Tag Archives: fandom

Describing a Certain TV Show (Or Two)

I’m going to describe a TV show that aired when I was in college. I won’t say the name of the show, but you should know that this post has MASSIVE SPOILERS for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias (up through the first few episodes of all of Season 3, which is as far as I’ve gotten). Hint hint and such.

Photo of a doll of Buffy

“This is obviously about me.”

In this show, Female Lead is an attractive young woman who can kick anyone’s butt. She’s adept at using any weapon that comes her way, but she’s especially impressive at hand-to-hand combat, using lots of kicks and flips. She’s the subject of a prophecy, and sometimes has nightmares involving religious iconography and blood. Perhaps the hardest thing about her life is the hidden nature of it: some of the closest people to her don’t know anything about the butt-kicking, evil-fighting part of her life. She dies at one point, yet when she returns she has a sort of shadow around her, a new sort of dark seriousness and fierceness that wasn’t there quite as much before. She would gladly sacrifice herself to save the people she loves. (While I won’t tell you her name, it has two syllables, emphasis on the first, ending with an -ee sound.)

Female Lead has two best friends. Female Best Friend is usually whimsical and fun, except for that time that her boyfriend ran away from her, which crushed her. And there was also that time that she turned evil and tried to fight Female Lead–long story. Male Best Friend often gets the show’s best humorous lines, but he senses that he’s often seen as merely the jokester: he feels left out of all the awesome evil-fighting that Female Lead does, wondering what he can offer. At the beginning of the show, he has a secret crush on Female Lead, but that kind of evaporates. At one point, Female Best Friend and Male Best Friend even get together for a while. (It ends badly.)

Female Lead’s fight against evil is helped tremendously by a father figure, a fellow who has a lot more experience in this kind of fight than she does. Sometimes he seems cold and distant, but deep down he really loves her and trusts her abilities.

Photo of Sydney Bristow from Alias

“Who is that other girl up there? Is she trying to take my story or something?”

Female Lead’s main Romantic Interest is a man who hangs out in all those secret places in Los Angeles that most people don’t know about. He looks great in a trench coat and gets beat up a lot. Once, for the greater good, Female Lead even stabs him, despite her love for him–but it’s okay, he doesn’t die. And even though he has flings with other women (most notoriously a blonde woman with a nasty side), we all kind of know that Romantic Interest and Female Lead are destined to be together.

Female Lead puts up with some flirting from Young, Blonde, British Bad Guy (YBBBG), a man who has led a successful life of crime over the years. Even though he fights with Female Lead a lot, he still proposes they work together at one point. He’s a fan favorite, a cool guy with a soft spot for a certain red liquid. (His British accent is faked for the show.)

Gina Torres doesn’t enter this fictional universe often, but when she does, bad things happen.

One trademark of the show is its heavy use of pop music–especially moody, female singers singing sad songs, often heard toward the end of an episode over a montage of events. Besides that, the orchestrated music accompanying other action and emotional scenes is notably good.

The man who created this series wasn’t nearly as popular and well known when it began as he is now. He’s gone on to direct major stars in big-budget action flicks, but some of his directing roles have shown that he still has a nostalgic memory for older styles of filmmaking. He’s pretty much required to be at Comic-Con from now until he dies.

(What have I missed? There must be more parallels.)

UPDATE

Two more for you, and they’re good:

  • Lindsay Crouse guest stars on this show as someone who investigates secrets that the general public doesn’t know about.
  • In the second half of this show, Female Lead discovers that she has a sister (and in a way has kind of had a sister all along, but it’s complicated). This sister’s name is short, with three prominent sounds: the consonants and and the vowel-sound AH.

Images: quichisinsane, “Sydney Bristow” and Scorpions and Centaurs, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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The Affective Slam of Sound

“What you’re looking for,” he said, “are words to theorize that moment when sound slams into you.”

We were at my dissertation defense, the committee and I sitting around a table situated to ignore the rows of onlookers. One of my committee members was rephrasing what he saw as the core of my theoretical project.

I thought of the sounds in the room at that moment: the shifting in seats, the typing on all the laptops, the echoes of the “Fratelli Chase” theme from The Goonies that had recently played as people entered the room. And I thought of the silences: my wife’s silent, smiling face in the crowd, the committee member’s silent waiting for a confirmation of his summary, and my silent pause before answering.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s exactly it. The subjective, emotion-tinged, situated experience of hearing sound. And on the other end, the craft that goes into designing sound that will be subjectively experienced in such an uncontrolled way.”

(Of course, I don’t really remember what I said, or what was said next, or when in the defense this conversation happened. But in my memory-as-constructed-the-way-it-ought-to-be, my committee member waves away my big words and says:)

“Right, but it’s all about the slam. That slam of sound.”

***

We know sound affects our emotions in an uncontrollable, knee-jerk way. It’s almost not worth mentioning, it’s so obvious.

In Blade Runner, Deckard finds out who is a replicant and who isn’t by reading aloud scenarios that would lead humans to have an involuntary reaction in their eyes. The sounds of the spoken words lead to immediate emotion. Deckard doesn’t give the suspects a print-out of the questions; he says them out loud. That matters.

Here’s 19th-century music theorist Eduard Hanslick on the effect:

Even if we have to grant to all the arts, without exception, the power to produce effects upon the feelings, yet we do not deny that there is something specific, peculiar only to it, in the way music exercises that power. Music works more rapidly and intensely upon the mind than any other art.
Two things: I would extend his point about music’s “specific, peculiar” power to sound in general. Also, I can’t help but notice how he descends so swiftly, so gently from “the feelings” in the first sentence to “the mind” in the second.
It’s almost as if the slam of sound into our bodies (slam!) works on us in more ways than simply the emotional. It’s as if the very way we make meaning from sounds in our minds is tied to the way we feel about them.
***

Henry Jenkins (following Bourdieu): “Academics come to distrust their own affective responses, to speak of them apologetically or to deny them outright” (170).

I am thoroughly not disinterested in the music and sounds of Tecmo Super Bowl, an NES game from 1991. Let some of its music play while I tell you why I care.

Tecmo Super Bowl has a cheat built into it (though cheat is clearly the wrong word for such an aesthetically interesting, non-gameplay-related trick): on the intro screen, if you hold B and press left, you’re brought to an interface allowing you to cycle through all the sounds in the game.

I used to play around with this all the time, cycling methodically (frighteningly methodically?) through the sound and music samples, playing some of them over and over. There’s something satisfyingly physical about hearing, say, 5 different electronic sounds meant to reproduce players’ armored bodies slamming into each other. (Slam!) The sounds would grow more meaningful to me recursively, as I would recognize a sound I knew from the game, and then when playing identify a sound I had heard from the sound screen, and then return to the sound screen to listen again with fresh ears, and then later hear something new in the game. . . . (I’m embarrassed to say that I never noticed that Sound 32 isn’t in the game, though.)

I built emotion and meaning into those sounds, and echoes of those meanings are still with me, as corny as it sounds to write. They live in a part of me that I can’t access unless a similar sound draws it out of me, and when it’s drawn out it journeys through my whole gut and throat and head so it’s all my body hears.

***

Virginia Kuhn: “[A]nyone who has ever edited video clips would likely attest to the fact that one must have passion for the footage; editing demands extensive playing and replaying of clips. Whether this passion issues from a fannish impulse or is born of righteous indignation (or both) matters little. To argue, one must take a stand, not be disinterested” (3.11).

***

I can’t help but wonder what would evoke emotion and meaning from you. Yes, you: whoever is reading this. If I pulled some of the most commonly heard sounds from sources like Audioboo, SoundCloud, or Freesound.org, sounds like cars crashing or popular song clips or mothers’ heartbeats or ominous footsteps, would you feel something new when the sound slams (slam!) into you?

Or would I have to choose unusual sounds, hoping to catch you off guard and draw up a new emotion you hadn’t expected or remembered, perhaps since you last heard that sound years, or even decades ago? What would my success rate have to be to make that worth it? What does “success” even mean here?

And finally, where does, to use Kuhn’s phrase, “fannish impulse” fit in? Would sounds from Star Trek or Lost or Tecmo Super Bowl “work” on you in ways that the everyday wouldn’t? How would those sounds work on different fans in different and similar ways?

Obviously, the answer to all of those is a simple “I don’t know.” But let me add a: yet. I think I want to make you hear some sounds, and I want you to feel and think because of them.

Slam.

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ICFA 2011: Fans and Friendliness

So in my mind, I thought I would write multiple thoughtful posts about my 3 and a half days at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts–but instead, I’m going to settle for a brief snapshot of the awesomeness. (For someone who blogged much more successfully, see Heather Osborne’s site; Karen Hellekson also has a post up on the conference–anyone else?)

Favorite Papers and/or Panels

  • 14. Harry Potter Panel: a lovely conversation with other Harry Potter fans, hosted creatively by 4 USF graduate students (none from the English dept!) who each represented a different Hogwarts house and proposed new Hogwarts “classes” for the audience, including a class on queer theory, on mothering/female identity/hospitality, non-human magic users, and feminist role models/fan creations. (I butchered those descriptions, by the way; their course descriptions were far cleverer.) A bonus: dressing up in their house colors!
  • 17. Remixes, Roleplaying, and Real-World Skills: Audience Interaction with and Response to Digital Media: I successfully gave my paper on videogame remixes and humor in instrumental music as seen at OverClocked ReMix, while Heather Osborne presented some results from an intriguing survey of gamers about how they perform gender in-game. Most intriguing to me was her finding that players whose avatars performed gender differently than the player would sometimes be challenged in positive ways when they found themselves doing something in-game that made them feel uncomfortable, since they were trying to make their character as internally consistent as possible.
  • 32. Indigenous Futures on Film: I was honored to see the short film Pumzi, which I guess I could describe as an SF eco-feminist vision of a post-apocalyptic African dystopia–but that doesn’t do justice to the beauty, quiet, tension, and tone of the film. Seriously, it’s about time I learned more about non-Western SF.
  • 43. Mix it up: Literary, Historical, and Fannish Remixes and Mash-Ups: Perhaps my favorite panel. An informal conversation between fan fiction author and scholar Barbara Lucas, lawyer Lisa Macklem, folklorist Sarah Carpenter, and fiction author Candas Jane Dorsey. Very quickly it became evident that Dorsey, as an author, wasn’t a fan of people remixing plot and characters from other works, while practically everyone else thought this was a valid and important way for fans to respond to the stuff they love. Sure, it was occasionally tense, but we all did a good job of being civil and hashing out some tough ideas at the most practical level.
  • 57. Words and Music: Okay, this one was actually my favorite panel. Four folks who were specialists in both writing and music, all giving us a mix of their informal thoughts and mini-performances. Little do they know that they’re on my dissertation radar and will be getting emails from me before long….
  • 65. Mirth, Mischief, and Mystical Melodies: Music Fans and Communities:  See Heather’s post about this fun (if under-attended), informal conversation I was honored to moderate.

Best Experiences

  • Two fun chats with USF colleague Jessica Eberhard–once with Karen Hellekson (about online publishing, among other things) and once with Mads Haahr (about gaming environments and multidisciplinarity, among other things).
  • Finding out that Isabella Van Elferen has written about both 1) music in Lost and 2) musical rhetoric, making her my new favorite person ever (but in a non-creepy way).
  • I’m shy. I hide it pretty well, but it’s tiring for me to meet new people. But despite that hold-up, I had so many friendly conversations with folks that I can’t even start to list them all. That’s the main thing I’ll remember about ICFA this year: that I’ll look forward to returning not just for the scholarly conversations (and the free books!) but also for the friendly-talk and smiles.
  • Discovering that despite a generally low-tech atmosphere (I was usually the only one tapping notes into a computer; 90% of papers were just papers without PowerPoint or supplement of any kind), there was a friendly, helpful series of tweets using the #icfa hashtag.
  • Speaking of tech: finding that my netbook’s battery is indeed sufficient for notetaking, with some proper battery-saving measures taken. Evernote, I love you. (My low-paper conference experience was inspired by this post over at ProfHacker.)

Books that it Turns Out I Absolutely Need to Read

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How Much Guilt with that Pleasure, Sir?

There’s an interesting conversation-starter over at ProfHacker: “Open Thread Wednesday: Guilty Pleasures?” In a fun spirit, author George Williams asks us to write about the food, books, movies, or whatever that we indulge in occasionally, but that we’re kind of embarrassed about. It’s a nice little post, and I’m interested to see what comments show up. (Only one so far: young adult vampire novels. Classic.)

But: it’s interesting to consider this from two different perspectives: fandom and spirituality.

I think that a common experience of fans who interact online is a gradual lowering of any worry that outsiders see their fandom as overblown, too-geeky, out-of-touch, etc. It’s freeing to realize that I’m not the only one who reads books on Tolkien’s languages (I prefer Sindarin to Quenya, thank you very much), reads Lostpedia after every episode, and so on. I think this freeing of the self from an unfounded cultural consensus (“Star Trek fans are too geeky, except for the new movie) is a good thing.  So the concept of the “guilty pleasure,” from this perspective, seems kind of sad, like stepping back and saying, “Even though I really like this, I realize that I’m supposed to not like it too much, so I’ll say here that I don’t really like it too much, even though I really do like it and will continue liking it. Do you like it too?”

That’s my first reaction. But then a second reaction comes, from the spiritual part of me (in my case, Christian). When anyone says, “I purposefully decide to put worship and service to God above my other pursuits,” that inherently means that occasionally, if I choose to dive full-force into any kind of pleasure, it can be distracting me from what I claim is my primary purpose, and primary pleasure: knowing God. And in that sense, pleasures can indeed be “guilty,” if they draw us away too often from the divine.

Don’t read that the wrong way: I’m all in favor of seeing culture as a place where we learn more about humanity, spirit, and things like Truth that get capital letters. Like Mark Driscoll, I don’t advocate that people with religious views eschew fandom. Quite the opposite–my spirituality is the heart of why I like shows like Star Trek and Lost. What I am saying is that my thoughts about God caused me to second-guess my first reaction to the ProfHacker article: first I thought, “Guilty pleasures? Let’s be people who enjoy pleasures without the need to pretend we feel guilty about them!” But then my second thought was, “But wait, self, are there places in your life where you actually should feel guilty about any of the pleasures mentioned in that article?” It’s a moment of quick self-checkery, quiet introspection. And I like those moments.

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The Transmedia Dentist

Jack in the Bamboo

Me at the Dentist, Kind of

I hate going to the dentist. It’s the physical and emotional pain, is why. Physical: scraping a pirate hook across my gums until they bleed, as if I’m in the brig, stuffed between barrels of rum. Emotional: guilting me for not flossing enough. (I don’t floss enough.)

For my last three visits, though, I’ve dealt with this pain with a new mental strategy: I think about Lost. I come in with a specific mental task to perform about some unanswered aspect of the show–this time, the question of Jacob’s cabin, and how we saw the smoke monster on the island at all if he was really trapped inside by the ash, as seems likely–and then I think and think and think and ignore Captain Hook and his multifarious torture devices.

Why bring this up now? This time, I went in, more prepared with my strategy than ever, reclined, and–!–saw that there is bamboo shooting up right next to the dentist chair, out of a big pot. So, looking up at the ceiling, there’s an effect kind of like what Jack saw when he first landed on the island, looking up past the bamboo at the sky. (I won’t make an analogy between his plane crash wounds and my bleeding gums. Never mind, I just did.)

I respectfully submit that watching Lost and being prepared to think about it at the dentist allowed me get a richer, more enjoyable experience out of that bamboo plant than the average patient. In other words, I had a transmedia moment, except that instead of a media narrative being conveyed through multiple distribution methods (TV, Internet games, tie-in books), it was conveyed and continued through my own life, my own mind, as one more step in the converging story of what Lost is and what it means to people.

This isn’t really that mind-blowing. We’re affected in real, everyday lives by the media we consume, contemplate, and re-project into the world, and people have talked about that since forever. It’s related to how our lives reflect whatever we put into our brains (relationships, books, discourses, God). And I’m not even the first person to think about this kind of thing with Lost–there’s an entire blog, still regularly updated, called My Life is Lost, where people list the moments when Lost shoots into their minds from external stimuli. (An example: “I was recently at a baseball game, and at 8:15 pm exactly a plane flew across the sky. I silently prayed that Desmond would fail to press the button so the plane would break apart over the stadium.”)

Another illustrative story: our friends at church have two girls, 6 and 7, who think that our house is the most fun place ever. (Um, because it is.) So they came over for a sleepover the other night, showing us immediately that they had brought their prize DVDs of Planet Earth, which they insisted on watching later that night. As I cooked and they colored, I overheard the older one narrating her image out loud in a distinctly Planet Earth style: [to no one in particular] “A group of lions is called a pride. This pride has 1 male and 29 females, for a total of 30 lions. Female lions see extremely well in the dark, much better than the elephants who get too near.” And so on. She had learned the discourse style of her favorite show, and she found it pleasurable to mash up that discourse with her everyday life. (Is the bold thing annoying?)

The question, then, is how far this goes. I wrote a personal essay on this a few months ago (which I can’t post here, as I’m trying to publish it), and the more I wrote, the scarier it became: the language of TV, movies, video games, and books creeps into my everyday experience in thick, regular ways–so much that it eventually becomes hard to find times when I’m not mixing my life with outside sources in some way or another. That sounds extreme, I know, but at times, it feels true. It’s the spirit of the remix, but in a cybrid, half-human and half-machine sort of way. And I don’t know what I think about that at all.

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Two Views of Rhetoric, Visually

I’m putting together my PowerPoint for the Remake | Remodel conference in Germany in a couple weeks, and I thought I’d share my two favorite slides so far.

The concept is pretty simple: my presentation discusses fan remixes (on Lost Video Island and OverClocked ReMix) from a rhetorical perspective, so I’m giving a very simple primer on what I mean by rhetoric. First, there’s the traditional view:

The ideal rhetorical situation

Rhetoric: The Idealistic View

But then there’s the more realistic view of rhetoric, that acknowledges that people create their own meanings based on their situatedness in time and space, their emotions as they hear the message, etc.:

The realistic view of rhetoric

Rhetoric: The Realistic View

Then I’ll point out that the reason I’m interested in fan remixes is because the rhetorical effect of a text is complicated when the text includes aspects that the audience has seen/heard before. But that uncertainty is managed in part by fan communities, where the norms and literacies of the discourse community are shaped and tweaked and learned.

That’s one reason I like this image so much: in a sense, I’m “remixing” the original Creative Commons licensed photo from Flickr, “orator” by southtyrolean. And people’s reactions to the image will be affected by their own history with Lego bricks–for some (like me), it’s an instantly nostalgic, familiar image because of the Lego element, but for others it might look childish, odd, etc.

In other words, the image itself demonstrates my justification for talking about fan communities in my presentation.

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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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