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Okay gang, so this is not particularly well written – I’m going to need to make some changes in word choice, phrasing and such, but I just wanted to start getting my ideas out on paper in some sort of coherent fashion. Is it clear what ideas I want to explore in this paper? I’m trying to be really clear not to claim that I will be proving or explaining anything, particularly as I most certainly won’t be. Style aside, from the content, is it clear where this line of thinking might be headed?
The Sherlock Fandom, Para-social Interaction and the Production of Cultural Artifacts
by Shannon Schenck
On 15th January 2012, the BBC aired the Series Two finale of its hit show, Sherlock, “The Reichenbach Fall.” The episode revealed Moriarty’s long withheld ultimate plan to destroy Sherlock by framing the detective as an elaborate fraud who committed the crimes he solved himself in order to make himself look clever. Virtually alone (save, of course, for the ever-faithful John Watson), wanted by the police, and unable to prove his innocence, Sherlock makes a desperate bid for freedom by jumping to his seeming demise. The season ended in an incredible cliffhanger, as we watched Dr. Watson give a tearful affirmation in his unwavering faith in his friend.
Almost immediately, a Tumblr was posted by Earl Foolish, asking fans to imagine themselves as characters within the world of the show. From this position, he asked that they imagine how they would have felt reading or watching the news and hearing the accusations that Sherlock was a fraud. He then prompted them to respond in this kind in real life, as a tribute campaign. Encouraging fans to make t-shirts, write on lampposts, hang signs, Earl Foolish began a movement by participatory fans that has caught on around the world. Within days a Facebook page and multiple Tumblr accounts were created, where fans could display their “I Believe in Sherlock” campaign photos and updates. Fans across the world were hiding sticky notes in library books, leaving notes on chalkboards, and sporting homemade apparel. With one simple Tumblr post, Earl Foolish had started a campaign that created a series of transmedia Sherlock memes.
There are two interesting ideas at play in a scenario such as this. The first – and perhaps, most apparent – are the actions of the fans themselves. What spurs people to cross the line from a viewer of a program to someone who actively engages in cultural production in support of these shows? There are numerous studies on fandom, parasocial interaction, and uses and gratifications that may provide some tools for understanding. The other, question relates directly to the cultural artifacts themselves. What do these memes mean? What is their significance? To this end, semiotics may offer some insight. Through the exploration of these two areas of study – semiotics, and media use and fan studies – we may begin to explore the unique interplay between user and artifact that is participatory fan culture.
So I have no idea what’s making WordPress so cranky this time, but – while I can clearly read Jared’s post about feminism in my email – whenever I click on the link it brings me to a 404Error. (Definitely not the droids I’m looking for.) So for context, this is a response to Jared’s post…
I like the example you chose specifically of chefs – a male dominated profession – that does seem to encroach on the supposed domain of women: cooking, nourishing, and so on. I think the difference falls to some of the binary distinctions Jeff discussed in class yesterday, particularly, art and craft. Cooking at home is a necessity – you must eat and feed your family in order to survive and thrive. Cooking professionally is a specialized trade; people don’t have to eat out, so when they choose to do so it needs to be a special experience. I think that this novelty is what sets the distinction. Women cooking at home is like knitting or darning or the various other female “crafts” – tasks that women complete as part of their daily, female routine. Men cooking professionally – receiving specialized training at Le Cordon Bleu, earning Michelin stars in recognition of culinary achievements – that’s an art. I think there is a (perceived) difference in the importance and status of cooking a healthy, affordable, easy meal for a family of four as part of your day-to-day, and cooking a seven course masterpiece for strangers, whether they be upscale diners or critics. I almost wonder if it is the nurturing component – providing for your husband and children – which seems so feminine, and contributes to this gap between “woman’s work” of cooking at home versus the male-dominated arena of professional chefs.
As I was writing my other blog post about the final paper just now, I was listening to the following music video in the background:
This video, “I’m The One That’s Cool,” was just released as the third in a series of music videos from Felicia Day for The Guild. For those who don’t know, The Guild an extremely successful webisodic series that Felicia Day a few years back about a guild of online gamers who meet in real, and their subsequent misadventures. The first music video they did a few years, as a fun little promo between seasons, is below:
This first video is so geekalicious, it almost hurts a little. It’s really fun, chock full of insider references that make gamers squee with glee, and is really cute and fun even if the jokes make zero sense to you. Their next music video (below) also continues on this playful trend of exploring gamer problems in a fun, bouncy kind of way:
The newest video, however, seems to deviate somehow from the previous. Whereas the first tow are very gamer-centric, playful, and unassuming, this third one has a different sort of flavor. It seems almost combative, and rather than focusing specifically on gamer plights, it seems to be more of a general geek anthem.
Personally, I like the new song and music video, but there’s something about the clear change in direction that this video has taken from previous ones that makes me a little uneasy. Is the music video an attempt to expand beyond the usual market for the show by focusing more generally on geekdom? Is it in response to this cultural trend of the past few years of “geek chic”? I certainly don’t have any answers, but a lot of questions now about not only my own trepidation about this video, but what it signifies for a show, a filmmaker, and a production company I adore, and the direction they could be moving….
Now, it is completely possible (and very likely) that I may have misconstrued some of what we discussed today, Marxism being fairly unfamiliar to me and the reading being a little confusing as a result.
It seemed like there was this discussion (in Marxist thinking) that art is a distraction to deter from effective social change. My paper is going to look at the creation of cultural memes by Sherlock fans. A big fan and Tumblr, Earl Foolish, began a movement encouraging fans to act in the real world as they would if they were characters within the show universe – effectively, being inspired by “art” to act in the real world in response to that art. I’m not sure if there is any room for these two ideas to work together. Any thoughts?
Recently, I was watching the documentary Helvetica, which led to a question I thought would be more relevantly saved for this unit of the course. During one of the interviews, a designer stated that there was an increase in design of all sorts following World War II. Her assertion was that – in a time following great destruction – it was the impulse of designers to seek to actively create new cultural contexts for understanding in their own efforts to rebuild the world, as well as a sense of cultural identity. Certainly, I can see the relevance in that – in telecomm, we talk about the responsiveness of films and other media to current events and cultural underpinnings. However, based on the focus of this particular documentary, it was just reference to designing an art piece, like an avant garde film, but to the whole world of design – functional tools, fonts, styles, etc. I’m not really sure I consider myself a designer – at least, not in the context the film seemed to be indicating – so I was wondering if anyone else had any thoughts on the role of major cultural events in shaping how designers design, and/or, conversely, the role of designers in changing the face of cultural contexts and identities at major points in history through design.
Last week, I was under the impression that we simply had to select an interaction that we would be writing about this week. Now, I get the impression that I am wholly under-prepared to engage in our activities tomorrow. (Granted, I think I may have completely misinterpreted what the point and structure of this week would be altogether, but that is another story.) The interaction I selected was a demo that I played for a study last fall, for the XBOX game Bioshock. I guess my first order of business is trying to ascertain whether or not this is a good example of an interaction to bring into the discussion. Next, I need to decide how to approach this topic theoretically.
I admittedly have a lot of trouble recalling what we have read once more than a day or so has passed since reading and discussing the articles in class. I was thinking about exploring the distinction between arts and crafts, because I know that this one was particularly slippery for me, even as we were discussing. I also like this distinction it allows me to explore the notion of an interactive design as art; and Roger Ebert’s insistent that interactions couldn’t be art is a large part of what influenced me to take this class and explore this idea in the first place.
So, thoughts: would doing a chunk of a video game be too broad for what we are hoping to achieve with a pre-writing exercise? Would tackling the idea of interactivity and art be too bold an endeavour? Granted, this paper won’t ever actually be written, so maybe now is the perfect time to tackle and grapple with new ideas through writing in order to try to understand them. I guess I just keep going back and forth in my head about it. Any suggestions?
*Sorry for the lateness of this post – I started last Friday, and then left town (and internet access!) for the weekend and was just able to finish it now…
In my never-ending pursuit to find ways to bridge my telecomm and film knowledge into this class, I’d like to *attempt* to tackle a post that allows me to critically analyse something from the creator perspective. Hopefully, this actually serves as a useful preparation for my paper/chance to apply theories and ideas, and isn’t just simply embarrassing. :)
The movie Clerks was a huge hit in the early 90s. A low budget film made in 1994 by New Jersey Native Kevin Smith, the film seemed very New Wave in that the financial and resource limitations of the project forced a great deal of authenticity. For those not familiar with the film, it is very much a “slice of life”/”day in the life” film about New Jersey young 20-somethings and best friend, Dante and Randal. While all of their friends and classmates have gone to college, gotten jobs, or been married, the two work at the RST Video and Quick Stop convenience store. This movie, and this story, very much served as representative of where Smith felt he was in his life at the time – feeling a bit aimless, wandering, and a bit left behind.
Smith filmed the movie at the convenience store where he worked, convincing his boss to allow him to shoot there over two weeks during the evening while the store was closed. This presented an obstacle that was overcome through cunning use of plot device: to avoid it obviously being night outside of the huge picture window, he worked it into the plot that someone jammed gum into the locks on the window cover, which made it impossible for him to open them when he opened the store. His response to this discovery is “Bunch of savages in this town” – a refrain that ends up being repeated throughout the story, and which strikes a rather resonant chord with the themes of disconnection and isolation that the main characters encounter in their listless existence.
This film catapulted Smith to success as a film maker. Fast forward more than ten years, and Smith was a respected screenwriter, director, and actor in his own right. He was working on a script for either The Green Lantern or The Green Hornet (sorry, I don’t remember which – but they both came out within a year from each other, so easy mistake, right?) He was feeling significantly frustrated at the pressure from working on a big-budget, commercial project rather than one of his own films. Suddenly, Smith found himself no longer that lost 20-something of his Clerks days, but rather, an inexplicably lost 30-something, unable to balance the success he had always wanted with the sense that he had somehow lost part of himself in the attainment of that success. Following the advice of family and friends, Smith left the project and turned to something more organic, something that would allow him to use his craft to once more deal with his thoughts and feelings in a productive, expressive way: he began work on Clerks II.
Many people were skeptical as to whether or not Clerks could have a successful sequel. Actor Jeff Anderson (Randal Graves) actually initially refused to reprise his role – until he saw the script. Once we understood the story, and Smith’s intention with a revival of the project, he happily joined the cast. The movie was made for a modest budget ($5M) and was a huge critical success. When it premiered at Cannes in 2006, the film received a solid, eight-minute long standing ovation. (Unfortunately, YouTube has let me down and could not provide footage from Cannes. However, there is a short featurette on the now famous “eight minute standing O” on the DVD bonus features.)
A lot of Clerks fans either didn’t like the sequel, or dismissed seeing it altogether, disbelieving that it could live up to the original. However, as a huge Kevin Smith fan (Jersey represent!) I followed his blog and related news, and knew what was going on with the production of this movie. Perhaps it was this knowledge of the authenticity of how and why this film was made, and that organic feeling that connected this film to its predecessor, but I thought the second movie was fantastic – in fact, in many ways I actually like it better than the original. Based on numerous conversations that I’ve had about this film, I’ve come to the conclusion that my knowledge of the creator perspective has for years colored my notions on this film, and is what has allowed me to enjoy this particular artifact to the extent that I do; an appreciation for the aritifact because of an understanding of the creator.
Since I couldn’t provide you all with the clip from Cannes that I would have liked to, I’ll leave you with my favorite clip from the film. As a fan (but realist) of both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, this scene completely made my day when I saw this in theatres:
Murch references an interesting Huston quote: “Film is like thought. It’s the closest to thought process of any art.” He uses this quote to serve his argument about the connections between thoughts and our natural blinking rhythms and responses, and then parallels these blinking responses to film editing, and how editors use the “natural blinks” of a cut in film to guide an audience’s thoughts. This argument is interesting because of the connections it makes between our physical reactions to our mental and emotional states, and how we can translate these responses to mediated experiences: not just using this information to create these reactions for ourselves, but even to measure how effectively we may or may not have already achieved these intentions in a piece of media.
What I found most interesting about his focus on this particular quote, however, was the idea of film as “the closest to thought process of any art.” Now, this is not to say that the experience of any art is “thoughtless,” but more that film “does the thinking for you” in some ways. Conversely, this does not take away ones ability to think about, analyse, and create their own interpretations of film; it is simply to say the technical and aesthetics bases of film editing mimic how physical-mental processes – in this case, blinking – thereby creating itself as the art closest to thinking.
This book was published in 2001, which I find interesting because – while we were certainly not as advanced as we are now in terms of interactive design – interactivity was no stranger in culture. Video games were incredibly prevalent, the internet was common in schools and houses, and we were in the early stages of moving in to our current mediated environment. True, Murch is a film editor, so regardless of how he may have felt about the issue, it would be his intention to simply connect this interesting quote back to his own thoughts and ideas on film editing. However, I wonder if it can truly be said today that film is the closest art to thinking, as interactive mediated experiences continue to grow and develop. If we use video games as an example of interactive media, we know that game design employs many film techniques – narrative, character and plot development, editing using cuts to convey cut scenes and segues in the most effective ways to tell the story. Can we reconcile the film-like qualities inherent in certain interactive designs and the need for human input and thought to control and utilize those interactive experiences? Or is precisely because we cannot “interact” with film in the same as a video game, and thus, can never bring our own thinking into the thinking of the mediated experience, that film will continue to be closer to thought process than interactive art?
Barnard claims that there are two intellectual traditions from which stem all understanding [of visual culture]: the “structural tradition” (fairly self-explanatory) and the “hermeneutic tradition” (understanding and meaning as the business of individuals.) I’m wondering if anyone else finds this dichotomy bizarre or troubling in any way. While I certainly won’t argue with Barnard that these may be two of the most fundamental foundations for understanding [visual culture] I feel uneasy accepting these as the only two – especially since hermeneutic seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. After all, some structural interpretation is certainly subjective to personal perspective; but then again, Barnard even specifically cites that there is overlap, methods that inhabit both traditions.
I guess my problem is that he is saying we either understand because of the structures inherent [in visual culture] or because how we as individuals bring our unique perspectives to our perceptions and understanding of cultural norms and artefacts. Now, I’m as much an interpretivist as the next girl, but is Barnard suggesting that there is no discovery way of knowing, no real “Truth” that can be known? Where does Barnard draw the line between “knowing” and “understanding?” Can we truly ever “know” what visual culture means? In that case, as scholars, how do we reconcile the need for a class such as this, for an “understanding” or interaction culture, when there is no real truth?
I don’t have answers for all of these questions, but I think they open the door to some potentially interesting questions…
***I forgot to update my post last night, but I realized after completing the second (Cross) reading for this class that I had read the incorrect Barnard for today. By the time I realized this and rectified that reading snafu, I had forgotten about coming and updating my blog post to be more relevant. Sorry! :P