I have of late been spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about the meaning of a blog and the rhetorical mechanisms which operate within the blogosphere. Conducting research for my undergraduate thesis on blogging communities has been something of a revelation for me. I have been pursuing perhaps the less ‘serious’ side of the spheres by traveling through fan communities.
Fanaticism aside, these communities present some very peculiar and remarkable characteristics. Given that we here at Antigone solicit artwork, and in view of the community which this has created for us, I find it interesting that many of these blogging communities engage in the same practices. Indeed, I have come across and continue to encounter numerous calls for submissions of icons and banners which re-signify and re-present the aesthetic of their shows. Linked to each other in a complex web of dialogue, videos and collages speak for these fans in a way which reverberates across the net. A reverberation which carries greater currency than their words alone.
The graphics of fan-communities and journals are much less ephemeral than the dialogues themselves, which are edited, deleted, and archived. Indeed, graphics travel among sites with surprising fluidity. Graphics are in a sense palimpsests denoting the fluctuating cultural currency of their signifiers. If, for example, a fan takes a relationship between two characters and ‘transposes’ its structure onto another plane–a friendship to an affair, a friend to an enemy–sameness and difference are re-negotiated through the liberating fluidity of digital space.
Quite often, fan blogs are run by and catered to women. Consisting of fan-fiction, digital art, and commentary these blogs stage a complex re-writing of the canons of their respective shows. The writing back which occurs between fansites and television is a fecund site of creativity, spawning a lineage of material from one story (or show) based on previously unrecognized demand. Indeed, blogs provide a formum for recognition, allowing for the rapid creation and modification of group identity. It is not uncommon for shows to sollicit their fans’ approval or suggestions and to use outspoken fans to gauge audience approval. Narrative and character are adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, however, what I have noticed, apart from the appallingly bad fiction they create, is that these communities often reinforce entrenched notions of femininity, which the shows they mimic do not.
I refer here in particular to the phenomenon of the shipper. A shortened moniker denoting a person who endorses a relationship (in any form) between any two characters, shipper communities commit some of the greatest sins and equally achieve great triumphs in representing women. The harlequinesque re-writing of canonical characters, as for example, when “Scully” the chaste becomes sexually ‘liberated’ within a fan’s narrative, is a paradox of agency. On the one hand, the fan is asserting a preference independent of the show’s trajectory; but, on the other, she uses the paradigm of repression in order to do so. Emerging from the narrative prison in which she is enchained, the character liberates her desire, and conquers the man. While the initiative here is admirable, I question the terms of its achievement. These stories commonly re-write female characters within thinly veiled pornography scripts. Instead of celebrating their international distribution as paragons of independence and intelligence to a wider audience, these blogs take female characters into an even more constraining discourse. And then the blogs’ authors engage in a self-narrative and reflect on their lives around these narratives, modeling their subjectivities, their ‘selves’ upon a false version of agency. The question is, I suppose, whether we can write or film the ’emancipated’ woman’s sexuality outside of these terms. How do we transpose the leader into a erotic landscape without placing limits on agency? It’s a difficult question, one I’m hoping some of our dreams for women submissions might address…
However, in the annals of fan-fiction archives a curious cross-breeding between shows often occurs as characters cross narrative lines and populate the discourse of a show for which they are not a persona. This to me signals the liberating potential of blogs as sites which defy the limits of discourses. These blog sites proliferate in and populate the in-between spaces: the silences between episodes, between shows, between networks. These blogs are also often collectively funded and exist in freeware or shared spaces, reclaiming ‘leisure’ for their own purposes sometimes outside of class difference.
What does this mean you might ask? Well, it means that art-projects, like Antigone’s Dreams for Women, are part of a visual turn that shirks the pitfalls which appear to plague fan-fiction. The stories encoded in our postcards are freed from precedent since they take and re-work previously existing images without the hindrance of discourse. Just like “icons” borrow images and re-locate them, our postcards carry our messages of hope across continents.
All this in the name of art. Call me an idealist, but it’s a nice thought, no?
Come check out our exhibit in the AMS Art Gallery from Oct 6-10th!