The fund drives that biannually interrupt the flow of intelligent goodness from my local NPR station like to trumpet the power of “driveway moments” — stories so called because when they come on the radio, you stay in your car, unable to tear yourself away until they’re finished. The term has always interested me because it so bluntly merges the experience of listening with the act of driving: treating the radio as synecdoche for the car, or maybe the other way around (I can never keep my metonymies straight).
Anyway, I had my own driveway moment tonight, when All Things Considered broadcast a story on the vidding movement. Of course, fans have been remixing and editing cult TV content into new, idiosyncratically pleasurable/perverse configurations for decades, and the fact that mainstream media are only now picking up on these wonderful grassroots creations and the subcultural communities through which they circulate is sad proof of a dictum I learned from my long-ago undergraduate journalism professor: by the time a cultural phenomenon ends up on the cover of Newsweek, it’s already six months out of date.
Credit to ATC, though, for doing the story, and for avoiding the trap of talking about vidding as though it were, in fact, something new. I did tense up when the reporter Neda Ulaby used male pronouns to refer to one CSI vidder — “the vidder wants to say something about the dangers faced by cops on the show, and he’s saying it by cutting existing scenes together” — thinking it surely incorrect, since the vidding community is dominantly female. Oh, great, I thought: yet another rewriting of history in which a pointedly masculine narrative of innovation and authorship retroactively simplifies a longer and more complex tradition developed by women. (Yes, I do occasionally think in long sentences like that.)
But then the piece brought in Francesca Coppa, and everything was OK again. Coppa, an associate professor of English and the director of film studies at Muhlenberg College, is herself a vidder as well as an accomplished scholar of fandom; I had the pleasure of hearing her work at MIT’s Media in Transition conference in 2007. With her input, the NPR story manages to compress a smart and fairly accurate picture of vidding and fandom into a little under six minutes — an impressive feat.
The funny thing is that the little flash of anxiety and defensiveness I felt when it seemed like NPR would “get it wrong” was like a guilty echo of the way I’ve “gotten it wrong” over the years. My own work on Star Trek fandom focuses on a variety of fan creativity based on strict allegience to canon, in particular the designed objects and invented technologies that constitute the series’ setting and chronology. I call it, variously, hardware fandom or blueprint culture, and I’ve always conceptualized it as a specifically male mode of fandom. It’s the kind of fan I once was — hell, still am — and in my initial exuberance to explore the subject years ago, I remember thinking and writing as though feminine modes of fandom were mere stepping stones toward, really a pale adjunct to, some more substantive, engaged, and commercially complicit fandom practiced by men. I’ve learned better since, largely through interactions with female friends and colleagues in dialogues like the gender-in-fandom debates staged by Henry Jenkins in summer 2007.
For fear of caricaturing my own and others’ positions, I’ll spare you further mea culpas. Suffice to say that my thinking on fandom has evolved (let’s hope it continues to do so!). I am learning to prize voices like Coppa’s for prompting me to revisit and reassess my own too-easy understandings of fan practices as something I can map and intepret based solely on my own experience: valid enough as individual evidence, I suppose, but curdling into something more insidious when generalized — a male subject’s unthinking colonization of territory already capably inhabited.