I blog about every reading for Fandom, but over the last two weeks I’ve been too busy to blog about the previous readings. I’ll do so right now– we covered fan fiction with a reading, “Star Trek Reruns - Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching” by Henry Jenkins, and then watched the TED Talk, “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. I was significantly more enthused for the former reading than the latter– I have pre-existing negative feelings about Palmer and this talk, and I’ve read other essays by Jenkins that I’ve enjoyed. Funnily, we read an essay by him for Big Games, but it had nothing to do with fandom– he’s just extremely prolific.
“Star Trek Reruns”, overall, reminded me of what Zoe dubbed the third-wave of fandom theory: that fandom is an extension of self, instead of the theories that fandom was utopia or recreated society. Overall, the essay was much more sympathetic to fandom than the first- or second-wave; it came as little surprise when Zoe later described Jenkins as one of the big names of third-wave fandom theory. I’m not sure about the “textual poaching” metaphor Jenkins uses however; it places fandom and its fan objects in too much opposition. Many fan objects encourage fan creation and “poaching”, but nobody would encourage people to poach from them non-metaphorically. Nowadays, though, “appropriation” also has baggage of its own, so there’s no perfect metaphor for what fandom does with its fan creations. Despite my objections, though, large swathes of the essay are still applicable today.
For instance, Jenkins rejects the idea that fans are “kooks” or “out-of-control”, stereotypes that are still employed by the mass media today. Think of any piece about bronies or female-oriented fandoms like Twilight. He also emphasizes that fans do things purely for fun– a refreshing change from overly analytical essays about fandom. Other things I appreciate about his essay are the ideas that fandom particularly appeals to the marginalized, as they can carve spaces for them to represent themselves; as I’ve written previously, fan fiction, for instance, is primarily written by women. The essay focuses on Star Trek, which is a fan object that is viewed by the media as the domain of male basement dwellers, but funnily, was kept going in part by the female fandom– TNG was started because of the fanbase’s longevity, which the female fanzines played a part in promoting. I’m not sure about Jenkins’ gendered analysis of media engagement, but overall the essay provides valuable insight into fan thinking.
For the next week, we watched Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk, and I was already predisposed to dislike her so it was hard for me to watch. I primarily knew Palmer from her controversies: her ableist appropriation as Evelyn Evelyn (she pretends to be half of a pair of Siamese twins, essentially fetishizing the condition as weird and freak show-y); her poetry about the Boston Marathon Bomber, her use of unpaid musicians, and her blog posts decrying celebrity culture while simultaneously taking advantage of it. I really didn’t want to watch this TED Talk.
When I did watch it, it did not change my mind about Palmer. I still think of her as essentially unable to recognize her own privileges and acknowledge the criticisms of her; she makes a reference to the unpaid musician controversy in a way that seems unrepentant about it. It just strikes me all as extremely self-serving; we should allow fans to pay however they can for her music, including performing music for her. But this is an unequal trade that devalues their contribution; it equates them listening to her album with performance fees. I don’t terribly mind the idea of fans getting to perform with Palmer; it’s like paying to swim with dolphins. But when it’s labour performed for her, and she does’t understand why people would be upset by the idea, she just comes off as another rich lady pretending to be poor. The Simple Life for alternative folks.
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