Rettberg: Chpt. 1&2

When starting Rettberg’s book about blogging I could not help but be bored and unimpressed with the descriptions of what a blog is and what the different types of blogs are.  Then came the very long description of the history of the printed word.  Once again I was pretty bored.  Then I had the realization that this shift from printed word to online text is a very significant one.  Looking back at the history of the printed word made me think of the significance that it might be on its way out.  I also realized that the reason I was so bored with the first chapter about blogging is because I am more or less fluent in the language of blogging.  This is not something that has always been the case.

I started to think about children growing up today who are learning how to blog, video post, listen to podcasts etc. at a time when I was simply learning how to read and write with good grammar.  It dawned on me that we really are in a different generation where the word “literacy” means and entirely different thing.  I understand that this realization is kind of a ‘DUH!’ realization but nonetheless it blew (a small part of) my mind to think about it.

This was the most interesting takeaway I got from Rettberg’s first two chapters, although it did make me feel kind of old and uncool that I had to read a description of what blogging is and how it works instead of being fully immersed in the cool new culture of already being completely literate in the language of online writing.

Supernatural Screening Prompt

The two episodes of Supernatural screened for class are two hours of television filled with self-referencial humor and a very “meta” analysis of fan culture.  In this fashion, the episodes address the relationships between the viewers and the producers of both Supernatural specifically and fan culture in general.  The easiest concepts to pick out are the ways in which the episodes poke fun at fan and producer alike.  Instances like the characters Sam and Dean scoffing at and not taking seriously the fans of their fictional selves, or when the author of the Supernatural books, Chuck, proclaims that he must be some kind of God who has cursed Sam and Dean to live out “bad writing.”  In these two examples, both the fans and the writers are belittled and laughed at.  It is necessary for both parties to have a sense of humor for these themes to go over well.  On the other hand there are definitely ways in which both viewer and producer are elevated and empowered.  The fact that the author, Chuck, ends up being a prophet protected by archangels illustrates the importance of the author, and the way in which multiple fictional Supernatural fans end up helping out Sam and Dean gives fans not only a feeling of empowerment but it is also a nod to the ways in which fans can function in a participatory way with the show (this occurs literally in the episodes, but can be seen for as a metaphor for fan participation outside of the episodes).

What are the repercussions of the way in which these cultures are imagined?

I think that there is a definite gender divide as a result of the representation of fandom in the show.  Women fans are represented as swooning girls in love (and often times sexually charged) with the fictional characters, whereas the men are depicted as wannabes who can only get happiness from (very poorly) imitating and living out the lives of other people.  I think in both cases, these gendered definitions of fans are insulting.

I think that another result of the themes from the episodes are an approval of certain types of fans but not others.  The only fans that are really accepted by the characters Sam and Dean (and maybe the producers of the show) are the two fans who end up helping Sam and Dean save the day, claiming some generic comment like “We had to help, it’s what Sam and Dean would have done,” and explain to Dean what the true meaning of the books are.  In this manner fans that appreciate the show, appreciate the message, and support the characters are fans that are appreciated.  Other fans, like the ones who make Sam/Dean sexual websites, or who only like to bash the books in public forums are put down in the two episodes.  In this sense, the show is really illustrating which kind of fans are respected and which ones are not.

Rowlett: A thesis about what?

In the Epilogue of Rowlett’s article “They’re Letting You Write Your Thesis About That?” she says “Perhaps this is all a folly… Do metaphors of the organic incorrectly a connectness (this isn’t a real word) to human processes?”  After reading her work about how fan-fiction operates like a human stomach all I can respond with is: YES!  I did not think that the metaphor was at all necessary and personally I do not think that it applies and that it makes her whole argument/description very confusing.

What I would have enjoyed was a nice summary of what the different types of “fanfics” were, how they operate in online culture, and perhaps some examples.  These are things that she kind of includes in the article but all of that interesting stuff is hidden amongst a sea of stomach metaphors.  This was such a problem for me that I finished the reading without really understanding the point of it.  I now know that Xena online culture exists.  I know that there are fans of different genres of “fanfic.”  I know that there are fans on top of fans.  But that is all I really know.

I hate to be mean about someone’s thesis, but her actual thesis better be much more clear and interesting than this little description otherwise she probably got a D on it.

Felschow: Supernatural fans

As someone who has only ever dabbled in the art of cult fandom, I found it fascinating how in depth Felschow went in analyzing the fan culture of Supernatural.  To be perfectly honest (and maybe a little judgmental), I could not help but feel that this person who was clearly a big Supernatural fan was using long-winded, academic sounding, and source heavy writing to justify and legitimize her fandom.  I am fully aware that there is valid reason to investigate the cultural practices of cult fandom, I just am always filled with a little bit of hesitation when an actual fan writes about the amazing power that fans have and try to pass it as impartial academic analysis.

All that said, after watching the two episodes of Supernatural for our screening most of the references that I picked up on about fandom were seeming to make fun of fans.  Felschow made me think about the other side of the coin which is the way in which the references make nods or empower the fans.  After reading this article rethinking about the episodes I think that there definitely are elements of empowerment in addition to the jesting, the only problem is how do you do both without inevitably upsetting a large group of your fans?

I think that the difficulty that the Supernatural writers had with fan backlash was due to how in-your-face the references were.  Unlike fan cultures like Lost (which Felschow mentions), were fan participation occurs mostly online or through ARG’s where fans can choose to participate or not participate, the episodes of Supernatural forced fans to take a look at their own fandom.  My guess is that some fans do not like to look that closely in the mirror.

Fuller: Chpt 9 & Conclusion

Fuller concludes her book by discussing the writings of University of Chicago students in the late 1920’s.  Her last chapter analyzes the changing desires of students as they grew older and the way in which they took in cinema.  This concept of learning how to take in a media is one that is important but not necessarily addressed much.  Much of the writing that gets done about a given medium is coming from the point of view of someone who grew up with that medium and is looking back on his/her experiences.  Today media like video games or the internet are ones that generations were born into and know how to use just like they know how to speak a language.  What has been fascinating about learning about the first 20 years of the cinema was that it was a medium that was not inherently learned by the public.

Throughout the first two or three decades of cinema there was a constant “discussion” between the industry and the viewer about what role cinema would play in the United States.  Wether it be content, presentation, or participation it was a language that had to be solidified.  Fuller finishes her book with a conclusion talking about the coming of the talkies.  While I agree with Fuller’s last sentence, that the “discussion” between industry and viewer would continue after the introduction and acceptance of the talkie films, it is my general feeling that the coming of sound film also represents a time when the film industry finally had a good grasp on what they wanted, what the viewers and fans wanted, and the best ways to meet both their needs.

Singin’ in the Rain Response

Singin’ In The Rain is a film that provides both incredible entertainment, as well as a sophisticated self-examination of Hollywood culture both in a modern and historical sense.  The film illustrates an uneasy time in the history of cinema, when both fans of the film world and the industry itself were unsure where things were going in the business.  This uncertainty is a theme that has not really been shown in any of the other films we have screened so far this semester and it tells a lot about both fan culture and the industry of the time.

Unlike Movie Crazy, Prix de Beaute, and Purple Rose of Cairo where fan characters are illustrated as being caught up in the magic of cinema, Singin’ In The Rain shows a time in cinema history where studio heads, producers and actors alike were terrified of losing fans and unsure about what the future held for them.  Much like Juddery describes in his article, “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” silent film stars were losing their careers, screenwriters and directors were lost, and nobody knew what technological advances would stick and what would only be a brief fad.  Singin’ In The Rain does an excellent job of evoking nostalgia of the silent film era, and showing a scared, uneasy, and even sympathetic Hollywood.

The fans play an important role in the dynamic of the film.  Again, as Juddery describes, and as we have discussed with the start of fan magazines in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s, fans beginning to learn more about the actors and actresses that they saw on the screen represents a major shift in the Hollywood dynamic.  The character Lina represents the story of many silent film actors who struggled to maintain their image when their voices were recorded.  The idea that fans have a certain idea of what an actor/actress is like in real life, and that that idea affects how they respond to them on screen is one that is worth considering in modern times with the presence of gossip columns, celebrity blogs and sources like TMZ, but Singin’ In The Rain is very significant in that it provides commentary on this practice during the time in cinema history when this was most important.  The introduction of sound let the fan in even closer to the industry and its stars, and the shift had a huge effect on how fans appreciated/participated with cinema, and how the industry changed their content/production methods.

Juddery: Breaking the Sound Barrier

Reading Juddery’s description of the coming of sound in cinema, it sounds like it was just chaos and panic on the industry side of the screen.  Actors’ careers were ending, screenwriters and directors did not know what they were doing, studios did not know how to handle the technology or their physical studios.  It kind of sounds like one big nightmare for the studios and actors that were finally starting to get comfortable with how the industry was to be run.

The fact that some actors had such difficulty making the shift to acting in talkies is one that surprises me.  Considering how today actors go back and forth between theater and screen, how people like professional athletes and rappers can appear in movies all the time and pull off acting, and considering that the silent film actors appeared to be so talented, it is hard to imagine some actors having to simply retire as a result of the technological shift.  I understand that there would be practices and methods to their acting that would need to change, but I guess I just kind of feel (maybe ignorantly) that if they were talented enough actors, who could in theory go back and forth between stage and screen, that the addition of sound and dialogue scenes would not be career enders.

The only concept that makes this huge downfall of many silent era stars seem plausible is the idea that fans had an idea/image of who these actors were, and to hear a voice that does not match that idea would be very jarring.  Today many fans base their likes and interests in films and actors based on what they hear about the actors and directors in the tabloids.  There persona and their careers are undeniably linked.  To suddenly add a brand new component to an actors persona (i.e. their voice) would definitely have a dramatic effect on their fans’ perception of them and inevitably their career.

Fuller: Chpts 7&8

After reading Fuller’s two chapters about movie fan magazines, the two themes that I found to be the most noteworthy were the shift of the idea of what a “fan” was, and the importance of consumerism throughout the evolution of culture and the magazines that fostered them.

In examining Motion Picture Story Magazine, Fuller describes a change in content that occurred in the late teen/early 20’s.  The magazine that used to be filled with technical descriptions of filmmaking, behind-the-scenes looks, and large sections dedicated to fan participation started to disappear and were replaced by stories about actors and actresses and even things like “Ladies fads and fancies.”  This shift seems relevant to me because it shows two different types of film fans, the technical, sophisticated, and somewhat pretentious fan versus the simpler, more consumer driven fan.  I think that today both fan still exists.  With the first type of fan being the one who follows film blogs, reads very specific magazines, and participates in group activities related to fandom whether that be online or at festivals/conferences.  The other type of fan is maybe more likely to read gossip magazines about what celebrity lives are like.  What I found interesting about the shift of Motion Picture Story Magazine was that while I know that there is a market for both types of fan (as is made clear by present times) the magazine editors found the latter type of fan to be the one that could make them more money.  This theme of heavy consumerism amongst fans was further illustrated in Fuller’s next chapter about Photoplay magazine and how it ended up being a very influenced by advertising (and vise versa how advertising was affected by the introduction of film fan magazines).

42nd Street Response

The film “42nd Street” illustrates a relatively straight forward, but nevertheless interesting dynamic between spectacle and narrative.  While the two are separated in a pretty clear way, the effect that it has on audiences is quite significant in that it is able to give the audience a feeling of participation.  Connected to this desire of participation is the idea of fandom which is addressed in the narrative of the film.  The combination of this fan culture narrative and the ability to hook audiences in with the spectacle/narrative balance, makes the film quite gripping for certain viewers.

As discussed in Pattullo’s reading, Busby Berkeley had a distinct choreographical and directoral style in his show-within-a-show, “backstange musicals.”  By separating the spectacle and the narrative in an aggregate way, viewers get the narrative behind the scenes look, and then a completely different performance spectacle.  This dynamic is very effective in that the audience feels like a part of the artistic process when they see the backstage narrative aspects, which very much adds to their enjoyment of the spectacle. An example of this separation in “42nd Street” is when are main characer Peggy is rehearsing for hours and hours to the point of collapse minutes before her performance, and yet during the actual dance numbers at the end of the film the character shows no sign of fatigue.  The musical numbers, while still within the realm of the narrative, are completely separate performances.

In terms of fan culture, the plot has much to do with the idea of real world fans getting their big break and rising to the top, much like the story we saw in “Prix du Beauté.”  Fan culture of the time, a predominantly feminine one, was filled with fans who idolized the films and the stars and dreamed to one day become one.  The story of Peggy who barely gets cast into the show in the first place and ends up becoming a star is a storyline that many fans would be interested in.  In addition, the behind the scenes aspects of the plot (even though they are about theater and not necessarily film) could give fans who were intrigued about the mystical filmmaking process a view of what actors, directors, and producers go through to make a show.  The participation effect discussed early is only more effective when dealing with an audience of fans who are already hungry to participate in the first place.

Pattullo: Narative/Spectacle in Hollywood Musicals

Pattullo brings up a very interesting comparison that seems so very relevant to our class discussions about the integration of spectacle and narrative.  While I am no expert on musicals, Gene Kelley, or Busby Berkeley, the works that I have seen from both choreographers and Pattullo’s descriptions were very helpful in visualizing and analyzing Pattullo’s point.

When it comes to the integration of spectacle into the narrative of a film we have already examined how the two started off as very separate concepts that began to work together more and more during the evolution of early cinema.  A common occurrence that we have seen in many of our screenings so far are elements of spectacle and astonishment loosely connected by a narrative.  This is seen when comedic bits or special effects have a spectacle all on their own but are strung together by a narrative.  While I would not simplify the works of Berkeley to such an extreme, this is closer to how I would describe his show-within-a-show, “backstage” musical.  Musical numbers are choreographed and stand on their own, and often times take place on a stage our in a studio.  The audience gets hooked in to the story and a feeling of participation because of their behind-the-scenes point of view.  They then feel more active when the numbers are performed, almost as if the spectacle that is being presented had something to do with them.  This effect is one that could only work in the aggregated style of spectacle and narrative that Berkeley uses.

Gene Kelley on the other hand worked harder to make the spectacle of the musical numbers come about smoothly and organically within the narrative.  This allows the characters to actually further the narrative with their dancing, and to express strong emotion through spectacle.  While this is a very strong approach and one that works well within Hollywood, it does not necessarily have the same audience participation effect.  I am excited to watch “Singing in the Rain!”