Friday, April 8, 2016

Toward a Fan-Based Research Collaboratory

Cross posted at The Valve
Despite some reservations about fan scholarship -- e.g. I've seen pointless edit wars at Wikipedia & pros are adept at pointless quarrels as well -- I'm seriously thinking about an initiative to see if fans are interested in doing at least some of the descriptive work I call for in the piece on cultural evolution I recently did for the National Humanities Center (cf. this "quasi-festo" for naturalist criticism, and this piece on "Kubla Khan"). I see little prospect that academy-based scholars will under take such work in the near term. The sort of descriptive work I have in mind is not obviously subordinate to an inquiry into the "meaning" of a text. That pretty much means that the work is not unpublisheable on its own; there's no obvious way to earn professional credit for doing it.

But fans may well be interested in doing such work, though on the texts that interest them. And those texts are only rarely going to be canonical high culture texts. And that's just fine with me. I've done such work on manga and cartoons and would have no problem with doing it on episodes of, e.g. Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Star Trek (any generation).

I've recently been doing quite a bit of work on Sita Sings the Blues, an animated film by Nina Paley, which I discuss in the Humanities Center post. As some of you may know, the film is done in four different visual styles. So I've made a table with a column for each style and then gone through the film from beginning to end and briefly annotated each segment in the proper column. You can find that table online in a Google docs file here. One of those segments, the Agni Pariksha, is done in a fifth style. I've gone through that segment an annotated each "shot" or sequence within it. You can find that here. In principle each of the some 60+ segments in the film could be described at the level of detail I've used in the Agni Pariksha segment.

In fact, one could easily describe a film frame-by-frame. Would that be worthwhile? In some cases, yes, and in some cases no. It depends. There's really no way of knowing until the work's been done in at least some cases and we can take a look at it.

It's clear to me that such descriptive work is a necessary precondition to a deeper knowledge of texts, whether written, filmed, or videotaped. All the cognitive psych and evolutionary psych and neuro-psych in the world is not going to accomplish what can only be accomplished through description. If the pros aren't going to do the work, then it's up to the fans. If the fans get into it, then in a decade or two the pros will have no choice but to follow or simply to drop off the edge of the earth.

Seel also, this post on