Interesting expression of fan culture: Joss Whedon Month on Facebook where for the month of April all his fans change their profile pic to one of his characters from his works:
- Roseanne (1989-1990)
- Parenthood (1990)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003),
- Angel (1999–2004),
- Firefly (2002),
- Dollhouse (2009–2010),
- Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)
- episodes of The Office (“Business School” and “Branch Wars“) in 2007
- one episode of Glee (“Dream On“) in 2010
- S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)
- Astonishing X-Men
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight
- Angel: After the Fall
- Identity Crisis
- Superman/Batman #26
- Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man
- Giant-Size X-Men #3
- Civil War
- Serenity: Better Days
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
- Speed (1994)
- The Getaway (1994)
- Waterworld (1995)
- Toy Story (1995)
- Alien Resurrection (1997)
- Titan A.E. (2000)
- X-Men (2000)
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
- Serenity (2005)
- Thor (2011)
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
- The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
- Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) *** highest grossing file in Canada & USA
- In Your Eyes (2013)
- The Avengers 2…expected in 2015
As a screenwriter, film/television producer, director, comic book author, composer, and actor, influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre and other writers such as Ray Bradbury and Tim Burton his works is pretty extensive and many of his work have attained cult status. He is also the founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and co-founder of Bellwether Pictures.
What I find particularly interesting is the frenzy and loyalty of fans who identify with his characters especially at the multi-genre comic con conventions to the point of living their lives (often in meticulous detail) for a short or long period as their interpretation of one of these characters. Having the icon of your Facebook page is not as involved as “identify performance” – but it could still be seen as a way of extending one’s identity through fan culture.
There are also similar events such as Renaissance festivals and Cosplay conventions where adults dress in fantasy costumes in a way that would be expected of an adolescent exploring the “possible extensions of self” (Elliot 1986, quoted in Kaiser 1996:162). So what is so intriguing about this type of performative identity for adults? Is this is a way to avoid a horrible reality of a suffering psyche in a way that is less self-harming that crack?, a fetish thing? or just a way to alleviate a dull 9-5 life? or?
Susan B. Kaiser asked the question of whether role-play dress is important “in terms of providing some means for ‘escaping’ from mundane daily routines,that could also be an expression of creativity,” but discovers that there is very little academic literature about this and that too “little is known about fantasy dressing; this is an area with a great deal of potential for contributing to an understanding of creativity and self-expression” (1996:163).
Jen Gunnels has also explored this area and found that the “behavior isn’t necessarily mere escapism”. She argues that “adults engage in costumed role-play to explore an identity that may not be practicable in everyday life”. She also notes the social, and communal nature of such events. For example, she observed members of Generation X revelling in and comforted by the popculture of their childhood at a Star Wars convention she attended in NYC . Gunnels reasons that “Star Wars helped socialize this generation and may be providing a template for their own parenting, especially because current socioeconomic issues are not dissimilar to those of 1977. In this way, cosplay, as a performed identity, can provide a means of permitting individual agency and social commentary on current and past social stresses.” (2009).
Scholars, such as Joseph Campbell (1968) and Bruno Bettelheim (1991), claim that fairy tales and myth are vehicles for the interpolation of social norms for a society. In our post-modern world, these fairy tales and myths are expressions of popular culture such as films, television programmes and video games. Since these events are particular to industrialized nations, perhaps this is our contemporary way of re-connecting to old world socialization and interpolation through performance art in the way of Shakespearean theatre or masks and dance used to?
So my questions remain but now I have new ones: Is dressing up as Buffy or Black Widow perhaps just one of our tribal masks that help us illustrate our society’s meta-narrative?, or could it be a way to resist those narratives and find empowerment in an over-mediated society?…or perhaps it is just about escapism, alleviating boredom and sex?
Bettlelheim, Bruno. (1991). The uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Penguin.
Campbell, J. (1968). The masks of God: creative mythology. New York: Viking Press
Gunnels, Jen. (2009). “A Jedi like my father before me”: social identity and the New York Comic Con.Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3
Kaiser, Susan B. (1996). The social psychology of clothing: Symbolic appearances in context. 2nd ed. New York: Fairchild Books and Visuals.
Kevin Schut suggests that games like Civilization might be useful in teaching history with the understanding of its hegemonic framing that involves misogynistic, chivalrous and violent masculinity, solipsism with capitalistic solipsism and technocratic tendencies – but I would argue that Civilization is far too ethnocentric and essentialist to be useful as an educational aid. I would also argue that it is difficult to avoid the hegemonic framing – as seen in World of Warcraft (WoW) and Second Life (SL) where it has been seen that users have more agency, but end up reinforcing and even contributing to their own marginalization.
Experts in virtual spaces such as Sherry Turkle believe that the role/s that identity play/s in worlds like multi-user dimensions or domains (MUDs), MUD object oriented (MOOs), and other virtual spaces such as Second Life (SL) are complicated. Turkle asserts that the “anonymity of MUDs . . . provides ample room for individuals to express unexplored parts of themselves” (xii). These spaces have great potential for dynamic identity exploration, and self-expression without the risks of condemnation, rejection or isolation that could result in real life.
Michael Rymaszewski et al. plainly state that SL is a place for living out fantasies, to be someone else or to work out who you are (301).
In this way many people can play the game with an avatar of a different skin colour, or represent a different gender or class to experiment in a virtual life in a way that is not possible in reality. I think putting these three key ideas together – software could be developed that has the freedom of Second Life with an open-source history-content focus, like Civilization but with input from different regions of the world, from different genders, classes and races. Within this framework students could create time traveller avatars to visit different time periods, learn about the history of different regions. There could be a contemporary period included where student could ‘virtual travel’ to different parts the world and have their text automatically translated to have a peek into a day in the life of someone of a different race, class or gender in a different geographical location. Continue reading