December 7 – Sci-Fi Culture

//December 7 – Sci-Fi Culture
December 7 – Sci-Fi Culture 2018-01-07T15:01:49-04:00

Media

Parisot, D. Galaxy Quest. Hollywood Calif.: DreamWorks Pictures, 1999. (Netflix, Amazon Video, iTunes)

Nygard, Roger C. Trekkies. Hollywood Calif.: Paramount, 1999. (Amazon Video)

Theory and Commentary

Geraghty, Lincoln. 2005. “Creating and Comparing Myth in Twentieth-Century Science Fiction: Star Wars and Star Trek.” Literature/Film Quarterly.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York:  NYU Press.

Stacy’s GOTW Essays

Faraci, Devin. “Fandom is Broken“. Birth, Movies, Death, 30 May 2016.

Werff, Todd VanDer. “Fandom can be weird and alienating. But it’s driving the conversation in crucial ways.” Vox, 9 June 2016. (This is part of a larger series on fan culture, found here if you would like to peruse)

Harrison, Andrew. “Rise of the new geeks: how the outsiders won“. The Guardian, 2 September 2013.

14 Comments

  1. Johnathan Peter McCauley December 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    The Werff article brought up some crucial points about Fandom and categorizing people in general. His argument that Fandomentalists shouldn’t be lumped in with the worst members of fandom is important because, as he rightly notes, the squeakiest wheel gets the media coverage. But he doesn’t provide any solution to a longstanding, serious psychological problem that affects MOST human beings. Is it possible to one day resist the urge to commit the fallacy of composition? To break that common fallacy of attributing the properties of a part to a whole (the “worst” individuals of any group represent the group as a whole) would require some serious psychological rebooting.

    Fandom is Broken was a great article! The parallel drawn between art/entertainment consumption and fast food orders was brilliant. House of Cards was a show that Netflix more or less constructed based upon the tendencies and viewing data of its users. Was Netflix doing its users a service or disservice in doing this? Should users be able to influence the shows they watch? (interesting article on that here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/business/media/for-house-of-cards-using-big-data-to-guarantee-its-popularity.html)

    The Harrison article really got me thinking. Like a lot of thinking. So, proceed with caution.

    (basic gist of all that is below – don’t call the half-hearted geeks geeks)

    When I saw the term geek on the front of the article by Harrison, I thought back to those kids I knew in high school. The reaaaaally smart ones. The ones who were geeks but didn’t have a choice. I’m talking about the ones who people commented on by saying, “he or she will just crunch numbers one day. So-and-so has no idea how to interact with people, no interpersonal skills, no “street-smarts”, total nerd. Is a lack of street smarts a requisite for being a geek? I don’t know. Now, I am certainly not trying to offend anyone with that little reverie, but we’ve all known those people right? The “Alpha” nerds or geeks. (This is really hard to try and write this within the realm of what might be considered PC but I am trying so please forgive me!) The terms nerd and geek gets tossed around a lot, but often without actually intentionally meaning that the person one is calling such a term IS such a term. Tons of people want to be geeks and nerds, but ironically, as Harrison suggests, only a few are the true, elite nerds and geeks. They are, most likely, those whom for the term emits from without their own intended volition. They ARE the term. The term is directed FROM them, not the other way around. Someone really smart once said, “we are what we do consistently”.
    Think of the way people hyperbolize (always) in commenting on other people in all kinds of talk, not just talk intended to be labelling. “Oh my gosh I love him/her” = He or she is a great person. Or. “Met this guy yesterday and let me tell you he is The Man!” = met a pretty cool guy yesterday. If either of these were really true, there would be some strange metaphysical and emotional consequences. But we stretch our language so much all the time that we end up exaggerating the actual circumstances of our reality. Someone who “loves” lots of people in that casual way gives off the impression of being open, giving, passionate, and to some, perhaps those who feel the term should be reserved (i/e/ significant other) frustrating. When someone exaggerates the actuality of a person they met the other day, often doing so to a friend, they are inflating the importance of their interaction with another person through language, by trying to take it from something banal, and with language, crowning it with the impression of something extraordinary. Some might argue, what’s the issue? It’s not hurting anyone. And it’s just making the person feel better about their life! Get outta here Johnathan! You’re an asshole! But here is the issue. . .
    On Reddit a few days ago I saw a funny phrase under the subreddit r/showerthoughts. It went a little something like this. . . . “We call people assholes when they do something that we don’t like, but assholes are an incredibly important and useful and terrific part of the human body. When someone is truly frustrating us, maybe we should call them something like “You appendix! Gosh, that guy who just cut me off? Total appendix.”
    All jokes aside, I think there is an interesting point to be made here. When we allow ourselves to be so loose with language, we allow ourselves to be so loose with meaning, and that in tern leads to us being loose with labels, and ultimately, with categorization/association. That is why there are so many geeks and nerds who are not geeks and nerds at all, but merely squawk the squawk. They’ve read a few of the popular books within a given genre and can pass off polite conversation when at dinner parties or lie their way through it, but they go home and like watching football or going to bars. So they are not the pinnacle, the peak, the monolith of the term geek or nerd. . . until they ACT and LIVE in such a way that the they, by their existence, impact the term being associated with them, then they aren’t [fill in the term]. Until the Lumberjack you see stomping around Union Square in Timberland boots ACTUALLY cuts down trees for a living or until that World Traveler friend has actually seen the world, I would argue that it be best for everyone if we resist the urge to throw those terms Lumberjack or World Traveler or nerd or geek around so willy-nilly. It is the end of a long line of loose language that leads us to falsely classify. And it takes away from those who the term was created from, the ACTUAL lumberjacks (who, I’m sorry to break it to you, don’t live in Manhattan), or the ACTUAL world travelers. By attributing the term to those who want the term as a medal, or as a false accolade, we undermine the people who the term stems from by giving it to those who can just barely reach it. I cut down 10 Christmas trees over Thanksgiving break, am I a lumberjack? No.
    My Tinder profile COULD say I’m a jazz pianist, painter, creative writer, tutor, poet, world traveler, lumberjack, farmer, bearded nerd who goes to NYU, but rather than dump a pile of inaccurate shiny phrases that don’t realllly describe me that well, it doesn’t. We are not what we do occasionally, but consistently. Just because I HAVE done or casually do some of those things does not mean I am in anyway participating in the prevalence or persistence of the term, the terms do not stem from me, I am not a participant in the continued creation of it via vehement consistent commitment. My point is this: Labels are dangerous and we just keep getting looser with them. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are Muslim. As hard as it is to conceive of, I would bet that there are members of radical groups all around the world who are scared shitless of the category they fall into and probably don’t even want to be there (Saving Private Ryan – WARNING – GRAPHIC / DISTURBING – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uW9Q1cm_Tnw ) In this day and age everyone wants to be everything and that’s not possible without us all winding up like conglomerate stones (i can see how some would want that) If you’ve made it this far through my rant, thank you, and I apologize if I offended, it’s a weird time of year and I’m tired and after all, I am a working grad student . . . aren’t I?

    • Matthew Dischner December 7, 2016 at 11:57 am - Reply

      Buddy I don’t know about you but I spent three hours splitting wood over Thanksgiving break and posted a picture about it on Instagram so yes, there are lumberjacks living in Manhattan.

    • Johnathan McCauley December 7, 2016 at 1:59 pm - Reply

      One can enjoy things like jazz piano, traveling the world, and lumbering trees without necessarily being owed or attached to the labels jazz pianist, world traveler, and lumberjack. Reflecting on my post from yesterday, that was a pretty bizarre post yeah? The point I’m still trying to make is, one can be ‘nerdy’ without being a nerd.

  2. Sigrid von Wendel December 6, 2016 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    From the Harrison article in the Guardian: “Knowledge and craft and detail are cool again. It’s about TED talks and Brian Cox – or even The Great British Bake Off – more than The X Factor. ” Is this actually true across the country? How much is this rise of geekdom limited to urban centers or certain demographics?

    Is SF geekdom actually mainstream? Or just more popular/easily accessed and established? Some of the articles seem to blur the distinction between esoteric(ish) geekdom (i.e. knowing details about Star Trek technology, or even just having seen every episode and movie), and mainstream geekdom (having seen the most recent Star Trek movies). Esoteric is maybe not the right word — there are thousands of Trekkies– but it is still a much smaller pool of people who “geek out” about SF worlds, vs. the mainstream viewer. People might be wearing Star Trek and Geek shirts from Urban Outfitters, but that’s still far off from the smaller group of people that dress as Klingons (or learn the language) and go to conventions.

    As several of the articles mention, more geeks make more money now and have influence in hollywood and in silicon valley. How much of the rise of geek culture can be attributed to capitalistic gains?

    It seems we hear a lot about the dangers of escapism, but what about its benefits? How can escapism be useful to individuals and society more broadly?

    What is the ideal role of a fan? How much are fan complaints just a means of fans flaunting their expertise? Instead of viewing fan complaints as serious grievances, can we view (at least some) them as an avenue for displaying knowledge and asserting ego?

  3. Matthew Dischner December 7, 2016 at 11:55 am - Reply

    First, everyone should check out Season 4 Episode 12 of Futurama, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” here are two (very short) clips:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc6OeFmcJ0g, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSK00ihIMm8

    Now then:
    1) The analogy is often made in “Trekkies” between the wearing of Star Trek costumes and the wearing of sports jerseys. The Trekkies(ers) don’t seem to see these things as anything different from each other. Is this truly the case? Sports are, as opposed to Star Trek, not (entirely) fictional. There is competition, something (supposedly) real is at stake. Is there a stigma against cosplay because it is inherently pretend and fictional?

    2) Guy is probably the most interesting character in “Galaxy Quest.” He embodies a few different archetypes that have sprung up in the convention world. He is, at least to some degree, an ultrafan. He’s seemingly just as washed up as all the other main crewmembers. And of course, he’s the redshirt. In all of this, is he also the audience?

    3) I’ve often heard it said on places like the internet that “Galaxy Quest” is the best Star Trek movie. I agree, partially because so many of the Star Trek movies are so bad. I’d even say ‘Wrath of Khan” is mediocre at best. Is it the best Star Trek movie because the others are simply bad, or because of how in interacts with Star Trek and the world around it?

  4. Sam December 7, 2016 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    1. In “Fandom is Broken,” we see rabid fan intervention abetted by social media and increased access to creators, whereas in Jenkin’s earlier writings we see fans attempting to constructively find representation in imagined worlds, or unobtrusively creating parallel alternative narratives based on them. How has the medium changed the message, or just its urgency and proliferation? Would Star Trek have responded differently to the wants of queer fans if those concerns were voiced digitally, making them in a sense more public?
    2. Jenkins writes, “We need to create a context where fan politics may be acknowledged and accepted as a valid contribution to the debates about mass culture. (P.92) Has Twitter set this goal back? How do we create this space in the current media environment? If alternatives or “resistant readings” are insufficient, what is sufficient? Is there somewhere between frothing and extreme fandom, and marginalized alternative readings and writings?
    3. A lot of the Jenkins writing seems to address the struggle of both fans and academics to adequately express the nature of fandom. Does “intervention analysis” too overtly stress the supposed power and authority of academics? Have there been strides made in his idea of an “affective symbiotics” since his writing? Is such a thing possible? How can we articulate fandom in a nuanced way? Is a work like Galaxy Quest the most complete expression of fandom we could hope for?

  5. Ivan! December 7, 2016 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Okay, I have a discussion question that I am really intrigued by, and not just formulating for the purpose of class discussion:

    When Tim Allen has his big meltdown in Galaxy Quest, his character grabs the fan by the shoulder and yells: “It’s just a show!”

    But is it? Or is it more than that? What has watching TV become?

    To the convention fans, the show has become something much bigger than a script, a set, and some actors, Star Trek is as much a universe as a group where they belong, it’s become something to live by.

    My vision on the subject is closer to Lincoln Geraghty’s perspective. In his article, he explores the relationship between Star Trek and Star Wars to our ancient oral tradition of the myth. The myth, Geraghty explains, is the primary language of historical memory, and the ideological meanings of that history. And this is very, well, but I think we find ourselves in a new moment of our oral tradition. Remember how confused the hum, “Thermians”? were when introduced with the concept of theater, acting, and television? They, as an alien culture with a different cultural path had never delved into fiction as a way of story telling.
    Today we consume Netflix endemically. “So, what shows are you watching?” has become a part of our daily lexicon as much as “What’s up at work?”. Surely there was a time in which gathering around a bonfire to hear an old member of the community tell a long revisited myth was the equivalent of that time we all went see “Arrival”. But in my opinion some changes have occurred which make for two different processes. Myths, monomyths, megamyths, they served the purpose of explaining why things were as they were, or in the case of the monomyth, to tell stories of how a model-hero should experience his path. But the vast array of things to watch on Netflix is different. I think we are liberated from the original purposes of myths, and we have developed something much bigger. What is it that oral tradition has become, what purposes does it serve? Well maybe that’s a question for the class.

    OH, And somewhere in the middle are Stacy’s amazingly (sorry, adverb) picked out articles, where fandom is not just a way of consuming popular culture, but it starts to see itself as a part of the process. No longer a monologue handed top-down by the author with no room for reply, fans are trying to redefine the myths as malleable.

  6. Ivan! December 7, 2016 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    Also, I think it’s time we start discussing the possibility of an end-of-class costume party. My house is open, but the floors are paper thin and I feel bad for the downstairs neighbors.

  7. jpetinos December 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    1) From the Guardian piece: “Those T-shirts piss me off,” he rage-typed shortly after Davies’s appearance on The Voice, “mainly because throughout school me and my friends were called geeks, and now all the chavs that called us geeks have decided it’d be a good idea to start wearing them.”

    Who gets left behind in this post-geek era? Mathletes, physicists, computer geeks, are rewarded with high paying careers and access to resources – who replaces these groups? Who is socially punished in today’s social hierarchies, or is this a simplistic way of thinking about these things, especially nowadays?

    Alternatively, what happens to a geek who possesses certain cultural interests, but lacks traits that today’s society values? I’m challenging the idea that geekdom is full-on embraced by imagining a divide between geeks who can code, or geeks who excel socially, and geeks who lack skills that society values.

    2) Geekdom in its current state is the result of so many different social changes happening at once. Do geeks know how to ‘take care’ of themselves better now? That is, what is the relationship between access of information, the ability to sift through vast amounts of data, and a culture of self improvement that turns the geeks of yesterday into a group that is efficiently able to situate themselves in the social hierarchies of today?

    3) From “Fandom is Broken” : “I recently read Glen Weldon’s excellent The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture and the arc of fandom it sketches out is a profoundly disheartening one, with Batfans morphing from monkish annotators of the character’s fictional history into crusaders harrassing anyone on the internet who sees Batman differently than they do. “ – I noticed some parallels to online political discourse, and maybe even online discourse in general. How much of these observations of fandom apply to other areas?

    b) How does our consumer environment result in fans’ feelings of entitlement? What is the relationship between our consumer culture and fan reactions?

  8. Jane Excell December 7, 2016 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    In “Fans, Bloggers and Gamers,” Jenkins talks about the difficulty of critically assessing and evaluating fan culture as a scholar, which is something that I had been wondering about while vwatching Trekkies. I felt that the film did a good job of showing us a window into fan culture without judging or assessing it, but I did come away curious as to how a sociologist, psychologist, or other academic might have interpreted some of these fan behaviors- I just couldn’t see how the film could have gone about doing that in a way that felt “fair” to the fans. Jenkins says that his book Poachers “was written as a dialogue” with the fans that he interviews- he allowed them to read drafts and made some changes based on their feedback (31). Is there a way that Trekkies could have done the same? Would it have added to the movie to have that kind of scholarly assessment incorporated?

    I profoundly disagreed with the attitude that “Fandom is Broken” has about fans. From the outset, naming Annie Wilkes as the “Patron Saint of Fandom” seems ridiculous to me. The behaviors that she exhibits are symptomatic of her personal psychoses, and I don’t believe it is fair or justified to ascribe those behaviors to fans as a group. However, one interesting point that the article did raise (although I took the opposite view of it) was to recognize the influence of consumer-driven goals on storytelling, and the effect that has on how fans perceive and interact with those narrative choices. While this article only focuses on the way that this has increased fans’ sense of “ownership” over the stories they love, I think that it is reasonable for fans to feel anger and betrayal when changes are made to stories that they may have been following for decades merely to increase current readership/viewership, or to launch a new franchise. “Fandom is Broken” claims that the fans, “see these stories as products,” but I see it the opposite way: it is the corporations making money off those stories that see them as products, and the fans who cherish their narrative integrity and appreciate them as works of art. Ok, there isn’t really a question here… I guess just: agree or disagree?

    I’m curious about the roles of gullibility, belief and knowledge in Galaxy Quest. Jenkins says that he avoids using religious terms when describing fans, explaining that “it implies that fans are unable to separate fiction from reality, or that they supposedly act on the text as if it were literally true” (17). That is exactly what the Thermians did: they believed in the world of Galaxy Quest, and so they created it.We can see the Thermians as extremely gullible, or as people with religious beliefs stemming from a TV show, but they actually MADE what they believed in into a reality, so can we really call them “gullible”? Can we even call their interest in Galaxy Quest “belief”? They don’t just believe in the story, they know it to be possible. On the other hand, we have characters like Brandon- the superfan who Jason yells at for asking extremely technical questions about the Protector’s layout. Brandon responds that he “knows” there’s no ship and that the show is all fake, but the second that Jason tells him, “no, it’s all real,” he says “I KNEW IT!” He lives on Earth, understands the concept of fictional television, and is perfectly aware of the limits of our space capabilities, so who is truly more gullible, Brandon or the Thermians? Who is more of a “believer”?

  9. Stacy Shirk December 7, 2016 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    First, I must say I loved “Creating and Comparing Myth in Twentieth Century Science Fiction.” I am absolutely using it in my thesis, so thank you to whoever picked it.

    Second, YAY I’m excited for this class. You have all brought up questions I had already planned for this week (which is good even though I’m a little annoyed) and there are so many great discussion options. I suppose my questions for now are:

    1) Looking at Galaxy Quest and Trekkies, do you find one more insulting than the other? More appreciative? Does Galaxy Quest feel at all dishonest or deceptive after seeing the what both actors and fans had to say in Trekkies?

    2) I’m really interested in value judgements within the community, which I’ll go into more in class. When the actors of Galaxy Quest figure out they’re on an actual space ship, and that the Thermians have recreated the sets of their show, they seem incredibly honored and excited about it, and about the alien’s love for their work. However, when faced with the same love and similar re-creation from fans on Earth, they were bored and even exasperated. I suppose my question is, what do we think of this value judgement of the different fans? This also ties into the use of “geek” and “nerd” and who has the “right” to be called or call themselves by those names. Johnathan, can we really lump these types of terms in with “lumberjack,” which is technically a job title? Can we take away the right to that identity from someone because they don’t live up to an imaginary (and totally subjective) standard of fandom?

    3) I also want to discuss the concept of ownership – who do these products and franchises really belong to? We have seen fans who know more about the shows and films than the actors (Guy’s disbelieving “Did you guys never watch the show??” when they’re obsessing over the “adorable” miners is particularly hilarious), writers such as GRRM inviting fans to help with writing because he can’t remember his own continuity, and of course the points about the rabid anger of fans when something doesn’t go the way they hoped in their favorite story, and the ways in which that anger can actually change the course of stories. Who truly belongs to this community? Is there any way to actually determine that?

  10. Charlie Peterson December 7, 2016 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    1. Geraghty writes: “Brooks Landon’s claim that science fiction is not about “what the future might hold, but the inevitable hold of the present over the future” makes clear that it is the present that determines what constitutes our science fiction (239). Therefore I would say that Star Trek and Star Wars both view myth as a means to counteract the turmoil and uncertainty of that present American, and perhaps global, society.” Is it the case that fandom exists in its current form becuase it gives us a chance to explore part of ourselves that we normally don’t allow ourselves to? Is fan culture intrinsically “niche” because by definition it is a culture built on acknowledging the aspects of ourselves we refuse to allow the world, and even ourselves, to see?

    2. I find the Alan Rickman character particularly interesting. His washed up nature, his repetitive slogan. I don’t have a fully formed thought here, but what precisely is the story trying to communicate with this bland repetition?

    3. I am also intrigued by The concept of pretending as foreign. The aliens are devastated when they find out they were lied to, of course, but they can’t understand why the television was faked in the first place. Maybe this is the origin of the world building we see in fan culture. We simply have a human urge to create other worlds, and tying into the Geraghty, we have an urge to create worlds so we can understand ourselves.

  11. Sophie December 20, 2016 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    1) How important is the notion of community when it pertains to fandom, and does it serve primarily to alienate others or create a closer bond within the community?

    2) Galaxy Quest compounds its satirical voice by giving the “actors” in the film active controls of the technical contrivance of a spaceship the aliens have made for them. The creation of the technology mirroring the fictional version from the “show” seems like a contrivance for satire’s sake, but is also intriguing as method. Both submarines and cell phones were envisioned dozens of years before their actual invention in popular sci-fi of the time. When approaching satire, where should the line be drawn when it comes between contrivance and theory? Is there one?

    3) I enjoyed the actor’s slow transition in the film from reluctance and embarrassment about their history with their show to genuine enthusiasm and passion as the stakes rose. I found myself mirroring this attitude when engaging with a number of the films and texts we studied over the semester, that often I had to be “won over” by the world or theme of the story. Is this a double satire? It felt like not just a comment on how actors grapple with the material of a story, but also how we engage with dense science-fiction writing.

  12. Arline December 23, 2016 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    1. How were the subjects of the documentary selected? In contrast to Shatner’s documentary _Get A Life_, these people seemed much more the stereotypical fan, but the documentary seemed to show how the “normal people” actually did like them so maybe they were okay after all. Shatner’s documentary on the other hand, showed seemingly “normal people” who just happened to like Star Trek. What was Denise Crosby’s goal with selecting the subjects she did?

    2. How has SF utilized hierarchies of being to claim a mantle of superiority to other genres and entertainment modes?

    3. What are the boundaries of these groups and who determines them?

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