As seen on screen? Mimetic SF fandom & the crafting of replica(nt)s
by Matt Hills — University of Cardiff
September 10, 2010 – 00:01
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.