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September 1992


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 30 Sep 1992 15:23:58 EDT
Your message of Wed, 30 Sep 92 11:52:09 -0400. <[log in to unmask]>
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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I ran out of time before I fully addressed the questions this writer raised and
so I wanted to add a few additional thoughts. First, I wanted to publically
endorse the work Andrea is proposing to do as at least an important and
fruitful question. As I wrote her privately, I think what is at the heart
of her question is the ambiguious status of performers and characters on
television. (Jeremy, are you reading this? I would love your thoughts here.) It
 seems to me that we know characters only television only through their
embodiment by particular actors (i.e. only William Shatner has played Kirk)
while we often know the actors only through their impersonation of particular
characters (i.e. William Shatner will remain Kirk, even when we see him on
his RESCUE program or think of all of the tv stars who had only one series in
them.) When fans try to write these characters, it is hard to seperate them
totally from the actors who played them and so there is often a blurring of
the boundaries and often a conscious debate about where those boundaries lie.
Fan artists assert that their works depict the characters, not the actors, as
do most fan writers. I take them at their word as reflecting their understanding
 of these characters. But on another level, how can anyone seperate the two
so readily? Isn't that still a likeness of Patrick Stewart on the cover of
my book even though Jean Kluge is using it to represent Jean-Luc Picard as
King Arthur? So, what Andrea is proposing to do is not to over-stress fan
identification of stars but to ask about what role our knowledge of actors
plays in our fannish interpretations of those characters (in letterzine
writing, net chat, con talk, etc.) and what role it plays in the fictional
reconstruction of those characters in zine fiction.
   Now, I wanted to more generally address the questions posed by the academy's
relationship to fandom. I think it is a very complex relationship which I
try to explore in the book's introduction. But, it reflects an important
generational shift in the nature of media studies. Let me paint in broad
strokes here: some of the earliest writing in this country on popular culture
came from the Frankfort School tradition, alienated intellectuals who came
from Germany in the wake of the perceived failure of the Bolshevik revolution
 and the rise of nazism. They had little cultural background on American pop
culture and wrote about it from a perspective totally outside the experience
of fans and consumers. The fan/consumer was an Other who could be constructed
as an object of their worst nightmares about mass conformity, etc. and, as
many people have suggested now, the audience was seen as a female object of
a profound male dread. A second generation of writing on popular culture
reflects the need Academics had to legitimize their research on film by
treating it as equivalent with traditional high art. Their cultural capital
was in the art cinema. Their models for writing came from literary studies,etc.
and we had to create a clear seperation of art/non-art in which most works
of popular cultural have to be dismissed from serious consideration so that
the few select, cannonical texts and auteurs can be cherished. A third
 generation came to popular culture primarily with a political agenda and in so
 far as
they write about fans (and many of them do), they write about them as an
oppositional subculture. Often, fans are discussed (a la Fiske) as a theoretical
 abstraction, "the people," because these writers had little direct contact
with the fan community. Just as the earlier writers had  seen fans as blind
consumers, these writers saw fans as nascent activists. This is how I read
comments about reading politics into fandom. I see myself as representing a
fourth generation in writing about popular culture and fandom. I have been
part of fandom for 15 years. My fannish interests are part of which motivated
me to become an academic working in Media Studies. Popular culture is not
other, alien to me nor is it erzaz high art. I grew up with the mass media;
we were raised by and on television and so we write about it in different
ways. We are struggling to find the terms to discuss it. In writing my book,
I invited fans to participate in that process, to further break down the
boundaries between fan and academic and so I welcome feedback to my work,
positive or negative, from fans. Many of the graduate students I have
talked to who are interested in writing about fandom share this same
background. They are academic/fans in the truest sense of the word. So do many
 of the better young writers on popular culture. I might point to someone like
Lynn Spigel who is not a fan in the sense we are using it here but who is
a true enthusiast about many forms of popular culture and it represents a
central aspect of her cultural experience. I am therefore excited by what
I see as a potential chance to re-invent the academy, to create a situation
where academics are not learning about fans or even writing about fans
but learning from fans and writing as fans. I did not stop becoming a fan when I
 became an academic. I think we as academic can make contributions to the
fan community in the same way that fan writers contribute to the group's culture
 but only if we get rid of some of our intellectual pretentions and
 institutional privledges.
Anyway, enough soap box. I welcome responses from others since this question
is much larger than how we write about fan culture, an interest of limited
interest to the group as a whole. What I am asking is how we conceptualize
our own relationship to popular culture? How our personal, private experience
of popular culture shapes how we write and teach?