Finding Family at #SPNDePaul

KT Torrey on Twitter Panelist notes that he has realized he is a different type of fan than many here at SPNDePaul. Aud. member And that s ok

This weekend, I found my branch of the SPN Family.

I am not gonna lie, folks: I have been uber resistant to the whole “Supernatural fandom as family” idea. Not because I don’t dig a lot of the people I’ve met through SPN, but because I’ve seen that rhetoric used once too often as a means of division, rather than inclusion.

Supernatural fandom eats its own sometimes, is what I’m saying. Loudly. And in public.

But on Saturday, man, I don’t know: I guess I finally got it, what being part of that family—or one branch of it, anyway—can feel like. And how great it can be to be in a room full of smart people who love/hate/gnash their teeth over SPN as I do, as you can only do over something you adore even when it disappoints you, and have a chance to talk about it in depth.

Now admittedly, Charlie’s death hung over the day, a shroud of discontent that shadowed every panel I attended. The circumstances of her removal from the series were also a central topic of conversation in Robbie Thompson’s keynote Q&A.

[Dude was totally charming, by the way, and a better lecturer in terms of both the psychology and logistics of writing than some of the composition profs I’ve had. Shhhhhh.]

Both my friend Shannon and I were struck by how many people in attendance are still writing + thinking about the show, but aren’t watching it anymore. Indeed, based on what we heard, it seems that Charlie’s death is poised to push some folks away from the show for good. Which may not be a bad thing.

As Louisa Stein put it: “We have the right not to watch.”

Damn straight.

But! Central to the event’s success was that the format of its panels flipped the script on those at traditional academic conferences.

Continue reading “Finding Family at #SPNDePaul”

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.”

My Disciplinary Wish List

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Yesterday, I read Lucy Bennett’s “Tracing Textual Poachers: Reflections on the development of fan studies and digital fandom,” an excellent history-cum-consideration of fan studies, some 20+ years after the publication of Henry Jenkins’ foundational work. In the context of the conversations I was part of recently at SCMS and PCA/ACA, I was particularly struck by Bennett’s discussions of how we as scholars might encourage the continued, conscious evolution of our methodologies, objects and subjects of study, and our own reflective self-positionality as researchers.

This essay, it caused a thunderstorm of sorts in my head.

Me, I’m just a whippersnapper in these parts; hell, I’m at a stage where the phrase “early career researcher” still feels like a stretch. That said, I’ve had my flag planted in fan studies ground for a while now, and I feel settled enough in this happily still-wild territory to draw up a wish list of my own. I’ve been staring at the horizon here long enough to have a sense of the kind of work I’d like to do, the sort of scholarship I’d like to see, in the future.

So here’s my disciplinary wish list for fan studies, things I’d like to see us do moving forward:

Continue reading “My Disciplinary Wish List”

The Possible Futures of Fan Studies: Harmonic Convergence of SCMS and PCA/ACA

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the room for two amazing and productive conversations about the future of fan studies. The first was at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference in Montreal, and the second was at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) conference in New Orleans. For the most part, these discussions were comprised of entirely different groups of scholars, and yet many of the same themes, questions, and concerns were raised in both.

Given that many members of our field will be gathering again at the Fan Studies Network conference in July, this post is my way of pointing out some of these connections in hopes that the FSN can a) keep up the momentum generated by the discussions SCMS and PCA/ACA and b) begin to move those discussions forward from talk into concrete action.

Some quick context:

At SCMS, the conversation was centered around efforts to have fan studies recognized as a “scholarly interest group” (SIG) within the larger SCMS organization. Such recognition would allow fan studies to sponsor panels at the annual conference, hold an official business/interest meeting, and (implicitly) be recognized by SCMS as a legit subfield of media studies. Check out Lori Morimoto’s excellent Storify of that conversation here.

At PCA/ACA, the discussion was hosted by the Journal of Fandom Studies (JFS) and led by journal’s editor and editorial board. Although ostensibly focused on the future directions of the journal itself, conversation turned inevitably to larger questions about the field and what role the journal might play in it. You can read my Storify of the discussion here.

Here are the three key themes/questions that united these two conversations: Continue reading “The Possible Futures of Fan Studies: Harmonic Convergence of SCMS and PCA/ACA”

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.)

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.

DCCon: Notes from the Trenches (part I)

My friend and I, we are Washington cool, because in Washington, people don’t geek out over celebrities.

“In Washington,” my friend said, certain, leaning back on her heels, “our celebrities have real power.” She shook the last of her coffee and looked back at the general admission line behind us, one that stretched around the corner and beyond. “If anybody fangirls in DC, it’ll be over somebody like John McCain.”

So spotting Misha Collins in the wild by the elevators? We were cool. Mark Sheppard zipping by us on his way to yell at a locked door? Eh, no big deal.

Some of our fellow fans, on the other hand? Posed more of a challenge.

Maybe it’s true at any Supernatural convention, I don’t know, but in DC: con world was not our world, at first. It took us some time to adjust. But in the end–plot twist!–we had a great time.

Continue reading “DCCon: Notes from the Trenches (part I)”

Fan Studies Recs Added

One thing that I tend to forget when exploring the porous borders of the academic/fangirl divide is that not all fans who’re interested may have access to fan studies scholarship; and even if they do, some may not know where to start digging.

To that end, I’ve added a Fan Studies Recs page to the site, where I’ll post links to texts that I’ve found useful in my own work.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s totally biased by my own interests in both slash fandom and in Supernatural. Still, if you’re looking for texts beyond the familiar standards–like Henry Jenkins’ amazing Textual Poachers–then my hope is that this list will help you find some that interest you.

The Bullshit Claim of Someone Else’s Shame

Another day, another “interviewer” trotting out fanfiction in public conversation with a star.

Oh, joy.

Today’s culprit, as you can see here, if you like, is the LA Times, who asked an actress from Downtown Abbey to, tee hee!, read erotic fanfiction about her character out loud.

How droll.

This comes on the heels of the Sherlock debacle a week or so ago, wherein Caitlin Moran used the series’ season three premiere event as a venue for–you guessed it–pulling Johnlock out of a hat and, ha hah, shoving it in the actors’ faces.

Ugh.

In the forest of WTF? that this raises, the most pressing one for me is this:

Why the hell would you do this? From a rhetorical perspective, ok, what would you as an interviewer hope to gain?

Here’s my answer:

Shame.

Look, I’m sure these cats go in thinking they’re Zaphod Beeblebrox hip because they know what fan fiction is. Hey, bloody good for you. You can read the internet! Well done.

Continue reading “The Bullshit Claim of Someone Else’s Shame”

He Learned It From Watching Us, Fandom.

This fall, in the aftermath of my oral exams, I swore off fan studies for awhile, seeing as my dissertation’s in another field or three. I made the tactical mistake of declaring this temporary separation in public. And one of my colleagues here at school swept in and said, “yeah, but have you seen what Orlando Jones, that guy from Sleepy Hollow, is doing on Twitter?”

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And thus the brushfire of fan studies was relit in my head.

Here’s why:

As part of his self-presentation on Twitter (and tumblr, too, natch) Orlando Jones, that guy from Sleepy Hollow, has embraced the Supernatural fandom as his muse. That is, Jones seems to have recognized the Supernatural meta-fandom–one that includes the show’s fans, actors, and even a few of its writers–as a (perhaps the?) gold standard on Twitter both in terms of interactions between fans and the show’s creative team and in re: the ways in which fans themselves electronically embody their affection for the show.

He’s joined the Destiel sub-section of fandom, y’all. I mean. Come on. And gone so far as to create a unique hashtag that unites the two shows: #supersleepy.

Look, I’d argue that Supernatural fans have one of the smartest [though sometimes self-destructive] Twitter fandoms. What Jones’ forays into fandom in general–and his interactions with Supernatural fandom in particular–suggest is his recognition that, as an actor, in order to understand and emulate effective electronic fandom practice, he needs to rely on the expertise of both his fellow creatives (other actors and writers) and that of the fans themselves.

To wit:

Continue reading “He Learned It From Watching Us, Fandom.”