Abigail Derecho: I am currently completing a dissertation at Northwestern University in the Comparative Literary Studies department. I am a media studies scholar, specializing in digital culture, and therefore, while most Comp Lit grad students at NU have a home department in a national language/lit (German, French, Slavic, etc.), my home department is Radio/Television/Film. My dissertation is called “Illegitimate Media: Race, Gender, and Censorship in Early Digital Remix,” and it focuses on two of the earliest remix genres and their origins in minority discourse. Digital sampling was innovated by African Americans, and online fan fiction was pioneered by women, between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s. I examine how both remix genres were subjected to a great deal of censorship, both external and internal, very soon after they appeared, and I tie the censorship of remix to censorship discourses that circulated in U.S. culture and society at the same time that remix was being invented (the crack/gangs/guns panic that fueled anti-rap and other anti-music campaigns, the anti-pornography movement whose arguments were echoed in flame wars around explicitly sexual fan fiction). I will begin a tenure-track position at Columbia College Chicago, in the Cultural Studies program, this fall.
In addition to being an active fan and fan fiction author for many years, for the past two years I have been working on something called “Media Theater.” I have written and produced two multimedia plays that are attempts to combine live performance with new media in ways that foreground how intricately multiple media are incorporated into the everyday lives of millions of people – how we perceive reality, how we form memories, how we learn to love and despise each other. Some of my fan fiction is accessible here. Some of my academic work, and information about my media theater productions, is accessible here. Also, I was fortunate enough to have an essay of mine, “Archontic Literature” (very kindly referenced in an earlier Round of this discussion by Catherine Tosenberger [Catherine, please e-mail me about your theory of “recursive” literature]) included in the terrific collection edited by K. Hellekson and K. Busse, Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. I’d like to express my gratitude to Kristina Busse and Henry Jenkins for organizing this important discussion, and for inviting me to take part, and thanks also to all the participants in this discussion (past and future), including those who have posted or will post comments, for making this such a productive and valuable exchange.
Christian McCrea: You may know me from such films as “Virtual Murder” (probably co-starring Micheal Nouri) and “The Second Life of Christian Lefebvre”….ahem. I am also in the twilight phase of a PhD dissertation, duly supervised by the very patient Angela Ndalianis in the Screen Studies department of the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. My PhD is called “Playland: The Sensory Materialism of Computer and Videogames”, which undertakes to form a critical account for the sometimes invisible but always vital relationship between the aesthetics of technologies and the cultural traces left by people using them. Using games as a point of first contact between the two, I am also deeply interested and invested in the cultures of technology, research into fan cultures, the poetics of technology, opportunities afforded by digital art and pranksterism, piracy and information control pressures, etc.
I have recently taken a position at Swinburne University of Technology here in Melbourne Australia, as a Lecturer In Games and Interactivity. The Swinburne Games program is the country’s leading games school, and I will be working to expand the types of work students do into serious and critical games. I have published work on games and other media in a variety of academic fora, and also work as an writer and essayist for sites such as The Escapist, curatorial writer for the Australian Centre of the Moving Image and maintain a website, Wolves Evolve.
Issue One: Covering Women
Derecho: I’d like to address gender bias in the media industry, in “mainstream fan” writing about media, and in academic writing about media. I’ll give an example of bias in each of these fields:
1) I saw Live Free or Die Hard recently. As a “die hard” fan of the first film in the series, I thought LFoDH was a thoughtful and exciting return to the elements that made Die Hard a classic. Leaving the theater, though, I realized that one of the key aspects of the film that made it pleasurable for me was the character Lucy – John McClane’s now-grown daughter – who, whlie serving as a key plot point (the usual “damsel in distress”), did not have very much screen time. Another part of the film I liked was the new character Matt Farrell, the hacker-geek who becomes McClane’s sidekick. And I read several critics’ reviews pointing out that Matt is basically the fans’ stand-in. Matt expresses the awe, fear, and affection for McClane that the audience feels, and for the most part he is “tagging along for the ride,” just like the audience does. Matt also gets to have a little hint of a romantic spark with Lucy McClane, who is basically a younger female version of her father. So I thought, Huh, Matt is a stand-in for all fans, male and female, b/c both men and women fans are techies, like Matt (much of fandom taking place on the Internet), and both men and women fans love McClane and want to go along for the ride. But only male fans get to see themselves up on that screen in the persona/avatar of Matt Farrell, and they get to see their stand-in “get” (romantically) a McClane of his own (we women used to have Holly, John’s wife, to identify with, but since Die Hard 3, she’s been literally out of the picture). Women fans, otoh, have to do the usual queer identification, seeing our desires acted out by a young male character. And/or, we can see ourselves in Lucy, whose persona and story we would have to greatly develop/augment using our own imaginations (by ourselves, in conversation with other fans, or in fanfic) due to her underdevelopment in the film. Either way, women fans don’t get very much consideration in this, or most, action films. It’s clear that our dollars, our attention, and our interest are being courted, and that Lucy, Matt, and their incipient romantic involvement, are, at least in part, aimed at us. But while male audience members get huge chunks of meaty text thrown at them, stuff they can relate to and easily identify with, stuff that reminds them of their own libidinal desires and fantasies and offers them vicarious fulfillment of these wants and needs, women in the audience get scraps. We make the most out of these scraps — that’s what imagination and fan productions are for — but the studios, for the most part, doesn’t think to throw us more than these.
What troubles me about this long-standing situation is that women definitely go to, and love, action movies. Have we had an alternative in any given summer since Jaws and Star Wars? Either we love action blockbusters, or we don’t go to the movies. So when I think about how women make the most of the few female characters and their supporting-role status in action films, I think we’re doing a lot of work, and doing a great job creating a lot of pleasure and satisfaction out of very little. All the female fan concentration on Arwen and Eowyn in the LoTR films, on Linda Hamilton’s buff and awesome (but still supporting) character Sarah Connor in T2, on Rogue and Mystique and other X-Women, on Trinity in The Matrix, is about making the most of the tiny shout-outs to female audiences that big action movies – the biggest-grossing, and thus most important (for the industry) products generated by the motion picture industry today – give to their women and girl fans. Of course, lots of women don’t care about whether there are well-written and significant women characters in a movie, they don’t need that to have fun at a film. They are the lucky ones, since the movie industry is therefore giving them what they want and all they need. But the rest of us are grateful for the Alien series, for Keira Knightley’s character in the PoTC movies, for Princess Leia, who is central to the plot of SW and always proactive (unlike her wimpy mother). If Disney, of all studios, knows enough about girl and women audience members to allow a character like Elizabeth Swann to develop and mature over the course of a trilogy, if Disney can allow a black woman to be a powerful goddess and can stand to have two women pirate captains (and one of them Chinese) in the council of pirates, then other studios and other producers can try just as hard. Jason Mittell, in Round One, Part One of this discussion, summarized what he called “the old saw about children’s programming”: “girls will consume work pitched at both genders, while the boys only concern themselves with boy-stuff.” If this is true, then girls are by far the more valuable consumers of media (since they will be good customers of twice the volume of stuff as boys), and media corporations should take the wishes, proclivities, taste cultures, and interests of their best consumers into account.
2) In the latest issue of WIRED (July 2007), Optimus Prime, my favorite character from my favorite cartoon ever, Transformers, is on the cover. Here are some excerpts from the article about the new Transformers movie: “They started as toys for boys,” “Boys ages 5 to 11 — and it *was* boys — faithfully tuned in week after week to watch the saga of these doughty bots,” “For nearly two decades…sons of Prime waited for Papa Bot,” “Thus [with Transformers] began the cyber-outsourcing of masculine heroism, a process that would eventually, inextricably, link Y chromosome to Xbox,” “man-children of a certain age look to this Transformers movie…for redemption, as men.” So, I, a hard-core fan of Transformers ever since I was a little girl, am excluded over and over again by this article. It’s not just this one article or writer that concerns me, it’s the way this environment of geeky, technologically-themed, toy-oriented pleasure is often assumed to be a 100% masculine domain. I don’t think the statement “Girls like robot characters” would surprise anyone. Girls like all kinds of characters; they play video games; they watch sci-fi/action/adventure movies and TV, they read comic books. And then they grow up to be women media-studies scholars ;). But the mainstream press, written by non-academic fans, consistently associates certain media – and I don’t just mean films, here, but technology of all sorts, from Blackberries to C++ to robots – with masculinity. What is sad about this is how much potential mass media has for serving as common ground between people of differing genders, races, ages, nationalities, sexual orientations, geographic locations, political affiliations. When I read, in the Transformers WIRED article, the writer’s opinion that “Prime practically step-parented the latchkey kids of the mid-80s,” I related to that. I remember that feeling of being home alone, just me and the TV, and those awesome giant robots, and how Optimus Prime taught me so much about what was right and wrong, what was courage and what was cowardice, when to show mercy and when to be strong. I thought, If I met that writer, he and I would have a lot to talk about, since we have some deep and important childhood experiences in common. But when the writer went on to define Prime as exclusively a role model for young boys, I stopped having that thought of common ground and mutually resonant experiences. Mass media fandom can and should be the grounds for discussions in which many, many people (masses of people, in fact) can participate. But there are gender-based, race-based, nationality-based, and sexuality-based assumptions and stereotypes that permeate media journalism which cuts such possibilities short.
3) Some recent media scholarship also shows these biases. Last year, a well-respected media studies professor from a prestigious U.S. university visited Northwestern, and I heard his paper on how a critically acclaimed television serial drama resembled an intricate and complex game, because certain plot elements repeated every season (though in different guises), and because the viewer had to keep track of everything that had happened in the past in order to fully comprehend each new episode. I asked him how his “game theory” regarding this television show differed from the basic structure of daytime drama (soap opera). He had no answer for me. Why? Because he had not considered that the aspects that he most enjoyed of an Emmy-winning, “quality” primetime cable television program were actually appropriated from cultural productions that have much less cultural capital in the world of media studies: soap operas. I very much agree with C. Lee Harrington’s statement in Round Six, Part One: “I’m a huge fan of serialized primetime shows such as Lost, Heroes, 24, etc., but tend to roll my eyes at journalistic (and sometimes academic) accounts of how textually complicated they are….They are, of course, but multiply that complexity by 50 years and you might begin to approach Guiding Light!!” I would like to see, in accordance with some of Kristina’s arguments in her review of MiT5, more male media studies scholars engaging with media analyses of women’s genres and women’s styles of media consumption/engagement/participation. Of course, many men in media studies do this already. But currently, male scholars can still ignore huge areas of women-oriented media scholarship without thinking or blinking – their ignorance is still very normal.
And to bring this back to the first example of gender bias I gave, that practiced by movie studios and media corporations: Daytime drama has undergone a serious decline in ratings over the past decade, and I attribute this mostly to network executives’ lack of investment in, and lack of knowledge of, the soap genre. As a result, soap fans (of which I am one) have engaged in more heated battles, meaning mail/e-mail campaigns, phone campaigns, and massive flame wars online, over the last 10 years, than I have ever seen in any other fandoms. Soap fans fight TPTB (producers, writers, network execs) for story changes, and they fight with each other because they feel that no one is really getting the quality or kinds of storytelling that they want, so fan groups that have different interests are mutually regarded as “competition” for the networks’ attention. So far, the networks haven’t responded to fans’ demands for improved (i.e., better-written) stories and for more respect for show history. The soaps continue to go down in quality, and viewers continue to tune out. Meanwhile, all of prime time has co-opted the technique of seriality which daytime dramas spent decades developing and enriching – all reality shows are soaps, most prime-time dramas are soaps or have some serial elements, and many prime-time sitcoms (Friends, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother) have multi-episode, sometimes multi-season story arcs. Millions of women fans spent years and years contributing to writers’ knowledge of how to make seriality work. Their input and feedback, manifested in a multitude of activities from their mere viewership to their fannish activities, helped to build up that store of knowledge, helped to program those data banks. Not only do those fans get zero credit, but the soap-y shows that women now watch on prime-time – Prison Break, 24 – are much more geared towards male audiences and male interests than towards women audiences and women interests. Again (see my above point), it isn’t that women can’t or don’t enjoy male-oriented programming. But women fans lost good soap operas, which were dramas dedicated to women’s enjoyment, and we did not gain the equivalent in serial prime time.
McCrea: I’ll expand in turn on the major points you’ve explored, Abigail; I think you’ve traced some of the most interesting elements of media culture for this discussion. First, action cinema, then Transformers and tech culture, then the gendering of media culture in academia and finally, television culture.
Action Cinema: Leading up to the release of Live Free or Die Hard (or bizarrely, Die Hard 4.0 for non-Americans), I was pondering some of the same issues – it was obvious that these younger characters had been supplanted to build a bridge between the necessary elements of Bruce Wills and large things being on fire and a more modern audience for whom things being on fire doesn’t mean what it used to. I wonder if a similar committee process went into Terminator 3; “oh these aging men don’t appeal to anybody anymore, but we need them for the brand – let’s stick in a couple of young people.” It all seems so neat and pat by comparison to the situation presented in the first Die Hard; trashy white-bread American thrashes European chap who has read a book or two. In the new iteration, it barely feels like the same ‘man’ is being pressed into the situations. So I wonder to whom precisely the film is directed, or to who the ‘fan’ is in the discourse of the Die Hard universe. I’m sure that for the marketing boffins involved, for whom the Die Hard IP (I term I want to come back to later), there was a sense of needing to create generational upheaval, and character multiplicity. This may not seem like the most obivous of connections, but I felt a similarity to Blade III: Trinity, where younger, hipper characters stood in for fans of the first films. Nor it is explicity new, as later films in the Death Wish and Dirty Harry series began to expand their fictions beyond the original frame to talk to fans more directly. Robocop 3, Aliens Vs. Predator and a few others are barely readable outside of this rearticulation-through-fandom. I think what you’ve identified is that this gendering – or repurposing of gender – is often the first port of call. In many instances, the role of women in driving narrative is complicated as the primary male characters age and give way to older generations.
Theories of and around action films that consider gender (and I’m thinking of the work of Yvonne Tasker and Robin Wood first but not exclusively) situate the crux of things in the appreciative look of the audience – and as you say, filmgoers looking for female characters in action films often have to make a great deal out of very little. Which is precisely where the most energetic forms of fanwork emerge. I used to call fan-produced media ‘antimedia’ because they act much like an antibody to the processes of the original text, but more interesting is this semiotic chase. Anime fans chase the unarticulated sexuality and imagery; Lord of the Rings fans chase the unexplored world detail – each fandom weaves according to the material its given. Which is why, returning to Die Hard, I almost felt I was watched a ‘fan generation’ film, a post-Tarantino and Peter Jackson – cinema that can never be formed without a knowing wink.(Henry Jenkins’ article on Tarantino and digital cinema got me thinking here) Len Wiseman’s other directorial work being Underworld, and Underworld: Evolution, you can see that he has been there to witness Hollywood’s push to re-gender action cinema. But how successful are Lara Croft, Resident Evil, Aeon Flux and Ultraviolet as new approaches to gender? Since I’m not a fan of leaving rhetorical questions open, I’ll just go right ahead and score them a D minus. And in each case, you can see similar patterns; films with strong female heroes aimed at a fannish audience (some more sexually precise than others), and then, non-existent fan interest. At least Red Sonja got a cult thing going.
Transformers: As a latch-key kid myself whose family moved a great deal, the common ground of toys and computer games was the first and most important bridge to building any friendship with other kids. The fact that I had a small number of Transformers with me meant that I could instantly communicate through that common reverie and instant nostalgia. There is a fantastic and little-read article by Jiwon Ahn on anime that uses the phrase “common nostalgia latent across boundaries”. The upshot is that morning cartoons are not (or were not) so neatly divided across gender lines. I’m not sure how to navigate the terminology, but while Transformers is less gendered than some other series of the time (the farcical ultramasculity of Centurions: Power Extreme, GI Joe and M.A.S.K., for example, is stark), the inclusion of Arcee and Elita One in the Transformers universe hardly counts as a even distribution of archetypes. (side note: the “Female Transformers” page on Wikipedia is worth a visit.)
Media Culture and Academia: I was lucky enough to speak at MiT3 in 2003. I landed in Boston without a working credit card and so sat in my hostel’s common room experiecing first-hand the wonders of late-night inner-city television as I pondered my fate. What had been romanticised my entire life, etched marvellously by the “I’d Buy That For A Dollar” guy in the first Robocop, was first and foremost an incredibly gendered experience. The undulation of girls, of both the regular and ‘gone wild’ persuasions, on and around Snoop Dogg, actually took up what seemed like hours for some baroque and indiscernable DVD purchasing scheme being advertised. In between, grimy-mustached salesmen demanded I bring in my used cars for “Caaaaysh!” What struck me about the kind of television being studied by the participants at MiT3 across the river, was that it was, by comparison, very safe. Buffy, Angel, etc were reaching a kind of critical mass and people spoke of them with a kind of reverence and awe – look at the progressive themes these shows offer, look at the kinds of people who invest so much in them. That kind of scholarship is still very very important, but I could not but wonder why the orgiastic hyper-sexualised world of Snoop Dogg didn’t get a mention, or even Jackass for that matter. In the final keynote session, which was stunning and remarkable for many reasons, was a panel between a pair of experienced executives and Toby Miller. Someone asked a question about why the conference was so gendered; why the guests were men, why there was no discussion of gender power in so many of the panels, etc… (I know these questions can bore a lot of people but I always think its great to hear that discussion come up.) While the other panellists demurred a little, Toby Miller did something which I consider extraordinarily brave – he answered the question head on. His response was that, for the most part, televisions are assembled and moulded by women in Southeast Asia. They come to the West, on which all our shows and our fandoms are generated. Then, they are shipped back to the daughters of the women who assembled them, so they can pick diodes from the quarter-mile deep piles of electronic rubbish for just enough money to pay for their parent’s healthcare. In a final session that had some strident questions, this was met with a kind of slow dawning applause – definitely a WWE-style “holy shit!” moment. His point was that way underneath even the most nuanced approach to the content of television, we still have to account for the materiality of culture.
Television Culture: Your analysis of the shifting relationships of producers and fans is absolutely spot-on. I think books like Convergence Culture by our friend Henry do a great job of highlighting all the key movements in these as-yet unformed forces; but its the type of shift in aesthetics that fills in the gaps and the outcomes of those shifts we will see first. I am a fan of 50s-60s-70s television, especially action and mystery serials from the UK like The Prisoner and The Avengers, from which my understanding of modern television is still deeply affected. There was then, and I think its visible again admist the web of ARGs, online polls, semi-official blogs, a deep insecurity on the part of television producers about how to keep an audience interested. Soaps have always been at the cutting-edge of audience relations, because changes can be brought on rapidly, characters changed to suit responses with no disruption to ‘flow’. And soon, the soap model may be all that traditional television has left, now that the DVD virus is infecting so much else. I maintain that one of the most complex and least understood television forms is professional wrestling. Despite its visibility and notoriety, wrestling has garnered very little critical attention with the notable exceptions being thankfully of exceptional clarity and depth. The gendering of wrestling is absurd, carnivalesque, grotesque, implies horrifically regressive roles for women and all non-masculine figures – and is still leagues ahead in terms of sexual reference than the bulk of television. I certainly subscribe to the notion that wrestling constitutes a masculine melodrama – and the deaths of Owen Hart and Chris Benoit are necessarily included here – as the drama of the ‘kayfabe’ stage rotates and wheels in independent ways to the actual televisual frame. Sometimes we are allowed to peer behind the curtain, other times it is reinforced. However, melodrama isn’t merely a gendering type of address, it is a pervasive method for the production of genre itself – under melodramatic sensibilities, all kinds of other spaces can open up. So when you scratch the surface (or the baby oil) of wrestling, you find legion upon legion of female fans, running websites, organising events and working throughout the industry. The type of experience you’re talking about when Bull Nakano almost decapitates her opponent at Summerslam is obviously very different than an intelligently thought out drama series, but no less vital in the articulation of our appreciation of culture.
Derecho: Christian, it’s a pleasure to read your thoughts on these matters. Our opinions overlap on many points, for instance, your (generous) grade of D minus for studios’ attempts to build female-action-hero franchises. In a sense, those films are the exceptions that prove the rule: If *that’s* what the industry produces when it greenlights movies that put female action heroines front-and-center, no wonder they do such a botched, half-assed job with the girl (I use this word purposefully) characters they throw in to male-action-hero films. I’m well aware, though, that female action heroine movies are built to attract male audiences, not to give female viewers opportunities for identification. There is a sense in which the placement of girl characters (love interests, damsels-in-distress) in male-oriented media function in a similar way to product placement. Corporate sponsors get a shot or two of their product; women get a few lines of dialogue from a female character; and the rest of the movie, which is most of the movie (the guy-kicking-ass part) is the “real” fiction, the core, authentic text. You mention T3 and Blade:Trinity, in addition to the new Die Hard, bringing in younger characters in order to create a bridge between older fans and newer audiences. One thing that is striking about all three franchises is that, while one of the younger characters added is a woman, none of the older characters are. In both the Terminator films and in DH, there was, at some point, a leading woman who was a peer or opposite of the leading man. Well, I know it’s no surprise that in mainstream U.S. films, older women no longer even count as viable plot points – this just reinforces the fact that all the younger female characters in T3, B:T, and LFoDH, while I found all of them to be written as “strong,” “tough,” and “capable,” are there specifically because of their hot bods.
It’s interesting what you say about morning cartoons being not as neatly divided across gender lines. We should really ask Justine Cassell more about this, she’s the expert on childhood play, gender, and technology. I know she has co-written on the subject with HJ, and her article (written with Meg Cramer) on “Moral Panics about Girls Online” might be interesting to you. I checked out the Female Transformers page on the main Wiki, and was struck by the fact that someone has tagged it with the infamous “fancruft” label, and therefore the page may be deleted in a couple of days. Of course, tons of stuff gets excoriated for being fancruft, but for some reason I was particularly peeved that this page, which simply lists the female Transformers, when and in which cartoon series they appeared, and their roles in various plotlines, as “not encyclopedic.” The Wiki pages on the male Transformers are less well-organized by far than the Female Transformers page, but the ones about the males count as “encyclopedic”? Luckily, Teletraan-1 (the Transformers Wiki) has no such flags on their several pages regarding Female Transformers (individually and as a “species”). It always amazes me how fan communities have to continually splinter in more and more specifically focused groups, just in order to avoid being censored in some way. Just to enjoy the freedom to like what they like, fans create enclaves for themselves that are narrower and more exclusive all the time. How much can matter be broken down? Into a gazillion quarks? By the time we’re all done, there will be more fandoms than quarks in this universe. I mean, multiverse :).
You end with sports and wrestling and female fandom, and it’s great because it’s very close to the point I made earlier about women and “guy” movies. Yes, women watch sports; many women love sports; many women are huge fans of sports. Sports, action films, much of primetime serial TV, and those commercials you saw (Snoop and his “orgiastic hypersexualized world,”), and Jackass (which you mentioned as having a relationship to the commercials – interesting!), all are performances of hypermasculinity. You used the term “carnavalesque.” There is something beyond – in addition to – the repetition inherent in ritual, and the community element of being a fan of these displays, that attracts men and women. The emphatic enactment of hypersexuality is clearly a lure to both men and women. And so I am intrigued by your notion of wrestling as a “masculine melodrama,” because I think there is something in that which could explain so much of how and why women are (learn to be?) fans of male-gendered media texts (which constitute the vast majority of all media texts). Perhaps girls and women learn to play with, and learn to extract pleasure from (it is both play and work), male-oriented media by constructing melodramatic narratives from, in, and around them. Perhaps this is the one “sop” that male-oriented media has learned to give to women: to give women the tools to read maleness and masculinity as equally melodramatic as any soap opera, even while insisting that it must be consistently male/masculine performances that women watch. And perhaps at some level (as you say, “under melodramatic sensibilities, all kinds of other spaces can open up”), women fans appreciate the fact that they can read these texts as yielding a kind of satisfaction classically associated with women (melodrama) at the same moment that the texts hyper-perform, over-perform, masculinity. For some fans, perhaps this is an appreciation of irony; for others, it might just be an appreciation for opposites uniting, the point at which men’s love of violent spectacle and women’s love of psychological and emotional drama touch.
Issue Two: The History of Remix Culture
Derecho: I’ll begin this topic with my “soapbox” speech, a statement of one of the central claims of my dissertation: digital remix culture owes a substantial debt to minority discourse. Three genres of digital remix were pioneered between 1986 and 1996: digital music sampling, video game mods, and online fanfic. Of those three, the first was the invention of African American men (most of them were men, not all) and the third was the invention of white American women (most of them were white, most of them were women, not all). It’s very important to me, and other feminist (male and female) media scholars as well, that the history of women’s new media innovations does not get buried. In Round Two, Part One, Louisa Stein wrote that “female authorship and innovation in fan communities…were always heavily technologically engaged, from the use of multiple VCRs to facilitate the complex process of pre-digital vidding to the extremely belabored process of putting out zines pre-internet…Now that fandom has moved online, technological innovation…w/i the context of female communities continues to expand.” It is vital that we media (especially digital media) scholars depict accurately the history of women media fans as not only highly competent, but inventive in their uses of a wide array of technological platforms and tools. There is nothing “belated” about women fans’ involvement with technology; in fact, as Louisa and I argue, women fans were making good use of the most sophisticated tools at their disposal prior to the advent of digital culture, and as soon as new media became available (and Usenet was not even widely available), women thoroughly exploited its possibilities. For all who might think that posting X-Files fanfic to the ATXC board did not really constitute a technological innovation, I say this: the ATXC and its successor, the Ephemeral/Gossamer archival system, have proven over the last dozen years that a simple open-source PHP archive of HTML documents will outlast a lot of other hypermedia creations. While gamers hunt down emulators, fans of hypertext literature long for a working installation disk of Mac Classic OS, and digital historians cry over numerous broken links and four-year-old Flash animation that just never loads all the way, readers of online fan fiction sit back and enjoy the plain-and-simple HTML, reliably archived and presented in neat rows and columns for their pleasurable consumption for years to come. If that isn’t technical genius, I don’t know what is.
: In the arena of games, the gendering of media is – still – perhaps the most pervasive and least addressed aspect of cultural influence. Just flicking through T.L. Taylor’s Play Between Worlds highlights just how affronted producers of games can be when you point out that loaded imagery limits access. On the flipside, female game fandom has become a corporate product via funded clans such as the Frag Dolls. It is precisely at the point of production, or remix, that new ways of thinking about digital culture open up. There is a sense in Taylor’s book, and I think its quite true, that the gendering of technology is not just particularly male, but more to the point, ‘invisible-male’. For a producer of technology, remixer or otherwise inclined media activator who also happens to be a woman, there is still as of 2007, a persistent cloud of gender surprise. Gender surprise is something we could classify as a news-borne toxin by which part of the undertow of their work will have to be superscribed with ‘its not just for girls anymore.’ If this were limited to publicly-visible news reports or the like, this would be fine, but the toxin still exists across fields of art and academia as well, as I think you’ve highlighted in your earlier discussion of television viewing habits. Being a sort of self-proclaimed intellectual and political carbunkle, I have the inclination to say that part of the position description of a media academic or researcher is the continuing struggle to evolve the discourses in the public sphere – in other words, bring out the hammer when stupid things are said, and make a noise when something substantial arrives. So I really want to underline with a thick pen what you began with: “digital remix culture owes a substantial debt to minority discourse.” Its worth printing out and nailing to the wall of every institution and academic hall that has any investment in technology. The only thing to add is that these aren’t seperate issues – gender positioning, race vocalisation and technology – no matter how hard we may try to dehistoricize them like that; the energy and force by which remixes and all forms of contra-digital experimentation happen simply won’t, can’t, will never come from wealthy people getting wealthier. It’s people that got cut out, cutting their way back in – cheaply, quickly, running across back fences and leaping across borders in ways that seem alien to anybody working within a strict system of cultural distribution. The reason I skipped between games and these thoughts is because its so visible there; when I played artist and curator Rebecca Cannon’s machinima film The Buff and the Brutal to third year students in one of my courses, many of them responded with “well, its clearly just a feminist take on game culture”. The operative word being ‘just’; what an extraordinary position for students to be in; their access to game aesthetics being stitched to an assumption that all non-standard, non-white, non-male referents are protestative, ‘just’ exterior and minor. Talk about there being a lot of work left to do! The male-invisible subject reappears, and I don’t think equipping the discussions of technology as phallocentric is enough; what we’re staring at is the growth of a new generation whose reflections of technology may in fact be less equipped to concieve of equal gender and race access than our own. I think about this a lot, and I hope I’m dreadfully wrong. DJ Spooky’s new essay and song coming out of the Venice Biannale is a great adjunct to this discussion.
Derecho: Word, word, and word to all of that. I appreciate a great deal of DJ Spooky’s work, and thanks so much for the link to The Buff and the Brutal. I wish that Chinese-Austrian video artist Jun Yang’s remix videos were more widely available, they are similar to Spooky’s in that they are essays in which Yang narrates, over all these disparate clips, his experiences as a bicultural migrant consumer of (predominantly U.S.) media. One issue I run into when teaching and writing about digital remix is that often, race and gender are not explicitly foregrounded by the “non-standard, non-white, non-male” producers. I love works by “non-standard” remix artists that *don’t* make the author’s race, gender, or nation of origin immediately apparent, because that’s a different kind of invisibility (maybe one that can even be interpreted as a critique of, or response to, the “invisible-white-male” kind) that disallows a kneejerk reaction like the one your students gave to Cannon’s piece. On the other hand, the reason why I call it an “issue” in teaching and writing, is that with pieces that announce their authors as minorities, the reader can grab hold of something in that text right away – your students know at least to start their brains thinking about feminism. When I teach Shelley Jackson, Anne-Marie Schleiner, or Public Enemy, discussions of race and gender in digital culture spark to life right away. But when I show Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’s DAKOTA (a remix of Pound’s Cantos), or DJ Qbert’s Wave Twisters (this is a link to an article in Remix, not to the content from the CD or DVD), or Brian Kim Stefans’ Vaneigem Series (a “detournement” of NYT articles using text from The Revolution of Everyday Life), it’s harder to get learners to think and talk about how those works emerge from a female (in the case of [half of] YHCHI), Asian, or Asian American experience. Of course, it’s way more rewarding, too – but it takes work to prevent the discussion from falling right away into a New Critical approach (“This isn’t about race or gender or nationality, why bring those into it?”).
MORE TO COME