It’s perhaps ironic–now that I think about it, I realize that the paper I was going to give at MiT5 actually would have spoken to the debates that have emerged since the conference. I was going to look at the correlations (and differences) between fanvidding and machinima. Fanvidding is considered both in scholarly circles and among vidders themselves to be primarily a mode of female authorship, emerging out of female reception and authorship communities–not just slash/queer identified communities of course, but certainly many of the more high profile vidders are significant figures in slash fandoms. Machinima on the other hand emerges out of what scholars and video gamers perceive as primarily male spaces of engagement and male modes of interaction–coming out of first person shooter games and a hacking culture that celebrates transforming the system in tandem with creating new texts.
Robert Jones’ essay in _Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet_ offers valuable insight into machinima producers’ value set(s). However, while I am a proponent of being deeply familiar with and really identifying with the values of a community on which one writes (the acafan, scholar/fan, or autoethnographic perspective), one of the resulting pitfalls it that we run the risk of celebrating the values of one (our) community/mode of authorship over others. I feel this happens somewhat in Jones’ essay. In its attempt to delineate the differences between fan fiction and Machinima, the essay seems to set up a hierarchy: it celebrates machinima producers’ ability to change the system and influence future gameplay as being somehow a step beyond the authorship of female fan communities (in the form of fan fiction, art, and vidding.)
I find this delineation of machinima vs. fan fiction creativity somewhat problematic for multiple reasons. First, it upholds the value of transformation, assuming that the highest goal would be for fan authors to become akin to official producers–an assumption that has also underlain some of the scholarship on fanboy authors to which Kristina referred in her earlier post; indeed this is a value which does not necessarily hold true within different reception communities, especially not within fan fiction communities. Second, it assumes that the reading of fan fiction or viewing of fan vids does not fundamentally alter the engagement of viewers returning to a source text having been influenced by the fantext. And finally, I believe it still subtly upholds a dichotomy in which we must assume reception of an official source text through a medium like TV or film to be passive where videogames are active; but of course, engagement with TV and film, even before we enter into the realm of active fandom and fan author, is far from hypodermic needle passivity.
I don’t mean to single out Jones’s essay for critique here–if anything, as the sole male author in a book that stemmed out of the desire to bring together the work of a new generation of (mostly female) acafans, Jones’ essay—and its inclusion in the book—is a step in the right direction. But what we need now is engaged dialogue rather than side by side analyses.
While I certainly don’t want us to brush aside issues of gender and of amateur vs. Professional authorship, I feel we get caught in these dichotomies. In my MiT5-paper-that-wasn’t, I wanted to consider the similarities and differences in the modes of engagement and authorship in fan vidding and machinima. Building on the thesis of Kristina and my current book project, I’m interested in how both vidding and machinima emerge from and value the interplay between creativity and limitation, so that creativity is spurred precisely by the limitations of an original, already existing source text, the limitations of the intervening technologies and interfaces, and the limitations of specific cultural and community expectations. While the values may be different and the histories may be different, the dynamic of creating within limitations runs as a thread through each. And I think that such a perspective offers insight not only for tangible authorship, but perhaps for the very pleasures of fan engagement on a more personal level, and even the processes of spectatorship on a specific basis. That is, I’d venture to suggest that part of viewing pleasure is in our own private interplay between personal interpretation (influenced of course by subjectivity and cultural positioning) and the limitations of the text we’re watching.
What I’m trying to get at here (perhaps in too much of a tangent) is that I think it’s imperative that we break down another dichotomy that I’ve seen referenced in the fan studies vs. media studies part of the post MiT debate–that studying fan authorship is somehow a different beast than studying audience engagement and industrial context. I see them as all part of one complex and shifting whole, and at the least we can learn from each other.
But to return to my more specific Machinima vs. Vidding topic. Francesca Coppa pointed out a valuable critique to my abstract—and I was looking forward to our being able to continue the conversation at MiT. By my drawing attention/turning my focus to the similarities between machinima and vids, one might argue that I am in a sense lending validation to the machinima innovation while not giving due acknowledgment to the long and specific history of fan vidding. I also risk brushing aside gender as a significant factor in the conditions of authorship and reception. I’m thinking here of Tara McPherson’s use of the metaphor of “lenticular logic” to describe how we may celebrate the utopian dimensions of the web at the expense of recognizing the still highly potent social interrelations that determine internet and “real life” experience. Somehow, we need to do both–be aware of the continuing ramifications of social interrelations both in the subjects we study and in our disciplinary and interdisciplinary professional arenas, and yet not rush to dichotomize and ghettoize and miss the interconnections that could transform simultaneous yet separate conversations into multithreaded dialogues.