rivkat: Rivka as Wonder Woman (Default)
( Nov. 21st, 2002 08:40 pm)
The setting: a lecture by one of our visiting profs. The lecture is named in honor of a big donor. Dinner to follow in the building next door.

The principals: another big donor and his group; me; the nervous development person who is confusing them with directions to the building.

The action: I volunteer to walk them over, since I'm going to the dinner too.

The dialogue: Big donor: "Oh, are you a new student here?" Me (smile cracking like Magic Shell): "No, I'm a professor."

Not his fault; not even the security guards buy that one. I wish I looked more authoritative, but I'm afraid I just look like a coed.

Recent books of interest, many fannish, ahead.

I reread David Brin's "The Postman," and found it less fun than I remembered. The novel is made up of shorter stories that were retro-written into the novel, and the seams show, like the seams on a baseball. The ending is abrupt, veering suddenly into "The Gate to Women's Country" territory, and not particularly satisfying. Still, as hopeful post-apocalyptic fiction goes, it's pretty good entertainment.

"The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media," edited by Lisa A. Lewis, is an okay survey of various cultural studies approaches to fandom. Though John Fiske's essay "The Cultural Economy of Fandom" is here, the best parts of the book are less theory-heavy and more specific. "Essays from Bitch: The Women's Rock Newsletter with Bite," "'I'll Be Here with You': Fans, Fantasy and the Figure of Elvis," "Television Executives Speak about Fan Letters to the Networks," and "A Glimpse of the Fan Factory" (reprints of actual letters to various celebrities and gossip columnists) are worth reading, even if the psychoanalytic theory in the Elvis piece gets a little heavy. Henry Jenkins's work on filking is here too, but unnecessary if you've read "Textual Poachers" -- and if you haven't, what the hell are you doing in fandom?

I didn't like Camille Bacon-Smith's "Enterprising Women" when I first read it, because it didn't describe my fannish experience at all. Now that I can use my research budget to add such books to my library, I got my own copy and found my opinion markedly improved upon rereading. Bacon-Smith is not describing Internet fandom, though there are important areas of overlap. I think she's also a little off in treating fandom like an onion, with layers only revealed over time to newbies, who are first protected from hurt/comfort and slash and only gradually allowed in. But again, this may be because Internet fandom doesn't work that way. It's an interesting book if you want to know every strand of academic analysis of fandom.

But the fan-type book that I really loved among my recent reads was Samantha Barbas's "Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars and the Cult of Celebrity," which looks at fans' relationships and contributions to movie star images during the first half of the twentieth century. Barbas has excellent evidence and a persuasive story about how fans themselves controlled, to a much more significant extent than anyone really understood except the studio execs, who became a celebrity and what his/her public image would be. Highly recommended.

Jack Stillinger's "Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius" is important for the evidence it marshals, but tough going when he spends a chapter on Coleridge's contributions to Wordsworth, Keats and the other people who helped write one Keats poem, etc. The fine detail is too much for people who don't know the targeted works intimately, but the first and last three chapters more than make up for the hard going with an excellent discussion of why the romantic concept of the individual author never made any sense, doesn't make any sense now, and won't make any sense in the future. Although editors claim not to create and just to assist authors, in fact that assistance often reminds one of Michelangelo's statement that the sculpture's always in the marble and his job is just to chip off the bits that aren't part of the sculpture. The collaborative enterprise of fandom (and, indeed, movies and series television) acknowledges the fact of communal creation, but it's the acknowledgement and not the community that make it different from "mainstream" literary works.

Naomi Klein's "No Logo" is a great account of the branding of America and the world, and how the value of Nike's swoosh turns out to affect labor conditions around the world, as companies switch to a model in which they only own their names and subcontract out everything else. Although her ending chapters are far too optimistic in my opinion, the work effortlessly weaves the theory of product branding with the commercialization of American education with the story of Third World development, enriching one's understanding of all of it (and more besides).

I bought Kevin Mitnick & William Simon's "The Art of Deception" because I wanted to learn more about how corporate security can be breached (yes, this will turn up in the post-Spiders story). There's a lot of repetition, only to be expected of a business book, but the reason to read this book is for the stories. Time after time, people described in this book fall prey to cons that, by attacking the people responsible for security, easily bypass all technical measures. And don't feel superior -- I suspect that, if we were all honest, most of us would admit that we'd have been fooled by (at a bare minimum) half of these tricks. This book will make you nervous, but that's probably a good thing.

"Spiders" is slouching towards completion. Yay!



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