Author Archives: Rajwinder Kaur

Grown Up Cartoons

There are two types of Family Guy viewers in my household. The first group is the two young adults who are fluent enough in English to understand the witty scenarios woven into a nonsensical plot (my brother and I). The second category of viewers is attracted to the visual element of the show. What they see is a baby with the enormous head and his talking dog. They watch—or at least try to watch before someone catches them red handed—because this show is a cartoon. The second set of viewers is my elementary school aged niece and nephew.

I had a hard time getting into Family Guy for the same reasons that drew the kids in my life towards the show. I even remember once putting it on for them when all other cartoons called it quits for the night. I also remember how both of them screamed at me when I changed the channel. Mixed feelings towards the show were bubbling when my brother invited me to watch Stewie’s mishaps with him one evening. Of course I declined and, naturally, he persuaded me to at least sit through one episode. Needless to say, I enjoyed myself and can now understand the large fan base—adult fan base.

A little while after my Family Guy revelation, I went to my brother’s room only to find him watching more cartoons. I gave him a disapproving look; he needed to grow up already. This time it was an anime called Naruto. Again I had to sit through an episode. I can’t say I was converted into a fan just as I was for Family Guy because the show is very serialized and I walked into the middle of the series. My hour was spent with my brother’s personalized narration and frequent pauses of the show for explanation. I ended up just being frustrated with EVERYTHING thrown at me in such a short period of time. Or maybe my brother was just extending an invitation to me to join the allegiance? Was he sharing the cultural capital he earned through months of devotion? Nevertheless, I did appreciate it for what it was. Anime (or at least Naruto) is in fact very sophisticated, well structured, and sets up a world that is easy to fall into. This is by no means child’s play.


In screenwriting class, we were taught that there are different iterations of things. First, a screenwriter can take a short story, then put it into Final Draft, add some of his own lines and lengthen it to 120 pages. This first iteration is sent off to the place where scripts go. Wherever that may be.  Now it’s in a producer’s hands, he gives it to his director-friend. This director finds something, maybe only a single line of dialogue appealing, and decides he wants to hold on to it. He hires another writer to rework the script. Second iteration. Now that the director is appeased, shooting can start.

But this director has a vision that he wants to manifest on the screen. This goes beyond the text on a page, it’s in the mise en scene. Third iteration. Don’t forget the actors! They too have their own way of conceptualizing the script. Fourth iteration. Shooting is complete, but do we now have a film? Certainly not. The directory ships the raw material to an editor who nips and tucks the footage. At the very least the final product an audience sees is the fifth iteration (or interpretation). To think that all of these versions sprang from one short story—and who knows how that story came into being? *

Now let’s try to think of fan fiction similarly. I know, it’s readily assumed that fan fiction is “pilfering of another’s work” (Rowett), but let’s take a deeper look at this practice a bit.

John Doe loves said show. He loves it so much that he writes about it. But he just doesn’’t write his opinions, he fills in narrative blanks, tests out alternative plot twists, changes the context, extends and retracts this show. Is this not iteration? John Doe posts his work on the web, his friends and other lovers of the show read his work. Wait John, you forgot about this…. So Jane writes her version that does things a little differently than John’s. Second iteration. The shows producers realize something vital in John/Jane’s work after an intern scopes the web between transcriptions of yesterday’s footage. “We can use that” or “let’s not kill him off just yet” or “Man, people like this, let’s throw it in there.” More iteration. So then, who is to say fan fiction shouldn’t be taken seriously?

*Disclaimer: This is not a how-to-get-your-screenplay-sold guide. This is just an example… for the sake of conceptualizing a broader idea, because broad ideas need to be conceptualized.


In high school I had more time to engage with television shows on a habitual and ritualistic basis. My friends and I had weekly sleepovers just to watch House and Unsolved Mysteries. It was a complete comfort zone; we talked about the shows and our love/lust for Hugh Laurie openly. We would almost fight over our opinions on “who done it?” But these established practices were broke when one of my friends admitted, proudly admitted in fact, to being a 7th Heaven fan. The show just did not fit the mold that we, as a group of three musketeers, were used to. Her revelation was almost deviant but she didn’t stop there. She had sent letters to WB when the show was about to be canceled. I blinked hard and jovially thought, “so that’s what she does when we aren’t in school, doing homework, or hanging out.” Then she cracks a large grin, “I’m the reason why 7th Heaven wasn’t cancelled. I wrote them mad letters. I saved 7th Heaven.”

At the time, I had instantly labeled my friend a fanatic. Normal fandom was fanaticizing over Hugh Laurie, not actually fighting for him. In time, I came to realize that there were cult fans that had an even deeper relationship with their shows of choice. These fans were engaging with these shows all over the Internet, at conventions and even regularly in their everyday life. The world’s full of crazies right?  Not necessarily. It is only on a closer reading of television programming that we can notice reciprocity. For example, taking the fanmade romantic pairing of the Supernatural leads and incorporating it into an episode in which Sam and Dean find a comic book insinuating their incestual relationship (Felschow). Maybe my friend’s belief that she ‘saved’ her favorite show wasn’t wholly unfounded after all? I guess as long as someone’s listening….

Lovers and Friends

It’s Saturday night at Middlebury College and a group of college students lounge around, order Chinese food and simply enjoy each others company. They sit on a sofa, directly in front of this sofa is a table, and on that is a MacBook playing Glee. Everyone in the room has already seen the episodes, but we are in the mood for some good clean fun. The dialogue going on over the show goes as follows:

Friend 1: Puck dated Santana.

Friend 2: That’s a hot couple. Who’s he dating now?

Friend 1: Don’t know.

Friend 3: Rachael is dating Mr. Shu supposedly. They’re actually close in age.

Friend 1: That’s just a rumor. And she’s like my age, 22 going on 23, and he’s in his thirties.

Friend 4: Quinn is so pretty.

Friend 1: Yeah she and Rachael are actually best friends in real life and they live together.

Friend 2: Who are Finn, Rachael and Puck dating in real life then?

Friend 1: Dunno.

Friend 3: I have a hunch Puck and Quinn like each other. I youtubed an interview of all of them and those two were giving each other the eye.

Friend 4: Can we just watch the show?

All this information (or should I say misinformation) has come from the Internet. Although we four friends are not at this moment surfing the web for answers of blogging our speculations, this conversation is a form of teleeparticipation. Essentially, if teleparticipation is the ways in which audiences engage with TV programming, then this is a clear example. In addition, the Internet changes this relationship by serving as a resource where fans can work out ideas surrounding shows and then share these ideas with the world (16). At the time, my friends continued to watch the show, but I feel confident in saying that at least one looked up something on Glee’s characters—or at least I did.

Lastly, think about the following statement: that which is not told to us is the most telling. The fact that we cannot readily state the relationship statuses of the show’s leads like we can for our friends (yes, facebook stalking is encouraged here) feels like a setup. The personal lives of these specific characters are held apart from the fans to create mystery and stimulate conversations like this one. As Ross states, the industry invites viewers to the teleparticipation party and therefore certain “behavioral expectations” and “rules” exist (21). These expectations take the form of maintaining the hype around the show’s characters, while giving the audience something to keep them hanging on.

No Longer a Theater Celibate

The first movie I saw at the theaters was Rugrats: In Paris. I was nine years old, a late bloomer to moviegoing simply because my family did not indulge in the activity. My neighbors, on the other hand were avid moviegoers, and decided to take the deprived child next door along with them one evening. I still remember getting my ticket, waiting in line for popcorn—hell even the smell of my first movie-magic popcorn. I remember finally sitting in the dim theater and waiting for the room slowly move into complete darkness. I remember saving, showing, and treasuring the “Rugrats Passport” I received with my ticket. It was my first theater paraphernalia, soon I would add limited edition Pokemon and Digimon cards to that collection, but for now this was all I had and I adored it.

In retrospect, I realize that I blindly followed my neighbors throughout the process that I have now come to know instinctively. I taken for granted my first experience because I engage in the activity so much now. It’s like learning to read—we can recall when we learned how to read, but every time we pick up a book, chances are, we don’t trace the process by which reading became second nature.  In fact, it wasn’t until I read Fuller’s last chapter when I remembered Rugrats: In Paris. The first generation of moviegoers, had to be educated to moviegoing (176); what’s interesting is that once fluent, we forget about the learning process. I am fortunate in that I began so late and therefore still hold the memory of the first time. So now, dig past years of moviegoing, pounds of popcorn, hundreds of ticket stub and ask, “How did I learn moviegoing?”

You Ain’t Speakin’ English Right

Unbeknownst to us, we often judge people by how they speak. Certain accents or ways of speaking slap a label of ignorance or intelligence on the speaker. Foreign accents are interpreted as less proficient in English. These beliefs have been used to remove non-native teachers from English instruction classrooms. These beliefs have forced students who speak a different language at home or who speak a different form of English that is not “mainstream” to assimilate or remain marginalized—to get with it or get lost. These beliefs have too much strength.

Indeed, how we speak does matter, but we need to recognize there are different ways to speak. Traces of the superficial demands for the appropriate way of speaking are evident in the coming of sound. Norma Talmadge’s Brooklyn accent forced her into early retirement because it did not match up with her classy image. Other actors and actresses were given vocal lessons, not for singing, but for speaking! Conversely, foreign silent stars were embraced as exotic.

The silent film actor Adolphe Menjou put it best, “I knew that unless I proved I could talk before my contract expired, I would be a dead pigeon.” Get with it or get lost (Juddery). Today popular culture often reiterates the mainstream style of English and therefore the aforementioned beliefs are further reinforced. It was too readily forgotten that even American icons once dealt with the same language issues average Americans are facing everywhere. The links here have been lost either because of disconnect between cinema studies and the classroom, or a lack of connection between literacy and mass media. Regardless, further investigation should be done to reinterpret the far reaching misconception of English and its relationship with Hollywood so that it can be used in schools, public policy and civil society.

I Want What She’s Getting

As we drive home, my friend imparts a bit of knowledge to me, “You know Jessica Simpson uses another product along with ProActive right?” No, I hadn’t known nor did I ever really think about Jessica’s acne treatment routine. It was clear there was something far more interesting at play here than a singer turned reality TV star’s acne. “Well she does, because sometimes you need more than just topical products for serious acne,” my friend continues but now I had moved on to a broader concept. It got me thinking about the use of celebrity endorsements and advertising. What are the chances of Britney Spears actually reaching over for the bottle of Curious or Fantasy? I’m putting my money on her spraying a higher quality, higher priced fragrance.

Celebrity advertising is inextricably linked to fandom. This is my choice of star and if they use it, I want to as well. Buying specific products brings the fan one step closer to their ideal. However, just because the star is the face of something does not necessarily mean they are putting it on their face. They just want you to believe they are.

Interestingly, this trend began as early as the 1920’s in the first movie magazines. Fuller writes, “Stars almost never used to promote expensive, upper-middle class goods like automobiles or refrigerators; instead, they sold small, impulsively purchased goods like candy, cosmetics and soft drinks (157-158).  Frankly, it is more profitable for industries to sell products the average consumer can afford. Although now celebrities advertise higher quality goods as well, this is strategic in that (let’s face it) once in a while everyone likes to splurge. Regardless of the item in question, the marketing is the same: if they have it, I want it.

Musical Interlude

I take bathroom breaks during song and dance numbers… or refill my drink… or check my email. It might as well say “interlude” on the screen because that’s what these musical performances are—breaks in the narrative. I cannot stomach this sort of discontinuity unless, of course, it proves itself worthy of disrupting the investment I put into the plot. Worthiness is measured by the quality of the tune, or the actors’ absolute beauty, or the acrobatic moves of the dancers, which have to be something exceptional because no one pays money to see an average dancer. I know, I have pretty high standards.

This is not to say I hate all musical numbers in films because I have seen many that were genius. The other day I watched a video of a hit Hindi song from the Bollywood film Dostana (2008). The number contains fun dance moves, three gorgeous stars, bright lights and what looks like a hundred back up dancers. It is spectacle to the max, and yet I could almost see myself walking away from the screen. The only trace of narrative in this musical piece is when the two men dance together to uphold the lie they created about their sexuality; the dance is not even funny. There are also instances where the men compete for the female lead, which also teeters on being more cheesy than funny.

However, a third man sings the last chorus, a third suitor who the female lead does not think is a gay and therefore he is a prime candidate for her affection. Also, he is her boss and as a result automatically at a better standing than the other men. Here, we are brought back into the narrative within this number. The two “homosexual” candidates panic while the actress and her boss flirt and exchange laughs. All the while, the backup dancers are still going on, the music is still heard. This is a complete Gene Kelly moment in which the narrative and spectacle are integrated naturally and seamlessly (Pattullo: 73). The characters’ facial expressions reveal their dismay while the continuing of the number in the background illustrates just how easily their mutual love interest has moved on to the next one or has never even noticed them. The song and dance has now taken on a greater meaning within the film text (79). Since this song adds significance to the film, how dare I check my facebook during it?

Let’s Just Say, “It’s Complicated”

The film industry and its audiences had a complex, one can even go out on a limp and say abusive, relationship since cinema’s inception. Here the term “relationship” is specifically used to highlight that the engagement of these entities is a two way street. One is not exclusively dominant the other, nor are any of these players passive. Stepping outside the realm of fandom, it should be made clear that audiences engaged in ways that diverged from the industry’s expected practices. Particularly, the church used films for their interests or made them suitable for their members.  To boost their attendance, churches used films as an attraction, but soon this became a short-lived conservative middleclass alternative to the cinema itself (Fuller: 86). Occasionally, a motion picture was used with and even as the sermon (89). Indeed, it was difficult to find films that were suitable for this particular audience. Covering the projection during unsuitable scenes or cutting out the film were not effective workarounds (91). It is not the decline of this practices that is significant here, instead we must acknowledge the initiative of the church.

Secondly, even with fandom, we can find a variety of interesting practices.  Not only were hoards of fanmade scripts sent to studios, but aspiring actors and actresses waited outside studios for their chance. And sometimes they got it. Surely, these practices still exist today, however it is interesting to discover that this has been going on since the 1920’s. In addition, although it does seem as though audiences are passive here, the reality is fans brought about the star system. It was in fact the industry that had to respond to fans’ increasing demands for actor paraphernalia. Fans demanded to know the identities of these stars, taking the lead in making them into household names.

Un-defining Stars

Sometimes we cannot help but develop a relationship with a film star. We’ve seen them on the big screen dozens of times and depending on the star, they take on a different role in each flick. Thus, it can so happen that with each role, another facet of this star’s persona becomes revealed to us. In time we have constructed a whole personality for our star of choice. They can be adventurous, humorous, courageous, and emotional all at one—like any other person. The ideal breaks when we are reminded that this is a persona that is constructed.

Nevertheless, we have extratexual material to prove that our mind’s creation has some legitimacy to it. Magazines, interviews and other appearances reinforce the construction. So then, we must ask where does the actor as a person end and the character begin? How interrelated are these two entities? Are the extratexual sources reinforcing the character or is the actor revealed through the film roles?

This exact paradox is underlying in Amelie Hastie’s Louise Brooks, Star Witness. Louise Brooks has convoluted her identity, particularly her sexual identity and life, with a combination of the statements she has made, her film roles and her memories. Initially, she stated that she could not write about her life truthfully because life is predicated on one’s romantic experiences and she was not willing to disclose the latter (Hastie: 3). Secondly, she starred as a sexually ambiguous  (possibly lesbian) character in Pandora’s Box, the role she is most famous for. As a result, viewers contemplate one of two things about the star: either she is a lesbian who is not willing to write upon it because it would define her indefinitely or she is not and the mystery associated with her persona would vanish. Finally, she reveals that she is neither opposed to the idea of being a lesbian and in fact may have had relations with women, but she loves men (10). As a result, we are still left where we have started. Because nothing was wholly denied, is she or isn’t she? Is her sexuality aligned with her character Lulu, or has she taken on this persona so that her role could be reinforced? She leaves this for her fans to decide, as do other stars, because ruling one thing out would breaking the enigma. And this enigma is often precisely what attracts fans to a particular star.