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.

tumblr_mifgoaNMF81r3e2t4o3_250

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

xxx-9-13-dean-gh
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…

The Road Ahead

Part of embracing this whole “the way opens” mindset for me is appreciating all the cool shit I get to do this term. I love going to conferences, as a rule, but my line-up for the next few months is particularly outstanding.

ackles_hip_shake

Like the man’s hips said: awesome.

To wit: Continue reading “The Road Ahead”

The sensitive areas?

tumblr_n4ymehYabY1ta6w02o1_400

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.)

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?

tumblr_ncs6ic9M6W1qc3759o2_500

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

Writing is Hard(ly Something You Should Be Doing Alone)

Last month, I attended one of the two big conferences in my field, that of the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA). Ironically, it was the first rhetoric or composition-focused conference I’ve attended and the last conference of any sort I’ll attend (gulp) before I go on the job market this fall.

Eeep! No, I’m ok. I’m alright. I swear.

Anyway, one of the most interesting panels I attended at RSA was ostensibly about the future of journals in our field. I took this to mean there would be a discussion about the journal model more broadly, about restricted vs. open access, etc.

Yeah, no.

Instead, the panel featured the editors of three of the BFD journals in rhet/comp riffing on their roles as editors, the kinds of submissions they receive and why they do or do not suck, and the messy nature of the review process. Not what I expected, no, but fascinating all the same.

For me, one of the most striking moments was when Jim Jasinski, the editor of Rhetorical Studies Quarterly, described his role in this way:

Editors are there to help writers figure out what they’ve got.

YES. Exactly!

The best editors I’ve had a chance to work with have been able to do precisely that: to peer into the abyss of a messy first draft, pick out the ideas worth exploring, and make concrete suggestions as how I might make the most of what I’ve got. This is also what I see myself doing (what I try to do) as a teacher when I ask my students to write: to read their drafts with questions like what have they got here? where are they trying to go? how can I help them get there? in mind.

Continue reading “Writing is Hard(ly Something You Should Be Doing Alone)”

My Heart’s (Not) In the Work

One of the things I’d forgotten over the past year was how important is was–it is–for me to look outside of my department, my university, for support.

This isn’t to say that the faculty in my department aren’t supportive of my work; for the most part, the ones whose opinions I value are. But you know what? They’re also really fucking busy.

There’s a lot of bullshit involved in the day-to-day life of a graduate program; the persistent minutia of academic life, like who’s teaching what course, who’ll serve on which committee, who’s not talking to whom. In addition because our program’s so small, most faculty members are on multiple dissertation or thesis committees, and they all have, you know, family lives.

So no one is here to hold your hand, as a PhD student, and most of the time, for me, that’s been ok. More than. Generally, I don’t like to be fussed over.

But it also means that there’s a lot of stuff I’m not saying, that I’m not sharing with anyone in the program. About my project, my work process, I mean. Because at some level, when people on your committee ask “How’s the dissertation coming?”, what they want you to say is “fine.” For many good and right reasons, most people don’t want to hear the messy truth, one I’d struggle to communicate, anyway:

It’s hard. I’m a little lost. Having to plan a project before I did it is kind of biting me in the ass. Today was ok. I read some good theory. I found a great source. Look what was posted today at this site that I’m studying. I think I’ve got something good. Writing is hard.

Truth be told, though, I don’t want to share the complexities of the project with my committee, because I don’t want them to interfere. Yes, I want help, or at least a sympathetic ear, but I’ve learned over time that those asks often come with a cost.

Continue reading “My Heart’s (Not) In the Work”

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”

Hey, Assbutt! Just Shut Up And Enjoy The Paranoia.

So I got good news, bad news this week.

Good news: I had papers accepted at two more conferences for this fall. Which means four conferences in the next four months. Woo!

Bad news:  Two of the conferences are within 10 days of each other in September. And the other two are within 10 days of each other in November.

And did I mention that the ones in September are OVERSEAS?

My dad: …are you sure this is a good idea?
My lovely spouse: …are you sure this is a good idea?
Me: NO but for now I’m going with YES.

I mean, let’s be honest: on the one hand, this is seriously fantastic. People want to talk about Supernatural and fan practice! About women and the negociation of desire! About teh Wincest! Yay!

On the other: WTF was I thinking? Hell, what the hell AM I thinking?

In truth, I’m trying not to. I almost had a panic attack yesterday, when the last acceptance letter came through. I had 10 seconds of happy, of “I am freaking amazing” and then bam! Right to “I gotta breathe in a paper bag and/or vomit.”

Or just roll into a ball and write some nice fluffy Destiel.

And I know this comes off as bragging, or something, but truly, it comes from a place of angst. As one of my colleagues pointed out last week, being an academic means embracing a life of paranoia, fear, and imagined inadequacy. We send out proposals and essays and articles and just cringe under our desks as we wait for a response, which, inevitably, even when it’s a yes instead of a no, feels like a big old Molotov cocktail right in the gut because then we actually have to DO the thing we’ve said we could do and holy fuck does that suck, sometimes.

Exactly.

But most of me right now is like: WTF is wrong with these conference types? Don’t they know that I’m just wanking about SPN? That, at some level, this can’t be “scholarship” because it’s so fucking much fun? That my business card (if I had one) should really just say “professional fangirl”?

I mean, I get to read slash fic AS HOMEWORK. Come on. Seriously?! How did I get so lucky? (Or the world so delusional?) I mean, yeah, then I have to write about the hot sex, rather than just write it, but still. It is fucking awesome.

So I’m grateful. And, when I let myself? Very happy. And utterly and completely freaked out.

…where’s that damn paper bag?