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In one of the many sidebars in his 2006 book Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins notes that an “analogy to Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence lies close to the surface” when discussing the efforts of game companies to encourage their fans to produce content (p. 165).

But earlier in the text, there’s another analogy that seems quite fruitful to pursue. In the pre-Internet days of fandom, he says:

Corporations might now, abstractly, that such transactions [trading around of unauthorized songs and stories] were occurring all around them, every day, but they didn’t know, concretely, who was doing it. And even if they did, they weren’t going to come bursting into people’s homes at night. But, as these tractions came out from behind closed doors, they represented a visible, public threat to the absolute control the culture industries asserted over their intellectual property (p. 137).

Maybe this is just a product of re-reading this in juxtaposition with some queer theory, but this just screams Lawrence v. Texas to me.

For those who are unfamiliar, this is the Supreme Court case that ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. The case revolved around the arrest of two men who were found to be engaged in consensual homo-sex in Lawrence’s home by police who were (legally) entering for another reason. The argument that swayed 6 of the 9 justices was based, at least in part, on the right to privacy, or the idea that what happened “behind closed doors” wasn’t anyone’s business. For more information, see the Wikipedia article.

Sounding familiar yet?

It is in this context that Jenkins’s assertion that “the Web provides an exhibition outlet moving amateur filmmaking from private into public space” becomes very interesting (p. 142). This and other fan practices have now “come out,” ceased to be private, begun circulating openly.

We’re here, we’re fans, get used to it.

Yet, just as the decriminalization of particular sex acts between particular configurations of people is a limited victory, both Jenkins and Francesca Coppa, in her 2008 piece Women, “Star Trek,” and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding point to ways in which some fan practices remain equivalent to sex in public, not covered by the new amnesty.

Thus, on one hand, fan films of the Atomfilms Star Wars contest, largely created by male “filmmakers who were making ‘calling card’ movies to try to break into the film industry” are encouraged, publicized, and rewarded (Jenkins, p. 154).

On the other hand, “female fan writers sharing their erotic fantasies” (Jenkins, p. 154), and the vids that are essentially equivalent (Coppa, Jenkins), aren’t so lucky. Indeed, these queer texts have become newly actionable, continually taken down from YouTube for copyright violation.

Jenkins has a vision that “if the corporate media couldn’t crush this vernacular culture during the age when mass media power went largely unchallenged, it is hard to believe that legal threats are going to be an adequate response to a moment when new digital tools and new networks of distribution have expanded the power of ordinary people to participate in their culture” (pp. 157-8), but to some degree he misses the point.

You can’t stop fans, but you can hope to contain them, and the validation of particular, gendered practices of fan filmmaking would seem to be exactly a move toward containment.

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  1. […] But there’s another layer. She says, “Unfortunately, fangirls have taken to blogging their unhealthy obsessions on Tumblr.” Girls have long had feelings deemed extravagant by social standards (ever since rationality became gendered as masculine, in fact), but now they’re doing it in public. And that reminds me vividly of my theorization of fandom as like public sex. […]

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