuckle Your Belt”

On found family, fandom, and academia

So I went to a conference this weekend, a regional pop culture deal-y up in Baltimore. One of the reoccurring themes of the con was that of “found family”–how ragtag fleets of misfits seem to find each other in cult television shows like Teen Wolf, Doctor Who, and Supernatural.

And, weirdly, it was a theme that also rang through my own experience at the conference, and got me thinking about the distinctions between being a graduate student and being a scholar.

Now see, in my program, there’s been a lot of talk about how, as PhD students, we should act like our professors’ colleagues, rather than as “students.” That is, we should act like the professionals we want to be, rather than the insecure chicklets that we often are. I’m all for this attitude, in theory.

But in practice?

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Continue reading “On found family, fandom, and academia”

An Engine of Discursive Pleasure

This post is a metatextual exorcism: me trying to get the stupid out, as my directing teacher used to say, in re: my research project about the rhetorical tactics of the Overlord. It’s also an excuse for lots of pictures of Misha, so. If that turns you off, you know, I’d suggest you check for a pulse.

Ok, so. Here’s why it’s been hard for me to wax academic about Misha Collins:

It was easier for me to [gleefully] objectify the dude than it was to take him seriously.

Like, bro: I could write some smoking hot RPS about you without breaking a sweat, but put on a Random Acts video and I went all Crayola.

Fangirling over his body? Fine. Fangirling over what he actually did with that body in real life?

Oh hell no.

Continue reading “An Engine of Discursive Pleasure”

Encomium on the Overlord

overlord 1984

Encomium on the Overlord: The Sophistic Fandom of Misha Collins
PDF download

So here it is: the freaking Misha paper I won’t shut up about. I presented this in March 2013 at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association’s national conference. And for all of my bitching, this thing was great fun-–eventually, finally–-to write and even more to deliver.

If you’ve ever been curious as to what the hell I do with Supernatural as a student of rhetoric: here’s exhibit A.

From his first appearance in the television show Supernatural, Misha Collins—and by extension Castiel, the fiercely loyal angel he portrays—has been a favorite among many fans. In the midst of the show’s uniquely intimate and occasionally contentious relationship with its fans, Collins has crafted a distinct fandom of his own: first via the performative Twitter antics of a persona called “the Overlord”—a grandiose troublemaker with his eye on world domination—and then through the creation of two distinct yet intertwined organizations: a non-profit called Random Acts, founded in 2010, and the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen [or GISHWHES], founded in 2011.

random acts header        GISHWHES   The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen

In this essay, I explore some of Collins’ engagements with his fans [his minions] through the lens of sophistic rhetoric—a form of discursive engagement both older and more playful than that of Plato or Socrates. Reading Collins’ rhetorical performances through a sophistic lens illuminates the productive potential of crafting fan engagement as a series of provocations, ones that invite Collins’ fans to, as rhetorician John Poulakos puts it, “abandon the shelter of their prudential heaven and opt for that which exists ‘by favor of human imagination and effort’” (45).

Ultimately, the sophistic fandom of Misha Collins offers his minions two ways of performing the possible, of translating the Overlord’s antithetical approach to stardom into a distinctly different way of being in the world, one that transforms kindness into an act of gleeful deviance.

To begin: a brief word about the sophists.

Continue reading “Encomium on the Overlord”

All In On The Slow Burn

As a writer, there’s something to be said for taking your time.

For crafting. For reflection. For musing over the words until each and every one is right.

I almost never do that these days.

But when I do, I go all in on the slow burn.

cas smoulder at dean

For example:

Last month, I wrote a paper in two days that it took me a year to write.

Continue reading “All In On The Slow Burn”

Thanks Be To Rhetorica

As strange as the past year has been, I’ve much in the academic realm for which to thank the goddess Rhetorica.

To wit:

  • My cohort. We’ve always been good, but this semester’s made me realize how lucky we are to have each other: we’re a strong triad, each arm strong in her own way. They keep me sane, and I can only hope that I return the favor every once and a while.
  • My dissertation director, she who says “I know you can do this” first and then asks smart, productive questions that make the project that much more complex and entertaining. She makes my work kinetic; sees the potential and pushes me towards it. And I haven’t even started on the dis, yet.
  • My visual rhetoric prof, who covered for me with my colleagues when I slept through a class. Who admonished me kindly for not taking care of myself (true) and overcommitting (guilty) and gave me strict but loving advice about my conference-ing next year: go to only two in your third year, she said, and she’s right. That said:
  • Bloody academic conferences, all seven of you fuckers. There’s a whole post in this, but suffice it to say I’ve met the right people in the weirdest places and my reading list for the break is so very long because of them. And my research’s the stronger for it, too–if not my schoolwork.
  • Tumblr, that timesuck/project generator. It’s about 60-40 timesuck, but those moments of research gold make the hours of scrolling worthwhile.
  • Those who’ve been willing to participate in one of my projects. You know who you are. Please know that your input is invaluable, and I’m so grateful for your willingness to play along.
  • That academic at PCA/ACA who argued with me at my panel back in April. As much as you annoyed me at the time–as inexplicable as I found your position–the nettle of your comments settled into my skin and informed my work in the second half of the year. You pushed me in a way I didn’t dig at the time–ok, you kinda pissed me off–but you forced me to think more carefully and approach my research from a different angle. And my work’s more effective and persuasive because of that. So I say sincerely: thanks. Though I think you’d still take issue with what I’m arguing. Oh! And something your partner said, he who was on my panel, inspired my latest fandom-related project. So give him a thanks from me, too.

Right in the Face

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The wall over my desk at school is slathered in SPN-related paraphernalia. It’s like the real-world equivalent of my tumblr: part inspiration, part visual outburst, part happy zen space I can visit when grad school gets too weird.

The image above is in a particular place of prominence: a pseudo-Dean half-naked, open, and willing spread out over the hood of the Impala.

Hell yes.

Now, given that, in my life as a grad student, I openly proselytize for the Church of Gay Incest Porn, having this picture over my desk didn’t strike me as particularly notable: it’s sexy as fuck, sure, but it’s not pornographic. And the only people that see it on a regular basis are my officemates, fellow students, who’ve grown accustomed to my discussions of Wincest, Destiel, etc.

To be more blunt: they know that I research porn and I write porn. End of story.

So it struck me, yesterday, when the presence of this image in the physical space associated with (assigned to?) my academic persona became notable and even laudable to someone else.

Let me explain.

Continue reading “Right in the Face”