Children at Play

Here are preliminary notes for a brief guest lecture I’m giving tomorrow in Professor Maya Nadarni’s course “Anthropological Perspectives on Childhood and the Family.” The topic is Children at Play.

Introduction: my larger research project

  • fantastic-media objects, includes model kits, collectible statues, wargaming figurines, replica props: unreal things with material form
  • these objects are an integral part of how fantastic transmedia franchises gain purchase culturally and commercial, as well as how they reproduce industrially
  • particularly complex objects in terms of signification and value, mediation of mass and private, principles of construction, and local subcultures (both fan and professional) where they are taken up in different ways
  • while these objects have been with us for decades, evolving within children’s culture, hobby cultures, gaming, media fandom, and special-effects practices, the advent of desktop fabrication (3D printing) paired with digital files portends a shift in the economies, ontologies, and regulation of fantastic-media objects

Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: a counter-reading of toys and action figures

  • examines Star Wars toys and action figures as examples of paratexts shaping interpretation of “main text”
  • story of Lucas’s retention of licensing rights, considered risible at the time
  • graphic showing that toys and action figures account for more profits than films and video games combined
  • rescues “denigrated” category of licensed toys as “central to many fans’ and non-fans’ understandings of and engagements with the iconic text that is Star Wars. … Through play, the Star Wars toys allowed audiences past the barrier of spectatorship into the Star Wars universe.” (176)
  • licensed toys provide opportunities “to continue the story from a film or television program [and] to provide a space in which meanings can be worked through and refined, and in which questions and ambiguities in the film or program can be answered.” (178)
  • notes role of SW toys in sustaining audience interest during 1977-1983 period of original trilogy’s release
  • transgenerational appeal of franchise linked to toys as transitional objects, providing a sense of familiarity in young fans’ identities
  • current transmedia franchises include licensed objects as components of extended storyworlds

Case study in history: the objects of monster culture

  • 1960s monster culture spoke to (mostly male and white) pre-teen and adolescent baby boomers
  • mediated through Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958-), especially advertising pages from “Captain Company”
  • Aurora model kits were key icons of this subculture: “plastic effigies”
  • Steven M. Gelber: popularization of plastic kits represented “the ultimate victory of the assembly line,” contrasting with an earlier era of authentic creativity in which amateur crafters “sought to preserve an appreciation for hand craftsmanship in the face of industrialization.” (262-263)
  • model kits provided young fans with prefab creativity, merging their own crafts with media templates; also opportunities for transformation (1964 model kit contest)

Jason Mittell’s Complex TV

Passing along this word from my friend Jason Mittell, Associate Professor of American Studies and Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College, whose exciting new publication project is now available for open access and “peer-to-peer review.” He is inviting feedback on the pre-published chapters of Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling at He shares this outline of the plan:

The book’s introduction and first chapter are posted now (as of Saturday evening, in conjunction with an SCMS workshop on digital publishing I Skyped in for from Germany). I plan on posting chapters every week or two over the next few months, serializing the release to allow time for people to read and comment (and me to finish writing). I hope that momentum will build and the conversation will flourish through this process, but this is obviously an experiment. I hope you can stop in and read the work in progress and offer feedback, and also help spread the word to others who might be interested in the topic. I would also love to hear any feedback about this unorthodox mode of publication and review.

Jason blogs at Just TV.


Big academic conferences have a strange energy — which is to say, they have an energy that is palpable and powerful but exceeds my ability to understand or, more importantly, locate myself within it. It is, in part, a concentration of brain power, the collected expertise of a scholarly discipline (in this case, cinema and media studies) brought together for five days and four nights in a Boston hotel. I experience this first aspect as a kind of floating cerebral x-ray of whatever room I’m in, the heads around me overlaid with imagined networks of knowledge like 3D pop-up maps of signal strength in competing cell-phone ads.

But there is another, related dimension, and that is the sheer social density of such gatherings. The skills we develop as students and scholars are honed for the most part in isolation: regardless of the population of the campuses where we work, the bulk of our scholarly labor transpires in the relative silence of the office, the quiet arena of the desktop, the soft skritch of pencil against paper or gentle clicking of computer keyboards still a million times louder than the galaxies of thought whirling through our minds. (Libraries are a good metaphors for what I’m talking about here: quiet spaces jammed with unvocalized cacophanies of text, physical volumes side by side but never communicating with each other save for their entangled intimacies of footnotes and citations.)

Bring us all together for a conference and instantly the silence of our long internal apprenticeships, our walkabouts of research, converts to a thousand overlapping conversations, like a thunderstorm pouring from supersaturated clouds. We’re hungry for company, most of us, and the sudden toggle from solitary to social can be daunting.

When we arrived, the hotel’s computers were down, and the lobby was jammed with people waiting to check in, dragging their suitcases like travelers waiting to board an airplane. A set of clocks over the reception desk read out times from across the world — San Francisco, London, Tokyo — in cruel chronological contrast to the state of stasis that gripped us. Amid the digital work stoppage, I met a colleague’s ten-year-old son, who proudly showed me a bow and arrow he had fashioned from a twig and a taut willow branch found outside in the city’s public gardens. Plucking the bowstring like a musical instrument, he modestly estimated the range of his makeshift weapon (“about six feet”), but all I could do was marvel at his ingenuity in putting wood to work while electronic technologies ground to a halt, stranding all of us brainy adults in long and weary lines. Maybe the whole conference would run better if we swapped our iPads and phones and laptops for more primitive but reliable hand-fashioned instruments; but then, just as our scholarship can’t proceed in a social vacuum, maybe we need the network.

Fan studies network

Passing along this exciting announcement …

We are pleased to announce the formation of The Fan Studies Network.

Open to scholars at all levels, the FSN is concerned with bringing together those interested in all aspects of fandom, in order to engage in discussions and make connections.

We welcome scholars to join the network by signing up to our Jiscmail mailing list:

You can also visit our website, which features CFPs and events of interest at, and our Twitter account @FanStudies.

We look forward to making connections with new members: please circulate this message to anyone you think might be interested.

All the best,

Lucy Bennett and Tom Phillips

The Fan Studies Network


FSN Team:
Lucy Bennett
Tom Phillips
Bethan Jones
Richard McCulloch
Rebecca Williams

A shift in method

Some years ago, at lunch with an esteemed senior colleague from the English Department, I complained that blogging had split me into two kinds of writer, like the good and evil Captain Kirk (above) created by transporter malfunction in TOS Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within.” The bad writer summoned into existence by the blog was awesomely verbose and driven by the craven need to flaunt his cleverness; the good writer was more modest in his claims and diligent in his methods of researching and composing projects. But he was also, like good Kirk, something of a weakling, his lack of confidence inversely proportional to the excessive force of personality his diabolical twin radiated. During the first several years of this blog I found it easy to sit down and compose brief, grand essays and pronouncements; but I couldn’t get a major research project or a publishing venture off the ground.

I’ve learned a few things about writing, and about myself, since then. I return to this blog with the need for a thought-space somewhere between the ephemeral public bursts of tweets and status updates and the glacial excavation and terraforming of printed academic publishing: the fast and slow time of the mediascapes at whose intersection I find my home. I return to this blog with a renewed sense of its potential for experimentation and evolution, and a new concept of myself as not needing to prove my intellect at every turn. I want, in short, to blog like a normal person — to speak honestly and without needless ostentation about this world and this life.

Conspiracy in the Classroom

Finishing the first week of a new school term always leaves me feeling as though I’ve launched some kind of ship — like I’ve broken a bottle of bubbly against the side of a vessel that then rolls proudly out of drydock. (Not that I’ve ever performed this particular action in real life. Like so many of my mental referents, it’s a composite of media memories: scenes from movies like Titanic, or the wonderful, ballsy opening shots of Star Trek: Generations, in which a champagne bottle tumbles through space to smash across the prow of the Enterprise-B.)

In this case, we’re talking two inaugural voyages: the first, a retooled version of my Animation and Cinema class, and the second, an entirely new course called Conspiracy. I’ll detail the Animation rethink in a future post, but for now, I want to share the Conspiracy syllabus, which I’m pretty proud of. Putting it together was a pleasurable summer’s labor: I watched dozens of movies, read reams of articles, and basically dug deep into the viny undergrowth of suspicion and speculation that anchors the U.S. political system (or at least our collective perceptions of it). The original inspiration for the class was simply my love of The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974), which seemed marvelously strange and icily labyrinthine when I first watched it in the early 1980s. It, along with Phil Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Peter Hyams’s burnt-sienna cheese platter Capricorn One (1978), and Sydney Pollack’s 1975 film Three Days of the Condor (which has not aged well, sad to say) still exerts a special hold on my imagination, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to explore it and other texts with a class of talented students.

What’s odd, of course, is that what once seemed in the fantastic sweep of its paranoia to be a close cousin of science fiction — indeed, in movies like Capricorn One and Coma (1978), the generic boundaries dissolve almost entirely — today comes across as naive, obvious, or both. Conspiracy narratives in the 1970s were like hushed whispers of a truth too terrible to dredge into daylight, yet too destructive to ignore; now our ears are deafened by the angry bellows of right-wing pundits, angry town-hall protesters, and certain Republican party leaders who believe our President is a socialist, that health-care reform involves the instigation of death panels, and that vaccinations cause disease. Those who aren’t actively enraged are cynically passive: why fight the system when it’s already become, Matrix-like, the fabric of everyday life? As with another topic I teach, fandom, the cultural polarities of conspiracy seem to have reversed themselves over recent decades: subculture becoming superculture, margin becoming mainstream. And if fandom is by and large about the production of pleasure within convection currents that link fringe and center, then conspiracy, following similar fluid dynamics, generates a darker miasma of dread and distrust.

The syllabus that follows is built around two topoi: the assassination of John F. Kennedy anchors the first half of the semester, the events of 9/11 the second. I’ve tried to address all the major permutations of conspiracy theory in the United States, including supernatural and feminist variations, yet I know there’s much more we could be looking at (and I welcome any suggestions for tweaking the lineup). The fun part has been coming up with a reading list that mixes “authoritative” academic perspectives with raw, disreputable textual troublemakers from the heart of conspiracy country. One of my hopes is that the course will take us from a time when conspiracy seemed an isolatable, nameable, unusual thing to one in which the digital remapping of media culture has multiplied the theories, speculation, and accusation to an unnerving din. Another hope is that students will ultimately come to think self-reflexively about their own practices of textual production and legitimation, and by implication the larger politics of a college education: their place in a system that turns economic capital into cultural capital. And maybe, by the end of the term, this small shared plot, this classroom conspiracy (it tickles me to note that conspire literally means to breathe togetheran apt description of our biweekly meetings) will yield, for them and for me, some major insights.


FMST 43: Conspiracy – Fall 2009

This course investigates the texts, narratives, and cultures of conspiracy as they are constituted in film, television, digital, and print media. We will concentrate less on the “truth” of any given conspiracy than on its popular and public impact and meaning — what it says, or might be saying, about ourselves, our world, and our times. The subject, then, is both conspiracy theory and theories about conspiracy. As this is a Film and Media Studies course, we will also pay attention to factors such as representation, technology, narrative, audience, and industry, and their relationship to both dominant and resistant ideologies.

Our focus is on the half-century dating from the late 1950s to the present, a period that extends from the Red Scare, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Apollo moon landings to Waco, 9/11, and contemporary controversies about Barack Obama’s citizenship and an all-encompassing New World Order. Confining ourselves to the United States, we will explore the ways in which public perceptions of conspiracies spread and evolve through media practices both inside and outside the mainstream, as a mode of education, entertainment, and political activity. Areas we will explore (moving from specific to general) include:

  • The tropes, recurring patterns, and characteristic forms of conspiracy
  • The role of different media in shaping perceptions and understandings of conspiracies
  • The relationship of conspiracy narratives/theories to other media modes such as journalism and documentary, and genres such as horror, science fiction, and mystery
  • The light shed by conspiracy narratives on the production and legitimization of knowledge
  • The possibilities and limits of “diagnosing” conspiratorial trends in relation to specific historical and cultural moments
  • Conspiracy theory as an element of democratic discourse, grassroots political movements, and ideological critique

Textbooks & Readings

  • The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories. James McConnachie and Robin Tudge. Rough Guides Reference, 2008.
  • Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. Mark Fenster. Revised and Updated Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
  • Additional readings marked [PDF] will be distributed via Blackboard.


15% —Participation: assessed throughout term; for more, see note below.

25% —Activity on class blog: will be assessed three times during term for frequency and content of contributions. For more, see blogging handout.

25% —Midterm paper: due October 8, this 5-7 page paper will respond to the first half of the term by locating a pattern, theme, or idea that ties together a group of conspiracy materials (visual, written, or other). These texts should include both academic and nonacademic content we have looked at together in class, along with material you have explored on your own. In addition to identifying and defining a unifying element, the paper must make some kind of interpretive argument about its significance.

35% —Conspiracy wall display and reflection paper: due the penultimate week of class, this project represents the culmination of your experiences in and thinking about Conspiracy. Working in teams, you will create a public display at McCabe Library, a “conspiracy wall” of texts and images mapping out an existing conspiracy or one of your own design. You will also turn in a 3-5 page reflection paper that discusses the conspiracy and the presentation you have given it. Further details will be given later in term.

A Note on Materials and Methods

In this course we will explore a range of content from different points on the cultural spectrum, from academic articles to photocopied screeds and angry websites, from Hollywood blockbusters to digitally-shot and -distributed underground video. Navigating this material will mean paying attention to origins and rhetorical stance (i.e. where it’s from and what it’s saying) while simultaneously setting aside too-quick distinctions between true/false, logical/illogical, legitimate/illegitimate. While I don’t want to lose sight of “common sense,” I also don’t want the course to devolve into arguments about who really shot JFK. Our assumption will be that we can dabble in conspiracies and conspiracy theories without buying into them — or their counterarguments.


Week 1 (Sept 1-3): Course Introduction; Types of Knowledge

Read for Thursday: Fenster, “Introduction: We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now”; Birchall, “Know It All” [PDF], Lisker, “The MADE Manifesto” [PDF]

Screen: Conspiracy Theory (Richard Donner, 1997)

Week 2 (Sept 8-10): Reading and Paranoia

Read for Tuesday: Shapiro, “Paranoid Style”; for Thursday, Fenster Ch 4, “Uncovering the Plot” (pp. 100-117)

Screen: The Game (David Fincher, 1997)

Week 3 (Sept 15-17): Red Scares and Pod People

Read for Tuesday: Fenster, Ch 1 “Theorizing Conspiracy Politics,” Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” [PDF]; for Thursday, Steffen-Fluhr, “Women and the Inner Game of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers“?[PDF]

Screen: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)

Week 4 (Sept 22-24): JFK

Read for Tuesday: Marcus, excerpts from “The Manchurian Candidate“?[PDF]; for Thursday, Fenster Ch 4 “Uncovering the Plot” pp. 118-142, Simon, “The Zapruder Film” and “JFK” [PDF]; Hidell, “The Center of the Labyrinth” [PDF]

Screen: JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991). Watch on own time before Tuesday’s class: The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962).

Week 5 (Sept 29-Oct 1): The Seventies

Read for Tuesday: Kael, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” [PDF]; for Thursday, Simon, “The Parallax View” [PDF], “Project Mind Kontrol” [PDF]; Hidell, “Who Killed John Lennon?” [PDF]

Screen: The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974). Watch on own time before Tuesday’s class: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)

Week 6 (Oct 6-8): Feminism and Other Science Fictions

Read: Tiptree, “The Women Men Don’t See” [PDF], Valerius, “Rosemary’s Baby, Gothic Pregnancy, and Fetal Subjects” [PDF]; Hidell, “Is There a Satanic Child Abuse Cover-Up?” [PDF]

Screen: Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968). Watch on own time before Tuesday’s class: The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975)

Due: Midterm paper

Fall Break

Week 7 (Oct 20-22): Space Invaders I

Read: Fenster Ch 5, “Plotting the Rush”; Bara, “The Secret History of NASA” [PDF]

Screen: Excerpt from Capricorn One (Peter Hyams, 1978), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon (Bart Sibrel, 2001), Astronauts Gone Wild (Bart Sibrel, 2004). Watch on own time: Mythbusters, “NASA Moon Landing Hoax”

Week 8 (Oct 27-29): Space Invaders II

Read: Fenster Ch 4, “Uncovering the Plot” pp. 143-end; Graham, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? Conspiracy Theory and The X-Files” [PDF]; Bell and Bennion-Nixon, “The Popular Culture of Conspiracy/The Conspiracy of Popular Culture” [PDF]

Screen: Episodes of The X-Files TBA; Conspiracy, “Area 51”

Week 9 (Nov 3-5): Politics and Race in the Digital Era

Read: Fenster Ch 3, “Finding the Plot” (review material on Clinton); Knight, “Fear of a Black Planet: ‘Black Paranoia’ and the Aesthetics of Conspiracy” [PDF]

Screen: The Clinton Chronicles (Patrick Matrisciana, 1994); watch on own time The Obama Deception (Alex Jones, 2009)

Week 10 (Nov 10-12): New World Orders

Read: Fenster Ch 2, “When the Senator Met the Commander”; Heimbichner, “The Idiot’s Guide to the Cryptocracy” [PDF]; Weidner, “The Culling: A Speculative Look into the Global Apocalypse” [PDF]; Weston, “FEMA: Fascist Entity Manipulating America” [PDF]

Screen: Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement (Alex Jones, 2007); watch on own time Waco: The Rules of Engagement (William Gazecki, 1997)

Week 11 (Nov 17-19): 9/11

Read: Fenster Ch 7 “A Failure of Imagination”; Helms, “Lingering Questions about 9/11” [PDF]; Meigs, “Afterword: The Conspiracy Industry” [PDF]

Screen: Loose Change (Dylan Avery, 2007); watch on own time before Tuesday’s class: United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006)

Week 12 (Nov 24): Looking Forward to the End of the World

Read: Fenster Ch 6, “The Prophetic Plot”; Marrs, “What Will Happen in 2012?” [PDF]; Wallace, “Four Horses of the Apocalypse: A Color-Coded Key to the Cryptocracy” [PDF]

Screen: TBA

Thursday (Nov 26): Thanksgiving Break

Week 13 (Dec 1-3): Encoding/Decoding History

Screen: The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 2006), National Treasure (Jon Turtletaub, 2004)

Due: Conspiracy Wall displays and reflection papers

Week 14 (Dec 8): Last day of class

Student evaluations


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.

TWC 1 Arrives (with Gaming CFP)

The first issue of Transformative Works and Cultures is now available. Table of contents below, along with a call for submissions for Issue 2, on Games.


TWC Editor: Transforming academic and fan cultures


Abigail De Kosnik: Participatory democracy and Hillary Clinton’s marginalized fandom

Louisa Ellen Stein: “Emotions-Only” versus “Special People”: Genre in fan discourse

Anne Kustritz: Painful pleasures: Sacrifice, consent, and the resignification of BDSM symbolism in “The Story of O” and “The Story of Obi”

Francesca Coppa: Women, “Star Trek,” and the early development of fannish vidding


Catherine Tosenberger: “The epic love story of Sam and Dean”: “Supernatural,” queer readings, and the romance of incestuous fan fiction

Madeline Ashby: Ownership, authority, and the body: Does antifanfic sentiment reflect posthuman anxiety?

Michael A. Arnzen: The unlearning: Horror and transformative theory

Sam Ford: Soap operas and the history of fan discussion


Dana L. Bode: And now, a word from the amateurs

Rebecca Lucy Busker: On symposia: LiveJournal and the shape of fannish discourse

Cathy Cupitt: Nothing but Net: When cultures collide

Bob Rehak: Fan labor audio feature introduction


TWC Editor: Interview with Henry Jenkins

Veruska Sabucco: Interview with Wu Ming

TWC Editor: Interview with the Audre Lorde of the Rings


Mary Dalton: “Teen television: Essays on programming and fandom,” edited by Sharon Marie Ross and Louisa Ellen Stein

Eva Marie Taggart: “Fans: The mirror of consumption,” by Cornel Sandvoss

Katarina Maria Hjarpe: “Cyberspaces of their own,” by Rhiannon Bury

Barna William Donovan: “The new influencers,” by Paul Gillin

And here is the CFP for Issue 2:

Special Issue: Games as Transformative Works

Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol. 2 (Spring 2009)
Deadline: November 15, 2008
Guest Editor: Rebecca Carlson

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) invites essays on gaming and gaming culture as transformative work. We are interested in game studies in all its theoretical and practical breadth, but even more so in the way fan culture shapes itself around and through gaming interfaces. Potential topics include but are not limited to game audiences as fan cultures; anthropological approaches to game design and game engagement; on- and off-line game experiences; textual and cultural analysis of games; fan appropriations and manipulations of games; and intersections between games and other fan artifacts.
TWC is a new Open Access, international peer-reviewed online journal published by the Organization for Transformative Works. TWC aims to provide a publishing outlet that welcomes fan-related topics and to promote dialogue between the academic community and the fan community. The first issue of TWC (September 2008) is available at TWC accepts rolling electronic submissions of full essays through its Web site, where full guidelines are provided. The final deadline for inclusion in the special games issue is November 15, 2008.
TWC encourages innovative works that situate popular media, fan communities, and transformative works within contemporary culture via a variety of critical approaches, including but not limited to feminism, queer theory, critical race studies, political economy, ethnography, reception theory, literary criticism, film studies, and media studies. Submissions should fit into one of three categories of varying scope:

Theory: These often interdisciplinary essays with a conceptual focus and a theoretical frame offer expansive interventions in the field of fan studies. Peer review. Length, 5,000-8,000 words plus a 100-250-word abstract.
Praxis: These essays may apply a specific theory to a formation or artifact; explicate fan practice; perform a detailed reading of a specific text; or otherwise relate transformative phenomena to social, literary, technological, and/or historical frameworks. Peer review. Length, 4,000-7,000 words plus a 100-250-word abstract.
Symposium: Symposium is a section of concise, thematically contained essays. These short pieces provide insight into current developments and debates surrounding any topic related to fandom or transformative media and cultures. Editorial review. Length, 1,500-2,500 words.
Submission information:

CFP: Transformative Works and Cultures

I’m happy to announce a new journal on creative fan and media culture. The editors, Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson, have kindly invited me to participate on the editorial review board; I accepted with pleasure. Over the last year, I’ve strongly reconnected to my early academic interest in fandom. My first real “read” as an academic was Henry Jenkins’s Textual Poachers, which I devoured during long afternoons in the air-conditioned sanctuary of the Chapel Hill Public Library, the summer before my first year of graduate school at the University of North Carolina in 1998. Now, ten years later, I’ve made a number of good new friends in the fan studies community and am pleased to be launching a course on Fan Culture at Swarthmore. I’m very eager to see where this exciting and innovative new publication will take us. Please pass the word along!

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) is a Gold Open Access international peer-reviewed journal published by the Organization for Transformative Works edited by Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson.

TWC publishes articles about popular media, fan communities, and transformative works, broadly conceived. We invite papers on all related topics, including but not limited to fan fiction, fan vids, mashups, machinima, film, TV, anime, comic books, video games, and any and all aspects of the communities of practice that surround them. TWC’s aim is twofold: to provide a publishing outlet that welcomes fan-related topics, and to promote dialogue between the academic community and the fan community.

We encourage innovative works that situate these topics within contemporary culture via a variety of critical approaches, including but not limited to feminism, queer theory, critical race studies, political economy, ethnography, reception theory, literary criticism, film studies, and media studies. We also encourage authors to consider writing personal essays integrated with scholarship, hypertext articles, or other forms that embrace the technical possibilities of the Web and test the limits of the genre of academic writing. TWC copyrights under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Theory accepts blind peer-reviewed essays that are often interdisciplinary, with a conceptual focus and a theoretical frame that offers expansive interventions in the field of fan studies (5,000-8,000 words).

Praxis analyzes the particular, in contrast to Theory’s broader vantage. Essays are blind peer reviewed and may apply a specific theory to a formation or artifact; explicate fan practice; perform a detailed reading of a specific text; or otherwise relate transformative phenomena to social, literary, technological, and/or historical frameworks (4,000-7,000 words).

Symposium is a section of editorially reviewed concise, thematically contained short essays that provide insight into current developments and debates surrounding any topic related to fandom or transformative media and cultures (1,500-2,500 words).

Reviews offer critical summaries of items of interest in the fields of fan and media studies, including books, new journals, and Web sites. Reviews incorporate a description of the item’s content, an assessment of its likely audience, and an evaluation of its importance in a larger context (1,500–2,500 words). Review submissions undergo editorial review; submit inquiries first to

TWC has rolling submissions. Contributors should submit online through the Web site ( Inquiries may be sent to the editors (

The call for papers is available as a .pdf download sized for U.S. Letter ( or European A4 ( Please feel free to link, download, print, distribute, or post.

Local celebrity and the dangers of TMI

Last week I had the honor of being featured in an article for Swarthmore’s student newspaper, the Phoenix, entitled “Swat Professors Log In.” Along with my colleague Tim Burke, whose Easily Distracted is one of the cooler blogs out there (and a key inspiration to me in starting Graphic Engine), the article focuses on professors who maintain academic but personal blogs, how they view their online publishing, and what issues arise when students encounter a professor in the blogosophere.

The latter topic surprised me a little; it hadn’t previously dawned on me that it might be a little, well, weird to come across a blog written by one of your teachers, just as it might feel odd to cross their path in some real-life situation well outside the familiar forum of the classroom. (In the immortal words of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, catching your teacher shopping at the mall is “like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.”) Although I value easygoing spontaneity in my teaching and consider myself fairly approachable as an authority figure, the truth is that instructional interactions are of necessity highly structured and scripted. There’s comfort for all of us in knowing what roles to expect in the classroom — I stand here, behind the lectern, you sit there, taking notes — and blogs, by their very in-between nature, complicate those expectations.

The tension between private, public, and professional spheres for the educator is particularly heightened in Web 2.0 environments, where the desire to take part in social networking (especially if you presume to teach about such phenomena, or use them as pedagogical tools) must be weighed against the risk of revealing too much information about yourself. When I first set up a Facebook account, I listed my political preference; now I simply leave that line blank. I’d rather err on the side of neutrality than risk students feeling awkward about expressing a viewpoint which they worry will conflict with my own. On the other hand, that concern didn’t stop me from posting a caustic comparison of George W. Bush and Britney Spears some months back, and I imagine the coming year’s presidential campaign will offer similar temptations toward TMI.

In any case, since the Phoenix chose not to use all of my answers — and with good reason; as readers of this blog are aware, I’m sort of long-winded — I thought I’d post the full text of my email interview (with reporter Liana Katz) here. It goes into more detail on the points I’ve touched on, as well as giving credit where credit is due to folks like Temple’s Chris Cagle, who provided the great phrase “diaristic sketchpad” to describe the function of blogs for academics who like to think out loud.

> 1. When did you start blogging?

My first post was on July 26, 2007, so I’ve been doing this for about six
months now.

> 2. What motivated you to start a blog? What literary/vocal platform did a
> blog offer that you did not have before?

I held off on blogging for a long time, though a few friends encouraged me
to try my hand at it. I was posting long-winded mini-essays to the various
discussion groups and email lists I frequent (mostly academic stuff
involving videogame research), and once in a while someone would
essentially say, “Dude, seems like you want your own soapbox to stand on

More seriously, I began reading a number of academic and media-oriented
blogs after taking part in the Media In Transition conference at MIT in
April 2007. Along with my Swarthmore colleague Tim Burke’s excellent blog
Easily Distracted, these inspired me to throw my hat in the ring.

In terms of the platform that blogging offers, I’m still figuring that
out; I believe everyone responds differently to the opportunities and
challenges such a space presents. My friend Chris Cagle, a professor at
Temple, describes his blog (Category D) as a “diaristic sketchpad,” which
I think is perfect. Graphic Engine is certainly personal in tone, and I
feel free to indulge there my likes and dislikes, fannish excitement and
grouchy kvetching. But it’s also a sketchpad for roughing out ideas and
arguments — about media, culture, and technology — any of which I might
later develop into full-fledged essays. Finally, the ability to get
feedback in the form of comments from interested and intelligent readers
is invaluable!

> 3. After reading some of your entries, it seemed to me like you maintain a
> serious but personal tone. Are your writing and teaching styles comparable
> or does having a blog allow you to address subjects in a different way
> than
> you would in the classroom?

I always keep in mind that, as a professional whose work involves public
performance (in teaching) and the building of strong collegial
relationships, I need to observe a certain decorum in my tone and
sensibility in my choice of topics. While I love and celebrate the freedom
of expression that blogging allows, it would be foolhardy of me to
intentionally say things that might offend or upset friends, colleagues,
or students. To some extent, these same codes govern the way I teach and
interact in “real life.” At the same time, however, the blog allows me to
argue (and sometimes rant) to a degree that I wouldn’t in RL. I guess my
operating assumption is that people can choose — or not — to read what I
write at Graphic Engine, while in the classroom, students are sort of
trapped with me. So I try not to abuse the privilege of their patience and

> 4. Who reads your blog and has this readership changed over time? In
> particular, have more students started to read it?

I’ve had one student post a comment (which made me very happy), and a few
others have mentioned they read it. For the most part, though, the people
who post are either friends or other academics (or both). This doesn’t
seem to have changed much over time. I lack hard numbers on who’s visiting
and reading, but it does gratify me when someone links to one of my posts,
or reviews the blog overall, as Henry Jenkins at MIT did back in August.

> 5. Have you told your students about your blog or have they stumbled
> across
> it on their own?

There’s a link to Graphic Engine on my faculty profile, and of course it
comes up in a Google search for Bob Rehak (yes, I confess to being a
self-Googler). Other than that, I don’t trumpet the blog’s existence to
students; it’s not mentioned on my syllabi or in my email sig file.

> 6. Have you ever had a discussion with a student (in or outside of the
> classroom) about something that you wrote on your blog?

No specific memories here, though I’m sure it’s come up in casual
conversation (e.g. “You play Halo 3? I just wrote about that game on my
blog!”). More often, I think, I’ll mention something I read on someone
else’s blog. As I said earlier, I have had one student post, taking me
quite knowledgably to task on one of my assertions, which I really enjoyed
— college, perhaps Swarthmore in particular, is a place to develop your
voice and hone critical thinking skills, so I’m always happy when I can
exchange ideas with someone.

> 7. In your opinion, what purpose do blogs serve for students and
> professor?

We haven’t addressed the use of blogs as a component of coursework,
something I’ve experimented with (and will do so again this term in Fan
Culture, FMST 85). In that forum, blogs are a great way of encouraging
collective conversation on course topics outside the classroom, as well as
in getting students to pool knowledge and share resources. The ability to
post links to YouTube videos and news stories, for example, turned out to
be a great bonus in last spring’s course on TV and New Media (FMST 84).

> Do they help build a closer relationship or should professors’ blogs be
> considered outside the world of college academics?

I’m not quite sure what you mean, but I’d say that what’s interesting
about academic blogs is that they aren’t completely in one place or
another. They’re tools for sharing thoughts, sharing resources, and
disseminating information, but they’re also interlocutory and
conversational. Profession by profession, their uses differ greatly, even
if their underlying dynamics are consistent. I see Graphic Engine as an
academically-informed blog, but not only, or primarily, academic in
“function.” For this reason, it’s still up for grabs to what degree
blogging should be considered part of one’s professional development or
publications; those rules are still being hammered out. But I’m really
glad to be part of the adventure!