Scholarly Striptease. Or, The Unintended Consequences of Film Studies For Free

Curator's Note

In "Little Books", a contribution to Grieveson and Wasson’s 2008 collection Inventing Film Studies, Mark Betz wrote (about internet cinephilia or fandom) that, online and digitally, "the repressed film culture that gave birth to film studies has returned with a vengeance".

When I created my open-access campaigning blog Film Studies For Free that same year, little did I realize how much of its energy would come from just this kind of unleashed enthusiasm. When I first began work on it, during a voluntary two-year break in my paid academic career, I set out simply to gather links to existing, online Film Studies scholarship of note, not to reconnect, deeply, with what had made me choose my subject in the first place. But I soon found that this curatorial role was just the beginning of an unexpectedly active exploration of emergent critical and cinephile modes online. My passionate attachment to these forms overcame my fear that experiments with them, even in the public sphere, might not be taken seriously.

The video embedded here is an example of this. Ostensibly a piece of uncreative writing, as Kenneth Goldsmith might put it, made in 2011 for a cinephile blogathon, ‘Refashioning the Femme Fatale?’ played (perversely) with the scholarly form of a reader, offering an (audiovisual) introduction to issues of gender and movement in relation to Rita Hayworth’s performance as Gilda in Charles Vidor’s 1946 film. Instead of aiming to generate completely new insights, this ‘rich text object’ attempted (within the average duration of a YouTube fan clip) to combine quotations from existing film scholarship on its topic with a much-loved sequence from the featured film in order to provide a meaningful, scholarly and affective, immersive experience. Making fair use of the possibilities for moving image studies offered by online accessibility, I argued at the time, works like this might well profit from feeling a little like fan videos and introductory film studies all at once.

Refashioning the Femme Fatale?’ was only my fourth published piece of videographic scholarship; it was more originary than I could see at the time. Out of its teasingly ragged margins came a deeper belief in the value of a playful, non-precious attitude to media studies scholarship as practice – one which has pleasingly helped into existence other transitional objects and open source possibilities.

Comments

Pam Cook's picture

Scholarly Striptease

A lovely post Catherine, bringing home the way open source academia dissolves the boundaries between academic scholarship and fan activity. Those boundaries were always permeable, but I think videography’s cut-and-paste way of ‘writing’ makes the processes and emotional/psychic investments of scholarly research visible. Potentially that leads to dissemination among wider, more diverse groups pf readers/viewers. Fans are critics, and critics are fans!

Catherine Grant's picture

Aca-fandom

Thank you, Pam. Around the time I started blogging I was certainly very influenced by Henry Jenkins’ work on aca-fandom - both at his blog (http://henryjenkins.org) and in his more conventionally published work - and I was also reading Matt Hills’ work, in particular his object-relations-theory-infused investigation (in FAN CULTURES [2002]) of the mechanisms of separation between the fan and the academic and of what was at stake in that separation.

Locating my work, for the first time, in the exposed space of the contemporary fan (the public sphere of the internet) collapsed that separation in productive and, for me, irreversible ways. When I started to blog, I began to care far more about engaging with a readership — and about caring for its enthusiasms — than I had in my previous, offline, scholarly work. I still engage in critical and reflective research and discourse, of course, but those elements usually follow on from practical explorations and experiments that aren’t limited in advance by notions of what I should be looking at as a scholar any more (see my discussion of this: http://aim.org.pt/ojs/index.php/revista/article/view/59/html).

As for cut and paste methods, while I’d always been way too attached to opening practically everything I wrote with epigraphs (still do!), it was blogging that made me take my experiments with montage and quotation seriously, that’s to say, *playfully* (that’s the very essence of FSFF), well before I began to engage in non linear editing of moving images and sounds. But you’re so right that all these ways of ‘writing’ make psychic investments much more visible. And again that can be very exposing….

Suzanne Scott's picture

"Playful" Scholarly Identities

Catherine, this really resonated with me both as an aca-fan, and as someone who teaches courses that require students to produce “open,” multimodal scholarship. When asking students to approach remix as a form of audiovisual argumentation, I’m not just requiring them to refashion themselves as public scholars, or assert their copyrights through fair use claims, I’m asking them to (as Pam eloquently notes above) make visible their emotional investments in particular texts and course concepts. The “playful” approach to media scholarship you discuss above is perhaps the biggest conceptual hurdle for my students, but it’s ultimately what makes the finished projects so rewarding and powerful. To embrace a more open vision of academia is to grow comfortable with the connections between our affective relationship with media, and our identities as media scholars- in this sense, fans and transformative fan works function as a perfect analog to consider how we might achieve this.

Catherine Grant's picture

Revenge is sweet!

Suzanne, that’s a powerful manifesto right there! Thanks for articulating it in that way. Your final point is an especially important one.

One element I’m interested to emphasise after your intervention, particularly given that your own open source work has made such productive use of the notion of fans’ “revenge” (http://www.suzanne-scott.com), is that the concept of vengeance is indeed also central to Betz’s argument that I opened with.

I paint a particularly positive picture, above, of the energy that flooded into my work when it went online and when I risked making a connection, as you put it, “between [my] affective relationship with media, and [my identity as a media scholar]” in public for the first time. But there was definitely some revenge in there for me, too!

Having spent more than twenty years as a scholar closing off that connection, indeed, repressing it as I had been taught to do, obviously, had consequences. The relief and pleasure I experienced when I stopped doing that were powerfully palpable. So if your students are able to acknowledge and, even better, get in touch with their emotional investments early on in their work with you that’s a vital pedagogical outcome indeed, as hard as it is to achieve. Thank you.

Vicki Callahan's picture

On Fans and Dialogue

Catherine: I am drawn to the way your essay and ensuing comments here breaks down the binaries of critical and affective as has been noted but also that of the scholar and fan. Here, I am not just thinking of the worthwhile emotional investment that a scholar might have but the critical faculties often undervalued in the “fan.” I have seen this especially in my own work in the silent film area where many “fans” have not only encyclopedic knowledge of early cinema details and passionate thoughts on individuals and films, but also careful analysis of social forces, performers and performance, directorial signatures, and elements of film style. I have learned much from the silent film community in Los Angeles and feel strongly there is much to be gained from putting our work out to the public not only for their information and possible new objects of study, but as part of a larger and ongoing conversation.

I love the idea of letting go of the “precious object” of media scholarship and the willingness to see our work as something usefully in progress without the cover of “part of a larger work” that we often frame our conference presentations as a hedge against “incompleteness.” Our public practice with these works then becomes exercises in active listening and dialogue and the foundation for new possibilities for scholarship as you noted with Reframe and [in]Transition.

Jacob Bohrod's picture

Expanding Definitions

Fantastic post and comments! So much of this topic is tied up in our changing definitions of criticism and what it means to “critically engage” with media and one another. The spirit of scholarly media practice like this derives in equal parts from pop culture outputs like the fan video AND critical theoretical applications that might register more on the “serious” side of things. I think your post, Catherine, speaks to not only the ways academics and media scholars can utilize the tools usually relegated to non-critical audiences, but to how fans and media consumers in general might start to view their own output as critically revealing. The Idea is Process! :)

Heber Rodriguez's picture

Possibilities Outside of Film Studies

Thank you for your post, Catherine. Research like the one you present here opens up new possibilities for cultural criticism and presents great models for the interpretation of visual culture as a whole, even outside the realm of film studies. The online public sphere is dependent on visual interfaces and has collectively given birth to many forms of image making (e.g. selfies and the image macros). It is important that the Internet also become a site for academic analysis and critical questioning of these forms as well.

The field of contemporary art, for example, could benefit immensely from analyses like your “Refashioning the Femme Fatale?”, given the rise of video, multimedia, and Internet-based practices. While text alone has dominated criticism in this field for a long time, the models you and your colleagues are developing set the precedent for future academics and fans to explore further using an expanded toolset.

Stephanie Chung's picture

Re-representations

Great post, Catherine! I love the idea of making an argument on the topic of gender and movement via a “scholarly and affective, immersive experience”. I particularly liked the combination of the song, and visuals- the quotations on the topic exploring the power of the feminine and how the image of feminine has been projected by men. The quotations worked very well with the way she sings and moves. Great insight to how emotional investment plays a role in reaching the public sphere, as Jacob said “non-critical audiences”. Look forward to seeing more media scholars who can take this “playful” approach in their digital argument.

Michael LaRocco's picture

Theory and Practice

Catherine - I think your post calls attention not only to the institutional boundaries between scholarship and fandom, but also between theory and practice. Within the academy there exist such strict divisions between the PhDs and the MFAs - the separation of “learning” from “making” when, in practice, no such separation exists. While it seems clear to me that the process of media-making undoubtedly informs media study and vice-versa, your work acts as a manifested middle ground - a site in which the benefits of theory/practice hybridization are made clearly visible to both sides of the insitutionalily-constructed spectrum.

Catherine Grant's picture

Thank you

Thanks so much, everyone, for your responses.

Vicki, I wholeheartedly agree with you about how open source contexts encourage exchange with non-aca “fan” experts - that was indeed the context for this video which was published in the (then) annual Film Preservation blogathon - that year devoted to film noir, with plenty of other contributions most of which preceded mine: http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/for-love-of-film-noir-take-so-far.html.

Jacob, thank you. Yes, I think my biggest anxiety with my work when it went online was around critical content. That’s why I found Goldsmith’s work on uncreative writing really helpful and interesting as he shows how the scope of what might be critical and also creative extends very far into ostensibly uncritical and unoriginal activities like transcription and “patch writing” - typical fan activities in the context of remix/online video (even as much online remix is directly critical and creative, of course).

Heber, yes - writing with the moving image and especially sound online has been a real revelation. I now find it very hard just to write - without hypertext, or movement, or sound! Thanks for your kind comment.

Stephanie, really glad you liked the video. Thanks for your comments.

Michael, yes, I think I started out as someone deeply interested in practice but feeling like it couldn’t be something I did in academia as I was a “theory person” - like that’s a constitutional/existential state. Well, it kind of was! But open source academia makes practitioners of us all - rarely do I just send in written copy for anything I do - it almost always involves forms of practice (in publishing, designing, layout as well as non linear editing). Thanks so much.

Bo Wen's picture

Laziness versus Creativity?

Thank you so much, Katherine! What a magnificent post!

I am still confused by the term “creative writing”. There is no unified definition for creativity, and in my opinion, laziness could be beautified as creativity to some extent. How can we void the possibility that people simply “create” new forms of writing sheerly for the sake of convenience?

Catherine Grant's picture

On Laziness, unoriginality and uncreativity

Thanks Bo Wen! I’ve always been confused by that term also. I guess I’m with Kenneth Goldsmith on these matters. Especially when he writes the following (in his book UNCREATIVE WRITING):

Literary critic Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term *unoriginal genius* to describe [a recent] tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of genius — a romantic isolated figure — is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination. Perloff has coined a term, *moving information*, to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process. She posits that today’s writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine.”

[**= italics in original]

The above definitely sounds like one of the skillsets for Open Source Academia and doesn’t particularly favour laziness!

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