Toren Hardee

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“Fan Works”

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Pretty difficult to pick from the hundreds and hundreds of fan works and remixes that I’ve seen on the internet over time (let alone remember all of them), so here’s a few that immediately come to mind.  I also can’t get the embeds to work so we’re just going to have to link to them.

“H.O.O.D. Fridays”

This first is an advertisement for Kanye’s new album as if it was a gangster rap album (spoiler: it’s not) and he had a street team to work it’s promotion from the ground up.  It’s pretty vulgar, but also hilarious.

Chris Farley Interviews Paul McCartney

A classic.  Farley parodies the stereotypical obsessive fanboy.

Vuvuzela Hero

I’d hesitate to call this a “fan work”, but it’s short and hey, close enough.

Reading 11/29 (is it really almost December??!?)

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Our readings (and/or listenings) for today discuss extensions of television texts to different forms on the internet.  It was difficult to tell exactly what point the author of the webisode article was making because of his/her mix of internet and parallel-universe-academia jargon; I had to look up a few things like “IMHO” and “wrt”, and “storydwelling” and “storyforming” are not actually terms with a circulation in academic discourse, are they?  I see that these words are part of the blog’s subheading, so I assume they would make sense to me if I read this blog regularly.  Anyway, I think the blogger’s point is the webisodes are sort of stupid and ultimately will never be a successful form because they are an example of TV folks trying to make a bite-sized version of the form they’re familiar with work on the internet, which is an environment where the rules are not the same.  I’m not exactly sure what he/she is proposing or would propose as a better internet extension (official ones, that is) of TV shows.

The Heroes discussion was interesting, though I just read the summary rather than listen to the whole thing.  I had no idea that the first season of Heroes DVDs was the best-selling box set of all time!  Surprising.  Though I guess that season was actually pretty compelling, fun television — my memory of it has become tainted by the way the show derailed itself quickly afterwards, provoking me to stop watching (and this was before the writers allegedly really shit the bed during seasons 3 and onward).  lol!

“Blogging”, chps. 5-7

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Great stuff, this!  I independently had a realization about the idea of blog narratives a few weeks ago.  Election day, in fact.  I sat down to post a few thoughts about the election and music on my own blog, The Ashtray Says, and ended up writing a 3000-word behemoth that went places I didn’t expect it to go and resulted in me realizing plenty of things that I was only first thinking through as I was writing them.  It got the most hits of any post I’ve ever made on there, and it was overall a really fulfilling experience.  I realized that if one really spends a lot of time blogging, writes about their personal life to some degree, and writes more posts than I do and tries to write them all thoughtfully and insightfully, one’s blog could totally start to become a little narrative of certain aspects of one’s life.  Obviously its truth value is all complicated and mixed up with the idea of your perceived audience, but it is not inherently less revealing and/or self-analytical and/or therapeutic to you than a diary, I think.

My absolute favorite current blog is a Tumblr blog called pitchforkreviewsreviews and it does exactly what i’m talking about.  I have so much to say about this blog so bear with me.  It acts as a narrative in two ways:

1) A semi-revealing narrative of a music-obsessed dude a couple of years out of college living in Brooklyn.  This is a lifestyle that I am at least curious about if not dead-set on living, and I feel a kinship with him with him unlike what I’ve felt reading any other blog, by a long shot.  I want to hang out with him!  He hides some details of his personal life, i.e. his last name (his first name is David and he often uses the alias David Shapiro) and his day job, which we all know is a dangerous thing to blog about.  But he is extremely forthright with a lot of other things i.e. past relationships, being a fat teenager, crying about comments posted about his “WEEZY F” inner-lip tattoo on some comment board, and crying about other various things.  So it’s obviously not a completely open account of his life, but it’s open and sincere enough that I feel like I have a pretty decent idea who he is and what his life is like.

2) Reading the blog in chronological order shows a narrative of the evolution of the blog itself, as in his purpose in writing it.  (I discovered it a few months back, and after reading a handful of posts and LOVING them, I went back to the beginning — March of this year — and read them all in order.)  It started out doing what its title says: reviewing the reviews of albums on pitchfork.com.  And it started out as a lot of invective about how much pitchfork sucks and how it has a fucking monopoly on current indie tastemaking etc, but after reading all five reviews that they post each day he quickly started to change his rhetoric.

*Side note: He writes in a breathless, grammatically-flawed yet eminently readable style with very little punctuation and no periods at the end of paragraphs which rushes you right on to the next one.  So I apologize that when I write about him, I start to write like him.  Maybe you’ve noticed

Anyway, he started to write more and more thoughtfully about how pitchfork is good and how it is bad and how they have a distinct writing style but it is not the end-all-be-all of current music criticism, it has its own strengths and weaknesses as well.  He ended up writing a lot of really insightful things about music criticism and music itself.  Then he started writing more and more posts that were not actually reviews of reviews, and eventually stopped writing the reviews altogether, with a post explaining why.  He would write long posts about DJing a party or some chance encounter on a street or at a party with a musician or other public figure.  Then, very recently, he wrote a post explaining that he was now working on the script for a movie about himself that some producer wants to get made (!!!).  As we discussed in class today, this could be a lie, in fact the whole blog could be a fiction, but he is too sincere-seeming and the details too pitch-perfect for it to all be a crock of shit.  I’m very inclined to trust him.

So, as you can see, his blog is one which evolved drastically in a relatively short period of time, and reading it “front to back” gives one a clear sense of the narrative of his life and of the blog itself.

Part of this narrative is also the rise of his blog’s popularity, and despite my lack of hard data, I would dare to say that it was “meteoric” (a Times article when your amateur hobby-blog is like 4 months old constitutes meteoric, right?).  He probably could’ve monetized his blog but he wrote a post about not wanting to include ads and, at this point, wanting to keep his blogging/music passion separate from his day job.  This brings us up to chapter 6, and the idea of “personal brand”.  His personal brand is, well, personal, personable, sincere, insightful, and aesthetically simple.

A blog with basically the exact opposite personal brand is my second favorite blog.  It is Hipster Runoff.  It would take even longer (WAY longer) to explain than PRR, so I’ll let you do a little research on your own and just say that it is a blog about “alternative culture” that reports in an endlessly sarcastic yet weirdly poker-faced voice.  (Disclaimer, as with PRR, I write like HRO when I write about it.  With HRO it is the totally excessive use of scare quotes.)  The anonymous blogger goes only by “Carles” and is often racist, sexist, scatological and otherwise immature, but don’t let that deter you.  I had to read a number of posts before really “getting” his voice — it is totally unique and actually quite nuanced — the cheap humor is mixed with brilliant, incisive criticism of the “alt” figureheads he is parodying, as well as sudden bursts of existential dread.

Interestingly enough, I heard Carles talking about the idea of “personal brand” long before I read it in Rettberg.  In fact, he practically never shuts up about it.  In his world, almost every action by a band or music fan is construed as a deliberate attempt to construct/enhance/strengthen one’s personal brand.  Take this recent post on Sufjan as an example.  Stevens has certainly made a drastic shift in his personal brand during this “album cycle” (another one of Carles’ favorite terms), and he dissects this in his own weird style.

This has gotten long as shit and I need to go do other homework so I’m going to wrap it up here even though I’m leaving out some great stuff from this chapter.  The discussion of the “sterile, untrustworthy” traditional PR voice vs. the need for truth and integrity in blogging was awesome.  I also could use this argument to back up a not-contentious point I made in class recently which got unexpectedly shot down by, like, everyone, but I seriously need to move on to my other work.  I’m just gonna transcribe her kick-ass quote from the closing paragraph, because it sums up my views about the inherent neutrality of most technologies:

“Blogs and participatory media have both a liberatory potential, as is visible in the energy of the Iranian and Chinese blogosphere despite their governments’ attempts to quash free speech, and a dangerous potential for increased surveillance and control.  Blogs, knives and most other technologies can be used for good or for evil.”

Goodnight for now, internet.

Quidditch & Harry Potter

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So I was at the Quidditch World Cup last weekend, and I was planning to blog about it.  We already had that great discussion about it in class, but I thought I’d share some thoughts about it anyway.  I also went to see the new Harry Potter movie at the Midd Marquis at midnight on opening night.  I don’t really have a solid through-line for all these thoughts, so I’m just going to write them down and see what happens.

I would say that my relationship with both Quidditch and the Harry Potter movies is the perfect example of my generation’s relationship with “millenial media” (of which Harry Potter might be the quintessential example).  I am not particularly interested or invested in the propagation of Quidditch as a sport, but I always have fun at the World Cup and I’ve remained friends with a lot of the people involved (not to mention a lot of people on our team), so I’ve stayed involved in one way or another over the past couple of years, and thought it would be fun to get down to New York.  Plus, I enjoy that nostalgic aspect of the game; you get to see hundreds of people running around and acting (mostly) like children, and it hearkens back to my memories of reading Harry Potter as a child.  In my understand of millenial media as we’ve discussed it so far, this combination of distancing and aspiration perfectly exemplifies the way millenials relate to the media that targets them.

The same goes for the movies.  I’ve felt pretty indifferent towards almost every Harry Potter movie — I tend to leave them feeling like “Well, that was…..a Harry Potter movie,” and not see them again — without diminishing the special place the books have in my heart.  I went to the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Series of Cool-Looking Locations to Be Emo at the Middlebury Marquis because it seemed like a fine thing to do on a Thursday night and I knew I wanted to see the movie eventually, but I figured if I didn’t see it right away I would just keep procrastinating and maybe never get around to it.  It was fun, even though the Midd Marquis is a horrible theater, I was sitting in the front row, and the speakers had a buzz that was unbearable in all the quiet scenes.  (Plus the owner was being SUPER strict about cell phone usage, so I couldn’t live Tweet the thing, which I REALLY wanted to do.)  I was a little tipsy, so that probably helped, because it’s a pretty poorly paced movie (then again, the middle sections of the 7th book were probably the most draggy of the entire series) and seemed sort of visually schizophrenic a lot of the time.  Anyway, I’m not trying to write a review of the film. What I want to say is that the crowd was totally the best part of the screening, and I guess that’s why one goes to midnight showings.  The crowd was almost exclusively college students, which I thought was interesting.  I suppose this is a college town, and it was midnight, and the seventh book has the most “mature themes” and violence, so it makes sense.  But the crowd’s age didn’t prevent them from being very engaged and vocal.  People gasped at the snake, applauded small victories, and let out a huge “AWWWWWWWW” almost every time Ron Weasley appeared on screen.  The issue of “aspiration” has always been interesting with Harry Potter because of the relationship of the books with time, each one representing a year.  The current senior class was just about the same age as Harry when the 7th book came out and are now 4 or 5 years older, but some freshmen aren’t so far past that age now.  So there might be some nostalgia for the end-of-high-school-age-type-situations (emotionally, not in terms of battling powerful evil wizards) that Harry and his friends are going through.  And I’m sure some of us are reminded of how we were dealing with similar things when we were that age — when this story first came out, in book form.  In any case, I’m glad I got to see it with such an enthusiastic crowd, and I didn’t anticipate how relevant it would be to this class.

Drabble

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Since I never posted this, I thought I’d upload one of the many iterations of Ken’s and my drabble, using only phrases taken from Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, which has its own sort of idiosyncratic vocabulary.

With my ear to the street and my eye to the sky,
Daddy Fat Sax, indeed it is I;
Yes, it is I, the B.I.G. B.O.I.
Trying to block my shine just ain’t gon’ happen so don’t try
Oh with my Southern drawl awkwardly I spray
Yo DJ ain’t no DJ, DJ hit that instant replay
Yo DJ ain’t no DJ, he just make them fuckin’ mixtapes
Meanwhile the weak-minded are falling by the wayside
So many ghostwriters that the game is haunted by
The angelic plucking of the puppet strings;
Oh, my dear Tangerine, damn the American Dream.

11/17 Readings: FlashForward

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I’ll cut right to the chase today: the main connection I noticed between the two articles on FlashForward was that they were both written by people outside the typical demographic of fandom.  I’m not sure if this is the right way to say this, but something about each author’s situation made their fan experience different in some way: the first writer was 70 years old, placing her outside the typical age range of fannish practices (TiVo-ing episodes, doing further investigation online), and the other writer was from Australia, where the broadcasting delay on American programs places her (I assume Tama is a woman’s name) puts her at a disadvantage for experiencing digital content in the way it is intended.

The unusual perspective they both wrote from helped to bring out two things: how diverse fan practices can be, and just how much FF (last week it was GG, now FF…) has contemporary fan practices encoded into its DNA.  I’ll be writing about this, of course, in my screening response, so I don’t want to dig too deeply into it and use everything up.  The first article explains this quite well, especially because the author was not someone otherwise inclined to interacting with texts in a fannish way (in fact, she said that going to the internet for more was a practice completely new to her before FF).  Then, article #2 show just how integral the show’s digital extratextual material is to its experience by explaining how she missed out by not being able to consume this material in the proper context.  Anyway, I’ll be talking about all of this more in my screening response later.

11/10 Readings: Gossip Girl

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Due to some pretty extreme busyness, I sort of fell off the horse with our class blogging and reading at the beginning of last week, so now I’m trying to play catch-up.  I really wish I had done the reading about Gossip Girl before doing my response to the screening, specifically the NY Magazine article, because it probes a lot of the issues I ended up talking about, and I think I could’ve gone deeper if I had had that stuff as a groundwork.  In any case, I loved the NYMag article and it told me a lot of things about GG that I simply was not aware of.  That article is going to be the main thing I focus on here.

Some of my favorite writing about pop culture is the stuff that really brings out its inherent contradictions — in its production, its presentation, and in writing about it.  This article did that really well.  Here’s some of them:

1) The way shows can really seem “made for” its fans, like, as if the producers had some real respect for them, and still be so blatantly trying to pull the money out of their pockets.  We’ve talked about this uneasy relationship between producers and fans a lot this semester, and GG seems like the perfect embodiment of this.  People love that they get to consume this show yet it is so obviously marketed in so many ways.  In the article about CW’s moves towards mobile technology, one of the bigwigs said “We’re not afraid to talk to them like they talk to each other, we understand their lingo,” which demarcates a clear “us” and “them”, and indicates that the producers must feel they must penetrate into the zeitgeist of a demographic in order to market most effectively to them, and they do so shamelessly.

2) The strangely lovable quality these characters have (onscreen and off) despite their obvious immaturity and the fact that their lifestyle is somewhat detestable (onscreen and off).  I had NO idea just how huge and successful this show was, and how friggin famous its stars are. (The people I discuss television with and the places I read about it on the internet lead me to believe in an imaginary media landscape in which, say, Breaking Bad is one of the biggest TV success stories of the past five years.  Not so.)  Unless these two writers are just over-mythologizing the lives of these actors and actresses (quite possible), GG is one of the biggest series in pop culture right now and the crazy, postmodern, contradictory lives that its stars are living are weirdly fascinating.

3) This one definitely hits home with almost everything we’ve discussed in this course throughout the semester: the mixture of fannish obsession and critical, journalistic intellectualism that this article’s authors write with.  They throw in a number of breathless, “OMG” moments with what is most an article written with great astuteness and discretion.  (Surely you must meet stars all the time working for New York Magazine!  Could they really be so starstruck as they make themselves out to be here, or is it part exaggeration for the sake of sarcastic self-deprecation?)  ”I thought this was New York Magazine.  I thought you were supposed to be classy,” says one of the stars.  But perhaps it’s just impossible (not to mention a bit wet rag-ish) to complete ignore all the pulpy, fame-and-wealth stuff when talking about a show that is so completely centered on the same.

Most of all, the article really brings out one of the central (and one of my favorite) mysteries of pop culture, regarding how we can never know how much public image is being shaped and constructed — especially when it mentions the fact that GG’s creator could sort of be a real life Gossip Girl, planting information about the stars in the tabloids, making life imitate art.  But of course he would never admit to it, so we can never know.  This goes back to what I loved about the Louise Brooks article, and it’s why we should never completely forsake a focus on the artists themselves and just study their art — because the two can never really be separated, and studying the way they blend can be really fun.

On Vidding/Fandom

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I’m feeling conflicted.  A lot of this concerns tonight’s screening, but I have some thoughts that I don’t think will fit into my response, so I’m going to spit them out now.

I left our screening tonight thinking about the vids we watched, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit alienated, or implicated, or something.  I’m not quite sure what it is.  I want to try to understand why I felt like this.  I think Francesca Coppa’s public-speech demeanor is not particularly warm and inviting, but this certainly wasn’t intentional on her part (in fact, it might have been more the poor quality of the video). Also, I’m sure my feelings had something to do with the fact that I am not really familiar with ANY of the texts we watched vids for, which made it really difficult to pick up on their arguments unless they were very blatant (as with the Firefly vid…I don’t think you can be much more direct than “Fuck you, Joss, you racist asshole.”)  I felt like an outsider, which is very unusual for me when it comes to pop culture…I have a very fond, loving relationship with a very wide spectrum of pop culture and rarely dig into subcultures as deeply as this, so that I am made to feel ignorant or uninformed.

On the subject of that “fond, loving relationship” thing, a major point now occurs to me.  Of the fannish-relationship-encouraging things that I feel “fannishly” (ugh) about (Lost, Lord of the Rings, Wilco, Arrested Development…I’d say these are the key ones), I would say that I have none of the conflicted feelings about them that these vidders seem to have with their texts of choice.  I especially feel that Wilco has, and Lost had, a huge amount of respect for their fans…maybe this is just good business, but I’m really inclined to think it’s more.  I was a diehard defender of almost every risky decision Cuse and Lindelof made over the course of Lost, and had a huge amount of faith in them, even when people I know started to complain about the show’s direction (which is to say, from about the third friggin episode through the end of the series).  I love to poke fun at the goofier aspects of the Lord of the Rings movies as I watch them (and some friend’s I’ve watched with are really bothered by this…they can’t reconcile my joshing with my immense love for those movies), but I have never felt in any way “wronged” by the ideologies of any of these things I named, not in the way these vidders seem to have been.  Maybe it’s because I’m a heterosexual male, and thus am almost never made to feel ignored or oppressed.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a remix-type project of mine attempt to be quashed by the legal arms of these entities.  But don’t think I’m a stranger to the world of fan participation — in 7th grade, I spent a serious chunk of type using the Age of Empires II in-game map builder to create an incredibly detailed “Helm’s Deep” scenario. (Seriously.)  I just have never had any reason to feel anything but thankful towards the people who make culture that I love.

I suppose the conflicted fan relationship of the vidders is much more interesting to study than my boring old affection for the texts I’m a fan of, but I just can’t quite relate to it.  So I think I’ve talked my way in circles around my point…maybe it can be encapsulated in my immediate reaction to the video set to “Us”: I asked why the footage had to be so obscured by the pencil effect — I wanted it to be easier to tell what these clips were from!  Now I understand that this is a representation of the way fandom can seem obscured to “outsiders” (I’m wondering whether I’m one of these or not?!?!), but doesn’t this also mean this obscurity is a choice made by these fans to keep their intentions hidden — to make sure they continue to be misunderstood?? I think that must be part of it — because there’s a small joy in feeling part of something that the general public can’t understand.  But why do these fans have to feel so wronged by producers, and so misunderstood by society?  I understand and yet I don’t. I think I sense a paradox here…

11/1 Readings: Coppa, Lothian, Russo

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I already mentioned this in class, but what was most unexpected and interesting about these articles was the way they used gender to problematize some very basic notions that I took for granted about transformative work and fair use.  Lothian asks, “who defines use as fair?”, and Russo states, “the transformative status that is so crucial to legal determinations of fair use is itself infused with ideologies of gender.”  Coppa also problematizes my assumptions about what the purposes of remix and vidding might be…she notes that they can be both critical and desiring at once, which had not occurred to me.

It seems that problematizing is just about our favorite thing to do in this class (okay I’m going to try to stop saying ‘problematizing’ now), and I think it’s an incredibly essential part of academic discourse but it can also be a bit exhausting!  If we undermine every taken-for-granted belief, I feel like I have to qualify my statements more and more until it’s hard to really say anything.  I think I said something like this in class earlier this semester. The fact is, sometimes I’m hesitant to speak up in class because if my statement isn’t incredibly delicately worded, I won’t have qualified enough to account for all our problematizations (dammit) and my point will be quickly torn to shreds.  This happened just the other day when I said something about official publications (as opposed to blogs) having the advantages of better resources, or something to that end.  I don’t mean to complain, but my head can sometimes just begin to spin with it all.

To get back to these actual readings, I would say that my head did begin to spin a little bit, but I enjoyed the ride this time.  I suppose having my ideas challenged means that I have to incorporate some of the new stuff and then think about why I believed what I did in the first place, and in the end I will reemerge with a stronger understanding of the concepts.  I’m sorry this blog entry is more about my thought processes than about the content of the readings themselves, but this is largely what I went away from the readings thinking about.

One thing that’s really been nagging at me in the past couple weeks is addressed by Russo at the end of her article when she asks, in so many words, “can there ever be a happy relationship between producers and remixers/fans/vidders?”  This problematization (I just can’t stop) of what should be a happy relationship between fans and producers is one that I just can’t quite wrap my head around — but I’m going to address that in my next blog post.

Magic Lanterns!

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The thing that really stuck with me after Paul Monod’s magic lanterns presentation was the point he made about how cultural notions of “realism” can change.  To people witnessing magic lantern projections in the 19th century, it didn’t matter that the drawings were crude and even childish — the mere fact that they were being projected had a sort of magic and mystery about it that translated to a feeling of these images being “realisitic”.  I think that this gets at the notion that the very way our brains are structured can be affected by the technologies at our disposal.

This summer, I read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson; one of the key points in this book is a way-out-there hypothesis that he makes (it may not be grounded in real science, but fuck it, it’s cool as hell) that ties together semiotics, neuroscience, Sumerian mythology, and Biblical stories like the exile from Eden and the Tower of Babel.  Basically (and I’m not going to make it sound as convincing as him), he puts forth the Sumerian language as the sort of most-basic-level programming language for the “operating system” of the human brain, and says that if the human brain is coded using linguistic, semantic blocks, then a certain spoken phrase could potentially act as a “virus” that would “crash” our brains.  In the story, one Sumerian god whose name I forget somehow invents some protection against this virus — this protection is the fragmenting of our coding into a number of higher-level languages; in other words, the Tower of Babel.  So modern languages are more like, say, C++, where Sumerian is closer to binary.  Or something.

Obviously this doesn’t map perfectly on to the more modern magic lantern thing (which I’ll come back to in a second), but it’s certainly a well-documented idea that our technologies (and keep in mind I’m calling language a “technology”) can fundamentally alter the way we communicate and, therefore, the way our very thoughts are structured.  Think Walter Ong’s “Orality and Literacy”.

Now I think the genesis of technologies that allowed images to appear without being there in a tangible way (as in, painted or drawn or carved there) may have gradually caused some changes in the way our brains work.  This leads to this changing idea of what makes something realistic (I think?).  I’m starting to second guess myself now, but as Bazin says, cinema is a language just like speech or writing (well, not just like them…), and we had to collectively learn to “read” it — that’s why narrative cinema didn’t appear full-formed as soon as we could record things onto celluloid.  But even those little moving lantern slides are like the earliest stages of the embryo of narrative in moving images.  Weird metaphor, sorry.  I just couldn’t help but thinking, as he talked about how people “went wild” for the moving dancers, of, say, Avatar — probably the most technologically new-ish-y moving image thing that people have gone wild for.  Will Avatar someday seem as simplistically crude and unimpressive as those slides do now?  It’s hard to imagine.  But I guess it’s probably true…provided humans haven’t wiped ourselves out by then.