Gender and Fan Studies (Round One, Part One): Karen Hellekson and Jason Mittell

As promised, we are going to be running a mega-event through my blog this summer — an ongoing conversation among some of the leading scholars of fan cultures and cult media. This conversation has grown out of a perceived disconnect in the ways that male and female scholars are writing about this phenomenon, though I hope that it will evolve into something else — a discussion of fan studies as a field, its theoretical groundings, its methodologies, and its most important insights. There has been an explosion in recent years of exciting new work on fan culture which is coming from an emerging generation of scholars — male and female. I am hoping that this event will help introduce this work to a larger public and that this discussion can be seen as a sign that fan studies is really coming of age.

Here’s how it will work: Every Thursday and Friday, we will introduce a new pair of scholars, who will continue the discussion, seeking to explore commonalities and differences in the ways they approach the work. Jason Mittell and Karen Hellekson have gotten things rolling here with some thoughts about the nature of fannish and academic authority.

Our hope is that this discussion will spill over into other blogs as well and I will try to post as many links to these other discussions as possible. So far, for example, Kristina Busse and Will Brooker have started a public discussion in anticipation of the series which Kristina is running over at her blog.

I am also encouraging other participants to add their thoughts and comments here whenever something in the public discussion sparks their interests. Karen and Jason suggested the use of numbered units to make it easier for people to refer to parts of the exchange.

So, let the fun begin.

Authority

by Karen Hellekson & Jason Mittell

1. Academic authority

[1.1] KLH: It seems that every discussion about fan studies somehow has something to do with authority – not only with establishing who has it (apparently not the fans, unless they appropriate it), but indicating the closeness of the relationship with the subject matter (apparently being an academic means you’re inauthentic if you’re a fan, and being a fan means you can’t be a properly dispassionate, disinterested academic). My problem with this led to my coediting, with Kristina Busse, a recent volume of new essFays about fan studies, Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, all by academics who are also fans, because I think that this connection is a useful and good thing.

[1.2] Interestingly for this discussion, the academy does not employ me. I’m employed full-time as a copyeditor in the scientific, technical, and medical market – a good fit for me, because I prefer not to teach. My academic credentials include a PhD in English, with an emphasis in science fiction, and I’ve published some books and articles, some of which happen to be about fan studies. I write book reviews about SF titles for Publishers Weekly. However, I’ve found that a lack of an academic connection is terribly disenfranching. The simplest research project is fraught with annoyance and pain as roadblocks are thrown in front of me: it’s ridiculously difficult to get the books and articles I need, thanks to all the limits placed on me by the library; and I don’t have an affiliation to put on my abstract submissions, which results in their being kicked back to me for “completion.”

[1.3] My work in fan studies includes literary and historical readings of fan texts and/or the bits of the Internet given over to fan community. I’m currently interested in notions of authorship; of truth-claims, authority, and analysis; and ideas about constructing and editing reality (as, for example, editing blog posts to alter the historical trace). I’ve also done some work on the idea of fandom as a gift culture. I blog occasionally about my academic-type thoughts.

[1.4] JM: My aca-identity is comparatively traditional – I teach Media Studies at Middlebury College, writing about television primarily in the forms of books (author of Genre & Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture [Routledge, 2004] and a textbook in-the-works called Television & American Culture), articles (essays on TV narrative, genre, discourses about television as a medium), and blog (JustTV, where links to many of my other writings can be found as well). I’m primarily interested in the intersections between television programming, industrial strategies, and viewer practices, and have recently been focusing these interests on the development of new forms of television storytelling emerging in the past decade or so in the United States.

[1.5] Importantly for this discussion, I do not consider myself a scholar of fandom; although occasionally my research does peer into fan practices, such as a new essay on spoiler fans of Lost, my motivating question in such research is not focused on understanding fandom as a distinct set of practices – I’m not the least bit hostile to such scholarship, but it’s just not my primary interest.

2. Fannish authority

[2.1] JM: My fan-identity is a bit more muddy. While I’m an eager consumer of many types of media & popular culture (including TV like Lost, Veronica Mars, BSG, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Arrested Development, etc.; a lot of animation; much music; and a fair number of videogames), I would not self-identify as a fan per se. And to me, this cuts to the heart of the debate framing this discussion – what are the boundaries of being a “fan” and who is invested in the label as an identity? I’m interested in fans as part of my pedagogy, regularly teaching academic work about fandom and showing examples of fan creativity & engagement. I read fan studies, even blurbing the excellent new volume Fandom.

[2.2] But I have no real personal investment in the fan label, or the practices and communities that tend to coalesce around the notion of fandom. For me, fandom centers around three main aspects: fan creativity (paratexts, fanfics, vidding, etc.), fan community (in-person and/or online), and fan self-identification (prominent self-branding through fashion, online profiles, behaviors, etc.). I don’t really engage with any of these (save for wearing a Red Sox cap on bad hair days), so that’s why I don’t conceive of myself as a fan. (I realize that many people would argue that my notion of fandom is too narrow – I invite more discussion about those boundaries as they’re crucial to the debate.)

[2.3] KLH: I myself am an active fan, involved in newsgroups and blogs about my few primary fandoms. I write fan fiction under a pseudonym, and occasionally, I go to fan conventions. Although I’m a longtime fan – I was into Doctor Who first, in 1981, with a live-action fan club – I took some time off and got back into it in a big way in 2002, when I turned to fandom basically as a form of social engagement, because I live in an isolated, fairly rural area. I run a fanfic archive in my primary fandom. Within fandom, I do lots of large project type things – things that involve organizing the time and effort of others, because I can get such projects done. I spend fannish time in actor- and fan-specific newsgroups and in the LiveJournal blogsphere.


3. Gendered academic authority

[3.1] KLH: Although I don’t think that my lack of an institutional affiliation or a tenure-track job has hurt my chances at publication – although it might if I decided to publish the results of a survey and didn’t have an institutional review board to approve my methodology – I can’t help but wonder how such a tenuous position affects so many women just like me, like lecturers without offices and freeway fliers without a single institution to call home. The gender split between those in positions of authority (professors, say) versus those in positions of dependency (lecturers) has been well documented by the Modern Language Association, among others, and I’m pretty sure independent scholars, those zany dabblers, aren’t even on the list. To my mind, these gendered notions of power and authority tacitly underpin all conversations about acafans, as rank becomes linked to topic, and as texts written by professor scholars are treated more seriously than texts written by independent scholars, lecturers, or graduate students.

[3.2] JM: I agree with Karen’s assessment about the gender splits within academia – even in a field like media studies, which is both invested in feminism and new enough that the old boys’ network is less old and less boyish, power & authority is male by default. And the field itself is feminized within the larger academy, treated as a weak & flighty discipline compared to more traditional humanities, social sciences, and sciences. I would hope that within media studies, the gender divides would be less structuring than in older & grayer fields, but there’s no doubt that divisions between tenure-track and adjunct, affiliated and independent scholars are gendered across the board. Even perusing the lists of Henry’s invitees for this forum suggests that more women are in less traditional academic roles.

[3.3] In terms of the broader issue of the divisions within fan studies/fandom communities that stimulated these discussions, here’s how I understand the questions & investments that have been articulated (in generalized & oversimplified terms): the technological & industrial shifts that Henry analyzes in Convergence Culture & on this blog are making fannish activities more mainstream and acceptable, but also more commodified and privileging fanboy over fangirl practices. Mirroring that shift, academic interest in fandom has splintered along gendered lines, with prominent male academics emphasizing fanboy & industrial practices, leaving many female academics on the margins to study & defend fangirl practices that have arguably been more important in the history of fandom; and like the old saw about children’s programming, the girls will consume work pitched at both genders, while the boys only concern themselves with boy-stuff (be it machinima or G.I. Joe). Whether this reluctance to engage female fandoms & fan scholars from male academics is intentional or truly captures what specifically happened in particular instances is beside the point – the broad-based impression amongst the female acafan community that there is a gender split means that it matters & must be discussed.

[3.4] KLH: I agree with this overview. Part of the gender/authority fault line is simply the result of what people happen to be interested in. But part of it is the deliberate invitation of various groups to perform or create artworks that lie within a gendered sphere. So George Lucas can invite fans to create vids within a certain very structured format by providing clips for mashups, as a kind of advertisement, while simultaneously shutting out derivative works created from sources like the films. Men are far more likely to respond to that kind of prompt than women. This gives the male-gendered activity the gloss of acceptability and pushes women onto the fringes, although I’m happy to say that Lucas has seen the light: he will permit fanfic type stuff in 2007. I see this kind of change of mind as tremendously hopeful, because it places the stamp of official approval on a marginalized fan practice, which will in turn permit more unrestricted free play. I like to think it’s the result of the margin being erased. This ought to help with gender equity in responses, too.

4. Gendered textual authority

[4.1] KLH: When I think about a gendered divide, I think about men controlling the publishing outlets. I think about the volume I coedited, when two men, the outside reviewers, critiqued and approved work spearheaded by us, two women – and I think of how happy and grateful I am that they did. And I think about the academic privileging of creative over derivative artworks. “What fanboys do” and “what fangirls do” interests me less than the larger, completely entrenched worldview that privileges the work and authority of men over that of women, and much of this debate strikes me as something within the realm of a sex-divided culture war.

[4.2] For example, the polarizing FanLib debate, part of which is featured in this blog, involves an effort by outsiders (men) to gain financially by using woman-generated content, and there has been a call for (women) fans to take action, to seize control of their own work before someone does it for them. The fact that those who propose a business model such as FanLib think that the time is right to address certain legal and ethical concerns indicates that a change is coming in how derivative works are perceived, so the gender issue takes on a sudden new urgency. The disenfranchising is poised to begin, and the women who generate the content have been prodded into action. Activism is a good thing, but the gender lines here are obvious and troubling.

[4.3] Within the academic realm, part of the gendered split is, I suspect, the result of certain practical copyright concerns that affect publication – concerns that I, as a copyeditor and as coeditor of a volume that reprinted fan artwork, know to worry about. (I’m not going to discuss the whole “copyright and derivative artworks” thing. That can be left to someone in law. I’m speaking purely practically here: imagine simply that somebody wrote an article and she wants to publish it.) If a scholar (probably a man) writes an article about machinima, as one did for the volume I worked on, then he can illustrate it with screen shots. But if another scholar (probably a woman) writes about a vid, she gets hit with the double whammy: reproducing popular song lyrics costs big money, and so does reproducing screen shots [JM: as an aside, screen captures should be considered fair use, but that’s another issue]. The prohibitive cost means that she probably can’t publish her work intact, and it’s hard to write a well-documented article about a songvid without quoting the song or the vid. In fact, it’s very difficult in general to write an article about a text that hasn’t been published in commercial outlets and can’t be easily purchased on Amazon.com – like fanfic, or a vid, or other texts that the scholar may think she wants to talk about.

[4.4] The academic world isn’t going to wait for major changes in copyright law or technology to rethink how it grants things like privilege and tenure, and publishing outlets aren’t going to change their standards of documentation. Yet I would argue that part of the problem is that men are more likely to work on topics that are easier to publish about, because these topics are free of certain legal encumbrances; and women are more likely to present a paper orally, to give informal papers on texts that trouble those in authority, like production editors, who need to get their pieces of paper from the copyright holders before the article can see print.

[4.5] JM: This highlights how the gender issue is mapped onto the corporate vs. citizen divide as well – fandom has traditionally been outside the power of the industry, and now that media companies are trying to work with (or, less charitably, co-opt) fan practices, the female realm of fandom is having to deal more directly with the more traditional (read male) world of copyrights and licensing than back when fan creativity was via photocopies and conventions. As Jenkins discusses in Convergence Culture, the legal realm of fair use favors (perhaps by coincidence or maybe by deep-seated ideologies, depending on your theoretical stripes) the more masculine practices of parody over female extensions of storyworlds and relationships.

[4.6] KLH: This debate highlights how disenfranchising in general being on the outside is. This kind of split isn’t unique to media studies. The discussion has reinforced my annoyance at the inflexibility of the structures currently in place, even as I’m employed in a field that asks me to police them. For example, I’m under orders to delete all popular song lyrics from the texts I edit, because my employers don’t want to deal with the cost and hassle. At least copyright rules and the unspoken rules governing the appropriateness of documents meant for publication, no matter how inflexible or troubling, or are the same for everyone, regardless of discipline or sex.

[4.7] All of this comes back to the gendered nature of authority and its place in the governing structures that underlie certain aspects of our culture: the academy; the transmission of knowledge through (print) media; the policed ownership of content. The best thing about the red team/blue team debate is that we’re talking about these issues. But it’s out of my power to change things like copyright holders’ demands, even as our culture lurches on, with mashups and songvids put up on YouTube faster than the YouTube copyright police can take them down. Music, TV, and movie downloads, and peer-to-peer file sharing – all of this permits easy access to copyrighted material that’s in a perfect form to be co-opted and used in a new way.

TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW…

Comments

  1. The questions about authority within the academy clearly are linked to those which distinguish academic “places from which to speak of culture” from other positions. When jostling for a place from which we can speak through publishing contracts, negotiations around promotion and tenure, and the use of affiliations and networks to authorise statements that appear outside academic publishing and teaching, we clearly do set up some special claims about the usefulness or perceptiveness of acadmic knowledge in comparison to other kinds of knowledge. So I’m glad this was raised at the outset because it does matter to what academics and non-academics do with fans and fandom. It’s a big part of why the “meta” produced by fans isn’t going to circulate in the same way as academic publication (and personally I see KB and KLH’s book as an academic publication and as not really shifting that situation much).

    However, I’ve got a few questions or doubts as well and I want to mention just two here. First, we shouldn’t make fandom out to be some sort of egalitarian world in which there are not extremely fraught contestations over authority and very powerful striations of communities in terms of who has the power to speak, and how, and to whom. Second, I don’t think that the question of gendered authority in the FanLib debate is at all the same as that which propels discussions about academic authority to speak about fans, and I don’t think it’s helpful to homogenise it.

    I have a lot of questions about what it means for someone like JM to say that study fans and fandom but not fandom as an object, but I think I’ve said enough and those are likely to be questions that come up more than once in this series.

  2. I think there is substantial possibility for improvement in the ridiculous publisher practices Karen correctly describes as barriers to fan-production-centered and other nontraditional subjects of scholarship. The documentary filmmakers have put together a statement of best practices in fair use, and have managed to get liability insurers to insure films that comply; the insurers used to require permission for everything. Publishers can be pushed to take similar steps. And really, is it any surprise to find that apparently neutral legal structures have disparate effects on men and women?

    Anyway, self-promotion time: I have written an article on sex, gender and fair use that addresses some of the copyright issues. It’s here.

  3. Catherine, I think I disagree with you about the relationship between gendering of the FanLib debate and gendering of academic subjects and objects. Of course, the two are not exactly the same, but I’d argue that they *are* connected. In fact, given that for most academics publication is necessary for their job (promotion and tenure), couldn’t we also make the argument that academics are, in fact, writing about fannish productions as they further their own goals?

    Now, these two things are not the same, but the power differential exists in both. Moreover, I guess I can’t have it both ways and complain about guys not studying ‘us’ and then reproaching them for doing so, but maybe we need to look at various power differentials, not just male/female but also professional/amateur. In fact, as Karen points out above, the two are intricately connected in the ways academia still is gender biased, with gender parities in grad school rarely translating into tenured positions. Moreover, in my discussion with Will, we are beginning to wonder whether the two power differentials might not have certain inherent correlations, i.e., is fannishness the more affective, more “female” engagement and academia the more “male”–the Gender Genie sure seems to think so when it assigns male results to most academic writings by myself and other female friends. And it is the latter that is at play in academic fan research, isn’t it?

    Which brings me to my last point, namely that this would be the reason I somewhat disagree with your assessment that our collection is an academic publication. It is, but it also is a collection edited by two fans who had no vested interest in a line on our CV. It’s a collection that freely could pick the essays it felt fit best, because we had noone but ourselves to account to. And it was a collection that quite purposefully picked FANS as authors, i.e., people who are active in (media) fandom and thus subjects and objects of their investigations.

  4. Henry Jenkins says:

    From Karen (victim of my spam filter):

    Regarding Catherine’s comment about the academic nature of the

    book, and Kristina’s response: And we tried so hard to make the

    book accessible to both fans and academics! It makes me sad that it’s

    being categorized here and elsewhere as strictly academic, when we

    intended fan crossover.

    KB points out that the production of the book was done within a kind

    of fannish sphere and was a project spearheaded by two people without

    academic authority in that neither of us holds a tenure-track job, so

    really it was a labor of love. I’d say that the final product, the

    book as artifact and not process, is geared more to an academic

    audience, even though I think the tone of many of the essays is

    delightfully informal and readable, not densely heavy with jargon. We

    consciously chose a publisher (McFarland) that brings the book to fan

    cons, such as WorldCon, as well as more general literature- or

    criticism-centered academic cons, like ICFA.

    I also want to point out, here in a public forum, that Catherine has

    an essay in the volume. I wonder whether she wrote with her academic

    hat on, and not her fan hat, and whether this colors her response? Or

    whether, when she reads, her academic side kicks on? We have gotten

    nice notes and feedback from undergraduate students, and I know

    several people have adopted the book for media studies courses, so

    clearly the audience ranges wide.

    I would say, don’t count the book out for its crossover potential.

    It’s being marketed to both fan and academic audiences.

    Regarding Catherine’s remark, “we shouldn’t make fandom out to be

    some sort of egalitarian world in which there are not extremely

    fraught contestations over authority and very powerful striations of

    communities in terms of who has the power to speak, and how, and to

    whom”: I never meant to imply otherwise. Its sets of rules about

    who has authority differ from the academic model, but I chose not to

    address this issue, in part because JM doesn’t perceive himself as a

    fan in the same terms and it wasn’t a point of commonality for us.

    This is a really great topic for another person to blog about. Matt

    Hills has done some work in this vein.

    Regarding Catherine’s second remark: “Second, I don’t think that

    the question of gendered authority in the FanLib debate is at all the

    same as that which propels discussions about academic authority to

    speak about fans, and I don’t think it’s helpful to homogenise

    it”: KB did a good job responding to this. I put it in simply as a

    recent example of gendered fan labor, but in fact, I do think it’s

    relevant, because both academic study and FanLib treat the fan as an

    object. How interesting that two separate spheres, the academic and

    the economic, perceive fans in many of the same ways! The linkage

    between the academic and the economic in terms of things like, oh,

    cultural capital strikes me as highly relevant, when academics trade

    on things (like…studying fans) in order to obtain promotion and

    tenure.

    To Rebecca Tushnet: Thanks very much for reaffirming my

    frustration with the publishing world, which, after all, employs me,

    so I must uphold their standards. I must admit that I rarely have a

    problem deleting song lyrics from medical journal articles (??) and

    editorials, but it’s more difficult in the books I edit about critical

    theory, where song lyrics are used to shorthand a cultural moment.

    Thanks for the link to your relevant article, and I commend everyone

    to it.

  5. I completely agree that there is such a gender divide, but I thought you left out some aspects of the discussion. Copyright issues do not only effect women involved in publishing, say, articles about fanvids (which are gendered female). They also effect women involved in many other “fangirl” activities.

    It’s generally considered legal to publish game or book guides/encyclopedias and machinima (which are the two areas that I think are most fanboy-stereotypical). It’s generally considered not legal, or sketchily legal, to publish fan vids or fan fiction, which are most fangirl-stereotypical (Fan art, I think, tends to be gender neutral). This extends to the point where content creators are allowed to use the former (J.K. Rowling has admitted that she uses fan-created encyclopedias to check things that she’s forgotten about her own canon) but not the latter (J.K. Rowling has to state loudly that she has never read fan fiction, for fear of someone saying she took their ideas and suing her).

    I think this is a specious distinction, because when it comes down to it, in many games machinima functions the same as fan fiction (most of the World of Warcraft machinima that have become really popular, for instance, have in them the types of jokes that might be added to the game in a future patch). And fan encyclopedias are still publishing copyrighted information, maybe even more than fan fiction, which doesn’t attempt to give an exhaustive description of the world. In fandoms like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, where the world is the focus of fan adoration (not the stories that the original author tells about the world quite so much) encyclopedias are to my mind more infringing than fiction by far.

    I’m not sure why this division between fan practices which are acceptable to corporations and those which aren’t exists, if it’s explicitly gender related, or not. But I am mightily sick of fans being depicted “fanboy: obsessive, intelligent, detail-oriented” and “fangirl: obsessive, flighty, sex-object-focused.”

    (Note: this may submit twice. I’m sorry if it does — the first time, I got an internal server error. When the comment is published, feel free to delete this note!)

  6. Henry Jenkins says:

    Note from Deborah Kaplan:

    Karen, regarding “And we tried so hard to make the book accessible to both fans and academics! It makes me sad that it’s being categorized here and elsewhere as strictly academic, when we intended fan crossover.

    I know that I deliberately wrote my essay for the book in a style far more academic and jargon-laden than I usually choose to. I come out of children’s literature scholarship, and I am used to my field being the subject of general academic scorn. (Don’t even get me started on The Pooh Perplex, which sources its entire joke in the notion that literary critics could have

    meaningful conversations about Winnie the Pooh.)

    Children’s literature scholarship, incidentally, is another field loaded with gender landmines.

    Moreover, almost nobody, even in fan studies, does close readings and textual analyses of fan texts. There’s not a lot of academy support for close textual analysis of any such ameteur fictions.

    As I was writing, I made the (probably flawed) choice to write in the style which would be most acceptable in the academy. Flexing my scholarly muscles, as it were, to gain credibility for my

    project of close reading fantexts. And that choice, however imperfect it might have been, highlights this insider/outsider debate. Why did I think I needed to use exclusive jargon to gain academy respect? And Kristina might ask, why did I think I needed academy respect? After all, I’m not a tenure-track professor who needs the CV line. But it was my *project* I wanted to be given academy respect, not me; I want literary analysis to become a valid tool for assessing fanworks.

  7. robin reid says:

    Karen and Jason: I like how you lay out some very important terms and definitions that affect scholarship these days, ranging from academic hiring and tenure issues to publication issues. You bring different experiences and issues to the table; the thing that struck me as most open to discuss is the different attitudes toward “fan” as an area of identity and commitment, intersecting with gender and authority. Your post (although I admit I haven’t been able to read Part 5 as carefully as the rest) strikes me as an admirable opening to this discussion Thanks to both of you for going first–I know that can be frightening!

    As often happens, I find I want to respond to issues raised in the comments, especially around the production of and reception of our anthology.

    Academic vs. fan discourse/spaces/readers:

    When bell hooks’ realized that her family and friends would not read her ground-breaking work on the exclusion/marginalization of African-American women by white feminists groups during the seventies, she published her book without footnotes (endnotes) (parenthetical attribution). She later decided not to pursue/accept tenure. Her discussions of the complexities of academic hierarchies, race, gender, class and sociolinguistics are well worth reading; I’ve assigned her essays to first year composition students and to graduate students in seminars even though there are no footnotes/endnotes (there are bibliographies).

    When my first-year students ask how do they tell if an essay is “academic” (meaning: published in a peer-reviewed venue), I tell them to look for footnotes/endnotes/parenthetical attribution. And a bibliography. And we also talk about other types of expertise.

    Our anthology has all of the above. Since I am an academic (as well as a fan) who must publish (but I do not have to publish on fan studies and, in fact, may have done better to focus on some nicely canonical literary text by a dwm), I wrote as an academic. However, we also broke academic rules: one sees few collaborative essays in the humanities, especially in English/literary studies where we fetishize the “single author” even today. In the collaborative essay, I came out as a fan, citing my LJ fan pseud. I blended autobiographical information with a discussion of some cutting-edge second-generation queer theory–as did my co-writers. My SCAR (scholarly, creative, and research evaluation) last year cited that essay–so perhaps I’m capitalizing on fans. I tend to add in another aspect–that only academics writing to academics will change the nature of academic cultures/institutions: my motto when I left low-paying clerical jobs and volunteer activist “jobs” to get my doctorate was that I would subvert from within.

    Back to our anthology: I know fans are reading it (as well as other women aca-fan). I’ve seen the discussions on LJ, and I’ve heard the attributions at Slash Fiction Study Day 2. I’ve also noticed something in regard to Tolkien that is worth remembering here: in bookstores, I see literary scholarship by the major Tolkien scholars shelved in the fiction section next to Tolkien’s work (and next to reference works and collections by fans, and next to the Visual Companions of the films). I know fans have read Jenkins, Bacon-Smith, and Penley, and others. Not all fans, but some. (If I get permission, I will link to one superb discussion that took place in a LJ on my friends list, with some writing/commentary that I would be happy to see from my graduate students on these topics.)

    To assume that all “academic” writing is written on the same technicalor stylistic level is problematic (composition studies and theorists have been taking this issue on for years since in the U.S. first-year composition classes are *supposed* to teach incoming college students how to write “academic” discourse). Basically, they’ve decided that although we all recognize “academic discourse” nobody can define it.

    I teach hooks’ work in English 101 and English 503 (graduate multicultural class). In my last 503 course, I assigned a range of texts by feminist of color ranging from activist, personal, autobiographical, and poetic to theoretical/philosopical.

    All are by women (not all born-women either). All explore issues of gender, sexality, “race,” ethnicity, class, and in one case (Gloria Anzaldúa’s This Bridge We Call Home, a number of texts discussed the issues around conflicts between “academic” and “activist” feminists. The texts, many of them, exhibit a wide range of languages, dialects, discourses, and registers.

    That’s the context for my work in fandom–the ways in which so many areas of identity intersect with gender, the care I have to take to avoid overgeneralizing, either about “women” or “academics.” That was one important context for me as a writer for your anthology.

    Deborah: I liked what you did in your essay and know from my friends in children’s literature (all female except for one male!) the disdain C/YA scholars face (I was interested a few years ago to discover that there’s little or no consideration of children’s fantasies by feminist scholars of sf/fantasy!).

    I agree that literary analysis can be a method for fanfiction–that’s why I assigned Sheenagh Pugh’s book, The Democratic Genre: Fanfiction in a Literary Context in my upper level women writers course last fall. Students were shocked (they thought they’d be studying the Great Women Authors), but they came to appreciate her literary arguments. I can see the rationale for other methodologies since structuralism is sometimes marred by an insistence upon an arbitrary aesthetic standard, but if you can free close reading as a technique from that they, then why not? What I loved about our anthology was the range of methodologies. And while we’re talking, are you interested in doing something on children’s/ya literature for my anthology Queering the Fantastic? If so, let me know and I’ll get you a copy of the call!

  8. To Deborah and Robin, regarding why we overwrite as academics: Thanks for these useful remarks. Deborah, I totally get what you mean about feeling like you have to establish authority when the subject matter is perceived as so marginal by so many. The immediate response is to talk the talk to prove that your thoughts are worthy, thinky ones. We who study SF have long suffered under the strain of a field of study thought to be frivolous and pointless. (I know people who do children’s SF, which is a double whammy, even with Ursula K. LeGuin in your corner.) You say, “But it was my *project* I wanted to be given academy respect, not me; I want literary analysis to become a valid tool for assessing fanworks,” and this is so true: it’s not me, it’s not us, it’s something even bigger: the field.

    I think close readings of individual fan texts are valuable, just as they are for any other text. I would also argue that for those who write fanfic, the fanfic becomes a kind of criticism of the source text, complete with allusion to canonical moments to support a contested reading. Fanfic = criticism!

    Robin, the other option to not having attribution as endnotes or in-text citations is to have a special section at the end, which I guess is also endnotes, only instead, you repeat a bit of the line and then cite the source—so the info is not distractingly numbered in text, but you can find the source. This preserves readability while permitting citation. I thought about doing it this way, but it would have been ME ME ME putting all the page numbers in in proof, and frankly, I didn’t have it in me. Also, it wasn’t in line with the style used by other texts in the same field, which is this weird modified Chicago style. I don’t find notes or references offputting, but then again, I work with them daily.

    I find this entire topic (of styles of attribution—and what they imply, and who uses them, and why, and how that relates to power) extremely interesting. I’ll spare you my analysis of movement of CBE/CSE style through 6 editions, or the interesting changes in certain style things between Chicago 14 and 15.

    Also, Robin, I can’t speak to your experiences with teaching fan-related texts, because I don’t teach myself and haven’t lately engaged with students in this way. I leave that to someone better qualified!

    Thanks as always to you both (and everyone!) for taking the time to comment and engage. It’s most appreciated.

  9. Robin Reid says:

    Re: issue of fans reading our anthology, fan meta.

    There’s a lot of commentary in fandom about how many people view a fic vs. how many comment on it. The feedback in fandom is fantastic (totally crack cocaine as far as I’m concerned), but even so, it’s rare to find sustained and analytical discussion carried on at length (not because fans aren’t capable of it, but because of time and a variety of other reasons).

    Here’s a series of posts by on the Busse/Hellekson anthology, along with discussion. I have her permission to link over here, and she said she knows of at least five people who bought the book based on this series. (I have no way of knowing, beyond self-identification, if any, which mostly isn’t there) who on the threads is an academic or a fan or both. I asked permission because, as Kristina and I discuss http://kbusse.wordpress.com/2007/06/02/acafans-fan-scholars-and-how-to-navigater-academic-and-fannish-spaces“ rel=”nofollow”>over on her blog, the complexities of moving “fan” discourse into “academic” discourse are still being worked out.

    Click here for a list of links to the posts made by princessofg.

  10. How much do I hate blog discussion formats? A lot.

    Getting over it, more or less…

    To Kristina: “couldn’t we also make the argument that academics are, in fact, writing about fannish productions as they further their own goals?”

    Sure, yes, but that doesn’t make FanLib the same thing. An academic can work here, or there, or somewhere else. The entire business of, the complete rationale for, FanLib is the exploitation of fans. Because of that difference scholars working on fans have a different kind of stake in the claim that fans do something worth noticing. I could complicate that, but I think that’s the basics of it.

    For Karen: I don’t think you should be sad. I see nothing but positives in showing academics that they can be fans and fans can be them. But is your book one that fans who have no academic investment would read and/or buy? Rarely if ever. Maybe it’s me, but I can’t be having with the self-flagellation that pretends there’s something wrong with academic work *just because* other people aren’t interested in it.

  11. Karen said: I would also argue that for those who write fanfic, the fanfic becomes a kind of criticism of the source text, complete with allusion to canonical moments to support a contested reading. Fanfic = criticism!

    I’m looking at this discussion from the standpoint of a pro writer (very much a baby pro, I might add ;-) who also has a fanfic pseudonym that gets the occasional workout. My only link to academia is a degree and being on staff at a university (which probably makes me the enemy here ;-).

    Fanfic is very definitely criticism. There are two forms of ‘obsession’ with fanfic that I’ve seen. One is where the source is so perfectly rendered that fans want to live there, at least as a hobby. It’s a great place to visit and inspires the creative impulse in people who might never have picked up a pen or paintbrush otherwise. The other, more common in my experience, is , to paraphrase a fan favorite: to write what once went wrong. The source is so beloved, but still sadly flawed, that fans are led to ‘correct’ it. A long running tv series, for example, usually provides ample room for such corrective measures given the up and down nature of the format, in part due to never quite knowing when the end is near. (“How many series fanales can one show have? Depends on how many seasons it was on.”) Some of the creative ‘choices’ made by my favorite show would have caused me to walk away years ago if I hadn’t had fanfic to retreat to. It allowed me to wash away the sour taste left by some of the less palatable story lines/relationships by seeing how others dealt with them… or by dealing with them myself. Then there’s the whole subtext thing, which is an essay or six on its own.

    Off to read the next installment.