I Still Want To Believe: A Love Letter To The X-Files

Last night the first new X-Files episode in almost 14 years aired. This morning I watched that episode, and felt like a teenager again.

It feels like a rollercoaster, this last year. The last few years, in fact, with the XF3 campaign and hints that new work had been written. And then the new series was announced and everywhere my friends – many of whom I met through our love of the show – were tweeting and Facebook: can this be happening? Is this happening? It’s really happening!

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This time round we had social media. When The X-Files aired I didn’t have the internet at home. I talked about episodes the day after they aired in school with my friend. At the end of Season 4 I really believed Mulder had died. This year I’ve followed David and Gillian and Mitch, retweeting their tweets and favouriting their Facebook posts. I’ve tweeted @thexfiles and watched gif after gif, and I’ve texted with friends all over the world who were just as excited as me.

I read the reviews, the think pieces that said “The X-Files should not be coming back” and “will it be as bad as the last film” and “the first episode is boring and slow paced”. Good and bad I read them all and not just because my PhD is on The X-Files. I went into I Want To Believe unspoilt but for season 10 I dived in headfirst, and it made me all the more giddy to see my show return.

And it returned, and it was perfect. Yes, there was exposition (the show’s been off air and, let’s be honest, Chris Carter wrote the episode). But there was far less exposition than I had come to expect after reading all the reviews, and less than there has been on some of the original series’ episodes. But above and beond that it felt so true to me. This is Mulder and Scully, world-weary and exhausted and wanting to believe and stepping off that edge and trying to pull back at the same time. This is the heart of the show. Was it aliens or was it men has been going on since season 1, and nothing in My Struggle retcons or reinvents that. There are aliens, and there are men, and there is a conspiracy. And that’s the way it’s always been. But in all of that there’s also Mulder and Scully, circling each other, saving each other. Scully sees Mulder starting to believe when he still denies he can and she tries to save him. Mulder is as desparate to believe as he ever was even though it’s cost him Scully, Scully, who he cannot function without. Because as much as the X-Files was Mulder’s life it was even more of Scully’s. It’s Mulder’s voice we hear in the teaser but it’s Scully we see first, Scully who has always been the viewer’s gateway to the X-Files and to Mulder.

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I loved this episode. I loved the cinematography, the VFX, the long glances and the exasperated ‘Mulder’s. The cloaking technology, the nod to Jose Chung, Mark Snow’s score, the texts and tweets and phone calls with friends. Even the exposition. Because this was classic X-Files, original X-Files, X-Files that has grown older and knows that its fans have grown older with it. And watching it, I felt like I was a teenager again.

On Actor Intertextuality and Fan Decodings

I’m going through my lit review at the moment, turning a conference paper into a journal article, and the section I’m reading along with a tweet from a friend reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about actor intertextuality for a while. Given the focus of the PhD has shifted a bit since 2013 I thought I’d write this up here for anyone who might be interested.

During one of the #tweetmythesis hashtags on Twitter I tweeted the following:

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The concept of actor intertextuality, which I’d only coined to fit the 140 character limit on Twitter, generated some interest and to elaborate on what I meant by it I said:

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What I was thinking about in particular when I wrote this was the attitudes of fans and the media to Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Stella Gibson in the BBC series The Fall, and to a lesser extent David Duchovny’s performance as Hank Moody in Californication. Anderson and Duchovny are best known for playing FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder on The X-Files, and they are roles which are credited with turning the two actors into global icons. Duchovny has often talked about his role on the series being a once in a lifetime success, as in this interview with The Express:

I guess at some point, I came to grips with the fact that The X-Files is my unicorn and I’m not going to have another success like that – nor do I really want to. It’s enough to have one phenomenon, I don’t need two. One unicorn is fine.

And Anderson, while she would choose Gibson as her favourite role over Scully, has also acknowledged the role the series playing in her career. Despite both finding success in other areas, the press very much emphasis their roles in The X-Files in pretty much all press discourse. Articles about the two refer to their time on the X-Files, almost always by saying “who found success as so-and-so on The X-Files” or “best known for playing so-and-so on The X-Files“. So when Anderson took the role as Gibson in The Fall it wasn’t much of a surprise to see the press proclaim that ‘Scully’s back!’ Indeed, the same thing happened when she joined Hannibal as Lector’s psychologist.

What I’m particularly interested in, both in terms of press and fan discourse, is how positioning a character in relation to the actor’s previous characters affects how the new character is understood (or decoded, to use Stuart Hall’s model). There are some similarities between Scully, Gibson and Bedelia. Most obviously there’s the fact that Scully and Gibson are both investigators, and that Scully and Bedlia are linked extra-textually by the influence the Silences of the Lambs‘ Clarisse Starling had on Chris Carter when he came up with the character of Scully. But beyond that there are few similarities. What alluding to Anderson’s previous work as Scully does, though, is create comparisons between the characters. So both Scully and Gibson are ‘badasses’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘feminist even if there are clear differences between the two (and not simply that one is red-headed and American and the other is blonde and British). Anderson has said of Scully: “Whenever I think of that show, I think of a 12-year-old pretending to be an agent. Scully felt quite childlike for a long time and a part of that was because I was only in my early 20s when I started to play her. Audiences got to see us both grow up” and fans have appeared to draw similar comparisons between Scully and Gibson.

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In an article for The Sydney Morning Herald Marion Hume writes

It is a mistake, of course, to confuse character with actor, yet Gillian Anderson so utterly inhabits her blisteringly intelligent and fiercely sexy detective that when the series ran on the BBC last June, it provoked an internet meme called “What would Stella do?”

And while I agree that it is a mistake to confuse character with actor it is a mistake that many of us make, with mutliple characters and actors. What I would suggest, though, is thatAnderson’s depiction of both characters creates an intertextuality, with the actor rather than the character shaping the texts in relation to each other. Jonathan Gray, in Watching With The Simpsons: Television, Parody and Intertextuality proposes a model of intertextuality that “involves a more complex interaction between texts, seeing texts working on each other’s ground, setting up shop in each other’s offices and working through and sometimes against one another” (2006, p.24) and I think this model applies nicely to actor intertextuality as well, particularly given we can imagine Stella and Scully literally “working on each other’s ground, setting up shop in each other’s offices and working through and sometimes against one another” (much fanfic of this exists).
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I’ve talked a fair bit about Anderson but a similar thing happened when Duchovny took on the role of Hank Moody, and again now that The X-Files has been renewed. I remember a friend of mine, in X-Files fandom, lament that she couldn’t watch Californication because Hank Moody was nothing like Fox Mulder. Of course, he wouldn’t be – Hank is a pot-smoking, whisky-drinking, semi-successful novelist while Mulder with his, to paraphrase from Season 2’s ‘Humbug’ “all-America features, dour demeanour and unimaginative necktie” is the quintessential FBI agent. Duchovny’s character record has mirrored Anderson’s in some respects. In addition to Mulder he has played novelist Hank Moody and FBI agent Sam Hodiak. Comparisons have been drawn between Mulder and Hodiak for obvious reasons – both are FBI agents, if agents in markedly different time periods – but few have been drawn between Hank and Mulder, at least when Californication began.

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More comparison were drawn between Duchovny and Moody, particularly when Duchovny entered a clinic for sex-addiction, but since promos for the new series of The X-Files started airing the press, and fans, have been comparing Mulder to Hank. In an article for Deadline, Ross A. Lincoln notes

Fittingly, David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder looks worn the hell out and gone to seed, almost as if he spent several years hiding, pretending to be Hank Moody.

And fan discussion on Twitter also conflates the two characters.

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Following Gray’s explaination of intertextuality, intertextuality works via texts including references to other texts, and so joining a network, becoming only part of a broader meaning. Duchovny as text joins the network of the characters he has played, but – as with Anderson – only specific characters. Duchovny functions as an intertext for and between Mulder, Hank Moody and Sam Hodiak in ways that he doesn’t for Twin Peaks‘ Denise Bolton, even though she is also a DEA agent. Similarly, Anderson functions as an intertext for and between Scully, Stella Gibson and Bedelia du Maurier in ways that she doesn’t for Mrs. Havisham or Blanche DuBois. In a similar way Mimi Rogers, who played Diana Fowley on The X-Files, is seen as Fowley by Philes who hated the character in almost every other role she plays.

Another particularly interesting example of actor intertextuality and fan decoding that I want to end with, though, is that of Jamie Dornan. Dornan is known for playing Phil Spector alongside Anderson in The Fall as well as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey. The characters are, in some respects similar, but responses to both texts have mirrored responses to Anderson and Duchovny.

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The conflation between Spector and Grey relies on Dornan as he plays both characters, but it also means that viewers decode the texts different, having seen both The Fall and Fifty Shades because of his involvement.

These are only some preliminary thoughts when I’m arguing for actor intertextuality in this blog then, and there are still things that need to be considered. This doesn’t apply to all actors or all roles, but why not? Would viewers who weren’t familiar with Mulder and Scully feel the same way about Gibson and Moody, and if not what role does familiarity with a text or actor play? And what effect does actor intertextuality have on the different texts – in what ways might season 10 Mulder be seen differently after Hank Moody’s existence that he would be without it?

2015: Year in Review

Once again it’s the 31st of December and once again I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone. It’s odd, in some ways, writing a year in review post at the end of the year because there’s so much to forget, and so much of what you write and say is coloured by the last few weeks of the year (which in my case have involved my mother’s surgery, illness and death in friends’ families and a busy period at the day job).  I wanted to do a round up of 2015 though because it’s been a big year, full of ups and downs and hellos and goodbyes. It’s also the year in which the time left on my PhD has dropped below 2 years, which is quite frankly freaking me out.Without further ado though, and to stop me dwelling on the 20 months I have left to get my thesis sorted, here’s what happened in 2015.

Personally, two of the biggest things were having to put one of my cats to sleep and the end of my relationship (though not at the same time because the universe isn’t that cruel). I got home from a really interesting conference at the end of July to Milo running to meet me at the door, as usual. Within 10 minutes he’d lost the use of his back legs and me and my dad were rushing to the emergency vet. They gave him painkillers and put him in an oxygen tent, and told me that he had a heart murmur and the paralysis was caused by an aortic thromboembolism. Even if they treated him and he got better there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again in a week, a month, six months’ time. I left him at the vet’s overnight with the decision that we’d try treatment but whatever we did had to be the best for Milo.

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I got a phone call just before 7 the next morning to say that he’d got worse overnight, and me and my mother drove to the vet’s in tears to say goodbye. Losing Milo was devastating because I’ve had him and his brother, Loki, since they were 6 months and if you’re friends with me on Twitter or Facebook you’ll have seen the sheer number of cat photos I’ve put up. I still miss him, my furry writing partner*, but Loki seems to have become extra affectionate now and takes to sleeping on my bed (often waking me up at 3 am by walking over my face while covered in mud). The second ending was the relationship I talked about in my 2013 year in review blog, though this was far less traumatic. No one died and we’re still friends! Which I’m very glad about.

Terry Pratchett also passed away during 2015 which affected me like no celebrity death has since Stephen Gately. I heard the news in work and was crying at my desk (while also thinking about my own response to his death and wondering how it relates to fandom and post-object fandom [cf Rebecca Williams], as you do when you’re an academic). Pratchett’s last book came out in 2015 and that had me crying while reading it as well, which I still haven’t written about but will in time.

Other good things happened in the year though. Me and my dad went to the Game of Thrones exhibition in London towards the beginning of the year. Two of my best friends got married and I had a lovely few, sunny, days in Pembrokeshire with them. I got a new car (which, okay, I got because I was rear-ended and my old car written off on the way to the Fan Studies Network conference) and a digital campaign I worked on in the day job was nominated for an award. Mitch Pileggi followed me on Twitter, and we got ALL THE NEWS about The X-Files coming back (in less than a month now, omg) which has made me utterly, ridiculously happy (and is great timing for PhD research).

Academically this has also been a pretty big year (I’ve scrolled through my Twitter  analytics to try and remember half of what’s happened!). My first book came out, which was pretty surreal to see. It’s an edited collection on crowdfunding, published by Peter Lang, and has had some pretty good reviews so far. I kicked off my research on Lostprophets and The X-Files by posting links to surveys in February and May respectively, and presented some of the intial Lostprophets findings at the Popular Music Fandom in Chester in May. I’ve also written a book chapter on it, which is with the editor at the moment, and will be starting the X-Files paper when I finish this blog post. I presented at fewer conferences this year, but I did give a paper at Console-ing Passions, which was a real highlight. I also co-organised two conferences including the first Sex and Sexualities in Popular Culture in Bristol, and the third Fan Studies Network conference in Norwich. I became part of the World Star Wars Audiences research project and had papers accepted for two of 2016’s big conferences – SCMS and Celebrity Studies.

Looking back at the year I can see that academically, things are going well. I feel pretty comfortable with where my research is going (and hopefully my supervisors agree!) and I’m looking forward to writing the remaining papers that will make up the PhD. One of the biggest things to happen, though, was I got a job interview for a lecturing position. I didn’t get the job, but to be shortlisted from over 140 applicants, given that I don’t yet have a PhD, was hugely surprising but also a big boost to my confidence. I don’t have much teaching experience (which was a big reason I didn’t get the job) but it felt as though the research I’ve done and the work I’m publishing actually did make up for that a bit. Quite often I’m subject to imposter syndrome, like a lot of us are, and although I can look at my academia.edu profile and see what I’ve written and what’s getting views, that feels quite removed from what I’m doing, especially when I come home from work and don’t want to open the laptop to revise a paper. I haven’t had any more interviews since that one, though I’ve applied for a couple of jobs, but I’m still taking heart from the fact that I was shortlisted, and that I’ve got a couple of things that I can work on to improve my chances of getting shortlisted in the future. Chief among those is, obviously, teaching which I’m trying to get but which does pose some problems given I work full time, but I’m trying, and I’m okay with what I’m doing so far.

Much like the last few years, though, there are things I need to get better at in 2016. I consistently fail at blogging more though I did try to make an effor this year! It’s not for lack of ideas – it’s mainly because I don’t want to open the computer to work after I’ve come home from work, but I need to. I also need to pull my finger out and get on with PhD work. My thesis at the moment looks like this (subject to change, of course):

Intro
Rationale for PhD by Publication
Lit Review
Methodology
Fifty Shades
Lost Prophets
X-Files
One Direction
Doctor Who
Harry Potter
Conclusion

And this is what I have done/have left to do:

Intro – written at the end
Rationale for PhD by Publication – written at the end
Lit Review – 40,000 words, needs to be rewritten
Methodology – 10,000 words, needs to be rewritten
Fifty Shades – written and with the editor
Lost Prophets – partly written as conference paper
X-Files – not yet written
One Direction – written and with the publisher
Doctor Whopartly written as conference paper
Harry Potterpartly written as conference paper
Conclusion – written at the end

So I think I’m in an okay-ish position. Of the max. 100,000 words of the thesis I’ve got 74,672 done. Okay, 50,000 will need cutting and rewriting because the lit review and methodology were the first things I wrote, but I’ve got three papers that are partly written and only one full one to write from scratch. My plan is to get at least one of those turned into a first draft and sent to my supervisor before the end of the weekend and then start working on another. If I can get them all done by, say, Easter that will give me just over 16 months to edit, rewrite and fine tune the rest of it, and do the intro and conclusion. I think that’s doable. I hope that’s doable!

Here’s to a healthy, happy and productive 2016 to all of us.

Cheers.

*Lying on the keyboard while I try to write.

Shabby Geek Anime Box Review

I’ve been following a few geek subscription boxes on Facebook for a while now, while I debated whether to sign up, and one of those is Shabby Geek. They posted about a deal where if you paid for six months you’d get another two months free, and the photos they’ve posted of their personalised boxes looked great so I thought I’d give it it a go. I have ordered a personalised box off them as well (which I’ll write about when I get it), but the box that arrived yesterday was August’s Anime box. I had ummed and ahhed about whether or not to actually skip this month’s, as I wouldn’t call myself an anime fan (raising, of course, questions about what I mean by ‘fan’. In this case while I love Studio Ghibli and have watched some anime, my engagement is pretty much limited to enjoyment. I don’t follow anime series, I don’t read manga, I don’t know who the main characters are and although I own a Totoro purse, bag and a couple of Ghibli plushies that’s it) but I was exicted about what I might get so thought I’d give it a go.

And I’m glad I did! I was expecting the box to be branded somehow – their Zombies box had bloody handprints on it – but I got a plain, white, well wrapped cardboard box. I’m actually expecting a couple of boxes at the moment so some clue as to who it was from would have been good, but on actually opening up the box the items in there were great and once I realised who it had come from I was even more excited.

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The first thing in there was an Eren Jaeger Pop! Vinyl figure. According to the box it’s from Attack on Titan, which I’ve never seen (though I have heard of it). I’m debating whether to sell this figure on as I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to watch Attack on Titan. Next was a Shabby Geek exclusive t-shirt drawn by Sian Brierley Art and featuring a range of anime characters, some of which I recognised; most of which I didn’t. Shabby Geek had said that Sian would be drawing this month’s t-shirt so I had gone over to her Facebook to check out the artwork. She’s got some really lovely stuff over there and while the t-shirt is cool I would have rather had a different design, and a different colour! It’s very orange. I don’t do orange. I’m not sure whether to keep this as pyjamas or sell it on yet either. It’s a ladies 2xl if anyone is interested!

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After the t-shirt came a Death Note book. This is awesome, though again I’ve never heard of the anime! When I first saw the book I thought it was a notebook, then opened it up and saw it had instructions in it (just over half the book is filled with text and pictures) and wondered if it was a comic, then saw the blank pages and wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure (!) but after doing some Googling this morning I’ve seen my version being sold as a cosplay prop so I’m figuring it could be used as a notebook if I wanted to. And it would make a really funky notebook.

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So far the items were pretty cool but the next one out of the box I loved. Look at it! How cute is that?

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After some (more) Googling I’ve discovered that this little guy is called Happy and he’s from Fairy Tail (episode 1 available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAxbI5FoWbk). I started watching the series this morning and I’m definitely going to continue; it sounds pretty great and I like the animation. My Happy, though, comes with a sucker cap so he’s going to be stuck to the inside of my car. That’s the second thing from a geek box that’s gone into the car now. The next couple of things I had were again from franchises I don’t know. I had a Naruto headband and a pack of Bleach playing cards. Cards are always useful but I’ll probably sell the headband as I can’t see myself using it.

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The last item out of the box was one that I made audible noises over though. It was a Totoro umblrella! I don’t really use umbrellas but I do love Totoro (as I may have mentioned above) and this one is really cute. It’s going in my bag and I’ll definitely be using it.

nullSo although I don’t know most of the texts that were in this month’s box, it’s definitely one I was pleased with. I’m still not sure about selling some of the contents, though I have no use for them, but then that becomes collecting for the sake of collecting and while sometimes it can be useful to keep hold of stuff you wouldn’t normally buy to sell for a profit later down the line, I’m not interested in that. Regardless, though, I’m looking forward to the next box.

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Lootcrate Villains Box and Subscription Box Spoilers

Last month I signed up for Lootcrate and received the Heroes box. August’s theme was, unsurprisingly, villains and the box arrived today. I was looking forward to this one given the theme but I ended up being a bit disappointed.

The box was pretty full of stuff (though I seem to remember last month’s being fuller) and contained a Venom mug, a wooden painted Joker, a Hydra badge, A lootcrate badge, a Breaking Bad apron and the August Lootcrate newsletter. Mugs always come in handy so that’s gone in the kitchen and the Hydra badge is really nice. I’m a bit nonplussed by the wooden Joker though. I mean it’s a kind of cool idea but I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, and I haven’t yet seen Breaking Bad (I know, I know!) or do much cooking. My sister, on the other hand, has and does so I’ll probably give her the apron to go with the Breaking Bad cookbook I bought her last Christmas.

If this was the first Lootcrate box i’d got I’d probably be much less enthusiastic than I was about last month’s, but there is another reason why I wonder about my disappointment. The trouble is I’d seen the box’s content about a week before mine arrived.

I follow several unboxing accounts on Instagram and given Lootcrate was being shipped from the US, people in the States got it before I did, and uploaded their unboxing photos. I don’t think many of them actually made it into my feed but I was curious and wanted to know what I was going to get. I did umm and ahh about going looking for photos of August’s box. After all I would be getting it myself if only I could be patient, but the novelty of the boxes hasn’t worn off yet and I was excited. So I went ahead and spoiled myself.

While I was waiting for my box, thinking about this post and the photos I’d looked at, I found myself comparing them to TV spoilers. As a rule I don’t generally look for spoilers. If it’s a show I’m really invested in I’ll actively avoid them, though I don’t have an issue with teasers. The difference between spoilers for TV and spoilers for subscription boxes, though, is that generally the TV spoilers are text (articles) rather than images, or if they are images they’re of one aspect of the episode, not the whole episode (this isn’t a hard and fast rule, obviously). Subscription box spoilers are for the entire thing though. You see what you’re going to get in Instagrammed detail and can read reviews about the box as well (which, yes, I did). So when the box arrived today there was no sense of excitement about what I was going to be getting, and I was disappointed with it because I’d already seen it all.

Henry Jenkins talks about spoilers in Convergence Culture, and in particular focuses on Survivor fans who go to great lengths to get spoilers about the series:

there is a hardcore group of fans which has already pieced together detailed information about the location, including photographs of the Tribal Council site and the location of the first challenge. From these pictures, the Survivor fan community will be able to piece together a great deal about the forthcoming series. Even as we speak, other members of that community will be trying to ferret out the names and identities of the contestants (well before they are announced by the network) and others still will be trying to extract information from people on the ground in the Cook Islands who might have seen something or overheard something during the production. They call themselves spoilers. – See more at: http://henryjenkins.org/2006/07/behind_the_scenes_spoiling_sur.html#sthash.I3osvxl9.dpuf

For these fans there is pleasure to be gained from trying to find the information that producers want to keep quiet. In contrast, Gray and Mittel talk about Lost fans who sought out narrative developments online. They suggest that fans obtain extra-textual pleasures from seeking out spoilers, be they ‘cautious’ fans who want to prepare themselves for things to happen, fans obtaining cultural capital by being the first to break a piece of news, or finding enjoyment in unravelling the mystery of the spoiler itself. If this month’s Lootcrate had contained last month’s items and I’d seen them before the box arrived, I think I would have been even more excited to get my hands on them. In that sense there’s an extra-textual pleasure in the anticipation of receiving a desired item, rather than the anticipation of the surprise. That more closely mirrors Gray and Mittel’s framing of TV spoilers as an experience:

Might the act of spoiling be a clever way for impatient viewers to short-circuit the out-of-control experience of being taken for a narrative ride and go directly to the pleasures of repeated viewings on the first go round?

Could my pre-viewing of August’s Lootcrate be seen as a way for me to short-circuit the out-of-control experience of being taken for a material ride? Possibly, though it still left me disappointed with the box. In contrast, I signed up for August’s Level Up wearables and didn’t see any photos of those before my parcel arrived. I was excited to open it and see what I’d got, and the items I had were a Poison Ivy hair clip and a Harley Quinn travel bag.

I really liked these! In fact I wore the hair clip to work today and I’ve already filled my travel bag and put it in my suitcase. I think I would have liked them just as much if I’d seen previews before they arrived, but of course I can’t really test that. I do know that, having seen July’s Level Up items, I would have been a bit disappointed with those so maybe it’s not being spoiled for the box that was the issue this month but the items themselves. I still need to decide if I’m going to look at September’s photos before my box arrives though.

Lootcrate Heroes Box and Cult Collecting

I’ve been contemplating getting a geek box for a while now. I’m following a few pages on Facebook dedicated to geeky subscription boxes (like My Geek Box and ShabbyGeek) but I’d been put off by the cost or whether it was worth it. But a Groupon deal came up for a subscription to Lootcrate at half the usual price and I figured it was worth giving it a go. I signed up for a three month subscription with the first crate to be delivered in July with the theme Heroes.

I was actually really excited when the crate was delivered. I hadn’t expected it when it turned up, so when I went down to collect the parcel from the Post Office I was pleasantly surprised. I was on my way out so I opened the crate in the car and was really impressed with what was in there! It’s a tidy sized box and packed full. On top was a Q-Pop 1960s Batman figure, underneath that a book called Regrettable Superheroes, a Wonder Woman poster and Star Trek air freshner, a Legend of Zelda sweat band, a code for a computer game, a Batman multi-tool and the July Lootcrate newsletter.

 

I haven’t taken the Batman figure out of the box yet, though it comes with a marker pen and a whiteboard in the shape of a speech bubble, and I have seen one Instagrammer post a picture of Batman saying “I ❤ Robin” which I’m tempted to do with mine! I have. however, put the air freshener in my car, hung next to my TARDIS and Dalek ones, and the multitool is on my keyring.

I still need to find somewhere to put my Wonder Woman poster (I’m thinking if and when I get a lecturing post she’ll go up on my office door) but everything else has or will soon have a place. So July’s Lootcrate I’m well impressed with. Because I’m an academic, though, and this is my academic blog (of a sort) I’m not simply writing a review of this crate – I’m thinking about geek subscription boxes in relation to fandom and collecting.

I’m a geek and I happily identify as one. I’m a huge X-Files fan, as anyone who follows this blog will know, I have a complicated relationship with Doctor Who but I buy – and get bought – a lot of merchandise, I have fandom-related t-shirts galore and I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead. But when it comes to collecting I can be quite particular.Lincoln Geraghty, in Cult Collectors, notes that

the material objects that fans collect remain solid signifiers of the historical significance of previous media texts. That they do not go away suggests that they are worth more to fans than simply money; they must mean something personal for such demand to still exist

 
I’ll collect anything relating to The X-Files but I won’t generally buy anything just because it’s related to Who or The Walking Dead. For the former I’ve got some figures, a talking TARDIS, mugs, a tea pot, some sonic screwdrivers, but for the latter, beyond the trade paperbacks, I only have a few Pop! Vinyl figures. And those are texts that I consider myself a fan of – in the sense that I’ll make an effort to watch (and read), have read fic and will buy merch. I’m not a fan of superhero films, for example, in the same way. I’ll call myself a fan but in the broadest sense, and a fan who is not participatory. I don’t read Avengers fic, for example, or watch Superman fan vids. I’ll watch the films, read articles (academic, pop cult and fannish) about them, but don’t have the in-depth knowledge I do of The X-Files or the element of community engagement I have with Who. So why subscribe to a geek merchandise box?

Parly it’s for the cool stuff you can get, partly it’s for the excitement of unboxing and the surprise of what’s in there, and partly it’s because I know that if I get something I definitely don’t want I probably can sell it on. Not that selling items on is the prime reason – even if “fannish objects making lots of money” (TM) is a popular press headline. There’s a definite thrill there in discovering what I’ve been sent, and obviously when the box includes something I’m a fan of there’s that connection to my fandom and the relationship I have with it. Geraghty makes a really good point in talking about how collecting isn’t really talked about in fan studies by saying that nostalgia and memory are both important aspects of collecting:

we might understand the nostalgia fans feel for relaunched toylines, film franchises or television series as being part of contemporary culture’s marketing and remediation of the past; not necessarily a longing for what historical texts may or may not get brought back but a re-examination of the media history archive

 
Certainly I really liked the 1960s Batman in July’s Lootcrate box because of its 1960s look – it’s a connection to that iteration of Batman and the kind of campy, kitsch aesthetic you see watching it now. Nostalgia seems to be a common theme in boxes and people’s reactions to them – quite a few of the comments I’ve seen follow the ‘I used to love this when I was a kid’ theme and I’d be really pleased if one of the boxes I opened contained an 80s Transformer toy like the ones I used to play with. But as well as nostalgia there’s a creation, and maintenance, of identity that comes with getting the subscription box, uploading unboxing photos and wearing/displaying/using their contents. I’m going to quote Geraghty again because, seriously, it’s an excellent book worth reading.

collecting objects that form a visual and physical biography of the self is an act of improvement not loss; it is not about mourning the past but about creating a reflexive and tangible identity in the present

 
In subscribing to a geek box over any other I am validating my identity as a geek, but by photographing the contents as I unbox them, filtering them and posting them to Instagram I’m also performing that identity for others to see, and connect with. In some ways I’m engaging with participatory fan practice, though it’s not a transformative one. I’m not writing fic or making fan art – I’m simply cataloguing what I’ve bought – but I’m doing so in a community of other Instagrammers who also identify as geeks and take part in conversations on the same hashtag. And, of course, in wearing, using or displaying the contents of the boxes I’m also maintaining that geek identity to an offline audience of friends, colleagues, family – and if I ever get that office to students as well.

Boyzone, the ‘Phonics and Amended-Object Fandom

I was listening to BBC Radio 2 driving into work this week and they played the new song by the Stereophonics. When it finished Chris Evans, the presenter, said “that’s the news song by the ‘Phonics. That’s what their fans call them” which made me laugh but also made me think about my own fandom in relation to the band (as well as the display of subcultural capital by Chris Evans!).

I live in Aberdare, which is where the Stereophonics are from. I went to the same comprehensive school as they did, my mother worked with Stuart Cable’s wife, I drank in the same local as them, and my dad nearly crashed into Kelly. They’re local boys, and their first couple of albums had local songs. They were songs about places I knew, people I knew and feelings I knew. Plus it was the kind of music I liked. All that added up to me, my sister, my dad, and a lot of my friends being fans of the Phonics. I’ve seen them in concert a couple of times, got a signed birthday card from. My sister (head girl) had her photo taken with Stuart when he came to school and a load of the kids I knew mitched off lessons and went to Aberdare to appear in one of their music videos. For a good few years I was a fan, and I carried that fandom awy to university with me. In 2003 Stuart was sacked by the band. It caused uproar in among fans, especially in Aberdare. I didn’t agree with Stuart being told to leave the band, and for me the Phonics continuing without him just weren’t the Phonics. The last album of theirs I bought was Language. Sex. Violence. Other?, which  was released in March 2005 and was their first album with the new drummer. It is very different to their earlier albums, and I think I’ve listened to it once.

2015-05-15 12.12.36Stuart leaving the band was, for me, the end of my fandom. Although the band continued, they weren’t the same (for me at least) – they weren’t the Stereophonics. Although two of the original band members remained, the name was the same, the sound was broadly the same, something was different. The Stereophonics became an ‘amended-object’, and my fandom stopped.

This contrasts with my Boyzone fandom, which I’m thinking about at the moment for a piece I’m writing with Simone Driessen. Boyzone fundamentally changed following Stephen’s death in 2009 (Stuart Cable died in 2010 and I attended the funeral – something I hadn’t been able to do with Stephen) but my fandom continues. I’ve continued to see the boys in concert, bought programmes and clothing, buy their CDs and have framed t-shirts and tickets up on my wall.

Boyzone’s Brother tour in 2011, featured Stephen prominently, and when I first saw Ronan, Shane, Keith and Mikey on stage without him I immediately looked for Stephen. Of course, he wasn’t there, but that only emphasised the difference, the amended-object status of the band. Stephen was referred to a lot during the evening; his picture featured prominently on the screens backing the stage; fan tributes had been included in the tour programme, and the boys told stories about him. At one point there was a table on the stage, with five chairs around it, five glasses on it and Ronan with a bottle of wine. The boys sat, leaving the chair in the centre, the one facing the audience directly, free. Ro poured five glasses of wine, and the boys toasted Stephen. It reinforced how different the band had to be now that Stephen wasn’t there, but it also cemented the fact that Stephen would always be a part of Boyzone.

My fandom, then, is different but it also isn’t. I’m not a fan of the same thing, but I am. It’s a state of amended-object fandom, where the fan-object is different in a key way, but remains the same in others.