Collaborating With A Fine (Not So Young) Cannibal

gorgeous two shot from potage

I made this pact with myself that I wasn’t going to write about NBC’s Hannibal. Not in an academic way, at least. For all of its gore, its elegant violence that can make cruelty taste like art, I didn’t want to engage with it on a critical level because I love it too damn much.

Continue reading “Collaborating With A Fine (Not So Young) Cannibal”

I call bullshit.

Last month at PCA/ACA, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some very excellent people who are just as damn well fond of slash as I am. And to prove it, these lovely people were willing to read porn in public—at an academic conference, no less! Bless you, my friends.

Our reading was designed as both a celebration of slash and as a very public fuck you to anybody in academia or otherwise who tries to get us to justify why we love and choose to study fanfiction.

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Presented under the gleefully George Michael-derivative title of “What’s Your Definition of Dirty, Baby? Taking Pleasure (Together) In Fanfic,” the event itself was so much goddamn fun. In teams of two, we performed excerpts from six fics, each representing a different slash pairing, in an old-school forensics-style more akin to mini-plays than formal literary readings.

(Though I gotta admit: the performance itself was scarier than I’d expected. It was harder reading Dean Winchester’s dirty talk with a straight face [or, uh, something] that I thought it would be.)

More to the point: the thing generated enough happy, pervy energy that we’re going to try and stage a repeat performance at the next PCA/ACA con next year in Seattle.

But this, what follows, is the exigence for this event, the spark that set off the slash: a NSFW rant I composed one afternoon in a fit of fic-fueled fury that came to serve as the opening remarks for our little get together. So consider this some rhetorical ammo for the next time someone looks askance at what you love and what you do: a big ol’ hey, fuck you, too.

Continue reading “I call bullshit.”

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…

Here’s Our Darling Scarlet

There was an interesting discussion on Twitter this AM about how we as academics talk about and share our research process, rather than just the final result.

Often, the messiness of the process that we go through—ok, that we totally make up as we go along, even though we’re not supposed to admit that—is where the good stuff happens.

The weird shit that happens in the trenches, between lines of analysis and unexpected data sources, that’s the stuff that inspires us to keep writing abstracts, keep going to conferences, keep writing essays about subjects we love.

Publication is great, and final products are awesome by virtue of being fucking done. But the process is the cool part.

Ok, let me stop. I have this tendency to talk around whatever’s bothering me, whatever it is I really want to say—a bit ironic, given what I do for a living, but there it is. Let me take a deep breath and try again.

I am very, very tired of my dissertation. Of the research that it’s entailed. Of the writing up that it demands. Of what it represents in terms of my work as a scholar and yet, what it doesn’t.

People have told me: The dissertation doesn’t matter. It just has to be done. The dissertation matters, because its subject may help you get hired. Or not. The dissertation is the culmination of–what, exactly?

I’m writing about a subject that I’m intellectually interested in: how and why Christian women use what I call “rhetorical bleed” as a persuasive tactic in their discourse about female sexuality.

See? There’s even a theoretical component to it, a contribution I’m ostensibly making to the field of rhetoric and writing.

Oh, joy.

I admire some of the women whose writing I’m examining. They’re doing good work, work that needs to be done, they believe, in the face of the way that the evangelical church tries its damnedest not to discuss female desire, and women’s use of pornography, and the idea that some Christian women feel overwhelmed by those desires. The only advice the evangelical church offers to women generally about sex—as one of the subjects of my research rightly noted—is shame.

In the context of the purity movement, that push within contemporary evangelicalism for young people (esp. women) to remain physically and mentally “pure” about sex until marriage, the shame thing is particularly unhelpful. So you feel bad about experiencing sexual desire, about exploring that desire through masturbation and porn–where are you supposed to go to talk about those feelings, exactly, when the church’s response tends to be: well, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place. End of discussion.

So some of these women have started talking about these issues amongst themselves. In my diss, I’m examining how this organization talks about these ideas in public spaces, including their website, monthly podcast, and book. At the same time, I’m steering clear of the members’ only online message boards where the organization’s members talk with one another about their personal struggles; that’s their business, and not fodder for academic research, to my mind.

I like these women. I care about this project. And yet I am having a devil of a time caring enough to write my dissertation.

Maybe it’s that the reality of the job situation has slowly started to sink in: the chances of me getting a FT teaching gig, already slim, are fading fast. On the one hand, this makes me quite sad. I’ve spent the past four years figuring out what I’m really fucking good at—teaching people how to effectively express their ideas on paper—and now I have to accept that I probably will not be able to apply that skill in the academic realm.

I haven’t gotten any callbacks, as it were, on 31 applications, with 6 rejections already in hand and more no doubt to come. Maybe it’s because my diss is about women, desire, Christianity (gasp!), and porn. Maybe it’s because most of my publications deal in fan studies—rhetoric, performance studies, and fan stuff, but still, it’s not Rhetoric.

Maybe it’s because all of my cover letters have been riddled with errors, or because my font choices are offensive, or because I’ve applied for the wrong kind of gigs. Or none of the bloody above.

I don’t know.

Regardless, I will soon have to fend for myself in the world, and I need to find employment. Full stop. So I’ve begun looking outside of academia, back to the business and non-profit world I thought I’d wanted to leave behind.

I’m a good writer, damn it. And an even better writing teacher, or tutor. I love research, most of the time, and I’m pretty good at that, too. These are marketable skills, surely. I just need to figure out how to do that, exactly.

There’s part of me, too, that feels a bit like a failure for not landing an aca-gig. I know there are some people in my life—in my goddamn department—who cannot freaking wait to say I told you soIf only you’d listened to me and not written about fan studies or sex or Christianity, you’d have done so much better.

On the one hand, I want to say: fuck them. Because they WERE wrong on that front. The best part of grad school has been the research, believe it or not, and all the conferences and amazing colleagues and pub opportunities that have resulted from it.

On the other, though, part of me wants to slink away like Scarlet tries to in Gone With The Wind after she’s caught in Ashley’s arms. It’s the day of Ashley’s birthday party, to which everyone in their circle has been invited, and Scarlet’s mortified to be the talk of the town in the worst possible way. Her instinct is to hide at home and not go to the damn party.

But Rhett won’t let her! No, he insists that she wear her most stunning gown and freaking march down there to Melanie’s and show her face to the woman she betrayed and to the community that think she’s trash.

And she does, dear Scarlet. And she kills it. Even though Rhett makes her walk in by herself and even though the looks she gets from those assembled—from everyone but Melanie, of course—are beyond venomous.

So, like Scarlet, I’d much rather hide at home for the next two months. To bang out this crappy diss in misery and shuffle out of here in May with my head hung low. I’ve failed, people, by the predominate measure in PhD land and I hate it and it fucking sucks.

Blargh.

But I won’t.

I don’t have a Rhett in my life to goad me into it, or a killer ruby-red gown to wear, but I’m going to put myself out there in our department. I’m not going to dig a hole, as awesome as that sounds right now, and camp out until May. I’m going to show my face and talk to people and show my fellow students that, no matter what the faculty tells you, life goes on even if you don’t get a single academic job interview.

I hope.

So get this

I have an essay in the most recent issue of the Journal of Fandom Studies. It’s called “Writing with the Winchesters: Metatextual Wincest and the Provisional Practice of Happy Endings.” This baby’s has been a years-long labor of love, smut, and the creative authority of fan writers. Should you choose to read it, I hope you dig it, too.

Here’s the abstract:

Soon after its premiere in 2005, the American television show Supernatural spawned an online fandom dedicated to ‘slashing’ the show’s two protagonists, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester: that is, to writing stories in which the brothers are portrayed as lovers. Over time, the existence of these slash narratives – affectionately dubbed ‘Wincest’ by the show’s fans – has been incorporated into the series’ diagesis. Indeed, in the wake of the programme’s repeated forays into diegetic metatextuality, some Supernatural fan writers have re-incorporated Sam and Dean’s canonized awareness of slash fiction back into Wincest stories themselves – specifically, into the subgenre of metatextual Wincest, stories that recast Sam and Dean as conscious participants in Wincest fan culture. Using Della Pollock’s notion of performative writing as a guide, this essay will explore the distinctive types of encounters between reader, writer, and text that metatextual Wincest stories facilitate. Further, the application of this critical approach to three such narratives – nyoxcity’s ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, Road Rhythm’s ‘This is All Very Meta’, and Fanspired’s ‘Conversations with Head People’ – highlights fan writers’ perception of their own creative authority within the ongoing process of meaning-making that continues to spin around Supernatural. Ultimately, this essay will argue that what makes metatextual Wincest stories distinct is their suggestion that only by working in concert with their fans can Sam and Dean finally write their own version of a happy ending, something ‘the show [itself] eternally defers’ – even if the lasting power of the ever-after they create together remains, in the end, uncertain (Tosenberger 2008, 5.12).

Encomium on the Overlord, for reals.

So a new, improved, and gif’d up version of my multimedia essay “Encomium on the Overlord” was published by the online magazine Harlot today. Hurray!

There’s more of me in this piece that I’m strictly comfortable with–way more–but that said: I kind of love it anyway. It ain’t perfect, but I can live with that. And I’m sending it out to several would-be employers as a writing sample, believe it or not.

Here’s the project, in a nutshell:

As a new fan of the CW’s paranormal series Supernatural, I paid little attention to actor Misha Collins outside the omnipresent trenchcoat of his character, Castiel—until a kairotic question from a fellow conference panelist pointed me in the direction of Collins’ Twitter feed. I was struck by Collins’ 140-character shots of performative trolling, Tweets that sang to me in shades, gleeful rhetorical waves, of the sophists, particularly because of the actor’s interest in, and unique definition of, social change.

Building on that sophistic seed, I argue here that Collins’ construction of a megalomaniacal Twitter persona known as the Overlord has afforded him a particular kind of disruptive ethos, one he’s used to persuade his fans to regard both “normalcy” as a social problem and acts of art and public performance as effective means of addressing that ill. Ultimately, I suggest that listening carefully to how Collins’ fan community defines, enacts, and understands “social change”—rather than measuring their rhetoric against a fixed understanding of what such change can and should look like—may allow those of us outside of this community, and others like it, to add to our understand of the “new ways of thinking about citizenship and collaboration” at work within the many, varied, and beautiful spaces of fandom (Jenkins 257).

(Two pubs for this fall down, one to go. Whew.)

Supernatural’s New God, At Last

This week, my first critical essay on Supernatural—that blessed bane of my existence—was published in this gorgeous edited collection:

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[You can check out the table of contents and read the first chapter of the collection for free here (and even buy it on Amazon, if you like).]

For me, the publication of this book is exciting not only because hell yes, publication, but also because the essay itself, “‘We’re Just Food . . . and Perverse Entertainment’: Supernatural‘s New God and the Narrative Objectification of Sam and Dean” went through a HUGE evolutionary process. The abstract that I proposed to the collection’s editors back in the spring of 2012 bears little resemblance to the final product—and is the stronger for it. Indeed, the editors did an amazing job of pointing out what elements in the early drafts worked and which didn’t, leading over time to the essay becoming more focused and its central argument more coherent.

And it meant I got to write almost exclusively about Castiel. What a hardship! Heh.

There’s a lot of discussion in academic circles as to whether there’s value in publishing work in edited collections. A lot of people say no. I think it depends in part on one’s field; in fan studies, we tend to draw on edited collections quite frequently, in part because the field is still growing. That said, my experience in working with this collection, with these editors, was rewarding both practically and personally.

Truly, I learned a great about academic writing from working with these editors over the past two years. Their comments were always on target and thoughtful, they were always happy to answer my questions, and they were patient with me and with the work. In the end, that collaboration resulted in an essay that I’m very fond of and even (dare I say) a little bit proud.

…is that bad?

How you know you’re deep in PhD land:

1) You dream about both of your research subjects at the same time. Gotta say, the Overlord and anti-porn Christian women make an, uh, interesting pair.

2) You finally! give your diss director the intro to one of your data chapters and end up having this conversation:

Director: I can see why writing this is taking you so long.
Me: Oh god why
Director: Because what you’ve written is so clear. I can see exactly what you’re going to be arguing here.
Me: …is that bad?
Director: No, it’s really good. It’s just that most dissertation chapters aren’t this coherent. You’re usually trying to figure stuff out on the page, and you only get to a real point in the last few pages.
Me: Wait. I thought the point was for each chapter to be a coherent, self-contained argument, and then to tie all the chapters together as parts of one central argument.
Director: Well, yeah. In a perfect world. But that’s not what usually happens.
Me: WTF

3) You share your semi-magical job search spreadsheet with your departmental colleagues because hey, everyone’s already looking over your virtual shoulder anyway. So what the hell.

4) You start a post-it note countdown on your office door towards the next (the first!) job application deadline. Because again, the more information you offer people upfront, the less they’ll ask you about, right?

5) You actually almost make a career-ish decision based on how it will look on your CV. Luckily, you have enough sense to reach out to one of your committee members, who reminds you that, in this scenario, “what you WANT to do” should be your central concern.

6) You give serious, sustained thought about what music to play at your dissertation defense.

Hoooooo boy.

If Borges Wrote My Job Letter

After a night of Seagram’s 7, I’m a bit of a better headspace today. Am even feeling up to engaging with that anxious octopus of an academic genre: the job letter.

Maybe it’s my obsession with narrative, but it feels like a key part of said letter (and the job search in general) will be to show potential employers how all of the seemingly disparate pieces of my work as a scholar fit together into a coherent whole.

This issue came up for me in a roundabout way last fall, when our department was involved in a hiring search. In reading through candidates’ CVs, I kept looking for the story: I wanted to know how conference presentations X and Y and publication Z lead the candidate to do a dissertation on A. That shows my bias right there, I guess, because I assumed there was a connection, one that could be discerned by me, the grad student, in looking at a potential future colleague’s CV. And I got frustrated, if not irritated, when I couldn’t find one.

However, when I asked a faculty member whom I trust about this, she said, in essence: no one cares how the pieces fit together. To me, she seemed to be implicitly suggesting that as long as you’re doing the “right” things in publications, conferences, etc., the big picture–the grand narrative arc of yourself as a researcher–is irrelevant. Which, I have to admit, makes no sense to me. But what the hell do I know?

The more I learn about this job search thing, the more I think: not a hell of a lot.

Maybe narrative coherency is overrated. Still, I want to get my own story straight, as it were, because think it’s important–in part, too, because on its face my research and publications stuff is, shall we say, wide-ranging. Like, how do I swing from the Harlem Renaissance to some pretty boy angel from Supernatural to the sex lives of evangelical Christian women, exactly, and still claim to have a coherent research agenda?

Yeah.

So this post is me trying to do that, in a way that I hope I can mine for my cover letters to come. But we’ll see. If you’re not opposed to blatant but inevitable self-promotion and repeated references to my CV, you’re welcome read on and watch me flail.

*clears throat nervously*

Continue reading “If Borges Wrote My Job Letter”

Academia fucks with your head

Sometimes I write to make sense of things. Sometimes I write for fun. Sometimes I write because if I don’t, my anxiety will eat me alive.

Today, I’m chasing the demons for reasons that, on paper, make ZERO sense. I’m freaking out this morning because it appears that I might, might, have three publications coming out this fall.

Three. Just in time for the job search.

And these are all pieces that I really, really like. Of which I might even be proud.

So this is a good thing, right? Like, duh. It sure as hell can’t hurt.

Then why do I need a drink?

Let’s go to my inner Greek chorus of negativity, already in progress:

1) None of these pubs will appear in the “right” places, according to TPTB within my department. That is, these pieces will not be featured in any of the top journals in what is ostensibly my field: rhetoric. Instead of appearing in RSQ, Quarterly Journal of Speech, or College English, they’re scheduled to show up in this edited collection and in these two journals.

2) All of these pieces are about Supernatural, in some way, shape, or form. Ergo, I imagine, they’ll be perceived as “unserious” in the minds of some (including members of my dissertation committee).

3) One of the pubs will not only appear solely online, it’ll be presented in an unconventional electronic format (read: as a Storify). Thus, its very form will further undermine its seriousness for some readers.

4) NONE OF THESE PUBLICATIONS ARE DRAWN FROM MY DISSERTATION. This fact seems to really, really bother my dissertation chair. Perhaps understandably so.

5) These pieces mark my first attempts to bring rhetoric to play in the field of fan studies.  I fear alienating (or worse, being ignored by) both sides.

6) I have to revise two of these pieces in the next 15 days. Granted, we’re at the minor changes and copy editing stages of revision here, but still.

7) Time spent working on those revisions is time that I’m not spending on my dissertation. Again, my dissertation chair will be very unhappy about this, should I choose to tell them about it.

8) One of these pieces is about Wincest. Hence, it features lots of quotes about, and lengthy discussions of, gay incestuous sex. I can see this being a problem for some hiring committees.

Ok, whew. I feel a bit better spewing all that on the screen, though there is part of me going DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS because you might jinx yourself. Ugh. Yes, I am shaking as I type this (ugh). Yes, I realize that my anxiety is totally illogical, if not nonsensical. And yes, I’ve found myself utterly unable to BE HAPPY about this unexpected development this morning, even for a moment, because of all the people I can hear in my head telling me why it’s not as cool or good or helpful as I might think it is. And that’s pretty fucked up, I think.

Academia is aces at undermining what little self-confidence I might naturally possess.

Why am I trying to get into this business again? Blargh.

I think I’m gonna go run around the block. Or to the liquor store.