Readings from the Week

Straight Outta Chevy Chase

I've actually never heard a RadioLab episode before this one, so the opening made me think that I had the wrong episode. However, once the episode really got started I started to understand why this podcast is interesting. 

In particular, this episode talks about hip hop in detail. The story of Peter Rosenberg (sp?) is... well I don't know what to make of it. From the attempt to brand himself as PMD seems to me to be a move towards projecting authenticity as a hip hop artist. He talks about the music with passion, but when it came to the name it was like the rest of the group keeps him in check within the norms of that group. But Rosenberg displays the traits of a prosumer - from the trading of the tapes to the hat incident, we see that he has a lot of the 'credentials' for the fandom. But the core messages of hip hop don't apply to him... at all. 

He was questioned at every turn, and yet he turned around and did the same thing to Nicki Minaj on Starships. First off, she doesn't need his validation at all; she can choose to do pop stuff and yet still be a hip hop artist. Plenty of artists have done that - look at Taylor Swift! Prior to her transition from the young country artist she was to the pop star she is today, she was doing pop stuff too but no one denied she was a country person. I totally agree with the point that young girls would judge hip hop based solely on Starships is unfair and the gendered coding of hiphop and pop. It was really in poor taste. But Nicki turned it back around on him, and he got pretty defensive too. 

So is he a valid gatekeeper? Does Rosenberg need a resume to prove himself? He seems to have been 'accepted' despite his background as an outsider, and he recognizes the messages of hip hop. Frankly that's not for me to decide but it sounds like he's in, so to speak.

Harry Potter and the Fandom Menace

(Oh I was SO hoping for some Star Wars here)

This reading seems a little... judgmental at times, especially when dealing with fan fiction and LARPing. But it's interesting to read this when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has been gaining traction, though I'm no longer actively in the Harry Potter fandom to gauge what reception is like.

I think that Pottermania has definitely survived past 2007; for many years it was perpetuated by the release of the movies until the second part of Deathly Hallows in 2011 (really? Only 4 years ago? It seems so much longer than that!). All kinds of material was released in addition to the core fan objects - Pottermore was created for one, where Rowling publishes new stories to add to the canon of Harry Potter. Then there are the occasional flare ups, like Rowling admitting she liked Harry and Hermione together and thus sparked a very late shipping war. Though the book releases stopped, there is still a heavy demand for Harry Potter merchandise and objects. 

I remember the excitement around the midnight releases of the books, people would dress up for the occasion and the bookstores would have all kinds of Harry Potter related things while harried employees made sure everyone had a number to pick up a book and that everyone was in line. 

I don't know very much about J.K. Rowling apart from the fact that she was once the richest woman in Great Britain, which affirms for me the fact that fans aren't necessarily tied to the author. On occasion this can happen; I started to read Silk because Robbie Thompson, the writer for this run, is one of my favorite writers for Supernatural but that seems to be an exception. I understand her frustration with fan interactions but I'm surprised she carried it over to the novels because she's lashing out at the fan group. I recognize that it was at the extremist people who were stalking her and were out of line, but she risked alienating the fanbase as well. I remember reading interviews where she said she wanted to show Harry as an angry teenager to be realistic, and after I read the book I was incredibly dissatisfied with her reason. Apparently I wasn't the only one since it resulted in Order of the Phoenix being the least successful.

Yes it's very true that fans are conservative. I was victim to that when the Harry Potter movies came out - my frustration was that the movies weren't faithful to the books... or rather, my vision of the books. But I think J.K. Rowling has learned a lot since this book was published - there is the occasional mishap such as with the Harry/Hermione or Ron/Hermione debate, but she's been mostly making good waves. It's a lesson that all media creators learn, and it's one that'll never go away if creators expect success

Weekly Reading

Buying In: The Pretty Good Problem

T-shirts are some of the cheapest clothes you can get until you stick a brand on them. But then, branded T-shirts are the easiest way to identify as a member of a group while also being an individual within that group if the design is unique. I'm guilty of this; my Keep Calm and Call Ms. Marvel shirt is something I wear to identify as part of the Ms. Marvel fandom, and it was sold at Comic Con as a Marvel exclusive merchandise item. Yet the actual cost of production is probably much cheaper than that (and if I really wanted to I could possibly make the shirt myself - figure out hex values of Kamala's costume, find a vector of the logo online, make the shirt, and the rest is history), but I paid the premium price for it because of what it represents both to me and my fandom. But if I made the exact shirt, would that make it less authentic? Who is around to verify that my made shirt has the Marvel brand on it? (Of course, it'd probably be copyright infringement, but is that the case if I made the shirt just for myself?)

I didn't know the history of Hello Kitty until now, and I find it interesting that Sanrio avoided attributing anything personality wise to Hello Kitty. The fan object then becomes meaningful on an individual basis, but is the symbol the only thing tying that fandom together? We've found that there are cultural norms within fandoms based on the fan object - the Tom Petty fandom for example. But what is there for the Hello Kitty fandom if the symbol itself is up to interpretation?

From Smart Fan to Backyard Wrestler - Performance, Context, and Aesthetic Violence

I'll admit that I had some skepticism when I first started reading this, and I'm glad that the article addressed this outright: professional wrestling is very theatrical. It's not fake at all, I don't believe that for one second because from what I've seen those drops and moves look very painfully real. But the personas of the wrestlers, the feel of the matches, the smack talk, it feels less serious than other televised sports. Which is not to say there aren't any shared traits - the Seattle Seahawks actually have a flag for the 12th Man aka the fans and have coined the term 'The Legion of Boom' for their secondary, I won't pretend for a minute that football or any other sport doesn't have theatricality. Wrestling has just seemed very over the top. 

Backyard wrestling originated as classic impersonation of professional wrestling, but I don't know that I agree with the analogy of backyard wrestling/professional to garage bands/rock bands. I don't know much about garage bands or their success though, the name seems to imply they don't get an audience beyond the garage. I would have likened backyard wrestling to something like college sports based on scale and the amount of organization.

Smarts and Marks definitely are the marks (sorry!) of hierarchy within the backyard wrestling fandom. It sounds like everyone in the backyard wrestling subset of the wrestling fandom is considered Smarts. 

The backyard wrestling fandom seems like a pretty standard fandom to me, I think that the fan object is what puts people off. It is more violent than even pro wrestling at times, but that seems to be reserved for the very occasional moment and if the plot demands it. 

(Also I find it hilarious that both these groups in the reading started in what's basically my backyard)

Amanda Palmer Video

I'd never heard of Amanda Palmer prior to watching this video, so I didn't know what to expect when watching it. I think that Amanda Palmer is in a very unique position over other artists when she talks about asking people to pay rather than charging money. She doesn't account for streaming music services, which are immensely popular. Taylor Swift recently made news with withholding 1989 from every service except for Apple Music, and then there was her open letter as well. Every artist has a different motivation; I think Amanda Palmer is one of the rare artists who is in it for the art itself (or at least, she presents herself that way) but for others the profit margin matters. Yet I have to wonder if there is something to her way of thinking; it reminds me a lot of how Humble Bundle works - Humble Bundle asks people to pay as they want with extra perks if someone pays more than the average and donating the proceeds to charity.

But I think that the really interesting part of the talk was her interaction with the fans as she got more famous. The 18 year old host really struck me, because that was an experience that touched both the fan and the fan object (I bet if someone shows the girl this video that that would elevate her and her family's experience even more). The fact that Amanda Palmer is willing to reach back makes her very special, and her fans haven't taken advantage of it. Case in point: the drawing on her body in Germany. People who are not her fans could have easily made the experience go sour, which is what I initially was afraid of before remembering that these are her fans; they will treat her in a different way than the average consumer. 

Weekly Readings

The Very Merry Un-Gangs of Disneyland

I love that the gangs themselves cover a varied set of demographics; it plays into the exclusivity needed to join a fandom, but there isn't a barrier in terms of age, gender, etc. I would consider Disney fans relatively not stigmatized though, but Disneyland itself feels pretty exclusionary being oriented to younger kids and families. It makes sense that they still feel like outsiders, and I admire that they wear it pretty proudly.

What I'm blown away by is the MiceChat transcript about the first reference to the crews. It's almost a utopian response to them: people ask about it, there's confusion, but there's no... judgment. We've seen that no fandom exists as a utopia, but in the age of the Internet I expected a more virulent response. Is it because the subject matter is Disney? Because it was novel then? The article talks about the complaints about the social groups later in the article, but that seems to be attributed to later groups popping up with a less stringent code of conduct. 

We talked about this idea of trying on an identity, but the social clubs of Disney - at least, the kosher ones - seem to take it as a lifestyle, doing charity work and making the experience more magical for other visitors. They're spreading the ideas they've learned from it around to make people feel less like outsiders around them, deflecting the feeling of alienation they themselves feel, and I think that's why it's a good move that Disney hasn't made a move either for or against them. IKEA screwed up big time by messing with the top of the social hierarchy when they came down on IKEA Hacks, but Disney seems to smartly realize that some of the bad eggs may come down to a few lone bad groups or the public perception and complaints about these groups. 

The Clothes Make the Fan: Fashion and Online Fandom when Buffy the Vampire Slayer Goes to eBay

I'm going to try very hard not to aggressively sing the theme song (or the soundtrack of Once More with Feeling). It's actually a little hard to not quote Giles' line "I've got a theory, that it's a demon [...]" though when I read through this article. For starters, Buffy dressed exceptionally well  given her economic standing, especially when she goes to work for the Doublemeat Palace. How she afforded those clothes and could stand up to Cordelia's fashionwise is pretty baffling, something that I hadn't realized when I was watching the show. But I disagree though with the assertion that the Scooby Gang becomes 'cool' in the end; they're certainly more comfortable in their own skins having saved the world many times, but they're still looked down on by the mainstream society of that universe. True, the Trio is a group of nerds as well, but I think it creates an interesting foil for Willow and Xander demonstrating the bad side of nerddom, which every social group in high school has. But that's off topic.

Clothes! New clothes! (gosh I miss Cordelia, they just don't make good female characters like that recently)

In class when we discussed the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff Kickstarters, I disagreed with the Zach Braff one based on the pitch the actor was making in his video; it felt very... oily to me. The cameos by Jim Parsons and Chris Hardwick, the commentary... it didn't sit right with me. I felt like I was an opportunity to be capitalized on, and I think that the eBay auction of Buffy's clothing feels very similar. eBay, much like Kickstarter, feels like it belongs to the people - regular ordinary folk go there to sell their goods, not corporations. On a corporate level, it's certainly a brilliant move: why not take advantage of all the demand for BtVS paraphernalia? They were all going to be disposed of anyway after the show ended, so why not make some extra cash? People want that custom item that's unique to them alone, that they can point to and enjoy the social capital of owning that item. As a fan though, it stinks. Then again, I place value on actually meeting the actors from my favorite shows and seeing them live at conventions; I don't understand the psychology of it but it's a valid form of fandom. It's why the Comic Con booths selling already signed posters do so well. 

The creep potential is also very real; the fact that the signs of 'use as collectors item, not for the smell of <Actress/Actor' were needed is mildly terrifying. Imagine being Sarah Michelle Gellar and a fan buys an item just to smell her? EEK. But I think that the point of people wanting to be like her is very valid. The Limited has a Scandal collection inspired by Olivia Pope on the show, so you  can feel like her by dressing like her. Imitation is one of the core fan activities.

The criticism of Fox (not that I ever say no to criticizing the network that CANCELED FIREFLY) about trying to promote it for fans but ending up playing to people who have the money is one that still exists today in convention circuits and other fandom marketplaces. I went to the Supernatural convention last year and watched people outbid fans to buy fandom paraphernalia only to turn around and sell it for a markup. When there's money to be made, anyone can take advantage of the fan demand, which is sad and wrong. And yet here I am as someone who had the financial capability to pony up to go to these conventions and meet the actors. However, in this case, Fox made the money back instead of donating to charity. That was a foul move, and though I imagine there are some fans who still would have purchased things no matter where the money was going it was still a bad move because the fans cared about it. They upset the social contract they had with the fans, and with all the following moves they've made now it's generally well known that science fiction shows on Fox will inevitably end up canceled. They shot their reputation in the foot, and this article really should not have surprised me as much as it did.