Blog Archives

An Autoethnography of Collegium – Day Two

Day 2: Sunday, June 22nd

On the topic of mass…

I am still uncomfortable joining in on the spiritual sessions and Catholic Eucharist ceremonies that are scheduled for this colloquium.  I feel like an intruder, an interloper, a negative presence.  There is nothing that anyone here has said or done that has made me feel this way.  In fact, I appreciate their willingness and desire to offer a blessing to those who beseech it, such as those other other religious affiliations who would like to experience the ritual.  And they offer many different spiritual discussions that I am sure can be seen as less denomination than the sacramental rituals.  But I would feel disingenuous in being blessed, as it would have no impact on me.  I do not believe, that is the simple truth of it all.  Perhaps before the end of this week, I will venture into one session, just to listen, which appears to be my main goal here, as I cannot partake in conversations about religion.

Read the rest of this entry

Comics Adaptations Causing Fractured Fandom

We are now full swing into the summer blockbuster season for Hollywood, and let’s take a tally of movies that are currently out or soon to arrive that originate from the pages of comic books.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Hercules.  Guardians of the Galaxy.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.  Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Big Hero 6. 

I am so looking forward to this one.

I am so looking forward to this one.

All of this, without mentioning the big hitters coming soon, such as the second Avengers movie, or the one that finally brings Wonder Woman to the screen while pitting Batman v. Superman.  All of this, a range of titles for the young to the mature.  And these are only Hollywood films.  Consider all of the movies made from comic books around the world, and the numbers are staggering.  The top ten comic book adaptation movies have grossed around $4.05 billion dollars in just over a decade, proving their dominance at the box office in the United States and around the world.

Read the rest of this entry

3-D Printing: Desktop Manufacturing Overview

Earlier today I presented our 3D printer to the Dominican University faculty.  I demonstrated how our Cubify printer (the type seen in the featured image) works, and I discussed what 3D printing is.  I also focused the discussion on the possibilities of 3D printing, both how the process is currently being put to use in a variety of fields, as well as the further out there potentials, such as becoming the Star Trek replicators I wrote about in an earlier piece on the topic.

Provided here is the PowerPoint I used to present the printer today, which is an update of my earlier blog post.

I made a video, a while back, when we first got the printer, to show how it works. Unfortunately, I recorded it on my phone, so the video is a tad sideways, but you can still get the idea by seeing the extrusion and layering process in action.

In our talk today, I found it interesting how much more accepting people seem to be of printing individualized human organs, but are put off by the idea of printing food. It might have to do with the greater necessity seen for the former in comparison to the later, as if the later is more of a gimmick. And yet, with climate change occurring, the amount of land available for raising food, and specifically meat, is going to disappear, meaning synthetic protein will be necessary to supplement the world’s food supply. And I would prefer to have a 3D printer manufacture a fake burger made of this protein — it would make the transition easier to accept. But perhaps that is just me.

Anyway, I am hoping to get more people, faculty and students alike, interested in learning how to use the 3D printer for a range of purposes, so I will keep showing it off until that happens.

The Study of Gendered Media Engagings (Part 3): Why It Matters

This is the third part of my dissertation’s first chapter.  The first part was on defining gendered media engagings.  The second part was on defining gender.

Why studying gendered media engagings matters

Thanks to the work of scholars such as Dallas Smythe, we are aware of the central role of advertisement in most media industries (Smythe, 1995).  Television, radio, newspapers, internet, magazines, comic books, and even to an extent digital games and films, are reliant on the revenue generated by consumers using media products to spread advertisements.  The industry does not receive this revenue if they cannot guarantee to the advertisers that there will be someone consuming the media product with that particular advertisement.

In order to make this guarantee, the media industry needs to generate an audience for that media product.  Audiences are conceived as a mass of people that need to be addressed and organized (McQuail, 1997).  The industry then sells that “audience commodity” to the advertisers.  In order to generate the audience, the industry needs to have control over how a complex mass of potential individuals can be divided up and packaged so as to be attractive to advertisers.

In order to create these audiences, media producers create media products they feel will confidently attract a specific type of people they can sell to advertisers most interested in that type of consumer (Turow, 1997).  The more precisely you can target a person with a product that the person sees as relevant or best-fit, then the more likely that person will consume/engage with that product.  One of the most common ways of segmenting people into potential audiences and consumers is along the gender line.

Picture2

Using the concept of what women and men are expected to prefer, based on sociocultural definitions of masculinity and femininity, media producers create media products with these features.  The traditional construct is that men will identify more readily with masculine features, and vice versa for women.   Femininity is constructed around emotionality, nurturance and community, while masculinity is constructed around rationality, ruthlessness and individuality (van Zoonen, 1991). Based on these polarized characterizations, feminine features include romantic interests, comedy, fashion, musical numbers, and handsome men, while masculine features include competition, science and technology, violence, politics, and sexy women (Austin, 1999; Bhatia & Desmond, 1993; Calvert, Kondla, Ertel & Meisel, 2001; Cherry, 1999; Jacobson, 2005; Kuhn, 2002; Nyberg, 1995).  The individual who agrees with the construction of gender as directed to their biological sex — that is, the gendered individual — is expected to desire the media products meant for his or her gender and to accept such gendered media without question.  In this way the symbolic differences are transmitted through the mass media and into the everyday lives of the people of that sociocultural environment.

Picture1

However, shifting to a dialogic approach, individuals, en masse, have the ability to restructure the structure.  Any new interpretive/performative act by individuals, whether material or ideological, could result in the institutionalization of a new common knowledge.  Such institutionalization is even more likely if enough individuals amass around this new act, thereby forming an alternative society or subculture to challenge the predominant structure (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Hebdige, 1979).  A new form of fashion, new sense of humor, new sensibility for sex, all could be the result of the acceptance of a new, alternative mode of interpretive/performing.  While the actual numbers of individuals necessary to generate such a restructuring is an empirical question, theoretically once this critical mass is reached, hegemony enters.  Because hegemony is a “moving equilibrium” (Hebdige, 1979), should the dominant structure wish to remain as such, it must shift to accommodate the shift in individuals.  From a dialogic perspective, this give-and-take between agents producing and structures institutionalizing may take generations or even centuries.  Or it could only take years in a media-centric, post-industrial society such as the modern United States.

Consider, as a theoretical thought experiment, the increase in media fragmentation (Napoli, 2003).  The structure, here the capitalist media industry, began to introduce new texts, channels and technology that increased the range of potential media engagings.  However, because the amount of total time available to spend with the media cannot likewise increase for the majority of people, that means the media user has to make more active choices in what media would be used when and where (Livingstone, 1999; 2003; 2004).  To the industry’s viewpoint, this means their potential audience was fragmenting.  By giving people more things to choose from, the industry had simultaneously reduced the number of people who were likely to be consuming one specific product at any given time.

The structure modified the agency, but then the agency modified the structure as the industry adjusted to this fragmentation by targeting their products to specific types of people, as well as changing the features of media products to encourage active engaging.  The more the industry offered, the more the media user became active, and the more the industry saw them as fragmented and thus became determined to address them as such, thereby reinforcing them as being active and fragmented.  Similar examples of this dialogic model can be found in analyzing: the relationship between shonen manga (Japanese comics for men) and the marketplace (Shiokawa, 1999); the relationship between media producers and the Internet (Roscoe, 1999; Siapera, 2004), which includes changing how media producers engage with media consumers (Napoli, 2008; Reinhard, 2008).

Just as the dialogic model could predict the reifying of traditional gendered boundaries, it could also predict changes in these definitions (Jacobson, 2005).  Operating within symbolic boundaries on what is gender, moving between accepting and resisting these boundaries, the individual engages with media that may be more or less gendered, and more or less meant for their gender.  Individuals who more routinely engage with media meant for their gender may unknowingly reify this gendering process — their repeat media engagings and participation in the targeted audience reinforce both the media producers’ felt pressure to create such targeted media, and how the sociocultural environment defines what each gender supposedly prefers, based upon the actions of actual gendered individuals.  Thus through the actions of individuals, media producers, societies and cultures can be affected, thereby completing the circle.

Understanding that a critical mass of agents can, through their reaction to the structure, restructure it reaffirms those activists who seek to change the symbolic differences structured into the sociocultural environment.  Among feminist scholars, it is often been a question of the representation of gender in the media, and whether or not that representation reflects the reality of the sociocultural environment, and to what extent the representation creates that reality (van Zoonen, 1991).  This consternation and debate is the backbone of their activism, to impress upon media producers the need to change the representation.  However, such a direct assault is more persuasive if there is a groundswell consensus among media users who resist the gendered media products — for what is more persuasive to a capitalist system than actions that affect profit?  Operating from a dialogic model, activists could encourage agentic negotiation or resistance to gendered media through media literacy programs and their assumptions about gender, thereby mobilizing the masses to join the brigade (Jacobson, 2005).

Gender commonalities versus differences.  Livingstone (1990) argued the mainstream media, in reporting minor significant differences without clarifying this distinction, artificially polarize the public’s notion of gender.  The fall-back position in our society or culture may be a biological or sociocultural explanation that is reductionist, essentialist and deterministic, over-simplifying a complex process and promoting courses of actions that prove to be ill-advised, unfeasible, and detrimental to individuals.

Investigating commonalities could have two practical implications: one psychological, and one economic.  Janet Hyde, in discussing her gender similarity hypothesis, highlighted the various ways touting gender differences as a positivistic fact impairs both men and women in many facets of life, from interpersonal relationships to psychic well-being to occupational progression (1994, 2005).  By looking as much, if not more so, for commonalities, we uncover the means for deconstructing symbolic differences that prove psychologically and materially damaging to people.

From an economic viewpoint, finding new strategies to build audiences is increasingly important given the current atmosphere of fragmentation (Napoli, 2003).  Fragmentation creates specialized media products for specific types of people, largely based on demographics (age, gender, ethnicity) or preferences (sports, movies, music) that are highly correlated with demographics (Turow, 1997).  The practice focuses on differences and reinforces them by creating the impression circulating in a media environment that certain products are more appropriate for either gender to engage with.  If a media producer is interested in expanding the consumer base, that producer should be focusing on the commonalities of engagings that elide over the differences.

Even before the rise of fragmentation, there were media products that contained more features that would be thought more preferred by women (ex. the soap opera, the “weepie” film) and others that were thought to be more preferred by men (ex. the western, the war film ).  And yet, there were still many texts that contained both masculine and feminine features to develop a cross-gender, and thus much more sizeable, audience (ex. I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H, The Cosby Show).  Even in the modern United States, with its plethora of media products, shows like American IdolDancing with the StarsHouse, and Desperate Housewives are examples that have both male and female fan bases, which translate into large ratings and audience shares.

idol-nashville-072110jpg-5cd7d117387752fb_large

There are also people who cross the gendered boundaries in their daily lives by engaging with media not targeted to them.  Studies have examined women who engage with the largely masculine-directed media of superhero comics and digital games.  While these women thoroughly enjoy these media, some say they engage as a resistance to gender stereotypes, while others feel like they are trespassing (Nyberg, 1995).  Likewise, men who watch soap operas or other feminine media typically feel awkward discussing their enjoyment of the text, with very few feeling they can openly express their interest in such products (Jewkes, 2002).

At this time, it appears more acceptable for women to cross the gendered boundaries than men.  While not a completely sanctioned act, such transgression by women is due to feminist calls for women to be the equal of men in how they are treated (Jacobson, 2005).  However, there has not been a similar call for men to be the equal of women — to be the stay-at-home dad, to cry openly, to prefer fashion over sports, and so forth (Harris, 2007; Jhally, 1999).  As such, there continues to be higher cultural sanctions against men for gender transgressions, which would also apply to men enjoying media meant for women.

While some cross-gender products are more gender neutral due to the balancing of feminine- and masculine-directed features, more recently traditionally masculine texts are being created with some feminine features to bring in the female audience (Buttsworth, 2002; Ferguson, Ashkenazi & Schultz, 1997).  This move can be seen in the relaunch of BBC’s Doctor Who, where the Doctor’s female companion became more of a love interest than in previous incarnations.  Elevating the actress to essentially a co-star role, the show provided a female audience with a stronger female character to identify with while also providing romantic tension.  The result has been a science fiction show, traditionally masculine-directed, that now has a rather large and active female audience.  This move has been seen across a variety of science fiction and fantasy texts (ex. Star Trek, Terminator, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc), and has also been seen in other male-dominated genres, such as sports, horror and superhero comics (Nyberg, 1995; Shiokawa, 1999).

Populating traditionally feminine texts with masculine features is less common.  Keeping media meant for women free of masculine features provides a space in which feminine qualities can be propagated as the most beneficial method for success.  For example, the movies on the cable network Lifetime showcase female heroines overcoming obstacles using feminine characteristics, instead of resorting to aggression like the female heroines of male-directed horror movies.  Unfortunately, this decision may reinforce the idea that feminine texts are for women only, which could hurt the potential for a male audience.  Without a shift in the sociocultural structure to alleviate the pressure against men consuming media meant for women, male consumers may continue to suffer in silence.

Focusing on commonalities would provide insight for media producers to create and promote gender-inclusive media products, having both male and female audiences, by focusing on what people liked or disliked about the product regardless of gender.  This way of categorizing audiences potentially allows for people to be segmented and studied based on processes of gratification, evaluation and utilization, instead of their sociodemographic memberships or psychological traits (Domzal & Kernan, 1983; Napoli, 2008; Ruggiero, 2000; Schrøder, Drotner, Kline & Murray, 2003).  By promoting how a media product would be liked by anyone, media producers can expand their consumer base for any specific media product by showing why men would like certain things in traditionally feminine media product and vice versa.  Learning more about the processes underlying engaging with a media product – the selecting, interpreting, and utilizing of the media product — and the patterns of these processes across a variety of media engagings will prove more informative and predictive towards this goal.

Fractured Fandom

The full version of this article first appeared at the Clearance Bin Review.  Given the importance of the concept, fractured fandom, to my work on Doctor Who and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I am bringing the specific elements from the article here.

Now, first and foremost, let it be said that I think these thoughts we have been sharing could apply to any fandom that exists in the world.  We have been speaking in particular to pop culture fandoms, but it could apply just as well to sports fans, patriots, and even religious followers.  I say this because at the core of fandom — at the core of being a fan — is this affection a person has towards some object, which could be anything in reality.  If you love trying new foods, then you are a foodie.  If you love Catholicism, then you are a fan of Jesus Christ.  If you are in a fantasy football league, then you are a sports nut.  We have all kinds of terms for these various peoples, but at their core is their affection, which can border on obsession, with someone or something in their lives that in some way gives meaning to their lives — from bringing joy to bringing hope to bringing company.  Being a fan of something may be just a condition of being a human.

From http://forever-fandoms.tumblr.com/, trying to stop the fandom feuds.

With that said, if you are not a member of a particular fandom — if you do not have the same affection of those that do — then you may have the tendency to think fandoms as monolithic communities of people who get along just because they are fans.  As an outsider, we look at a group and see it holistically, where the differences between people do not matter so much because of how unified they are with the commonality, the affection they all share.  As outsiders, we tend to see a fandom and label them as Whovians (Doctor Who fans), Trekkies (Star Trek fans), Twihards (Twilight fans), foodies, Catholics, sports nuts, etc.  We focus on that overwhelming characteristic and stereotype all members of that fandom as being the same because of their commonality.  We often do not feel the need to look deeper, to understand those within the fandom for their differences, for what makes them  unique.  We see them as the “Other”, not like us.  Given the fandom, and our stance towards it, we may start giving them other labels: stupid, obsessive, childish, immature.

We may think that the one defining characteristic is enough to understand exactly how the entire fandom will act, what their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, behaviors are.  We may make the logical assumption that: given the commonality they share, they must share other characteristics as well.  As scholars, we study a sample of Whovians, and argue it extends to the entire fandom.  As marketers, we determine the buying habits of several foodies, and see it extending to all foodies.  As politicians, we determine how one Protestant congregation will vote and believe all followers will do likewise.

However, to reason as such is a logical fallacy.  It is a hasty generalization, a leap to conclusion, to assume to know all about a large group just due to one or two shared traits.  Being a part of a fandom does not mean that all members are homogeneous: they do not all conform, have their identities scrubbed in order to promote sameness.  Each member is a unique human being, full of contradictions within himself and amongst his fellows.  To label and assume is to downplay their individual uniqueness, which they bring to the fandom and make it such an interesting experience.

Fandoms are not monolithic communities but fractured, containing various factions held together by that commonality they share.  This realization led me to consider how some behaviors I see fans (and myself) engaging in results in these fractures.  And, right now, I see the fractures occurring on three dimensions.  And if you know your Cartesian coordinates from trigonometry and calculus, I am thinking of the dimensions that create three-dimensional space.  Because, after all, I am a science fan.

The first dimension to speak of is the vertical one, your y-axis.  This is a dimension that separates fans from one another based on assumptions of superiority.  These are the fans who might consider themselves better than other fans within the fandom for any number of reasons.  ”I was here first.”  ”I was here before it was cool.”  ”I know more than you.”  These are the fans who may look down from their assumed high perch in the fandom on those newcomers or less ardent or, as has become an issue lately, may not even be true fans, as in “fake geek girls“.  Consider the fans you know who share your affection, and you will most likely find at least one who is playing this positioning game of better than/less than.

Courtesy of Jason Margos: http://jasonmargos.tumblr.com/post/35799349261/real-geek-girl-ink-on-paper-digital-color-font

The second dimension is the horizontal x-axis.  Along this dimension you will find clusters of fans within the fandom who differ from one another in terms of their affection: what aspect of the object they love and how and why, and how and why they express their affection.  You see these fans who form factions based on different shipping: who they believe should end up in a relationship in the canon.  They identify their specific interest in the object through labels that represent who they ship:  And so you end up with: Harry/Hermione, Buffy/Angel, 10th Doctor/Rose, Spock/Kirk.  And with that last pairing, you get an even more specific subset within fandoms: the slashers, those who seek to develop homosexual relationships for heterosexual characters.  These slashers then are pitted against others in the fandom who may be adamantly non-slashers, to the point of wishing to segregate themselves from such activities.  Along this dimension, we can see many different audiences for the object all within one fannish umbrella.

The final dimension is not necessary a fracture within a specific fandom, but it is a comment on fandom and fans overall.  This is the diagonal z-axis, that finally makes for the 3D space.  Here we are looking at the concept of being inside/outside the fandom.  We are considering fandoms as they buttress one another, stacking up to create a universe of fandoms that are more or less connected from each other: the further you move from one fandom to others, then the less alike they will be based upon their objects of affection.  Star Trek and Star Wars are more alike than Star Trek and Twilight or Star Trek and The Green Bay Packers.  And yet, sometimes those fandoms that truly buttress one another feud, saying you cannot be a fan of both, that one is better than the other, that they are more dissimilar than similar.  No doubt this is just the act of identity defense: of the need we all have to develop and maintain a feeling of self-worth.

antifan070510

But we also see people who will buttress a fandom by being its polar opposite: an anti-fandom.  In these instances, there may be people whose actions are overtly critical of the fandom, the fans, the object of affection they all share.  They share the focus on the object, but they oppose one another in the orientation towards it.  While newer in terms of the pop culture fandoms, this is not really a new idea for other types of fandoms.  After all, sports teams thrive on fan rivalry, and religious wars have been fought because of different orientations to the same object of affection.

Now, these are how I see fandoms breaking down and relating to one another.  It is all just pure thought and speculation now, based on observations and experiences.  I think there is use in looking at fandoms this way because it helps us see the complexities that come from when people interact with one another.  And if we can see these complexities, then perhaps we can do something to help fans within and across fandoms communicate and interact with one another.  So that we can take care of the derogatory labeling of women as “fake geek girls” or the assumption that cosplaying is consent for sexual harassment (here’s a hint: it’s not!).  We can deal with the vitriol spilled online against fans, anti-fans, slashers, and more.  We can find ways of accepting that we all like different objects, or we all like the same object in different ways — and that what matters is that we have the heart and soul to like anything in the first place.

We need to recognize that being a fan is more important than what we are a fan of.

VWTV Beyond Second Life: InfinityXShark and Star Trek

Although the focus of our virtual world television project is on the social world Second Life, that doesn’t mean it is the only virtual world being used by regular people to create interesting television.  As the first of a two-parter, I discuss the work of InfinityXShark and his production of a Star Trek series using the Star Trek Online mmorpg.

via VWTV Beyond Second Life: InfinityXShark and Star Trek.

maxresdefault

Confession of a Wil Wheaton Fan

I admit: in high school, I was gaga for Wil Wheaton.

These are actual pictures I've kept for nearly twenty years.

Allow me to demonstrate the extent of my affection and devotion to the actor best known for being the much mocked Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It was because of that show that I “found” him.  I didn’t hate Wesley: I found him sexy.  Now, I didn’t start watching ST:TNG when it first aired.  I didn’t start watching it until the early 1990s, after it had already been on television for several years.

I can’t tell you how I started watching it, when, or with what episode — but I can tell you I fell for the young Crusher.  He was the kind of guy I was looking for in real life: sensitive, smart, hard working,  loyal, and not physically domineering – because apparently teenage girls really do not like physically domineering men (ex. all those members of Team Edward).  I never found the character annoying, and I still find myself battling my kneejerk reaction to defend him when Wesley mockers speak up.  I really liked when he got his black-and-red ensign outfit, and that episode when him and Picard were trapped on that desert planet and the strange alien entity that protected the water and how dirty he got in that cave…

Um, sorry.  See, kneejerk reaction.

Anyway, how much did I go gaga over Wil Wheaton?

It was more than just watching all the movies I could find that he was in — by the way, Stand By Me is a very, very good film that everyone should see.

It was more than buying memorabilia that featured him.  Which I did.  When my school choir performed at Disney World my freshman year of high school, at the store in Tomorrowland, I found this amazing photograph of him, mounted on a plaque, that was from a limited series.  It was, if I recall correctly, over a hundred dollars.  I thought about it, for a little while, and then I bought it.  (I subsequently sold it to someone in Australia via eBay, with a big loss to my pocketbook and a big dollop of embarrassment for past indiscretions.)

Then there was my 16th birthday.  A couple of my gal pals conspired to get me a very interesting gift.  Sitting at the school cafeteria, they circled around me, and my friend Sandy, one of the best artists in school, slid a drawing across the table-top to me.  I think she was grinning devilishly — at least, that’s how I like to remember it.  Because the drawing was a very realistic pencil sketch of Wil Wheaton — naked.

Now, I’m pretty sure the nakedness of Wheaton was pure speculation and conjecture, and that Sandy and my friends had not managed to either find a picture of Wheaton naked or to see the man himself in such a state.  Because if they did and didn’t tell me about it…

I don’t know what happened to that picture.  Honestly.  I think I threw it away.

And then there was this laminated assignment:

I found this item this past month when going through all my stuff that had been stored at my parents’ house while I was in Denmark.   I do not at all remember writing what appears to have been an assignment for a Spanish class in high school.  I definitely do not remember apparently laminating the assignment to save it for posterity.  But there it was, amongst a variety of clippings about The X-Files and all the other fandom mementos I’d been saving since high school.

So, for those who don’t speak Spanish, especially poorly written Spanish, here is the translation:

As with many fandoms, the emotional intensity that I felt towards Wil Wheaton did not last for long.   I found another love to move unto.  Life, after all, is full of them.

When I moved to Los Angeles after college, I met Wil Wheaton at a local science fiction convention.   He was shorter than me.  Most men are.   That basically put the nail in the coffin, but I still admire him.   He’s been able to reinvent himself through his fiction writing, his online participation (through his website and Twittering), and his more recent acting gigs, such as the snarky antagonists on Leverage and The Guild.

This reinvention is why I am revisiting my “interest” in him in high school.   Had he drifted away into obscurity, or fallen into the traps of drugs or other self-centered hedonistic pursuits, then I would have thrown away any of the mementos I’ve stored all these years.   However, his reinvention helps to show something for all geeks and nerds.   That adolescence is only a period in life — it does not determine one’s life.   It didn’t for Wesley Crusher.   It didn’t for Wil Wheaton.  And it hasn’t for me.

We’re all capable of reinvention any day that we choose to take it.   As part of my reinvention, I’m sharing with you some secrets from my life that I may have, until recently, been embarrassed by; however, now I accept that it was part of me, but not all of me.  I’m more than them, but I would have been less without them.

That, and it’s just too damn funny not to share.

Female Fans From the Beginning

I’m late in putting this out there, but it’s worth watching. This is a video from a Star Trek convention from 1973: that’s before the motion picture that reignited the franchise. So these are the true believers, those who followed the television series, and perhaps were starting with the short lived animated series.

These were the precursors for all the conventions that would come, and the conventions that would become the mega-merchandising and marketing affairs of Comic-Con in San Diego.

But what struck me most about this video was not the way people discussed how they related Star Trek to their everyday lives. This is something we find all the time in fandom — and perhaps is a primary reason in why fans, especially scifi/fantasy fans, are marginalized in society and pop culture (until recently, due to how much money Hollywood can make off them).

No, what I found amazing was the presence of women at the convention, engaging in cosplaying and discussing the significance of the series in their lives. Growing up in the 1980s, I thought I was abnormal for being a female geek/nerd. I grew up isolated in the country, in the era before the Internet. I remember a love for Star Wars when the first movies were out — I should tell you the story of my Ewok stuffed doll some time, don’t let me forget — and I even dressed up at Princess Leia once for school (1st grade, get that image out of your head). But I don’t remember any of the kids I went to school with sharing my love. There were only 17 kids in my class, and by the time I got to a bigger school in 6th grade, Star Wars had receded in my mind, and I didn’t really find anyone to talk to about my other loves of The Turtles, The Ghostbusters or The Thundercats outside of my two younger brothers.

And the idea of a girl to talk to about any of this? In elementary school, there were only five other girls in my class. My best friend was the girl who lived closest to me, and we definitely did not share that interest. Even when I did find my re-love of all things science fiction in high school, it was boys that I hung out with, not girls (although I did try D&D once with some girls, and that was interesting). Whenever I saw nerds/geeks in the pop culture, they were boys.

Maybe I just had my head in the sand. Maybe I just wanted to think I was special for being a female nerd/geek, so I could curry favors from the boys around me. But I just did not think women were that prevalent in fandom, and for that long.

Of course, maybe this film is showing the women because they were outliers in the sampling: that they were as uncommon as I thought they would be, and thus were special people to interview.

What I do know is — I’m a fan of fan studies, because as a geek I find all of these questions interesting and fun to investigate.

Star-Trek-The-Women-of-Star-Trek-Chromagraph-1

Fear the Virtual World?

I must make a confession up front: I would never have watched The Ghost Whisperer if it was not for my involvement with the Virtual Worlds Research Project at Roskilde Unviersity.  I’m most certainly not a Jennifer Love Hewitt fan, and the idea of the series never captured me.  Especially since it was on Friday nights, and that was usually my veg out with movies night, my one night off of the work of being a graduate student.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that an episode of a show about a woman who talks to ghosts was to feature a virtual world.  Now, I know various other television shows, movies, books, and so forth have in some way featured stories about virtual worlds.  At the project in Roskilde, we even compiled a list of all known pop cultural representations of virtual worlds.  But in a series about ghosts?

Before seeing the show, I thought it would concern the idea of “ghost in the machine”, a term that reflects philosophical considerations on consciousness and has in computer studies come to refer to a conceptualization of “artificial intelligence”.  And, indeed, the episode featured a ghost in the machine — literally, or as literal as a fiction can get.  In the episode, a ghost haunts a virtual world to enact revenge on its killer.

For this episode, the series created their own virtual world — or at least a computer generation simulating a typical social virtual world, such as Second Life.

“Alt world – 2″ is a dark, neon-filled, landscape of bars, goth-style clothing, and violence: a representation of a virtual world that may come easily to mind to a general public that is not well acquainted with the range of worlds that exist.  The world is futuristic in appearance, and allows people to explore their alternate identities — both characteristics are common in the public discourse about what are these media products.

This representation is the first indicator of how virtual worlds in general would be discursively cast in this episode.  The story follows a standard theme of encouraging wariness about this new technology and the people who engage with it.  Indeed, in looking at a number of pop cultural representations of virtual worlds, especially in film, the common theme in representation is to consider the technology more as a potential harm to humanity than a benefit.

While this is not always the case, there does appear to be a trend, especially when the media product is intended for a larger audience than those who are most likely to already be engaging with the worlds, the gamers.  But, then again, even in media products directed to gamers, or science fiction and fantasy fans in general, there will sometimes still be indications of thematic concern over the role of these technologies in our lives.  Consider the webseries The Guild, which propagates the conceptualization of gamers as socially inept or awkward.  Or the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which introduced the idea of a “holodeck” (which, incidentally, has inspired computer scientists now to actually create the technology due to advances in holography) — even in that series, generally positive towards technology, had episodes in which the holodeck threatened the safety of the Enterprise.

Fear Moriarty, Made to Defeat Data

Why all this fear about virtual worlds?

Well, first, it appears to stem from a fear of losing oneself to a computer.  The fears appear to go back to the introduction of the computer in modern society, igniting discussions in culture about how the computer would usurp humanity’s position in dominance on the planet.  Such is the fear of robot revolutions and computer overlords subjugating humans.  Virtual reality, the technological precursor to today’s virtual worlds, plugs into this same fear: a plugged in person, who’s senses and perceptions are commandeered by computer generated stimuli, is feared to be a person who will lose him/herself in the computer generated virtual world, unable to discern between “the real”, or the physical, and the virtual.  When a person can no longer tell the real from the virtual, then, the argument would go, the computer has taken over control of how the person knows reality.  And once the computer has that control, the computer (or whomever controls the computer) can dictate how the person will think, feel, and act.

Second, more particular to virtual worlds, there is the fear that stems from engaging with other media products, and more specifically television and video games.  This is the fear of addiction: of spending too much time and money on a virtual experience that is considered to be superficial in comparison to other experiences, such as being with physical people in a physical space doing physical activities (ex. sports).  The fear of addiction has been consistently reified by journalistic stories on how people would play with a virtual world for days on end, without eating, without moving from their computer.  Virtual worlds have even had their names discursively changed to reflect this fear (ex. EverQuest becomes EverCrack).

Third, there is the fear that stems from the Internet itself, and the fear of cyber-predators.  One of the long-standing concerns with the Internet is the anonymity it provides people — anonymity that can be used to experiment with one’s identity, for good or for ill.  For ill would include individuals who, in going online, act as if they are someone they are not in the physical world, potentially to entrap children into situations those children should not be in — such as engaging in sexual discussions and acts, online and offline.  This fear, naturally, has become of a larger concern with parents: but as many of the game virtual worlds target children and teenagers, it is a concern they take seriously.

Fourth, there is just the general fear of new technologies that happens cyclically in human history.  It seems that every time a new technology is introduced into the a society and culture, it undergoes a period of flux within which the society/culture attempts to understand what role the technology will play, for good or for ill.  As this flux is occurring, there are many tensions that are discursively played out in the news and popular culture as the people try to make sense of what this “thing” is.  And those early adopters, who are engaging with the technology during this period, are scrutinized for why they are doing so, what doing so is doing to them, and so forth.  These early adopters are the testing ground for how the rest of society/culture will engage with the technology.  And those who fear the technology for how it could change the traditions they are accustomed to may shift this fear and see the early adopters as their objects of worry.

These are four theories — perhaps not the only ones, and most likely interconnected with one another.  They do appear to all inform the typical outcome of making sense of new technologies: that the only way to overcome the fear is for the technology to become ubiquitous in people’s everyday lives.

Virtual worlds have not yet reached that point; but perhaps the rise of social games on Facebook and as mobile apps will help with this acceptance.  Only time will tell.  And it will probably tell us first in how the representation of virtual worlds changes in pop culture.

Learning to Slash

Ever hear of slash?

When I went to graduate school, I was not aware of slash.  But I came to learn about it, be fascinated by it, and even did my own.

Slash is a genre of fiction written by fans of a particular media product (i.e. television show, movie, comic book, religious text, etc.): in order for the fiction to be considered slash, two characters who are heterosexual in the canon, or original text, must engage in a romantic, and even sexual, relationship.

Slash is traditionally consisting of male characters partnering up, with the roots of the genre usually traced back to fans writing fiction pairing Kirk and Spock from Star Trek. The term “slash” goes back to “K/S“, which was used to signal such Star Trek fan fiction.  Slash that involves female characters tends to be called femslash.  In Japanese anime and manga, such stories tend to be labeled as yaoi.

K-S-spirk-17039724-554-380

I learned all this by reading slash, by talking to slashers, and by writing my own slash.

This was a time when the Star Wars prequels were being released.  After the release of the third in the trilogy, I, and other fans, noticed something interesting in the relationship between Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.  Much slash was written because of those observations.  Including my own, which you can read at a seminal website collecting fan fiction of all genres, FanFiction.net.  The story is called Down the Wrong Path.

I also engaged in a dialogue with other slashers, initiating a conversation via a series of questions about how they define slash, themselves as slashers, and the role of the Internet in their slashing activities.  You can find the report on this dialogue here: Online Slash and Identity Construction

I still look into slash every now and then, but I would never qualify myself as a true slasher.  I remain an interested outsider, seeking to learn as much as I can about this phenomenon and the people who’s practices construct it and themselves.  Thus is the essence of a stranger in a familiar land: I know of what you do; while I am not one of you, I wish to learn more.

I think that is a good position for a researcher, scholar, explorer, or just a student of human nature to take on any subject.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 622 other followers

%d bloggers like this: