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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Okay, I’m going to wade into this Wikileaks thing. I may come to regret it, but here goes.

There are a number of things that are perplexing about the whole Wikileaks drama-fest. First, why is it that people only started calling for Assange’s head, suggesting he be charged with treason (which, you can’t ‘cause he’s not a citizen of the U.S., yo), etc. when the site released the diplomatic cables? Wouldn’t it make more sense that the information about Guantanamo, Iraq, or Afghanistan would have been more sensitive than the fact that the Vatican doesn’t have smartphones? Is it really true that torture and civilian “collateral damage” death is less embarrassing to the United States than candid assessments of allies? And, if so, what the hell is wrong with us?

Then there’s that sexual assault thing. There’s no doubt that Assange is full of himself (if his OKCupid profile were still up, you could see for yourself, but here’s a Forbes post about it). So it’s actually pretty believable that he did that thing that dudes do sometimes and didn’t pay particularly close attention to what his partners wanted him to do or not do when they had sex, taking what was actually a specific kind of consent to be a free-for-all. And because he (allegedly) did that in Sweden, it’s considered sexual assault. There’s an interesting analysis over at Feministe.

Now, does the U.S. benefit from the way the accusation works to discredit Assange? Absolutely. You can see how free-speech-and-democracy advocates have rallied behind him and even posted his bail. Does he deserve to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, as his supporters have argued? Also absolutely.

But the people who are arguing that these women have “cried rape” at the prompting of the U.S. government just to put Assange out of commission are reprehensible. Way to reproduce the idea that rape is just something women make up to hurt men, y’all. What decade is this? Shouldn’t assault victims be presumed truthful until proven mendacious? People are really not going to talk about being violated lightly.

Assange can be an asshole who thinks he’s god’s gift to women, the universe, and everyone in his personal life and still a great crusader for openness in government; in fact, the evidence I’ve seen so far suggests that that’s exactly the case. We don’t have to deny one to make the other one true, and the chatter in comments happening at places like TechCrunch suggests that people aren’t recognizing that he can be both.

That TechCrunch post points to the last thing that I’m finding weird about this whole incident. The title asks, “Hey, Assange’s Celeb Supporters, What Time’s Your Protest Outside Quantico? Oh.” It’s a good point. Popular, celebrity, and activist support has been strangely lacking for PFC Bradley Manning. Under military law, it seems, he doesn’t get to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but it doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t still be held so in the court of public opinion.

If Manning did do what he’s accused of, that doesn’t actually make the situation any more clear-cut. As people have pointed out, though passing on the information is a violation of military and civilian laws and chargeable as treason, there’s an argument to be made that in making the information public the leaker (Manning or otherwise) was actually staying true to the spirit of democracy.

Knowing that things were being done that were in violation of everything the military and the nation are supposed to stand for, the leaker can be seen as loyal even to the point of sacrifice (the penalty for treason being execution) rather than traitorous. But that’s not the story that’s being told.

Presumed-guilty-Manning’s story isn’t being told much at all, in fact, because Assange’s is so much flashier and more star-studded. As a culture, we seem to generally be concerned about the injustice being apparently done to one relatively powerful man and not the women who may have been violated or the soldier who may be executed.

In a sense, with the Assange circus, the whole point of Wikileaks—holding the powerful accountable—is getting lost.

I’ll admit that I teared up a little while reading “’The Force’ is with you, Katie” on this morning. This ruins my tough-guy image, I am sure.

This seems to be a pretty common response to the situation, the way CNN told it. In the era of rampant bullying and suicide (or, at least, rampant coverage of things that are not at all new), there’s an outpouring of support from other people who got teased, whether for their fan practices or anything else

Reading about a 7-year-old shamed, by teasing, out of using her beloved Star Wars water bottle does that to us these days, which it didn’t used to. And indeed, my first response was “Hm, maybe fandom’s being mainstreamed after all,” since CNN is framing harassment of people for their fan practices as a problem.

But then I thought about it some more.

This was a cute little white child engaging in fan practices. Not an adult who we might (still) expect to “know better,” and a member of that white-female category we’re all culturally programmed to protect.

What we have here is a cute little white girl child who was being forced into a narrow box of femininity because her classmates said Star Wars was just for boys. And yes, clearly that is total bullshit, and it’s a good thing that people were able to recognize that such that when her mom blogged about it, the story went viral.

Yes, it is pretty cool people in the industry got involved to support her, but it’s a problem that by “support” we mean “they sent her stuff.” I don’t want to support a model of fandom wherein being a fan is all about consumption rather than affect, and if that’s what “acceptance” or “mainstreaming” of fandom is, I don’t want it.

Then there’s the fact that the boy child Scooby-Doo fan who dressed up as Daphne for Halloween didn’t get an outpouring of merchandise and support from Hanna-Barbera. (Or, I guess, Warner Brothers now. Thanks, capitalist conglomeration!)

In fact, his mom even blogged it that way: “If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought twice about it. No one.” The girl child bravely loving Star Wars is a hero. The boy dressing as a female character from Scooby-Doo is an incipient homosexual cross-dressing serial killer. (I kid you not, read the comments).

So, then, who is it that gets to be the poster child for fandom? Which fans are suitable subjects of human-interest stories? Which practices? These are things we need to consider.

Reading some selections from Society Must Be Defended clarified a number of things for me, theoretically. First it helped me understand why I’ve never been comfortable describing the processes my research examines as “disciplining” fans, despite my adviser encouraging me to do so.

It also helped me understand why I’ve always liked History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 so much more than Discipline and Punish—which I previously just had to take on faith wasn’t due to my having completed substantially fewer readings of the latter or the former being shorter.

The reason for both of these (dis)inclinations, as it turns out, is biopolitics.

“Biopolitics deals with the population,” Foucault specifies (245); its “purpose is not to modify any given phenomenon as such, or to modify a given individual insofar as he is an individual, but, essentially, to intervene at the level at which these general phenomena are determined, to intervene at the level of their generality” (246), and it is this kind of generality without an investment in the individual that is what I’m noticing as having happened with respect to fans in the age of the Internet.

This, then, is why “discipline” hasn’t ever seemed to fit; the processes of the production of fandom that I look at in my research don’t involve “individual bodies that can be kept under surveillance, trained, used, and, if need be, punished” (242).

“Unlike disciplines,” the production of socially-sanctioned fandom doesn’t “train individuals by working at the level of the body itself. There is absolutely no question relating to an individual body” (246), and neither does any “question relating to an individual body” enter into either my research interests in general or my research on fandom in particular.

Discipline, that is, is intimate. Biopolitics is anonymous, and so are the kinds of operations of power I’m interested in: contemporary media companies implement policies to encourage some outcomes and discourage others (243); the production of a valorized conception of fandom functions to teach the population of media consumers the way to manage and/or optimize itself (244).

Indeed, even techniques that Foucault describes as being deployed by states to manage national populations that would seem to be entirely irrelevant are actually useful tools for thinking about how the status of fandom has changed in the last decade or so; Foucault discusses the shift from epidemic to endemic problems as how public health is managed (243-4), and there is definitely a sense in which fandom has moved from being an outside phenomenon that happens to media companies to being a persistent condition that is internal to the media system to the extent that companies plan for and around it.

Similarly, the discussion of state racism parsing out “what must live and what must die” (254) is clearly the same dynamic (though on a very different scale) as the delineation of “good,” to-be-encouraged vs. “bad,” to-be-stopped fan practices.

Furthermore, there is a sense in which fans or media consumers are divided into populations—perhaps, as Foucault described it in History of Sexuality, produced as species—on the basis of these practices, and these populations are not only gendered but in some sense racialized.

Foucault argues that, though discipline is the older technology and biopolitics came along later, the latter didn’t supersede and replace the former, but rather they are now both in circulation in society for different purposes.

He notes that “the element that circulates between the two is the norm. The norm is something that can be applied to both a body one wishes to discipline and a population one wishes to regularize” (252-3). This, then, explains why, in my discomfort with the term discipline, normalization seemed to better fit the work culture was doing with respect to fandom.

So, to sum up, it turns out that biopolitics does it better.