Sunday, July 8, 2012

Watching You Watch Him

So Entertainment Weekly did a special on The Hobbit for the upcoming Comic Con.

My reaction, in short?

Yeah, exactly. So I am now dealing (again) with my excitement for a movie that doesn't come out until December. And feeling very weird about it after reading the article and seeing this tidbit from Martin Freeman at the end of it:

At first I was kind of freaked out. "Oh my God," I thought. "People who are talking about this movie who live in Wisconsin. That's really close to Minnesota. WHAT IF HE'S FOUND MY BLOG?" (as this came to mind). Because, you know, for as much of a liberal arts education as I've had and as much Sherlock Holmes as I've read, I have the most illogical brain in the universe. I then reminded myself that the spotlight effect is just an illusion and that maybe this comment was more of a reference to "a magical place called Wisconsin" (ala Love Actually) (because Wisconsin is pretty magical).

Sorry, can't seem to find any gifs of this line being said. So this pic will have to do.
Or maybe Wisconsin has a lot of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans. Or a lot of Martin Freeman fans. But none of this was helping the fact that I might have still potentially terrified Martin Freeman.

Which brings me to another topic - the strange power of fandoms. I mean, it's nothing new; I've discussed it before. However, I just happen to have a different line of sight on it this time around. Literally.

We were discussing voyeurism in my film class this week after watching Rear Window (which, if you've happened to have seen it, is a gigantic allegory for voyeurism and cinema) and I started thinking about Tumblr. A lot. Tumblr, as I've said before, is this strange little creature that I don't think the cyberworld and (especially) the world of academia knows how to peg. It includes fine art/drawings, videos, gifs, photographs, text posts, sound clips, and all of the above combined. Basically, it contains nearly every visual/aural medium on the internet in one place. Unlike Facebook, you don't have to have an account to access the material. I feel like there should be academics all over this shit (and maybe there are) but it seems to be rather quiet on the Tumblr study front. There's still this sense that things like blogs and certain internet sources that don't end in .edu or .org are not legitimate. And there's still this lingering assumption that, like video games and comic books, the internet is kind of frivolous and not worth the time and effort to study.

I happen to be in the camp that greatly disagrees with this idea. Because anything that causes me to spend so much time on it when I have serious homework I should be doing or books to read or novels to write, or causes people to want to censor it, or can make or ruin someone's career must have some importance.

A pictorial representation of he internet. WOW. (from:
And thus, I ended up connecting voyeurism and the internet. Which is kind of unfortunate. But then again, we described film viewing as a voyeuristic habit, so it comes with the territory. Here's how this works: voyeurism is described as taking pleasure from watching someone without them knowing you can see them. The cinema is the epitome of this because you're watching something on film where the people viewing have no ability to catch you in the act because... well, because it's a film. Even the theater is constructed for optimal voyeurism with the lights turned off and seats that are getting ever more reclined and cushioned. But I digress... The internet is kind of like the theater, in that you are completely separated from what you are viewing and we may not even be around other people whilst viewing it.

The thing about watching from the internet, like the theater, is that you are completely separated from these representations on screen. We but a lot of faith in cameras and images, feeling they capture "objective reality" but that, of course, is not the case. This famous painting by Magritte comes to mind:

The whole point of this piece is that this is not a pipe - it's a painting of a thing that we label a pipe, only a representation. In fact, how you're looking at it now, it isn't even a painting. It's an image of a painting of a thing that looks like a pipe. But in our everyday lives, we don't think about images this way - we look at an ad for a car and say it's a car, not that it's an image of a car. We even find photography and camera work to be a more valid representation than a book or a painting, even though its still presenting things through a medium. We look at celebrity images on TV and say we're looking at Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, not that we're looking at camera footage or photographs of said celebrities. Images are powerful - even in how we talk about them.

Which is what makes fandoms really, really weird. So much of was I/we/they do is image-based. Tumblr is chock-full of images - fan-created art, snapshots of celebrities, shots from films, on and on and on. Post-modern philosophy (which I've accidentally ended up studying loads of) likes to think of our obsession with images in reference to hyperreality, as media changes our ways of looking at reality and we can no longer tell the difference between the real and the simulation of the real. And we're back to Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra/Simulation stuff. Although Tumblr users like to see things a little differently:
However, unlike in the theater, fandoms can interact with what they are viewing in some ways. With fan fiction sites and fan art forums and Twitter and take your pick of whatever social networking site you want, they can express their appreciation for whatever film/show/etc they desire, talk to other fans, and even possibly chat (or tweet, if you prefer) with their favorite celeb. And, with Tumblr being accessible to anyone, said celebs might just stumble across the fan art, videos, posts, etc fandoms generate, as described in this article about Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch discovering fandom devotion (and slash fiction). So we've got this interesting sort of "watching you watch him" scenario going on with celebs being aware of fandoms.

(Okay, so I like this song (and I saw Eric Hutchinson perform this live like two months ago so I'm being a bit nostalgic). And it's another one of those songs I see as a thematic for fandoms, a number for "Fandom - the Musical" so to speak. I'm kidding, that's not a legit thing. Well, now someone IS going to make it a legit thing. Whoops.)

Anyway, we've got that. And now we've got fandoms watching celebrities watch them fan. And then you've got me watching fandoms watching celebrities watching fandoms fan.

Brain hurting yet?

(Thank you, Michael Cronenburg, for your slightly tacky but ever disgusting 80s horror gore.)

Other than the fact that I appear to be a voyeur watching other voyeurs, this whole thing is now rather strange and weird an complex. But it gets even weirder and more complex. Why does Martin Freeman find it hard to act when there's people anticipating The Hobbit in Wisconsin? I imagine it's rather tough to focus when you're wondering what people are expecting (and already talking about and anticipating it and making strange fan art of your character dressed like another character you play having inter-species relations with a dragon in scarf. Yep, I'd be thrown off my game too). What's more, all this looking at celebrities makes it hard for them to have a life out of the limelight, to distinguish between public and private. I came across this Tumblr post last night that had a really interesting quote from Benedict Cumberbatch on, what else, watching:
One of the fears of having too much work is not having time to observe. And once you get recognized, there is nowhere for you to look any more. You can’t sit on a night bus and watch it all happen.
And we're back to Cumberbatch saying things that once again I find relevant to my aimless meandering. (How does this keep happening?) With us watching them, celebrities have nowhere to look without being seen and studied and wondered at what they're looking at.
And to top it all off, my contacts have gotten weird and uncomfortable and I can't wear them without my left eye twitching and aching. The coincidence of all this is just a little too much, so I'm going to stop thinking about eyes and seeing and minds exploding and end right... about... now.


  1. 1) I think he meant Wisconsin as in "the middle of nowhere". Which is also ironic for all of the reasons you listed, lol.

    2) The "not a car but an image of a car" bit: I've heard you say this before, and what do you think was the first thing that came into my brain?

    Is a bicycle still a bicycle if it's upside down?

    As I have said, "No, it's an upside down one". Now consider this: a bicycle is not a bicycle. It's a physical representation of the idea of a bicycle. Using words like "upside" is illustrative of our mental conceptions of what the bicycle should look like. An upside down bicycle is not a bicycle, because the latter is a different idea altogether.

    That's your rabbit hole. Mwahaha! ;)

    1. OMG... you're right. You just won the upside down bicycle argument. Congratulations! :D

    2. Correction: I have won it AGAIN. Lol :P