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connect the dots: would Castiel survive tumblr’s intimate collective?

April 5, 2013


I’m having one of those periods where despite being chaotically busy, my mind has decided to connect all sorts of dots and chase down various connections between the things I’ve been doing that I thought were disparate. I used to post these types of thoughts on my academic livejournal, now long defunct. I think it’s time I start similarly brainstorming in blog form. And not only that, but I’m also (for various reasons which I’ll get to below) feeling its time to either crosspost or move platforms entirely, to, yes, tumblr. [I’m going to resuscitate this tumblr if you’re interested.] So here’s today’s crazy synthesis, in what I hope will become a new-old habit:

Dot one: I posted at Antenna last week about Squaresville and the intimate collective; it’s part of a larger project/book chapter that’s in its infancy, about web series and audience/fan address. I’m finding watching the development of web series transfixing; it feels like watching the birth of film narrative in real time. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was heartbreaking to see end, not just because I miss the characters but because I miss the excitement of seeing how a transmedia story could unfold so beautifully and so surprisingly (despite being such a familiar narrative) across all these different platforms.

Without doubt, the breakthrough, stay-with-you element of LBD was Lydia, who with her abundant emotion seemed to capture and channel something so vibrant and of-the-moment about YouTube culture and Tumblr culture. At first I thought that this version of Lydia was going to be too over the top parody, but instead she was the heart of the series, the light shining at its center.

So yes, in my Antenna post I talk about Squaresville, and specifically about Zelda’s monolo7ue, “Fell in love with a song,” which is about her/our intimate/deep/intense connection with music/media, and about how the video invites others to share their own mirrored music love, or to perform their own versions of the narrative. Of course Zelda is portrayed by Mary Kate Wiles, who also plays Lydia, and who also speaks to us as herself on Tumblr. (I was especially moved by her making this post about what playing Lydia has meant to her.) There’s something about Mary Kate’s performances that just seem to capture the spirit of individual emotion (dare I say “feels”) and the intimate collective, united by emotion, that I find so compelling these days within fandom, and specifically within tumblr fandom.

Dot two: Yesterday, in my Theories of Spectatorship class, we were fortunate to have Kristina Busse skype in to speak with us, to talk about her work on the ethics of fan research as well as her experiences with acafandom and fan studies in general. We had a terrific conversation, and at one point we were talking about whether the (mostly) unspoken fan rules of asking permission & attribution when re-posting were shifting within tumblr culture, what with retumbling being at the heart of the interface and culture. Now this was April 3rd, and so I had fresh in my mind April 1st, otherwise known in my corner of tumblr as the “Mishapocalypse,” in which everyone changed their icons to the face of (actor/overlord/possible antichrist/digital orchestrator of collective dada creativity) Misha Collins, and posted all manner of images with Misha’s face photoshopped on. This example popped into my mind as we were speaking with Kristina because it seemed to me a striking example of collective shared performance of emotion/identity, where individual ownership of any of these images was precisely not the point. Post after post declared variations on the “I am Misha; I am Misha, we all are Misha” theme. (One of my favorite examples…) It was about a temporary moment of collective affiliation, a public, intimate, performative collective with (our collective interpretation of) Misha the connecting point, the translation, the calque linking us together.

Misha has already been a topic of class conversation because my students read my recently published piece on him/his fandom/GISHWHES etc. One of my students even tweeted him with a link to my essay, which I feel very conflicted about because of all the issues that drums up with our fan-scholarly relationship to our subject/object of study, and our academic privilege, combined with some version of fannish shyness, but that’s a post for another time… I also shared with them my GISHWHES experience and recent runner-up GISHWHES award (a very distracting screen saver filled with the above mentioned collective dada creativity). And we’ve been watching select, Very Meta episodes of Supernatural. This week, we watched Changing Channels, in which Sam, Dean, and Castiel get thrown from show to show in the Trickster’s creation of TV world. One of my students retumbled this brilliant post at our class tumblr. I’m fascinated by this post because it envisions Castiel trapped within our shared world of tumblr, traumatized by what he finds there (specifically in the form of destiel). But (and here’s where I’m going to get fan geeky) which I think of the collective angel consciousness in Supernatural, (or is that really in fanon…) I wonder if tumblr would seem that foreign to him after all… Well, the collective consciousness part perhaps not, but I suppose that angels aren’t built for “all the feels.”

So, (loosely) connecting the dots: the intimate collective = collective intelligence + collective creativity + shared emotion, and together these three are changing our (or at least my!) assumptions about authorship and ownership and perhaps what we give and get from fandom and why.

Futures of Entertainment, 6

January 31, 2013


My day one closing remarks with Mauricio Moto, in which we talk about the stakes of inviting participation, decentered authorship, GISHWHES, & critical closeness and R&D (risk & detachment…)

Adventures in Zine Making, Part 2

January 10, 2013

I’m not teaching this winter term, and believe it or not part of me actually misses the adrenalin rush of last year’s Remix-Culture-in-a-Month experience. But at the same time, I’m glad for the chance to catch my breath, to dig into my manuscript writing, and to have a chance to reflect on last semester’s classes.

As I mentioned in my last post, last semester marked a shift in my teaching. For a long while now, I’ve been talking the talk about integrating theory and practice, and the insights that can come from the merging of the two, but last semester felt like the first time I went all in, both with syllabus design and with my approach to each day of each class. At the same time, I’ve also for a long time talked about the value of bringing yourself to your research and teaching, though I have personally found that this is harder to put into practice than it is to talk about. But inspired yet again by Alexander Doty’s work after his death (and by the really wonderful Flow panel in his honor) I came to my classes this semester newly dedicated to both of these mergers–personal/academic and theory/practice. And so though it felt at times like I was treading on unfamiliar and even uncomfortable ground, I was determined to more fully bring myself to my classes and and to encourage my students to do the same, both in their more traditional academic work and in their creative work. And I have to say, the results were incredibly rewarding.

I promised more images of my students zine-making from my Gender/Sexuality/Media class, and I am here to deliver. I would say, with some reflection, that the value of this zine project was twofold.

1) The zines gave students the opportunity to personalize the broader ideas we were studying in class, to try on how they applied to their own experience of media culture & popular culture, and more specifically still to their personal histories and to their experience of college life and of being a college student and young adult in 2012. Zines from both semesters revolved around college culture and the expectations and experiences of my students and their peers. This is turn infused all of our discussions with a sense of immediacy and relevance that was invaluable.

2) The zine project encouraged students to get together and be creative and productive, hands on, sitting on each other’s dorm room floors with glue sticks and magazine cuttings (and if they chose, sparkles), to engage with each other beyond concerns of specific grades or outcomes. Because zines themselves are so open ended, and have such a do-no-wrong ethos, this assignment freed students to experiment with and explore their own and each others’ creative and intellectual impulses. I have to say that this is where that merger of theory and practice is especially crucial: I don’t think this sense of embrace of experimentation would have been so strong if we had not read the entirety of Alison Piepmeier’s excellent book. The zine assignment has the potential to deteriorate into a sort of 6th grade diorama mentality, centered on who can make the best bubble writing or most stylish looking artwork (and there’s my personal past coming in! I was never the strongest at bubble writing, I have to admit, and to this day hate the word diorama…) But Piepmeier’s book emphasizes the DIY diversity of zines, the sense that the point that there is no one way, no one best aesthetic, but a multiplicity of approaches, from image based to text based to comic based to collage, color, black and white, small, large; everything goes. This sense of diversity was without doubt reflected in the diversity of the zines students made.

Finally, I’d like to end on a question. What assignments have you all been experimenting with that merge theory and practice, or encourage an integration of the personal into the academic? I’d love to hear about successes and stumbling blocks and everything in between!

And so without further ado, more zines! These are excerpts, as in a few cases I found myself actually finding that they felt a bit too personal to post publicly, even though the students said they’d be happy to share them.

Read more…

Adventures in Zine Making, Part 1

December 13, 2012


So the semester is winding up, and many of my students spent the final moments of 12/12/12 rendering, uploading, and waiting on YouTube, no doubt receiving error messages, and possibly throwing things at the computer. This is a bit of a new development–not technological frustrations, but the amount to which creative production (beyond paper writing, which is of course a form of creative production in itself, we can’t forget that!) has become a core part of my classes. I taught two courses this semester–one on Remix Culture and one on Gender/Sexuality/Media–and both courses, to different degrees, incorporated creative production. I designed the syllabi with the idea in mind that insight comes from making and doing and exploring within, with a critical mind. And more than that, for the Remix Culture class especially, I didn’t want the creative production to be only a means to an end, but an end in and of itself; so we experimented with the way we could use remix to talk about remix, and about our own media investment, our placement within remix culture.

But that’s a post for another time, actually. Here I want to give you a first taste of the (I think, totally inspiring) creative work my students did in Gender/Sexuality/Media. In this class, most of the assigned work is more traditional (short papers, longer papers, weekly inquiries), but there is one required assignment that definitively takes the form of non-traditional scholarship: zine making. We read Alison Piepemeier’s Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism, which serves as a wonderful introduction  not only to girl zines but also to the histories and stakes of feminism. At first, students are often a bit befuddled by the notion that zines might still be relevant in this digital age, but the more they read, and then once they actually *do,* I’ve found that students really start to experience and embrace (and become proponents for) the value Piepemeier sees in zines–the intimate immediacy, the personal in the physical materiality of the zine. Through this assignment, both I and my students have come to value the opportunity zines offer to speak back to and around media, without necessarily being linear or resisting contradiction, not to mention the sense of collective creativity and a material gift culture bound together by glue sticks, magazine clippings, and occasionally glitter.

I don’t give a lot of guidelines for this assignment because I want it to be the place where the students make their own rules, since that’s how zine making is, while still being aware of how their zines fit within the traditions and cultures of zine making. The result each semester is a wonderfully diverse set of zines–they seem to get more diverse and surprising and compelling each semester. Here are some images (below the cut) from two zines from this semester, which I’ll for now let speak for themselves. I’ll follow them up with images from the others in a later post (with some further thoughts on what the zine-making contributed to the class), so as not to overwhelm.

Read more…

Talking about Hate & Fandom at Flow 2012

November 2, 2012

Hello all! So I have arrived in Austin, Texas, for one of my very favorite conferences–the Flow Conference on Television and Media Culture. I love the structure of this conference; (a little background for newbies to Flow) the original idea of the conference was to bring the energetic conversations that always happen in the hallways of the conference to the center, and so the conference is organized around roundtables rather than panels. We’ve all already shared short pieces we wrote on the subject at hand. That way, when we come together the focus can be on free-flowing conversation.

I’m on a roundtable about hate-watching and negative affect in antifandom, or the relationship of fandom and antifandom. Hmm, to summarize it best, I’ll post the prompt for the roundtable:

#IHateThisShow!”: Anti-Fandom in the Digital Age
In the twenty years since publication of Jenkins’
 Textual Poachers, fan studies (and the cultural value of fandom) has come a long way. One of fan studies’ enduring strengths is its focus on and valuation of affect, particularly its emphasis on fans’ positive feelings of like and love (however conflicted those feelings may be). Examined less frequently are the equally intense, yet opposite feelings of dislike and hatred. Are anti-fans fans? What do anti-fans reveal about a text’s construction, appeal, and success?

Popular television criticism, in this Internet era, often involves “hate watching” certain shows. Websites like The A.V. Club and Television Without Pity often provide an anti-fan’s perspective on popular shows and their comment sections are often full of anti-fan reactions and criticisms. How can we understand this mode of television criticism? How can we understand the role of social networking in the anti-fan experience? How does the gathering of anti-fans on websites like Twitter affect the anti-fan experience? What can the study of anti-fans contribute to fan studies? How can and should we study dislike and hate? What can the study of negative affect offer to television studies?”

Now, I’m fascinated by the way negative affect (including but not limited to hate) works in fandom, intertwined with positive affect, so that was the spin of my response. Our position papers were due right before that wonderful moment in Glee where Kurt and Blaine skype hate watch Treme (I could write a whole essay on that! My first response was… who hate watches Treme? Impossible!) So while there’s no discussion of representations of hate-watching (an interesting question in itself), here’s my 1000 word-ish first thoughts on the role of negative affect in fandom, fandom history, and fan studies, with a bit of a focus on Glee. I’m looking forward to our roundtable today, and I would also love to extend the conversation online.

“Single/Taken/ In an Abusive Relationship With Ryan Murphy’s Writing”: Love, Hate, and Ambivalence in Fandom

Read more…

Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom

May 16, 2012

Very thrilled to announce, surprisingly ahead of schedule, the publication of Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom. It was such a pleasure to work on this volume; we worked with MediaCommons to coordinate a collective peer-to-peer review process, which meant that all the contributors and reviewers participated in the whole of the volume. Both Kristina and I are very grateful to all their hard work! It truly felt like a collective process of authorship, and I hope that that process of dialogue shows through in the book.

We’re especially thrilled that the timing couldn’t be more perfect, with the second series of Sherlock just finishing up here in the U.S. this Sunday. The second series certainly gives more food for thought; I for one am looking forward to the conversations that will follow!


[You can’t have too many Benedict Cumberbatches, now can you?]

Remix Culture: a winter term experience

January 6, 2012

Long time, no blog. It’s been a valuable if inward-looking time for me, getting the feel of Middlebury, a sense of the students and of the college community. Perhaps it makes sense that my blogging slowed as I took stock of a new context. But I’ve been here a year and a half now (how did that happen?) and I’m starting to feel the impulse to share again.

Starting off with a new course I’ll be teaching over winter term entitled Remix Culture. Now, I’ve taught Remix within the context of various classes before (including within my first year seminar this past fall, Creativity and the Digital Age), but never as its own entity. For that matter, I’ve never taught a four week class before. I get the sense that the best way to tackle a short class is to allow space for deep learning rather than to try to cover a wide expanse. The goal for this class is to have a true integration of concept and practice, so we’ll be reading about remix, talking about remix, and remixing, all the way through from week one to week four. I’m extremely lucky to have the support and resources to run a class like this. I have hopes that this won’t be the only time I teach this course, and that I’ll be able to teach it as a full semester course as well. But for the next month, I’ll be embracing short term teaching; sort of like the drabble* of the educational world.

Have any of you taught Remix Culture as a part of a class before, or as a full class? What were your experiences? How about with the 4 week immersive teaching experience? Would love to hear any thoughts/wisdom on these matters!

*100 word (exactly) work of fan fiction. See fanlore definition.

So, at any rate, here’s the Remix Culture winter term syllabus as it stands right now. Or rather, the real syllabus is on Moodle (and thus not publicly viewable) but this is a facsimile of its core parts.

Read more…


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