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September 1992


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 28 Sep 1992 18:19:24 EDT
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I am responding to some of Sue's questions in response to my response. This is
starting to get textually dense. Unfortunately, I am still new enough at
computing to know how to make those cute little indent qoute excerpts from
her correspondence so I will try to paraphrase. She has originally asked me
what room there was for future research in fandom and I had responded by
listing a range of possabilities. I had written, "every fandom...poses its
own theoretical problems" and she asked me to explain. Here's a few examples:
In TEXTUAL POACHERS, I use the example of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST fandom to
discuss the shifting relationship between fans and program ideology. I wanted
to focus on a dispute within the fandom about the status of third season
 episodes which many fans rejected as a violation of the generic expectations
 established by the series and thus not "really B&B." I saw this history as a
 way of
showing: a)how fans could still be fans of a program while rejecting what
was aired and having a different agenda from the producers; b)how genre
 functions as an interpretive strategy rather than a property of texts; c)how
may be understood as a process of shifting alliances rather than the fixed
positions of Stuart Hall's dominant, oppositional, and negotiated readings.
Now, let's consider another example. Right now I am working on an essay which
looks at the Gaylaxicans, an organization of gay, lesbian and bisexual fans
who have run a letter-writing campaign to try to convince the producers to
add a "queer" character to STAR TREK. This group poses many new questions for
me, centering around our attempts to theorize non-hetrosexual spectatorship and
 the relationship between the fan's politics of cultural preference and a more
traditional identity politics of sexual preference. To explore these questions,I
 have turned towards Gay and Lesbian Studies approaches to see how they might
suplament my reliance on Michel de Certeau and have become more interested
in questions of "gossip" or "gay window advertising" (as Danae Clarke discusses
 in "Commodity Lesbianism" in a recent CAMERA OBSCURA issue) as well as
notions of camp. Is Q a site of camp within the ST text? Were Yar and Ro
intended to be read as "dykes"? Why did the producers feel compelled to
give them hetrosexual lovers to foreclose such a reading? What does the
utopian dimensions of ST in particular and science fiction more generally
offer gay, lesbian and bi spectators? What problems do the producers encounter
when they try to deal with the issue of sexual preference through allegory
as in "The Host" or "The Outcast" rather than directly? Etc. So, the questions
I ask, the issues I explore and the theoretical models I draw upon in
relation to this fandom are different from those I used to talk about BEAUTY
AND THE BEAST or those I used to discuss computer net fans of TWIN PEAKS or
the emergence of an ALIEN NATION fandom, etc. Similarly, Sue asks what
 theoretical models could be used to talk about fandom. To take existing work on
subject, Constance Penley's psychoanalytic approach with its reliance upon
notions of fantasy identification is different from my British Cultural
studies approach with its reliance on De Certeau's notion of "poaching" is
different from Camille Bacon-Smith's therapeutic model of fan writing as a
mode of managing the risks involved in expressing personal pain in a collective
forum. I have seen work that looks at the political economy (a la Eileen Meehan)
 of fandom or
that applies a more postmodernism approach (ala Larry Grossberg.)  You might
look at Lisa Lewis's anthology, THE ADORING AUDIENCE, which reflects a range
of different approaches to the study of fandom, some of which I find really
troubling, some less so. All I meant to suggest was the rather modest
observation that my approach answers some questions about fandom but dodges
or opens others. A question I would like to see explored but can not fully
answer within my methodology is a consideration of the affective economy of
fandom (i.e. why do people choose to invest their emotional energy in some
images and not others) and what language people use to describe the moment when
they discovered the pleasures of a particular series. Another question that
needs to be addressed more fully than I do is the issue of the relationship
fans posit between the space of their fan activities and the realm of the
 "mundane," i.e. the non-fannish aspects of their experience.
   I had suggested that she might look at computers and fandom and she asked
for clarification. In TEXTUAL POACHERS, I do a case study of a computer net
group centering on TWIN PEAKS which offered an ongoing critical debate, etc.
of the series as it unfolded. I barely scratched the surface in discussing
this group but nets offer a rich resource for audience research. Consider
Ian Ang's WATCHING DALLAS. She solicted less than 100 letters upon which she
basis the corpus of her book. In an average day, at the peak of its activity,
the TWIN PEAKS net group generated several times that many entries. The
discourse produced is not generated by the researcher but rather reflects
the ongoing interpretive activity of the net group. Members of the net are
able to challenge each others claims about the text, to debate interpretations
and often to articulate the rules or interpretive strategies by which they
developed those interpretations. The group offers immediate response to each
and every aired episode of the series. The net allows you to trace the
audience's shifting relationship to the series over time in a very
precise fashion. The question becomes not data collection but data processing.
How can I handle so much information not how can I get enough information to
make meaningful generalizations? Interpretation on the net becomes an observable
 behavoir. Now, you have to know how to read it -- both in terms of the
status of the discussion as reflecting the social and cultural needs of a
fan community (as I discuss in Textual Poachers) but also in terms of
the demographic groups which have access to this computer technology. So
far, I know of only a few people who have researched the net groups or looked
at them as an audience for television.
   CONSOLING PASSIONS is a conference that specifically addresses questions
of feminism and television studies. I will try to post information as soon
as I can get it from Lynn but you should seriously consider attending.