Unexpected Allies: Decibel Magazine’s Feminist Take on the DC Reboot

In the December 2011 issue of Decibel magazine (“America’s only extreme music magazine”), I read the interesting, but expected Dave-Mustaine-this-time-he-is-totes-over-his-feuds-he-means-it-even-if-he-is-called-SuperDave-and-Junior-isn’t-called-Junior story; lots of short articles with bands filled with fourth-degree clones of Zakk Wylde; and the usual review of extreme albums that I won’t be listening to.

But unexpectedly, especially for a magazine dedicated to metal and other extreme music, there is an actual for-real feminist take on the DC reboot that says that treating women as soulless objects is not entertainment. For an audience that reads a magazine featuring bands with album covers that will give children nightmares.

Unfortunately not online, Joe Gross’ one-page column dissects the reason why the reboot doesn’t make economic sense, by turning away girls and women (and men and boys) that aren’t interested in a “cruel, violent vibe and crueler sexual politics”, asking the question “Who the fuck is this crap for?”

He says that between the reboot “and a noticeable decline in women creators at DC, it would be tough for the company to have constructed a bigger “Fuck you, we don’t want your money” to potential female readers”. And that is a potentially huge loss for an industry that could use new readers — or at least not lose older newly disgusted fans. Perhaps it is just those that I know, but a large percentage of the comics fans I know *are* people of difference (such as women/girls, people of color, gay/queer, some other other, or a combination) — not the stereotype of Comic Book Guy.

One of the benefits of having this article written for this particular audience is demonstrated by the pull-quote on the page:

I’ve seen hardcore, [gnzo p!@#] that treated women with more dignity that DC is treating those two gals [, Catwoman and Starfire]

THAT knowledge is not likely to be found by writers from traditional feminist sources, even third-wave ones.

Gross also references “the terrific essay” by Laura Hudson on Comics Alliance, The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their “Liberated Sexuality”.

Thank you, Decibel. And to Shortpacked (who created the economics of comics comic above). And to all of the disappointed seven-year old American comics fans, may I suggest mahou shoujo (and manhwa)? It isn’t without issues, but that’s where I’m sending the comics-loving kids in my life.

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Guide for the Perplexed: Heavy Metal 101

Last week I (Keidra) participated in Heavy Metal 101,   part of a monthly series organized by Chicago creative collectives Homeroom and You, Me Them, Everybody. Thanks to Fred Sasaki for the invitation, Nell Taylor for the introduction, and co-presenters Michael Robbins and Bryan Wendorf for a great conversation. It was a blast.

Inspired by the interest we’ve had and the success of that event, we at The Learned Fangirl decided to start a new series of posts on varied aspects of fandom for beginners. We are calling them “Guide for the Perplexed” and my (tequila fueled) Heavy Metal 101 PowerPoint presentation will kick it off.

Some readers may already know that I have a long and passionate history of metal fandom, most notably recounted in an essay I wrote for Bitch Magazine a few years ago. Since that essay was published, my metal fandom re-emerged stronger than ever, and I hope to explore some aspects of metal fan culture a bit further in subsequent blog posts.

The Four Horsemen/Mechanix of Snark Fandom: Megadeth, Nine Inch Nails, V.C. Andrews, and Sweet Valley High

Fandoms, like any type of subculture, have different shorthand ways of discussing things that only make sense within the group — such as frequently mentioning previous anger that has dissipated towards former Danish friends, the Wave Goodbye Activity Book, swan beds, and saying that “Regina Morrow is the reason I never tried cocaine“. Or even within the title of this post. But what brings these examples together is snark fandom — the ability to both be a fan and simultaneously make fun of the object d’fandom.

Snark fandom is an interesting display of fandom especially because to outsiders it seems as if there is only dislike, not the underlying (sometimes begrudging) enjoyment. The recent release of Dave Mustaine’s New York Times bestselling autobiography, Mustaine, has allowed metalheads of all permutations  — to make fun of the very same person that they have waited in line for hours to meet at book signings, to read yet another version of an almost thirty-year soap opera. Even if they do not believe any word of this most recent retelling of events — and joke about every contradiction.

Perhaps the closest more widely recognizable mainstream version of snark fandom is a roast. Yet roasts are hosted by equals; snark fandom is by fans, perhaps as a way of keeping things real. Also, the Megadeth podcast above (and this fanvid of how Trent spent his money from Ghosts) may imply that snark fandom might be limited to what are viewed generally as traditionally male fandoms.

However, generally viewed as female fandoms have plenty of snark fandom. A great example is  Forever Young Adult, which has been doing an excellent job of snarking on many of the favorite book series of girls — both gothy — V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic series — and v.v. normal — Sweet Valley High. These posts wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t enjoyment in reading, remembering, and making fun of.

From the Forever Young Adult review of Flowers in the Attic:

WHAT.  Well, blow me down!  Your mother, who has LOCKED YOU AWAY IN AN ATTIC, might not have been 100% truthful all this time?  What is this world coming to, when we can’t even trust the word of an [] who conspires with her psychotic ultra-fundamentalist mother to lock her four children away for years in an attic??  Great!  Now I find it difficult to believe in anything!  IS SANTA STILL REAL?  AM I STILL REAL??  IS THIS INCEPTION AND I AM JUST A DREAM FIGMENT OF MYSELF?  AND IF SO WHERE IS JOSEPH GORDEN-LEVITT?

From the Forever Young Adult review of Sweet Valley High:

There is no sub-plot!  This is all of the plot!  COCAINE WILL KILL YOU IN YOUR FACE!  Don’t do it!  You could have a heart murmur that no one ever diagnosed before, even though you were born with a handicap and were presumably in and out of doctors’ offices for most of your young life!!  And do you really want your last few moments to be spent on Molly Hecht’s gross couch, asking to talk to Elizabeth Wakefield?  NO.  So stay away from drugs, kids, or you too will TOTALLY DIE.

Snark fandom stands on the other side from obsessive fandom (think Snapewifes or Twimoms), standing firmly in this world, rather than any astral plane. Snark fandom serves as a means to share fandom with others,  yet be reminded that the book, or artist, or whatever, is imperfect and flawed, yet still worthy of interest.

I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Thinking out loud: What it meant to be a “fan” on Facebook

Yesterday’s announcements from Facebook’s latest developer conference, F8. dropped news of major changes that have rattled online privacy advocates (and everyday users). I am among the rattled, and will get into the privacy implications of Facebook’s Open Graph in an upcoming post.

First though, I’d like to ruminate a bit on a more seemingly innocuous change implemented by Facebook recently, the move from “Become a fan” to “like” in the lexicon of Facebook fan pages.

If you didn’t already know, Facebook fan pages are in theory, Facebook profiles specifically for brands, organizations and public figures. If you have a personal Facebook profile and you’ve ever “become a fan” of something on Facebook, whether its Mr. Peanut, Jason Statham, or “Not being on fire” well, that’s a Fan Page.

The point of these pages, in theory, was to keep personal profiles and brand profiles separate. The interface is slightly different than personal Facebook profiles for both users and administrators, and for marketing professionals there are more bells and whistles on Fan pages. But until recently, the use of Fan Pages was never limited to brands and organizations. The aforementioned “Not being on fire” fan page and similar gag Fan pages (like Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Hat) have existed since fan pages were introduced.

The recent introduction of Community Pages for Facebook, seems to be a way to discourage the creation of gag pages by users and to insure that brand marketers control the use of Fan Pages exclusively.

Mashable cites an e-mail from Facebook to online advertisers, explaining the meaning of the change:

Facebook is alerting advertisers to the impending change by explaining that “Like” links offer “a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in … in fact, people click “Like” almost two times more than they click “Become a Fan” everyday.”

Little wonder in that; the word “fan” implies a level of engagement and commitment that the word “like” doesn’t quite cover. There’s a lot of things I “like” that I’m not necessarily a fan of. Of course more people would choose to click “like” more than “Become a Fan,” because being a fan tends to mean a little bit more to people.

Not to mention the fact that the “like” button was way more ubiquitous than “Become a Fan” button on Facebook. You could “like” a picture, a news item, someone’s stupid status update. “Liking” something on Facebook essentially implies a user vaguely acknowledges the existence of a piece of content, but doesn’t mean they’re passionate enough  about it to potentially opt-in to regular communications about it. (which is what Fan Pages are about, really)

But  that’s exactly what Facebook is counting on.  Here’s more from the previously mentioned memo:

Like’ offers a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in. These lighter-weight actions mean people will make more connections across the site, including with your branded Facebook Pages. We believe this will result in brands gaining more connections to pages since our research has shown that some users would be more comfortable with the term ‘Like’. The goal is to get the most user connections so that you can have ongoing conversations in the news feeds of as many users as possible.

I think of the times I randomly click on “like” for a piece of content I’ve scanned on Facebook. In some cases, “liking content” on Facebook is essentially saying “I’m too lazy to actually leave a comment on this, so here you go.” It’s the lowest level on engagement I can muster.

By making “like” and “Become a Fan” equivalent on Facebook,the more passive user behavior of “liking” something is now essentially an opt-in to a brand’s communication stream. Maybe you’re not into Coca-Cola enough to “Become a Fan” but surely you “like” it, right?

It’s pretty shrewd. Facebook is quite transparent that this change was made to increase user interaction with Fan Pages (now the exclusive domain of brands) but it is interesting to me that the implied exclusivity and discrimination of the term “fan” was seen as a liability for Facebook interaction. Traditional marketing values the fan above all others. In the case of Facebook, being a fan meant that you care just a bit too much.

Learned Fangirl at SXSW Reads a Book: Fans, Friends and Followers (Part 2 of our exciting SXSW adventures)

So to start my series of posts about SXSW, I’m starting with a discussion of one of the books focused on during one of the panel presentations, Scott Kirsner’s latest work, Fans, Friends and Followers. If you are looking for a book on living up to the 1,000 true fans philosophy, this isn’t it.

As he states in the book,

there has never been a noisier, more competitive time to try to make art, entertain people, and tell stories. Everyone is doing it, and so there is an incredible surplus of content in every art form.

Surplus of content? This strongly implies that the limiter to content is the individual, rather than the possibilility of different individualss and groups with different tastes.

While I appreciate what Kirshner is trying to do, by helping artists reach their audience — there is a reason why this blog is called The Learned Fangirl — because we are concerned about how fans are being viewed by each other and outsiders.

So how does Kirshner describe the role of fans?

The very term “audience” may be on its way to obsolescence. Some artists prefer to think of themselves as cultivating a “community,” attracting “supporters,” or organizing and motivating a “street team.” Some like the term “fan base,” while others may choose to use the terms “collaborators” or “co-conspirators.”

Unfortunately, the role of fans — both throughout the book and in the admittedly brief presentation — is to be active participants  that can be removed from the process at any point should the artist choose. He never quite says this directly, but everything is directed at the artist — nothing on what happens when fans feel (or actually have) a claim of ownership over parts of their fandom.

And perhaps its my background, but I found the “reap all of the grain from the field” approach to be shortsighted. The only mention of rights occurs briefly, within a formal business arrangement, or passing references to Creative Commons.

The interviews that are the backbone of the book are interesting, but without a larger, overall helpful structure for artists, this shouldn’t be an end-point.

Recommended: Only for those that want to read inspiring stories. Or are newly thinking about how to become a famous artist.

Guest Post: Sam Ford: Worlds Without End?

The soap opera was once defined in part as providing worlds without end, as some have put it: fictional worlds that carry on daily for years, decades even. While characters and actors would come and go, the shows often centered on the same community, and sometimes even the same character. Much as with a sports franchise, there was an idea that the soap opera was a media tradition that grandmother and mother would pass on to daughter and granddaughter, and the multiple generation of characters on the show mirrored the generations of (largely female) viewers who not only commonly watch but likewise discuss and debate what they see.

Certainly, this is what has set the soap opera apart from the telenovela, its counterpart devised south of the border which shares the frequent (often daily) airing but focuses on a finite story rather than a “world without end.” Nowhere else on television will you find a phenomenon like 91-year-old Helen Wagner of As the World Turns fame. Her character, Nancy Hughes, spoke the first line on ATWT when the show debuted in 1956, and she was seen as recently as last week, dishing out advice to her family and friends. Some viewers of ATWT have followed Wagner’s Nancy for more than five decades. Further, Nancy is joined by a whole host of characters that have been played by the same actor for years. Don Hastings and Eileen Fulton are soon set to celebrate 50 years in their respective roles as Bob Hughes and Lisa Miller on the show, and they are joined by actors who joined the show in the late 1960s, the 1970s, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In short, anyone who grew up watching ATWT can likely tune in today and see an actor who “started” during their initial viewership of the show.

But these “worlds without end” aren’t as definite as they used to be. There once were scores of soap operas on the air. Now there are seven. Another World was cancelled in 1999 after decades on the air. Its Procter & Gamble sister show, and the longest-running soap opera in history–Guiding Light–went off the air this year after 72 years. Rumors have circulated in the past year about the impending cancellation of ATWT, One Life to Live, and Days of Our Lives, and ABC recently moved All My Children’s production from New York to Los Angeles in part as a cost-saving measure. All seven U.S. soaps remaining on the air have seen significant ratings declines in the past few decades.

At the moment, the seven U.S. soaps remain on the air, and these shows still have millions of passionate viewers who tune in daily to watch characters they’ve been viewing for decades. The question remains: are soap operas still relevant to U.S. audiences? Where has the industry gone wrong, if some elements of the decline should not just be seen as the inevitable drop in viewership in a media landscape of multitude rather than a limited number of broadcast television channels? Are there strategies that soap operas might engage in to not only stay relevant but perhaps re-invigorate the genre?

These are questions I’ve been tackling with UC-Berkeley’s Abigail De Kosnik, Miami University’s C. Lee Harrington, and a host of scholars, industry representatives, fans, and critics, as part of a book that will be published in 2010 by the University Press of Mississippi called The Survival of the Soap Opera. We believe that the strength of the soap opera, and it’s continued viability, lies with capitalizing on these shows’ rich histories, continuing to experiment with new forms of production and distribution, and finding new ways to deepen the engagement of diverse audiences and define success through that deep engagement.

Given The Learned Fangirl”s deep commitment to fan studies, we’d love to hear from any readers who have a history with soaps. Feel free to drop a comment here or shoot me an email at samford@mit.edu. I’m curious what you think! Do soap operas have a future? If not, what will the legacy of the U.S. soap opera be, if its ratings decline and eventual extinction is deemed inevitable? Is the trend toward deep serialization, ensemble casts, and interpersonal relationships we see in primetime television today directly or indirectly attributable to the soap opera? These are questions we’re looking to tackle in our collection, and we’re excited to hear what you think.

[Editor’s Note: Sam Ford is Director of Customer Insights, Peppercom, and MIT Research Affiliate. We were so pleased to have such a fan of wrestling and soaps moderate our fan-related panel at MIT5! ]