Friday, November 30, 2012

Why Sherlock?

I'm sitting in a Dunn Brothers coffee shop, listing to Earth, Wind, and Fire's "September" playing over their satellite radio (I don't care that it's practically December; "September" is a song that demands to be played anytime, every time) and contemplating how exactly to go about tying things together in my senior paper. While this picture was taken several months ago in my apartment, the process looks a little something like this:


The process isn't hard; actually, it's the most fun I've ever had writing a paper. The problem is that I have so much to say, so much to tie in, I find myself leaping from one idea to the next without completely illuminating how they tie together because my brain seems to be moving faster than my fingers across the keyboard and I find myself stopping and thinking, "Wait, where was I going with this point?"

But at the moment, I'm in the midst of writing about why Sherlock is the focus of my paper, instead of perhaps a larger fandom like Doctor Who or a multifaceted one like The Avengers. I could choose any of these to express my point. But Sherlock serves the best. Why? Because Sherlock Holmes is a cyborg.

http://collider.com
Let me parse this out. In the book Sherlock and Transmedia Fandom (the book I happen to be trying to hide under in the photo above) a wonderful essay by Francesca Coppa called "Sherlock as Cyborg" states this more definitely and eloquently than I can in this spur of the moment post. Simplistically, Sherlock represents the struggle between the mind and body we've come to know as the Cartesian split, due to his "highly iconic physical body rushing around London" and his "disembodied cognitive self which hurtles across the web in search of links and information" (Coppa 211). If you're thinking of Spock or Data right now, bingo - exactly. His lack of interest in the physical (not eating, having little interest in physical relationships) and focus on the mental (the emphasis on the importance of his mind, the need to keep knowledge particularly arranged like the hard drive of a computer) represents the Greek ideal of transcending the body (Coppa 212). This has a great resonance with female viewers because society is constantly expressing to young women that they must over come their physical desires and become something else. If I had my Susan Bordo books with me I'd find you a wonderful quote that expresses just this but I left them at home and am now kicking myself for it, so paraphrasing will have to do. Bordo describes in Unbearable Weight how anorexia may stem from the need for control or agency over one's body and that starving one's self becomes a way of gaining control over a body gone rouge that is constantly hungry and yearning for something. This is a gross simplification of Bordo's argument, but highlights that this is not an argument for anorexia or a way of seeing it in a positive light but a way of better understanding what is at work when a woman becomes anorexic and how much society influences this disorder. Another way of thinking about the mind-body conflict in women is thinking about how women are told not to think about their physical desires (think about the hypocrisy in how men can talk about sex versus women, or how women are the ones shown having little appetite while men are offered "Hungry Man" frozen dinners in advertisements) and yet also are criticized for having high mental ability. This double bind between mind and body are not limited to women; think about how gay men and women are told to think about their bodies, versus those who identify as asexual, transsexual, bisexual, etc.

http://bbcsherlockftw.tumblr.com/
Sherlock Holmes, however, allows fans to "renegotiate and integrate these binaries in new ways for themselves" (Coppa 218). Sherlock gets pleasure from doing mental tasks and forms a powerful relationship with John Watson that (as of yet) shows no physical side, perhaps allowing for the idea that Sherlock is a romantic asexual. Sherlock is capable of both demanding physical tasks (I can tell you right now if you asked me to sprint through London after a taxi in the late evening I'd probably fall down a sewer and break my ankle) and difficult brain work (world's greatest detective, he most certainly is). In a society that emphasize only physical pleasure or only mental prowess yet is satisfied with neither, Sherlock represents an attempt at something else, something different. And for viewers who happen to be in their formative years (15-25 or so) and/or may be struggling with their own identity, Sherlock provides a different way of dealing with identification, a formation still in progress that questions the standard notions of binaries and perhaps develops a space for something beyond what is defined as the traditional way of defining oneself. In this way, Sherlock sounds a lot like Tumblr itself - a space for redefining oneself, questioning and puzzling about the world, and forming a different mode of identification. That's my argument at least.

With this very quick scribbled musing, I'd very much like to hear what other Sherlock fans think of this argument. Does this sound like a valid claim? Do you identify with Sherlock's mind-body conflict or perhaps the constant questioning of John's identity? Does Sherlock perhaps work a little differently than shows like Doctor Who because queerness and identity are integral to the plots and themes? I'd love to hear what others think as I try to integrate these motifs into my paper and to make sure that other fans see this too. I've got a fairly good argument for all of this paper-wise but I think I'd feel more assured if I heard agreement from fans personally that this seems reasonable.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Born To Be Famous?

The other day, while meeting up for coffee with friends and fellow fangirls, Emma and Jordyn, Emma said something along the lines of disliking the construct of celebrity and its effects on how people perceive and treat celebrities. I like this idea (as celebrity status is most certainly a construct... as is everything ever known to humanity) and, after talking about authorship a lot in one of my classes, decided to dwell a bit more on a topic pondered in the post "Two for Tea": there is a distinct difference between people who are considered famous and those who are not.

You're right; this is probably just an excuse to use another RDJ pic.
I think the Robert Downey Jr. quote used on "Two for Tea" still wonderfully sums it all up in, in Robert Downey Jr.'s beautiful self-reflexive way. His idea that certain actors will never be regarded like he is because they are have never appeared in a movie. Because, though they may be actors, they are not famous actors.

I have mentioned this idea of fame before but I feel like I haven't really discussed it in depth. It would seem that society assumes there is something incredibly different about a person who is famous versus a person who is not. It's beyond the fact that celebrities (man, I really want to use scare quotes around that, but I feel like it'd get really annoying really fast as many times as I'm probably going to use that word in this post. So, scare quotes are implied) are wealthier, receive more media attention, and somehow more important the rest of the general populous of the world and thus entitled to our worship (to put it bluntly). That's not to say that celebrities aren't talented or influential or that I myself am not obsessed with celebrities (because that would be the biggest lie ever). No, this is just the observation that celebrity A) is a construct, B) is a pretty strange idea when you think about it, and C) means different things to different people in different places.

A) is pretty straight-forward. Celebrityism (okay, that's not a word but needs to be) is a construct, meaning we as human beings made it up. B) gets a little more complicated. Somewhere between now and... oh, I don't know, the dawn of civilization?... we decided that certain people with certain status and positions in society were more important and deserved worshiping and respect (ex: religious officials, kings, emperors, you're already way ahead of me by now). Then, because we like to talk about people, especially about what other people are doing, we mixed this admiration with gossip. I somehow feel like King Henry VIII helped stimulate this because, let's face it - he was acting like the most dramatic of celebrities and that definition of this construct didn't even exist yet.

On that note, I think a quick etymology of the word celebrity is order here. According to Dictionary.com, the word comes from French, meaning a "solemn right or ceremony" and from Latin, meaning "multitude, fame" or "frequented, populous." Around the 17th century it began to mean the "condition of being famous" and by the 1800s it became used as a term meaning "famous person."

Which is perfect, because my next chronological marker would have been the Victorian era, in which it seems that social standing, gossip, and being really interested in what other people were doing - especially if they were wealthy and important - became more central in Western society. It also gave Oscar Wilde a lot to write about.

http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6nyip5a571ro4t0m.png
And then, somewhere around the time of early Hollywood, celebrity began to distinctly mean people who worked in the film industry, music industry, and, later, the television industry. Because today, when we think of celebrities, these are usually the first groups of people that come to mind. Writers and athletes and certain heirs can fit into this category too, but for the most part, celebrity refers directly to those who have some interaction with Hollywood (which, for all intensive purposes, will include the music industry in this post. Though Hollywood is about film, since corporations now tend to own both studios, television channels, and music labels, this is simpler). I say Hollywood in particular because of C). There are celebrities in Bollywood and Korea that I will never know about because they aren't recognized by our culture as being famous, simply because they may not have much interaction with Hollywood and thus don't come across our radar. If it wasn't for the fact that I have friends who used the internet a lot more than I used to, I would have never heard of Torchwood or John Barrowman and thus would never have heard about Sherlock or Benedict Cumberbatch or Martin Freeman or Mark Gatiss or Tom Hiddleston and currently wouldn't be sitting here blogging about all of this. Because, while some of my American friends might know Cumberbatch as "that guys who's in the new Star Trek movie" they haven't heard of Sherlock and probably haven't seen Atonement. Mentioning Tom Hiddleston is currently a bit easier because The Avengers is ridiculously popular but to most non-fangirls he's just "that guy who played Loki." (Herein lies a vital distinction, between those who are intrigued by an actor's portrayal and feel the need to find out more about the actor and either A) continue on the happy jaunt to fansqueeing or B) simply retain this knowledge and may keep tabs on this actor out of a more casual interest, and then there's those who never learn the actors name, aren't interested in it, and continue on doing whatever they were doing before. Dude, this needs a post of its own to sketch this all out....) Anyway, my point is that Mr. Hiddleston and Mr. Cumberbatch are really only known to the general public of the United States of America for their roles in Hollywood and because of their roles in Hollywood and thus (for the most part, so far) avoid being in things like Entertainment Tonight and People magazine and so on (though apparently Senore Cumberbatch was on TMZ one time but I don't know anything about this because generally TMZ gives me a rash so I try to avoid it). Because these publications and shows are more interesting in seeing Lindsey Lohan's life fall apart before their eyes and finding out what shoes Kim Kardashian is wearing because they're "American celebrities." Not to say we don't care about celebs from other parts of the world; we do - but they have to achieve some certain level of importance before we can care about them. How exactly this is achieved is a mystery to me.

Well, not quite a total mystery. I was reading about piracy and authorship for my history of cinema and new media class and came across this quote in a selection by Carolyn Guertin: "The underlying assumption is not only a privileging of the established author over the new, but also the myth that only a select few in society are practicing creative acts" (9). I think being a celebrity is a certain sort of authorship that creates a different evaluation of one's work compared to an unknown actor/musician/etc and really points out certain people as creators to be acknowledged and revered. I mean, look at the Academy Awards. It's almost painful for me to watch as I know I'm not going to see the actors I'm really interested in seeing and I have to put up with pretending to care that some organization I know nothing about has decided to tell me which films are worthy of honor (and yet I continue to watch the Academy Awards... every single year... just in the hopes that Leo DiCaprio will finally win and I can feel justified for some reason. This gets into an interesting complication given my proud state of being a loser. Dammit; this also needs its own post). However, I also have to remember that just because the actors I'm interested in get no attention in the States, it'd probably be very different if I were watching the BAFTAs. This becomes easy for me to forget though, because of the media I see in on the newstands and on anything that isn't Tumblr.

I honestly don't know what the media would do without celebrities. Between all of the magazines about them, who I follow on Twitter, what is covered on news websites, and what forums talk about, I can guarantee that I know more about K Stew's love life than what's going on in Syria right now. With the growth of celebrity culture, not only did we get more interested in watching them act/perform/etc, we got a hell of a lot more interested in watching their lives in general. I've been trying to figure out why this came about, but I honestly don't know. The only correlation I can draw is between new media and a TV show called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were a celebrity couple that starred in a TV sitcom that starred their real-life family. Though it was scripted and not a reality show, it was thought of as watching the Nelsons' home-life onscreen. Even the set was designed to look like the Nelsons' actual house. The show strove for realism, something I think we still strive for in our portrayal of celebrity life, though I rarely think it's delivered. Mainly because of this:

http://fassbendertheginger.tumblr.com/post/25883573655/to-fassy-with-love-this-is-a-very-good

No matter how much the media pretends to know what's going on with a celeb's life or assume an interview reveals exactly who these people are, it can't do that. Unless you personally knew a celebrity, you couldn't really ever know either. The media doesn't know them and the fans don't know them... but damn, it still feels like we do.

http://wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net
This gets more complicated, especially with celebrities that don't act like celebrities. Take Simon Pegg for example. I just finished reading his autobiography Nerd Do Well and other than the fact that I think he's brilliant, I also forgot over the course of reading this book that he's a celebrity. I think this is a very good thing (although, I have to say, I instantly remembered the moment he mentioned that he used to hang out with Chris Martin from Coldplay at a bar in London. That was a bit much for me to handle). Too often the status of celebrity leads to a god-like status and isolation, as I've discussed before. But the forgetting that someone is a celebrity by their not acting like it, while it's a wonderful feeling, is also a bit baffling. Example - recently I've been paying more attention to Tom Hiddleston's Twitter. While I know very little about him, I can't help but get the feeling I know more about him than I actually do because 1) Despite 140 character limit, personality still comes across, 2) it's actually Mr. Hiddleston making the tweets, as far as I know, rather than a PR person, and 3) he doesn't tweet like a celebrity. What do I mean by that? I don't know exactly... it's just that his tweets are a lot more personable and user-friendly than say Tom Cruise's (okay, so Mr. Cruise actually doesn't tweet that much... it's his team or something). The point is, Twitter makes things really confusing, because I have a Twitter. I could tweet these celebs anytime, if I wanted to (I don't. Why? That would be a massive tangent. Ask me later). But there's something about Mr. Hiddleston and Mr. Cumberbatch's and Mr. Pegg's mindset that is different. Yes, they know they're famous. But they don't act like it. They absolutely keep certain aspects of their lives private and Simon Pegg would much rather tell you about his dog eating socks than about his family's personal affairs (one of the many reasons I love this man). But they don't mind fans coming up to them; in fact, they seem very appreciative of it and WANT to see their fans, unlike some celebrities that treat both the paparazzi and fans as if they were the plague. As Mr. Pegg says, in reference to appearing at Comic-Con, "I don't understand how any artist can reject positive feedback as if it is an annoyance or, worse, a burden...Even if you have been approached a hundred times in an hour, whoever is approaching you is doing so for the first time and is probably nervous. The least you can do is acknowledge their good-natured bravery and respond with a smile, even if you don't have time to talk to their mate on the phone or allow them to lick your face" (61).

Simon Pegg, can we be bros?

What I love about his discussion of being a celebrity is that he never expected to be famous. He used to fanboy over Carrie Fisher and still fanboys over Star Wars and couldn't believe it when he met Steven Spielberg. He, along with Mr. Cumberbatch and Mr. Hiddleston have certainly not let fame go to their head.

http://smallbiztrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/celebrity.jpg
I'd like to think that most celebrities haven't let fame go to their head. They don't think they were born to be famous - they recognize that they put in a lot of work and got very lucky and managed to get a big break. I'd like to think many of them think like Robert Downey Jr. and recognize how bizarre it is that they are granted fame but other artists are not. They seem to understand that something very bizarre lies between them and their fans. And that there doesn't seem to be a good way of redefining this construct. They can't not act like celebrities; the media prevents this. We can't not think of them as celebrities - the media prevents this and social status and monetary assets also make this difficult. The best we can do seems to be the following:

1) Remember celebrity is a construct: For as much crap as fangirls get for their love and adoration of celebs, I also believe that fangirls may be better at this than other parts of the population. The Fassbender self-reflexive piece above is a perfect example. I see quite a bit of this online and, while some fans do not want to be self-reflexive, others really are. I think supporting this attitude of knowing the mediation that occurs between us and celebs while simultaneously fighting to remember they aren't different from us is important to reconfiguring how we treat celebs.

2) Everyone is a celebrity: Okay, so I know given the current construct of celebrity that this isn't the case. I also know from the way that celebrities are currently treated that I don't think this should really be enacted on the total populace of the world. What I do mean is that if we simply think of celebrities as people who are really good at something and deserve to be acknowledged for that, then that's all 7 billion and then some people in the world. This of course leads to the argument against the idea of "everyone is beautiful" I saw the other day. Apparently, if everyone is beautiful, then no one is beautiful, because some people just are more beautiful than other people so stop perpetuating this lie (that was the gist of the post, at least). Maybe I'm alone here but I have seriously never met an ugly person. Really. And beauty means different things to different people and therefore, acknowledging that everyone is beautiful means there is more than one aspect to beauty and, since I've yet to meet a person who wasn't beautiful in some way, even if I did end up disliking them, I just end up reinforcing my own opinion. Damn you, confirmation bias!

3) Respect fan culture: I honestly believe that if more people in society accepted their inner fansquee, the world would be a much more positive place. Perhaps not necessarily happier because being a fan is complicated and sometimes exquisitely painful (2013 or 2014 until Season 3 of Sherlock? I understand and respect why, but STILL... I can't help but feel the perpetuating despair of a deeply loved element of my life being pushed farther and farther away, sort of like when my tall friends dangle things over my head and I can't reach them...) but being a fan focuses on just being more positive. I am seriously a more enthusiastic and optimistic person now that I've embraced my inner fangirl. I feel like the celebrities who are interactive with their fans are more comfortable with themselves and have more rewarding experiences. But maybe they're more interactive with fans because they're more comfortable with themselves and so on... who knows.

I just wish society was more accepting of fans and more respectful of them. Because, really, if Hollywood didn't have fans, they wouldn't be raking in the dough like they do. Which caused me to have an interesting realization this weekend: why is it that the Academy Awards acknowledges the work of directors and actors and certain facets of film production but they never really acknowledge the viewers or the fans? Maybe they have, but it's probably rather minor and it's certainly not like there's any fan representatives who get recognition. I think this is a major shortcoming.

I'm not entirely certain how this could be remedied, as fans are so diverse and having even a group represented who (in this magical utopia in my mind) would be allowed to give a speech wouldn't even begin to cover all the fans that could be shown. In this way, we'd just be focusing in on a certain group and privileging them above the rest and we'd end up with these fan celebrities... fanlebrities, apparently. I suppose it would be better than nothing, but still... I don't know; it would take some super self-reflexive fans to get the point across that they're just the tip of the iceberg. It'd be a lot easier if celebs thanked their fans in their acceptance speeches but, you know, they're on the spot and nervous and their thinking about how they can't forget to thank their best friends and families and so on. No, it'd just be really nice if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences remembered exactly who's watching the movies out there... that'd be great.

I am seriously feeling pretty impassioned about this. For the most part, I'm content with blogging and trying to make "a difference by thinking little thoughts and sharing them widely" (Judith Halberstam, you are a genius) (21). This works best for me. But this... for some reason, the Academy Awards have become a great representation of all the things I have problems with in Hollywood and culture and yet represents the conundrum of something I still love and strive to honor and respect. The Academy Awards are aired live to allow the viewers of films to make them feel like they're involved in the interaction even though they really aren't, despite the fact that the viewers are the ones who go to see the films in the first place. I really want to do something about this disparity. I don't know what yet... but something. Anybody with me on this?

http://geothebio.tumblr.com/post/35288792056/heyfunniest-thor-hedgehog-of-thunder-this#notes

All citations from:

Carolyn Guertin. “Introduction: Ambivalence and Authorship.”
Digital Prohibition: Piracy and Authorship in New Media Art. Continuum International Publishing, 2012.


Judith Halberstam. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke University Press, 2011. 


 Simon Pegg. Nerd Do Well. Gotham Books, 2011.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boy Loves Boy

http://s3.zerochan.net/Yaoi.240.722040.jpg
So a week or so ago I got a request (oh how I love requests :D) to talk about yaoi fangirls. Yaoi fangirls, for those of you who (like me) had heard the term but couldn't remember what it meant, or are unfamiliar with it, refers to "male-male romance narratives [generally in anime] aimed at a female audience" (Wikipedia's definition).

For those of you outside the anime fandom or in multiple fandoms, this should sound pretty familiar - this is incredibly similar to fanfiction's slash, so called because of how pairings are notated, with a slash (ex: John/Sherlock, Dean/Castiel, etc. Though with ship names, it makes things a little simpler now). However, there are two main differences between slash and yaoi. For one, yaoi focuses more on younger boys while slash tends to be about adult men. And secondly, yaoi is published and bought as manga while slash mainly exists only on free online distribution like fan sites. Which is interesting. Though it seems that yaoi stories are looked down upon and seen as "low culture" or less respected or valued cultural works, it is still sold for money, whereas here in the States, it seems like there's not much in the way of popular gay romance stories in the publishing world. I mean, they exist, they have a GLBT section in book stores, but I feel like published books about non-heterosexual romance are kind of lacking. Then again, maybe I just don't know where to look.

Anyway, the question remains as to why there's such an interest in male/male relationships in the fan world. Why is there a yaoi fandom? Why do we continually ship John with Sherlock? Why do we pair Lestrade and Mycroft together even thought they've never been onscreen together in the show, ever?

Because they're adorable, that's why.

Okay, but seriously, why? Thankfully, someone has some ideas. And his name is Henry Jenkins.

Henry Jenkins has sort of been my savior this year. He is a fan, studies fans, and pretty much pioneered the field of fan studies. Without him, I wouldn't have a very strong basis for speculation but, lo and behold, he has an absolutely marvelous book called Textual Poaching. I happen to love it very much.

In said book, Jenkins discusses slash, from the early days with the first male/male relationship shipped* by fans, that of Kirk and Spock from Star Trek, to more theory-based ideas as to why fans - predominantly white middle-class female Americans - are so interested in pairing two men who never have anything more than possible homosexual subtext in a show or film in a very romantic or sexual relationship.  

*FYI, if you are unfamiliar with fan jargon, "ship" is a short form of relationship and is used as a verb to denote someone structuring a pairing, as in, "I ship Johnlock." It also often ends with someone singing Dido's "White Flag," in which she sings, "I will go down with this ship." Once you become acquainted with this term, I assure you that you will never think of ships (the floaty ones on the ocean) in the same way again.

http://29.media.tumblr.com

Here's one of Jenkins' very brilliant ideas:
"Slash fiction represents a reaction against the construction of male sexuality on television and in pornography; slash invites us to imagine something akin to the liberating transgression of gender hierarchy... a refusal of fixed-object choices in favor of a fluidity of erotic identification, a refusal of predetermined gender characteristics in favor of a play with androgynous possibility." (189)
I very much like this explanation. Beyond the titillation one might find in seeing two male characters together, Jenkins hones in on something else - the urge to move beyond what society represents as "the male." Because, as we've discussed before, hegemony is boring. Who wants to write about Kirk sleeping with another sexy female when he could be talking about his deep and intense feelings to Spock? Who wants to see the stereotypical male end up with the stereotypical female when clearly his bro understands him better than anyone else?

http://fuckyeahjohnlockfanfic.tumblr.com/
From the slash I've read, it does something that heterosexual romances often fail to do - create balance. Jenkins discusses this a bit, describing slash as an "alternative form of erotic fiction where 'mutuality, reciprocity, fairness, deep communication and affection, total body integrity for both partners, and equal capacity for choice-making and decision-making are merged with robust playful physical pleasure, intense sensation and brimming-over expressiveness'" (190). As slash is about "reconfiguring the male identity" to Jenkins, it allows for a different expression of male emotion and love that generally isn't seen in society (191). Instead of having the woman be the needy, loving one and the man being the strong, protective one, slash ignores traditional gender roles and flips things around. Also, from the slash I've read, portrayals of homosexuality also seem to avoid stereotypes of gay men. I haven't seen much in the way of "top and bottom" or "tough and femmy;" it seems like men in fanfics are presented much how real men probably are - a mix of masculine and feminine qualities and everything in between and in orbit around them. Which is pretty remarkable, considering Hollywood can't seem to manage to get away from stereotypes of gay men.

Another question that might arise is why, then, are there mostly male/male fanfics and fewer female/female or bisexual or etc? They do exist, though they seem to be rarer (although some stuff gets pretty kinky and crazy and clearly, and wonderfully sexual preference doesn't quite matter. Also, if you're dealing with the Torchwood character Jack Harkness, who's pansexual, then, well, he will sleep with anyone and can be shipped with the entire universe). This could be due to the fact that many of the fanfic writers are heterosexual women and thus find it more appealing to ship men, or that men seem to have less of a chance to reconfigure their identity in culture and fanfiction creates a space for this to occur. Or as Joan Martin puts it, quoted by Jenkins, "'Slash is a wonderfully subversive voice whispering or shouting around the edges and into the cracks of mainstream culture. It abounds in unconventional thinking. It's fraught with danger for the status quo, filled with temptingly perilous notions of self-determination and successful defiance of social norms'" (202).

Of course, this all seems to make sense, but Jenkins and I could be totally wrong. Maybe fans just write slash because... because of reasons. But I get the feeling that maybe there's a little something more to it, especially given how men are represented in society in terms of relationships and emotions. Whether this applies as well to yaoi or not, I sadly can't say as I'm not super well-acquainted with anime. But if this seems like a possible overlap, despite the cultural differences from the places of origin of slash and yaoi anime, let me know. Meanwhile, I'm going to have to dig up some yaoi to read...

Also, I was asked by the same anon who gave the request for this post why cat ears are so popular on characters in Japanese anime. I very honestly did not know, so I did some more searching (yay internet!) and found this very helpful blog post. In summary, it goes to an appeal to animal instincts, mythological creatures, and a bit of objectification with a hint of something representing innocence. Hopefully this provides a bit more insight into the popularity of this trope.

Speaking of tropes...
http://lokithehedgehog.tumblr.com

All citations from: Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins. Published 1992 by Routledge.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sexy and They Know It

I was scrolling through Twitter early this morning and stumbled across USA Today announcing who People magazine had selected as 2012's "Sexiest Man of the Year." You know, that stunning, riveting announcement everyone was waiting for. On a scale of not caring about People's declaration of who's the sexiest in the land (I smell an interesting Snow White spin-off there) to uncontrollably excited, where do you fit in? Where do I fit in? Where does the general populace of the US, the English-speaking world, the rest of the world fit in?
http://www.people.com

Yes, this what I ponder while scanning Twitter early in the morning.

Personally, I annually forget that People makes this selection, then get vaguely excited that it might mean pics of some of my favorite actors, realize it doesn't, and then get moderately depressed that I still don't find Channing Tatum extraordinary sexy as I have been judged for this - obviously he's nice looking but beauty is subjective and thus I seem to be in a minority of people who are not enthused about this announcement (not that I'm not happy for Channing Tatum - you go, Mr. Tatum). But I can't help but wonder several things about this: 1) How exactly is the "sexiest man alive" selected? 2) What sort of man are we talking about here? 3) Why do we do this every year?

1) Okay, guys and gals and those against gender binaries, I tried my hand at internet searching to figure out how the hell these men are selected as the sexiest... and I got nothing. Admittedly, this was some quick and fast research before I had to run off to class, but I even created a freaking account with some discussion query website known as Quora that had this promising prompt:

Quora.com
Which then resulted in answers that were neither helpful nor accessible, as you had to use "credits" attributed to your account and I was already disappointed that this wasn't some cool, hands-on, Wikipedia-like forum. So, because Wikipedia is clearly more awesome, I ran there. And got this result:


May I emphasize something? The line: It is determined in a similar procedure to Time's Person of the Year.

You have got to be kidding me.

Let me take you back in the wibbly-wobbliness of this blog to a simpler time when I was just talking about Time magazine's nominations for Person of the Year because of Benedict Cumberbatch and because I was pretty annoyed about the entire 'person of the year' thing in general. I'm having a really hard time believing that these two random posts are, in fact, incredibly relevant to this whole issue of Sexiest Man Breathing Air On Planet Earth (aka: alive). We apparently have come full circle on this blog. I can't decide it if this is good or terrifying.

So, in short, People magazine somehow randomly nominates people and readers (presumably, if it's like Time's poll) can vote on the sexiness of nominated people. Sooo...

2) Note the fact that nominated people are celebrities. And very specific celebrities. As this nifty FYI post lets on, out of the 27 men selected since 1985, only one - ONE - of these men has been not white (Denzel Washington, chosen in 1996). After scrolling through the winners on the Wiki article, I found only 6 of the men who won were not from the US - Mel Gibson (Australia), Sean Connery (Scotland/UK), Pierce Brosnan (Ireland), Jude Law (England/UK), Hugh Jackman (Australia), and Ryan Reynolds (Canada).

I am deeply, deeply trying to resist the urge to use the "BORED" gif from Sherlock. But I can't resist...
http://constantheadaches.tumblr.com/
All, in all, the results seem pretty typical. All of the men selected, save one are white and even have a fairly similar physique. Except for maybe Jude Law and just being conscious of the wonderful caveat that Hugh Jackman does both action films and musical theater, all other men selected are pretty high on the "macho athletic manly man" persona. Not to impugn them any for it. I would be a liar if I said I did not appreciate Brad Pitt and Ryan Reynolds and George Clooney's "all-American" masculine attractiveness (well, not so much all-American for Reynolds because he's Canadian). But the fact that pretty much all of them fit into a certain set of looks and desirability... well...

http://whumpresource.tumblr.com/
People magazine, can I speak to you personally for a minute here? I'm certainly not voicing a majority opinion and I believe I'm not even voicing a distinct minority. But I would just like to remind you that sexiness - whatever the heck one personally defines that as - is probably subjective. And while you very much want to give women (ie: straight, middle class white women roughly between the ages of 18-39 from the US, I suspect) "hot guys" you've "rounded up" for their "viewing pleasure," I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop trying to force upon me what is considered "sexy" in American culture. Because your perception of it - and right now, we're ignoring the fact that readers probably vote on this because 1) they have to vote on nominees, probably ones that People selects and 2) I'm sure a very specific audience reads People (straight, middle class white women... yeah, you get the idea) - is a bit skewed. So I'm very sorry to say that I find your displaying muscle-bound men in tight shirts sort of disappointing. But I do. I know it's shocking and I'll be accused of not being a "real woman" and doubts from others about my sexuality will ensue (been there, done that, got the t-shirt). But PLEASE. Could you make the definition of masculine sexiness any narrower? Right, of course you could. But this is not an invitation to do so.

http://www.people.com/people/package/0,,20315920,00.html
Which brings me to...

3) If I could find a gif of the Grinch from the film with Jim Carrey yelling, "They do this every year!" I'd use it. Why in the world do we submit ourselves to this repetitious ridiculousness, slowly molding us to focus only on a certain look and kind of masculinity? Many reasons - we like to look at nice-looking gentlemen, even if they aren't the men we ourselves would label as sexiest (because when women are usually the focus of the sexual gaze, it still seems nice when it's the other way around). Also, we like to hear about celebrities, even if it's just in passing, as People gives us with the description of Channing Tatum (who apparently quotes Edgar Allen Poe and makes sculptures. I'm curious as to what kind of sculptures or if that was just thrown in there to make us think of sculpted abs. And now I can't get Channing Tatum quoting "The Raven" out of my head... this is getting weird). Also, doing this sells issues - because even though I know I'm going to be disappointed, I'm still longing to buy a copy just on the off-chance that someone like Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch or Idris Elba  - or for God's sake I will gladly take Chris Evans - has a mention/photo in a random section (which generally consists of "geeky hot guys" or "nice looking men who wear suits" or "dudes from across the pond who are also attractive enough to elicit our awareness." I want to buy the stupid bloody magazine in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, Chris Colfer or Darren Chris got a mention. Or that Neil Patrick Harris or Zachary Quinto or Jesse Tyler Ferguson or (oh dream of dreams) Mark Gatiss or just simply a not-straight guy gets a nod. And how in the world has People magazine been immune to the epicness that is Colin Firth and Alan Rickman? And the fact that Rupert Graves is completely and utterly unknown... *cries.* I realize that some of these hopes would ruin the idea of what is considered "sexy" by whatever annoying hegemonic standards we are going by. But that's the point. Hegemony is boring. As lovely as Ryan Gosling is, how blase does it become when he's mentioned every single year (and yet somehow never wins)? I mean, I'm annoyed enough with myself that I can only mainly name celebrities from the English-speaking world (it is my mother tongue but STILL...it's incredibly limiting...)

http://cdn.ph.upi.com
But I still want to buy the damnable magazine anyway. Why? Because I want to feel like I belong, that I'm not a total weirdo for liking slightly "feminine-looking" cheek-boned Brits. That people maybe, just maybe, could be described for something more than their looks. That men who are not so ridiculously photo-shopped and ripped that they could never be compared to the guys I see walking around the city could actually be featured as attractive in a magazine. But as far as I know, People magazine has and will continue to disappoint me.

Which I think is actually for the better. Partially because I'm so used to magazines like People disappointing me that I'm starting to thrive on it. But also because why does it really matter who wins sexiest man alive? What does "winning" actually mean? It's like the most superficial of all superficial awards. It has nothing to do with one's career or altruism or anything that probably really matters. It's like those superlatives given in high school year books - most likely to be president, most likely to be famous, etc (I was clearly never nominated for these and wanted to be a write-in for "most likely to commit high treason." I've no idea why, in retrospect; it just sounded badass. I was a very peculiar high schooler). This whole idea of someone being sexier than another person is crap, especially with celebrities. It's back to the whole "oh God, if people think Kate Winslet isn't attractive, I have no chance in hell" issue. To People magazine, all the other celebrities and the rest of us out here in our mundane lives are just losers.

http://www.businesspundit.com
Fortunately for us, losers are awesome. That's right, you heard me. LOSERS ARE AWESOME. I'm a total loser. I lose at everything (except for that one time I got a gift card at a hockey game; that was a total fluke and it will never happen again). I have never been cool, will never be cool (not cool by most societal standards, that's sure). I've never had a boyfriend, I don't know how to drive, the only award I've ever won was through my high school  concert band. Most people would cringe and shriek over my woe-begotten embarrassing failure of a life. I did for the first two years of college. But then I stopped. Why? Because being a loser puts you in a different group, a different way of looking at the world. One's difference is made clear, it recognizes the "power of 'difference,' of non-assimilation" (to quote Susan Bordo from her book Twilight Zones.  Robin, of all days to lend me this book... it could not have been more perfect). In the land of the losers, there is no chance of success because no matter what you do you'll never measure up. While society wants to shun us for this and pressure us to assimilate despite our shortcomings, we losers start to feel depressed and anxious and alone. But we're not alone. Once we begin to recognize that there's other losers like us that feel the same way and we bond together we start to realize something - there's something really liberating about being a loser. Suddenly, all the things that hegemony tries to instill becomes irrelevant. Not pretty according to what advertisers portray beauty is? Fine; that's their problem. Reading that Forbes article saying all Liberal Arts majors are damned to be unemployed? Welcome to the club of not caring what a bunch of business columnists think. Feeling way more like Olive in Little Miss Sunshine than Gabriella from High School Musical? Here's a different way of measuring accomplishments and life in general. Want a slice of resistance along with your thoughts that the blandness of People's sexy men are totally boring? Not your average white middle class woman - or any of those descriptors at all? Welcome to being a loser. It's a lifestyle - and it sucks less than society wants you to think. (It's funny because I just started watching the Nerdfighter vlogs with John and Hank Green yesterday and I'm fighting to use the word "WorldSuck." Screw it, losers are fighting WorldSuck; I don't think the Green brothers would mind me re-appropriating the term here.)

I could go on about the power of losers way more - but then you'd probably be reading my senior paper. Which is a work in progress.

Given all of this, I, but a small, unimportant member of the loser community, would like to nominate someone else as sexiest man of the year. Not because sexiest matters or winning matters but because just being awesome as you are is important. And because sexiness is a construct and thus, if someone does not measure up to society's idea of sexy but still acts sexy and thinks like they're sexy, guess what? It can come across as sexy. And thus, I vote PSY, from "Gangnam Style" fame, as 2012's sexiest man alive. Because this man is not having any of your hegemonic beauty crap.

http://images.kpopstarz.com
Sexy on, PSY. Sexy on.

Also, I would just like to mention I now own hedgehog socks. Okay, so they look more like porcupines but Target labeled them as hedgehogs and Target wouldn't lie to me right?


Whatever. Awesome socks are awesome.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More of that annoying self-promotion stuff

As the title states, this is about me. And my writing. Okay, so my fan fiction.

So I'm writing an Avengers fanfic. I know, I know... It couldn't be avoided.


Anyway, it's here. And you can read it, if you so choose.


Yeah, I know. Sassy Loki is right; don't feel forced to read it just because I'm yapping about it on my blog. This is just my justification for putting more effort into a fanfic than my I/O psych project (which felt to easy for its own good... always a bad feeling for a college student...)

Anywho, the fic exists, it's there, read it if you wish. Geronimo!

Friday, November 9, 2012

You say "Feminist" like it's a bad thing...

Oofta (as they say in Minnesota)! It's that time of the semester where the mind ninja of procrastination must duke it out with the samurai of determination in a fight to see whether or not all the writing, projects, reading, and other school-related work of an university senior flying head-first towards the end of fall term actually gets done. As I am here instead of writing one of the ten thousand papers that needs to get done and am yet writing what my professor, Robin, has called "mini-essays" on this blog, it's not entirely clear which is winning at the moment - the ninja or the samurai. I was always a bigger fan of ninjas...

But it's been a busy week - project work, staying up late to watch the election, attempting to write both a novel for NANOWRIMO (national novel writing month), an essay, and my senior paper in the same week (and somehow they are ALL in existence and being written...). And, to top it all off, my birthday's in a little over a week, Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and... this is my 100th post on this blog.

http://viria.tumblr.com/
Okay, enough self-congratulation (but man, is that gif perfect). Because this is my 100th post, I thought I'd wander back to an issue near and dear to my heart: feminism, of course.

http://images4.fanpop.com
Let's kick this off with this article I saw from Entertainment Weekly on my Twitter feed today: Jennifer Lawrence: "In Hollywood, I'm obese." After I stopped crying internal tears of dismay that someone like Jennifer Lawrence could ever be considered obese, I began raging at the shallowness of this article. What the hell is this, Entertainment Weekly? "Hollywood" (for which I'm using scare quotes on, for reasons to come) labels Lawrence as too fat and the best you can do is take offense of her mention of Val Kilmer not being skinny enough (not that this isn't an issue for men but this is a distraction in the article) and say, "Well, to her credit, she takes the criticism in stride"? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF STANCE IS THAT? You know who in Hollywood is probably criticizing Lawrence's weight? The media - hence the scare quotes around Hollywood. Lord knows it's not just studio system and people working in the industry saying that - it's definitely the magazines and tabloids as well. It would be a wonderful, beautiful thing if once, just once, an entertainment publication to step up and say, "Well, shit guys, you know what? We fucked up. A whole lot of these ideas and comments come from writers like us, and that's not okay. There's a reason why celebrities are always asked about their weight - we ask them. We comment on it. We speculate on it all the time and pull quotes they say but never really say anything substantial in turn. Instead, we just laugh it off with the detour about Val Kilmer and decide Lawrence is fine because she's handling it all right. And maybe that's not the best strategy."

But of course an entertainment magazine won't do that. For one, it's taking a position on this story and as the news (even if it is celebrity news) is supposed to tell "just the facts" then boldly showing their position might piss people off. Also, adding commentary on this might throw off the very reason people buy magazines - to hear about celebrity gossip, not what people think about celebrity gossip. But I think this kind of sucks. Here we have an article that doesn't tell me anything I I haven't already heard and there's no mention of the broader repercussions involved in this - how fans may be affected when reading that the actress playing their favorite character in The Hunger Games is considered fat in Hollywood, what statements like this do towards actors and women and people buying these magazines. It's an article without real substance, a piece that tells us who and what and where and when but not the most important aspects: how and why.

This could easily turn into me critiquing the world of journalism and I don't want to go down that path (not because I don't want to discuss it - I'd love to discuss it - but because it would be a super massive tangent. And we all know this is going to be long enough without that). But I am being more observant and sensitive about these sort of issues after watching the documentary called Killing Us Softly 4 in my cinema and media history class.

If you are interested in watching it - and I recommend it - you can watch it for free here; just scroll down a bit and the video is there. Thanks to fair use and educational means, you can watch the full movie online (it's about 45 minutes long and full of interesting discussion of advertisements). Jean Kilbourne, the woman who made this film and who is talking throughout it, has made four of these films now - four of them - and as she mentions, things are not getting better, they are getting worse.

http://curiositykilled-theinnocent.tumblr.com/post/35279872846
(Because Ellen Degeneres is awesome.)

Watching this documentary in class came shortly after discussing how people can get their message heard in the world of new technology and that certain people have the advantage of getting heard over others. The internet equalizes this a little bit but, of course, one has to have access to the internet in order to use it. That's a severe limitation in itself. But those of us with internet have a sort of power, the ability to have access to a number of thoughts and opinions that we may not get from TV or film or news articles. Of course, every opinion has a position and a certain way of expressing itself. And it was my blog I started thinking about as we discussed this in class. I have a special privilege out here, with the time and ability to maintain a blog that actually gets visibility thanks to Google image searches. This post on feminism is the most popular one on my entire blog (by A LOT) and continues to increase in page views. After seeing Killing Us Softly, I can't help but wondering if my words are doing enough.

I want to be resistant, a bit rebellious, to expose what is not generally show in perhaps the most obvious places. But I also don't want to come off as completely overzealous, overly outraged, and overly angry - because in our modes of communication, this sort of message is never well accepted. Which is too bad. Because I think I'm rather good at the overzealous kind of thing. I worry that perhaps I water thing down too much (this is a blog, not exactly a scholarly archive, after all) or that I'm too apologetic or too forgiving over the issues at stake. Because here's the problem: when you step up and say, "Yo, feminism, let's get this shit done," there is a sudden reaction of, "Wait, hold on - what about all that progress we made?"

http://www.press.uchicago.edu
Progress. Moving forward. Accomplishment. These are things I believe exist but also fundamentally cause issues when talking about anything political. If you would like to have your mind entirely blown, I highly recommend reading The Limits of History by Constantine Fasolt (many thanks to Ben Fink for making me aware of this book's existence). This book, among many things, discusses how formulating something like history itself changes how we thing about the world, the present, the past, and the future and how presenting history in a linear view is problematic. That is a gross simplification of this book - it presents these ideas much more elaborately and poetically - but it'll do for here. The point is, we think of history and time in a very particular way - as moving forward, that the past is unreachable, that we are moving towards the future and either things are getting better or worse.

Of course, it isn't quite that simple. As Doctor Who tells us, things are very "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey." We are still engaged with the past, constantly building upon it, and yet detached from it, as we can no longer see it. We are constantly moving into the future, every second, every millisecond, and yet we're also entirely in the present, unable to know what tomorrow will bring (yay, metaphysics!). So when you start talking about progress, it gets really muddy. Today is better than what? Worse than what? Can you really compare now to the beginning of the 20th century when something like the internet and blogging and computers and TVs and radios were unexpected? But can you also really say that those times were so different, that those people were so different, that they were nothing like we are today? What exactly is progress in the scheme of things like this? Are just living in the Matrix? (Gah, no, not that argument... I can't deal with that argument right now.)

And so, when discussing feminism, it's hard to talk about what's better and what's worse. Yes, of course I am grateful that women can vote and have more autonomy over their lives and that the idea of arranged marriages is considered something from "the past." But at the same time, I want to be clear that it's hard to draw comparisons to the past when it's both the same and entirely different. When people voice objections to how women are currently treated, the mention of "but look how far we come" is both necessary and yet terribly hurtful. Yes, it is important to remember what we have gained, but at the same time, how is that presented? Do we talk about how suffragettes were beaten and harmed during protests? Do we talk about how advertising has completely changed how we think about female bodies? Do we talk about how these representations of women affect BOTH how men and women think and how men are represented as well? Do we talk about racial minorities and how they are overlooked in regards to these issues? Do we talk about GLBT groups and how certain practices of feminism come across as extremely phobic of groups such as transsexuals? We are told we should be grateful - but grateful for what? Sometimes it seems like a distraction from how complicated these issues really are.

http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net
It is especially difficult when the history of feminism itself is misrepresented. Two instances come to mind. One is Killing Us Softly itself. Despite the fact that four of these films have been made, there is little more than passing discussion of racial minorities in the US and GLBT groups. Four of these movies and such little focus has been taken? Feminism itself is about equality for all, but it hasn't always been practiced this way. Racial minorities have been greatly overlooked, resulting in the formation of a different movement known as womanism. When the practice of feminism should be bringing people together for the same cause, it is instead fracturing and dividing. Why? Partly because those who get heard the most are middle class white American women (like yours truly, I'm afraid). Also, much of what gets notice and eventually adapted into society are the more conservative sides of feminism, the parts that society is willing to accept because not much has to change in order for these ideas to become actualities. And for this reason, it is much harder for groups like racial minorities and GLBT members to be recognized when society would actually have to do some real changing to treat them equally.

It's not that I dislike what Killing Us Softly is doing; I love it and I don't think there's enough of it in society. But it in itself need to do more. It's time we stop recognizing that feminists exist and recognize that feminism is about more than just one small group - it's much more expansive than that. Or at least it should be.

However, doing this is an uphill battle, mainly because of the second instance where feminism is misrepresented. Watch this awesome video (many thanks to Emma for reblogging this on Tumblr and bringing it to my attention) and see what I mean:


Dude, this guy rocks. But see what I mean about an uphill battle? We're still fighting against the freaking idea that feminists burned bras. I never even knew that it didn't happen - not for sure, at least. I figured it was an over-exaggeration but that the event never occurred? Check it out, peeps - here's the link on Scopes. Just in case you are a skeptic, or you like to fact check (like me). If I were writing and trying to think of a way to prevent a certain plot device from occurring, I couldn't come up with better bullshit than this. I mean, seriously... it's damnably difficult to fight for rights when the people who are fighting for it are represented as crazy extremists.

http://www.swccd.edu/~ssh/images/Quotes/Afro.jpg
Now that I've made us all terribly depressed about the state of feminism, let's remember what I said before about progress - it's really difficult to judge. Which means I'm not going to say things are better or worse than they have been or that they're going to get better. I think things can get better, but it's going to take a lot more than me blogging about it - not that blogging about it is bad. It's something. And something is far better than doing nothing at all. But I think it needs to be discussed more. I'm not saying go all out and talk about nothing but feminism, that's not exactly helpful either. No, real, meaningful discussion needs to be had. The Martin Luther King Jr. quote to the right perfectly articulates what I think the problem is - people are afraid to speak up, afraid to be labeled a feminist because of the connotation it carries, afraid because of terms like "feminazi" and the way the media personifies feminists. I admit, standing up and stating you are a feminist can be scary at first; though it shouldn't be, it is. Because challenging the way things are is a bit scary. But do not be afraid; you are not alone.

http://www.standard.co.uk
However, don't take this as me saying you should go out and become and uber-feminist and start a revolution (however, if you do this, you can pretty much count me in). Because while the issues surrounding feminism and the ideas of progress can be very complex, the expression of feminism doesn't have to be. Look at Jennifer Lawrence, not giving a rat's ass as to what anyone in Hollywood thinks about her body. Check out Louise Brealey from Sherlock being an absolutely fabulous human being (many thanks, Paulina, for sending me this article). Feminism doesn't have to be about starting campaigns or protests or revolts. It's simply about determination and being vocal. Like I said, having your voice heard is easier for some than others (and remember, I seem to have an advantage). But that doesn't make it impossible. Speak out - not because you feel you have to be heard or because you want there to be someone listening, but because you would want someone else do the same for you.

http://eclecticlibra.tumblr.com/

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Different Shade of Gray

Maybe I'm being over-saturated with Tumblr images and it's beginning to affect my brain, but I had a very strange realization upon rereading The Picture of Dorian Gray the other day. Generally, in film, Dorian Gray is performed by someone who looks like this:

http://ia.media-imdb.com
Even in early black and white versions and in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he is a dark-haired fellow with serious vanity issues. But here is how he is described by Oscar Wilde:
Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once (18). 
And a few pages later:
He was bareheaded, and the leaves had tossed his rebellious curls and tangled all their gilded threads (23).
Wilde's Gray has golden curly hair. Fangirls/squees of the same genres I inhabit, I hope that I am not alone when I state that this was the first person who popped into my mind when picturing Dorian Gray:

http://profile-a.xx.fbcdn.net
Dammit, Oscar Wilde, I love you, but really? Of course you can't be blamed for me making such an association but still.... the golden curls and everything? *sigh*.... Yes indeed, before I even realized it, my brain had cast the lovely Tom Hiddleston in the role of Dorian Gray. Besides the fact that Hiddleston in this role would be bloody brilliant (hear that, filmmakers of the world? I have a suggestion for you...), the story of Dorian Gray dwells on acting and performance a bit and art in general. And, being the slightly unusual sort of person that I am, I progressed reading the book differently than I would have before due to this mental casting choice. Now, the many mentions of acting and art were constantly being compared to the modern world of acting and my favorite celebs.

At one part of the book, where things starting going a bit... awry for dear Dorian, Basil Hallward, painter, intellectual, and a guy with a serious crush on Dorian, is trying to convince him of his inner goodness and describes his beauty, telling him, "...you are made to be worshiped" (119). He admits his love and admiration to Dorian, who simply accepts it as a compliment. Basil is a bit put out by this and states, "It was not intended as a compliment. It was a confession. Now that I have made it, something seems to have gone out of me. Perhaps one should never put one's worship into words" (119).

Hi, Basil. I think you're a hardcore fangirl. And I don't think it's going so well for you. 

Basil's reaction to his confession turned compliment caused me to begin pondering something I've often wondered but haven't really delved into too much blogging-wise: what would it be like to meet a celebrity? While Dorian is not exactly a celebrity, he is well-known in the upper class areas of London and the worshiping and idolization people treat him with... well, it's not so far off from celebrity culture itself. And thus, with Basils' confession turned sour, I began to wonder a bit more what the interaction between fans and celebrities is like.

I have very limited experience with this. I saw NASCAR driver Tony Stewart at an autograph signing at the Mall of American when I was twelve. I also saw Marlee Matlin at MOA by accident, when she was doing an autograph signing as well. I'm pretty sure my professor Robin is a celebrity and he's just not telling anyone. Other than that - nada. Sure, I saw President Obama from a distance, but didn't meet him. I've met a few local politicians and such but have never personally met someone we as a society would consider a celebrity. No one who's well known for writing books or making movies or so on. So, I can only ponder what this would be like.

And of course, because the world is a very, very strange, place, I also happened to stumble across these posts online whilst perusing Oscar Wilde's great novel with Dorian Gray cast as Hiddleston in my mind. One such one was this (and it could not make this weird connection between celeb culture and Dorian Gray any clearer to me):

http://eirwencorentin.tumblr.com/post/34524232121
Now, the angle I'm coming at this from might be a bit weird and is going to take a bit of explaining, mainly because it's my strange, pattern-driven brain connecting dots and making strange correlations. So bear with me as I outline this before I fill in the blanks and color in the lines. As you might recall from this blog post with an absolutely absurdist title, Mr. Hiddleston is known for having some complicated fans. This was recently recalled to mind by this post I saw on my dash:


A well-written post that politely but powerfully conveys a point - "fangirling is cool but please don't go to extremes in your adoration." It's interesting for me to read these as someone who has never met a celebrity because, of course, one wonders what his/her reaction would be upon meeting their favorite actor/singer/athlete/etc. I can't speak for other fangirls, but I confess that around 80% of my daydreams involve meeting celebrities and thus, I spend a great deal of time wondering about it. I worry that I would dissolve into either a gelatinous mess or SPEAK LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME IN A HIGH SQUEAKY VOICE AND RAMBLE WITH RUN-ON SENTENCES AND FEEL EMBARRASSED FOR MYSELF AND THEN NOT BE ABLE TO SLEEP WELL FOR A WEEK BECAUSE I'D KEEP REMINDING MYSELF OF HOW MUCH OF A DORK I AM. In retrospect, I don't understand why I find daydreaming about celebrities fun at all. It sounds like it should be kind of stressful, doesn't it?

Here's why it's not; I present to you yet another (surprise, surprise) Tumblr post:


(Okay, hold on, I'm terribly distracted that this post was reblogged from a Tumblr blog titled Lokisspookybooty. Wow, that's a clever use of rhyme. Okay, okay, back on track...)

If, in said daydreams one is doing epic, awesome, impossible things, and actually able to talk in full sentences and not worry about squeaking in a high, strained voice as if one's caplocks was permanently on, then things are different. Also, fighting mountain trolls is never not epic so, you know, kudos to whoever created this post.

Of course, there is still the lingering worry that one would look like a dork, or (perhaps worse) become one of those overly-ecstatic fans that does nothing but screams shrilly and whom other fans dislike for being over-dramatic. Maybe other people don't worry about becoming stalkers, but I worry about this, if only because I have a bit of an addictive personality and thus manage myself with a bit more critical distance and self-reflection than maybe the average fan does (or maybe more of us do it and just never happen to speak of it). If one of my famous actors was in a nearby vicinity, you can bet I'd be high-tailing it over to that location (what are you talking about? I hang out at MSP Airport all the time...). At what point does that become not okay? At what point does it become weird knowing that Tom Hiddleston is in Iceland vs. searching where Tom Hiddleston is currently located vs. being in Iceland and happening to find out that Hiddleston is in Iceland and wandering past that part of town vs. finding out that he is in Iceland and purposefully going to his hotel and pretending to work as a maid to get into his room?

Yeah, that did escalate quickly. Sorry about that. But I feel like that's possibly how this stuff goes. One idea leads to another and then - either suddenly or slowly - you're one of "those" fans. This doesn't happen for everyone, obviously, or even that many at all, but for some it does. Why? Who knows. You'd have to take it as a case by case basis and we'd be here for the next twenty years trying to sort it all out. It's not just a simple "fans did this because of this" answer. It's something a whole lot more complicated.

But, if you want to continue on more complicated... here comes our good friend Oscar Wilde with a fine work of English literature. Clearly, Oscar Wilde was not writing directly about fan culture and he's not going to be able to answer any of the above questions. But his beautiful phrasing and occasional moral ambiguity leaves plenty of opportunities to tie it to modern fan culture. Why? Because Dorian Gray.

http://salmanlatif.wordpress.com
Dear Mr. Gray starts off as a lovely, beautiful gentleman with boyish good looks and a heart of gold. He meets the devious Lord Henry Wotton and is "poisoned" by a book that causes him to obsess with vanity, appearances, and hedonism and ends (SPOILERS) ruining people's lives, killing people, and getting generally fucked up. After rereading this, I'm honestly surprised that there hasn't been a huge remake of Dorian Gray as a destroyed Hollywood celebrity - he certainly seems to be the personification of what Hollywood fame is portrayed doing to people such as Lindsey Lohan and Amanda Bynes. Of course, the question remains for these celebrities - what brought them to this? One could argue that it was fan culture, fame itself that drove them towards this. The paparazzi alone must be a burden and being famous tends to be an excuse to act a certain way, at least from the rumors of Bynes saying she's worth $26 million thus she can do whatever she wants.

However, from the Tumblr posts I've shown, it's not things like paparazzi or fame getting to celebs like Hiddleston - it's worrying about the fans. It's fans hacking into his Facebook and spreading rumors that he died (so I'm new to the Hiddleston fandom and had no idea this happened... yikes). It's a fear that love in certain expressions (perhaps in its "confession" form) will change people like Hiddleston and lead them towards a more cynical end. It's an understandable fear, one I'd worry about and one I worry about for myself. It being election season and all, my cynicism is at a higher rate than usual just because all of this finger-pointing is getting old really fast.

But in terms of fan culture, this is really worrying. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Basil's friendship with Lord Henry leads Henry to meet Dorian and fundamentally change the person that Dorian is. Henry is also a fan of Dorian, but of a different sort, the sort who proclaims, "I love acting. It is so much more real than life" (84). It is not that he confuses reality and fiction but that he finds fiction more real than reality. He is the sort of person cultural studies would greatly dislike and the sort of man the "worst" of fans would be compared to. I honestly don't know if people like Henry exist in our world; he is so humorously dark and complex that I both love and hate him. But then I think of my friend's friend Nick who parties and drinks to excess despite his two DWIs and is fun to be around even though he can be cruel and unkind. And then I want to ask Oscar Wilde how he could possibly be so relevant to modern society despite the fact that he published this book 122 years ago.

To clear up this meandering, I don't think that fans - the average, the extreme, and all in between - are exactly like either Basil or Henry. Perhaps some individuals are, but as a sum total, that's an impossible comparison. However, there are aspects of them that are relevant. Basil's reaction after his confession, for instance. I have never told a famous person that they mean the world to me (not in person, at least). But I can understand how this might backfire. This is rare, I am sure, but I think of cases where one of my favorite famous people suddenly has their reputation tarnished (Lance Armstrong... *sobs*) and how my appreciation for them feels lost. Once, I told an acquaintance how Benedict Cumberbatch was the best thing ever or something to that respect and her response was a sarcastic, "Well, he's one of the best things ever" and I suddenly wanted to curl up in the corner, feeling worthless and rejected and, as Basil said, "as if something seem[ed] to have gone out of me." The point was utterly lost on her and I just felt silly.

http://fmobserver.com
And then I think about meeting celebrities more and how many fans they have already met and the impressions they have made and how much I already know about them just from having a Tumblr and realize there is no way in hell I am ever fighting mountain trolls with these guys (the nonexistence of mountain trolls being irrelevant in this instance). I know too much about them to hang out with them like we're bros. I know too much about them to just go up to them and say, "Hey, how's it going? I'm sort of a fan of how you turn every film your in into a majestic cinematic masterpiece." I'd be trying to make small talk about how I like the band Bon Iver with Mr. Hiddleston while secretly knowing he loves Bon Iver and tweets about their music and acting surprised when he tells me this and trying to ignore the fact that I'd feel like a poser for liking Bon Iver as if I'd just started listening to the band because he tweeted it when SECRETLY I'VE KNOW ABOUT BON IVER SINCE I WAS A FRESHMAN AND WHY DO I LISTEN TO THE SAME MUSIC AS HIDDLESTON I DON'T GET IT. (Sorry, caps locks was necessary there for obnoxious effect.) I'd be afraid to act like a fan in case I was being rude and acting like every other person who walked up to them and was only interested because they were famous (this Walt Disney quote I found while writing a paper only made this sort of thing worse: "I have no use for people who throw their weight around as celebrities, or for those who fawn over you just because you are famous." *sigh*). I'd be afraid to not act like a fan because there is too much I know about said celebrity that it'd be weird and creepy and deceitful to pretend otherwise, and because, dammit, I'm proud of being a fan and enjoy it. But I just want to treat them like a normal human being why is that so hard?!

Yeah, this is what I think about when I should be paying attention to motivation concepts in I/O psychology...

In the end, there's this fear that somebody is going to turn into Dorian Gray (minus the Faustian soul-selling with the portrait and whatnot). Either it's going to be the celebrity in terms that fame got to their head or the fans or paparazzi drove them to it, or it's the fans who prove that "they were right when they said we should never meet our heroes" (song lyric from Metric's "Breathing Underwater." Thank you, the Current, for providing random music for me to sprinkle throughout my blog posts). I'm the sort that would like to blame society, the system, something outside and external for influencing us, something beyond Dorian's poisoned book. But then there's this sobering thought:

http://hanfred28.tumblr.com/post/34333920521
Depressing, right? It seems we're doomed by our culture, our fascination with fame, whatever you choose to pinpoint what causes our obsession with celebrities, the problems of celebrity culture, the problems of fan culture, and so on. But here's the problem: this assumes we're going to act like Dorian Gray. Dorian, as fascinating a character as he might be, is a bit daft at times. He completely lets Henry influence him and agrees with everything Henry says, no matter how outrageous or unkind it may be. He allows himself to be corrupted. Oh, look - it's an argument about agency. Perhaps if Dorian had resisted Henry's control, he could have thought for himself and kept himself from falling prey to the power of Henry's ideas. Or perhaps Dorian really enjoyed screwing with people and only felt bad about it later when he realized it was destroying his soul. It's up to your interpretation, really. Point is, we're not necessarily Dorian Gray. And neither are our celebrities.

Because here's the clincher: some of them honestly HONESTLY seem to love their fans. They really, really do. Hiddleston wants to sign autographs and talk to his fans. Cumberbatch gushes about all of the support he receives. They seem flattered that their fans care so much, but not like Mr. Gray who gets smug over it - they seem take fan reactions as compliments (ever so humbly) but also understand that we as fans are confessing something, voicing something. In this way, they are fundamentally different from Dorian Gray.

This, of course, is not to say they are "perfect." This holds them to dangerous ideals, the sort that Basil creates in his worship for Dorian, and the sort that I've described as being a bit worried about, as it holds celebrities to unrealistic standards and doesn't allow them to make mistakes. But they're human - they're going to make mistakes. And I feel that if we really care about and appreciate a person, then we're going to support them even in their mistakes.

And so, if I may address you, celebrities: make mistakes. Be unpolished. Mistakes are part of a growing process and part of being human. But stay gold, Ponyboy. (I swear, if you get that last reference, I will buy you a drink of your choice. Seriously. I am getting more and more obscure over here.) That being said, I don't think I really have to say it. These fine young men with their splendid cheekbones don't need my advice and speculations; they seem to be doing rather marvelously without it. But, you know, just in case I'm wrong... here's my ridiculously long post on it. I hope this makes some semblance of sense.

http://24.media.tumblr.com

All citations from:
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.