SCMS 2012 Workshops

13 04 2012

This year, I participated at two teaching workshops at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference (still catching up from the week away, but wanted to share my prezis and some quick reflections):

– The Undergraduate Television Paper [Wednesday, 3/21 from 2-3:45pm]

Participants: Ethan Thompson, Suzanne Scott, Daniel Marcus, Derek Kompare, and Ben Aslinger

The wonderful Christine Becker was nice enough to write up this workshop, along with other teaching workshops she attended (which, one among many who constantly complains about programming conflicts, I was grateful for, along with the other coverage by SCMS bloggers this year!).  It was a small group, due to last minute room changes, losing a few panelists, and general Wednesday-ness, but a lively conversation.  In particular, I appreciated the emphasis from Derek Kompare and others about the benefits of autobiographical assignments.  We also had an interesting exchange (I believe at Heather Hendershot’s prompting) about which essays we assign students that model good writing.  Notably, in many cases this wasn’t academic/scholarly writing, and my own 2 cents on this is that I frequently create thematic pairs of thoughtful blog posts/magazine articles and scholarly journal articles to have students reflect on both forum and form, and how effective each is in conveying their argument.

My sample assignment that I shared with the group was the take-home midterm from my freshman writing class at Occidental this past fall (themed around fandom and participatory culture).  Though it wasn’t explicitly assigned as a “flow” assignment, I would certainly assign something similar in an introductory television studies class.  I wanted to pick a show we hadn’t watched in class, procedural series with an network of ancillary content surrounding it, and settled on Castle (ABC).  I had made a decision at the beginning of the semester to design the paper assignment around an episode that aired within a week of students beginning to write, both in terms of accessibility (available on Hulu and network website), and so that they would be engaging with the rhythms and temporalities of broadcasting and the release of ancillary web content alongside other fans of the show.

For those not familiar with the show, Castle is a police procedural focused on a male mystery writer shadowing a female detective, and this particular episode was focused on a masked vigilante who had taken on the identity of a comic book hero, Lone Vengeance.  There were two primary approaches to take with this assignment, which broadly asked them to analyze the intertextual intersections between the episode and various examples of ancillary web content, and then consider fan engagement, or what this ancillary content offered fans:

  • First, they could examine what this content said about shifts within the television industry, in terms of transmedia branding and horizontal integration.  Most of my students framed this analysis around the Derrick Storm Graphic Novel (Disney/ABC/Marvel ownership), and its not-so-subtle appearance in the episode.  Also, timed to the release of the episode, selections of the graphic novel were released on the official Castle site, and the full graphic novel was released 2 days after this episode aired.
  •  Second approach to this assignment was to consider how television text and paratext inform each other, and what function this relationship serves for audiences through an examination of the blog written by the series’ title character

Though it appears that this is veering into a paper about webcomics, or transmedia storytelling more broadly and abandoning a discussion of television as a result, I think it’s useful to consider the slippages between series and serialized television, and consider what these ancillary texts have to tell us about the valuation of television fans within convergence culture.  These digital extensions also tell us a great deal about shifts within the television industry.

My presentation/provocation was meant to suggest how we might incorporate these new forms of multiplatform flow into our conversations with students about television form history, industry, and audiences.

– Teaching Comics Studies [Friday, 3/23 from 12:15-2pm]

Participants: Drew Morton, Scott Bukatman, Suzanne Scott, Greg Smith, James Thompson, and Matt Yockey

I have to say, I was thrilled with how this workshop went, and honored to be part of such a rich panel.  Having met with the newly-formed Comic Studies SIG the night before, I was thrilled to see a packed house for this panel.  Clearly, comics are being taught across disciplines, and with different emphases, and I thoroughly enjoyed swapping experiences with both the panelists and participants from the audience.

My own contribution to this conversation was to suggest theory/praxis assignments for students, offering some impressive examples created by students in my Comic Book Culture class at UC Santa Cruz (including a comic created to accompany a term paper focusing on the representation of women in comics, and a short film attempting to replicate with comic book aesthetics), sample assignments by other scholars that I would incorporate into future comic classes (with attribution, naturally!), and tools that might help students create their own comics with limited artistic experience.

So, enjoy, and feel free to ask me more detailed questions about either of these workshops, or the ideas contained in these prezi presentations.



27 03 2012

Here I sit, precisely 48 hours after arriving home from the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Boston…scratchy throat, drinking tea and running through kleenex like it’s going out of style.  Con crud has claimed another victim.  It feels an awful lot like late-July…

During Thursday’s “Gendering Fandom” panel, Paul Booth made a passing remark on the Twitter backchannel that got me thinking: Is there really such a difference between SCMS and SDCC?  Where do we draw the line between conference and convention?

We can partially credit the historic Park Place Hotel for allowing this analogy to worm its way into my brain.  After all, anyone who has braved the floor of the Expo Hall at SDCC knew exactly how to navigate those narrow, body-jammed hallways between panels (hint: it’s all about the elbows).  Once I started thinking about it, I noticed some other interesting parallels:

  • Panel overflow and “camping” (No Hall H worthy drama here, but my roommate did storm back into our room around 11:05am on Saturday morning complaining that people had camped out through the early panel.  Substitute “that Warhol paper I needed to see” with “the Dr. Who panel” and you see where I’m going with this…)
  • Underground information exchanges regarding party locations and access.  Arguably, more people have tried to get into the USC party than Flynn’s Arcade over the past few years.
  • Fan art!  (From my workshop on Teaching Comic Studies- thanks, Dan Carino!)

  • Passionate, analytical defenses of Indiana Jones 4: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (courtesy of Janet Staiger)
  • Panel envy.  The grass/exclusive footage/Foucault reference is always greener…
  • Swag from University Presses (?!)

Nina Huntemann rightly noted to me that it won’t really be Comic-Con until someone creates a stunt to promote a book they’re releasing.  So, if your study of race and representation in zombie horror has a 2013 publication date, just let me know.  I’m fully prepared to collect some likeminded scholars for a zombie walk around Chicago on your behalf.

All joking aside, there’s something to be said about how we navigate SCMS as fans (of particular scholars, media texts, disciplines), approach our own work as fans, and/or perform our fannish investments/detachment in that space.  Chime in on parallels I may have missed…I somehow doubt that cosplay was involved (if only!), but I’d be curious to hear from others who have noticed similarities in terms how we do/don’t perform our identities as media consumers (and “fans,” for those who feel comfortable embracing the designation) in the conference space we populate as media scholars.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I love the week after the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, when all my favorite academics blog eloquently written impressions and analyses (some from the official SCMS conference bloggers are already up).  As always, I left SCMS intellectually invigorated, reconnected with old friends and colleagues and introduced to incredible scholars. A serious post about my takeaways from #scms12 and my workshops will follow…after I get rid of the crud.]

Happy #FemShepFriday, everyone!

10 02 2012

Just a quick follow up to my prior post regarding Bioware’s “beauty contest”/marketing fail for their Mass Effect 3 promotional campaign.  Well, the trailer’s finally here, and female gamers everywhere should be breathing a collective sigh of relief:

Of course, just because the trailer isn’t a condescending nightmare doesn’t mean it won’t be analyzed, and I fully intend to collect those posts here.  So, if you come across any commentary (e.g. Why Renegade!Femshep?  What’s the significance of Bioware creating a second round of voting to arrive at this redheaded iteration, after the blonde trumped all in the initial Facebook vote debacle?, etc.), please send it my way in comments. The response on Twitter, which you can follow at  #FemShepFriday, has been overwhelmingly positive, and here are some of the more interesting ones I’ve collected today:

The theme of the majority of the tweets thus far seems to be “My Shep is…,” rather than a response to the trailer, speaking to the fact that ultimately no Shep (be it Fem or Bro) will ever sufficiently capture the game’s best feature:  choice.  I’d be curious to hear if players project their own iteration of Shep onto Bioware’s promotional/marketing materials…


  • Good overview of the events leading up to today’s trailer launch (via Gamezone)
  • “She Has Arrived: More Love for Mass Effect 3’s Female Shepard” (via Savegame)
  • 2010 analysis of FemShep’s popularity, worth revisiting (via Gamasutra)

Contemplating transmedia scholarship

8 12 2011

Happy grading season to all you academics, and happy pre-holidays to all you students and surfers who have stumbled across my blog in your internet wanderings!

I’ll be spending a good chunk of my holiday collaborating with Chris Hanson to develop a digital “draft” of a submission to a “book” project that emerged out of Database | Narrative | Archive: An International Symposium on Nonlinear Digital Storytelling.  I’m really excited about it, both because I get to co-author the project with a good friend and brilliant scholar, but also because the project will be constructed in Scalar.  Scalar was developed at USC, through the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, and I am looking forward to exploring the platform and thinking through the form and function of multimodal scholarship.

The question our contribution will respond to is:

How might scholars explore interactive and digital technologies as forms of ‘procedural scholarship’?

My immediate gut response to this prompt, which you can explore in more detail in the CFP, was to consider how we might adapt the central principles and qualities of transmedia storytelling to discuss and develop instances of transmedia scholarship.  As our own work begins to travel across media platforms, I think further contemplation of Henry Jenkins’ post on Transmedia Education is warranted, in which Jenkins applies the seven “core principles” detailed below to learning environments.

I can think of plenty of wonderful scholars who are attempting to work these properties into their pedagogy, but are we actively attempting to embody them with our scholarship?  Outside of the seven principles Jenkins outlines here, are you thinking about building migratory cues into your scholarship?  What does collective intelligence look like in this model?  Are the transmedia “extensions” of our own work serving a similar promotional function as the majority of industrial transmedia extensions?

I’m hoping to use Scalar as a platform to grapple with the potentialities and limitations of transmediated scholarly arguments and research.  While many have (rightly) championed transmedia storytelling models for being participatory, non-linear, and co-creative enterprises, my own work on industrial transmedia entertainment argues that these models ultimately tend to reify and reward conventional modes of engagement and exploration.  Through a consideration of how these “core principles” might be adapted to conceptualize multimodal scholarship, I hope to examine how theories of transmedia storytelling might broadly help scholars envision their work traversing various media, platforms, and audiences.

So, here’s where you come in.  If you’re an academic, or know an academic, who is either actively creating transmedia scholarship, or attempting to work in some of the principles of transmedia storytelling into their own work or pedagogy, please contact me at or leave a comment below.  Alternately, if you are a transmedia scholar and/or have opinions on what transmedia scholarship might look like, the potentialities or limitations (for example, what happens when we ask those “reading” our work to become hunters and gatherers?), I’d also like to hear your thoughts.  I’d really love for this project to include some conversations/images/videos with other scholars (or students, for that matter), so consider this a first attempt to exhibit collective intelligence at work.

I’ve also just set up a new twitter account @acatransmedia, and will be using #transmediascholarship to document the project.  Not sure yet what function this twitter “extension” might serve, but please follow if you’re interested.

Thanks in advance for your contributions, or for passing this along to someone who might be interested!

Framing fandom in The Muppets

27 11 2011

It is safe to say I am a Muppet fan.  Case in point, I had the honor of being the first to get married at the Jim Henson Company (which, it should be noted, was originally Charlie Chaplin’s studio, so I’m going to guess we were also the first couple to play Rock Band in Chaplin’s screening room).

My bedtime used to be determined by The Muppet Show.  One of my last weekends living in New York before I graduated from NYU was spent sitting in a theater watching The Muppets Take Manhattan.  I may or may not have cried about leaving the city and the gang of friends I’d made.  I even repurposed my longstanding fixation with The Dark Crystal into a terrible term paper in grad school.  I vaguely remember it having something to do with religion, or Reaganism.  Mostly, it was an excuse to re-watch the movie and debate Skeksis’ ritual disrobing practices.  The Muppets are a media property that has accompanied every stage of my life, culminating in the warm nostalgic glow of The Muppets this weekend that I’m still basking in.

Needless to say, I was excited when I first heard that Jason Segel was rebooting the franchise.  Most, including myself, took comfort in the fact that the franchise was in the hands of an unabashed fan.  I’ve recently been exploring the “fanboy auteur” as an emerging authorial archetype in my own work, and Segel is a perfect example of how a fanboy auteur’s liminal identity can be effectively deployed to reach out to existing fan bases and mitigate the claims of commercial opportunism these reboots usually provoke.  There’s a great paper to be written about how Segel has paratextually mobilized his identity as a Muppet fan from the announcement of the project through its promotion.  If my own response is any indication, Segel’s sincerity and affect was  key promotional tool, because he so perfectly echoes the ethos of The Muppets.

I saw The Muppets last night, at the very theater that serves as the Muppet Theater in the film (meta alert!), the Disney owned and operated El Capitan.  The fact that the Muppets themselves are now also Disney owned and operated is something that the film brushes up against repeatedly, all the while assuring the audience that the Muppets won’t be sullied by their new corporate context, particularly with a fan at the helm. When the Muppets solicit money, we’re assured they’re doing so to (somewhat paradoxically) save themselves from being forced to “sell out.”

All of this said, what was far more interesting to me was the way that the film frames fandom.  SPOILERS follow, so please refrain from reading until you see the film, which is delightful and deserves to be appreciated. If you’ve already seen the film, read on for some initial thoughts on what it means to construct the newest “Muppet” as a Muppet fan.

Walter, the most recent addition to the Muppet family, a picture of fannish consumption

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The curious dual address of nichestream texts (Chapter I)

26 11 2011

A few months ago, I tore through Ernest Cline’s geektacular novel Ready Player One. I highly recommend it, both because it is wonderfully inventive while still being winkingly evocative of Snow Crash, and because I think it trounces Little Brother as a piece of fiction that deftly engages issues of free culture, surveillance, and virtual identities.

But despite my enjoyment, I was also hyperaware as I read that Ready Player One is yet another prime example of the curious dual address that texts have cultivated as fan/geek culture has moved from the margins to the mainstream.  This dual address simultaneously presumes that consumers are conversant in geek culture references, while hyperconsciously couching those references in archetypes/stereotypes, or otherwise easily decoded framing devices.  Ready Player One might be viewed as a more populist literary descendant of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a text that also encourages a fannish decoding of its many references.  Henry Jenkins has playfully used Diaz’s novel as a geek litmus test, listing the novel’s pop culture references from A:

…to Z:

As this alphabetical bookending suggests, the gap between “normative” fannish interests (e.g. sports) and “excessive” fan subculture (e.g. a scifi/fantasy film in which James Bond wears a red diaper and suspenders with thigh-high boots…hey, it’s the future…) is an ever shrinking one.  Just ask geek culture sage Patton Oswalt.

I’d argue that this trend towards geek culture intertextuality/referentiality differs from simple postmodern pastiche, in that it is centrally preoccupied with recuperation of the fanboy into hegemonic masculinity by framing him as an action and/or romantic hero.  The Big Bang Theory features a (perhaps unintentional) dual address that bifurcates the audience into those who laugh at the shows’ nerd collective, and those conversant enough in geeky jargon and fannish references to laugh with them.  The show’s approach to casting guest stars is a perfect example of this, with Firefly/The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ Summer Glau, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s/twitter demigod Wil Wheaton, Marvel Comics’ icon Stan Lee (quoth my Mom “Who is that old man?”), Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff, and astrophysicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot, all appearing as themselves.  These guest “stars” would appear to serve a counterintuitive (or at least an atypical) function, rewarding those conversant in nerd/geek/fan culture and potentially alienating, rather than drawing in, those in the mass audience who aren’t “in” on the reference or joke.

BSG's Katee Sackhoff and ST's George Takei as Howard's sexual subconscious on BBT

Heather Hendershot has argued that The Big Bang Theory’s latent misogyny, the fact that the show views women “strictly as sex objects,” routinely undercuts its representational potential and eradicates all points of identification for female viewers.  Astutely noting that The Big Bang Theory must be understood as a mass show framed as a niche show, and not the reverse, Hendershot frames the show’s effort to “have its cake and eat it too,” as persistently short-changing fangirl viewers or pointedly ignoring them.  Questioning why CBS “pretended to target a geek demographic, when it was really looking for lads all along,” Hendershot exposes who this recent wave of “nerd-friendly” programming is really targeting, but fails to fully explore how interchangeable these “geek” and “lad” demographics have become.  Vitally, Hendershot’s analysis does raise the question of who is being excluded from the “geek demographic” these nichestream texts target.  Penny, the primary “sex object” within Hendershot’s critique, is constantly perplexed by the fannish references the show spouts, and might provide a point of identification for a mass audience more inclined to laugh at, rather than with, the male characters discussions of fannish minutiae.  I would agree with Hendershot that The Big Bang Theory’s representational framework leaves little room for female viewers, much less fangirls, to situate themselves, though this appears to be changing in the most recent seasons.   

Which brings us to Ready Player One…fair warning, there are some (mild) SPOILERS ahead…

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On Autoethnography and Acafandom

15 11 2011

No blogging for me for the past couple of months, as I’ve been teaching my freshman core course on Fandom and Participatory Culture at Occidental College, and generally getting settled in my new corner of #alt-ac in the Center for Digital Learning + Research.  I’ve returned with some interesting tales from that class’ first assignment, and to shamelessly promote my contribution to the Acafandom and Beyond series that’s currently running on Henry Jenkins’ blog (our conversation is continued here).  In a nice moment of blogging synchronicity, both have encouraged me to think about transparency when it comes to how we (and our students) mobilize our fan identities in our scholarly work.

For the first assignment in my class, I asked my students to record a short, auteoethnographic audio file documenting their first fandom, and how that “fandom” was embodied and performed.  I required them to manipulate their audio file in Audacity, in part to maintain their anonymity on our course blog and encourage them to speak candidly, but also to have them consider if a fannish identity is still something to hide, or be ashamed of, in our contemporary participatory culture.  My students’ autoethnographies are archived here, and I’d strongly encourage you to go check a few of them out.  I think they’re really fascinating, both in terms of form and content (e.g. a student sounding like Andre the Giant while discussing a love of The Spice Girls).  The second part of the assignment was a written reflection on their audio file, through an address of the continued relevance (or not) of Joli Jensen’s 1992 essay “Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization.”

I created this assignment with a number of goals in mind:

  • To get a better sense of if/how my students self-identify as fans
  • To see how they negotiated, contextualized, and performed those identities
  • To get the class thinking about the culturally and socially constructed lines between “normal” and “excessive” fandom, how they’re maintained or dismantled, and the (often gendered) power dynamics that underpin those distinctions

The written responses were incredibly revealing about evolving understandings of (un)acceptable fan identities.  Many grounded their fan identity in their families, framing media texts as something they coalesced around with parents or siblings to deepen (or in some cases, establish) those relationships.  Some noted that they played down their fannish affect for a particular property in their authoethnography.  Conversely, others exaggerated their fan identity.  In both cases, the knowledge that their peers would be consuming their autoethnography impacted its content.  As a lifelong tomboy who spent her first few weeks at NYU channelling Cordelia on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (hey, it was 1997…I sort of considered it identity cosplay), I completely understand the flexible moment that the first few weeks of college represent, and concerns about codifying one’s identity when people are scrambling to make new friends and suss each other out.  What I had hoped would be a confessional assignment in many cases became an implicit commentary on how we perform our taste for others, and how we deploy our fan identities as a way of sculpting and reinforcing our identities more broadly.

Reading Will Brooker’s provocation in our Acafandom conversation, I couldn’t help but think about my students, and their responses to the autoethnography assignment, specifically what prompts us “shut up.”  I am a huge fan of Will and his work, but as I noted in my response I was put off by some of his remarks, in particular what I felt was an (implicitly gendered) dismissal of the “baby talk and sleepover squealing” quality of some fannish jargon that makes frequently its way into our work (squee, squick, et. al.).

In retrospect, my kneejerk response says a great deal about both my fannish and scholarly identities.  The response itself (which admittedly struck a much larger nerve surrounding the trend towards heralding fanboyish pursuits while devaluing fangirls or, worse yet, remarginalizing them within fan studies as we shift our focus to industrially sanctioned fan practices) was a defensive reflex, but it’s always felt a little performative to me.  As I noted in my response to Will, writing a chapter of my dissertation on Twilight anti-fandom forced me to confront my own biases about certain segments of fan culture that I don’t approve of as viable representatives.  I get Will’s point.  I don’t like being lumped in with the “squealers,” and I distance myself from them even as I defend them.  This is equally rooted in my fan identity (which has always occupied something of a conflicted position between the “fanboy” and “fangirl” camps, as they’re broadly defined), and my scholarly identity (which remains preoccupied with retaining the feminist underpinnings of the first wave of fan studies, and championing female consumers and scholars, even as we engage with fans’ new positions of power within convergence culture).

Not unlike my students, I’m still establishing my professional identity, and perhaps that has led to a heightened awareness of how I frame and present that identity.  My choice to focus on the job market in my provocation about acafandom was, in part, a response to the fact that many of the scholars who have called for the discontinuation of the term (or those, like Will, who make the personal and completely understandable decision to “shut up” about it) tend to be more established scholars.  Louisa Stein eloquently captured most of my feelings on the significance of the term “aca-fan” on her blog, but within my current work at Occidental’s Center for Digital Learning + Research, I see new evidence every single day that this isn’t just a debate within a small corner of media studies over the continued relevance of a term, but one facet of a much broader debate about the growing hybridity and interdisciplinarity that academia now demands.

I’d be curious to hear from others teaching courses on fan studies, media audiences, and/or social media if you’re asking your students to do similar self-reflections.  And, if you broach the topic of acafandom, how do you frame that identity (how it shapes your approach to pedagogy, or your own scholarship, or in terms of framing the articles they read in class)?