July 11th, 2003

rivka as ww

(no subject)

I just finished disc one of Stargate SG-1, season one, and have yet to feel the love. Perhaps it's my admiration for James Spader, though I feel I could get to like this Daniel Jackson. No, actually it's obviously "Emancipation," the third episode. Star Trek: TOS-level sexism I can swallow -- I'm a fan of Smallville, right? But poor anthropology really bugs me. (If you haven't seen the first season and think you might want to unspoiled, leave now.) Collapse )

Ranting aside, the special effects are still pretty good, if not quite as impressive as those of the movie in my memory.

Two books, quickly, for contrast. Matt Hills, Fan Cultures, and Donna Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan(c)_Meets_OncoMouseTM. Contrast, because both are academic books deeply embedded in preexisting academic literature and debates; both use what's easily denigrated as jargon; and only one sucks. I should say, in fairness to Haraway, that I've read about a third to a half of the stuff to which Hills' work is a contribution, albeit a long time ago, and much less of the literature of which Haraway's work is a part, so perhaps that colored my reaction. Hills is, however, ten times better at summarizing the positions taken by other people, so that even when I didn't know or remember the work well, I could follow his argument. Haraway just assumes you know what she's talking about.

Hills' book's topic is fairly self-evident. His main argument is almost an anti-argument, that a lot of contradictory things go on in fan cultures, and both the claims of liberation and of mental colonization that academics make are partial truths at best. He's very interested in the way that academic studies of fans seem to have to distinguish "fan" from "academic" in order to make fan studies respectable within the academy, and in order to preserve the status of the "academic" as opposed to the "fannish." That is, academics share many characteristics with fans: close reading of source texts, often an obsession with completism (have to read everything on topic X, or XF as the case may be), gatherings with fellows to talk in depth about things the world at large takes less seriously, etc. It is therefore important, he argues, for academics, particularly those who study fans, to explain why the social value of their endeavors is greater than that of fans.

Hills comes to few conclusions, which is a little frustrating but also refreshing compared to Constance Penley, Camille Bacon-Smith, and other totalizing analysts of fandom. One point that really interested me was that fandom conversion narratives have an explanatory gap: most people trying to explain their fandom, both its specific object and its intensity, offer reasons that are clearly insufficient. I can give an account of why I fell for the XF, but the strength of the obsession is still something of a mystery to me. I know why I loved Buffy, but not why I didn't love it like I loved the XF (though MustangSally's
"won't get fooled again" theory has some appeal). Hills is not a notably clear writer; this isn't easy going. But there are thoughts underneath. This book won't appeal if you're not seriously interested in fandom studies, but if you are I'd recommend it highly.

Haraway, by contrast -- well, if the title annoyed you, you've got a good idea of what the book is like. The trouble with jargon is that it can hide absence of thought. Of course, it can also obscure what thoughts there are, but those can usually be teased out with enough patience. I lacked such patience with Haraway's laundry lists of terms, deconstruction of cartoons that didn't seem to make any point beyond the plurality of meanings and the asserted hegemony of an always contestable bio-science, and repeated reference to really bad paintings whose meanings were so obscure that she felt she had to explain them, if you can call what she did explanation. (Link to some paintings from the painter's website here. You can tell what kind of painter she is from the fact that there are more position papers than paintings on the site.) The points, if there are any, get lost in a flurry of nouns, adjectives, and words, words, words. Randomly and representatively:

Hunger, well-being, and many kinds of self-determination -- implicated in contending agricultural ways of life with very different gender, class, racial, and regional implications -- are very much at stake. Like all technoscientific facts, laws, and objects, seeds only travel with their apparatus of production and sustenance. The apparatus includes genetic manipulations, biological theories, seed genome testing practices, credit systems, cultivation requirements, labor practices, marketing characteristics, legal networks of ownership, and much else. These apparatuses can be contested and changed, but not easily. Seeds are brought into being by, and carry along with themselves wherever they go, specific ways of life as well as particular sorts of dispossession and death. Such points should be second nature to any citizen of the republic of technoscience, but they bear repeating.

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. This is either too much or too little. Why "facts, laws, and objects"? Why "and" and "as well as" and all the rest? When Haraway does slow down and actually explain three ways in which baby formula in urban areas of developing countries has caused changes in breastfeeding and child death patterns that aren't reversible simply through health education, it's not only the most interesting three paragraphs of the book, it feels as if another writer had taken over, one who wanted you to understand a point instead of having as many neurons fire as possible per paragraph.

Boy, I feel like a total cultural conservative now. Let me reassure you that I am, in fact, writing more gay porn about Superman even as you read this.