Saturday, October 23, 2010

Browncoat Ball

Yesterday, I attended Day 1 of the 2010 Browncoat Ball. (The picture shows a Firefly soaring over the Charlotte skyline.) I'm a member of the Charlotte Browncoats (although not exactly in good standing in terms of attendance lately) and one of the organizers had approached me to ask if I could put together an author panel for the opening day of the shindig.

Turns out I could!

I have several "conference friends" within driving distance who write and publish on Whedon who agreed in a flash. We assembled like the Avengers and made plans to hawk our wares at the "space bazaar," then lead an hour-long panel on what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. When asked by a passerby what these books were about, I quipped that we write "fan non-fic." I think I like the term.

I'll admit that I didn't really know how this would turn out. The Browncoat Ball is definitely a fan event rather than a pointy-headed academic event (while popcult academic events are pretty much devoid of the snooty professor types, the stereotype lingers) and I'm there with a book that retails for $35. (The publisher's main audience is libraries, not individuals.) I offered the book for the discount I receive - actually, I had two prices; one for Browncoats and a jacked-up one for any of the Alliance faithful. So I went, lugging my box o' books, fully expecting to lug it home again.


I only have two copies left from my box, which I'll just hold on to rather than return. Just as gratifying to me, I have more than $40 in donations to Equality Now - a charity close to the heart of many a Browncoat. I offered to autograph any books I sold in return for a donation of any amount. ("Any amount?" one person asked, possibly working their way over to slyness. "Sure," I said, "Just think of how much it's worth to not have women stoned to death and put that in the jar." Plenty of singles, but at least there wasn't jingling change in the jar.)

The best part? The people. I hadn't done a fan event in quite a while and I think I forgot how much sheer joy is involved. Whedon once said that "the future is the past in a blender" and he used that approach in Firefly. In the bazaar, I sat behind my table and yakked to everyone passing by. I saw amazing henna tattoos, gorgeous Asian-inspired fabrics, very funny Hawaiian shirt fabric (my favorite was either the fortune cookie one or the dinosaur/spacefield one), and one terrifyin' space monkey in a Kaylee dress (complete with hair ribbon!).

While the crowd at our talk was small (let's face it, we were scheduled opposite the burlesque class!), they were dedicated, asking insightful questions and showing more than polite interest. Then it was back to my house on the Rim while the luau got rolling. I can only imagine the actual Ball tonight!

Fans in groups. They can move the world.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fan-Scholars and Scholar-Fans

I'm just back from the annual Popular & American Culture Associations in the South conference. This is a major regional academic conference devoted to the developments in the field, where I presented on Whedon's Dollhouse and cinematic theory. In two weeks, I'm presenting at the annual Browncoat Ball, which is a very "fan" event. Since I'm whipsawing from "scholar" to "fan" gathering, this seems like a perfect time to bring up this point.

There are scholars who devote their academic careers to the careful, thoughtful study of popular culture - the study of the works of Joss Whedon, let's say. There are also fans who throw themselves into these created fictional worlds in other ways, creating elaborate backstories, writing fan fiction and so on. See here for an example. When studying popular culture, is there a difference between a "fan-scholar" and a "scholar-fan"? If so, exactly what is the difference?

When recently asked this question, I mouthed off that yes, there is a difference and it's likely to be rooted in the degree of critical rigor one brings to the analysis and examination of the works being considered. However, I'm not sure I like my own definition - I know some hard-core fans whose attention to detail is worthy of immense respect and my flippant response seems to dismiss the fan who sews her own Kaylee hoopskirted dress.

So maybe it's not the "critical rigor" but the overall passion that is brought to bear on the project. Knowing how much time, effort, sweat, stress, and occasionally tears and (just once, I think) hissy fits go into every (well, every decent) paper, presentation, essay, chapter, or book - well, I can't imagine expending that much energy on something that I disliked. (Can't you imagine that? Working for two years on [let's say] a Marxist reading of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park through permanently gritted teeth while you mutter over and over, "I freaking hate this woman!" It's enough to drive one to gambling.)

And there's another problem with my definition - there are people who do expend tremendous amounts of energy on "anti-fan" Websites - consider the full-out hatred of Wesley Crusher in this site, for example. Or this blog posting (not a full site, I'll grant you, but I'm on my first cup of coffee) devoted to anti-Martha Stewart love.

So there goes another perfectly good, bunny-less theory. (It's a "Once More, With Feeling" reference - if you didn't get it, just let it go.) People are willing to devote huge amounts of time to things/people/shows that they in actuality dislike.