Science Fiction and Fandom [September 6-10, 2010]

Avi Santo's picture

Monday September 6, 2010 – Curtis Webster (Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) presents: Myth, Ritual and People Who Love Star Trek

Tuesday September 7, 2010 – Jack Walsh (Public Broadcasting Atlanta) presents: “Four Days at Dragon*Con” excerpt

Wednesday September 8, 2010 – Kayley Thomas (University of Florida) presents: Reporting From the Frontlines: Fan Conventions Go Digital

Thursday September 9, 2010 – Daryl Frazetti (Western Nevada College) presents: Star Trek, Fandom, and Mythos: The Themed Convention

Friday September 10, 2010 – Matt Hills (Cardiff University) presents: As seen as on screen?: Mimetic SF Fandom & the crafting of replica(nt)s


Theme week organized by Ian Peters (Georgia State University) & David Gregory (Georgia State University)

Picture from Roger Chang via Flickr, used and altered under Creative Commons License permission.

  • Myth, Ritual, and People Who Love … by Curtis Webster

  • What is it about Star Trek? Why are Trek fans so obsessive about the universe that Roddenberry built?

    The popular media would have you believe that Trek fans are a cultural fringe group.On a slow news day, send a camera crew out to the nearest convention and get some shots of these nut-cases strolling around in their funny costumes.

    Even a cursory review of the history and anthropology of human rituals, however, should caution us against such a dismissive attitude toward fandom behavior. By immersing themselves so thoroughly in Star Trek, fans are doing what their ancestors have done for countless millennia: They are participating in a mythological narrative that has profound meaning for them

    The work of Carl Jung and others has demonstrated the importance of the archetypal content of mythological narrative for the human psyche. Narrative motifs such as the Reluctant Hero and the Trickster recur in myths and legends in a myriad of different cultures.

    Humans have never been content simply to tell their great mythological narratives. We have also been persistent in our pursuit of rituals which help make our narratives present realities in our lives. For Jews, the celebration of Passover is not simply the commemoration of a seminal event in the history of their faith. The holiday of Passover is designed to place celebrants symbolically into the Exodus narrative. Similarly for Christians, the Lord’s Supper places them at the table with Jesus the night before the crucifixion. We don’t just remember the event; we become part of the story.

    In the clip which accompanies this paper, we see images of Star Trek fans observing rituals that give them roles in the Star Trek narrative.   They don Starfleet uniforms, make themselves up to resemble Klingons, and speak in Star Trek jargon.   One group of Bajorans goes so far as to honor the religious faith of Bajor, paying homage to Benjamin Sisko as the Emissary of the Prophets.   I believe that there is something more significant going on with these fans than playing dress-up for the weekend.   They are entering the mythological universe of Star Trek.   This is not to say that fan rituals are somehow equivalent in all respects with established religious rituals, but it is to say that the ages-old impulse to create ritual is very much in evidence with Star Trek fans. 

    Star Trek has emerged as a narrative with a mythological significance for our culture.   Gene Roddenberry foresaw the joys and the challenges of cultural diversity, and provided us with a mythic narrative to help navigate the exhilarating and confusing waters of life in the most diverse civilization in human history. Great mythic narratives inevitably spawn rituals.  The rituals of Trek fandom are manifestations of a universal human phenomenon.   They are evidence not of the mental instability of Trek fans, but of the enormous mythic power of Star Trek and its enduring value as an epic narrative for our time and our circumstances.

  • “Four Days at Dragon*Con” excerpt by Jack Walsh

  • This clip is a short excerpt from Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s Four Days at Dragon*Con, a one-hour documentary about Atlanta’s massive pop-culture convention (“Nerdi Gras” as one interviewee calls it). 

    As a fairly geeky individual myself, it occurred to me at the Con that the only real dividing line (and it is a wide and blurry one) between nerds and the mainstream any more is the level of enthusiasm for a given pop-culture property. What was once considered nerdy or geeky, let’s say fantasy or sci-fi, is now part of the mainstream. Comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy movies are hugely popular. Are you a geek for going to see the Dark Knight or the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Of course not. You and everyone else did. Are you a geek for getting really into the DC Comics source material or dressing up like a hobbit and doing some LARPing? You bet your stick-on pointy elf ears you are. 

    But so what? At Dragon*Con, 35,000 other people are doing it, too. As I’ve been wrapping up this flick, I’ve thought about how different it would have been to do it, say, 10 or 15 or 20 years ago: back when Cons really were a gathering place for outside-of-the-mainstream folks and LOTR was just a gateway drug to nerdier stuff like D&D.

    So where does one actually cross over into geekdom today? This is something - level of enthusiasm as geekometer- that I wasn’t able to fully explore in the documentary.  No one expressed it in those terms, and some people I interviewed disagreed with me when I postulated it; working without narration, I’m at the mercy of what my interview subjects say.  This segment (or rather, segments, as this is two different parts of the documentary jammed together) is where Four Days at Dragon*Con briefly touches upon nerd self-identification and the sliding scale of geekiness.   

    Four Days at Dragon*Con will air on PBA, Atlanta’s PBS Station, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 11 pm..

  • Reporting from the Frontlines: Fan … by Kayley Thomas

  • There was a time when fan conventions were closeted affairs, rare weekend retreats to another world. Now we have a Twilight convention almost every month, and geek is more chic when stars like Ryan Reynolds hang out at Comic-Con. Likewise, conventions are no longer the primary means to connect with other fans. With the proliferation of social networking and media sharing, fans are in constant communication. Fan fiction, meta, and other discussion are at your fingertips on LiveJournal, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews are all over YouTube, and subcultural celebrities like Supernatural’s Misha Collins have their own Twitters and Facebooks, creating an incredible sense of intimacy and transparency.

    Of course, fans still attend conventions, as Jack Walsh’s documentary holds testament to, but for the fans who can’t make it out, the experience isn’t lost. Armed with cell phones, cameras, and laptops, convention attendees are tweeting updates and uploading pictures and videos for the fans at home. Such convention multimedia is practically instantaneous, the internet audience seeing or hearing it all as it happens or shortly thereafter. You can see this illustrated in my video, a compilation of tweets from the recent Salute to Supernatural convention in Vancouver. Among other media shared, the collection of #vancon tweets builds a picture of the convention experience in bite-sized pieces.

    But is this all just secondhand minutiae? Unlucky fans scrabbling for crumbs, with the lucky ones - at best - deigning to share and - at worst - showing off? No, something much more important is happening. The fan convention as it’s reported online transforms into a curiously separate event for the virtual attendee. While the traditional draw of the fan convention is the gathering in close proximity of a marginal, dispersed community, there is just as much - in fact, more - attendance online through Twitter updates and media shared, facilitating discussion between people who weren’t even at the physical event. The fan dispersal of convention coverage online potentially allows the non-attendee a similar degree of intimacy, and what’s more, a sense of mastery as they are able to access a developing archive of material that one individual at a convention may not be able to experience. The online fan can be exposed to two panel discussions at once, for instance; they can choose the most important pieces of information to immediately enfold into their fan practices.

    We can see this particularly at work in real person fan fiction (RPF). RPF writers depend upon knowledge of the actors they write about in order to develop their stories. The #vancon tweets transmit snapshots of who the actors are, crystallized not in an attendee’s personal memory but in a collective archive that any fan can access. These tweets inform the fans’ images of the actors as characters, and certain tropes as a result are represented, explored, and sometimes inverted in RPF according to this developing network narrative. 

    The proliferation of information access in fan culture offers the opportunity for a constantly evolving community of collective intelligence. Even as the convention attendees provide the initial data, the information is shared virtually, collected and retweeted, appropriated and shared again in fan works. This kind of living, breathing archive holds incredible potential for fan practices – but does it ever run the risk of reducing passion and personal experience to information bytes? 

  • Star Trek, Fandom, and Mythos: The … by Daryl G. Frazetti

  • Star Trek represents modern myth, and as such it legitimizes fan participation in numerous activities, particularly themed conventions. Myth explains the meaning which fans have assigned to both Star Trek and the archetype characters it has created. Star Trek acts as a secular myth for contemporary times by providing cultural symbols and meanings that serve as a model for the formation of a distinct subculture. Themed conventions represent the way in which fans come together to more fully participate in the myth, solidifying the place Trek holds in their daily lives, and allowing for the continued evolution of a vibrant subculture. 1

    Myth acts as a model for all aspects of human behavior, all cultural practices, and ultimately assigns value to life. The Trek myth is quite real to members of fandom, and like all myth, it is subject to continued reinterpretation on the individual level at varying points in time by the believers in the myth.  Despite this, it is possible to identify core meanings in Star Trek. The utopian future, concept of IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations), and the humanistic study of the humanity are ideals shared across fandom. Star Trek is a futuristic portal, allowing fans to learn from the past, make changes in the present, and strive for a Trek future. Fans have found compatibility between the messages of Trek and personal beliefs, incorporating the myth into their daily lives with ease. 2

    Themed conventions provide a platform for understanding the utilization of myth. Fans gather and translate the myth into a cultural binding force, legitimizing their subculture. Fans agree that participation is required, that the myth must be experienced.  Fans participate in the myth in several ways.  They create alien personas, take on the persona of their favorite Trek character or species group with whom they identify with ideologically, collect merchandise for the purposes of owning a piece of the myth, perform songs and plays, and seek out their favorite actors in order to complete the meeting of the myth experience. These conventions allow fans to escape the constraints of contemporary society and fulfill their desire to exist in and experience the utopian future of Star Trek.

    Star Trek Conventions offer an arena for fans to share their interpretations concerning stories and characters and to more fully participate in the myth. Convention participation strengthens the place of myth in their daily lives. Star Trek as modern myth possesses the power to bring meaning to life and to transform life according to all patterns inherent in myth. Themed conventions are a celebration of that power and of the desire of fans to harness that power to change their world.


    1. For more on myth and the anthropological perspective, see, Claude L`evi – Strauss, Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture.  1979. Shocken Books. New York; Camille Bacon-Smith, Enterprising Women: Television, Fandom, and the Creation of Popular Myth. 1992. University of Pennsylvania Press; Wendy Doniger, Other People’s Myths: The Cave of Echoes, 1988. Macmillan. New York. Bronislaw Malinowski, “Myth in Primitive Psychology”, In Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays.1992 [1948]. Waveland Press. Illinois.

    2. For more on Star Trek and fandom, see, Peter J. Claus, “A Structuralist Appreciation of Star Trek”, In The American Dimension. Montegue and Arens, editors. 1976. Alfred Publishing. New York; Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. 1992. Routledge. London and New York; John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins, Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Dr. Who and Star Trek. 1995. Routledge. London and New York.

  • As seen on screen? Mimetic SF fandom … by Matt Hills

  • This clip testifies to a certain type of fan creativity; the creation of prop replicas, or the emulation of a film’s design aesthetic. SF fandom has long since been valued in academic circles, but some modes of fan activity have been more visible than others. Fanfic has been amply represented, along with vidding. The stress has, perhaps, been on fans as producers of transformative work. But what of a strata of fan creators whose desire is to replicate what’s seen on screen; to craft and build replica props? These people apply their skills base to materialising SF’s narrative worlds.

    A significant prop-building fandom has grown up, for instance, around Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Whether debating rival kits to construct Deckard’s PKD blaster, extrapolating from the film’s graphic design (as here), or making a futuristic Johnnie Walker Black Label bottle, this fandom is attentively and spectacularly mimetic, poring over screen grabs. Such mimetic fandom doesn’t seem to create radical mash-ups, or ‘read’ in provocative ways, nor transformatively rework the object of fandom.

    Is it a transformative/mimetic binary which accounts for the lack of academic attention to prop builders; are fan audiences that ‘transform’ a media product via their creativity assumed to be more worthy of analysis than audiences who mimetically ‘reproduce’ aspects of that product? Or is it the case that academics feel a greater affinity with ‘textual’ matters (the writing of fanfic) than with the material crafting of props?

    Prop builders display, and develop, forms of embodied and technical craftsmanship that fan studies hasn’t widely tackled (costuming has also been less present in the literature). Rather than leaving mimetic fandom as the presumed poor relation to transformative fan activity (positioning it as the great, unspoken of replicant in the room), we could take seriously these forms of fan labour. Mimetic fandom’s ‘copying’ is extremely skilful. It is also a mark of the aesthetic difference and distinctiveness of any science-fictional world that’s imitated. Designing narrative worlds may have become a key part of multi-platformed, transmedia storytelling, but the emulation of these worlds has long been a part of fandom’s craft. Perhaps converting textual visions (back) into material artefacts is the greatest transformative work of all.            

Publication date (from feed): 

Mon, 06 Sep 2010 04:01:00 +0000