Hustling 2.0: Soulja Boy and the Crank Dat Phenomenon

Sometimes a class project takes on a life of its own.

I asked the students in the CMS graduate proseminar on Media Theory and Methods to work on teams and report on a contemporary media phenomenon, reading it against some of the theories about media change we have been studying so far this term. A team of our incoming graduate students — Kevin Driscoll, Xiaochang Li, Lauren Silberman, and Whitney Trettien — decided to focus their energy on examining the ways that Soulja Boy, a teenage hip hop phenomenon, used a mixture of social network sites and YouTube to push his way up into the top music charts.

A key to his success turns out to be his active encouragement of fans to sample, remix, mashup, and perform his “Crank Dat” song through whatever media channels they want. Our Convergence Culture Consortium is focusing this year on understanding what we call “spreadable media,” arguing that the era when value was created by “stickiness” is giving way to one where media gains new value through grassroots circulation. If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead! And the best way to insure the spread of media is to give over greater control to the audience, to increase their emotional stakes in your success.

As the students discovered the vast array of different people out there who were performing “Crank Dat,” they wanted to get into the act. And so they got a camera, borrowed some lab coats, used their social network accounts to draw people together, and staged their own music video, which now circulates via YouTube.

As it happened, I stumbled by between meetings, just in time to watch them lining up to dance on the dot. I stayed for a bit trying to master the for-me very challenging dance steps. I always seemed to be zooming like superman when I was supposed to be doing the pony walk. Unfortunately, the real Professor Jenkins doesn’t have any of the moves that my avatar enjoys in Second Life. But, I enjoyed watching my students gamble and shake a leg.

To my pride, they showed their budding skills as public intellectuals, having managed to get the Boston Phoenix out to cover the story. Here’s some of what the Phoenix reported on the unfolding scene:

In the summer of 2006, DeAndre Way, then 16, combated summer boredom in Batesville, Mississippi, by writing songs with Fruity Loops digital-audio software. He borrowed a cousin’s video camera and filmed dances to accompany the music. Thanks to YouTube, Way’s choreography quickly turned into a Southern dance craze — particularly centered around a steel-pan-drum-fueled number called “Crank That (Soulja Boy).”…

This past Wednesday, a day after the release of Soulja Boy’s debut album, Souljaboytellem.com, a dozen or so MIT grad students and professors gathered on a circular lawn beside Building 54 at 5:30 pm, blasting “Crank That” from a small gray CD player set on repeat. Some of the group were clad in lab coats and thick glasses as they repeated (and videotaped) the dance — a crisscrossed jump in place, followed by a few shakes and stomps, a breast stroke-like arm spread, and four jumps to the left and right. “This will single-handedly transform the coolness factor for MIT,” commented Henry Jenkins, co-founder of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies (CMS) program, as he observed nearby.

The meeting of Soulja enthusiasts was organized by students — including Kevin Driscoll, a/k/a Lone Wolf, a local DJ and former computer-science teacher — from a CMS graduate course in media theory. Driscoll’s lawn-dance party was more than just a way to add a video to the vast library of “Crank That” tributes. He hypothesizes that “Crank That” is a unique bullet point on the dance-craze timeline, symbolic of a shift in dances’ virility and how they spread.

“It’s by the power of the dance craze that [Soulja Boy] was picked up by a major label,” says Driscoll. “It demonstrates how resources like YouTube and MySpace can be these enabling technologies, even for kids, really.” The MIT Soulja Boy videos are now on YouTube (and up to about 400 views each, at press time) making them perpetuators of the very trend the participants are studying. At least it’s not the Macarena.

Ever since, I’ve been talking up Soulja Boy as perhaps the most powerful success story we have so far of someone who taped the power of grassroots convergence to break into the commercial mainstream. Check out for example some of my comments about the phenomenon during my keynote address at our recent media literacy conference, organized by Home Inc., which were posted by Bill Densmore

One of the students on the project –xiaochang li– wrote up her perspectives on “Crank Dat” and what she calls “Hustling 2.0″ for the Convergence Culture Consortium blog and I wanted to pass this along to my readers. Next time, I will share her thoughts about how Soulja Boy’s most recent music video might be seen as a textbook illustration for how convergence culture works.

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Growing Up in the 1930s: How Media Changes Our Relations to the Past

I like to tell people that I grew up in the 1930s and 1940s.

Stop! Before you update my Wikipedia entry, please note that I am speaking metaphorically and not literally. Despite my gray beard and despite how I feel on some Monday mornings, I’m not really that old! I was born in 1958! But a number of things happened in my mid-childhood which utterly fixated my fantasy life on the mid-20th century.

For one thing, when my grandmother died, I was helping my parents go through her old house and we found a trunk in her basement crammed with 1940s Life magazines (along with a range of other publications of the era). As a kid, I would spend hours going through the magazines, looking with fascination at pictures of Jitterbug contests, reading articles about the Blitzkrieg, or most interestingly, looking at old advertisements and wondering what archaic candybars had tasted like. The magazine covered everything — from the most important political and military events of the era to the most mundane aspects of everyday life and taught me to see social and cultural history as the essential backdrop against which to make sense of the big events that dominate our history classes. I would grill everyone older than myself about the world of their childhood, trying to find out what it was really like to live in the past.

Second, I was nearsighted and we didn’t know it until I was deep into elementary school and for that reason, I didn’t really enjoy contemporary movies very much. They were just a big blur for me. I’d get lost in big movie theaters. My mother would send me out to go to the bathroom by myself or to get popcorn and I’d be unable to find my way back to her, wandering through the theater staring at the faces of people and not recognizing anyone. But I loved to watch movies on television, sitting close to the screen, and would from an early age beg to stay up and watch Academy Award Theater to see vintage movies.

Adding to this, there was a children’s show in Atlanta in those days called Tubby and Lester; it’s hosts modeled themselves on Laurel and Hardy; and instead of cartoons, they would show Our Gang, Three Stooges, and silent slapstick comedies, all of which I became passionate about and just as importantly, I developed a mastery over, tracking down every book I could get on old movies, and play acting their adventures in my backyard. In the afternoons, I would race home from school to catch the afternoon creep show screenings of old Universal horror films, read Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and practice my monster walks. I got in a knock down fight with my best friend that sent us both to see the Principal over my preference for Bela Lugosi’s Dracula over the then heart-throb Barnabas Collins (Dark Shadows).

My Seventh Grade term paper tried to retell the entire history of the Hollywood movie industry in 10 pages. My father, to his dying day, accused me of having rewritten the same term paper ever since. It became the way he understood what it meant for me to be a media scholar.

Then, there was music. I would beg my parents to play their old 78 records of swing music — especially those of Danny Kaye and the Andrew Sisters — and much preferred these sounds to anything my contemporaries were listening to. I recall with horror when I accidentally cracked a vintage recording of Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra doing “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

And last but certainly not least, there was radio. I was lucky that an Atlanta radio station for a few years experimented with doing classic radio all day, all the time. I’d listen to early soaps in the morning before going to school, listen to children’s shows and adventure serials in the afternoon when I got home, and laugh over classic comedy in the evenings when my friends were watching prime time television. On Sundays, there was the Lux Radio Theater and Mercury Theater and other great drama series. I listened to anything and everything, intrigued by the old stories and in love with the crackle of the old recordings and what they did to what Roland Barthes calls “the grain of the voice.”

All of this made me exceedingly odd to my classmates, who could not understand my interests in any of this, and probably contributed to making me a social pariah in my adolescent years, but all of it also made me who I am today. When I first started dating the woman who would become my wife, my future father inlaw would grill me about trivia of the period. I think I won his approval by linking a particular line back to The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance. After a while, we would talk passionately together about the culture of the depression and the Second World War as if we were there, as if this had been a shared experience.

It was no accident that my undergraduate thesis dealt with films of the depression or that my PhD dissertation centered on vaudeville and early sound comedy. The popular culture of this era was my early love and still spills over into some of my current projects — see my posts on Vaudeville and YouTube, on Charlotte Greenwood, on Retrofuturism and the 1939 World’s Fair – and look forward to an essay I’m currently developing on the so-called “vulgar modernists” of the post-war period (with a particular emphasis on Harvey Kurtzman, Spike Jones, Hellzapoppin, and Tex Avery).

The fact that I read the period across all of these media platforms, probably contributes to my current interest in adopting comparative approaches to media studies. I was able from the start to draw connections between magazines, films, radio shows, and music of the period in a way which was not yet locked within the medium specific disciplines which structure how formal education talks about such matters. I was, as I said in the first sentence, able to “live” in the 1930s and 1940s because I was able to re-experience such a complex web of media representations from the era, all at the same time, and trace connections between them. I knew what the period looked like; I knew what it sounded like; I knew how it thought; I knew what made it laugh; the only thing I couldn’t do was taste those candy bars and other products I saw in its advertisements or heard discussed on radio commercials.

Why am I telling you this? After all, most of you are here for my posts about contemporary cultural matters, about digital media and transmedia storytelling, about web 2.0. and I almost never get any comments on those posts that deal with older media materials. More’s the pity. I tell my students that we really can’t understand where media is going without knowing where it’s been and there are many clues to understanding the complex cultural grid constructed by modern media by making it strange, by visiting the media systems of other cultures (whether around the world or in our own past.)

Today, I am writing about this because I wanted to share my excitement over discovering the Old Time Radio Catalog website. OTR was a company I remember from my youth. My mom and dad used to give me a treat by buying LPs of vintage radio shows from this company via mail order as birthday or Christmas presents. But at the time, they sold a single episode for the price of an album. Well, today, thanks to new technologies and new ways of clustering our experience of media, the company now offers full or near full runs of classic series in Mp3 format for the absurdly low price of 5 dollars per disc. (Longer series require multiple discs, but many series fit within a single disc.)

Several things are coming together here to reshape our access to and experience of Old Time Radio. First, there is the MP3 format itself, which makes it possible to fit so much content on a small disc, which can be cheaply reproduced and shipped by mail. It makes it possible to sell radio in bulk.

Second, there is the modern phenomenon of the boxed dvd set of television series, which shapes our expectations to be able to watch (or in this case, listen to) the complete run of a series in order and thus fuels our expectations for encyclopedic mastery and plentitude. Why would I want to listen to a single isolated episode when it is possible to own it all, consume it all. Suddenly I am back in Atlanta in the mid-1970s when it was possible to listen to an episode a week of Fibber Mcgee and Molly or follow along in the serialized adventures of Lum and Abner or I Love a Mystery. Old Time Radio, like television, was a long form medium and you can only really appreciate it by living with its characters over time and watch them grow across episodes.

Third, there is the web itself. In my earlier discussion of retrofuturism, I talked about the ways that the web was making it possible for fans of vintage media (just like all other kinds of niches) to find each other, for people to assemble and share archives (like the wonderful folks who are making early sound comedy and musical numbers available via YouTube), and which are allowing us to pool our knowledge about past popular culture in one spot (as in the rich entries in Wikipedia on some of these classic media texts.)

The Old Time Radio site takes full advantages of the web, most spectacularly by offering samples — full length episodes — of most of the shows which it sells. Each day, they showcase a particular program from the collection, often an episode which aired on that date originally, so you can enjoy holiday themed episodes on the right days. You could spend countless hours just rummaging through the catalog, listening to one or another of their vintage broadcasts. The first thing you would discover is that they have everything there — the wartime lectures of Bertram Russell, the sermons of Father Coughlin, full broadcasts of key baseball games, the FDR fireside chats, a fascinating collection of movie advertisements from the radio era, old game shows — and not just the comedies, dramas, and science fiction shows which most often characterize the collector culture around vintage radio. There are two fascinating recordings which capture a full day’s broadcasts on a particular station — one showing how America got the news about D-Day and the other showing the progression of a much more typical broadcast day — which allow us to experience the flow of programs and place individual genres within their larger programming context. There are also sets organized around particular performers — Will Rogers, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Robert Benchley, Orson Welles — which allow us to trace their movement across programs. There’s a smattering of programming from other countries, particularly British and South African radio. And there are sets which bring together the innovative broadcasts of particular radio auteurs, such as Norman Corwin or Arch Obler, who represented some of the key innovators in the medium. But at the heart of it, there are the classic series — 116 episodes of Henry Aldrich, 274 episodes of Burns and Allen, 939 episodes of Jack Benny — which suggest just how long lived some of the great shows really were and how they captured and responded to such a large period of the history of the 20th century.

I have spent several hundred dollars so far buying up some of these collections. I haven’t listened to everything I’ve bought yet. My life hasn’t allowed me to give myself over so fully to my passions. But everything I have listened to so far has been of surprisingly good quality. In some cases, I am re-engaging with old favorites. In others, I am making new discoveries or listening to shows that have long fascinated me but have been impossible to access before. I compare it to that moment when TNT first went on the air and the network was indiscriminately dumping anything and everything from its vast archives on at wee hours in the morning, not sure what would connect with contemporary viewers.

For me, as for many consumers decades older than me, it is a return to the world of my childhood and I had to share the experience with my readers.

Gender and Fan Culture (Round Twenty One, Part One): Barbara Lucas and Avi D. Santo

INTRODUCTIONS

ADS: I am an assistant professor at Old Dominion University. This is my second year out of graduate school. I graduated in 2006 from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Radio-Television-Film. My dissertation focused on corporate authorship practices in managing transmedia brands prior to conglomeration. Basically, I analyzed how cultural icons like Superman, the Lone Ranger and Little Orphan Annie were licensed across media and merchandising sites and how their inter-textual meanings were managed. I also looked at how authorship rights were articulated by corporations over properties whose economic success rested on their seeming authorless and iconic. At ODU, I teach classes on critical race theory and media, international media systems, superheroes and US culture, and authorship and discourse. I am a co-founder of the e-journal Flow (http://www.flowtv.org) and current co-coordinating editor of MediaCommons (http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org).

Outside of academics, the first job I ever wanted was to be a soap opera writer (apologies for not using the term “daytime melodrama”, but they were just soap operas when I was a teenager; a term that likely contributed to my eventual embarrassment over truly persuing this vocation). I watched Another World obsessively throughout my teens. I am a huge comic book dork. I primarily read revisionist superhero narratives that play at established conventions of the genre, but my pull list ranges from Fablesto Y The Last Man. Favorite TV of the moment: Battlestar Galactica, The Boondocks, My Name is Earl, Friday Night Lights, Project Runway.

BL: I have an MA in English from Case Western Reserve University with a concentration on British Renaissance literature and am a member of the adjunct faculty and Lakeland Community College. However, I’ve been a fantasy, horror, and (to a lesser extent) science fiction reader since I was a child. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I returned to my passions as a field of study as well as one of pleasure. I have been a regular presenter at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (www.iafa.org), and I’m the Division Head for the new Community and Culture in the Fantastic Division that focuses on fan fiction and culture, video game theory, hypertexts, viral marketing, RPG’s, ARG’s, folkloric and sociological approaches to the fantastic. Basically, my division deals with new and emergent texts, texts that are non-traditional in nature. The deadline for this year’s conference, held in March 2008 is close, and I am still accepting papers. I have calls up at the UPenn website. They can also be accessed at http://community.livejournal.com/ccfantastic/.

Outside of academic and corporate lives, though intersecting with my academic interests, I write fantasy fiction and poetry. I am interested in comics and graphic fiction and tend to be an eclectic reader who can bounce between Sandman (Gaiman’s version),Preacher, Age of Bronze, Gloom Cookie, and A Distant Soil with no problem. The one genre I tend to avoid is “mainstream” superhero comics. I am the sort of gamer geek that feels like she is cheating on her Playstation when she is playing games on her Xbox. My television watch list includes Heroes, Pushing Daisies, 24, Project Runway, Top Chef, Lost, and Dexter (though my hectic schedule often results in my falling behind and catching up once I get the DVD’s).

My primary scholarly focus the last five years or so has been on fan culture and fan fiction, especially slash fiction. My work primarily involves complicating early monolithic assumptions about slash fiction and slash fans, assumptions that have seen it as another sort of romance writing. While that notion does fit a lot of the work that is being produced, it works less well when considering fringe writing such as dark fiction or BDSM fiction, which shatters or explodes traditionally romantic (a la romance novels) notions. Like many aca-fans who work in the fan studies area, I practice what I study. I co-moderate a The Lord of the Rings fan fiction community and write fan fiction myself. My article (co-written with Robin Reid and Eden Lackner) “Cunning Linguists: The Bisexual Erotics of Words/Silence/Flesh,” which appeared in Busse and Hellekson’s Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, looks at the erotics of writer/reader and writer/writer interaction during the composition and circulation of collaboratively written erotic slash fiction. Perhaps we can talk a bit about collaboration processes?

EROTICS OF COLLABORATION

ADS: I’d love to hear more about your findings here. What are the relationships of the authors to the text they are slashing versus one another? Are the characters/stories being reworked the object of erotic fascination or is it the sharing process?

BL: It is a combination of the two. Not all slash stories are erotic in nature, by that I mean the level of graphic description of the relationships depicted in them; however, writers tend to focus on characters and actors (in media fandoms) that they themselves find attractive or arousing. This explains the tendency for writers to follow characters across films or series, adding new fandoms as their objects of fannish interest add to their resumes.

Fans do play with sexuality through slash and het fiction, expressing their own desires, which they perhaps show more frankly because of the distance they achieve through filtering them through fiction, fiction that is (at least on the surface) about male characters.

There is even a further distancing in that the fictions are not entirely theirs; they are borrowed. I don’t mean to suggest that there is a simple correspondence between the desires expressed in fics and those of the fans. Certainly, some fics reflect nightmares (e.g., rape fics and dark fics) and others simply explore modes of desire the fan may be curious about but would not ordinarily want to engage in. If horror fiction provides its audience with ways to confront fears and terrors while remaining safe and sheltered from them, erotic fiction does the same with desire, and many fans use it as a means of playing with desire in that way.

The sharing process itself is also erotic, something that we talk about in the “Cunning Linguists” article. The more erotic content, sensuality and/or sexuality, a story contains, the more likely the writer is to get feedback that is flirty, passionate, and erotic in nature from her readers. However, I do not believe this is a hallmark of slash fiction so much as it is of erotic fiction. I am on several lists with professional writers of romantic erotica, and the commentary from their fans tends to be similar in nature. They are also similar in that romantic erotica featuring male/male relationships is very popular with female readers. Romance publishers like EllorasCave and Samhain Press, to name a few, have male/male fiction title lines. These are, for the most part, communities that are by and for women.

ADS: Is there less slash fiction written about female characters, or is the erotic relationship between writers and readers different? In the past, I’ve frequented a CSI fan-fic site that featured a lot of different romantic pairings, including lesbian pairings like Sarah-Catherine. These stories ranged from BDSM narratives that either punished one or both characters for their “frigidness” or celebrated their non-traditional femininities to stories that softened one or both characters in ways that conform to very traditional constructions of femininity.

BL: There is going to be a much higher percentage in Xena fandom than there is in Buffy and more in Buffy than in The Lord of the Rings. Within more mainstream publishers of professional romance/erotica, the same trend applies. In fact, while they welcome male/male stories, they specifically state that they are not interested in female/female stories. Again, these are spaces where the creators and audience trend female. While this tendency has been criticized as straight women fetishizing gay men, that reading is far too simplistic.

The percentage of femslash in fandoms definitely varies according to fandom, and the sorts of themes particular to it does as well. Most of the femslash I have read (and I will confess to not having read great quantities of it) tends to focus on friendships between women that deepen as an erotic component is introduced to them, which is, in essence, the most classic and traditional pattern for slash fiction. The feedback I have read on femslash stories tends to follow the same pattern as that for male/male slash, and the works I am familiar with tend to be single-authored rather than collaborative.

Overall, the collaborative writing process tends to be erotic in nature. Not all collaboration is erotic, but long-term collaborations between writers, as many are, that focus on producing erotic texts tends to knit levels intimacy between the writers as those same forces work on their characters.

In the parts of fandom I move in and study, fandom wife relationships develop between two women who are writing fic, especially erotic fic, collaboratively. The women really become “partners,” a perspective that applies to their own relationship and how it is seen from the outside by other fans. While fandom wives can simply be good and fast friends, there are dynamics to the relationship that are not unlike those in a romantic relationship. A certain sense of possessiveness develops between the partners, and jealousies often arise if one partner wants to go on to write with someone outside the relationship. From what I’ve observed, a goodly percentage of fandom wives go on to other fandom wifely relationships when/if their current one ends.

The endings to such relationships tend to be messy and to be played out in front of the rest of fandom. I have been witness to several spectacular fandom wife marriages and divorces. In one, one partner lived on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast. The East Coast partner actually moved across the country to move in with her fandom wife, and their fandom divorce (spurred on by one’s complaints that the other did not spend enough time with her and spent too much time online) ended up splitting many of their online friends between them.

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Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep’s Taylor and Krueger (2 of 2)

The following is the conclusion to the interview that we published yesterday here on my blog. This full interview was featured on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog, conducted by C3 Project Manager Sam Ford. This interview, with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, looks at the CSI:NY crossover into Second Life.

Sam Ford: What is Electric Sheep Company’s involvement in this project?

Damon Taylor: We are the vendor working with CBS to develop this, and it all started out as a relationship between Electric Sheep and CBS, working with Anthony E. Zuiker, who has become convinced that virtual worlds provide an opportunity for television companies or entertainment companies in general to create and provide content in ways that has never been done before. This has been a six-month planning process, culminating today. Our contract with CBS is to do this for six months, so we will be operating this experience for the next half-year. With content being updated every four weeks, we will be moving this story forward, along with a second television show next year that will tie back into the whole storyline.

Sam Ford: What brings the two of you specifically to this collaboration, and what personally excites you about the opportunity to work on this unique crossover?

Daniel Krueger: I have been with Electric Sheep about a year now, nad I worked on various community projects with The L Word through Showtime, Pontiac, Ben and Jerry’s, and others, and this is the ultimate in community projects on Second Life. It is super-compelling, and it is really a win-win.

Damon Taylor: I helped co-produce the NBA project we did and was asked to come in on this project along with Libby Sproat, a colleague of ours who is a co-producer on this project. Libby and I, as Dan mentioned, have helped produce this project from day one, and now I am transitioning off and Dan and Libby are moving forward with implementing this project in the future. It has been an opportunity to work with some outstanding people, through a team of 10 people who collaborated on this project.

Sam Ford: From what I understand, one of the activities involve looking further into the mystery taking place on tonight’s CSI:NY show, so it’s clear that there will be a connection between the television series and some of the Second Life activities. Will there be ways in which the Second Life activities feed back into the main show?

Damon Taylor: I think it’s fair to say that the Second Life experience is feeding off the television show. It’s unclear at this point whether or not what happens in the virtual world will feed back or influence what happens on the show in the February 2008 sequel, but that will be determined by the producers at CBS. We wanted to connect with a storyline from tonight’s show for our Second Life experience, and we have three main game experiences for CSI:NY in Second LIfe. We have a mystery game, and we will release a new one about every three weeks, which involves a crime scene, a crime lab, and suspects. It will be a 20-30 minute experience, and users can go to the crime scene, pick up evidence, process it, follow leads, and then choose the suspect they they committed the murder.

The second mystery game is the Murder by Zuiker blog game. Every month, CSI Executive Producer Anthony E. Zuiker will draft a storyline. We will create that crime scene in a virtual context and invite people to visit that scene. They will thengo to a CSI:NY message board and submit a 500-word-or-less entry describing what they think happened, as we mentioned earlier. Anthony reviews them at the end of every month and then chooses the top 10 and a winner, and he will reveal what really happened in the story. There will be six of those in all, with a new one being released once a month.

The third mystery game is Finding Venus. Venus is a character from the show tonight, and we wanted to create an opportunity for a more sophisticated mystery game experience for those who want something a bit more challenging than the 20-minute games. This game will have content driven by the story in the television show and will culminate in having users try and find her secret hideout in advance of the February 2008 television show.

To reiterate, though, we are influenced by the television show, but it’s yet to be determined whether or not what happens in Second Life will have impact on the show in February. For us, this is a creative opportunity to use the TV show as the context for a substantive game experience that helps connect the dots between the two television episodes in this story.

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Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep’s Taylor and Krueger (1 of 2)

This full interview was featured earlier this morning over on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. The portions of the interview shared here today were originally published here and here, conducted by Sam Ford, who helps manage the Consortium.

For those who haven’t heard, tonight is the launch of a particularly compelling transmedia experience, the first time a major television franchise has driven its viewers into a virtual world to fill in the gap of a cliffhanger mystery that will not be resolved until next February.

CSI:NY, the New York version of the Anthony E. Zuiker television franchise, will feature an episode tonight in which a murder mystery takes the crime scene investigation team deep into Linden Lab’s Second Life, with the mystery not being resolved until the concluding episode next year. The activities that take place in SL will build off what happens on the show and are planned to give fans the opportunity to get acquainted with a virtual world and also to have a new place to interact with and around the television franchise.

A variety of activities are planned, one of which will provide users a chance to continue investigating aspects of the narrative for the main show. As the Electric Sheep producers of this experience emphasize in the interview that follows, the virtual world experience has been designed to build upon and further the experience from the show, but it’s not yet clear whether what happens in the virtual world will feed back into the conclusion of the mystery on the television show next February, as that will happen on the CSI:NY end. From a transmedia standpoint, one can only hope that something from this experience feeds back into the main show, even if in the form of inside jokes or references for those who participate in the virtual world experience.

For those who want to catch up on this collaboration, check out Duncan Riley’s piece on TechCrunch detailing the collaboration, which also includes an embedded YouTube trailer about tonight’s show. He summarizes, “The episode will see Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) entering Second Life to pursue a killer who has killed a Second Life user in a case of virtual stalking gone too far. CSI:NY fans will be encouraged to join Second Life and investigate the case by following a link on the CBS website.”

Coinciding with this collaboration is the launch of OnRez, a viewer for Second Life that seeks to simplify entering the virtual world for new members of the Linden Lab universe. The viewer is commercially licensed by Linden and will be the window through which CSI:NY fans sign up for Second Life through CBS.com. Those signing up for the CSI:NY crossover will get a customized toolbar to “follow a mystery killer on the show through a series of interactive experiences in Second Life.”

Electric Sheep CEO Sibley Verbeck is quoted in the press release as saying, “Our goal is to make virtual worlds easy and fun to use for the mass-market consumer. By launching a more intuitive consumer interface, we’re allowing brands to maximize the appeal of their virtual world initiatives. The upcoming CSI: NY Virtual Experience is an innovative example of the opportunities for OnRez.”

What follows is is an interview with two of the producers of this project for Electric Sheep, Damon Taylor and and Daniel Krueger, who worked with Anthony E. Zuiker and others to help launch this project. Considering that the project launches tonight, I thought a little detail about the background and the hopes of its creators might be of interest for those of you who, like me, are quite interested to see how much of CSI:NY‘s audience is interested in virtual worlds, and conversely how many Second Lifers might get interested in CSI:NY through this transmedia extension.

Sam Ford: To start off with, what do the two of you believe are some of the most compelling aspects of the CSI:NY/Second Life crossover that’s taking place tonight, and what are the benefits for CBS and CSI:NY, on the one hand, and for Second Life other other?

Damon Taylor: This experience is compelling for users from two different perspectives. One of those perspectives is new users of Second Life, who are new to virtual worlds in general. The other perspective is for existing Second Life users. Potential new users who are fans of CSI:NY will care about this crossover because it will give them the opportunity to wrestle with CSI content in a way that has never been made available to them before. We have endeavored and achieved a true cross-platform experience where these fans can watch the television show, see the storyline that began on the TV show continued in-world, and then see the storyline jump back to the TV show next February when there is a sequel show that wraps up the storyline that starts tonight.

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Why Grand Theft Auto Should Be Taught in Schools?: An Interview With David Hutchison (Part Two)

Yesterday, I ran the first part of an interview with David Hutchison, author of Playing to Learn: Video Games in the Classroom. In the first part, he discussed his ideas about the place of games in education and about the value of teaching young people to think critically about the games they play. Today, he takes up the question of the place of game design activities in school and addresses some of the criticisms about the pedagogical uses of existing game titles. This part of the discussion is timely since Katie Salens, a major advocate for teaching young people how to think like game designers, will be speaking as part of the CMS colloquium series this week. Watch this blog for information about the podcast of this event.

Some of your exercises are designed to get students to tackle design problems and to begin to make their own games. This is very much along the lines of the kinds of design literacy which Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salens have been advocating. What do you see as the value of teaching students to think like designers?

I would say that several of the activities can be used as exercises that aim to get students to think like game designers, but it is the Afterword that highlights the important role that game design can play in schools, if only in a cursory way, given that game design is not the main focus of the book.

I like to think of students as moving from being consumers of media, to being critics of it, and then creators of it, so game design is the natural next step once a number of the investigative activities in the book have been completed.

The value comes from seeing students as something more than “students” in schools. What I mean here is that teachers should consider casting students in a variety of creative roles, such as “authors” and “scientists” as they study language arts and science for example. A sixth grade student who writes a story is an author and he or she should be honored as such, perhaps by having their story published, illustrated, bound, and placed in the school library for other students to borrow.

It is a similar process for video games. By seeing themselves as a team of game designers, a group of tenth grade students can work through the very same game development stages that professional designers go through: brainstorming a story idea, pitching that idea to others, writing a story, scenario, and dialog, collecting and designing assets, programming the gameplay, and testing and distributing the game.

The above process certainly sounds daunting and of course it takes a great deal of time and commitment to produce a video game, but the good news is that are now a number of terrific educational game engines that students and educators can choose to use. Several of them streamline the game development process, so that students can focus on creative learning activities, rather than the minutia of programming their game in a professional C+ game engine.

Many educators might agree that games can be powerful motivators of learning but they also may communicate a great deal of misinformation about the world, especially given the fact that most commercial games are built for entertainment rather than educational purposes. How would you respond to this critique?

Even misinformation provides teachers with an opportune teachable moment in my view, if only to correct that misinformation and investigate how it came to be.

Consider the example of Battlefield 2142, the multiplayer first-person shooter which is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which the effects of global warming have reduced the habitable landmass on Earth to a fraction of what it is at present. The battle for control over what little habitable landmass remains is the basic premise that underlies the battles the player fights in the game.

Environmentalists and teachers may wish to take issue with the science that underlies the premise of this game, but the game itself provides teachers with a hook for getting students to consider the implications of dramatic climate change. Although there is now general agreement among scientists that climate change is occurring today and that humans are (at least in part) responsible for causing it, there are competing views among researchers as to the long-term effects of climate change on the planet – some of the changes may even be positive from a certain perspective.

What is represented in Battlefield 2142 may be an extreme view, but there are other dire predictions from climatology experts that teachers can reference as they talk about the issue of global warming with students.

Teachers can also reference the game as they discuss the ways in which the popular media represents scientific research more generally, as well as alarmist views of the future. A key question here may be the role that games, such as Battlefield 2142, potentially play in undermining serious research on climate change. My view is that the game highlights one of the most important social consequences of dramatic environmental change – the competition over increasingly scarce resources – which some environmental and military analysts – I think of Thomas Homer Dixon in particular – argue will lead to more wars in the coming years.

That’s the premise of the game and it is represented, at least in a general way, in some of the futuristic military scenarios that see environmental change as a national security issue.

David Hutchison, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, Brock University (Ontario, Canada) where he teaches courses in educational foundations (history of education) and social studies.

David is the author of two books in the fields of environmental education and the philosophy of place. Growing Up Green: Education for Ecological Renewal was published in 1998. A Natural History of Place in Education was released in the spring of 2004.

For more information, check out his website at www.playingtolearn.org

Why Grand Theft Auto Should Be Taught in Schools?: An Interview With David Hutchison (Part One)

One of the many pleasures of running this blog is being able to introduce my readers to people who are doing cutting edge thinking about the many topics — from fandom to serious games, from media literacy to civic media, from early sound comedy to transmedia storytelling — that matter to me.

Today, I want to introduce you to David Hutchison, the author of a recently released book, Playing to Learn: Video Games in the Classroom. Hutchison’s book promises over 100 game activities appropriate for classroom use, a selection that spans across academic subjects (language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, history, geography, health & physical education, drama, music, visual arts, computers, and business) and grade levels (including both elementary and high school). Writers like James Paul Gee, Kurt Squire, xx and David Shaffer, have made the conceptual argument for the pedagogical value of games; our own Education Arcade has been one of a number of academic research projects focused on designing, prototyping, and field testing games for instructional purposes; Hutchinson’s focus is on what we can do in our schools right now, using projects already on the market, to tap student and teacher interests in games. In the course of the collection, the models many different conceptual approaches for thinking about games — including many designed to foster core media literacy skills. The result is a book which will be valuable to classroom teachers or for that matter, parents who want to engage their children in meaningful conversations about the place of games in their lives and about how games structure the way we see the world.

I recently had a chance to interview Hutchison about his goals for this project and wanted to share his responses with you. In explaining the value of games for schools, I often say that “nobody is advocating bringing Grand Theft Auto into the classroom” and go on to point to a broader range of other titles which do seem more appropriate for school use. But Hutchinson makes a fairly compelling argument for why schools should be addressing Grand Theft Auto in the comments which follow. His arguments here is consistent with his perspective that just as traditional media literacy involves learning to think critically about mass media, games literacy has to include asking hard questions of this still emerging medium, questions concerning representations, ideology, and of course, commercial motives.

What motivated you to write this book? Why do you think teachers should be incorporating games more fully into their classroom activities?

I wrote this book in part because I enjoy playing video games myself and I am always looking for synergies between my play time and my work time as a teacher educator and university professor. So too, I was fairly surprised to see that a book like this hadn’t yet been written given the long history of video games in American culture. I also couldn’t find many video game-centered lesson plans on the Web which also surprised me.

I believe that video games should be referenced in the K-12 classroom for a variety of reasons. First, video games can provide teachers with an effective instructional “hook” since so many students are gamers in their out-of-school lives. Second, many (younger) teachers are also gamers. Through gaming, they have cultivated a knowledge base which can serve them well as part of their pedagogical toolset.

Despite this, most of the teacher-gamers I have spoken with over the last two years see a disconnect between their in-school teaching jobs and their out-of-school gaming activities. It strikes me as nonsensical that so many students and their teachers may be going home at night to play the same games, but then returning to the school the next day with no intention of ever sharing their mutual passion for video games.

I would also say that from a cultural point of view, I see some video games as harbingers of the future. They play with the “world” – past, present, and future – in ways that are impractical (sometimes impossible) in the real world. Some games purposefully bend the laws of physics in exploring new virtual gameplay ideas. Multiplayer video games (and the Internet more generally) experiment with new forms of social organization that go beyond our everyday ways of living.

All of this strikes me as pedagogically interesting and worth studying in K-12 schools.

Some previous books have focused on teaching about games, others on teaching through games, but your book seems to encompass both. What do you see as the advantages of each?

I would say that most of my book treats the “video game” as a cultural artifact that has a history, was created, is used in various ways, and is sometimes discarded for various reasons.

In this sense, I would say that the activities in the book are more focused on teaching using games. I have heard from a few video-games-in-education researchers who see the activities in this book as a good beginning point, but not necessarily the end point of where we need to go in integrating video games into education. To a certain extent, I would agree with this view.

For example, except for a couple of activities, the book does not focus on living life in a virtual community, such as Second Life or World of Warcraft. Educating students in Second Life strikes me as teaching through games. But so does learning about military tactics by playing America’s Army. James Paul Gee’s work gets to heart of how playing video games can transform the learning experience and even supplant traditional ways of teaching and learning in schools.

I would say that my book is more focused on traditional teaching and learning techniques in which the video game is studied as a cultural artifact, rather than “lived through” as an embodied pedagogical experience. Activities which ask students to write a video game review or analyze the leaderboard statistics for a driving game in math class, for example, are fairly approachable by most teachers. They essentially treat the video game as a manipulative that can be utilized as a pedagogical tool by teachers in a wide variety of subject areas.

Your introduction suggests that you see schools as “one of the last remaining formal institutions that can mediate popular culture by examining it closely, holding it to account, and even transforming it at times.” What is it about schools which enable them to play this role? What about the argument that schools have historically declared war on popular culture and thus have shown themselves to be anything but objective arbiters of its merits?

This is a phrase that I have also used elsewhere, including my previous book which explores the history of the idea of “place” in education.

I am on purpose expressing something of a idealistic sentiment here that harkens back to the early 20th century promise of a democratic system of public schooling, as articulated most famously by John Dewey and, even earlier, Horace Mann. The basic notion here is that the public school is responsible to the state (which in turn represents the citizenry) and that one of the important roles of the public school is to balance out the decentralized and largely unregulated influence of other social institutions, such as the family, church, private sector, and popular culture. Dewey argued that through purposeful social inquiry guided by the principles of the scientific method, schools could foster in students a democratic impulse that strengthened the social and democratic commons – hence the notion of the “common school.”

Today, public schools are bureaucratic institutions that are generally underfunded, used for political fodder by both the right and left, and tasked with an overwhelmingly complex job. Yet schools still remain the last bastion of mandated community involvement in child socialization. As parents and citizens, we count on this bastion to mediate, counter, and offset the unchecked influence of other less formal institutions, such as the peer group, family, and popular culture, by providing a corrective or compensatory measure to a student’s education. This role is fraught with difficulty and it is often contested – which is appropriate in a democratic society.

Such corrective or compensatory measures may only sporadically be successful, indeed, sometimes they fail miserably, but I would say that the idealism that schools can continue to play this role is still in place in the eyes of many adults – why else would so many battles continue to be fought over the role and purpose of public schools in American society?

Many teachers might want to “protect” children from exposure to media violence, yet some of your activities ask students to pay close attention to controversial titles, such as Bully or Grand Theft Auto. What do you see as the value of teaching youth to adopt a critical perspective on such games? And what do you say to those who might argue that you are putting them at risk by asking them to engage with these works?

In writing the book, I set it as a goal for myself to incorporate the Grand Theft Auto series into at least one activity. (The “Hot Coffee” controversy was brewing around me as I began writing the book :) The GTA activity I chose tasks students with creating their own kid-friendly open-world game that doesn’t include all the adult content we normally associate with games in this franchise.

I also wanted to encourage teachers to deal with controversial ideas related to video games. There are contributed discussion articles in the book that address debates related to video games and violence, video game addiction, gender bias in video games, and health and video games.

My sense is that the book could have been roundly criticized – and rightly so – if I had chosen not to deal with the many criticisms made of video games – for example, that they produce obese layabouts with no social contacts in the real world who are prone to violence and live in a fantasy world 

Discussing the above stereotypes in class is worthwhile in my view. Studying these stereotypes by having students conduct research to test their veracity is even better. There are also activities in the book that aim to help students effect personal lifestyle changes related to their video game playing habits, such as paying close attention to their posture and reducing the amount of time they spend playing video games each week.

It seems to me that there is disconnect between gamers and those critics – Jack Thompson is a popular strawman here – who look at games from outside and see little of value worth highlighting. Since many students are gamers when out-of-school, it makes sense that turning a critical eye toward video games and especially social, medical, and legal commentaries on video games are appropriate topics for study in schools.

David Hutchison, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, Brock University (Ontario, Canada) where he teaches courses in educational foundations (history of education) and social studies.

David is the author of two books in the fields of environmental education and the philosophy of place. Growing Up Green: Education for Ecological Renewal was published in 1998. A Natural History of Place in Education was released in the spring of 2004.

Want to know more about CMS?

Trying to expand our communications with prospective international students (or for that matter, anyone else who would find it difficult to make it to campus to learn more about our program), CMS holds on-line information sessions a few times a semester.

The first such session, timed to facilitate Asian participants, will be held this tuesday, October 23, 8 to 10 am.

The second session, timed to facilitate European participants, will be held Monday, December 3, 2 to 4pm.

We’ve tried for time slots that facilitate international contact but anyone who wants to participate in either session is more than welcome.

Visit the appropriate info session page on the day of the scheduled session to log into our webchat.

Gender and Fan Culture ( Round Twenty , Part Two): James Nadeau and Alicia “Kestrell” Verlager

James:This leads me to the next point: the relationship between the female protagonist and the monster. The monster both represents the repression and is a doorway to allowing the female figure to escape the social boundaries placed upon her. I am thinking here of Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein. Madeline Khan’s character is the frigid girlfriend of the doctor who is transformed by her “relations” with the monster. It is an interesting exposure of the relationship trope. By making it humorous Brooks is actually revealing another aspect of the monster. By being “other” the monster also allows those possibly inclined to be different to join in being different. The monster is the gate way to deviance. And this is what I find fascinating because it makes the monster a transformative figure. Simply by being exposed to the monster one can gain access to monstrous attributes or become monsters. I think this is why the monster figure resonates with both queer and disability communities. It is the irrational fear that one will be transformed by interacting with a queer or disabled person. The idea that one’s difference is contagious. This is what the monster does. It acts upon the erotic nature of the other that destabilizes normalcy, be it physical or sexual. Like you said it unleashes the repressed.

Think about the alien monster in John W. Campbell, Jr’s Who Goes there? (1938) which is the source for John Carpenter’s well known film The Thing (1982) as well as two other films The Thing From Another World (1951) and Horror Express (1973). Here the monster itself is the transformer. It is an amorphous “thing” that replaces and consumes the human characters. Each molecule of the alien transforms and consumes. It is a literal metaphor for fear. The thing represents what each generation finds terrifying. It is a tabula rasa with which the viewer can project their fears onto. It operates as tool for them to confront or identify with whatever socio-cultural fears are present. In Carpenter’s film the thing is an amorphous blob that undulates and shifts constantly. It is in a state of transformation until it becomes something it can hide within. It plays upon the fear of the passing deviant. The Thing is the one that looks like us but isn’t. And once again, like with the vampire, it is the blood that tells. The blood is alive and sentient, it infects. And then there is the fact that the story is female free. So the film also comments on the mutability of identity in the face of single sex environments and the anxieties that that can provoke. This ultimately leads to testing the blood in order to identify who is human and therefore normal.

Kes:

The same is true of that other great contagion movie, Aliens, which had been released a few years after Carpenter’s The Thing. One of the things I love about both these movies–and maybe it’s something that as a blind fan I am just particularly focused on–is the way the space these characters move through becomes an extension of their inner psyches. Carpenter takes the cold isolation of this snowbound military base and Cameron takes the inhuman darkness of the space station but both spaces end up being very gothic threatening spaces. The viewer isn’t just given a text or dialogue, but sound, motion, a sense of the process of moving through these intensely felt spaces. It’s something that a purely textual or psychoanalytical interpretation of these horror movies can’t really address–their sense of virtuality. This is where Deleuzian theory comes in and gives horror media such a radical spin: because horror media is often very focused on conveying that sense of the experience as a process, as something transformative in itself.

Yet that element of horror manifesting the inner space as external space is not limited to horror films. I watched Aliens with my husband, who is a game designer, a number of months back and he commented on how much that movie influenced the look of game interfaces. It’s not just the look though: it’s the sound, from the sound effects to the music to the use of voices. Horror media is still very much influenced by its roots in old radio shows, with a strong focus on creating a sense that the audience is actually occupying this other space with the monster. And I think that is one thing which, as this Wired article “Gore Is Less: Videogames Make Better Horror Than Hollywood” points out, links the horror film to video games.

James:

Definitely. Space plays a large role in the construction of horror and science fiction cinema. One way to look at this is in terms of Deleuze’s theory of the any-space-whatever. For Delueze this moment arises in cinematic scenes where the viewer is destabilized and unsure of where he or she stands in space within the sphere of the film. The consistent use of close-up shots in the absence of expansive wide angle establishing shots serve to isolate the actor/character in the narrative creating a claustrophobic feeling in the viewer. Aliens is a perfect example of this. You can probably count on one hand the number of establishing shots that occur in this film and when they do they are noticeable in the way they pull you out of the taunt, tense feeling of the film. These shots are actually jarring in that they both establish a setting for the viewer and at the same time eliminate some of the effectiveness of the close-ups. To jump back to The Thing – the whiteness of the environment adds to the sense of the isolation of the camp. It is literally a blank space – indefinable. This works in concert with the anamorphic state of the thing. Neither of them is solid or identifiable. This destabilizes the viewer. They are in any space whatever.

Kes:

And I think it is that sense of destabilization which draws so many horror fans. Horror as a genre is more about ambiguity rather than certainty, and that leaves a lot of room for fans to bring personal interpretations to bear in thinking of how such narratives relate to their own identity. In particular, horror seems to be fascinated with complicating subjectivity, and this seems to connect it not only with the monster-woman/queer alignment we mentioned before but with those virtual or Deleuzan spaces we were just talking about.

In her book Deleuze and Horror (Edinburgh University Press, 2005) Anna Powell discusses how the subject-object binary is blurred in horror films by using sensation and affect to subsume the subject and show it melding with the external world. Some of the most vivid horror–and here I am thinking of Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Moore’s graphic novel From Hell–show humans being penetrated by their technology and/or their technological spaces. This kind of surreal technogothic is an entire subgenre in itself, and I think one of the reasons it emerged as such a powerful theme late in the 20th century was that our technologies, which in the 1950s had been framed as such an uncomplicated salvation for the human race, called into question our traditional definitions of both technology and the body, and the questions which arose proved to be particularly relevant to disabled and queer individuals. Previously there was this assumption that the perfect body was one which was whole, completely self-reliant, free of technological prosthetics, and at the peak of its intellectual and physical abilities; in other words, a definition many would read as masculine. How many of us fit that description now? From contacts to prescription drugs to pacemakers, many of us are wearing technology beneath our skin, and we’re all a little nervous when we consider how it might change us both individually and as a species. It has already radicalized our definitions of what is an “able” body and what is a gendered body.

James:

I believe that has also changed the face of contemporary horror. Much of today’s horror films are centered on the destruction of the body: Saw versions 1though 3, Hostel and the like. These are films that use the threat of physical destruction in numerous ways under the rubric of horror. Of course now these are considered their own genre within the horror genre; they are snuff horror films. So in light of the extreme technological evolution we see a return to fears about the body. The destabilization and dismemberment of the body has remerged as a means of striking fear in the audience. I say re-emerged because some of the horror films of the early seventies also played with this genre albeit not to the extent we see today.

Kes:

We can trace those dismemberment stories back to the science fiction of Maurice Renard, who wrote the story The Hands of Orlac in 1920, which would become the basis for the 1926 film by the same name and also the 1935 remake Mad Love which starred Peter Lorre. Again, there is an entire subgenre of horror narratives involving dismembered/possessed body parts, but my favorite is Clive Barker’s The Body Politic (I think that was published in 1984), in which a man feels that his hands are somehow working against him, as if they aren’t sure they want to be part of him any longer, and this becomes a metaphor for how people are encouraged to think of themselves as body parts, with media images focusing on specific areas–breasts for women, muscles for men–as if the part can define the whole. Of course the surgeries which Renard focused on in his story have now become an entire technology for reshaping and redefining the human body and the technology of medical augmentation meets the technology of media until we all feel a bit disassociated from our own body parts, to a degree that shows like Nip/Tuck basically pick up the monster theme by promising us that ultimate monstrous wish: to swap one’s monster parts for somebody else’s.

But let me move to a more positive aspect of media technologies, one which brings us back to those definitions of genre with which we began this discussion, namely, how new media has opened up production and distribution channels for fans. Not only can artists distribute their own radical visions through the technologies of the Internet and new media, but fans can locate and access all sorts of media that not so long ago was completely out of reach. From classic movies to indie shorts, from new fiction to fan sites, female and queer artists are finding encouragement, inspiration, and their own fans.

As a closing thought, I just want to point out that this is in turn calling into question traditional methods for data collection, such as assuming that there are no female slasher fans because the researcher didn’t see many at a movie premiere. Female and queer fans are meeting up online, or at indie film festivals, or just waiting until the DVD comes out on Amazon, and I think this is another way in which new media appeals strongly to fans who previously may, like female and queer comics fans, have felt pushed out of the more public forms of media consumption and fan events.

Gender and Fan Culture ( Round Twenty , Part One): James Nadeau and Alicia “Kestrell” Verlager

Kes:

I’m Alicia “Kestrell” Verlager, a 2006 graduate of the Comparative Media Studies master’s program at MIT. I am a relative newcomer to fan studies, though I have been a lifelong fan of genre media, particularly SF and horror. My writing often explores the intersections of non-normative bodies and identity, with an emphasis on interpretations informed by both disability and queer studies (an intersection often referred to as crip studies). My thesis was on images of disability and technology in science fiction media, and I have also written about the theme of disability in Harry Potter fan fiction. I write about media, disability, and technology at my blog http://kestrell.livejournal.com.

James and I were grad students together in the CMS program at MIT, but since graduating, we continue to get together and discuss both theory and our favorite media, so our post here will probably convey that sense of this being an ongoing conversation between us.

James: I am James Nadeau, also a 2006 graduate of CMS. My own work is centered in visual art and technological evolution, specifically video and related technologies. My background is in critical studies, psychoanalytic and queer theory with a focus on Queer Cinema. I curate a monthly queer film and performance series at the Brattle Theatre here in Cambridge. On top of that I am a longtime comic book collector and science fiction fan. I am particularly interested in British post-apocalyptic graphic novels, mainly Judge Dredd, as well as Marvel produced superhero comics (pretty much why I landed at CMS). Like Kestrell I am fascinated by the possibilities that looking at horror and science fiction through the lens of queer and disability studies provides. Our conversations have centered on the similarities that both queerness and disability have when placed within the genre of horror and extreme science fiction. By extreme I mean the type of science fiction that operates as both horror and science fiction, be it from a gore or Lovecraft-ian “horror beyond the worlds” nature.

Kes:

I would like to open the conversation by exploring how genre becomes intertwined with gender through the process of defining what horror is. As a fan and a scholar, I have become increasingly intrigued by the representations of female and queer fans in horror fandom. Specifically, I am curious about what role gender plays in defining the horror genre itself and how deeply gender influences interpretations of horror, its purposes and its effects.

These questions were prompted by a pattern I noticed in how discussions of horror are often framed: In either an online or real-time discussion of horror, a panel of male writers and critics open the discussion by seeking to define “real” horror. One of the first things mentioned, usually with a laugh, is the dismissal of paranormal romance. Aside from the fact that paranormal romance is not a new genre (it can be traced at least as far back as the TV. shows Beauty and the Beast and Dark Shadows, both of which suffered from critical and marketing attitudes which devalued their female audiences), this dismissal is usually followed by adding more subgenres to the list of what isn’t horror, with subgenres like gothics, ghost stories and even new horror such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scream, etc. (refer to the work of Mark Jancovich

http://www.baas.ac.uk/resources/pamphlets/pamphdets.asp?id=28 ).

This disavowal of specific subgenres and their female fans isn’t limited to books or film, either: in horror comics fandom, the stereotype of a female fan is that of the gothy Sandman fan. No slight to Neil, but the linking of goth fashion and being female is another way in which I see female fans being portrayed as romantic and/or ridiculous, which comes close to reflecting the way the overly-sexualize and ridiculously romanticized has come to be associated with camp, another disavowed form of horror. There are films that are labeled camp which I am not even clear on why they are labeled camp: Bride of Frankenstein, for instance, which a number of horror producers such as Clive Barker, have listed as their favorite horror classic: why is that classified as camp? If,

as one definition of camp claims, camp is equated with being “effeminately homosexual,” then I think we are seeing media being disparaged and disavowed not for its content, but for its audience, and that disparaged audience is identified as female and queer.

I can’t help but feel that these attempts to restrict the definition of “real” horror are prompted, at least in part, by an inclination to define who the ideal reader/viewer is, and, for a lot of male

critics and scholars, that ideal reader/viewer is someone a lot like him. And yet you have artists like Alan Moore, Clive Barker, Angela Carter, and their works include elements of not just horror, but also fantasy, surrealism, the gothic, and yes, romance.

James:

I’d like to tackle a few of these points. First I think that you are correct in that camp is most often associated with queer culture. However, it is mainly thought of in terms of exaggerated behaviour verging on the ludicrous. To quote John Waters, camp is “the tragically ludicrous and the ludicrously tragic.” It has been used on pop culture artifacts in this manner since Susan Sontag published her essay “Notes on Camp” in 1964. For Sontag camp was liberating. It is noteworthy for being both naïve (completely unaware of one’s camp-ness is a requirement) but also it’s extravagance. Bride of Frankenstein is thought of as camp because it is so over the top. One look at Elsa Lanchester’s hairdo as the bride and you know there is something not quite right. As Sontag notes “Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is “too much.” I think that what we need to establish here is that for Clive Barker (for example), a gay man, having this as his favourite film is motivated by forces other than those that seek to feminize or demean. I would also say that Bride of Frankenstein is pretty commonly thought of as an example of camp even by those only marginally aware of what camp really is. But I think this is a good starting point to discuss the viewer. For the queer viewer of horror films where does camp fit in or does it even need to? There is a lot of classic (the twenties right through the sixties) Hollywood horror films that could be seen as campy by queer audiences. There is something decidedly fey in Max Schreck’s performance in Murnau’s Nosferatu. And do we even need to mention the homosocial Lost Boys or the lesbians in The Hunger? The vampire character itself has come to be known for outside normal sexual boundaries. And I agree with you that the vampire character is recognized as a romantic figure and it is consistently associated with the feminine. Is it this “feyness” or implied deviance that pushes it outside of the patriarchy and into deviance? I think that romanticism in horror and science fiction offers up an interesting opportunity to think about alternative identities within these narratives and how they relate to what audiences feel and desire outside of heteronormative paradigms. These films open our eyes to the possibilities that exist outside the hegemony of “the normal.”

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