Time flies, even in the summer. I’m pulled between several different projects at the moment (and teaching a summer session class) so the ol’ blog sometimes falls off the radar.
Anyway, continuing on with my review of MIT5…
The “Fans and Producers” panel was a highlight of the weekend for me, not only for presenting some work that had been gestating a while, but also for the ensuing discussion and subsequent eruption of academic/fannish (i.e., “acafan”) discussion. As noted earlier, Henry Jenkins has dedicated the summer to this topic on his blog. Kristina Busse has worked hard to keeping several discussions going, and has just added another LJ community to continue the debates started on Henry’s site.
At the panel, this debate was framed in a variety of ways. The first presenters, Joan Giglione and Robert Gustafson, took a more psychological approach to the issue, positing the fan-celebrity encounter as fraught with various anxieties. While I’m fascinated with the overall issue, the presentation itself meandered with little sense of organization (and, ruthless panel moderator that I am, I cut it off at about 22 minutes). I can’t really comment much on it because of this, but important differences with this approach emerged later in the comments.
Sam Ford next presented his work on the longstanding relationship between soap producers and fans (Here’s the full paper (PDF).). This was an important paper in a number of ways, pointing out the complex ways that fans and “TPTB” have viewed (and used) each other in this particular genre, tracing its history over a few decades of viewership, and raising the idea of the “old” (i.e., older than 49) viewer-historian as a key resource not only for soap fandom, but soap production.
Finally, I gave my initial version of my work on the authorship discourses produced around Doctor Who‘s Russell T. Davies (the PDF of which will be up on the conference site shortly). While this is part of a larger project on contemporary television authorship, I am developing it into a stand-alone piece about this particular conjunction of “fan” and “producer” discourses–as shaped primarily by press and PR venues–as a model of “cult TV” production and promotion (I’m still working on how I’m dealing with its actual reception, and am in the process of getting up to speed on fan studies).
While the panel went off well, the real indication of its success came in the comments, when the room erupted in response to Joan Giglione’s (it has to be said) dismissive treatment of an audience question. She asked if the questioner (Bob Rehak, if I remember right) if he had “ever been on a Hollywood set.” When he answered no, she and Gustafson threw their hands up as if to say “well, there’s your problem.”
This elicited an intense exchange about the very epistemology of our object(s) of study. Giglione seemingly, and uncritically, located direct observation of “Hollywood sets” as the “truth” of media culture, while most of the room (including myself) viewed such access as but one particular discourse which, while important, does not necessarily trump other accounts. In my case, for the purposes of this paper, I’m more interested in how what goes on on the (Cardiff, not Hollywood) set of Doctor Who is packaged and presented to various publics, than in what the “actual” production is like.
The question itself – “Have you ever been on a Hollywood set?” – has stuck with me ever since that weekend, as I’ve pondered its explicit hierarchies of knowledge generation, and considered its several ironies (e.g., Hollywood sets are for the production of fantasy; scholarly access to a Hollywood set does not equate with the labor of Hollywood production, etc.). The knowledge gap it suggests cuts right to the core of what we do as media scholars, drawing in everything from Media Effects to Political Economy to Textual Analysis to Cultural Studies. More to come on this one, I’m certain.
This panel also partially fueled Kristina Busse’s response to the conference (which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts), which revealed another set of knowledge discourses that I (as scholar and panel moderator) had previously neglected: the fans themselves, and particularly the viewpoints of female fans and acafans to issues of knowledge, authorship, and textual authority.
I was (unknowingly) seen as one of the “fanboys” attending other “fanboy” panels, rather than the “fangirl” ones. In retrospect, judging by the company I kept that weekend, I can certainly see how that perception emerged. This realization has been important for me in opening up consideration of various codes of power (in that old Foucaultian sense) in my work and scholarly life: gendered, classed, academic, aged, textual, etc. Perhaps I’ve let these differences slide from my conscious thought too much (especially at conferences, where I’m still getting used to friendly grad students coming up to me about Rerun Nation). Regardless of where this comes from (gender, age, race, class, etc.) I’m working out how to maintain this awareness in future.
Next up in the MIT5 review: Towards a Culture of Collaboration (on interactive and online art)