HANNIBAL: A Fanvid
by Lori Morimoto — Independent Scholar
October 06, 2016 – 10:01
The television series Hannibal (2013-2015), based on characters in novelist Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising, and created by self-described ‘fanboy’ Bryan Fuller, begins quite literally in a world of tight Kubrickian restraint. Distinguished by both rigidly symmetrical framing and overt homage to such films as The Shining, over the course of Season One the show slowly gives way to more Caravaggesque lighting and composition in its increasingly expressionistic exploration of FBI profiler Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) mind, suffering both from undiagnosed encephalitis and the dubious care of serial killer-cannibal-psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Which is to say, throughout its first season, Hannibal reflects the filmic aesthetics of Quality TV, defined as “complex” and “sophisticated… in part through its ability to mark itself off from soap opera” (Newman & Levine 2012: 99), in which soap opera is the bearer of feminized (and arguably queer) excess. Yet, in the same way that Mikkelsen’s “homme fatal” (tenebrica 2013: n.p.) – domestic, dandy, and dangerous, both unrepentant psychopath and emotional fledgling – challenges clear divisions of good and evil, so too does Hannibal subvert easy categorization as Quality TV by means of its progressively more excessive, even transgressive, style and story. By the end of its three-season run, what began as an exercise in controlled, mannered storytelling has transformed into a deeply lush fairytale that, far from distancing itself from soap opera, works through Quality TV’s cinematic style to reflect a melodramatic aesthetic that sets the stage for the unfolding romance between Hannibal and Will (McCracken & Faucette 2015: n.p.).
As contemporary adaptations of literary works, both Hannibal and (the not entirely dissimilar) BBC Sherlock (2010-) have been described as ‘fanfiction’ – by viewers, critics, and even their own showrunners. Yet, in the case of Sherlock, “in order to discursively secure their status as professional, autonomous creatives, [Steven] Moffat and [Mark] Gatiss are required to (re)segregate production and ‘fandom’” (Hills 2012: 37) along gendered lines of demarcation that “hold… fanfic at a discursive and symbolic distance” (Ibid.:36) in ways analogous to how Quality TV is distinguished from feminized soap opera. Contrast this with Fuller’s own assertions that Hannibal is nothing less than “my fan fiction” (Prudom 2015: n.p.), exemplified, as K.T. Torrey writes, in the way it “treats the repetitive nature of fanfic – stories that ‘play out’ a multiplicity of variations of the same basic story – as a source of narrative strength… [through which] Fuller claims the identity and ethos of not just a fan, but a feminine-gendered fan” (2015: n.p.). Indeed, both narratively and audiovisually, Hannibal hews to that affective styling characteristic not only of soap opera and film melodrama, but also of fanfiction and – critically – fanvids.
This piece, then, is a fanvid(eographic essay) that explores and embodies the il/legitimacies of narrative, aesthetics, and even subjectivity that characterize both Hannibal and its queer, fanboy creator. If Hannibal can be considered fanfiction, albeit privileged and economically legitimated, I suggest here that it is equally useful (or, at least, provocative) to consider the show through a fanvid lens. My use of vids as a critical and stylistic heuristic necessarily divorces them from their defining feminine, grassroots origins (Coppa 2008: 1.1). Yet if we consider both “female and camp (i.e., gay male) fans” (Feil 1994: 31) of feminine-coded melodrama as similarly, if not always equally, distanced from culturally legitimated masculinist and heteronormative film and television, exploring Hannibal’s intensely affective aesthetic and nearly Sirkian overdetermination through a fanvid lens “help[s] the viewer to see the source text differently” (Ibid.) – in which “source text” is novels, films, show, and the show’s industrial backdrop. Fanvids, Catherine Burwell writes, may be understood as aesthetic and technical “challenges to televisual norms” (2015: 319); similarly, Hannibal’s own fanviddishness challenges the narrative and stylistic norms of Quality TV through Quality TV. Like vids, it critiques from the inside even as it luxuriates in its own decadence (Winters 2012), an “argument… that effect[s] an excess of pleasure in the viewer” (Ibid: 4.4).
Louisa Stein has observed that one “potential strength of the videographic essay is the fact that it can muddy academic and popular divides” (2016: n.p.). This video is an attempt to do just that, an exercise in both theory and praxis that attempts to blur the divide separating Quality/melodrama, video essay/fanvid, fan/producer, and academic/fan. Indeed, in claiming authorship of this video as both Lori Morimoto, media and film scholar, and abrae, my Hannibal-loving, vid-producing fandom alter ego, I too enact and inhabit a sometimes-discomfiting liminality that exists somewhere within a muddied gap between academia and fandom; a blurred subjectivity reflected in the transition in this video from my own edits to the (audio-visually unaltered) last scene of Hannibal, both of which are perhaps emblematic of our current media moment.
 During thr Q&A at the official Sherlocked convention in 2015, Moffat is quoted as saying, “I am the man who writes fan fiction for a living!” (Sherlockology June 3, 2015, http://www.sherlockology.com/news/2015/6/3/steven-moffat-fan-fiction-030615)
Burwell, C. (2015) You Know You Love Me. Feminist Media Studies 15.2: 306-323.
Coppa, F. (2008) Women, Star Trek, and the early development of fannish vidding. Transformative Works and Cultures 1, online. http://doi:10.3983/twc.2008.0044
Feil, K. (1994) Ambiguous Sirk-Camp-Stances: Gay Camp and the 1950s Melodramas of Douglas Sirk. Spectator 15.1: 31-49.
Hills, M. (2002) Fan Cultures. London: Routledge.
Hills, M. (2012) Sherlock’s Epistemological Economy and the Value of “Fan” Knowledge: How Producer-Fans Play the (Great) Game of Fandom. In K. Busse and L. Stein (Eds.), Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom: Essays on the BBC Series. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.
McCracken, A. and Faucette, B. (2015, August 24) Branding Hannibal: When Quality TV Viewers and Social Media Fans Converge [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2015/08/24/branding-hannibal-when-quality-tv-viewers-and-social-media-fans-converge/
Newman, M.Z. and Levine E. (2012) Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status. London: Routledge.
Prudom, L. (2015, August 29) Hannibal Finale Postmortem: Bryan Fuller Breaks Down That Bloody Ending and Talks Revival Chances. Variety.com. Retrieved from http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/hannibal-finale-season-4-movie-revival-ending-spoilers-1201581424/
Stein, L. [l_e_s]. (2016, March 31). To me, a potential strength of the videographic essay is the fact that it can muddy academic and popular divides #SCMS16
tenebrica (2013, May 23) Hannibal Lecter and the Subversion of the Male Gaze [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://thefanmetareader.org/2104/09/04/hannibal-lecter-and-the-subversion-of-the-male-gaze-by-tenebrica/
Torrey, K.T.(2015, August 25) Love for the Fannish Archive: Fuller’s Hannibal as Fanfiction [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2015/08/25/love-for-the-fannish-archive-fullers-hannibal-as-fanfiction/
Winters, S.F.(2012). Vidding and the perversity of critical pleasure: Sex, violence, and voyeurism in Closer and On the Prowl. Transformative Works and Cultures 9, online. doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0292
Lori Morimoto received a Ph.D. in media and film studies from Indiana University and now writes as an independent scholar. Her research centers on transcultural fan cultures and transnational film and media. She has written on transcultural Japanese cinema in Asian Cinema, Scope, and the upcoming book Seeing Fans: Representations of Fandom in Media and Popular Culture, as well as on transcultural fandom in Transformative Works and Cultures and Participations. Currently she is working on a monograph about the Japanese female fandom of Hong Kong stars in the 1980s and 1990s.