Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Core Response 4: Fan Fiction - Turning Content World Characters Into Agents of Our Own Fantasies

The introduction to the Henry Jenkins reading set up a very interesting dialectic of looking at fandom. Jenkins outlines the ways in which traditional media has marginalized the fans labeling them "kooks", "misfits" and "crazies" (470). He goes on to identify ways in which academic writers have used psychoanalysis to diagnose them in the same way. For me, the most interesting idea Jenkins highlights in his introduction is the notion that there should be an "aesthetic distance" between the audience and the televised content world, as if to say that accepting the separation between the text and reality is the only "sane" way to engage. When fans -- such as in the case of Trekkies -- too closely identify with the characters of a given content world (Star Trek in this case) it is no longer socially acceptable.

Furthermore Jenkins introduces the concept of "poaching" or appropriating aspects of a televised content world (in this case Star Trek) as a coping mechanism for fringe groups in order to "pry open space for their cultural concerns within dominant representations" (472). From here, Jenkins launches into a discussion of how these ways of reading Star Trek have lead to a robust world of fan produced work that carries a television series of 79 episodes into an expanded existence of graphic novels, magazines, short stories, spin off series etc... Conventions as well serve as insular cultural marketplaces of acceptance and escapism for fans. At this point I am reminded of the group of four housewives featured in last week's screening of "Trekkies" who forged a friendship after meeting at a Star Trek convention. Traveling from disparate parts of the country, they would meet up annually at these conventions to escape from their "mundane" lives. One woman in particular claimed she truly felt herself and accepted at these conventions.  

Jenkins focuses on how women in particular have engaged with Star Trek and how feminist readings of the text serve to re-appropriate the dominant male ideology instilled in it. From here Jenkins launches us into a detailed examination of "gender and writing" in the Star Trek world of fan fiction and how men and women ingest and engage differently.

Fan fiction has fascinated me for some time as I was first introduced to it after reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series as an undergraduate student. Years later while working at Focus Features I learned of another chick-lit phenomenon that spawned from fan fiction, 50 Shades of Grey. After the studio acquired the source material and began developing the project, all of the women in the office (myself included) formed a sort of book club. I learned of the vast world of online fan fiction in the female romance/erotica genre. I remember seeing middle aged women in airports voraciously reading paperback copies of the book as well.

Jenkins describes the culture of fan fiction writing as a compulsion to "expand characters and story events beyond textual boundaries" (476). I'm interested in why and how women in particular have used writing as an outlet for unspoken desires and escapist fantasies. Jenkins mentions Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's discussion of how women used letter writing and journaling in the nineteenth century as a mental outlet. I am remind of Jane Austen. In modern times it seems that online "chick-lit" has emerged as a similar outlet.

So as Jenkins asks, why Star Trek? According to him, Star Trek introduced women into the world of the "space opera" in non traditional ways. Furthermore, the presence of an alien culture (Vulcans) served to suggest an alternate society in which gender roles could be transposed or transgressed. Jenkins observes that for women to fully engage in Star Trek, they must perform "intellectual transvesticism" (476) in order to identify with the male characters driving the plot. Their fan fiction on the other hand could serve to revert that. He states, "In constructing their own stories about the series characters, they turn frequently to the more familiar and comfortable formulas of the soap, the romance, and the feminist coming-of-age novel for models of storytelling technique" (482).

I am most interested in the citation of the Bethann story from 1976 called "The Measure of Love". It involves a young woman who transfers to the Enterprise and Jenkins includes a scene in which she goes to dinner with Captain Kirk. Later we learn they had a love affair that resulted in child. This eroticization of Captain Kirk through female fantasy correlates to modern celebrity tabloid infatuation. If anything, a documentary like Trekkies shows a definite blurring of the lines between fiction and reality. As female fans, we begin to fantasize about these content world characters such as Spok and Captain Kirk, like we would Brad Pitt or George Clooney. The larger than life "cult of personality" is as real to us on a TV screen as it is on a tabloid page. Fan fiction allows female readers turned writers to construct expanded roles for these characters, turning them into agents of their own fantasies.    

1 comment:

  1. Hey Myah

    Great post! Your questions about why and how women have used writing to express unspoken desires brings up another set of questions for me, namely to what extent these desires are themselves shaped by the dominant patriarchal structure of our society, and to what extent we can really read them as feminist? I'm thinking more of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey in particular here (although I still have not read the latter nor seen the film). Both have been heavily criticized for presenting female characters who are largely passive, and for glamorizing controlling and obsessive men. What does it mean that women are so enthralled by characters like Edward Cullen and Christian Grey? Is it a reflection of the internalization of patriarchy's message that women are inherently weaker and in need of protection, care, control, etc by men? The Bethann story that Jenkins (and you) cite brings up similar questions, in that it focuses on the relationship between a woman character and the desirable Captain Kirk, and potentially defines the female character's worth through Kirk's desire for her. This is not to diminish the value of relationship focused texts / narratives, but rather to ask to what extent we can produce (or even imagine) truly subversive feminist texts that can derail our perceived masculine-feminine binaries when we have been so ingrained in a patriarchal society? The Uhuru and Chapel stories Jenkins cites are slightly more successful in this regard, but as Jenkins notes, there does not seem to be anything particularly radical about the construction of gender roles in these texts either....