Much like the human survivors on BSG…

22 12 2012

…I have been slowly moving towards a new, more robust and sustainable home for this blog.  Henceforth (because, really, there are too few opportunities to use that word), you can find me, and the new, soon-to-be-improved Revenge of the Fans at www.suzanne-scott.com

Like the Cylon fleet, please re-direct your commenting raiders and follow me to my new, self-hosted home.





#sixseasonsandamovie (and a documentary)

28 11 2012

A few months ago, I was contacted by Andulka Wilkes and Evan Koehne about appearing in a documentary about a (fan) art show celebrating NBC’s cult comedy Community.  I am thrilled to be a part of this project, and its release fills some of the void left by NBC pulling the season 4 premiere of Community.  All Wingeresque shameless promotion aside, if you’re similarly sad about the “indefinite delay” (or, February 2013, close enough…) I’d encourage you to watch this doc, it’s a real testament to the fan culture surrounding the show, and the creators’ embrace of fannish textual production:

I find it somewhat amusing that Dan Harmon opens the documentary by remarking that Community began as “a crass, non-creative effort to make money.”  The remainder of the documentary understandably dismantles that idea, celebrating the fans and artists that have coalesced around the show, and exploring the increasingly fluid boundaries between the cultural labels of “artist” and “fan.”  But, because I was brought in specifically to offer some scholarly background on fan studies, I thought I might use this space to express some of my remarks that didn’t make the cut.  Nothing against the filmmakers, I think they did a bang-up job, and anyone who knows me knows I can be a bit skeptical about monetizing fan production and sensitive to hierarchically privileging some forms of fan expression over others.  That wasn’t the story the filmmakers set out to tell, and accordingly this blog post strives to reclaim some comments from the cutting room floor and pose some broader questions about the trend towards “fan art” gallery shows.

First, a confession: I am an avid collector of art (originals and prints) from Gallery 1988, Los Angeles galleries that specialize in thematic collections around particular (cult) media properties and genres.  The “Six Seasons and A Movie” art show at PixelDrip was similar to Gallery 1988 shows, in fannish scope and audience, but further played up the “art show by/for fans” angle by including a costume contest and more interactive offerings (a playable version of the video game from the episode “Digital Estate Planning,” for example).  I don’t have exact numbers, but the show appeared the feature a mix of professional artists who are fans of Community, and Community fan artists.  What’s the difference?  Increasingly, it’s difficult to gauge, but this doesn’t mean the hierarchies that underpin this distinction (both between “artist” and “fan artist,” and within the category of “fan artist” in terms of who was selected to participate in the gallery show) evaporate.

Fan art is, of course, nothing new, nor is the intersection between art and popular culture (see: Lichtenstein, Warhol, Banksy et. al.).  What is novel is the legitimizing discourse that occurs when “fan art” moves into the gallery space, and begin to be sold.  I often return to the dialogue created by Karen Hellekson’s and Abigail De Kosnik in the In Focus section of Cinema Journal 48, No. 4 (Summer 2009).  Hellekson’s article, “A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture,” argues for both the legal and social necessity of fan works being exchanged within a gift economy. Meanwhile, De Kosnik’s essay, “Should Fan Fiction Be Free?,” makes a compelling case for why fans, and female fans in particular, might find it empowering (or, simply preferable) to profit from their fannish labor.  Both Hellekson and DeKosnik are concerned with the media industries’ encroachment on fan culture and practices, and their attempts to commercialize fan fiction.

So, my central question is, can we neatly apply these same concerns to fan art?  Does its designation as “art,” and the growing popularity of liminal spaces like deviantART, facilitate a smoother transition for these forms of fan production into more “professional” spheres, or allow it to be monetized without the same blowback within fan communities?  My own experience within fandom is that, while I would balk if someone charged me to read their fan fiction, I wouldn’t blink if I saw a fan selling their art (particularly if it was commissioned).  While I am absolutely giddy that shows like “Six Seasons and A Movie,” or gallery spaces like Gallery 1988, acknowledge the immense talent of fans, I wonder if they truly acknowledge the lineage of fan art, or adequately reflect its sensibilities.    What are the implications of call this a fan art show, when primarily professional artists are participating?

Generally, I feel there’s some important work to be done on the disconnects between contemporary fan culture (or the interpellation of fan culture into industry, high art, etc.) and histories of fandom and fan studies.  Fan art has always been under-theorized (to my mind), despite the fact that, second to vidding, it has perhaps benefitted the most from digital tools and platforms.  I would also suggest that fan artists have historically presented the most slippage between “amateur” and “professional.”  So, do we call these “fan art” shows?  Is it important (or even possible) to demarcate between artist/fan and fan/artist?  I’m still working through my take on this…with Grant Searcey’s “Raiding Ft. Tusken” on canvas and Bruce White’s “Wet Hot Velvet Coop” looking down on me…

[Side note on the above video: I admittedly stumbled in the moment I was asked about my favorite Community quote.  In a panic, I fell back on my dual loves, The Warriors and “Modern Warfare.” Here’s my actual favorite…from Abed, obviously: “We’ve lost our Cliff Clavin. Our George Costanza. Our Turtle…or Johnny Drama…or E.  Man, that show is sloppy.”]





Considering the “bad object”: fandom and/as social justice

8 08 2012

Fellow fans and aca-friends, lend me your ears and send me your comments!

This weekend, I’m headed to Geek Girl Con to participate in a roundtable with Anita Sarkeesian and Alejandra Espino titled “Let’s Get Critical: Fans, Creators, and Social Justice.”  Here’s the official description:

As fans and creators interested in gender equality and social justice, there are times when our political views seem to interfere with media engagement and media creation. Actions like acknowledging one’s privilege or discovering the systemic misogynist/racist/ableist structures prevalent in our favorite shows, movies, comic books, and video games can be a source of tension. This panel will address the complexities of engaging with media through the lens of social justice, both as fans and as creators.

 As I’ve been thinking through this topic as an acafan, and considering my personal “bad objects”…of which, I’m quickly realizing, there are many…

Smart is the new sexy…unless you’re a woman. Then you should rub your boobs on a chalkboard.

A couple of questions popped immediately to mind, and I’d love to crowdsource some feedback on any of these issues before heading into the roundtable:
  • What is your personal “bad object,” or text (maybe one you abandoned and one you still consider yourself a fan of despite finding it problematic)?
  • Where do we “draw the line,” and how we draw them (e.g. do we just stop watching/playing/financially supporting?  Do we avoid future work from those creators?  Do we create/disseminate critical commentary and/or advocate for others to “draw the line,” etc.).
  • Transformative fan texts are powerful devices to express one’s own personal politics, and speak back to problematic media representations, but how might we accomplish a broader transformative shifts within media industries?  What are the most effective channels/platforms/tactics for raising these issues and encouraging systemic change?
Even better, if you attend this panel, I’d love to hear from you!




CFP for SCMS 2013 Panel: Women in/and Comic Book Culture

17 07 2012

Hey aca-friends, are you or is someone you know interested in being part of a SCMS panel on Women in/and Comic Book Culture?  If so, read on…

Reading the recent (and excellent, I might add) In Focus section of Cinema Journal focused on the state of the field of comics studies, I was struck by a remark Scott Bukatman made about “the predictable parade of concerns that played through in other fields decades ago” (Smith et. al. 2011: 138), that he viewed as currently weighing down comics studies as a developing field.  Representation (e.g. women in comics, African Americans in comics, etc.) was used as the primary example, but the other male comics scholars in conversation with Bukatman (Greg M. Smith, Thomas Andrae,  and Thomas LaMarre) agreed that the emphasis should be on the “how,” rather than the “what” of comics.  Because I firmly believe that, as the past year in comic book culture has made abundantly clear, questions of the “what” of comics (representation), cannot be easily divorced from broader studies of industry and audience (what we might dub the “why” and the “who” of comics), I felt compelled to put together a panel on women and comic book culture, both to raise the visibility of female comic creators, readers, and scholars, and to consider how gender impacts the study of comics more broadly.

Some potential topics for this panel include:

  • Representations of women in comics
  • Fan reactions and transformative responses to women in comics and comic culture (Women in Refrigerators, New 52 representation and/or Neilsen survey fallout, Mary Jane meme, Batgirl of San Diego, etc.)
  • Female comic book auteurs
  • Female superheroes
  • Gender and ethnographic studies of comic book readership and fandom
  • Crowdfunding/Kickstarter comics (e.g. Womanthology or similar) [Fair warning, I may call dibs on this one]
  • Women and Indie Comics
  • Niche marketing and the history of “girls” comics
  • Gendered spaces of comic book fan culture (LCS, conventions, etc.)

I cannot stress enough that the topics above are just some initial ideas.  Ideally I’d like to collaboratively decide on the scope with others to create a cohesive panel that still represents a variety of viewpoints and topics.  This panel will hopefully be sponsored by the newly formed SCMS Comic Studies SIG (which, even if you aren’t interested in submitting to the panel, you should join if you’re an SCMS member interested in comics studies, they’re a fine group of folks).

If you’re interested, please email me a brief abstract (300 words) by August 1, or just contact me with any questions: suzannescott[at]oxy.edu

__________________

Greg M. Smith et. al., “Surveying the World of Contemporary Comics Scholarship: A Conversation,” Cinema Journal 50, No. 3, Spring 2011 (135-147).





Gender/Genre (or why I’m about to Hulk out on Moviefone)

2 05 2012

We have a new, vile example of the marginalization of fangirls (or the general treatment of women as a surplus audience), courtesy of Moviefone.  I have written about the “Princess Naked” and/or “Dr. Girlfriend” gendered Comic-Con stereotypes forwarded by the popular press on this blog in the past, but articles like this one are part of a more persistent and pervasive trend.  Written by Jessie Heyman, “A Girls’ Guide to The Avengers” (since retitled “One Girl’s Guide to The Avengers,” which makes it all better, except that it doesn’t), begins with “As your boyfriend probably told you, ‘The Avengers’ is hitting theaters this Friday…” and somehow manages to go downhill from there.

In addition to reifying the generic pink ghetto (“But you hate action movies and you’ve never even read a comic book,” followed quickly by a Bridget Jones/romcom reference to make us womenfolk feel more comfortable), and offering swoony heteronormative incentives to attend (both of the “Thor’s hammer” and “feign interest to please your boyfriend” variety), the article offers the following helpful advice:

What NOT to say:
“Do you think Scarlett Johansson is pretty?”
“Oh, so it’s like the ‘New Years Eve’ of superhero movies?”
“Who could concentrate on the story with all those biceps?”
“Boys are so weird.”

What to say:
“Thank GOD someone did the Hulk correctly.”
“I can’t wait for ‘Thor 2.'”
“Joss Whedon is the man.”
“Yeah, you’re definitely Iron Man. If he were buffer.”

Now, I’m not going to quibble with the fact that the author of this article failed to decode the acronym S.H.I.E.L.D. correctly, or mistakenly identified Pepper Potts as Tony Stark’s assistant (that’s *former* assistant, thankyouverymuch).  What I will quibble with is the fact that I read one of these articles almost every damn day.  True, they’re not all as blood-boilingly heinous as this one is, but as a point of comparison, let’s go back to a 2009 article in the Los Angeles Times titled “The Girls’ Guide to Comic-Con.”

Featuring a collection of blurbs from online journalists claiming that SDCC was “not just for nerdy guys anymore,” but rather a “smorgasbord for female fandemonium,” the article details 22 lures for female attendees, based on predictions about SDCC’s then-yet-to-be-released programming schedule.  Of these 22 supposed draws for female attendees, 15 (68%) revolved around the promise of “eye candy” in the form of male celebrities, 3 (14%) focused on historically “feminine” genres such as soap operas and weepies, 3 (14%) focused on television series or films featuring strong female characters, and there was 1 (4%) token example of demographic and gender neutral programming (Toy Story 3).  In the rare instances that the article acknowledged a desire for fangirls to see themselves depicted as strong women by the media industry, this “strength” was defined exclusively in terms of fashion sense (regarding the television reboot of The Witches of Eastwick…remember that?!  Of course you don’t.), and empty celebrations of “girl power” (literally empty, as Echo on Dollhouse was described as “airheady”).

Here are a few choice quotes from that article (and trust me, they’re all deeply offensive, and written by male and female journalists alike):

This is all to say that fangirls (and female audiences generally) deal with this marginalization on a daily basis, the Moviefone article is just one example of a pervasive discursive trend that has accompanied the celebration of fanboys as an emergent power demographic.  Newspaper stories put on gasping/fainting airs when it was revealed that women comprised 48% of the opening weekend audience for The Dark Knight (2008).  The articles that emerged didn’t recognize that fangirls were always already part of the “fanboy” demographic.  Rather, they framed The Dark Knight’s large female audience as an anomaly and attempted to deconstruct the film’s appeal for women.  The film’s executive producer, Thomas Tull, cited the “female appeal” and the acting pedigree of stars Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. Other journalists simply wrote off the large female audience as a manifestation of “rubberneck curiosity” to see Ledger’s posthumous performance as the Joker.  The notion that fangirls had long circulated around Batman as a property was never broached as a potential explanation for the film’s success.

We wouldn’t stand for articles detailing “appropriate” careers for women, and so it’s unsurprising over the outcry over the Moviefone article, which suggests “appropriate” genres for men and women to circulate around.  Derek Johnson has done some excellent work on gendered franchising discourses, a “complex and contradictorily gendered phenomenon in which the feminized narratives of seriality [are] revalued through the economic logics of industrial rationality.”[1]  If franchises aim to position themselves as  “seemingly gender-neutral,”[2] the popular press’ coverage of them is anything but.

When I go see The Avengers this weekend (with a bunch of female friends with varying interests in comics and action films, I should note), even my soda selection at the snack bar has an opinion on whether or not I’m the intended audience:

The Dr. Pepper 10 ads have been (justifiably) criticized to death, but the “intended” audience for Marvel properties is also implicit in the majority of the partnered ads between Marvel films and Dr. Pepper.  Hey, check it out, Black Widow has been reduced to Stan Lee’s hot secretary!

A few more things:

– Go read The Discriminating Fangirl’s excellent response to the Moviefone article debacle.

– Keep getting outraged when these articles appear.  They’re not satirical, they reflect the pervasive and persistent devaluation of female spectators by media industries.  Keep tweeting and blogging and commenting (a big “Excelsior!” those commenting at Moviefone, you are all articulate, hilarious people.) and let the popular press know that this discourse is unacceptable.

– Go buy/support Womanthology, or GeekGirlCon, or go read any number of kickass blogs that deal with fan culture in a thoughtful way (I’m looking at you, The Mary Sue!)

– Congratulations, Moviefone, you’ve just made it into my book revisions (hint, it ain’t gonna be pretty…and I know that will disappoint you, because that’s how you like your ladies, pretty and silent and complacent).  Also, on behalf of female comic book fans everywhere, maybe you should stop telling us what to say and what not to say, and hold yourself accountable for what YOU do and don’t say, and stop hiding behind your crappy cardboard Capt. America shield of “satire.”


[1] Derek Johnson, “Devaluing and Revaluing Seriality: The Gendered Discourses of Media Franchising,” Media, Culture, & Society 33.7, 1080.

[2] Ibid., 1091.





“More Cowbell”: My Avengers Remix Video

30 04 2012

You know what this toolkit needs?  More explosions.

As I noted in my prior post about Disney/Marvel’s partnership with YouTube to facilitate the creation of Avengers remix videos, it appears the available clips are changing daily, thankfully offering more character-driven clips.  When I made the video below  (full disclosure, I made this in about 5-10 min, not my finest or most contemplative work), a solid 37.5% of the available clips were all explosions, and another 40% featured men doing things to cause explosions and/or attempting to evade said explosions.  It immediately gave me flashbacks to the Battlestar Galactica videomaker toolkit, which also heavily favored things exploding/careening through space:

I’m always interested in how the clips included these “authorized” video remix toolkits suggest appropriate uses/creative directions, or which sorts of fan narratives they pointedly constrict.  My aim with this video was to reflect on those decisions:

I fully intended to go back in and spend some time making a proper video, as opposed to this dashed-off, knee-jerk response.  I hope others do the same, prodding at the boundaries of what can or can’t be created, the argumentative capacity of the toolkit, and which strains of remix culture are encouraged or elided (fan vids? parodies?  slash?  fake trailers? etc.),

To give you a sense of the editing/remixing interface:

I didn’t take full advantage off the capabilities here, as the goal was to create something quick-and-dirty that might still be contemplative about my gut response to this gesture from Marvel and Disney.  The song I selected, “Shake the Ground” by Cherri Bomb, was notably the only offering performed by women, but more importantly it struck the tone that I wanted.  Lyrically, I think it actually works fairly well as a commentary on how these “legit” fan video initiatives have a tendency to leave pre-existing vidding practices unacknowledged, or shift the form’s logics back towards the promotional visual language that the industry is comfortable with. Quoth the chorus:

I won’t do what I’m told

I will wear you break you down, take you down

Shake the ground

Your dark sun leaves me cold

I will burn it out, wear you down

Shake the ground 

The image I kept coming back to, and loop repeatedly at one point, is that of a woman being hurled against a cafe table.  The image is quite clearly about the impact of the explosion on this woman’s body, and I suppose I wanted to ruminate on the “impact” of these video remix outreach efforts on female fans and vidders in particular.  The shots of Black Widow at the end hopefully also speak to this, moving from a look of horror, to fighting back, and ultimately a reclamation of the explosion.

I also wanted to use the toolkit in an unintended or unexpected way (cutting to black before the song concludes, rhythmic repetition of images, and so on).  Given more time, I think that making metavids about the limitations of various remix video toolkits offered by the industry could function as a wonderful running commentary on how these sanctioned initiatives are (or aren’t) slowly beginning to engaging with pre-existing fan video practices and aesthetics.  Likewise, I like the idea of speaking back to those developing these spaces through the form itself.

Finally, I must point everyone to the wonderful current issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, on Fan/Remix Video.  It’s a great starting point for thinking through these industrial efforts towards authorized forms of remixing.  In particular, I had Kathleen Ann Williams’ article, “Fake and fan film trailers as incarnations of audience anticipation and desire,” in mind while playing around with the Avengers toolkit.  To pull from her conclusion:

“Although trailers are often thought of as advertising an end product, these [fan] trailers function beyond the realm of the advertisement and instead suggest that the trailer lasts beyond the release of the feature, not only as an artifact but as a cultural object that can be integrated into new spaces and as a form in which to enact desires for future texts.”

I’ll be curious to see how I respond to the aural and visual elements of my video when I see the film theatrically this weekend- I somehow doubt I’ll look at that women hitting the cafe table the same way.  The temporal experience of creating the video from promotional materials prior to being granted their narrative context is also interesting, as the videos fans are creating this week are inevitably about the the expectations and desires that have been strategically cultivated by promotional paratexts, inverting the conventional production and reception process for fan vids.

Are you planning on making anything with the Avengers video remix toolkit?  If so, please let me know, I’d be curious to hear about others’ experiences.





The Avengers Remix video toolkit

28 04 2012

This week, Variety ran a story about Disney and Marvel’s partnership with YouTube to create a video remix toolkit, including 32 short clips from the film and excerpts of 4 songs from the film’s soundtrack (each track under a minute long), along with clips of dialogue, and a variety of SFX and transition options.  The title of this article?

“Disney, Marvel offer do-it-yourself ‘Avengers’ vids: YouTube software allows fans to craft legit remixes from pic”

There are myriad problems with both the toolkit and Variety‘s legitimization discourse that I’d like to get into, but first let me say this: Generally, I love the idea of giving fans HD raw materials to create their own remix videos.  I love that these tools might allow some fans who tend to think of themselves as consumers rather than creators an entry point into other forms of fan production.  I love that these “authorized” remix contests/tools at least begin to acknowledge both the creative and promotional value of fans to the success of media franchises.

Here’s what I don’t love:

– Of the 32 clips provided to me to work with (and they appear to be changing daily), here’s generally how they break down in terms of visual content, with the Misc. category composed of things like the obligatory group shot, Loki looking menacing/sexy, etc.:

Clip content breakdown for Disney/Marvel's Avengers remix video toolkit

I get it.  I do.  They wanted to stick with images from the trailer (hence, no spoilers for fans to get testy about), and the trailer is designed to sell the generic action of a superhero blockbuster.  These are clips of promotional materials from which fan-produced promotional materials are designed to be generated.  As the Variety piece championing the move by Disney and Marvel tellingly notes:

“[This] marketing move is seen as the latest way to make moviegoers, especially younger ones, feel as if they’re part of a film’s campaign.”

Not part of the film, or a community surrounding the film, but part of the campaign.  Thus far, many of the remixes made with this tool are quite impressive in terms of their professional polish and their ability to mimic the aesthetic language of promotional paratexts, but the lack of any character interactions provided as raw material inherently limits what’s produced. More diverse clips would inevitably lead to more diverse creative uses, and while the diversity of explosions offered here is laudable (Jets!  Buildings!  A Cafe!  Taxis!  More Taxis!  And hell, why not make a taxi explosion clip trilogy while we’re at it!), it also feels like a none-too-subtle attempt to overdetermine what “narratives” people use the tool to tell.  At its core, The Avengers is about relationships, but you wouldn’t know it from the range of clips provided.  Save for a pair of nano-second long clips of various male members of the team exchanging blows (not enough to construct anything slashy, trust me, I made a valiant effort), there are virtually no shots where two characters interact, and the limited character shots that are provided tend to be interrupted immediately by those pesky explosions, making it difficult to create a video that ruminates on the relationships between members of the team.

[NOTE: I just checked back on the site and they seem to have swapped out some of yesterday’s clips with more character clips, so perhaps some of these complaints can be dialed back depending on which stable of clips you’ve been given.]

– The obligatory terms of service stranglehold, which as usual forces the remixer to waive all rights to their creation.  To wit, see the load page for the remix interface, and a selection from the terms of service this main pages links out to:

Remixers, ye be warned...

Mickey seems awfully pleased with himself...

My central concern is one that won’t surprise anyone who has read my work, or Julie Levin Russo’s excellent work on Battlestar Galactica‘s videomaker toolkit.  Not only do these “authorized” efforts fail to meaningfully reach out to pre-existing fan vidding communities, they seem to aggressively dissuade the forms of remix that have been historically created by women.  This isn’t to say that many female fans aren’t using (or enjoying using) this new Avengers remix platform, simply that if this is a model towards “legit” fan remix video that implies that this is a potential effort to displace or dissuade those “illegitimate” forms.  Those that stage an argument or a counter-reading, ruminate on the dynamics between characters or queer them, or take the narrative in a new, unexpected (e.g. unsanctioned) direction.

There is also something to be said here about the fallaciously gendered construction of both comic book readers and the audience for franchise films.  In both cases, women continue to be treated as surplus audiences, and perhaps are considered surplus remixers here as well.  Efforts like these from Disney and Marvel are tend to be discursively framed as a decisive break from the industry’s prior prohibitionist response to fan production (commonly manifesting in the form of cease and desist letters and other methods of legal censure), taking a more collaborationist approach to fan culture and fan production.  While this might mark a step in the right direction, we need to continue to be critical of what modes of creative censure come attached to these collaborationist gestures, and which audiences they court.  The big issues here: industrial cooptation of fan labor, ownership/authorship within copyright culture, ideological censure, seem to recur with the release of each new video toolkit, and to my mind mark an ongoing need to consider how prohibitionist efforts evolve, become more covert, or create legitimizing discourses around “sanctioned” modes of fan engagement.

The Avengers video remix toolkit ultimately speaks to the growing popularity of remix culture, and the shifting cultural and technological landscape that is facilitating it, without meaningfully engaging with those communities of practice.

In my next post, I’ll show you what I created with the Avenger Remix video toolkit, and discuss what I hoped to convey…

Spoiler alert: I didn’t skimp on the explosions.