Friday, August 15, 2014

Woman on Top: Feminism and Subversion of Themes, Roles, Gaze in STARZ’ Outlander Episode 101

[graphic: STARZ via IMDB.com]
Outlander’s overwhelmingly female fanbase has been waiting more than 20 years for the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s eponymous first bestseller. The author turned down a number of opportunities for the book to be realized as a movie, but it was Ron D. Moore’s treatment as a cable TV series that got the nod.

Since the series was announced over a year ago, fans expressed concern as to whether the series would adequately reflect the rich history of two war-shattered periods — the aftermath of World War II, and the ramp-up to Scotland’s 1745 Jacobite uprising. The book had been pigeon-holed as a romance when first published, though it crosses historical, sci-fi, fantasy, and romance genres. Would the series fully realize the breadth of these fiction categories?

But readers also worried about the preservation of the book’s strong female protagonist, Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, and the feminist themes she represents. Feminists point out that the series is helmed by a man, and only one of four directors are female. Could the show tell Claire’s story with so much testosterone on board, and not revert to a male-centric swashbuckler?

Dinna fash, as the Scots might say — not to worry. The first episode demonstrates in subtle but deep detail that this is not the usual fare. We are definitely “outland” of traditional cable series.

Let’s take a fine-toothed comb to this first hour of programming, giving it the deep analysis this long-awaited adaptation merits. It bore the additional burden of establishing canon for viewers not familiar with the book, while adding new reinforcing content to replace the level of detail only the text could provide.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD — LOTS OF THEM.

It’s important to remember as viewers we don’t know how much of these details were created consciously or unconsciously. But we can analyze them for what they may say to us at both levels. Details are listed here by the minute:second they appear in Episode 101.

Caitriona Balfe’s name appears first in the cast listed during the title sequence. Modified as the theme for the series, the lyrics to the traditional Skye song, have been changed from 'lad' in reference to Bonnie Prince Charlie, to 'lass' in reference to Claire.

The hour opens with Claire in voice over, looking at a shot of Glen Coe, Scotland — the beauty of which transcends conflict and is beyond time in appearance. Like the book, this story is told from Claire’s perspective — hence her voice first and the lack of a gendered gaze. By way of her voice it’s implied her thoughts are more important than her appearance.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Loving "Bad Jane": Pride and Prejudice and the Too-Good Sister/Daughter/Mother

"Got a light, big boy?"
[Based on C.E. Brock's Bingley and Sandy from Grease]
The Derbyshire Writers' Guild Tea Room features a rather intense thread examining the rationale behind "bad Jane" characters in Pride and Prejudice fan fiction.

That so many writers and readers alike enjoy a "bad Jane" does not surprise me, nor does the dynamic discussion about Jane's relative merits. This hints at a key reason why Austen's Pride and Prejudice remains her most popular and successful novel — the underlying archetypes speak deeply to us, and they communicate successfully. The real mystery is how a single woman could write out a comprehensive ancient mythos using so many archetypes in sync and with such clarity that most readers don't see them yet enjoy the story they tell.

It's important to understand that P&P is not about a single character. It's an ensemble, a system that works well, each of its different components serving a critical purpose.

The novel itself mirrors a portion of the women's mythos — the story we tell each other about what being an adult woman requires, how to become one successfully as we move from maiden to wife/mother. P&P is a women's bildungsroman, in other words.

While most readers follow the Elizabeth-and-Darcy storyline most closely, the other components tell us very deep things about womanhood in an economy of words.

The five daughters are not independent; they are each of them an extension of the uber-mother, telling us what is successful as mother and daughter alike. Each daughter represents a specific model of emerging womanhood, from which we are to learn.

1) Jane — The too-good sister/daughter/mother — In which we see complete investment of the mother and minor investment of the father; this child has learned complete control over herself.

2) Elizabeth — The good-enough sister/daughter/mother — Exemplifies more paternal investment and a more hands-off approach on the part of the mother.

3) Mary — The intellectual abandoned sister/daughter/mother — Parents utterly fail this child, who strives to replace the knowledge and wisdom of parents but without any guidance.

4) Kitty — The incurious abandoned sister/daughter/mother — Again, parents utterly fail this child, but she cannot even see her way to replace missing knowledge and wisdom.

5) Lydia — The animalistic sister/daughter/mother — Father fails grossly, while mother identifies too closely with this child, indulging all the animal urges without restraint.

Each of these models have varying degrees of attachment to their parents. These variations teach us something about the role of parents in their daughters' lives and their respective likely outcomes.

We've seen these models before. They appear again and again in fairy and folk tales, once told by mothers and grandmothers to their daughters in front of the hearth. They were unconscious guides to help guide pre-literate people.

Friday, January 10, 2014

General Resources for Fan Fiction

Graphic: Fan fiction in the Making,
by Kalexanderson via Flickr
A community member at Meryton.com's A Happy Assembly asked about general resources for fan fiction writers. By general they meant fandom agnostic — resources of use to writers of any fan community.

This is a pretty big topic; what makes it so large is the number of possible fandoms, and the highly individual nature of each fandom. A writer driven to create fan fiction must be motivated enough to seek out content related to the focus of their personal fanaticism, as well as other fellow fans. There's not much one can do to supplement this drive apart from telling them to use a search engine.

However, there are some pretty obvious places to look for other fan fiction authors and their content — the major fandom-agnostic fan fiction platforms:
  • FanFiction.Net — The mac daddy of fan fiction sites, in terms of both size and age
  • ArchiveOfOurOwn.org (AO3) — The fan fiction site of the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), differentiated by its status as a nonprofit dedicated to supporting all fan fiction work; OTW also publishes regular fandom-agnostic fannews posts related to the topic of fan fiction.
  • Wattpad — A site dedicated to self-published fiction online, including both original and fan fiction
  • Amazon Kindle Worlds — A highly-focused commercialized platform for specific fandoms through which some works can be published for profit
  • FictionPad — A relatively new site still in beta
I have personal concerns about the last platform, about which I wrote a post a few months ago; the same post also includes an overview of the major sites listed above. Keep in mind that functionality and business models of any of these sites might change at any time with little advance notice.

To learn more about fan fiction as a genre, see

Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, by Prof. Anne Jamison (follow her on Twitter: @prof_anne)

Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays, by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (this book is pre-Twilight/end of Harry Potter movie releases; fandom information may have changed substantially with age)

To learn the craft of writing fan fiction, see

How to Write Fan Fiction that People Want to Read, by Daphne Dangerlove and the related site, http://howtowritefanfiction.com/ (also on Twitter: @how2writefanfic)

There are other books about fan fiction, and how to write it; the above are among the best known and most recent.

And of course, new fan fiction readers and writers alike will want to acquaint themselves with appropriate terms like canon, fanon, AU, so on. The Wikipedia page on fan fiction is actually a decent place to start. It's also critically important that new and experienced fan fiction authors inform themselves about the legal issues surrounding fan fiction (see also OTW's website, linked above).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Romance This: Women's So-Called Liberation and Romance Literature Genre

[photo: Reading on the 4 Train, by
Jens Schott Knudsen (pamhule) via Flickr]
It’s ridiculous that women's satisfaction with their state of liberation can be called into question based on a choice of literature genre.
How can any rational human even assume today’s women are liberated when subject to
  • Criticism — Women can't choose reading material freely without criticism of their personal lives or their gender’s condition;
  • Demeaned — Their reading material's quality is deprecated, treated as not-literature with scare quotes and non-literature description (“guilty pleasures”);
  • Denied information autonomy — Women's reading privacy is violated as if women are not entitled to acquire any information they desire for any personal reason;
  • Privacy violated — Physical personal space in a public commons can be freely breached to satisfy any man's curiosity without pushback.
Women’s selection of romance literature is marginalized, in spite of the fact that today’s content categorized under this genre is little different from that deemed LITERATURE! — the big caps, award-winning men-bestowed curriculum-worthy literature like Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing or Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.
Women and romance literature are denigrated in spite of the fact romance literature is a thriving business proposition, first as published and then as adapted into other media. Just ask Nicholas Sparks how things are hanging these days.
But we women who are the preponderance of romance lit readers don’t need some whiny op-ed to question our liberation and our satisfaction, let alone a poorly researched, self-selected, unaware answer, or subsequent suggestions about reading material alternatives. We put up with more than enough crap already.
Our culture expects to see we women as taking less space due to our under-representation in film and TV roles. We women are too infrequently behind the camera as well.
The science and technology that impacts our lives is too rarely designed and made by women; our research is commonly ignored.
Given these existing conditions at a minimum, it’s no wonder at all why we seek a particular genre of literature when we’re not working. We simply want to be entertained — Calgon, take us away! In this respect, the impetus and outcome are little different than the urge to watch sports, and business journalists aren’t criticizing anyone’s enjoyment of that relatively empty pursuit.
As bestselling romance author Susan Elizabeth Phillips put it, "Romance books are the only books you can read where the woman always wins, and that's very powerful to women," a point hard to argue with after a long day slogging it out for 77 cents to every man's dollar in wages.
It might be that the male-borne criticism takes unconscious issue with another less obvious attribute in romance literature:
“Romances are, in fact, subversive literature: They encourage women to be dissatisfied with inequality, and to set higher expectations for themselves, and they show them ways to achieve those expectations, largely by taming men and, in a way, usurping their power. Romances are arguably the only art form of any kind that portrays women as equal partners with men.” (Source: Dave Pollard, How to Save the World)
We can’t have 51% of the population seeking out literature that undermines the male-dominated status quo, now, can we?
Let’s recap: Some guy with a 20-plus year career  in business journalism got paid to write an evergreen opinion piece to fill out a thin holiday schedule. He questioned women's satisfaction with their liberation, based on his ability to invade some unsuspecting woman's personal space to determine what she was reading.
To him I say this: Take a number and get in line behind all the other absurd inequities women have to put up with every damned day, buddy — then fuck off and stay out of our books.
Count yourself lucky we’re reading and not overthrowing your world and its comfortable illusions.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A New Kid on the Block: Fan Fiction Writers' Newest Platform Poses Questions

I noted a sudden spike in my timeline of fan fiction writers discussing and moving to a relatively unknown fan fiction publishing platform. Naturally I had to take a look to see what the fuss was about; after taking a look around, I have more questions than answers.

In the last year we’ve seen new efforts to capitalize on fan fiction’s popularity; FictionPad.com, which appears to have been started this spring and opened this summer, is one of the newest.

The site's home page is very spare, stripped down as if it was built from a free template in a matter of an hour. I didn’t register, though; perhaps there’s more backend, but the homepage is incredibly lean.

And then I noticed this next to the logo: it’s a beta. This is NOT a full production site. Why would fan fiction authors get excited about a relatively untried beta platform?


Many fan fiction writers migrated to Archive Of Our Own (AO3) last summer, when the mac daddy of fan fiction publishing platforms, FanFiction.net (FFn), started yanking down thousands of published stories for violations of terms of service due to reader complaints about mature content. AO3 was launched in 2009 as a nonprofit site, but it had been in beta for quite a long time and had not experienced an explosion of growth like that of 2012. Service disruptions happened frequently, which should be expected for internet sites with a sudden vertical growth curve. The disruptions aggravated a number of users, who had been used to the more stable and much older FFn; consequently, there has been a mild frustration among some fan fiction writers waiting to be relieved.

Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds (AKW) did not provide that relief at its inception earlier this year. It offers writers a chance to be paid for their works, but the range of content it permits is ridiculously narrow, based only on a handful or two of Warner Brothers-based programming. It’s not clear whether Warner Brothers will view content published through AKW as an informal slushpile that might be used for extending their franchises.

Wattpad, an online self-publishing platform encouraging both original and fan fiction, has also not satisfied the frustrated fan fiction faction. The site, launched in 2006 and funded by both advertising revenues and venture capital, appears to suit the needs of young authors focusing on original rather than fan fiction.

AO3 and Wattpad both, though, are seasoned now; they’ve been around a few years and have already weathered steep growth curves while responding to users’ concerns. AO3, as a subset of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works, also offers a commitment to furthering writers’ rights and their fan fiction craft through legal representation, a fanlore wiki, and preservation of other historical fan content. Wattpad has also encouraged indie writers through their Watty Awards; the backing of big name published author Margaret Atwood is manifest in last year’s Atty Award. While Wattpad’s emphasis has been on original versus fan fiction, their support for non-traditional online, serialized publication serves fan fiction writers.

Perhaps it’s merely because FictionPad is new that so many fan fiction authors have expressed interest in their platform. It is its newness, however, combined with little concrete information about the platform or its originators, which should give fan fiction writers pause.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Goodreads, After the Buyout

For those not already familiar with them, Goodreads is an online community for readers to keep track of books they want to read, are reading, or have read. It also allows them to interact with other readers and authors. Authors can also use Goodreads to promote their own personal brand and books while interacting with readers.

To the best of my knowledge, Goodreads was built as an independent entity using venture capital funds (and not a subsidiary or affiliate of Barnes & Noble NYSE:BKS). The entire business may originally have been “built to flip” given its rather thin monetization on a sketchy business model up to its acquisition in March this year by Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).

I have three Goodreads accounts serving different purposes, including an author's account. It’s handy for keeping track of my books, but its user interface could use a lot of improvement; I hope Amazon will spend the money to do so. I don’t use it for community interaction about books. but a number of acquaintances use it extensively for tracking their reading, interacting with other readers interested in the same books, and for promoting their own works.

[Hereafter follows lengthy business discussion, skip as desired.]

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Video On Demand: Film and Television's Blind Spot

[Theater in which you are playing]
Missing the VOD Forest for Movie Trees

Scott Myers at Go Into The Story asked this past week why film studios are not making more movies for the largest demographic groups.

What struck me as odd when looking at the Nielsen data provided in Scott’s post: the remarkable stasis in movie audience over the three-year period, when we know that the video-on-demand (VOD) market has changed dramatically during the same period. Consumption of VOD movie content nearly doubled between 2009-2012. (It had already doubled in the preceding three-year time, according to a Pew Internet and American Life study.)

We’re looking at this form of entertainment called film or movies, based on content delivered initially at an external location in approximately two-hour long chunks. But this product and industry appears to be benchmarking against itself when it has other more challenging competition or an entire market in the form of VOD.

This may be one of the answers in itself as to why the industry pitches to the same market; they either cannot get a bead on VOD due to its newness and volatility, or they are blind to it.

Take a look at this presentation [PDF] by the American Advertising Federation (AAF). The numbers are quite different and are extremely fluid, changing substantially over the last three years. Think Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and YouTube as primary examples; how much have their audiences&rsquo consumption patterns changed?

The movie industry’s favorite demographic is the one most likely to watch VOD. At some point, traditional movies as currently formatted will not sync with their lifestyle.

Why is it that the film industry does not appear to be targeting the audience least likely to shift?

Why is it that the film industry is not encouraging development of products that are inherently more flexible in response to their current target demographic before they screen in a traditional theater?

Or is the film industry relying on its traditional products aimed at young adults to continue to appeal through traditional outlets, in spite of the dramatic shift in digital delivery? This approach leaves a more mature market under-served at both the box office and at home.

In theory, advertisers should be pressing the film industry to do better by women with hybridized VOD-movie products as they are the largest group of VOD consumers in terms of consumption of both entertainment and attached advertising. We can see AAF has the numbers, but we can’t yet see any shift in how financing of films may be changing in response to advertisers’ understanding of the marketplace.

There’s a disparity and tension here not fully articulated. Entertainment industry creatives, whether attached to film or VOD, would do well to position themselves for an earthquake when the tension releases.