Fan Work Assignment

This past semester, I have been teaching a unit on Fan Studies as part of an Advanced Topics course offered to our first year students.

To try to get away from the standard assessment model I’ve been stuck in (presentation, essay, essay), I decided that I was going to ask students to produce their own piece of fan work, and then write an exegesis/critique positioning it within the fandom, discussing the aims of the work and evaluating the success.

I gave a very broad remit for the piece of fan work – vid, fic, art, filk, or doing a piece of curation, creating a tumblr or equivalent space which curated others’ work in order to speak to a specific element of fandom.

I was a bit nervous about how the students would do, whether they would understand the aims of the assignment, and how much they would really get into the spirit of it. However, I needn’t have been. I have been *blown away* by the quality of the response to this assignment – people approaching it in different ways, producing different forms, and all participating genuinely.

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Social TV at BU conference paper

I don’t see me having a time any time soon to work this up into a formal journal article, so here is the text of the conference paper I gave at BU at this conference. I’m not much of a “written out” conference paper guy, so as much as there is a full text here (so it could be sent to a discussant), I more spoke to this. I still feel this is an interesting provocation, and I’m hoping to take this a lot further in my subsequent work.


Is Piracy Still the Future of Television in a Streaming World?

In 2010, Gail de Kosnik published a white paper through the Convergence Culture Consortium, based in the Comparative Media Studies department at MIT. The paper was provocatively titled “Piracy is the Future of Television”, and very clearly laid out the benefits that piracy in its different versions offer to users over the traditional sanctioned modes of access. Today, I’m here to bring my own provocation, taking De Kosnik’s ideas, and reassessing them in light of the changes and shifts of technologies and practices in the past 7 years. The question is, is piracy still the future of television, in an age of television streaming?

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There Is A Difference

The past few weeks have seen a lot of popular attention being directed towards fans and fandoms: the reactions of some men to the upcoming release of the Feig-helmed female-driven Ghostbusters, the calls for Disney to include a queer character coalescing around #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, the death of an LGBT character on The 100 being a final straw for many fans who are sick of lesbian characters being denied healthy relationships and happy endings, and the decision by the writers of the Captain America comics to suggest in a cliffhanger ending that Steve Rogers has been working for Hydra. All of these have led to significant discussion online, including, frequently, outrage and hurt.

The pushback to these has been seen from several sectors. The AV Club ran an article about ‘modern fan entitlement’, suggesting that fans now felt that they have the right to demand that stories go the way that they want, and Devin Faraci of BirthsMoviesDeath evoked a previous suggestion of his that Annie Wilkes of Misery was the patron saint of fandom, a woman driven to kidnap and threaten an author in order to force him to resurrect a dead character. A good friend of mine bemoaned the current visibility of fandom, harking back to the days when fandom was hidden in its own corners of Livejournal and AO3, and shipping wars and earnest fan discussion was limited to those who had sought them out.

What I am seeing in these discussions is a concerning elision of multiple ideas, one which could lead to a silencing of groups who deserve their voice to be heard. Fandom is not a mythical paradise for people of colour, for LGBTQI people, for otherwise marginalised and disregarded people, but it has been a space where people could find expression, comfort, and depictions which felt more like their own lived experience. I do not want to see ‘mainstream’ fans (white, middle-class, cis-het) pushing back against marginalised communities who speak out, in order to attempt to conform to some idea of how fandom should behave. There are pluralities and differences in the campaigns mentioned above. There is a difference. And in that difference, lies everything.

There is a difference between fans trying to guide the course of a narrative, and pointing out offensive narrative tropes. While I’m sure it wasn’t at all shocking to many LGBT viewers, I have been shocked by the running total of #DeadLesbians. Authors may point to the narrative imperative that they felt drove them to kill off a particular character (and there may, in some very rare circumstances, be industrial rationales around contracts etc), but that does not account for the sheer number of lesbian characters denied healthy relationships, or simply killed off. An awareness is needed from writers that this is something that happens far too much, and that they need to take active steps to not contribute to the problem.

Pointing out offensive behaviour is not the same as trying to change a story to “what fans want”. I do not know enough of the backstory of Steve Rogers and Captain America to weigh in with my own opinion as to whether the “Hail Hydra” moment was anti-Semitic or not. However, when it comes down to it, my opinion doesn’t matter very much. Jewish people have been saying, loudly and clearly, that they feel it is anti-Semitic, and their voice is going to carry more weight than any of the non-Jewish voices speaking against it. This is not a ‘fan behaviour’, nor is it entitlement. It is pointing out, once again, an offensive narrative misstep.

I would also argue that the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend movement is not really about ‘demanding’ a certain narrative take. This is people saying “we are sick of not being represented by a major studio”, pointing out that there are significant voices who would love to see a gay character finally appear in an animated Disney film, and that by continuing to not do so, the lived experiences of many are being erased. This isn’t fans demanding that a character take a different narrative path, but instead is a call for visibility, for recognition, in a text which has become important to a great number of people, and whose main song speaks to queer experience on multiple levels.

Speaking out about offensive representations, about the lack of representations, about stereotyped representations, is absolutely crucial. As audiences, we demand more from our creatives, not because we are more demanding, but because for too long the narratives we have been presented with have been narrow, singular, conservative, and only representative of a small portion of the mainstream community. If we look back at the texts that we hold up as iconic over the past 20-30 years, so many of them spoke to us because they provided representations of some segment of the population that we didn’t see elsewhere: Roseanne’s depiction of blue-collar family life, Sex and the City’s depiction of open female sexuality, My So-Called Life’s depiction of the reality of being a teenage girl, and in spite of the horrific behaviour of its creator, The Cosby Show provided people of colour with a visual representation of African-American culture on television in ways that it had not been seen before.

Representation is important. It shapes and guides how we behave. It provides cultural touchstones, and we look to it for representations of our own lived experience. Pointing out to creatives that they are narrowing their representations, adhering to tropes which are harmful, or simply being offensive: that is not being demanding. That is not ‘entitlement’. That is trying to create a cultural landscape that is better and healthier for all of us, that gives viewers and fans the sort of content of which they can be proud.

We need to assess these pushbacks carefully, and need to look at the movements they are challenging. Are the movements pointing out offensive, pointing out harmful tropes, pointing out a lack of expression or representation? Or are they strictly proclaiming upset at the way a narrative has gone, or a creative decision? Are they pushing for greater inclusivity, or for less? Are they aimed at broadening our experiences, or narrowing them?

There is a difference.

The Use of Social Media by Television Networks to Moderate Fandom (SCMS 16)

I am posting a write up of the conference paper I presented at the 2016 Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I was a part of a panel titled “Appropriate Audiences: From Industrial Imperatives to Subcultural Struggles”, accompanied by Bethan Jones, Bertha Chin, and Mel Stanfill. I feel the panel went over really well, and there were some excellent synergies between the papers.

This doesn’t represent an exact version of the paper presented, as a significant part of it was delivered from notes, but I have written it up to be as close as possible. Continue reading “The Use of Social Media by Television Networks to Moderate Fandom (SCMS 16)”

#SaveCampbellLive, Reality Television, and a Discourse of Elitism

Some issues have been fomenting in my head for a while, and tonight, they finally came to a head. There was a similar discourse around the time of the cutting of funding to TVNZ 7, and I made some similar comments then, but these ideas seem to be fiendishly difficult to put down.

Some context: one of the few remaining current affairs shows in New Zealand that still does relatively “hard” journalism, Campbell Live, has come under review by its network, MediaWorks, with the underlying implication that it is likely to be cancelled soon. Campbell Live has been a force of advocacy journalism, championing those who have suffered in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake, and been a loud critic of the government on issues such as child poverty.

The prospect of the loss of Campbell Live is nothing short of tragic. It is one of the sole places in primetime in the New Zealand broadcast spectrum where key issues related to the public interest are raised and discussed. While there have been a couple of occasions when these may have had a political bent, for the most part John Campbell and his team have been about speaking truth to power, no matter who that power is, and standing up for those who are not able to stand up for themselves. Sometimes this is about the individual, and other times it is about entire segments of the population who are without a voice.

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Research Proposal – Television Piracy: Industrial and Audience Practice

It has been far too long since I have blogged, having been caught up with PhD submission, and then the madness of Summer School. However, with juggling various projects at the moment, and some possible upcoming publications, it’s time to ramp this blog back up into gear. First up, the draft of the proposal I am submitting to the University of Queensland for the postdoctoral fellowship. As always, any comments and discussion gratefully received. Continue reading “Research Proposal – Television Piracy: Industrial and Audience Practice”

Sky Television, the English Premier League, and Coliseum: Some thoughts on the NZ Television Industry

The announcement that Sky Television have lost the rights to the English Premier League (EPL) coverage for New Zealand, with the rights going to a company who will stream the material online, has been met with a little confusion. No one is quite certain what it means, what it means for business, what it means for viewers, what it means for the future of sports coverage in New Zealand. I make no claims to be an expert in this field, but I wanted to put together a couple of ideas about what we might see from this.

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Amazon’s Kindle Worlds

This has been dashed off fairly quickly, I may add to it in 24 hours, as I think of other elements I want to address.

NB – I am a scholar, with a scholarly interest in fandom. I am not a lawyer, nor am I a publisher. But the opinions expressed below are based on things that I have read from people I respect, and people who *do* seem to know what they’re talking about.

A day or so ago, Amazon announced their newest project, Kindle Worlds, an attempt to monetise, and ‘legitimise’ fan fiction. Almost immediately, my social media lit up with response. Some people were raving about the potential for this to see creators and fic authors get compensated for their work. Others were far less positive, and saw a number of concerning aspects to this move.

My immediate instinct was that something *felt* wrong about this idea. But I was really struggling to construct an argument that actually laid out the problems with it.

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In Defence of Reality Television in New Zealand

There has been more discussion about television in New Zealand in recent months than I can remember ever before. The discussion over the demise of TVNZ7, the last true space of public service television broadcast in New Zealand, the decision by the government to only fund content rather broadcast platform, and some of the recent funding decisions made by the national content funding authority, New Zealand on Air. However, one of the things that has come through very strongly to me has been a distinct strain of anti-Reality television discourse. I absolutely understand that reality television is not to everybody’s taste, but to my mind, there have been some distinctly knee-jerk reactions, and suggestions of causality from people who really should know better.

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