Zoe, I understand your hesitancy certainly. I would *like* to think that my approach to OB strikes a middle ground. Since we only watch the first season, we still are dealing with something quite incomplete, partial, ongoing. But by having at least one whole season, we can engage with contemporary television on multiple levels - not only in terms of episodes, arcs, and seasons, but also with regard to how representations, for example, might shift as a show continues its run. Also, as I note in other comments above, I don’t just screen OB during the semester; along with it, I screen a variety of other types of shows (including reality TV, news, sketch comedy, sitcoms, web series, etc.). It’s also worth noting that I don’t - nor did my students - perceive OB as quality TV. At least, most didn’t. Rather, we talked at length about whether it fits dominant cultural discourses about quality TV or not - a productive activity in itself.
Carl, thanks for commenting! See my comments about OITNB above (I almost used that instead!). I actually screened Transparent for the last week of class and it went over very well -that is a tempting one to show. My hesitancy for using it as the “feature” text for the whole semester is because it is so distinctive (in terms of mode of distribution, representations, business model, etc.). That issue of selecting between more “representative” televisual texts and distinctive or exceptional ones is a key conundrum for those designing a course featuring a large number of episodes for an individual series. The decision of how to proceed, of course, largely depends on your pedagogical objectives - so maybe if I taught a class focused on TV & New Technologies, OITNB or Transparent would be perfect…hmmmm….
Liza - I will echo my apology provided above regarding my delay in responding. One of the questions I always pose to students at the end of the semester is “if not this show, that what other show?” Both times I taught the course, students couldn’t come up with a better one. When I first thought about using a season or so of a show throughout the semester, it was between this and Orange is the New Black. I think OITNB would have dealt with many of the same issues, and indeed, would have opened up other conversations regarding new platforms and new ideas about television (perhaps). But ultimately I wanted to turn to a show that aired first on linear TV and one with a lower profile (and less extensive critical acclaim). I’m glad I ended up doing OB instead, as the vast majority had Netflix and had already watched OITNB. I don’t know how much longer I can/will keep using Orphan Black - I will see how much awareness the class has of the show now that it has been around longer and judge accordingly. I don’t think showing one or two episodes of OB would be worthwhile, as much of the value of the show comes from its serialized form, its deployment of different generic traits in different episodes, the different characters played by Tatiana over time, etc. And a key value (to me) of showing a block of episodes of any show comes from how you discuss it in terms of narrative structure (in connection to representation, genre, etc.). Otherwise, it’s fine to just stick to single episodes of different series, which I did in the past pre-OB.
At any rate, I can’t really think of another show that would be good as a replacement…yet. Jane the Virgin is an enticing newer prospect, and I wouldn’t mind teaching Justified. What’s so challenging about choosing a specific show for a course is that ultimately (for me) the course should not be “about” the show - the show is just a mechanism for facilitating many other conversations. BUT the show still has to be compelling enough to a diverse group of students to hold their attention/excitement for several weeks. It’s also important that the show isn’t so exceptional that students start to think about the class as being the “Breaking Bad class” or “The Lost class” (for example) - such a perspective would potentially lead to conversations being focused more on the specifics/distinctiveness of that show rather than broader issues/concepts.
Hi Jason - sorry it took me so long to respond…slipped my mind at the end of the semester. But better late than never! I saw that you used Homeland and seriously considered using it as well. The reason I decided to go with Orphan Black ultimately was because I wanted to use an ad supported show, as well as one that has had a lower cultural profile (and airs on a “lesser known” network/brand) and with transmedia extensions. I’ve found that (at least so far) few students come in having seen or knowing much about Orphan Black, and that can be productive in terms of discussions regarding quality, paratexts, etc. Also, the show’s genre hybridity and dedicated fan community lead to productive conversations, as does its status as an international co-production as well as its treatment of gender and sexuality. We’ve also had an interesting conversation about whether or not it represents quality TV (never a consensus here).
Totally agree about the value of screening a long-form series in terms of cultivating a sense of community as a class. Both times I have taught OB, students express incredible excitement and have even made bets about who can hold out and not view any more episodes on their own. The very few who have seen the show prior to the class have typically been superfans who then act as ambassadors of sorts for others (and their enthusiasm is also useful in terms of talking about reception and fandom).
Thanks, Staci - and sorry it took me SO long to reply (hopefully you see this much-delayed post!). Space constraints obviously prevented me from delving into the scope of the course except in the most cursory way. But to answer your first question, regarding how I approached the show vs. others, what worked in my favor was that the class takes place for 50 minutes three days a week. This meant that at least one day a week we could address key concepts & issues in a broad sense, another we could delve into the other screenings, and then one day, address Orphan Black (in relation to the prior issues). While in practice it was not this systematic (I see how class conversation & interest level is and adjust accordingly), this is roughly how it worked out.
I should note that we don’t begin screening Orphan Black until about a month into the semester, as the first part of the class deals with broader issues pertaining to history, critical concepts in TV Studies, industry, production, etc. Our entree into OB is with paratexts - I first ask them about their knowledge of the show sight unseen, then screen promos, and then finally, the next day, screen the first episode. This process helps create a layered conversation.
One of the most useful ways to discuss OB is in terms of narrative, obviously - and for that, we have to wait for several episodes to accrue. Then we can systematically do a break down at the episodic, arc and season level. In terms of genre, I try to screen other examples of shows with similar generic traits (at least in part) - e.g., NYPD Blue and Brooklyn Nine-Nine for the police procedural, The Sopranos as quality TV/family melodrama/gangster hybrid, etc.
In both the times I have taught OB, we actually did not weigh too heavily on just that show. Indeed, because it is provided along with other screenings (and readings - none of which are about the show) it fits into a larger contextual conversation. The virtue of focusing on one show over a longer period of time, though, is that they can think through how so many different critical approaches can connect to one text and lead to such varied readings. I wouldn’t want to JUST focus on Orphan Black - I probably could in lieu of the other screenings - but as one consistent text screened in tandem with many others, it has been a worthwhile experience.
If you haven’t done so, be sure to check out my links for the syllabi & sample assignments. Hope this answers *most* of your questions!
Hi Evelyn, thanks for reading! I think you bring up an interesting point. Although I knew the history of the Bechdel test before your comment, the way I employed it in the piece did present an interesting problem. Thanks again for commenting (and you should definitely watch this show if you like the fantasy genre!)
The shipper in me has always been both disgusted and fascinated by Wincest, and continues to be even as my interest in the series has waned. My fascination primarily comes from something that you mention briefly in your post: the series has acknowledged it. In fact, the series is so meta now that it has acknowledged almost EVERY ship out there in the fandom in a big way and, in fact, has kind of played into these fan desires even as they condemn them. I think an argument could certainly be made that the writers of Supernatural are ship baiters for this very reason. And while all of the questions you posited as to the reasons fans ship Wincest are intriguing I wonder if it might be better to think of Supernatural as something of an ouroboros: the fans ship Wincest, the writers play it up in the series, more fans ship Wincest, repeat, repeat, repeat…?
“And I do think that Sam/Dean actually is taboo—even in the fandom itself. From what I’ve seen (knowing primarily Destiel shippers), there is a line drawn in the sand between what is accepted and what’s not, and Wincest is on the other side of that line, in the “not” category. It may be okay to like it, to write about it, to make videos even, but I feel as if there is this veil of silence around it.”
I think this is where the different sides of fandom come into play. The secrecy of aligning with shipping the brothers just isn’t present from my interactions with fans. It’s more a “like what you like” mindset. And as it’s the longest-running slash ship in the fandom, it’s not something that can be put in the corner and ignored. Canon has acknowledged it, fans have acknowledged it. I like that we can all celebrate our loves without feeling like we have to hide it. It’s quite refreshing.
“There could be so many interesting psychoanalytic readings of them (and maybe the fans that ship wincest?) that I’m not capable of doing, but would totally read.”
The traumatic binding between Dean and Sam have definitely been explored and used in meta essays to look at why they’re so completely dependent on one another for all needs. It’s an interesting aspect to consider in shipping, because while the relationship may not be healthy, it’s ever-lasting. No one else can come between them, which is both bad and good. After all, they’re soul mates, both metaphorically and canonically.
Interesting post. It’s funny how you bring up The Bechdel Test as something to contrast the idea of lesbian partnership (your phrasing of “although” at the start of the sentence makes it seem the the ideas are mutually exclusive, but perhaps I’m reading this incorrectly) because Alison Bechdel, the woman credited for this test, is a lesbian. The test first appeared in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, and it wasn’t intended on being the feminist lens through we view movies. It was used by a (butch) lesbian character about how she wanted to consume media as a lesbian. I’ve read really interesting criticisms about the evolution of the Bechdel test and how it has been removed from its original context within the LGBT community, and instead used to prop up (cis, white, straight, mainstream) feminism instead—thus contributing to another branch of lesphobia that you seem to be hinting network TV to be guilty of at the end of your piece. It’s really fascinating how these two ideas can go hand in hand, and how a TV show can be so much more entangled in these ideas of homophobia and sexism than we realize on first glance!
On a side note, I really need to watch this show, or maybe I should skip to the fanfic instead. ;)
Pam, Thanks for your comment.
I think it would also be interesting to further investigate how producers choose the moment to fulfill a ship and how much control of that decision they really have. One factor I did not mention in my post was that Emily Deschanel, the actress who plays Temperance Brennan, was pregnant in real life at the time of this storyline.
When speaking with the producers of Bones, they’ve often told me that, “fans don’t know what they want.” The producers explain that even though fans push for the relationship to be fulfilled, they really want the enjoyment of pushing for the relationship. So, I’m pretty confident that the show’s storyline would have been different if Emily was not pregnant. The timing of her real pregnancy and the decision to use it as a season-ending shocker might have also contributed to the reason some fans felt the announcement was too sudden and why others denounced the pregnancy as “the” moment and focused their energy on calls for a wedding.
It seems the producers need to walk a fine line. Fulfilling a ship too early might result in a loss of viewers, but viewers might also defect from the show if waiting too long frustrates them.