Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

An Except from Superfandom over at Boing Boing
In 2014, IKEA, the Swedish-based global furniture company, sent a cease-and-desist letter to a blogger by the name of Jules Yap. Yap ran the extremely popular website IKEAhackers.net, which helped people “hack” IKEA furniture into new, creative, and unexpected designs. The site was already almost a decade old when IKEA’s lawyers demanded that Yap hand over the URL. What follows is a case study from Superfandom: How Our Obsessions are Changing What We Buy and Who We Are.

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This is a piece I did recently for Source, a great learning in journalism side.  Interaction design for Journalists, the saga continues. 

5e4684711209c218b535a6c75098886cCopy editors, bless ‘em, they make our writing makes sense to people who are not us. Are there awkward phrases? Is it logical? Has anything been left out? Copy editors fix it. It’s a system that works because the editor can act as a stand-in for the end user, the reader, assuming that they mimic the intended reader’s literacy level. Digital journalism projects like data visualizations have no equivalent “digital” copy editor. We can never assume that the creator and the end user have the same technological literacy level, just for starters. Once a data team has created an interactive map or chart, their own familiarity with it nearly invalidates any self-critique of the end product. And by the time the piece gets in front of the end user it’s usually too late to adapt. Read the whole piece at Source>

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When My Little Pony was relaunched in 2010, most everyone in the know (granted, a small group) suspected it would be a success.  A bunch of recent studies had shown that young girls preferred ‘social play’, play that mimicked the emotions of interacting with others in a group.  For a toy industry with desperately low profit margins this was pure gold.  Girls had been heavily targeted  in the past – often by coloring boy’s toys pink – but rarely captured for long. The impact of the study was fast and friendly: Dora and Friends. Lego FriendsDisney Fairies. Franchise after franchise scrambled to re-imagine themselves as a community of characters.

My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic had an advantage right out of the gate – their legacy already included themes of loyalty, morality, and friendship.  Animation icon Lauren Foust developed a group of characters with complex personalities and quirks. It was a serious improvement over the “prissy blond princess/earnest red-haired nerd/sassy sporty ethnic person” trinity most shows settled for.  Her “flash” style of animation provided the visuals, audio came from an exceptionally, almost unnecessarily talented cast of voice actors. The results were good. Really really really good.

We really shouldn’t be surprised that unexpected groups immediately started noticing just how good My Little Pony was. Social Play might be intended to match the learning styles of a 5 year-old girl, but it’s catnip for other folks as well.  Like lonely 20-something men.  MLP has a writing and animation style that’s more than sophisticated enough for older age-groups, and a theme of caring, understanding, and belonging that’s pure wish fulfillment for the socially awkward.

Even saying the word “Bronies” out loud in the right company can be enough to get a laugh. Really! Try dropping it into conversation tonight when you’re at the bar.  If your friends don’t know what a Brony is, explain that these are adult dudes who are really super into a show aimed at little girls.  Then watch their noses wrinkle in disgust and their fingers curl . There will be nervous giggling. Ewwwww.

Now, there will never be a great romance movie about zombies. Real zombies, the kind with organs hanging out. But there will always be room for another romance movie about vampires! That’s because, weird though blood sucking might be (mosquitoes aren’t especially debonaire), there’s something very human about using another person’s body to fulfill our appetites. Not so for zombies, based off of humanity’s deep-seated stigmas against rotting corpses and disease!  Nothing tips off our “Argh argh argh” response like a sick person touching us, and nothing in the world freaks out our primeval lizard brains like a dead body. After all, whether the cause was berries or a saber-toothed tiger, you might be next!

Like Zombies, Bronies hit at two of our very core taboos as a society: fear of being non-age appropriate, and fear of violating gender norms. It is wired, actually wired into our primeval mammal brains to distrust an adult who behaves “childishly”. Our subconscious asks, what else might be immature about them? When a child behaves inappropriately they can be disciplined (or at worst, out-run), but that same behavior from a full-grown adult might be dangerous. Our brain protects us by providing that creepy feeling. Danger. Get away.  Ewww.

It is not hard-wired into our heads to fear gender fluidity – lots of cultures have no stigma attached to it at all.  But, at least in the U.S., where My Little Pony originates, the cultural norm of “Guys do guy stuff, ladies do lady stuff, mix the two only for laughs” is still going strong.

These are the wrong reasons to hate Bronies.  While fear of age-inappropriate behavior is hardwired into our heads, and rightly so, what constitutes age-inappropriate behavior is a cultural construct.  There’s no reason that a well-written show, with edgy animation and catchy songs (just try to get “Winter Wrap Up” out of your head) should ring any alarms. And fear of non-traditional gender activities is just plain old dumb.  You listen to NPR.  You should know better.

So should we all go out and hug a Brony? Well… that’s where it gets a little bit complicated.

Ask any member of a fan group why they do what they do, and you’ll almost always get a canned response.  In fact, one of the main purposes of fangroups is to club together against the potential stigmatization of their activities, and find a socially-acceptable face to show the world. Star Trek fan talk about the egalitarian vision and hopefulness embodied in the show.  Sexy aliens and shirtless dudes will not come up. Teenage fans of the Twilight novels are likely to go on about the story’s themes of outsider-ism and innocent love. They are less likely to mention the eroticism of the central plot device: two sexy guys fighting it out over a shy wallflower.

Ask Bronies why they love MLP and there are a couple standard responses. “It helps me understand life and relationships better. It makes me a better person.” “The community embodies the values of the show.  I have friends now that I couldn’t have otherwise. It’s a safe, accepting place to be me.” And sometimes even, “I really connect with the characters/writing/animation.”

These are the standard self-explanations in most stigmatized fangroups, from Star Wars to 50 Shades of Grey. They’re socially acceptable and, more importantly, logical.  And there’s no reason not to believe them! The show certainly encourages this view. It routinely incorporates fan-service into its scripts, from the inclusion of in-jokes, to the creation of entire new fan-generated characters. Sly nods to its more adult audience that the 20-somethings will treasure and the little girls won’t catch.

This is what used to be called “Fandom as utopia“. Insiders think of their fangroups as a refuge away from the cruelty of the world, a place where higher ideals prevail and everyone is free to be themselves. When Bronies talk about the love and kindness in the show, they mean it in earnest.  But as Bongwater pointed out in their 1991 Folk Song, “…it’s a lot easier to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior when he looks like Willem DaFoe.”  Acting from baser instincts is always simpler when there’s an acceptable veneer on it.  By the 1970’s  “Fandom as Utopia” had fallen out of academic favor; too much discrepancy had been observed between the idealistic self-explanations fangroups used to defend themselves against ridicule, and the actual behaviors observed within them.

My preferred framework is called “Fandom as societal reconstruction“.  The concept goes like this: “I don’t fit into mainstream society.  I’m sick of being picked on by the jocks, and I’m never going to date a cheerleader.  So I’m going to make a subculture where my differences are prized, and then it will be ME doing the picking on people who don’t fit in!  Maybe I’ll even be allowed to date this group’s equivalent of a cheerleader.”  Fandom as societal reconstruction means the creation of spaces where there’s a chance to re-align the pecking order around a more accessible set of criteria.  It means redefining the caste system, but few would ever consider abolishing it.

Bronies do tend to be socially awkward, something that they often freely admit when you talk to them. The whole purpose of Social Play is to teach those with no experience how to interact in a group, whether you’re 6 or 26.  And while the Brony fan object is decidedly feminine, the fanlike activities aren’t always – a meetup might just as easily include a spontaneous game of Magic the Gathering, D&D, or swapping porn (equine). These are dudes.  Manly nerdy dudes hanging out with the boys, enjoying a rare feeling of belonging and membership, and that is completely absolutely fine. It should be encouraged.

The problems arise from a different source: even though we all need a place where we can feel like an insider, it’s really easy to project that feeling into finding outsiders to exclude.  Brony machismo may be coming from a highly unusual source, but it can turn into the same thing, which is to say that ladyfolks aren’t always welcomed here.

That’s not to say that female fans of MLP don’t exist – there are some girlfriends involved, and there are crafters who create merchandise like stickers and hats and T-shirts.  And there are a few really gung-ho fanatics. But these are exceptions to the rule – in the 2014 “State of the Herd” Report less than 18% of fans identified as female. A higher percentage show up at conventions (with its safety in numbers and cosplay competitions, which are still female-dominated), a much lower percentage attend local meets,  but on average 18% sounds about right.  It’s almost exactly the same percentage to the amount of ladies in gaming.

And yes, there’s the usual litany of harassment, rape jokes, threats of violence against whistle-blowers,  and all the other stuff we’re used to hearing from, say, the tech community, but not from a fan object that is still technically aimed at prepubescent girls.  As one fan put it, it’s tough to remember this is a show about friendship when you’re getting death threats for asking not to be groped.

The issue can best be summed up by a tumblr post, put out after a large-scale bullying, hacking, and threat campaign Bronies carried out last January against a 17-year-old girl who was critical of MLP porn.  The post, by user officialsaionji, read:

“why bronies think people hate them: they watch a TV show marketed at little girls

why people actually hate bronies: they sexualize technicolor horses, they’re misogynistic despite the show’s feminist messages, they harass people, they think “coming out of the stable” is a big deal, rape jokes, they make everything about them, do i even need to go on”

Is this all just a self-defense mechanism from a subculture that’s used to being stigmatized?  A wise dude (…my dad) once said we should never read malice where stupidity might suffice. The equivalent to that might be: we shouldn’t assume that Bronies set out to create an uncomfortable environment.  It’s just that when people get together with poor social skills and that first intoxicating taste of belonging, the results are often the same.

Don’t hate Bronies because they’re bucking (hur hur) gender and age norms. If anything we should be proud that someone is doing it!  And the show truly is worth all the fuss. But feel free to judge away when it comes to the real tension in this, and lots of other herterogenious fandoms. There’s absolutely no reason Bronies should make our lizard hind-brain go “Ewwwww”, but that doesn’t mean it’s always nice

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ImageThe 1993 softcore classic Sex and the Single Alien contains a moment of unexpected clarity. On his way to a clandestine tryst with a young lady, our undersexed lawyer/strip club owner is kidnapped by aliens. His travel companion is a gladiator (these are time traveling aliens). One alien asks the other ” Why do they dress this way?” The other alien replies, “It is to impress their women.” Then our hero is granted the superpower of involking orgasms with his mind and returned to earth to wreak vengance on those who have done him wrong. Oh TNT’s up all night with Gilbert Gottfreid, how you are missed.

13-year-old me, whose interest in the movie may have been other than purely ethnographic, may have missed the moment of insight. Just a year earlier I’d endured my first teenage crush, a skinny lad in my 7th grade Intro to Computers class. His name, alas, is lost to posterity. The class was taught in BASIC, the command-line kind, and, being a lady of the world I decided the best way to woo my love was a personalized computer program.

For two weeks I skipped lunches to sit in the poorly-ventilated janitors closet that was the computer lab and wrote my labor of love. It was a fill-in-the-blank affair, a set of questions feeding into a story mad-libs style. The story probably had something to do with asking him to the next dance.

The elderly matron who acted as lab monitor thought it was charming as hell. The object of my affection not so much – when I finally presented him with my completed valentine he gave me a confused look (granted, 7th grade boys wear that a lot). A week later he made fun of my plaid leggings in front of everyone, probably out of self defense, and my digital affair was over.

Oh the music careers launched on the not incorrect premise that ladies dig a dude who can play the guitar, the cartoonists who picked up a pen for the first time on the completely incorrect premise that some dude might be impressed into makeouts… I suspect that puppy love is never about the object of our affection, always about what it inspires us to do. I’m not sure if self betterment is always best invoked in an environment of dissatisfaction, but it doesn’t hurt. I learned to program for the first time in an effort to impress…what’s his name. Thanks skinny dude from 7th grade Intro to Computers, wherever you are.

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18408619-brain-on-the-plate-with-fork-and-knifeWhat better funereal tribute could there be for a dearly beloved aunt than to eat her brains? If the cause of death is an ill-timed antelope stampede, or a disagreement with the chief over who makes the sharpest spears, then go right ahead! Let her memory be preserved, at least for a couple of hours, through the digestion of her venerated noggin.

But if her method of decease was almost anything else – sickness, poisoning, more sickness (there are so many interesting ways to get sick), then that is precisely what you won’t do. Neurological body bits are where many of the toxins that can cause death are densest, and passing them along in culinary form is one of the fastest ways to create a vicious spiral of grey-matter munchies. The diseased brain is consumed, which spells the end of the eater, who is then consumed as part of her own mourning rituals, which then causes…but you get the idea.

Outside of cannibalism, the only other area I’m aware of affected by this issue is the pet food industry, which routinely buys euthanized animals from shelters and zoos to mix into Fluffy’s dinner. However, Fluffy’s consequential mess on the floor might never be connected with the penguin who passed away a year ago at the Baltimore Aquarium, whereas surely, we assume, someone would notice if half the community suddenly goes the way of our beloved aunt. Surely someone would say “Hey, maybe just this once, let’s eat the toes instead“.

Not so, says the law of negative memes! One study noted that a negative meme can wipe out 70% of a population before someone questions its underlying validity. But here it becomes more complicated because it’s not just a blindness to facts that must be overcome. Without an understanding of germ theory, we can imagine our poor cannibals mulling over the issue of a population die-off, and after many long days of pondering, coming to this conclusion: “We are all dying! The gods must be angry with us! Quick, pacify them by eating more brains!”

An interesting natural experiment of just this phenomenon is occurring in Japan as we speak, and no one has to eat anyone. Since the 60’s, Japan’s anti-feminist culture has been playing havoc with their population prospects. While men and women receive the same education and early professional pressures, women are often let go after marriage, and professional ladies with children can expect to be stigmatized as “devil wives” (at least one female CEO recently visiting Japan was forced to re-title herself as a secretary to her male subordinates in order to attend her own meetings).

With almost no tradition of daycare, and, do forgive me, no system of child-brides or slavery in place to counteract female unwillingness, it’s not a surprise to find that a huge percentage of the lady population has chosen to opt out of relationships. And not only them – lots of men are rejecting the monetary pressures of keeping a spouse in a society that won’t allow them to share the stress of being sole breadwinner. Celibacy in this sort of climate is one route to freedom and equality, and as a result, the Japanese population will soon be losing a million people every year. Current trends place its complete extinction sometime in the next century. Which, to use a scientific phrase, would just suck full of suck.

As a western-raised feminist white Jewish liberal short lady (I’ve been assured the shortness has a lot to do with it) it’s very easy to point the accusing finger of righteousness and demand, how hard would it be to just to pass a couple little equal rights concessions? Offer a couple daycare tax breaks? Maybe even, dare I say it,  full-pay maternity leave like that offered by that bastion of women’s rights Iran (yep, even Iran has better protection for working moms than Japan. Full disclosure, they have better protection than the US as well, so.) And yet, such risque proposals haven’t made much headway.

Like our unfortunate cannibal friends, when a negative meme is firmly entrenched there can be a lot of confusion about where the problem really comes from. Many of Japan’s conservative LDP party would argue that the true issue is not Japan’s anti-feminism, it’s that Japan has not been anti-feminist enough. If only women (and increasingly, men) would adhere more closely to their traditional pre-world War II roles the problem would be solved! As of yet there have been no dystopian-style attempts to criminalize female employment or enforce a one-child-per ovary policy, but it seems imaginable as the situation becomes more dire. The true power of a negative meme is hidden and subtle: the meme offers a solution to the problems it causes by propagating the meme even more strongly. Our people are dying! Quick, eat more brains!

This all sounds really depressing, but the good news is that negative memes, the truly virulent ones that can take down an entire population, are usually self-correcting. Here’s a good metaphor: the absolutely pants-wettingly terrifying super-virus Ebola. Ebola can rip through an entire population in weeks. It’s intensely contagious and can survive outside of the human body for years, a combination that should have turned the world into a scene from Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ decades ago.

And yet, we’re still alive to spout social science at each other. The key is in its extreme virulence – the virus is so deadly, and kills so quickly, that there’s rarely enough time for the victims to spread it beyond the immediate vicinity. Ebola’s very toxicity acts like a natural quarantine – in a small, immobile village population, the virus perishes with the last available host.

Now consider the case of Krokodil. Like Ebola, Krokodil turned up in the 70’s, this time in Russia, as a quicker, cheaper, more addictive alternative to heroine. Krokodil is the crack to heroine’s cocaine, the Ebola to heroine’s mild flu. It will also kill you stone dead in a particularly gruesome fashion, by rotting your skin off from the inside, but that’s almost beside the point. Krokodil is relatively easy to manufacture – any number of websites will give you the instructions on how to stir up the codeine/iodine/phosphorus mix. And yet, so far, the streets are not full of rotting zombie corpse people.

The key seems to be in Krokodil’s very virulence – even though any kid with access to a CVS and her mom’s stove can saute up a batch, who would want to? Like biological pandemics, memes survive through repetitive propagation – the passing of a piece of information from mind to mind, or in this case, victim to victim. But while someone could technically take Krokodil for a year or two before checking out, they usually succumb to a gory list of secondary infections long before then.

There is no peer pressure to sample Krokodil because no one lives long enough to pass the meme along. No one is saying, “Hey, I just tried this stuff and it’s awesome and you should too” because, not to put too fine a point on it, that would require still having a mouth, and anyway, who would take advice from someone who looks like they’ve taken Krokodil? Despite its persistent availability, Krokodil as a meme is just too nasty to spread beyond isolated outbreaks here and there.

Krokodil is back in the news this month thanks to a scattering of reported incidents in Illinois, none of which have come up conclusive. Let me repeat that – without even a single verified case, that is to say, not one person who has actually tested positive, media outlet after media outlet has spent the last two weeks seeking to outdo each other in righteous condemnation and gory pictures. This isn’t yellow journalism, or at least, it isn’t just yellow journalism. This is what a negative meme is up against: society’s immune system is extremely clumsy in its targets, but it can be fantastically powerful in its effects.

For example, in a different section of these same outlets earlier this year many sites devoted a few paragraphs to “Gallon Smashing”, that brief-lived prank which saw teenagers walk into grocery stores and stage a massive pratfall while carrying (breakable) containers of dairy. Like many pranks, a forgiving viewer might view this as a sly social commentary: the action loses money for a large corporation and inconveniences it by the necessity of cleaning up the mess. All while the stores’ wrath is hamstrung by their own customer service policies and existing social mores: it looks goshdarn mean to take out your wraith on a kid who just metaphorically wet themselves in public.

Now, that feeling of control over a large institution, even when it’s through an act of self-humiliation, has a lot of appeal. The high-minded might attempt a parallel to the passive protests during the civil rights era, when workers who could not outright rebel nonetheless protested by pretending to be more stupid or clumsy than they actually were. That’s the idealistic view of it. In reality, let’s be honest, this was just unbelievably dumb. Grocery stores are often locally owned, and the wage slaves forced to clean up might easily be classmates of the perpetrators. A long-term propagation of this meme might have meant damage to the nearby economy, the complete collapse of the national dairy industry, mass calcium deficiencies, plagues of hungry kittens everywhere

News outlets duly wrote up the Gallon Smashing phenomenon, with many a ‘crying over spilled milk’ pun, as the new Harlem Shake. The elements weren’t that dissimilar – the same ritualized humiliation and the same sly anti-authoritarianism (part of the fun of Harlem Shake videos lies in witnessing a sedate office environment transformed into…whatever). And yet days went by, and the internet reacted to Gallon Smashing, not through a loud outcry of support or condemnation, but through the worst possible punishment that can be meted out, to ignore it. Despite high viewing numbers – in the same class as early Harlem Shake videos, milk spilling videos received just a fraction of the Harlem Shake’s comments. Very few clips, meme-wise, were actually ever made, and even fewer once perpetrators began to get arrested. Eight months later there are less than 38,000 spill clips on youTube. That might sound high, but for comparison, even a year after the Harlem Shake broke there remain more than 4,640,000 clips, and every single one is hilaaaaaarius.

We’re well-aware of the ugly side of social pressure – the side that advocates on behalf of established social standards against the rights of the individual. The Oscars love nothing more than the story about a hero’s valiant struggle against a fiendish societal presumption, and rightly so. But it’s easy to forget that social pressure has another duty: to nip negative memes in the bud before they get going. This is social pressure at its very best. In a way it’s what social pressure is for. When a meme goes wrong, the white blood cells of our disapproval swing into action – whether it’s to prevent an epidemic of zombies, or just a little spilled milk.

Low grade negative meme-infections surround us all the time- in fact, fighting them is an important part of a healthy society, and it gives socially awkward undergrads a reason to get excited and meet new people, which is also of vital importance. I’m looking at you, me­­­­ of 1998. Japan is a rare opportunity to witness a negative meme so subtle that it has managed to use a society’s own natural defense system against itself. What sort of inoculation might jump-start Japan’s baby-friendly antibodies is anyone’s guess.  Speaking as an outsider, all I can say is, whatever you do, stay away from the brains.

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Downton Abbey fandom is knee-deep in Season 3.  My goodness me, every magazine and blog has turned into a smorgasbord of content both official and fan-generated, not to mention the gorgeous influx of new fan text (and more importantly, fellow fans to experience it with).

Is it possible we have that unusual specimen, the perfect fan object? Whatever the reason for an individual’s fandom, this show can provide: for class-conscious identity builders we’ve got a enjoyably upper-class Anglophilia. For those seeking to up their cultural capitol there’s quote-happy text galore, and who-did-what-to-whom trivia to memorize.  And for the merely lonely we’ve got hoards of fellow admirers to idolize, mimic, and impress.

Not so a fan of Regency House Party, a little known 2004 historical recreation reality series.  A few articles, interviews, and fan activity may have trickled out briefly around it’s release, but these days even the most assiduous researcher will find neither a grain of news, nor a fellow fan with whom to commiserate about it.  A couple of the participants have Facebook pages, carefully locked, and one has a twitter account where he talks about advertising. The message boards have long gone dead and the bloggers have moved on.

Both these fan texts have the same titillating veneer of English drama and romance.  The difference? Without a robust fan context the Regency House Party fan finds themselves gasping like a fish in a dry stream bed.

It’s surely the goal of all fan objects to produce such a robust context that it becomes self-fueling long after the text is complete (think Star wars, Jane Austen, or Rosie the Riveter posters).  But at the same time, proclaiming the value of an under-appreciated fan text is one of the purest marks of fan status, or for that matter, regular old boring status too. This illustrates an interesting paradox potential fans might find themselves asking:  how obscure is too obscure?

Depending on an individual’s motivations the answer might be:  never!  This is a familiar cry for many an indie music fan (“I’m a fan of bands so new they don’t even exist yet!”).  But that’s only true when there’s a possibility of spreading the love, engaging in a group, having your personal taste mean something to those about whose opinion you care.

There’s a status to being known as that lady who likes that group that’s still unknown, or better yet, that group who is too innovative to be famous.  Whereas there’s no satisfaction whatsoever to being known as that guy who keeps going on about that random soft drink they only sell in one store in Ireland, a breed of dog that went extinct in the 1100’s, or that board game they don’t make any more and there are no copies but you would have loved it.

The answer is probably a Bell curve – up to a certain level of obscurity, devotion to a fan object allows a user to really pinpont that self-definition.  The more obscure the higher the possibilities (“I’m not just a wine lady, I’m the type of lady who prefers a 1994 vintage of Vino Davvero Oscuro from Luogo Lontano over the 1995, but only if I have enough time to let it breath…”).

After that point it gets more complicated.  How satisfying can it really be to be the last and only fan of Regency House Party?  The answer is probably not very – the possibilities for fan-like activities are simply so limited.  You might watch the show over and over, and perhaps do a little evangelizing to your friends.  You might even go as far as to take a pilgrimage to England to trespass on the Chateau used as its set, but without any fellow fans to report back to, it’s rather unlikely.

Fandom just can’t thrive in a vacuum – at its heart fandom is a performative ritual, and it fast uses up the surrounding oxygen without someone to perform for.  But never fear, oh devotees of Regency House Party, I hear that Downton Abbey has just been signed on for a 2014 season.

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So here we are knee-deep in summer, and I bet you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, there’s just too much relaxation going on right now.  I’m feeling too darn happy with the world.  I need some pretentious reading to sandpaper my nerves so I have something to bitch about.”

Well TOO BAD, cause one look at this summer reading list and you’ll notice that none of us have anything to complain about at all.  This summer’s topic is the economic impacts of fandom in a digital age, and baby is it a delicious one.

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, Clay Shirky – Obviously every list with any kind of buzzword has to start with Clay Shirky’s tasty musings about all that’s good about heavy connectivity. You’ll want to spend most of your time on the chapter dealing with fan motivations.  Start off your drinking game by taking a shot every time you slap your head and say , “Huh, teenage girls make sense for the first time ever.”  It’s summer, so the shot should be something with watermelon.

Fan Cultures, Matthew Hills – Ever wonder what academics do when few people care about their subject?  They write for each other! Painstakingly plotted out,  most of this is a refutation of the heretical theories espoused by the dozen or so other fan theorists active in the world.  But look a little closer and you’ll see some interesting points about gender and decision-making in pre-digital  fandom. Take a shot of something with iced tea in it every time he claims that someone’s theory didn’t take the X-Files into account

Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, Rob Walker – How does what we buy reflect our social affiliations and sense of identity?  Rob wants to tell you! He makes a great case that our commercial motivations are thoroughly tied to the image we build up of ourselves. Take a summery shot of something with cucumber in it every time he uses a euphemism that isn’t quite “fan group” but really means “fan group”.  Don’t worry Rob, we know what you’re talking about.

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Don Tapscott , Anthony D. Williams– At two years old this is kind of ancient for a  tome about digital whatsis.  But be not deterred!  This is the classic ‘Origin of Species for crowdsourcing’ – not first and certainly not completely right, but it’s held up remarkably well for a book that relied on examples that, in hindsight weren’t actually the next big thing.  Take a shot of something minty every time you feel a smug sense of superiority.

Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, Jonathan Gray (Editor), Cornel Sandvoss (Editor), C. Lee Harrington – More academia!  This collection of nifty essays spans everything from early proto-music fandom to Korean pop-stars.  Ignore all that and highlight every third word in the introduction where the different stages of fan theorization are spelled out.  Take a shot of something with ginger every time you have a mood swing between “Oh-my-god-I’m-dying-from-bordom” and “oh-my-god-this-just-changed-my-life”

Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, Eric Qualman – Any book that adds the phrase “-nomics” to the end of  their title is good by me: freakinomics, wikinomics, MICRO wikinomics…there’s nothing ‘nomics can’t do.  A lot of this book has been said before, but the conversational tone is helpful for beginners and the examples give a great insiders view. Take a shot of something with lemon every time you suspect there’s something intrinsically, horrifically terrifying about all forms of marketing.

Fans Bloggers Gamers, Henry Jenkins – By the dude who wrote the much-touted Convergence Culture, you can believe this is a serious page turner. I’m totally not being sarcastic.  Compared to most other books from this time period, these essays are less dated, and more , what’s the word, AWESOME than its contemporaries.  Spend most of your time in the early chapters about fan fiction and gender.  You’ll never look at man-on-man stories written by middle-aged straight women the same again. Take a shot of Champagne every time you feel the urge to google “Kirk/Spock”.

Now go drink some water.  What were you thinking reading all those at once.

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