Filking

One reason I’m excited about my presentation at the Remake | Remodel conference in Germany at the end of June: I want to learn more about filking.

What is filk? I’ve appreciated this roundabout discussion from Debbie’s Filk FAQ in my search for definitions, which wisely warns readers, “don’t let yourself get mired down in the controversy and politics of defining filk.” (This is quite a lot like the first couple weeks of a class I took on cultural studies, where we decided that no one agreed on a definition before we even really attempted a definition.) But more practically, it’s the practice of singing folk-y, parody-filled songs with science fiction or fantasy themes.

I admit I’m new to the term, so as always when peering into a new crevice of fandom, there’s an inherent problem: knowing filk is probably pretty impossible without doing filk–hanging out in a circle, listening, and singing along. There’s something inherently weirder in standing aside and reading the Wikipedia entry from afar, scratching my beard and wisely nodding at my computer screen.

But as my interests are increasingly turning to rhetoric and sound/music, I’m excited to learn more about filk as an example of music being the vehicle for indirect kinds of rhetoric. I mean, even when music is instrumental, it still communicates something, just not with the clarity and precision we (overly) value in word-based communication. But when we have music with lyrics (and satirical lyrics, to boot!), it seems to me that we have something between instrumental music and straight-up verbal delivery without accompaniment, in terms of how the music reinforces or causes us to question the words being said. It’s a fun mess of meaning, and I love that.

But back to the problem of observation from afar: the video below is from BoingBoingTV and (oddly enough) sponsored by Verizon, even with a built-in commercial in the middle. But it’s a good introduction to the tradition–though a filk should probably be written about the mix of satire and praise and commercialism in the video.

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