Sunday, December 2, 2012

"immense fan energy unleashed"

Hypable, which launched last year, is aimed at a Harry Potter-like audience of tweens, teens and young adults, mostly female. That means lots of coverage of the "Twilight" series and "The Hunger Games" and less emphasis on, say, "Star Wars," which Sims said attracts an older male audience.

[Professor Karen] North, at USC, said entertainment companies are similarly scrambling to harness the immense fan energy unleashed by sites such as Mugglenet.

Two things. First, the above-quoted article on fan labor in the Orange County Register is by Jim Hinch, who is also the author of the amazing pan of Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve in LA Review of Books that's been going around.

Second, and the reason I'm posting: it's not quite clear whose language this is—Hinch's or North's—but it seems telling that fan labor is imagined as a sort of natural resource, whose "energy" is "unleashed" by fan sites and can be "harnessed" (read: profited on) by the entertainment industry. Of course this is labor that is being appropriated. What's interesting about the language through which it is understood, here, is that it so explicitly routes that appropriation through an identification of (primarily young female) labor with natural resources, imagined as free for the taking. This usually doesn't end well.

(On fan labor, I highly recommend Abigail De Kosnik's essay in Digital Labor: The Internet as Factory and Playground.)

17 comments:

skg said...

Most of the Harry Potter-specific sites, arguably including Mugglenet, have already not ended well, and not only because HP has crested or jumped the shark or whatever. For the larger issue, see various pages at Fanlore. I would contest the "young" aspect of "primarily young female," FWIW.

Natalia said...

I don't know the real demographics of these sites, obviously; that's just how they're characterized in the article (in the first block-quoted paragraph). That's the demographic whose labor is being imagined as a natural resource.

Anonymous said...

I would comment, but I refuse to subjugate my masculine-energies-as-natural-resources to the exploitation of English department hegemony, hungry to profit from criticism of its second-age gilded reproduction of over-priveledge femininity.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ. Fan fiction may be a huge waste of time but it is nothing at all like forced labor. To say otherwise is insane.

Oh, but perhaps you are not using "slavery" in a pejorative sense... You have some special, different, secret meaning for your word, just as you did with puerile! This is what's so nice about contemporary work in English: no one can ever criticize you because you don't have to mean anything! It is always a defense to say "I don't use the word X in its perfectly standard dictionary definition, I use it in the special sense that either English scholars broadly or I personally just made up!"

It is nauseating that good people in philosophy, history, math and many other disciplines struggle to find good jobs at universities while rank bullshit like this gets published and funded and entire departments exist to propagate it.

I value the humanities, but it is far too easy for people who don't to tar the whole division by pointing to stuff like this and saying "Look! Isn't this garbage? Isn't it obvious that we don't need to invest precious, finite university resources in this!" How can anyone argue?

Anonymous said...

Of course, the labor is not being appropriated any more than your labor is being appropriated to produce profits for Twitter or Blogspot. Yet you continue to create posts at those sites. In fact, you are also appropriating the labor of the people who created and who work at Twitter and Blogspot, without issuing any direct payment to them. Everyone is using everyone else! Maybe you find this problematic, too. But then again you are posting on Twitter and Blogspot, so you obviously can't find it THAT problematic.

Anonymous said...

I can tell already that Cecire is going to be really annoyed in a few minutes. She's going to say that she sees nothing wrong with people providing things for other people without payment, but that the point of the essay is that fan energy shouldn't be seen as a natural resource, and that the word "harnessing" implies something which is done without the consent of the thing that is being harnessed.

Never mind that she never explains what it means for fan energy to be like a natural resource. This is the key to the piece, because if she explained this, she would have to recognize that the creators of the original content have some ownership of the fan energy too, and she would have to recognize that "harnessing" fan energy, in context, would never imply fans doing something against their will.

Her description of what it means to "harness" places additional connotations on Hinch's writing that are never spelled out in the original piece. Yet, if we attach additional significance to Cecire's choice of words from the way that we read and understand her language, she would ball up and argue that we just don't understand what she means and we're being quite unfair/stupid. The question then is, does she imagine that North actually imagines fan labor as being like a natural resource that appeared from nothing, or is this language just imperfect shorthand for a more nuanced understanding? How does Cecire know that the words here mean what Cecire imagines them to mean?

Anonymous said...

natalia pls go

Anonymous said...

Who will join me in condemning the Obama campaign for appropriating the labor of its young "volunteers?"

Anonymous said...

Please shut up and go away until you have learned to construct a serious argument and defend it in a principled way, rather than throwing up an ink cloud of verbiage to conceal your cluelessness. As it is, when you write, you make the world a worse place.

Anonymous said...

^ You came to her blog to tell her to go away? Genius.

skg said...

Goodness, you anonymice have a lot of energy to no purpose.

Re: "young", yes, fair re: the blockquote. I was poking at its characterization of "a Harry Potter-like audience" as being "tweens, teens and young adults," but for once I was too brief.

Ethan M.R. said...

This is gonna be a pretty content-free comment, but I just want to say, good god. And Natalia, I really hope that these people aren't getting you too down.

Also, the book you describe in your "about" sidebar, coming from you, sounds so exciting that I wish it was done right now so I could be reading it, right now. And I hope that will be taken in the least pressurizing way possible.

Richard said...

Heaven forbid you people comment under real or even assumed names.

Joanne said...

Uh - why do we have to leave ourselves open to future repercussions in order to call her out on her bullshit?

Oh I get it. Debate in the humanities is mostly about the name and the PhD you have, not the actual logic and reasoning behind your arguments. Sorry. My bad.

Richard said...

Wow. How does using a persistent handle leave you open to future repercussions? Conversations with multiple "anonymous" commenters are simply not possible. (Meanwhile, I have no PhD, nor any credentials. Don't be a baby.)

Natalia said...

Richard, Ethan, S -- kindly refrain from feeding the trolls.

S: you're right about the site designers' assumptions about youth, of course! But I wonder if that assumption will make much difference in the construction of the site.

Ethan: Thanks for your kind words about my book. It's happening slowly!

Joanne said...

They're not agreeing with me, hence they're trolling. Blah blah.

You're being disingenuous at best when you call your critics "trolls", Cecire. While some of the anonymous posts are idiotic attacks, there are quite a few good-natured, well-reasoned arguments which you seemingly have no intention to respond to beyond dismissing them all as "trolls". This is why you deserve no respect.