rivkat: Dean reading (dean reading)
rivkat ([personal profile] rivkat) wrote2016-12-20 05:00 pm

Nonfiction, including a book about fandom archives

Jennifer Lehr, ParentSpeak: What’s Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children —and What to Say Instead: Very much a book for parents of young children whose challenges to our equilibrium can often drive us to our worst selves. Lehr presents one aspect of the issue by quoting a cartoon of a mother saying to her daughter, “Honey, when you grow up, I want you to be assertive, independent, and strong-willed. But while you’re a kid, I want you to be passive, pliable, and obedient.” Lehr’s argument is that this is an untenable project. [I suspect, stated outright like that, some kids could handle it, but definitely not all.]  Also, attributed to Freud: “unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” Time-outs are bad for your child; they don’t succeed in dealing with the need the child was expressing with the problematic behavior. (She doesn’t like “misbehave” because it’s a term used to control children like property—if you wouldn’t say your mother “misbehaved” you shouldn’t say it of your child.) Quoting another author: “time-outs convey to the child that we cannot handle them unless they’re good.” Also, don’t force your kids to provide affection, or even a “sorry” (though having them go through conflict resolution is ok), or to share immediately upon demand (though extended turn taking is ok). Especially given the condemnation of spanking, with which I totally agree, this is going to read to a lot of people like “let your kids walk all over you,” and it is, a little bit, with the idea that the kids will eventually grow up and if they learn how to express their emotions, they will eventually be able to accept those emotions and make better choices.

Stephen Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany: What it says on the hat. Like many geniuses, Sondheim might be better served to let his works speak for him, but there are a few gems outside of the lyrics. In discussing Into the Woods, he says that the concept of fairy tales offered too many possibilities—if you have no point to make, which characters you choose can be arbitrary. Also fairy tales don’t have enough events—they can’t sustain a two-hour musical. Then he and James Lapine came up with the idea of having a mash-up (after first having a different idea, for a mash-up in which popular characters like T.J. Hooker, Ralph and Alice Kramden, etc. met up). Inspiration is weird and relies on existing stuff. I also liked the story behind Road Show, which I saw produced last year—changed substantially from what’s in the book, since Sondheim can’t stop tinkering, and it was notable that the main character’s homosexuality was one thing that went from hints to central in the newer version; the book talks about changing social attitudes, but change happened even after he wrote the book.

Abigail De Kosnik, Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom: If, as some have suggested, fandom is where important cultural trends show up before they reach mass culture, then maybe fanfic archives say something about the future of archiving. De Kosnik’s important book has a lot to say about the nature of media fans’ production (which she considers fundamentally performance-based, as Francesca Coppa does) and archiving practices. The book begins “Memory has gone rogue,” in the sense that our public, collective memory has become detached from the state. I’d point to copyright owners like Disney as participants in this process along with rogue archivists, and not just because of Rogue One, the difference of course being that Disney is interested in widespread penetration but not in free access.

One of De Kosnik’s key terms is “repertoire,” which is not opposed to the archive but rather is the contents of the archive—repertoire is “physical, bodily acts of repetition, of human performance”—but those are made (im)material by the records in the archive that are available for people to choose from. Rather than a canon, we have myriad possible versions of everything, and each person can pick from the options.

De Kosnik also emphasizes the humanity behind the archives, because they are run by people, and when the people step away the archives shut down. “If librarians had to not only enter books into their records and put them on the shelves of a library, and also had to pay the rent and other fees associated with having the library building in the first place, and also had to make sure that for every single book in the library, a copy existed in another library with which they were in direct contact, and if librarians had to personally designate their replacement before resigning their post, or else risk the closure of the entire library, then both librarians and the library-going public would be farm more conscious of how much repeated human labor and intervention—which I am calling archival repertoire—goes into the maintenance of a library.” But archive elves are rarely imagined as actual human beings; they’re “facilitators of more heroic archetypes: actors, artists, writers.” Their labor is disembodied and often overlooked, just like stage workers backstage. As she points out, that’s actually part of the aspiration—to make the archive/playgoing experience seamless: “The smoothness of platform use to which the majority of platform designers aspire requires the erasure of all traces of the designers’ labor.” (It would have been interesting for her to engage with Evgeny Morozov’s advocacy for difficult design here, given his project of disrupting neoliberal platforms.)

One thing special about an archive, De Kosnik suggests, is the sense it gives people who stumble on it that they’re not alone, not unique in making up stories about the characters they love. “[I]f these sites had not been archives, had not immediately given the impression of being well-stocked repositories, trafficked by many writers and readers, then they may not have communciated to fans the same aura of safety—safety in numbers, safety in being among like-minded individuals, safety in standing with others.” Which is an interesting contrast to zine culture, often carried out in what at least felt like slightly dodgy back rooms; there was that one time the zine seller quizzed me to make sure I knew I was going to get stories about Kirk and Spock boinking, and even showed me a picture. I guess I didn’t fit the profile. In zine culture, the safety was in obscurity, not just community.

This idea of finding like-minded souls (and the transcendence of the body is probably not incidental here) connects to De Kosnik’s discussion of how fan archives represent time “feminized and queered”—works that took years to accumulate presented all at once; works produced and consumed for pleasure, representing the largely female-identifying audience’s “me time.” The acceleration involved in transitioning media fandom online was also of great concern to offline fans, many of whom found at least some aspects of the transition disconcerting and even unappealing. De Kosnik argues that their concerns were united by “a preoccupation with the absence of female human bodies from the virtual network.” In her parable of Janeway/Seven Voyager femslash, De Kosnik argues that one can find a model for the productive encounter between old-school and new digital fans, each of which has something to give the other.

In terms of embodiment, De Kosnik argues that authors’ notes and challenges often provide the clues to time and embodiment that can be overlooked by people who ignore the metadata. In notes, authors who are “realistic” within their fan fiction perform the existence of a virtual body; they use emoticons and other indications of bodily response. They participate in challenges, fulfilling fans desire “to create group experiences of immediacy, spontaneity, and urgency, experiences similar to live and in-person improvisatory performances.”

She considers fan narratives to be, fundamentally, forks of the initial “code.” Indeed, she contends, the free software freedoms to “run” the program (experience the work), study its source (characters and story), change the source, and distribute those modified copies are in fact “innate to media reception, consumption, and use, and legal designations, such as the GPL license or Creative Commons licenses, simply try to align with, formalize, and provide legal cover for, the freedoms that media users exercise with or without legal permission.” This is consistent with a concept of media literacy that “involves a perspective on culture, all of culture, as a shared set of ‘resources’ that each user feels she or he owns (whether they own copyright over specific cultural products or not), and therefore, feels entitled to ‘manipulate … as materials and tools.’”

At the end, De Kosnik shares data on the amount of fan fiction she collected (with others) by scraping Livejournal communities, fanfiction.net, and the AO3. It would take 94 years to get through the X-Files archive Gossamer at a rate of one story a day; it would take 1729 years to get through all the Harry Potter stories on fanfiction.net at the same rate. However, De Kosnik finds that Gossamer has 5.2 stories per author, while there are 2.9 stories per author on ff.net. She suggests that XF fandom in the 90s may have been more of a “cult” fandom than HP fandom in the 2000s; by then, casual fans might well be dipping their toes into fanfic along with more dedicated fans. Still, most HP fans who posted stories on ff.net did so more than once, so, as she notes, “casual” might be the wrong term. Separately, the number of unique authors on ff.net is 1.2 million, “9.3 times the number of writers and authors who were employed in the United States in 2012.” The number of reviews posted to stories on ff.net over the past fifteen years is 139.5 million, which is more than the 131 million tickets purchased to sporting events in the US and Canada in 2012. This is a big venue for cultural consumption and production, and it’s not slowing down any. Only self-publishing ebooks grew faster in recent years than fan fiction production, which was up 60 percent in 3 years. De Kosnik contends that “at 5.4 million archived works—90 times as many works as are housed in Netflix’s streaming library—with 80,000 new works currently being added every month, FF.net can be considered a mass media channel.” And AO3 is growing even faster.
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[personal profile] azurelunatic 2016-12-21 07:28 am (UTC)(link)
(It may amuse you to note that at least one of the interviews behind Rogue Archives took place in Wicked Grounds, a queer kinky coffee shop in San Francisco.)