I leave in a few days for the Console-ing Passions conference in Santa Barbara. I’d be excited just because of the location (the conference concludes with a beach party, for gosh sakes) or the nature of the professional gathering itself, since I had a wonderful time at Console-ing Passions in New Orleans in 2004. But most of all I’m thrilled to be taking part in a workshop discussion that grew out of the gender-and-fandom debates hosted by Henry Jenkins last summer. My colleagues Julie Levin Russo (Brown University), Louisa Stein (San Diego State University), Sam Ford (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Suzanne Scott (University of Southern California) all participated in those male-female pairups, and we formulated the CP workshop as a space not just to present our own research, but engage in a dialogue about where that massive, months-long conversation has left us as fan scholars who confront issues of gender, power, privilege, and creativity
The workshop, which takes place Friday morning, is entitled Gendered Fan Labor in New Media and Old. Each of us will speak briefly about a current research interest or project, based on a text or media artifact that raises questions about creative media fandom in both its historical and contemporary dimensions and which focuses on gendered labor as an axis intersecting multiple concerns: taxonomies of fan practice, shifting economic relations between consumers and producers, questions of legitimacy and legality, the impact of new technologies, and the increasing visibility in popular, industrial, and academic discourses of heretofore marginal(ized) fan communities. Second, we hope to perform a kind of post-mortem on the summer’s debates: highlighting certain recurring themes, tendencies, and absences that structured the discourse, unpacking problematic areas, and reflecting both on what went well or badly in the past, and where we might productively go in the future. Here are the others’ projects, full versions of which are viewable on LiveJournal’s fandebate (thanks to Kristina Busse):
- Julie Levin Russo, “The L Word: Labors of Love”
- Sam Ford, “Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps”
- Suzanne Scott, “From Filking to Wrocking: The Rock Star/Groupie Dialectic in Harry Potter Wizard Rock”
- Louisa Stein, “Vidding as Cultural Narrative”
My own project, “Boys, Blueprints, and Boundaries: Star Trek‘s Hardware Fandom,” examines a subset of Trek fandom that devotes itself to the literal mapping of Trek‘s canonical universe and recreating in material form its diegesis through activities such as the drafting of episode guides and concordances, the manufacture of costumes, props, and model kits, and the making of technical manuals and blueprints. The first paragraph is quoted below; you can also read the full (short) paper at LiveJournal. Comments on the project welcomed and appreciated!
The recent legal dispute between J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, and Steven Vander Ark, a Michigan librarian who has compiled an internet guide to the Harry Potter “universe,” raises many interesting questions about copyright, authorial power, and what might be called a double standard of contemporary media production in which potentially infringing online publication is tolerated, even welcomed, by copyright holders, while the equivalent publication in print form is energetically resisted. But viewed through the lenses of fandom and gender, the Rowling / Vander Ark case illuminates another and much older conundrum, consisting of a linked pair of problematic binaries. On one hand, there is the contrast between fan-produced materials which creatively transform an original work (like fanfic, slash, vidding, filksongs, and artwork) and those which “merely” document, map, or archive the original work (like concordances, episode guides, blueprints, and technical manuals). On the other hand, there is the apparent gender split between the traditionally female fans who produce work considered to be transformative, and male fans whose productivity tends instead toward the technical and archival. The relationship between male fans and what I will call “blueprint culture” is the subject of this short paper, in which I consider gendered fan labor as it is manifested in fantasy and history; ways of rethinking this labor as creative and transformative; and current trends that reflect the growing impact of blueprint culture in both industrial and academic domains.