Studying Media Industries: An Interview with Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren (Part One)

A while back, I gave the regular readers of this blog a “sneak preview” of an essay I was writing with Joshua Green on the “Moral Economy of Web 2.0.” The essay has now appeared in print in an rich and diverse anthology, Media Industries: History, Theory and Methods, which was edited by Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren. It’s contributors represent a who’s who of contemporary research on how media industries operate and its content span the full spectrum of audio-visual media, including a full consideration of cutting-edge topics such as convergence and globalization. Since I thought this book would be of interest to many of you, I asked its editors to share some perspectives with us about the current state of research on Media Industries. For more information on this project, check out Alisa Perren’s blog.

How would you characterize the current state of research on media industries?

JH: I would characterize it as a significant growth area and a landscape of great opportunity and energy at this time. The challenging economic conditions of late have placed the media industries under tremendous financial strain. When you factor in the dramatic technological developments that are impacting production and distribution, a new administration with a lot of policy defining left to do, as well as all of the changes in audience activity and “produsage,” we find ourselves at a moment of transformation. Much of this is not news to many who track the industries regularly. Yet these conditions present new and interesting challenges for researchers and scholars of media industries because there are emerging business models to understand, different aspects of audience address and behavior to analyze, and a need for the perspective and contextualization that media industry historians, critics, and theorists have to offer.

As we hope our anthology demonstrates, there is a great deal of vital research being done on all aspects of the media industries right now – labor, economics, policy, technology, audiences, texts, trade, and more. We look forward to more of this work seeping outside the boundaries of academia (as some of it already has, yours included) and taking a more active role in shaping larger cultural and policy discourses about the media industries. Ideally, this collection will help contribute to the visibility of the important work already being done by our authors. It is worth noting that there is also significant work being done outside of the academy by journalists and activists that has been very influential on media industry research. Some of the most insightful and informative analysis of media industries can be found in the popular press, the blogosphere and trade publishing, where journalists and critics have generated a tremendous amount of momentum for our “field.” I see this leads right to your next question…

So, let me ask the question you pose in the title of your introduction, “Does the world really need one more field of study”?

JH: I would argue (as we did in the intro) that indeed it does. With a more formalized “field of study” comes a more focused attention to the history and development of that field, to the many disciplinary traditions that comprise its foundation, and a more coherent cultivation of scholarly perspective on this type of work. In addition to having more established (and easily accessible) curricular materials and traditions to draw upon, having the benefit of conferences, journals and anthologies devoted to a field are key aspects to creating disciplinary expansion and growth. Most often, communal projects and institutional support only come when a field of study generates enough traction to warrant and inspire them, and so having the academic community (and beyond) thinking about media industry studies as a “field” would be enormously beneficial.

In the book, we don’t suggest that we “invented” this field by any means…we just want to begin the process of identifying, historicizing and theorizing the vast range of industries, analytical tools, critical traditions and potential paths of inquiry that comprise what the field of media industry studies looks like to us, at this point. We hope that others will continue the conversation and expand it beyond what we were able to address in this one volume.

AP: Let me also add that we felt honored to have so many individuals involved with the book who we believed played a vital role in shaping work on the media industries during the last couple of decades – individuals such as John Hartley, Horace Newcomb, David Hesmondhalgh (all three of whom wrote compelling essays offering their perspective on what “media industry studies” should be. Complementing these perspectives are views from many newer scholars of the media industries, including moving image archivist Caroline Frick and media historian Cynthia Meyers. As Jennifer notes, we see this as but the start of a discussion, one that many others will add to in the near future.

What can the study of media industries add to our understanding of media texts?

AP: In many of the more humanistically-oriented areas of study, the text has remained a focal point of analysis. Part of this is a function of the roots of this type of work in film studies. Much of this work developed primarily in English departments that approached cinema primarily as self-contained texts that could be explicated in isolation.

Over the last few decades, work in cultural studies has helped to substantially broaden discussions of texts, demanding that scholars think more in terms of social, cultural, political, economic and industrial contexts. However, though early work by cultural studies figures such as Stuart Hall and Richard Johnson encouraged discussion of both production and consumption processes, the majority of such work over the years has tended to be focused far more heavily on the consumption side. Thus, an immense amount of scholarship has been generated that situates texts culturally, and thinks about what audiences do with media texts. Yet, until recently, far fewer scholars have looked at the cultural processes involved in actually making texts in the first place. That’s one of the goals of our book: to add to the growing literature produced by scholars such as Amanda Lotz, Elana Levine, Serra Tinic, and John Caldwell, the latter of whom is a contributor to our collection. Their work underscores the need to consider the myriad institutional and cultural forces affecting how media are produced.

When we talk about production, we are not simply referring to individual actions taken by key “above-the-line” figures such as directors and writers. Rather, production must be thought of much more broadly. The potential impact of diverse individuals (both above and below-the-line), groups (ranging from labor unions to film commissions), and institutions (not simply production companies and conglomerates but also tech companies and government agencies) must be taken into consideration.

One of the primary goals of our book was to unite many of these diverse perspectives in one place, thereby initiating a more focused and coherent discussion about media industry scholarship. Ideally, by bringing wide-ranging perspectives from media studies, communication, cultural studies, sociology, telecommunication and anthropology together, we can begin to have a better sense of the multitude of ways that media texts are shaped by diverse factors. In addition, we can try to encourage a shift away from a view in which the only potentially politically progressive elements of media texts are those which are brought to them by active fans. A traditional political economic tradition often tends to view commercial media texts as inherently conservative products of a monolithic system. Our authors collectively underscore numerous ways such notions need to be further complicated.

Can we study media production meaningfully without an understanding of media


AP: One thing we have learned in this age of convergence, and which you, Henry, have shown so effectively in your own work, is that we always need to keep in mind how cultural products are both produced and consumed. In part, the rise of a more participatory online media culture has helped us rethink older models that only considered production practices or media texts in isolation. In the past, such approaches might have been more viable for both the industry and scholars alike because feedback from audiences wasn’t so immediately available. Thus it might take a weekend or two for word of mouth to circulate widely about a movie and affect it adversely at the box office. However, in an age when people can post responses to a movie or TV show on Facebook or Twitter as they watch it – and such responses, in turn, can lead to relatively direct economic consequences for the companies producing and distributing them – both executives and academics must recognize and explore the interrelated nature of production, text and consumption in more complex and nuanced ways than they have previously.

Jennifer Holt is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She specializes in film and television history, and media

industry studies. Her current research looks at regulatory policy in the age of

convergence. She has published articles in various journals and anthologies including

Film Quarterly, Quality Popular Television, Fifty Contemporary Film Authors and Media Ownership: Research and Regulation. Her forthcoming book Empires of Entertainment examines deregulation and the media industries between 1980-1996 and will be published by Rutgers University Press.

Alisa Perren is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. Research specializations include media industry studies, television studies, and U.S. film and television history. Her forthcoming book, Indie, Inc. (under contract, University of Texas Press), traces the evolution of Miramax in the 1990s as it transitioned from independent company to studio subsidiary. Her work has appeared in a range of print and online publications, including Film Quarterly, Journal of Film and Video, The Sage Handbook of Media Studies, The Television History Book, and Flow.

Where Citizens Gather: An Interview with The Future of Public Media Project’s Jessica Clark (Part Two)

Today, we continue our discussion with Jessica Clark, co-author of Public Media 2.0, an important white paper recently issued by American University’s Center for Social Media.

What does your research suggest about the relative roles of professional media producers and Pro-Am media makers in the new ecology of public media?

Professionally produced content is central to public media 2.0–right now, more people than ever are consuming and linking to newspapers and broadcast news sources. Some forms of public media are expensive to produce and difficult to make using only volunteer energy and resources: investigative journalism, long-form documentary, international coverage. Those should continue to be subsidized by taxpayers, by new business models for news, and by social entrepreneurs interested in supporting “double bottom line” projects.

What’s different in this new ecology is the way in which publics are using content. They are adopting roles up and down the production chain –funding news and information through projects like, collaborating in investigations on sites like Talking Points Memo, reporting directly via mobile phone from war zones using tools like Ushahidi , analyzing and critiquing news sources at sites like NewsTrust and disseminating relevant content through social networks, Twitter, Digg, and many other channels. This fundamentally challenges the agenda-setting powers of legacy media, making it much harder to create and maintain an artificial consensus, a “conventional wisdom.”

Jay Rosen writes about this in a January Post on his PressThink blog titled “Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press.”

In the age of mass media, the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized–meaning they were connected to BigMedia but not across to each other. But today one of the biggest factors changing our world is the falling cost for like-minded people

to locate each other, share information, trade impressions and realize their number. Among the first things they may do is establish that the echosphere of legitimate debate as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.

In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. Journalists call this the echo chamber, which is their way of downgrading it as a reliable source. But what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.

We can see this expansion of public dialogue in action via new tools for visualizing connections and authority online. One really fun tool is the Political Video Barometer, designed by Morningside Analytics. This shows the dissemination of online videos across the spectrum of the political blogosphere. Some of these videos are clips from mainstream media, some are produced by advocacy groups, some by individuals. Some are strident, some are artistic, some are snarky. The range of expression and debate is wider than we got used to seeing on TV, but now these new forms of communication are expanding the boundaries of legitimate public discourse.

You note that public media is “rarely loved,” yet participatory culture is passion driven. How can you build the base of support for public media in the absence of the passions that fuel other kinds of fan culture?

Audiences are actually passionately loyal to public broadcasting, and for many it’s the most trusted source for news. Politicians sometimes love it less, because it can generate controversy or cast a critical eye. The main problem is that many of the programs and stations haven’t kept up with either technological changes or shifts in tone

over the last two decades. It’s hard to make the case that public broadcasting, especially PBS, serves the whole country adequately–the programs tend to appeal to the very young and those approaching or enjoying retirement. Finding ways to connect with people’s civic passions through new platforms and new voices will be paramount if

public media is to maintain a broad base of support as its core audiences age. The idea that the populace at large is apathetic is not only wrong, it’s condescending; by opening up and innovating, public broadcasting can evolve into public media 2.0.

Does Public Media 2.0 rest on the assumption of a generalized public or do the same arguments apply to smaller scale niche audiences and social networks?

We think the concept of a generalized public is a fiction perpetrated by pollsters and demagogues. Not only are there very few issues that engage the entire adult population of a country, but in our framework, publics can form across national boundaries, and in places that don’t yet have stable democratic governments. For example, online censorship is an issue that mobilizes a discrete but impassioned group of people around the world. The Global Voices Access Denied Map is an example of public media 2.0 dealing with that issue. Here’s how they describe it:

The Access Denied Map will lead interested readers to content that enables them to support anti-censorship movements and keeps readers abreast of the filtering situation in various parts of the world. It will also facilitate collaboration between activists, allowing them to find each other, share tactics and strategies and experiences.

So, public media 2.0 definitely applies to niche audiences and social networks. In our definition, we privilege debate over partisanship. The idea isn’t to make media that attracts a group of like-minded users around an issue or a figure–what you note as “pools” or “hubss” in the terminology of Lara Lee from Jump Associates. It’s to offer up high-quality content around an issue and provide contexts/platforms that allow people to grapple with it.

A public is also distinct from a “community,” which might form casually through physical proximity or shared interests. Publics can rise out of communities, but are more pointed.

Your report defines public media around primarily political and civic functions, yet public broadcasting has tended to define its mission much more around cultural programming–in part because of the ideological climate around its funding process. Does the new media environment free media producers to embrace a more explicitly

political mission?

Right now what we’re terming public media 2.0 is in its “first two minutes”–many projects are taking place outside of the context of federally funded outlets or production companies, which means they can be as political as is appropriate to the issues being tackled. In the future, separating the funding and production of content from that of online engagement will help to heat-shield public media 2.0 from political attacks. If publics themselves are producing, curating and discussing content, it’s harder to unilaterally dismiss them as biased or hegemonic. Individual discussions and projects might draw fire from partisans, but the idea is to create contexts and platforms that allow users from across the political spectrum to access and engage with reliable information. The result will be more wide-ranging, honest and authentic interactions. Of course, there will be flame wars, commercial incursions, and propaganda in the mix. But those existed in the analog world too. We’re still early in the process of negotiating new standards and rules for open media, but we’ll get there.

A range of explicit policies will be needed to support public media 2.0. These range from infrastructure policies (net neutrality, universal broadband access), to support for content (via taxpayer funding and tax incentives), to copyright reforms (for instance,

making it easier to use copyrighted works when you can’t find the author, or orphan works) and copyright education (for instance around the utility of fair use), and support for public engagement and media literacy.

Some forms of public media have historically been paternalistic– giving people what they think is good for them rather than commercial culture’s desire to give people who they desire. There are all kinds of problems for this framing, but in so far as this stereotype has some truth, how do we shift this mindset to embrace much greater public participation in framing issues and shaping content? Are most of the current public media producers ready to embrace the kind of relationship to the public you describe here?

We’re seeing all kinds of interesting experiments within traditional public broadcasting, many of which we document in our white paper. There is also a long-running strain of participatory media in public media, as embodied in projects like StoryCorps or This I Believe. Sharing significant cultural and social experiences, crafting personal narratives, capturing reality in all of its bumpy, quirky texture– these are all impulses intrinsic to oral history and documentary, practices central to legacy public media. The difference now is that people can participate directly in producing public media 2.0.

Jessica Clark is the research director of the Center for Social Media at American University, where she heads up the Future of Public Media project. She is currently working on a book about the evolution of the progressive media sector with Tracy Van Slyke of The Media Consortium. Together they edit a related blog, Build the Echo. She is also the editor-at-large for In These Times, an award-winning monthly magazine of progressive news, analysis and cultural reporting.

Where Citizens Gather: An Interview with The Future of Public Media Project’s Jessica Clark (Part One)

Amidst all of the dire talk these days about the fate of the American newspaper, the Center for Social Media at American University has issued an important white paper exploring the future of public media more generally. When most of us think about “public media” these days, we are most likely to be talking about Public Broadcasting, where the Public refers as much to Public Funding as it refers to any conception of the Public Sphere. The report, Public Media 2.0, embraces the affordances and practices of an era of participatory culture and social networks to identify strategies for public media which emphasize its capacity to attract and mobilize publics. This reframing of the issues shows ways that we can expand who produces and who consumes public media, taking advantage of new stakeholders — independent media producers, engaged online communities — who have not always felt well served by the increasingly conservative fair on offer from public broadcasting.

After several decades of getting caught in the crossfire of culture war politics, PBS and NPR sometimes seem a bit gun shy. The new report suggests ways that we can use emerging technologies and practices to enable a more rigorous discussion of public policy, one which bridges across generational gaps and racial divides a like. Public Media 2.0 imagines ways that civic discussions can engage people like my students who are much more likely to seek out information via The Daily Show than Washington Week in Review.

My hope is that this report will spark informed discussion across a range of different publics and in that spirit, I am presenting over the next two installments an interview with Jessica Clark, the director of the Future of Public Media Project and one of the two primary authors (along with Pat Aufderheide) of the report.

Can you share your definition of Public Media 2.0? How does it differ from what you are calling “legacy media”? What are the biggest factors shaping this change?

“Legacy media” is top-down, one-to-many media: print, television, radio, even static web pages. We’re advancing a more dynamic, relevant definition of public media–one that’s participatory, focused on informing and mobilizing publics around shared issues.

“Publics” can be a slippery term: we don’t simply mean audiences, or the general populace (i.e. “the public interest”). Instead, it’s a term based on the work of theorists like John Dewey and JÃrgen Habermas, who suggest that media are intrinsic to democracy itself. Publics are what keep the powers-that-be accountable–government, corporate or other–by investigating them, discussing them, and deliberating about how to deal with them. Publics are networks of people–often ad hoc, sometimes organized–with a shared civic purpose. Media content, tools and platforms are needed for publics to form, because face-to-face communication is too inefficient–especially now that we all operate within a global economy.

Typically, legacy public media have been contained in noncommercial zones within the commercially defined media system: public broadcasting, cable access, satellite TV set-asides. But in our white paper, we note, “The open digital environment holds out the promise of a new framework for creating and supporting public media–one that prioritizes the creation of publics, moving beyond representation and into direct participation.This is the kind of media that political philosophers have longed for.” In other words, Web 2.0 platforms are fantastic vehicles for democratic communication and action. Voila: public media 2.0.

If you think of public broadcasting as the Pachelbel canon (again), Wayne’s World and Antiques Road Show, then the concept of public media as an active process of forming, informing and organizing publics may seem like a completely different animal. But really, our definition isn’t that far from the original goals for public broadcasting.

When he signed the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967, Lyndon Johnson said “At its best, public television would help make our Nation a replica of the old Greek marketplace, where public affairs took place in view of all the citizens.” We’re seeing glimmers of that with the promises that the new administration has made about government transparency, but also in the work that bloggers and open government activists do to haul controversial documents out into the open and debate them online. (See the Sunlight Labs for examples).

Johnson also said “I think we must consider new ways to build a great network for knowledge–not just a broadcast system, but one that employs every means of sending and storing information that the individual can use.” We’ve got that capacity now, and are continually adding both old and new content. The challenge is making sure that

citizens can retain access to that network, and learn how to use it creatively and responsibly.

What lessons can we take from the 2008 election in terms of understanding the public’s desire for new forms of information and new modes of participation?

This election demonstrated both the power and the appeal of participatory, digital communication. A campaign is a very instrumental way to use Web 2.0 technology. Its goals are simple–get users to identify with the candidate, pony up cash, and turn out voters. Having such focused goals makes it easier to measure outcomes: dollars raised, districts won. But the campaign’s outreach strategy had a qualitative impact too: an increased sense of hope and connection that’s still translating now into widespread trust that Barack Obama can get us out of the fix we’re in. For a number of reasons, Obama is very easy for people to relate to–he’s equable, not entirely white or black, Midwestern (recently at least), he doesn’t come from a privileged background, he’s got a family that he clearly loves, and a sense of humor. But what’s more, Web 2.0 tools allowed voters to relate to one another. Participatory platforms facilitate identification; as Kurt Vonnegut noted, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’ ”

Public media 2.0 will allow for even richer, more complex interactions around a variety of issues and events–from the financial crisis to environmental issues to gay marriage and well beyond. Users are already crazy about participatory platforms–in the white paper we identify five rising habits around media: choice, curation, conversation, collaboration and creation. Applying those habits to the issues that they care about creates new possibilities for connection, coproduction and investigation. My hope is that the election served as training wheels; that we’ll all learn to go faster and farther with participatory practices.

Under the Bush administration, several FCC chairmen have argued that the diversification of the media environment has rendered many traditional notions of public service media obsolete. Why do we need PBS when we have the History Channel, Discovery Channel, BBC America, Nickelodeon, etc? You seem to be making the case, though, that there are urgent needs for public media in this new media environment. How might you counter the diversity and plenitude arguments? What functions should public media play in this era of exploding media options?

The primary goal for public media should be to support the formation of publics around issues. Given the radically disruptive ways our familiar economic and information regimes are shifting, it’s more important than ever that people have reliable sources for learning, communicating and innovating around shared problems. Traditional forms of public media–educational content, journalism, documentary films, current affairs commentary, performing arts–can all play a role in this process, whether they are produced by commercial or noncommercial outlets.

Scarcity of information is no longer the central problem. The pressing need now is for content and contexts that allow users to make sense of the multiple inputs. High-quality public media 2.0 projects set standards that make it clear where information is coming from, provide contexts for users to engage in civil discourse, and connect users with other relevant sources. They engage users directly in issues via interaction, problem solving, creation and imagination. Take World Without Oil, a multiplayer alternative reality game produced by the Independent Television Service (ITVS) that attracted almost 2,000 gamers from 40-plus countries. This is an example of the hybrid nature of public 2.0, in which content moves fluidly across noncommercial and commercial sites, across boundaries of professional and amateur producers, and from online to off. Participants submitted reactions to an eight-month energy crisis via privately owned social media sites, such as YouTube and Flickr–and made corresponding real-life changes, chronicled at the WWO Lives blog. As it turns out, many of the real-world reactions to the spike in oil prices mirrored the in-game reactions.

Wikipedia provides another model for public media 2.0. It sets a context for interaction–a familiar form, the encyclopedia article. It sets standards for participation–the “neutral point of view” policy, which states “All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.” Within those parameters, users debate the truths about contested issues. In the white paper, we write about the furor that erupted around Sarah Palin’s entry when it was announced that she’d be John McCain’s running mate. Someone involved with the campaign made a number of flattering changes to the Palin entry, and then others came in to correct them, setting off a firestorm of editing. In the past, this sort of debate would have been mediated by reporters and pundits. In this instance, it was hashed out by Wikipedia users directly, creating a coherent, crowdsourced entry and forming a public in the process.

What’s the government’s role in ensuring that public media 2.0 can continue to evolve and flourish? We argue that there are two clear needs: support for content, and national coordination that will ensure stable, robust platforms for engagement around media. This doesn’t mean that there will be some Big Brother overseeing users’ conversations around issues, or that the national platform will be controlled from inside the Beltway. What it means is that we can’t depend on commercial sites like YouTube and Twitter to indefinitely provide platforms for public engagement. We see the current system of public broadcasting stations as a possible scaffolding for a national network that has deep local roots and inputs from a variety of media sources outside of traditional public broadcasting, including citizen media makers. But they would need to transform their agenda, which currently is focused on delivering a broadcasting signal filled mostly with syndicated content, into an agenda focused on engaging people where they live, work and meet around issues of public importance. Decoupling content creation from engagement gives publics more power to dynamically form around issues that they identify as important, rather than being forced to respond to the agendas set by reporters, editors and newsmakers. We think this will help to increase the diversity of content and conversations, and to make public media 2.0 vital.

Much research suggests that there’s an age gap in terms of who consumes current public media (skewing older and older) but also in terms of who participates in the online world (skews younger). How might Public Media 2.0 be used to close the gap between these two demographics?

Younger people are already creating many forms of public media 2.0– they just don’t call it that yet. We’re hoping that giving this constellation of practices a name and a focus will help to create pipelines, networks and hubs for future generations of public media makers. One good example of this is the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), which provides an interface between independent and citizen radio producers and traditional public stations. They recently convinced the FCC that the public deserved a stake in satellite radio, given the merger of XM and Sirius. Now, PRX is starting to program a 24-hour satellite channel with content that moves well beyond the stereotypical NPR sound that many of us have grown up with and often like to mock. (See the NPR Dancers).


Another recent project that provides a segue between the old and new media worlds is, a project of the National Black Programming Consortium, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “Mojoco” is a short name for “Mobile Journalism Collective,” and the project is designed to provide resources, tools and coproduction opportunities for “Mojos” interested in making new forms of public media.

Add these sorts of projects–explicitly tied to legacy public media forms–to the new kinds of content being created by citizen makers such as those working with The Uptake, Global Voices or Current. Each of these media projects has produced content that made its way onto legacy print or broadcast platforms. Soon these distinctions will become meaningless, as more and more viewers of all generations are consuming converged content on mobile devices. Public media 2.0 will be one of the many choices a media consumer has, and will become particularly relevant in times of crisis, or moments of local/national/ global decisionmaking.

Jessica Clark is the research director of the Center for Social Media at American University, where she heads up the Future of Public Media project. She is currently working on a book about the evolution of the progressive media sector with Tracy Van Slyke of The Media Consortium. Together they edit a related blog, Build the Echo. She is also the editor-at-large for In These Times, an award-winning monthly magazine of progressive news, analysis and cultural reporting.

History and Fan Studies: Barbara Ryan and Daniel Cavicchi (Part Two)

DC: We’ve really been focusing on method, here, haven’t we? I wonder if we might turn a bit toward the subject of fan history and what we might say about its timeline and function in American culture, something that you raised at the beginning of this discussion. I’m obviously focusing on fandom around music and you are focusing on fandom around literature –are we talking about the same thing?

I am most interested in whether the changing practices of and discourses around music audiences somehow correspond (in terms of chronology or sequence or content) with histories of audiencing other realms of culture: literature, theater sports, and film. What kind of “narrative arc” might you suggest for a history of fans in the U.S. and how do your letter-writers fit into that?

For me, the music loving points to the commodification of leisure in 19th century cities and people’s attempts to figure out exactly how to consume musical experience and the powerful emotions such consumption sustained. One common move was to borrow practices and ideas from the “adjacent” cultural world of organized religion. Otherwise, there was an intense measurement of music’s psychological effects and, socially, a vying for control over definitions of acceptable cultural participation. This origin history challenges the idea that music fandom appeared around the time of the phonograph and radio in the early 20th century (espoused by Fred & Judy Vermoral, for example) and were an outgrowth of diffuse and private consumption practices afforded by mass media. I can work this out in greater detail for you, of course, but it suggests, for me, new possibilities for understanding fandom as a wider cultural phenomenon.

BR: A study of one fan – interesting idea. It makes me think of Lynne Pearce’s book on her most avid reading experiences; in it, she makes explicit comparison to her football fandom. It would be very worthwhile to head back a few more generations and see what historical sources could reveal about just one fan. This could reveal a lot about social permissions and pressures, as well as media new and newfangled at a given time.

It’s in these areas I would probably expect to see correspondences between different sorts of fandoms, as broad forces of, say, enthusiasm, emerged and were “handled” in ways that might well fall into discernible patterns. We should talk more about this in 12 months or so!

Regarding mediation, I’m interested as a student of fan mail in how the U.S. post had developed in ways not seen in other countries, at that time. But I’m intrigued too by the possibility that the phonograph had impact on novel-reading insofar as it opened up new imaginative space relevant to the kind of reading that’s so engrossing people speak of being “lost in a book.” I’m thinking as well about media of the day such as magic-lantern shows, panoramas and tableaux vivants.

I have to add, though, that the issue of representation is really fraught in my project insofar as the focus of the debate around Ben-Hur, when it was new, was appropriate address of the Bible understood as God’s perfect and sufficient Word. This specificity makes religion not an adjacent cultural world, for my fans and their detractors; instead, it’s a huge and vital part of the Ben-Hur event. At the same time, this makes Ben-Hur a rich source of controversy about art understood as what an anti-Romantic called “spilt religion.”

The issue, for those who haven’t read Ben-Hur, is that the heftiest slice of its shock-value, back in the day, wasn’t the chariot-race or the male-male love-turned-to-hate relationship implied by the Gore Vidal script for the Charlton Heston film. Rather it was that Jesus of Nazareth shows up as a character in a romance, that being the gaudiest and least esteemed of “serious” prose genres, at that time. This character only gets a few walk-ons. But some said he was the real hero of Ben-Hur because he’s shown preaching, healing and finally being crucified, and those activities collude to save the titular hero from a bad end.

Who decides what sort of end is good or bad, what you want to say about Judah Ben-Hur’s bloody revenge before he turns to Jesus’s creed . . . struggles over these things are still ongoing. Summatively, fiction that can be misprised as a Bible supplement carries a heavy load.

How does this relate to your questions? The first point I’m making is that religious precepts, more than religious rhetoric or permissions, are right in there, integral to every judgment (and quip) about Ben-Hur. Does this make it tricky to work with fans’ effusions? You bet. But it points up the merits of Colin Campbell’s account of how Puritan fervor evolved over two centuries into self-congratulatory consumerism. That’s not too far from commodifications of leisure. But with Campbell as a guide, I’d start my narrative arc at the Protestant push for universal vernacular literacy.

The second point I’m making is that in the Western world, at least, there’s never been a piece of music that carried the cultural weight of the Bible. Lots of religious music, obviously, and some that’s held sacred. But people who engage music can’t hold up any one piece of music, or music in general, as the perfect and sufficient revealed music of God.

Here again, therefore, I would say we’re working on different things, though now I believe the issue is different valences I’m too close to my research, and approach, to be sure how its valences might carry over, or be inherited from elsewhere. But talking to you has brought my attention more firmly to the music critic John Dwight as one of the first non-ministerial pundits, on the U.S. scene, to try to attain arts authority. I like this term better than “cultural authority” because it’s more precise but also because when one works in the arts, or their histories, it can feel near-impossible to figure out what “culture” means, in a given sentence. Having mentioned Dwight, I’ll add that Adam Max Tuchinsky’s article on Transcendentalism made that group more coherent to me than they ever were before; his emphasis on jousting for power is relevant to the taste-shapers I study later in the 19th century and perhaps to your project, too.

Power-jousts structured my sense of my project, at the start. But a lot of that has given way to medial interests that foreground the citizen audience. This phrase really sings for me; it’s got me gearing up to argue, for instance, that in a civic register, Ben-Hur has claims on the tag, Great American Novel. This idea circles me back, though, to wonder if Hermes is vaguely pluralist; for instance, with all she says about citizenship, she doesn’t articulate a theory of the state. The reason I worry about vague pluralism is that that was the move of the critics who denied any political efficacy to their emphasis on good taste. These critics were later tagged “genteel.” But that’s only half the story because for scholars like Ian Hunter and Toby Miller, they were the “temperers” of the well-tempered self who structured citizenship via subjectivity.

Through, again, talking with you, I’ve been wondering if one of those critics’ main initiatives was an aggregation of things that had been disparate under a new catch-word, fan. What was aggregated? Top of my head: avidities that went under names like bibliomania, dog (or horse) fancier, Bovarisme and quixotry, a person thought “mad” for certain sports or entertainments, fop and dandy, the wheeling craze, curio hunters, maybe even card sharks and bluestockings. These are, generally, labels that highlight engagement run amok. Not necessarily the same thing as aberrant audiencing, but intriguingly close, I’d say.

Not so incidentally, religious terms crop up in here so that along with gambling “hells” and speed “demons,” we hear of autograph “fiends.” I’m surmising that the reason the word fan was pasted onto all this ca. 1900 is that the genteel critics helped put a premium on the tempered citizen-subject as a subject for capitalist purposes of production, consumption and what Richard Ohmann calls the professional-managerial class. If so, that’s additional reason to study quite critically what Fredric Jameson called “Reader’s Digest culture” in terms of its capacity to aggregate groups big enough to raise the spectre of mobs, hordes and throngs.

The “tempering” project gets underway, as I see it, right after the Civil War, with help from people like John Dwight’s one-time boss, George Ripley. Having said that, though, I revive my stand that media plays a role in fandoms, offering two reasons. First, books and newspapers had unmatched capacity to at least try to “mark” consumer/receiver positions as wholesome or wrongheaded, respectworthy or perilous. Second, efforts to mark in that way provided repeated stimuli as, of course, did reports of a concert or a race, a boxing match or a new book by a well-liked poet.

I think repeated stimulus is a central part of fandom, as I understand it. Stimulus can come from realms other than media if, say, a fan starts losing interest in her home-team until they hire a new forward and her enthusiasm revives. Media works quite hard, though, to stimulate new or ongoing interest, and so, I hold, to foster fandom. I don’t want to bear down on this too hard because I can think of pre-media enthusiasms I’d be unwilling to characterize as fandoms: medieval bear-baiting, maybe.

The theoretical issue is whether fandom is possible in isolation: if it’s a learned behavior or something intrinsically human. You see nudges in the second direction in some of the psychoanalytical analyses of fandom. By emphasizing media, I head away from them on the rule-of-thumb that many people don’t become fans. I think this also helps me talk about how fandom is not the same as love, though they can share attributes. You’ve said you see less in media. But speaking of “marking,” have you worked it back into your schema? Or maybe not; do tell; I need a rest!

DC: While we are both working on historical fandom, I think you are correct in saying that we do have different “valences,” which I take to mean different clusters of cohering ideas. (I’m a little rusty in some of my critical theory terms and never really got a hold of this one!). You’re circling a particular work, while I’m looking at the development of a behavior; you’re interested in the dynamics of power and citizenship, while I’m more focused on the traces of specific individuals’ experiential realities. [My generalizations may be off, here, I know–let me know!] At least in terms of fan history, however, I think you touch on a number of important overlapping areas of inquiry, even if we come at them in different ways. All have to do with the identifying some of the key forces involved in the emergence of “fandom” in the changing contexts of the American 19th century.

First, religion. I understand now how religion operates differently among the readership of Ben-Hur than with antebellum music lovers. While I’ve been thinking about religion as a separate but important source for discourse about music loving, your readers are wrestling directly with the religious implications of Ben-Hur. In talking to you, I have realized how much I have relied on my previous parsing of the religious and the non-religious among Springsteen fans in order to make sense of the world of antebellum music lovers, something that I need to seriously question. Overall, I think I still need to come to grips with the role of religion in everyday life in the 19th century, especially among the specific audience members I’ve been investigating.

I’ve done a lot of thinking and exploring of the ways in which the behaviors of Protestant church-going directly intersected and shaped people’s concert-going, building on work like Jean Kilde’s When Church Become Theater. But I’ve only begun to explore the relationship between the “self” and the development of capitalism through works like Colin Campbell’s The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and R. Laurence Moore’s Selling God. A recent book review essay in American Quarterly, by Paul Pfister, about several books on “emotional capitalism,” was one of the most exciting things I’ve read in a long time, simply because it has pointed me in fruitful directions for making better sense of how selfhood, religion, music, and consumption formed a new ecology of musicking in the 1850s.

Second, “jousting for power” and the role of “taste-shapers.” You have thought far more deeply about this than I have. I’ve only wrestled in a limited way with the classic accounts of “the sacralization of culture” in Lawrence Levine’s Highbrow/Lowbrow and John Kasson’s Rudeness and Civility. In this project, I’ve been sympathetic to some of the critiques of their histories, by scholars like Nancy Newman, who wrote in a Ph.D. dissertation that asserted that his timeline of class separation was accurate for theater but not music; or William Weber, who wrote in Music and the Middle Class that “histories of Victorian society have taken the moralists of the time a great deal too seriously, simply because they were so vocal and articulate;” or Ralph P. Locke, who questioned Levine’s dismissive attitude toward figures like John S. Dwight and marginalization of the role of amateur women patrons.

A lot of the discussion of power-jousts around music audiences actually revolves around the issue of silence, which is most interesting (especially with regard to religion) and whose meanings, I think, are sometimes a bit over-simplified as refined/not refined. At any rate, while interpretations about the “disciplining of spectatorship” accurately outline a significant shift in the social discourse of music listening in the nineteenth century, I would argue that important experiential details are lost in characterizing the shift as primarily from social heterogeneity to homogeneity, or from active to passive appreciation. It’s a delicate argument to make, but again, it’s one that makes sense from my “experience-near” perspective.

The last force we are both exploring is “the media” and its role in fandom. I very much like your characterization of the “new imaginative space” created by the phonograph and other media. However, I am hesitant to move in the direction of technology-determining-behavior. I’m not sure why, and I’m hoping it’s not just knee-jerk humanism. I have to admit that much of my work on fandom has worked against the notion of “media manipulation,” which I’ve always seen as a bit too reductive, both on the positive side (opening up new ways of doing things) and the negative side (forcing people to act or think in prescribed ways). Jonathan Sterne wrote a marvelous book in 2003 called The Audible Past in which he explored the various ways in which shifts in ideology and behavior in the 19th century made the invention of the phonograph (and recording in general) possible in the first place.

You cite the ways in which books and newspapers marked audience positions as desirable or not desirable, which I think is true. But I think they were tools not necessarily sources. Likewise, I’m less inclined to see the media as a source for the repeated stimulation found in fandom and more as an enhancement, or fulfillment, of people’s already existing need for repeated stimulation. I’m coming from a different body of evidence, of course: In some of the early diaries I’ve read (1840-1850), the writers, having just had an intense experience of music, yearn to repeat that one-time event to the extent that they re-create events in their own words so that they can re-live them and linger over them again and again through reading. That is a form of mediation, I suppose. But it happens before the impact of commercial, mass media in the music world.

This is not to dismiss the role of, say, newspapers: very quickly, by the 1860s, music magazines and newspapers start to cover concerts and profile “star” performers, and scrap-booking takes over. Commercial sheet music, too, which was initially linked to specific concert events and given out by performers to audiences as souvenirs, come to serve the desire for repetition. At any rate, while the media provided new, convenient opportunities for repetition, there are desires and needs at work that makes those opportunities possible in the first place. I’m not sure that downplaying the primacy of media necessarily makes fandom intrinsically human or a kind of psychological universal, however–it may be instead that fandom is a mode of engagement and understanding that develops in response to a host of equally-important social and ideological shifts in the “enlightened,” capitalistic, modern world: growing markets, ideologies of consumption, urban anonymity and the rise of individualism, etc.

In the end, I wonder if part of the problem of trying to come up with a comparative history of fandom is that “fandom” may not be a coherent historical phenomenon. As you suggest, fandom may indeed emerge in the genteel aggregation of diverse avidities in the second-half of the 19th century. If so, the legitimacy of the study of “fandom” as a single phenomenon is something to think long and hard about. The upshot may be that a history of fandom may not be about identifying homologous practices of “audiencing” but rather about the social and political processes that constructed that homology. Perhaps, though, there is room for both lines of inquiry. I am interested less in ideological apparatuses and power-jousts than in what might be called a “phenomenology of avidity.” I’m guessing you may have different interests. Yet, here we are, conversing!


BR: Yes, exactly: conversing is possible and, happily, it’s proved most edifying to me. I hope anyone who reads through our back-and-forth has been edified, too. But at the very least, I’ve learned a lot from your input.

First and foremost, our converse has helped me sharpen my focus. Too, it’s increased my sense of the analytical premises I’ve been relying on, and given me a sense of their research limits. Third, I’m persuaded that we’re working in proximate but not overlapping areas that probably reflect training as much as interests, and of course tool-sets.

What you’ve just said, for instance, reveals to me certain “lit” antecedents that I want to both honor and struggle against. One of the ways I do that is, actually, to try to hear silences. But I think from what you’ve said that I will want to think again and more about media and mediation. I share your concern about techno-determinist pitfalls. That’s kind of vexed, though, in terms of media’s fully and necessarily human origins . . . about which I also need to think more. Which leaves me semi-certain that together we’ve sketched about 10 more years of work in which projects like ours will supply bricks and straw, from which others build narratives about the social and political processes embedded in homologies we’ve begun to uncover. Though maybe I should just speak for myself there!

On that note, I’m ready to head back to writing. It’s been much fun, and very fruitful, conversing with you. Thanks for recommending several books I will now go read and for prodding me to take up positions on a few key gnarls. Would you like to sign us off with a final word?

DC: “Likewise” about sums it up for me, Barbara! It’s been an immense pleasure learning about your research, thinking with you about our respective approaches, and, as you said, exploring our analytical premises.

I really enjoy dialogue like this. Study in the humanities too often emphasizes individual ownership of ideas (“What is the topic of your research?”), since that’s really the only meaningful capital people have in hiring and promotion. You can see this emphasis clearly in the form of published writing that has the most weight and recognition for tenure committees: the single-authored essay or book.

I know we’re not going to change the world, here, but I’m glad that we’ve had the opportunity to do something a little different. Wouldn’t it be great if we could develop, more fully and meaningfully, new forms of dialogic narrative in academic research and writing? Perhaps the internet gives us a new tool for doing so. At any rate, I would like to thank Henry for generously providing a space for our conversation.

BR: Me, too: Henry, thank you so much.

History and Fan Studies: A Conversation Between Barbara Ryan and Daniel Cavicchi (Part One)

A little over a year ago, this blog hosted an extended series of conversations between male and female academics doing work around fan studies, cult media, transmedia storytelling, and related topics. The exchanges have become a repository for contemporary work in these areas, a place I regularly send people looking for speakers on panels, contributors to books, or simply resources to support their own research projects. Whatever did or did not get resolved in the space of gender politics, the conversations have helped to promote fan studies more generally. With that in mind, I remain open to further conversations involving researchers who were not featured during the last round but who have interesting things to say to each other.

BARBARA RYAN, of the National University of Singapore, is working on a book about the Ben-Hur event. She invited DANIEL CAVICCHI of the Rhode Island School of Design to discuss some of the issues involved in pushing fan studies back into the 19th century. She got in touch with Dan because of his work on 19th-century U.S. music fans.

BR: Dan, we might begin by mapping our respective routes to this conversation. I think of you as a fan studies scholar who decided to go back in time, while I think of myself as an historian of reading who is trying to learn from fan scholarship. Your first book, on Bruce Springsteen, includes extraordinary conversations with present-day fans. So that’s a sociological approach — if I can just say this in a simple way. Too simple? Anyway, my first book analyzes 19th-century print culture that tried to emphasize how that print was put to use. Something of a reception study, then, but a social history, too. Now, here we are looking at 19th-century U.S. fans, yours being fans of music and mine being fans of Ben-Hur. Is this a new line of inquiry or one we’re joining, in progress?

One could say, I guess, that some histories of fandom already exist, that go back as far as we’re trying to go. But I see big differences between fan scholarship and even excellent histories of, say, the Astor Place Riot of 1849 or demotic activity in and around Helen Jewett’s murder and the trial of her alleged killer, somewhat earlier. We needn’t get stuck on specific examples – except maybe to identify some great histories. The point I’m making is that in those histories, I’m aware of not getting a good sense of what was true, or vital, for people who made up the Astor Place mob, or who wore “Robinson caps” to show their support for the clerk accused of murdering Jewett. Obviously, you can’t expect full documentation from all participants when you go back that far. And you sure can’t do interviews! But the first consideration is: when it is, and when it isn’t, right to speak of fandom(s). One way to proceed could be to examine media’s role on the grounds that, ultimately, media creates fandom. Does it all come down then, if only in the U.S. setting, to steam-driven printing and cheaper paper, or/and to the profit motive that inspired what has been called “a riot of words” from about the 1840s?

DC: My initial interest in fandom was actually sparked by histories of reading, especially the work of Robert Darnton and Cathy Davidson. But you are correct to say that my primary approach to fandom until now has been rooted in the social sciences. My fieldwork with Springsteen fans, in particular, came out of my studies in ethnomusicology and anthropology in graduate school. After immersing myself in the theories of the cultural studies movement of the late 1980s/early 1990s, I wanted to recover what I thought cultural studies had erased: actual people. My historical study of music fans is similar. I’ve always loved cultural histories of audiences, but I’ve found that they often rely on journalistic sources. Given what I know about how contemporary journalism has distorted fan culture, I’m a little suspicious about journalistic accounts.

Instead, I’ve been trying do “historical anthropology,” searching for people’s own explanations and testimony about their fandom. It’s true that you can’t get full documentation and you can’t do interviews, but you can find amazingly resonant experiential fragments from untapped sources, like diaries and novels. I’m quite interested in exploring whether those sources might lead one to a fuller “emic” or “experience-near” understanding–as they say in anthropology–of audience passion for theater, literature, music, and other cultural forms. In this regard, I’ve been much inspired by books like Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes.

Beyond method, though, which is something we should discuss further, I think there remains a need to more fully historicize the subject of fandom, which will both help us think about its definition and its personal, social, and political functions. I think it is true that there are, already, histories of fan-like behavior, but they are not necessarily intended as such. What historians of fandom might bring to the historical study of popular culture (and events like the Astor Place Riot or the Columbian Exposition, etc.) is a re-interpretation of the evidence and the historical events through the prism of fan studies. Like any of the micro-histories that seem to be popular these days (the history of walking, the history of salt, etc.), “fandom” is a concept that, when used as a focus, might reveal new layers of meaning that were not evident before.

Still, the danger is revisionism–mapping “fandom” onto people and events in the past without justification or with gross distortion. As you note, the key problem in all of this is whether or not we can even speak of “fandom” before 1900, when the word started to gain currency in print as a description of a people or an attitude. It depends on how you define fandom, of course. The narrower or more historically-specific the definition, the less able one will be able to identify it in other contexts and time periods. The broader or general the definition, the less useful it becomes as a description of a distinct phenomenon.

I tend not to think of fandom in terms of “media,” actually, which is the luxury of someone who is not housed in a media or communications department. Instead, I tend to think of it as a degree of audiencing, a realm of marked cultural participation that is always relative to, and defined against, “normal” or unmarked cultural participation. These degrees of audiencing might manifest themselves in all sorts of ways in different historical and social contexts.

The “fandom” that scholars have studied thus far have had very much to do with mass-mediated forms of culture and have thus concerned modes of production and reception, commodification, the star system, the twists of encoding/decoding, etc. But I think there might be other modes of marked cultural participation–both in other cultures and in our own past–that might be legitimately brought into, or at least aligned with, “fan studies.” Are there behaviors and values that we might identify in, say, music lovers of the 1840s, Ben Hur readers at the turn of the century and contemporary Lost fans today? At the moment, what I see uniting those instances of audiencing has mostly to do with the commodification of culture, which depends on a radical–and sometimes playfully manipulative–reworking of the relationships between performer and audience.

BR: You speak of the functions of fandom, and the possibility that historicization will reveal new things about fans and their activities. That’s a motivation for my project, too. But the main thing I want to point out is that your word ‘marked’ will please many historians because in this field there’s much discomfort about having to read minds rather than looking to the documentary record. That said, the Springsteen book includes several vibrant discussions of your own fandom. I wonder if you feel you have a purchase on past fans and fandoms that reflects your experiences of being a Springsteen fan. Maybe more so when past fans or fandoms include music . . . or maybe not.

This raises a general question: is autoethnography still important when analysts move into historical fan studies? Could it help reveal, for instance, ‘marks’ on certain acts of cultural participation? This is on my mind because autoethnography isn’t the norm among historians. I don’t see it becoming a norm, either, due to the disciplinary freight on teasing out “how it really was then.” I’d like to see autoethnography make headway among historians because I’ve become aware of how it sometimes helps me figure things out. I tend to agree, though, with Nick Couldry that we don’t want autoethnography to become something every fan scholar must do, in print. I tend to agree because I read too much autoethnography — even from some of its proponents — that seems to me as uninformative as non-historians’ accounts of change over time.

One way I was thinking I might introduce positionality into my Ben-Hur project is to do some ruminating in sidebars. I’m playing with this in a current draft because I think it might materialize for readers outside fan studies how fan scholarship can develop a richer historical field. Some days, this feels crazed: where do I call a halt? Other days, it seems that’s the right way to feel about what it means to analyze something as big and amorphous as “culture.”

But back to your remarks. It’s interesting to hear that you turned to fan studies after reading Davidson and Darnton. They were helpful to me, too. But my first wake-ups came from books by Janice Radway and Barbara Herrnstein Smith. This will date me, but pop culture wasn’t taught in my graduate program in 19th-century U.S. literature. I mean, not even best-sellers like Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the grounds that they weren’t literature. In that setting, Reading the Romance was pretty thrilling for me. Smith’s Contingencies of Value is a different kind of project. But it did more than anything else to alert me to the value of historicizing . . . which is part of your project, too. I like your term “historical anthropologist.” You see my eagerness to talk about methods!

DC: I like the word “marked,” too! Though I must say that I was using it in the original Jakobsonian sense from linguistics, where it indicates the one side of a binary opposition that is aberrant and therefore significant. When we say “how tall are you?” instead of “how short are you?”, we weight the opposition of tall and short by making tall “unmarked” and short “marked.” That relational approach actually helps me understand fandom better than notions of “excess” or “resistance.” (I’m being totally pedantic, I know…you can imagine how my family suffers).

But you are right about “marks” and their importance. I certainly understand the concern with creating an empirical (not empiricist) understanding of the history of fandom. If fandom is about emotional attachment, something that is largely experiential and outside the realm of official institutions and documentation, what evidence would exist from the past to show that it was developing or even existed?

In the opening to his book, Making American Audiences, Richard Butsch recounts an abandoned project on “the change from music making to music listening associated with the dispersion of the phonograph & radio.” He admits, “After some preliminary explorations of dusty archives and old books, I concluded it would be difficult to document such private practices….” This is true, but I don’t agree that the private practices of audience history are totally lost.

Instead, I’ve found inspiration in newer approaches to history–the history of the senses, especially, as practiced by Mark M. Smith, Richard Cullen Rath, Emily Ann Thompson and others. Sensory history does what I want to do with audiences–it builds on the innovations of social history in the 1960s to recover a past that was long thought lost. These scholars use the close study of materials, tastes, landscapes, visual imagery, and sounds–combined with biological science and detailed contextual mapping–to articulate ordinary people’s sensations of the past.

Autoethnography is a part of this approach, though it isn’t called that. One of the useful things that Richard Cullen Rath did in How Early America Sounded, for example, was visit a colonial-era Quaker meeting house and analyze his own experience of the acoustics in the structure as a way to begin making sense of how colonial Quakers might have experienced it. I, too, have visited King’s Chapel in Boston for an afternoon organ concert in order to experience how the space might have resonated for 19th century music lovers.

Of course, there’s a danger in this: there is no guarantee that my experience of a church in 2007 will be at all the same as someone in the same space in 1842. In fact, most historians of sound would say that our cultural understanding of sound is so different, so changed, that any comparison would be suspect. However, at the same time, the wood, the paint, the instruments, and the acoustics are the same. And I have historical diary accounts from people enthusing about hearing music in that space. It’s a matter of taking one’s own experience and weighing it with that of someone else, using the materiality of the space and the human body as a sort of constant.

If anything, I really see my approach as that of an historical ethnographer. Historical fieldwork is a little weird, since the implication is that I am conducting observation and interviews with the dead, but in many ways I really do see that as being true. In my research in archives, I am encountering all sorts of people and experiences–through diaries, images, even personal objects–and trying to make sense of those encounters.

The encounters contain the familiar but at the same time there are unexpected things that I don’t understand: odd language or design, misplaced emphasis, or, as Robert Darnton pointed out in The Great Cat Massacre, jokes that aren’t funny. As an anthropologist tries to make sense of his or her accumulation of encounters with the unexpected in the field, I am trying to do the same in historical research and build some meaning out of the enterprise. The difference is that I can’t ask questions and receive answers; but I pursue questions and expect answers and, in general, value the paths opened up to me as I move from diary to diary, object to object. This is most definitely not traditional history, in that it sees the past as a “field” and derives meaning from the means, or process, of historical research rather than the ends. But I don’t know how else to do it.

In the end, I have to say that I never thought I was doing auto-ethnography in Tramps Like Us; I just thought I was being a reflexive ethnographer. There’s a difference: I’m sympathetic with the phenomenological premise behind the valuing of one’s own experience but it seems to me that that approach works best (and is tested) only in tandem with the examination of the experiences of others. How do you see auto-ethnography informing your understanding of Ben Hur readers? What’s the relationship between those sidebars and the text you are writing? In general, how do you approach making sense of the evidentiary fragments that inform your work–the letters from readers? How far can you go with that to create convincing or meaningful conclusions?

BR: On historical fieldwork, I remember when a friend in Classics expressed envy of my ability to go visit the home of a 20th-century writer who received fan mail. ‘You’re so lucky!’ he kept saying; ‘all I have is scraps of parchment and heaps of rubble.’ I recall this because I think there’s a point at which we can’t speak, even metaphorically, about doing fieldwork in the past.

We can do research but its basis is distinct; I do wonder how that relates to the sorts of things scholars will be able now or later to identify as fandoms. This is just a brain-teaser, really. But it was thought until quite recently that fan mail wasn’t a resource for historians of reading because so little has survived. When that turned out to be less true than had been assumed, the next objection was sampling: ok, this school said, now we have fan mail but it isn’t representative of all readers. The clearest statement of this position, that I know, isn’t at all aware of fan studies scholarship. But it wouldn’t be strange if the scholar who took this stand, as recently as 2008, looked at fan studies scholarship, found nothing there about fan mail, and therefore fell back on common sense that, as so often, is hard on the non-normative role – here, that of avid enthusiasts. I haven’t figured out why fan researchers who go to great lengths to find subjects to interview are so chary about fan mail. But I plan to do something about this oversight.

So that’s me on my soapbox. Where this gets us is “sources untapped” . . . to misquote you . . . that exist to be tapped because of two State-funded institutions. One is libraries that undertake the fairly expensive job of preserving authors’ papers but which do so under the lit history rubric of authors as artists. This institutionalization girds the idea, affirmed by the few historians of reading who examine fan mail, that this evidence of reception is best framed in terms of author-reader intimacy.

Backing up this affirmation is the other institution in the mix: the U.S. mail. I explore its impact with help from Friedrich Kittler’s sense of “the semi-media monopoly of the post.” Kittler is a controversial figure. But I think his radical historicization of media, during the period of most interest to me, helps nudge analysis of the Ben-Hur event toward art/civic topics probed by Couldry, Butsch, Joke Hermes and others.

Where, therefore, you’re looking to historians of the senses — a great initiative — I’m looking to fan and audience studies that discuss crowds and publics, cohesion and pop culture. As you’d expect, I contextualize the handful of letters saved by the author of Ben-Hur (or someone near him) by looking at clippings scrapbooks commissioned by him or his wife, news articles about Ben-Hur‘s value as literature, and 19th-century reports of its soaring sales.

I think of my project as step-by-step charting of an event/uality 20th-century critics were happy to telescope into a flat narrative: after critics dissed Ben-Hur, “ordinary” Americans cherished it to best-seller status. My research reveals that that isn’t sound chronicling. But we can’t see that unless we take fans’ letters seriously, probe them as thoroughly as we’d probe any other document, and pay close attention to each letter’s date. I use the term ‘event/uality’ to emphasize that there was nothing inevitable about Ben-Hur‘s success, understood as an arts enactment of democratic citizenship.

Where do sidebars fit in? In my Introduction, I’m trying out two. The longer summarizes Ben-Hur‘s plot because it’s been my experience that a lot of experts in 19th-century literature and culture haven’t read this fan favorite. Usually, books like mine offer plot-summary in the body-text. But I think a sidebar signals more forcefully that I’m not going to analyze Ben-Hur; I’m interested instead in how specially avid readers shaped its event.

The second sidebar will tackle my relationship to Ben-Hur. I want to be up-front that I didn’t read this book as a fan, or become a fan by reading it. But I want to clarify too that I’m embedded nonetheless in the Ben-Hur event as – I’ll argue – are all my readers, whether they’ve read Ben-Hur or not. Do you see how these sidebars lace into each other? I hope that that will make them operationalize, for more readers, a sense of the literary politics exposed in Contingencies of Value.

The other thing to say about sidebars is that they’ll give readers a chance to skip, or think about skipping, reflexive passages. Quite fun, isn’t it, to have this chance to swap thoughts about work in progress? Thanks, Henry!

You mentioned unfunny jokes; in my case, this could be a lexical leap in an archived fan letter, or an illustration on a product sold along with the stage-show of Ben-Hur. Findings of both sorts helped me dig deeper into event/uality in ways that helped me range more widely. The illustration, in particular, led me down unexpected pathways. It’s part of the reason, for instance, that just a few weeks ago, a book I’d picked up for leisure reading sprang into focus as more evidence of the global impact of the Ben-Hur event . . . which was, and remains, amazing to me: how far this novel reached, how many lives it touched – how many people it irritated! It was partly with a view to that amazement that I said earlier, where does research stop? But it’s more central to my interest in fan mail that researchers devise methods resistant to what Raymond Williams called “the long dominative mode.” It’s been exciting for me to explore media studies that challenge the premises of literary history, a discipline that found its footing by, among other things, shooting down Ben-Hur and all who liked it.

Do you find similar put-downs or posturing in your project? I think you end before Americans heard reports of women standing on their chairs at open-air concerts, to get closer to Wagner’s music. But you’re seeing, I’m sure, concern about over-avid or rawly untutored reactions to Lind, Bull, Paderewski and so on. What space do you make for anti-fans? Do you feel you need to present a ‘fair and balanced’ account of those days, or that it’s more valuable to focus on all that’s currently unknown about receptors ‘marked’ as lacking or aberrant?

DC: You raise many issues about evidence, here, Barbara, that are worth considering in fan studies. Of course, evidence has always been an issue in the discipline of history–from basic questions of origin and access to standards for evaluation and interpretation. It is generally true that physical traces of the past tend to disappear and become increasingly scattered as time goes on, making the process of piecing together a coherent understanding of past events and experience more and more difficult. That difficulty arises from the principle of accumulation, that one can make conclusions only when enough of the evidence warrants a claim. Worry about conclusions occurs when the evidence is “thin.”

However, debates in anthropology have taught me that what constitutes “enough evidence” is often defined by the subject being investigated. Not having enough evidence is often a problem when the goal is to build a general field theory about a past culture or time period; the generalization required at that level of analysis requires a great deal of support to be convincing. A solution to that problem, however, is to scale back and recognize that writing about a fragment, a very limited moment or experience, or even a single voice, can be as worthwhile in creating meaning. In my own work, I can spend months trying to learn as fully as I can about a single person I have encountered in archives–a young clerk and avid music listener trying to make his way in Philadelphia in 1849, the first winner of P.T. Barnum’s ticket auction for Jenny Lind’s 1850 concert in Boston, etc. At one point I contemplated writing a whole book about the latter! Would that have enabled me to still think through the emergence of music fandom in the United States? Yes, but in a very particular way that might prove unsatisfying to those looking for broader understandings of the sweep of culture and history.

I would emphasize in all this, though, that the one thing that fan studies has taught me is that while much evidence is lost, perhaps even more of it is ignored or overlooked, thanks to the politics of collective memory. In other words, there are traces of the past everywhere, if only someone were to interpret them as so. Maybe that’s too literary, or radically postmodern, for a lot of historians. There is something subversive about researching popular fandom at state and private archives like the American Antiquarian Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, or the Boston Athaeneum. When I did so, I was mis-using the sources in those places, which were collected and preserved as antiquities or aesthetic treasures, by elites who likely disapproved of the activities I was seeking to value. I should say that I was supported by a competitive fellowship at one of these institutions, so there was nothing really under-handed about doing fan research there, but at the same time, the institutionalized understanding of “history” that shapes research practices at such archives is not set up for a quirky, left-field mining of the collections.

In my case, none of the finding aids so carefully prepared by past curators and archivists were useful for locating materials related to music audiences, or listening, or passionate engagement. Instead, it was a matter of experimenting with lots of open-ended searching in diaries and ephemera. I also started systematically perusing sources catalogued for other histories (religious debates, women’s diaries, military history, etc.) and then reading them for what those sources might lend to a study of music loving.

It seems to me that your use of fan letters is similar: you are looking at something that has always existed but has been ignored by researchers or whose meaning has been narrowly prescribed by institutionalized frameworks of interpretation. As you suggest, by taking such letters seriously as historical documentation, we can see (or to be more accurate about it, create) a different history of Ben-Hur’s reception.

I do agree that my very focus on music lovers is a way to bring them into a musicology (and a culture) that has spent much time denigrating fan behavior and demoting practices of audiencing to secondary status. I seek to recover such behavior, quite simply, because it’s missing, and I think our understanding of American musical life suffers in its absence.

Does that lead me to avoid anti-fans in the research? Not really. The more work I’ve done on the emergence of music loving, the more I’ve learned that the binary opposition of fan and anti-fan is itself historical, developing in from the sacralization of high culture and the disciplining of public spectatorship described by Lawrence Levine, John Kasson, and others. After the turn of the century, you are either high or popular, good or bad, etc. In the antebellum period, the valuing of different kinds of audience participation is far more variable and complicated. “Music loving” could be exercised as a focus on the space of the concert hall and a focus on the “work;” an outer enthusiasm, a kind of communal sociability, and/or an internal intensity; and a means for circumventing, embracing, or strategically using the increasingly rigid frameworks of commercial entertainment. Preferred and less-preferred kinds of engagement are sorted out on an institutional and cultural level between 1850 and 1880, but the process is messy and confusing.

I’m not sure that I could focus only on marked receptors, if I tried, because the people I’m investigating are clearly working through the process of “marking” in the first place. In fact, I found myself seeing what I initially thought was elitist and dismissive “anti-fandom” (insisting on reverent silence in the concert hall, for example) as a complexly unfolding reform of previously established behaviors of passionate engagement. There is no doubt that in the context of urbanization and immigration in the mid-19th century that such revisions had ideological consequences that reinforced growing class divisions; I am less certain, however, that the motivations of the particular people who argued for such revisions were uniformly and/or simply about class prejudice. As in Tramps Like Us, I am wrestling a bit with the seeming contradictions of macro- and micro- interpretative frameworks.

I do have my own strategies in writing, of course. Your separating out, in sidebars, of the text of Ben-Hur and your own relationship to Ben-Hur from the event of Ben Hur is necessary for uninformed readers but also highlights the politics involved in your analysis. In my case, I am consciously resisting any privileging of “the work” in my analysis. In part, that absence is meant to re-orient (or perhaps disorient!) my readers so that they can think about music outside of the common frame of composer/text/performance that is so incredibly entrenched in both the academic study of music (musicology has never really experienced a postmodern crisis of definition) and in the music industry.

I am intensely uninterested in working out the lineages of styles or performers that typically occupy music history; instead my focus is resolutely on an alternative history of audience behaviors. I did go out and find some recordings of the operas that music lovers mentioned in their diaries, but I see such texts as only part of the many details that make up the event of reception.

In fact, initially, I prefer NOT knowing what symphony or song is being referenced by an auditor or an artifact–it makes it easier to avoid the work and focus solely on reception behaviors. It allows me, for a brief moment, to explore audiencing in a more open-ended way before my own musicological knowledge and associations narrow my thinking. That suspension of knowing also gets me psychologically closer to the “newness” of musical works that music lovers themselves were experiencing. Maybe it’s all pretend, but I find, at least, that experimenting with how I am positioned in my own processes of research and of writing can be worth while.


Home-Made Hollywood: An Interview With Clive Young (Part Two)

What role have science fiction conventions played in fostering this amateur film

culture? Why has fan cinema been slower to emerge around other genres?

Science Fiction conventions are often run on a shoestring budget, so amateur films constitute free programming; at the same time, sci-fi fans are often attracted to technology-oriented hobbies–like filmmaking. Put them together and it’s a tight fit. The modern pop culture and sci-fi conventions blossomed during the 1970s when 1960s sci-fi TV shows entered reruns, most famously Star Trek and Lost In Space. If you were a hobbyist filmmaker and you went to a convention, it was easy to see that a homemade sci-fi flick presenting new adventures of a beloved old franchise could find an appreciative audience at such an event.

Likewise–and I’m hardly the first to suggest this–men bond by ‘doing,’ so a group of male sci-fi fans getting together to explore their fandom through a group activity like filmmaking makes sense. Additionally, since many guys collect memorabilia as an expression of their fandom, a fan production provides a convenient way to rationalize some purchases: “Yes, Honey, I spent $700 on a Stormtrooper costume–but it’s for my fan film!”

What place does the female fan practice of “vidding” hold in your account of fan


To be honest, it’s barely present in my book, which is not to imply that Vidding is insignificant. Rather, it’s a very different art form, deserving its own in-depth exploration, such as the Vidding History project by the Organization of Transformative Works. I discussed Vids in passing a few times in the book, because to ignore them would be disingenuous; however, it would be presumptuous and insulting to that community for me as an outsider to attempt to tell Vidding’s story.

The fan remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark has generated much greater visibility than any other fan film in my memory. How typical is that production of fan filmmaking practice in general and what brought that film to such a high level of public consciousness?

There’s a lot of elements at play when it comes to the (relative) success of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. Primary among them is the fact that you can’t see the film. Despite the fact that it has gained a high profile, it isn’t readily available on the internet or home video; the only way to see it is to attend one of the scattered screenings held around the country each year by the filmmakers at non-profit cinemas and the like. By using the media to spread the word about the film–but not the film itself–the filmmakers have created a pent-up demand to see it…and fortunately, it is one of those rare cases where the movie actually beats audiences’ expectations.

As far as fan filmmaking practice goes, the level of work that went into Raiders was unprecedented up to that point. For three pre-teens in the 1980s to spend seven years shooting a movie without any parental help is unusual enough; once you throw in the fact that they recreated all the major set-pieces of the original–Indiana Jones being chased by a boulder, getting dragged under a truck, fighting in a bar that’s on fire, and so forth–it becomes astounding. Besides rooting for the kids–how are they going to pull off the next part?–I think many viewers relate to the film because everyone role-played as a child, whether it was “Cowboys & Indians,” “Superheroes” or something else. These kids elevated that experience to the next level by videotaping it. At the same time, the sheer scope of what they achieved is inspiring–they had an impossible, idyllic dream as 11-year-olds and tenaciously made it happen, despite overwhelming odds. That’s an experience anyone can get behind.

One of the things I talk about in Homemade Hollywood is how fan films are the offspring of scripted entertainment and Reality TV, and the Raiders adaptation is a great example of this, because you’re seeing familiar scripted characters enacted by regular people in real-world settings without the perfect Hollywood sheen. When you see 13-year-old Chris Strompolos as Indy, trying to outrun a 100-lb. boulder made out of fiberglass or hanging off the front of a rolling truck, the look of terror on his face is undeniably real. It’s a very analog, visceral experience to view the film and it sucks viewers in, because these days, that’s something you often can’t get from professional movies.

Ironically, Hollywood reacted to that analog, visceral experience by buying the life-rights to the filmmakers’ story in a six-figure deal that made the front page of Variety. In a few years, you can expect to find a professional tribute movie about their amateur tribute movie about yet another movie at your local multiplex.

How has the web reshaped amateur film production, publicity, and distribution?

The web has certainly become the lifeline of the fan film community and has affected all the aspects you listed. Before the mid-Nineties mainstreaming of the internet, there were plenty of fan filmmakers out there, but they weren’t aware of each other. In fact, the term “fan film” didn’t exist because no one realized that this was a filmmaking movement instead of merely a few isolated movies mentioned in the back pages of enthusiast magazines like CineMagic.

In terms of production, sure, amateur filmmakers use the internet for obvious things like buying costumes or equipment (or, in some cases, pirating editing and effects software), but now they can build a virtual crew as well. For instance, the 2005 fan film, Star Wars: Revelations, was an ambitious, 40-minute effort covered by all the major news channels and downloaded over a million times in its first 48 hours on the web. Part of the appeal was its eye-popping special effects, which were created by a volunteer team of CGI enthusiasts around the world that used the web to recruit artists, exchange files and compile the finished effect shots.

The internet also provides varied levels of distribution, from simple YouTube clips to over-the-top efforts like Revelations, which was available in a variety of forms, from iPod-friendly MP4 files to a Bit Torrent package that that could be burned to DVD-Rs to create a two-disc set–one for the movie and one for the behind-the-scenes extras, naturally.

As for publicity, websites and the blogosphere are certainly the main forum for spreading the word about fan films today, because a simple link will get your work seen. I run a daily fan film blog called, and I get everything from illiterate emails (“Dude, U rite on my movie?”) to professional-quality digital press kits. No press junkets or swag yet, but I can dream (just kidding). Like the films themselves, the publicity efforts range all over the map.

You describe a number of cases where studios have struggled with how to respond to fan films produced about their franchises. What factors have shaped their decisions in regard to fan cinema? How would you characterize the current perceptions in Hollywood towards fan films?

Hollywood has been fairly alarmed by them–and with good reason. While I’m an advocate of fan filmmaking, I think the studios are right to be concerned. If you owned a sleek Maserati and the 12-year-old next door took it for a joyride, you’d be furious even if it came through without a scratch. That’s something like what’s going on with the studios, because amateurs are basically hijacking these billion-dollar franchises and doing whatever they want with them.

Now, to be fair, 99.9 percent of all fan films are tributes in some form or another, they pose no real monetary threat to a studio’s franchise and they don’t impact the public consciousness when you compare the number of people who saw The Dark Knight last summer to 6,000 people watching Batman’s Bad Day on YouTube. Studios realize this and I think that fuels the current take on such flicks–that they’re relatively harmless. At the same time, going after fan filmmakers with IP lawsuits would be a waste of resources because they’d cost more than could be won, plus they’d be a PR nightmare similar to the travails that Warner Brothers experienced when it tried to shut down Harry Potter websites a few years ago.

On the other hand, the current state of things where most studios are looking the other way is going to end sooner or later. To make up an example, let’s say you make a $20,000 fan film where Superman goes crazy because of Kryptonite and starts graphically killing babies with his X-ray vision. If it’s a well-made film that grabs the eye of a cable news pundit on a slow news day, that could blow up into a serious problem and potentially damage the franchise.

A more likely scenario, however, is that studios will get involved with fan films simply because there’s money to be made, whether it’s through some form of licensing out characters to the filmmakers, or making the best flicks available on a studio-sanctioned X-Box channel for a buck apiece, or something else entirely.

Lucasfilm has taken an interesting approach to dealing with fan films with its annual Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge. The contest is used to reach out to the fanbase, it appears to show fans great largesse because George Lucas is “allowing” them to make fan tribute movies, and yet it gives Lucasfilm indirect control over what material goes into such flicks, because if you’re going to go through all the effort to make a Star Wars fan film, why wouldn’t you follow the content guidelines so that you could enter it in the contest?

As you note, far fewer women than men have been involved in the production of

original fan films. Why do you think this pattern has emerged and are there

signs that more women are producing fan movies now than in previous decades?

There are lots of theories about this out there–for instance, that women are more interested in characters’ internal lives–an aspect more easily explored through fan fiction–or the comment earlier that guys bond by ‘doing’ so they gravitate toward a group activity like film production.

I think one overlooked aspect is sheer momentum. Fan fiction took off in the 1960s and 70s with zines and quickly became an outlet for female fans. I suspect that since then, women looking to create new stories for a favorite franchise have looked at the fanfic community and said “That’s where my peers are; I guess I’m going in that direction.” It’s self-perpetuating at this point.

Of course, I’m not a female fan filmmaker and never will be, so I can’t speak from a place of authority. As a result, in Homemade Hollywood, I spent a chapter interviewing women filmmakers and a number of them spoke of women being uncomfortable with being in charge. One filmmaker who teaches film to girls noted that the idea of being a director never occurred to her students and when she suggested it, they couldn’t envision themselves in that position at all.

With all that in mind, I don’t see the current male-to-female amateur filmmaker ratio changing anytime soon. One thing I would like to see is more collaboration between the fanfic and fan film communities. Most fan films would benefit from better characterization and more fully rounded stories; who better to write them than fanfic authors? It’s happened in a few cases–most noticeably the aforementioned Star Wars: Revelations–and I think both sides of the equation could benefit from it.

In the case of Star Trek, we are seeing increased collaboration between fans and some of those involved in the commercial franchise itself, including actors,

script writers, and technicians. What are the implications of this kind of collaboration for the future of fan cinema?

There are a number of high-profile fan efforts with sophisticated production values now, most noticeably Star Trek: Phase II, a fan series which sports a $100,000 Enterprise bridge set. They’ve been known to feature Trek alumni such as George Takei (“Sulu”) and Walter Koenig (“Checkov”) recreating their original roles, and have had original series writers script and sometimes direct their episodes

Quasi-pro efforts like Phase IIdo point the way towards a number of possibilities for fan films in the future beyond obvious things, such as that they may prove to be a “farm league” for tomorrow’s professional casts and crews. For instance, fan productions may wind up being used by Hollywood to see if the time is right to bring back a shuttered franchise. Similarly, analyzing fan films based on properties that are still up-and-running may provide insight into what aspects resonate most with die-hard fans. Alternately, if fan films show a trend of including a specific characteristic not in the original–for example, many Star Trek fan films pointedly feature gay characters–they may provide insight into what would realign a troubled franchise with its fanbase.

And as noted before, studios are likely to eventually get involved with fan filmmakers simply because there’s money being left on the table under the current arrangement of pretending they’re not there. If fans are going to make an amateur production based on your IP, why not sell them a specialized set of rights, props, costumes, digital filmmaking “toolkits” customized to the franchise with trademark sounds, music and “greenscreenable” effects, and rent them space on a special website just for “official fan productions” based on your franchise? Once there are enough decent flicks, they can be repackaged as a TV special, a DVD, or some other product. There’s a lot of way studios and fans can work together in a symbiotic fashion that would benefit all parties.

Getting into bed with the studios works for fan films primarily because most filmmakers in the hobby daydream of breaking into Hollywood; such a model would be far less successful if applied to other media like fan fiction, where similar efforts have failed.

Also, another concern is that high-end, high-profile fan productions are a lot of fun to watch, but they can be intimidating to potential fan filmmakers–“Why should I bother if that’s what a fan film is supposed to be? I can’t do that.” Phase II, in particular, is far removed from the underground, “punk rock” aesthetic that has powered so many fan efforts throughout the years.

Ironically, that sheen of perfection is exactly what Hardware Wars parodied back in the 1970s, showing that a fan production didn’t have to be perfect–much less made with professional help–to be enjoyable. Perhaps things are coming full-circle and we need a new low-rent flick like Hardware Wars to burst that bubble again. Who knows?

Clive Young is an author/lecturer covering the crossroads between high tech and popular culture. He is the author of the first book about fan films, Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind The Camera (Continuum, 2008). He is also senior editor for Pro Sound News and has written for MTV,, American Songwriter and numerous other outlets; additionally, he is the author of Crank It Up, an exploration into the world of rock concert roadies. Young has lectured extensively on film and music at many universities, libraries and conventions, and lives in New York with his wife and daughter. Visit his website,, and his daily fan film blog,

Home-Made Hollywood: An Interview With Clive Young (Part One)

In the past few weeks, I’ve been struck again at the ways fandoms now often precede rather than follow the release of a major motion picture. (See my discussion in Convergence Culture of how a fan community grew up around Global Frequency — a television pilot which never reached the air.) Fan filmmakers may immediately begin responding to, remixing, critiquing, and spoofing a film largely on the basis of its trailer. This is especially true when the film is based on a text which already has a cult following in another medium. Consider these two examples of fan films produced in reaction to Watchmen, which I ended up sharing with students in my Film Experience class this past week.

Or consider this example, produced in response to the trailer for J.J. Abrams’s forthcoming Star Trek film which I ran across doing some spadework for a forthcoming talk looking at the evolution of Star Trek fan culture since the 1960s.

I devoted a chapter to Star Wars fan filmmakers in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. A while ago, I got contacted by Clive Young about doing an interview for a book he was doing on fan cinema. Late last year, his book, Home-Made Hollywood, appeared, offering a fascinating account which spans from a 1930s vintage amateur version of Our Gang through landmarks such as Hardware Wars and George Lucas in Love down to the present era when all kinds of fan films are surfacing on YouTube. The writing is lively; the storytelling engaging; and he’s done spade work which, in some cases, urgently needed to be done if these chapters of the history of participatory culture were going to be preserved for future generations. As someone who has been researching fan culture off and on for more than twenty years, I learned something on almost every page. Young’s blog continues to monitor new fan film productions as well as share other forgotten chapters of grassroots media making.

In the interview that follows, Young talks about the history of fan cinema, the politics of copyright regulation, and how fan film experiences shaped the development of a number of media industry professionals. Next time, he will dig deeper into the issue of why more fan parodies are made by men and how fan cinema relates to vidding, which he sees as a distinctive and separate tradition of fan media-making.

You begin the book with an acknowledgment of Hardware Wars, which you write “helped to inspire fans and non-pros to pick up a camera and pay tribute to their favorite movies.” How significant do you think its influence was in terms of paving the way for contemporary fan cinema?

I think it’s hard to overestimate the influence that Hardware Wars had in 1977, because it made a mark on so many different levels, introducing many of its impressionable, young Generation X viewers (the core Star Wars fanbase) to filmmaking, the possibility of exploring one’s own creativity, and much like Mad Magazine a generation earlier, the concept of parody.

Key to its influence is the fact that it had widespread distribution. While to this day it is perceived as an underground phenomenon, Hardware Wars has been seen by millions of people in theaters, on home video, cable TV and through the internet, and is the highest-grossing short film of all-time.

Since the film was made by professionals for profit, it is not actually a fan film, but it is often mistaken for an amateur effort because it had a very homemade look by design. While that cheap aesthetic was a huge part of the flick’s humor, in a time before “behind-the-scenes” DVD extras, it demystified filmmaking for its audience to some extent, because it focused on everyday objects, like a hubcap that was supposed to be the Death Star. These were things that anyone could find, and the filmmakers used them unapologetically, as if to say, ‘Look, we all know this Imperial Destroyer is a steam iron–deal with it.’

By aggressively refusing to live up to Hollywood production values, Hardware Wars demonstrated that an amateur fan creator didn’t need money to get an idea across, and that’s a pretty subversive–and empowering–concept to imbue in a 10-year-old. That levels the playing field. The fact that the movie reveled in its low-tech juices was inspiring by example, giving amateurs permission to fail, because it illustrated that ‘failure’ on one level could be intriguing on another level.

In terms of parody, I think it was also rather instructive for its young audience, and I talk about that a bit in the book, because Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon was just getting started and there wasn’t much in the way of a critical backlash to the original 1977 film–especially in the media aimed at young Generation X at the time. As a result, Hardware Wars‘ sly commentary on how the audience had swallowed George Lucas’ creation whole was pretty radical. The short film’s narrator mocks the stuff on-screen, but his lines poke at the fans, too: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss three bucks goodbye! Get in line now!” That challenges–perhaps forces–the fan to step back and assess his/her place in the big picture surrounding Star Wars, and cast a more subjective eye towards the film, fandom, and the economic machinery around both.

With all that in mind, its influence can be seen today, as there are more fan films about Star Wars than any other franchise, most fan films tend to be comedies, and most amateur Star Wars send-ups take a few shots at Lucas and his business style, even if they’re loving tributes. Additionally, one of the most popular forms of fan film is “the pseudo-trailer,” which Hardware Wars also pioneered–even though it’s a 12-minute film. When the fan film boom of the late Nineties came along, the number of fan productions that were parodies or pseudo-trailers (or both) was staggering. By that point, Generation X was in its 20s with some disposable income and that newfangled Internet on hand; the result was that Star Wars fan films were some of the first examples of viral videos.

As you note, amateurs have been making films for as long as there has been

cinema. So, what is different about our current moment of participatory


The basic staples of amateur film production–home movie cameras and enough pizza to get your friends to be in your flick–have been in plentiful supply since the 1950s; what’s different these days is the availability of low-cost, widespread distribution in the form of the internet, public access cable, DVD-Rs and so forth. Clearly the main conduit is the web, and the advent of sites like YouTube is fostering a growing mainstream awareness of amateur visual media among people who otherwise would never have been exposed to such material. Similar growth is occurring in other forms of participatory culture.

As more people discover amateur media, it’s fair to expect that increasing numbers of people will at least dabble in expressing themselves through amateur-level creativity, regardless of whether it’s written, aural or visual. Whether the resulting projects are any good is largely besides the point; the end result is that by aping professional productions, “regular” people become more media literate with a deeper understanding (perhaps not consciously but it’s still there) of how and why certain forms work.

This in turn raises the bar for professional creators, because even if they deliberately aim for the lowest common denominator in their work, even that audience’s level of sophistication will rise over time. This is not a bad thing.

You document, for example, an amateur film based on Our Gang which got some visibility in the 1920s. What does this story tell us about the potentials and

limits of amateur film production in the early history of Hollywood?

Amateur film production back then was largely a hobby of the rich, because cameras were rare and prohibitively expensive. Seeing one “in the wild” was unusual, so the anonymous creators of Anderson ‘Our Gang,’ the Our Gang film, were likely itinerant filmmakers working for the newsreel companies, who saw a financial opportunity to con a small town into believing they were making a real Our Gang flick. Home movie cameras didn’t start making inroads into average households until the 1930s, and whatever momentum they gained was stopped cold by the outbreak of World War II. As a result, home movies didn’t truly take root until the 1950s as suburban America settled in.

While the Our Gang film doesn’t offer much information on the limits of amateur film production at the time, it’s a great example of why fan films are valuable for film and cultural studies.

When we watch the official Our Gang movies–or James Bond, Star Trek or any long-running franchise–we see them through the eyes of people living in 2009. Our modern-day values and beliefs color how we experience and perceive those films, When you see a period fan film though, you’re not simply watching a story; you’re also getting insight into how people experienced the official movies back then.

For instance, when we think of the official Our Gang movies, it’s typically, “Oh, cute kids getting into mischief,” but Anderson ‘Our Gang,’ made in the deep South in 1926, was actually extremely racist and demonstrative against the disabled as well. The ways the filmmakers try to imitate the series reveals how they perceived the original and illustrates what aspects resonated with them, for better or worse.

There has been a certain degree of media attention of late on the death of

Forrest K. Ackerman. What role did he play in helping to support the production

of amateur horror films?

The 1950s and 60s saw the development of “Monster Kid” culture–a male, pre-teen slice of the population that was enamored with the movie monsters of the 1930 and 40s, due to the films regularly playing on afternoon and weekend TV. Ackerman, a life-long sci-fi and horror movie buff, edited a popular magazine for those kids at the time, called Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Many of his young readers were interested in making their own homemade monster fan films (although the genre didn’t have the “fan film” appellation at the time), but information on special effects, makeup and so forth was hard to come by back then. Ackerman, however, wrote extensively in his magazine how readers could create their own explosions, models, masks and makeup effects. Additionally, if readers wrote in about their productions, he often ran photos and blurbs about them, providing a national platform of recognition for young filmmakers whose sphere of influence pretty much ended at their bedroom door. Some of the professional filmmakers today who credit Ackerman and his magazine as an important influence include Peter Jackson, Joe Dante, John Landis and Dennis Murren, among many others.

You identify a range of significant public figures, such as Hugh Hefner, who produced amateur fan films in their youth. How important were such activities in shaping their later development as media makers?

While making fan films is not strictly a youthful hobby, it’s true that many of its participants try it out at a young age, often while they’re at the ‘gee, what do I want to do with my life?’ stage. While all of them want to make their movies, I suspect that the underlying drive–especially at that time in life–stems from something deeper: A need to be heard.

Some discover that filmmaking is the perfect form for their vein of self-expression and they continue to pursue it–case in point? Eli Roth, the writer/director behind the Hostel “torture porn” movies that were box-office hits a few years ago. He started out filming homemade remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pieces in his basement as a teenager, and clearly the experience must have resonated with him.

Hugh Hefner, too, made a horror film in his basement at age 16–a Frankenstein/vampire amalgam called Return From The Dead. While filmmaking struck a chord with him–years later, he became an executive producer of various films in the 1970s–I suspect he found that films weren’t the right vehicle for communicating his ideas, and thus he went on to try his hand at other forms before founding Playboy 11 years later.

In both cases, however, amateur film production once again provides an opportunity to expand one’s understanding of how media fits together; concepts of structural flow, editing, timing and so forth learned in a creative medium like film are often transferable to other media, such as writing or music.

Clive Young is an author/lecturer covering the crossroads between high tech and popular culture. He is the author of the first book about fan films, Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind The Camera (Continuum, 2008). He is also senior editor for Pro Sound News and has written for MTV,, American Songwriter and numerous other outlets; additionally, he is the author of Crank It Up, an exploration into the world of rock concert roadies. Young has lectured extensively on film and music at many universities, libraries and conventions, and lives in New York with his wife and daughter. Visit his website,, and his daily fan film blog,

To Think That I Saw It in Austin…

I don’t normally do this but given the number of blog readers who are regulars at South by South West, I figured I’d send out the word that I am here in Austin and am giving several talks on Monday. From 11:30-12:30, I am having a conversation with James Paul Gee and Warren Spector on “What Can We Learn from Games” and from 5-6, I will be talking about “Engagement 1.0: Understanding the History of Fan interactivity” with Abigail De Koznik (UC-Berkeley) and Ivan Askwith (Big Space Ship). From 1-1:30, I will also be doing a book signing. If you are around for the event, look me up and introduce yourselves.

So far, I am having a blast at SXSW, watching danah boyd talk about feminism and social networks and enjoying a panel on politics, technology, and popular culture which included the unlikely combination of Lawrence Lessig and Obama Girl.

Locating Fair Use in the Space Between Fandom and the Art World (Part Two)

Last time, I shared with you the story of Stacia Yeapanis, an artist whose videos deploy appropriated footage from television programs. She recently received a cease and desist notice when she posted her works on YouTube. More and more of us are receiving such notices for content which we might have believed fell under fair use. Such notices have a “chilling effect” on this emerging platform for participatory culture. Trying to understand these issues more fully I contacted some friends who are doing cutting edge work around fair use and user-generated content. Each of them shares their reactions to Stacia’s story below.

Peter Jaszi:

Let me start by saying that I think that Ms. Yeapanis’ fanvid “We Have a Right to Be Angry” has a lot going for it where copyright fair use is concerned. It creates “new meaning by juxtaposition,” to borrow language from our “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use on Online Video” (p,9). And it also can be understood as “commenting on … copyrighted material (p.5). The hardest aspect to defend would be the use of “Invincible” in its entirety, but even there the argument is pretty strong: the clips illustrate the song in ways that “help us to hear in a new way.” And, in any event, the take-down notice to Youtube came from Fox, not Sony (or Pat Benatar).

But, that, of course, isn’t the end of story. Ms. Yeapanis is right that were she to formally request a put-back, Fox might begin a lawsuit against her — if it actually were inclined to press its claim. That’s because Section 512(g) of the Copyright Act says that if a suit hasn’t been filed within 10 business days of the so-called “counter notice,” YouTube can put the video back up without losing its qualified immunity from liability for infringement.

Would Fox choose this course of action? It’s hard to know, but there’s reason to think that if she (and YouTube) were to stand up, Fox might sit down. Large, well-counseled copyright owners generally don’t pursue claims that they might lose — especially when the loss might be a adverse legal precedent. on an issue as volatile as fair use. And the law isn’t as far behind the practice of remix culture as the post suggests. Jeff Koons may have lost his case back in 1990-91, but in 2006 he won a big fair use victory in the Second Circuit Court of appeals, in Blanch v. Koons. The case involved use of a cropped advertising photo in a collage, and the court decided that the case turned on whether the artist “had a genuine creative rationale for borrowing Blanch’s image, rather than merely using it merely ‘to get attention or to avoid the drudgery in working something fresh up.'” In other words, they decided it was a “transformative” use.

Legal developments notwithstanding, we all can sympathize with Ms. Yeapanis’ concern about the potential expense and incidental stress of becoming a fair use “test case” — in the (perhaps unlikely) event that it ever came to that. Of course, were YouTube to restore the vid, and were Fox actually to sue, she’d still have the (admittedly somewhat humiliating) option of cooperating in yet another take-down to settle the matter. But, perhaps, in the meantime, she’d have been able to find a lawyer to take her case pro bono. There already are resources out there: the Fair Use Project at Stanford, volunteer lawyers for the arts organizations in many cities, EFF’s lawyer referral service, a network of law school-based IP clinics around the country, and more. But if we take fair use seriously — and we should — we need to find more and better ways to support the risk-takers among us!

Peter Jaszi is faculty director of the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic and professor of law at American University. He was co-editor of The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature (1994). Through the Center for Social Media, he has been helping to develop “best practices for fair use” for documentary filmmakers, DIY video producers, and media literacy educators.

Rebecca Tushnet:

I think the artist does a great job of articulating the issues and the connections between the art world and nontraditional communities making their own art, which also has a context that can take outsiders a while to grasp. One of the challenges we face is persuading intermediaries like YouTube to stand up for fair use more aggressively. The really interesting thing to me about this round of takedowns is that they often stem from automated searches by YT itself, not copyright owner complaints. YT is adopting screening technology to show its good faith in combating copyright infringement, but automated systems inherently risk catching what EFF calls fair use “dolphins” among the infringing “tuna.” And because these aren’t copyright-owner-initiated, the part of the DMCA that allows videomakers to file a counternotification and get the videos put back doesn’t apply; YT has the discretion to simply say, we disagree with your fair use claim and we’re keeping the video off.

The big lesson, I think, is this: Fair use is no longer predominantly a conversation with courts and occasional legislators. It is instead part of the structure of the internet; it has to be part of private institutions’ design as well as formal law, or the formal law will become irrelevant.

Rebecca Tushnet is a law professor at Georgetown who specializes in intellectual property and a member of the board of the Organization for Transformative Works.

Kevin Driscoll:

When YouTube Product Manager David King announced the beta release of “content identification” tools on the Google blog in 2007, he reminded readers that submitting copyright infringement claims would remain as easy as “the click of a mouse.” In the intervening year, the contributions of thousands upon thousands of users have been disabled on behalf of just a few industry stakeholders. When it comes to the application of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, a process that impacts citizens’ ability to own and author their media environment, how easy is too easy?

Fanvidders were among the first communities to respond to YouTube’s commitment to go “above and beyond” its legal obligations to copyright claimants. Faced with videos silenced and disabled for their transformative use of popular music, vidders like zcatz recorded glum farewell notes for their subscribers and set sail for friendlier sites like imeem and Vimeo.

Numerous other creative communities relying on YouTube’s video sharing service have faced a similar decision: should they weather the uncertainty of life at YouTube or retreat to a niche service in the hope that there is security in (relative) obscurity.

Pauliewanna demonstrating “Limelight” by Rush

Unlike the vidders, the Living Room Rock Gods (LRRG) have stuck with YouTube and channeled their frustration into the loose-knit resistance movement Tribute is not Theft. LRRG members like Pauliewanna recorded impassioned video blogs addressing the recording artists they idolize. They stress the role of learning and respect for intellectual property that pervades their community, confounding the stereotype of anti-copyright radicals flaunting the law.

Paulie, the drummer featured above speaks directly to Rush’s Neil Peart,

“We’re just trying to do what we love. [To] listen to your music, play it, share it with others, show them how it’s done, see how they do it, compare notes. […] Our primary reason is to share with other drummers. We just want you […] to know that this is happening.”

The Rock Gods’ experience reveals an imbalance in YouTube’s community support. While a handful of major stakeholders are provided special tools to automate identification and facilitate the pursuit of copyright infringement claims, the remaining majority of YouTube users are left confused and frustrated.

Kutiman – 01 – Mother of All Funk Chords

The diversity of material presented by YouTube’s users presents a thrilling challenge to conventional understandings of ownership, authorship, and originality. Unfortunately, YouTube’s existing architecture leaves little room for human intellect to confront and interrogate these delicious details. When I filed a counter-claim for one of my own disabled videos, I learned that YouTube no longer evaluates the accuracy of copyright claims made by its Content ID system:

[S]ince the identification of the claimed content was automated, we are unable to accept your counter-notification at this time.

In other words, YouTube’s current policy denies my opportunity to file a counter-claim (as described in S.512(g)(3) of the DMCA) and privileges the judgement of software over that of a human observer.

YouTube is wise to be proactive in defense of copyright. Antagonizing extent media industries does little to resolve persistent tensions in digital culture. But if its effort to please the handful of major stakeholders fails to consider the fair use rights of informal media practitioners, YouTube will sacrifice the vibrant creative communities that made it worth visiting in the first place.

Kevin Driscoll is a masters student in the Comparative Media Studies Program working on a thesis dealing with hip hop culture, technology, and pedagogy. Kevin is a frequent collaborator with internet-based artist Claire Chanel and a hip-hop dj responsible for Gold Chain and Todo Mundo events.

Locating Fair Use in the Space Between Fandom and the Art World (Part One)

Earlier this year, I received the following account of the experiences of Stacia Yeapanis, a young artist who straddles the art world and fandom: she produces videos which appropriate footage from popular television shows for the purposes of critical commentary and artworks which use as fannish television shows or deploys The Sims game world as their raw materials.

Her videos, produced for art installations, very much resemble those produced by female fan vidders. As an experiment, she posted one of her vids on YouTube to see how people would respond and as a consequence, she found herself confronting the mechanisms by which corporate media regulates the production and circulation of participatory culture.

I found that her story raised important issues which I wanted to focus attention on through this blog. It came at a time when organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been raising concerns about YouTube policies to police content which push well beyond established norms in copyright protection and erode Fair Use rights of contributors. The EFF’s Fred Von Lohmann posted some important critiques of YouTube’s new practices in early February, including some recommendations which would have a big impact on the vidding world: “YouTube should fix the Content ID system. Now. The system should not remove videos unless there is a match between the video and audio tracks of a submitted fingerprint.” While I have sometimes been critical of the EFF for adopting stances which undercut the Fair Use rights of fans, this time they are defending the rights of anyone to make transformative use of media content via videos.

Today, I am sharing her story and her video. On Friday, I will be sharing response to the stories from others who have been on the front lines of the struggles over fair use and grassroots expression. I’m hoping this will spark some further discussions in fandom, in the art world, and in the circles that shaping intellectual property law.

“Confessions of an Aca-Arta-Femi-Fan”

By Stacia Yeapanis

On December 1st, 2008, I received a takedown notice from YouTube in reference to my first fanvid “We Have a Right to Be Angry.” Fox Broadcasting had blocked the video using an automated video ID system that identifies copyrighted content. After much anxiety, I removed my video on December 5th.

In “We Have a Right to be Angry” I appropriate footage from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Charmed. It is edited to “Invincible” sung by Pat Benatar. By uniting the fictional feminist icons of my adult life, Buffy, Xena, and the Halliwell sisters, with a real-life feminist icon from my childhood, Pat Benatar, I explore my own complicated position as a feminist in contemporary society. The women in the video vacillate between running, lying low, and fighting back. As these women from different TV shows pass a sword around, they share collective power that extends beyond the boundaries of their fictional universes. They are fighting cultural patriarchy on its own terms and they are doing it together.

During the 5 days between getting the notice and removing the video, I was extremely conflicted about what to do. As an appropriation artist, I already had a basic understanding of copyright law, and I believe my video falls under fair use. But I was only vaguely aware of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the takedown notice procedures. For example, YouTube did inform me that I had the option to dispute Fox’s claim, but I didn’t know how long I had to make this decision. If I took too long to consult an attorney, could the situation escalate to an official Cease and Desist letter? If I disputed based on the doctrine of fair use, would Fox back down or take me to court?

I watched my own fanvid over and over again. It seemed to have the answers. In light of the takedown notice, a new meaning that was floating beneath the surface emerged for me. The video was always about the struggle of any feminized (read: marginalized or disadvantaged) group. It was about aggression and injustice. It was about collective power that takes place on many fronts. But now it is also a metaphor for the struggle over meaning between producers and consumers. Mass media corporations are clinging to rigid ways of thinking about who controls meaning and how meaning is made. The feminist icons in my video are now also fighting outdated copyright laws that have begun to prevent the free flow of culture. Their swords are metaphors for fair use. I felt that if I didn’t dispute, I would be letting Buffy and the others down. I wanted to fight with them.

At the same time I also began to worry about the difference between theory and practice. Theoretically, fanvids fall under fair use. Most legal scholars who are writing about fanvids in law reviews come to this conclusion, at least where the video is concerned. I would argue that even the uncut audio, which is more often assumed to be infringing, is transformed merely through juxtaposition with the video. But there don’t seem to be any case precedents to this effect. Theoretically, appropriation art also falls under fair use. But as we learned from Rogers vs. Koons, conceptual art that rests on a foundation of postmodern theory does not fare well in court. Understanding appropriation art, like fanvids, it isn’t a matter of intelligence. It’s a matter of having specialized information and understanding how context affects meaning. The Art World is a subculture that is as misunderstood by non-members as Fandom is.

In all of my research since the takedown notice, I have yet to find any discussion online about the shared interests of the Contemporary Art World, Media Fandom and Media Scholarship. Professional appropriation artists seem to have flown under the radar, except in cases when the artist begins to make a lot of money. The few cases I know of (Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Richard Prince) have all involved appropriation of printed images and only Koons actually had his day in court. (He lost.) At this stage in my research, I’m not aware of any cases involving appropriation art that uses video or audio. The distribution of contemporary art seems to still have the invisibility that fanvid distribution used to have before the advent of the Internet.

I have this suspicion that if I just show my work inside the traditional gallery system, I will be safer from litigation. But if I want to reach across the boundaries of the art world and blur the line between mass-media culture and fine art by posting my work on YouTube, I better watch out. It’s almost as if the law is barring me from pursuing hybridity. And that’s really the foundation of my practice. My work is a synthesis of conceptual art, already a synthesis of cultural theory and art, and fandom. I’m responding to the ironic appropriation art of the ’80s and ’90s by adding my sincere Fandom into the mix in order to question cultural hierarchy (i.e. the idea that “high” culture is better or more important than “low” culture). If I can’t appropriate, then I can’t make my work.

I removed the video from YouTube with the intention of arming myself. It was clear I wasn’t quite ready for the big battle against the Big Bad. I want to be part of the movement for reform of copyright law, but there are two problems. One is financial. I don’t have any money to go to court. Even if I were to win the case, the costs alone could have a devastating effect on my life. I am an emerging conceptual artist. That means I don’t really get paid to make artwork at this point in my career. And two, I’m not sure if I could win. I fear that my hybrid position as artist/ fan and the fact that my art practice rests on conceptual, not visual, strategies would be detrimental to my case and to the cause.

In the next 5 years, maybe this fear will seem absurd. Maybe by then, the law will have stretched itself to make room for the various cultural developments of the last 40 years, namely, postmodern theory and the destabilization of cultural hierarchy through appropriation art, fanvids and other forms of remix culture. In the meantime, it would be beneficial to have more conversation about the parallel development of appropriation in the Art World and in Fandom. It seems pretty significant that fanvids and appropriation art have been developing simultaneously since the ’70s and yet their creators seem utterly unaware of each other. There needs to be a stronger acknowledgement of the overlap in the cultural work we are all doing as scholars, artists, fans and lawyers. We are all producers and consumers of our culture. We are all warriors, slayers and witches.

Stacia Yeapanis is a Chicago-based emerging artist and a media fan. Using strategies of accumulation, collection, appropriation and juxtaposition, she explores the emotional, political, and philosophical significance of various forms of cultural participation. By creating hybrid works that employ the histories and languages of both “Low” Culture and “High” Culture, she reveals the cultural and personal spaces where these binaries overlap. Yeapanis currently uses embroidery, video and photography to explore how individuals create meaning from mass media products.