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.

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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.

The Economic (and LOL power) of I Can Has Cheezburger

The New York Times recently had an article on LOLcats, specifically the ICanHasCheezburger site, and I wondered, what took so long? Is it because it seems so … silly? Or is it because the idea of female nerd culture (not to say that those that are not female or nerds don’t enjoy LOLcats, but really) seems like a non-money making venture and thereby uninteresting?

While I’ll be writing a longer review in response to Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, one aspect of the book that really bothered me was the way he seemed so dismissive of ICanHasCheezburger. He calls the process of creating a LOLcat “the stupidest possible creative act” with the “social value of a whoopee cushion and the cultural life span of a mayfly.” He does, however, consider it to be an example of participatory culture — perhaps equal to Cartoon Network.

In an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, he explains his viewpoint a bit differently, but I wonder how many readers are going to seek out this “explanatory footnote”:

SHIRKY:  But the interesting thing about lolcats, about these cute cats made cuter with the application of cute captions, is that when you see a lolcat, you get a second message which is: You can play this game, too. All right, when you see something on television, the message is: You could not do this, you can only consume this.
There is a giant gulf between doing something and doing nothing. And someone who makes a lolcat and uploads it – even if only to crack their friends up -has already crossed that chasm to doing something. That’s the sea change, and you can see it even with the cute cats.

But one aspect that Shirky does question — and that the New York Times gazes over in amazement (similar to the “weird Japan” newsreporting meme) is that someone is getting paid. But it is the owners of ICanHasCheezburger who are making seven figures (for the entire family of  sites) — not those creating LOLcats, who receive merch for their creative output.

Shirky describes concerns about labor efforts in participatory culture (and thereby fan culture in general):

If ICanHasCheezburger.com, purveyor of lolcats, is a late-model version of the fifteenth-century publishing model, then the fact that its workers are contributing their labor unpaid is not only strange but unfair. But what if the contributors aren’t workers? What if they really are contributors, quite specifically intending their contributions to be acts of sharing rather than production? What happens if their efforts are an effort of love?

We here on The Learned Fangirl have discussed the labor/fan dynamic and are glad that it is being considered within the context of Cognitive Surplus — and will be addressing this issue head on in the followup book review. We’ll be discussing why Shirky not having an answer for his own questions above for both LOLcats and participatory culture is disappointing. At least this half of TLF will!

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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‘Cause we’re freak remixers baby!: Lady Gaga and remix culture

On this blog, we write often about the value of fan-created works, about how fans use their creativity, using works created and owned by others. And fans of Lady Gaga has been very busy, remixing and reusing both the video and song, Bad Romance. They vary in quality and skill, but most convey the message of “This is so cool — and I want to be part of it!”

Additionally, complicating matters, legally there is a difference between the use of a work in the entirety (such a cover version) and sampling, and between using the style of a video and the music — but for fans, these distinctions don’t exist. And the parody (making fun of this work) / satire (using one work to make a statement about something else), truly falls apart in the midst of montage/collage/remix culture, where one work can simultaneously have multiple messages.

Two years ago, American University’s Center for Social Media released a study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video, suggesting strongly that remix culture is not only socially acceptable, but should also be legally acceptable because transformative reuse falls within the fair use exception/defense to copyright.

Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance song and video have proven to be the source material for all but one type of the nine types of reappropriation discussed in the study.

The types — in order of their frequency in my wholly non-statistically valid study (i.e. I watched lots of videos!), considering different types can exist in the same video:

  • Pastiche or collage: Several copyrighted materials incorporated together into a new creation, or in other cases, an imitation of sorts of copyrighted work: I subdivide these works into two different categories — the homage and the sample — both used extensively by remixers of Lady Gaga’s work.
  • Positive commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a positive message: Such as taking the “We traveled 10,000 miles to say we love you, Lady Gaga” approach.
  • Parody and satire: Copyrighted material used in spoofing of popular mass media, celebrities or politicians: Lots of examples, but have yet to find a good one.
  • Negative or critical commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a negative message: Many of the parody/satires included negative views of Lady Gaga, especially her physical appearance.
  • Quoting to trigger discussion: Copyrighted material used to highlight an issue and prompt public awareness, discourse: Such as commenting about Lady Gaga’s support of the GLBTQ community
  • Illustration or example: Copyrighted material used to support a new idea with pictures and sound: Such as quick, small, samples.

For these next two types, I don’t have examples below the jump — considering the always existing threat of takedown notices, I don’t want to be responsible for publicly pointing out kids having fun at concerts!

  • Personal reportage/diaries: Copyrighted material incorporated into the chronicling of a personal experience
  • Incidental use: Copyrighted material captured as part of capturing something else

The one type missing missing from these reuses is:

  • Archiving of vulnerable or revealing materials: Copyrighted material that might have a short life on mainstream media due to controversy. While Lady Gaga is controversial, there isn’t a need to archive this specific time.

Below are examples of some of these varied uses of the original — starting with the original official music video — from the official YouTube Channel.

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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! ]

My name is fangirl; we are legion

Recently, the power of the fangirl has been seen as having potential economic power, especially with the huge opening of New Moon. And regardless of one’s own personal feelings about Twilight , these fans have power in through sheer numbers.

I’m not sure why this is a sudden revelation, but it likely has to do with the more familiar “hiding in plain sight” fangirl of the comics, gaming, sports, music, etc. variety, considering that in *all* of those areas, the stereotypical fan is a dude.

“[Male fans] tare tolerated as “normal people” at Comic-Con while hordes of girl fans [of Twilight] are not.”

Jezebel has an interesting post on this “chicks spend money on entertainment!” phenomenon:

New Moon explodes the myth… that fanboys hold all the power,” Pamela McClintock writes for Variety. … Women buy movie tickets, and we’re interested in great stories with women in the lead roles. And! Fangirls should be taken seriously. As Women & Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein writes for The Huffington Post:

… I’m not trying to say that all women’s films will be as successful as New Moon because that’s silly. These kinds of movies come along rarely cause Hollywood hardly makes them. But this weekend’s number indicate that they should make more of them.

But not all women like gender-specific (or directed) fandoms — and sometimes girls and women are looking for non-sexist, non-racist material regardless of whether there is female representation (as a edit to the Bechdel rule).

But there are often different ways in which women and girls approach fandom, in economic and other ways:

  • What does the crazy fangirl plotline on Supernatural mean?
  • Why is there a wave of hardcore bands with female-centered names with no female members (Daughters, Baroness)?
  • Why does so much of Genghis Tron merch seem appropriate to decorate the room of a small child?
  • Was the way the Doctor decided what happened to Donna an assault?
  • Which reboot, Star Trek or Sherlock Holmes, better lives up to its slash potential?
  • Is the new Powergirl powerful or sexist? Or both?
  • What is the reason there has not been a mainstream popular girl-focused manga/anime series in the U.S. since Sailor Moon?
  • Will wizard rock and twi-rock find mainstream success, considering nu-goth?

And these types of questions are more important in connecting with female fans as a big opening weekend for one movie in a popular book series because (secret here!), the next girl/women-focused movie isn’t going to do as well.There are still plenty of ways of energizing female fans — but figurine washing laundry and contests to ComicCon that don’t allow female fans just aren’t going to cut it in this brave new fandom world.