Glee: Tune in to FY Glee Podcast, Episode 2 (“Women of Glee”)

There’s a new podcast in town and while I’m at Gallifrey One this weekend, the fandom streams will be crossing as I take part in a podcast on the too-often-over-looked in my corner of the fandom women of Glee. This time everyone who is participating actually likes the show more or less too!

We’ll be going live at 1pm EST on February 16th, and recordings and transcripts will be available after the fact. For more information on how to tune in, who the other panelists are, and how to ask questions in advance, please go here.

Edited to add: An archive version of this podcast is now available on YouTube.

Glee, superheroes, and “All the Other Ghosts”

Sometimes one of the worst things that can happen to you is to get what you’ve always wanted. If you’re in fandom, that often means meeting the object or creator of your object of desire. In the flesh they are shorter or less charismatic or more distracted than you always imagined. They don’t look you in the eye, and even though they are talking to you, often, they don’t see you at all.

I don’t write about fanfiction on this blog very much. Not because of any shame, and not because I don’t believe that fanfiction and other transformative works are criticism. They are, because they are, by their very existence, in dialogue with the text. However, that’s one of those things that people who already agree don’t need to hear more of, and people who don’t believe are inclined to dismiss as a justification of porn and Internet weirdness, and that pretty much everyone is somewhat inclined to roll their eyes about and call academic wankery. Besides, there aren’t that many fanfics that have a dialogue with their relevant texts that is explicit, relevant, and clever for audiences both in the subject communities and outside of them.

Rainjoy’s “All the Other Ghosts” is a Glee superhero AU, that you need absolutely no prior knowledge of Glee or superheroes to engage with. It tells the story of a guy named Blaine who’s a part of the Tumblr fandom for a superhero named The Ghost. The Ghost saves people in a terrible, dangerous New York that evokes the Summer of Sam era. He can disappear at will, or pass his hand through people’s brains to “haunt” them. He also has a really great ass, and Blaine keeps posters of him over the bed in his apartment and reads fanfic and reblogs pictures of the guy using the tag dat ass.

One night, Blaine meets him. And through a series of events, they begin three relationships: one as teacher and apprentice, another as their non-superhero identities, and a third as their superhero identities. Public life, persona, and private life become, quickly, very complex, especially for Blaine who is now dating the man he used to read Internet porn about. It’s just what every fan has ever wanted, right?

Not so much.

Blaine can’t tell anyone. And he can’t retreat from fandom and still keep the secret; taking the posters down would seem strange and might alert someone to his own transformation into a superhero named Phalanx. He also can’t continue to participate in fandom exactly as he has. It’s too weird. People write porn about him now. And the online community that was his refuge is no longer home. He effectively loses his friends and his hobbies, and every night he and his boyfriend see the worst New York City has to offer from burning museums to dead children, and a whole lot worse I don’t want to spoil for you.

But Blaine is not the only person in this story who gets the one thing he, as a fan, has always wanted. Because a good 30% of the story is in the voices of the Tumblr fandom from whence Blaine came. We meet that fandom’s BNF’s, witness its ship wars, learn about the real lives behind handles like paleandghostly, draxie, and blackbindings, and are treated to tons of Tumblr’s unique grammar (I literally can’t all the evens ever). In addition to this, an actual Tumblr fandom has sprung up around this story, with fanart and fanfiction, some of it referenced in the story, some of it an addition of apocrypha to the tale.

One night, The Ghost gets hurt and Phalanx doesn’t know how to get help and keep their covers. After all, in this terrible New York, superheroes are also illegal. He reaches out to a few well-known fandom figures anonymously, and they assume, reasonably, it’s a troll. Except one woman who comes, just in case it isn’t. She winds up transporting a grievously wounded and possibly dying Ghost and a terrified Phalanx in the back of her car. She hears Phalanx’s real name. She sees how in love they are. She gets The Ghost’s blood all over her back seat. And she can’t tell anyone. Ever.

In this story, Rainjoy has created an astounding response not just to Glee, addressing its narrative themes around sexual assault, outing, abuse of power, marginalization, and ambition, but to fandom. She examines the consequences of the success of one of our community’s most common desires.

She also examines the price of secrets, of gossip, of loyalty to friends you’ve never met and personas you love so much you feel their hand, ghostly, holding yours when the plane takes off. She examines ambition and types of fame and fandom’s treatment of both, as well as the supposedly mundane, or even inadequate, lives that so many people in fandom are said to have with not enough resources, or not enough health. Rainjoy shows us how all of those people — all of these people — are heroes too. We are, in fact, it turns out, all the other ghosts of her title, over and over again.

The story is challenging. It becomes peculiarly circular at one point, and the parts of it that are brutal are inescapably so. Characters facing death never vow to die bravely in this universe, because they know that the truth of their world is that they will go out begging for the end, and that, that final abasement is worth it, if it can keep just one more person safe.

I’ve been in fandom long enough, and have been innately fannish my whole life, that I’ve had plenty of occasions to meet the objects and creators of my desires. These experiences have ranged from negligible or anti-climatic to surprisingly transformative. They’ve involved everything from accidental nights out to autograph lines and have often encompassed supposed secrets (hint: there are no secrets in fandom).

Each of these experiences, for good or for ill, has served to remind me of how far apart people and persona always are, even if we’re just talking about people I chat with on Tumblr, whose acquaintance in the flesh I have not yet had the pleasure of making. They have all also reminded me that to meet the wizard is a great and terrible thing. Sometimes, it’s even the worst thing.

But Rainjoy herself says she only writes happy endings. And that is true, not only in the narrative of “All the Other Ghosts” but in its treatment of all those desired meetings. Because the flaws, disappointment, fear, disgust, and surprise of the results of desire are central to her story. But instead of unmasking, outing, and truth being the basis of rejection as illusions are shattered, it is, in Rainjoy’s fic, the basis of elevation because the story behind the story is even more compelling.

“All the Other Ghosts” showcases not just fandom at its best (and often most absurd), but our daydreams and their consequences at their bests as well. Not without cost, but the story makes the price seems fair.

“All the Other Ghosts” is mostly rated R with a few brief forays into NC-17 material for language, sexuality, and violence. The story addresses sexual assault, domestic abuse, bias crimes, extreme violence, medical horror, and, in an homage to Watchmen even manages to evoke the nuclear dread of the 1980s. It is one of the most grueling stories I’ve ever read, but if you’re interested in reading about how and why fandom tells stories about itself, its love, and its desire, it’s utterly unmissable.

Glee: Building masculinity

I’ve written before about how in the world of Glee being a girl is something that happens to you, but if that’s true, being a boy must be something else entirely. 

Glee has always been preoccupied with ideas around the construction of masculinity including its multiple plot lines in which various people try to “man up” or figure out how to “be a man,” usually in response to issues driven by male authority figures who also have peer status to the parties concerned: Artie (the director in New Directions), Finn (the team captain and now stand in faculty adviser of New Directions) or Schuester (the faculty adviser and original man-child of Glee).

Recently, however, this need to create masculinity as something separate from innately feminine existence and its consequences, has been more explicitly on display than ever before, with the centerpiece being “Sadie Hawkins.”

I’ve written about Sadie Hawkins dances before and their place within Glee’s narrative and the characterization of Blaine Anderson.  Here, while that backstory only got a light and somewhat sanitized mention (Tina thinks Blaine was bullied at a Sadie Hawkins dance, not beaten), the tradition itself is used to highlight how masculine identity and ritual is constructed in the world of WMHS.

Men, with their power removed to ask girls to the dance, immediately begin to experience the idea that being a girl, or at least not being a boy, is something that happens to you. The lack of agency the straight boys feel as they wait for girls to ask them to the dance is explicitly stated. Blaine, whose gender construction on Glee remains both complex and mysterious if cast in Western dichotomies, is pursued by Tina and not given the opportunity to say no.  And, the Cheerio with the neck-brace is seen menacingly oggling, confronting, and blocking the escape routes of men she finds desirable.

Meanwhile, the girls, told to enact a masculine roll, find themselves needing to construct a visual platform from which to do so.  It’s no accident that the women of the episode are placed repeatedly in dresses that reference peacock plumage in color and detail, and that we even have a dance number in which they quite conspicuously shake their tail feathers.

Similarly, it is no accident that this is the episode in which Sam discovers not only that the Warblers have cheated, but that their violation and falsehood revolves explicitly around constructing masculinity through the use of steroids.

All of these details suggest masculinity as a product of fear and a responsiveness to wishing to avoid the consequences of being a girl which are clearly unpleasant even if mostly unfamiliar to the not often empathetic men of McKinley.

This construction of masculinity theme, however, continues beyond the episode and into “Naked.”  Here we see the boys not just trying to sell themselves as heart throbs, but working hard both physically and through illusion (from costumes to spray tans) to create that image. It is a narrative that culminates in Sam struggle not to see his body as more important than his total self, something that is resolved by Blaine who has perhaps greater insight instinctively if not intellectually into the absurdity of the masculinity game but his placement along the gender continuums at WMHS.

This focus on masculinity as constructed, and therefore false (and let’s remember, Glee is obsessed with the authentic vs. performative self, genders these concepts, and rewards and punishes them differently. Femininity is viewed authentic on Glee. Masculinity is not. Authenticity is praised, but punished, because it is audacious and confrontational to a normativity-obsessed society), seems unlikely to end any time soon.

The preview Ryan Murphy released of Beyonce’s “Diva” as performed by the women of New Directions and Blaine appears, at first, to highlight a constructed femininity.  However, this isn’t actually true.  As the song tells us, “A diva is a female version of a hustla,” and so femininity here is only constructed because of its imitation of masculinity. This suggestion that feminine artifice does not negate innate feminine authenticity is underscored by Tina’s gendered insults towards Unique and Marley calling her out on them: It doesn’t matter what Unique wears, she is still always a woman.

“Diva,” through its runway staging, also brings us yet another moment this season that highlights the constant presence of the camera lens, documentation, and exposure. This ties consistently into gender, sexuality, and safety on Glee, but I’ll save that for another post.

Hugo Awards: Link me to your stuff, again

So we’re gonna do this just like we did this last year, and I’m mostly rewriting last year’s post word-for-word.

This time of the year is, among other things, nomination season for the Hugo Awards, and general tradition in SF/F circles is for people to post the list of eligible things they’ve been involved with. For me, this year the only thing that I have that’s eligible is actually this blog in the fan writer category.

Meanwhile, although tomorrow is the deadline for acquiring a World Con membership in order to nominate and vote this year, I still have a month to read a ton of stuff and figure out what I’m going to nominate, so please link me to you eligible titles (or recommended titles from others) so I can get started on that process. 

Other than your awesome, I’m particularly interested in your various short-form recs, as I don’t read enough short stories in general, and it’s a pretty neat genre that highlights the beauty of good structure.  We do not give short stories enough love.

So, if you have stuff, please post in comments with links; meanwhile, please go browse the comments which will hopefully be flowing in shortly and check out anything that so moves you.

Glee: Tune in to Fandomspotting, Episode 15 (“Better than Regionals!”)

fandom_spottingWhile I owe this space comments on Anna Karenina and David Bowie’s new single, the only thing I’m sure of the when and where of right now is this Sunday’s episode of live-podcast, Fandomspotting.

Fandomspotting focuses on a different fandom every week (recent previous episodes have included Les Mis and hockey fandom. Not together), and this week it’s Glee.

I’ll be on the panel along with the oft mentioned here (and oft in my living room) Rae Votta; Dr. Catherine Tosenberger, a Glee fan and academic; Tamila who is one of the creators of The Box Scene Project. Gleefulfan from Tumblr has meanwhile taken up what was perhaps this week’s most dreaded job in fandom — moderating this thing.

Fandomspotting airs this Sunday, January 13 at 5pm UTC (Noon EST) on Youtube. Please tune in!

True Blood: This use of “Teenage Dream” feels oddly familiar

While we wait for the fall TV season to begin, and I wonder how many shows I’m actually going to manage to keep up with, one of the things I’m also watching right now is True Blood. It’s not intentional, it’s just that Patty is a fan, so it’s on, on Sunday evenings, and I keep up on it for the sake of household conversation — much the way she really can’t stand Glee but knows everything about Kurt and Blaine and insists she actually cares when I tell her about it (what can I say, she’s a generous soul).

Last night, however, as Tumblr was melting down from spoilers from the Glee filming in NYC, True Blood gave us a moment I can’t really help but share with you all, despite offering a lack of analysis, because it’s a darkly delightful use of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” that’s actively funnier if you read this blog.

The scene features Russell Edgington (take a minute with that name, would you?), recently returned from the nearly permanently dead to undead vitality and epic bad behavior, dancing to the strains of “Teenage Dream” with the Reverend Steve Newland, former anti-vampire hate preacher, who’s now a vampire himself. And just in case that wasn’t clear enough, for bonus gay allegory, they’re now an item — Newland having left his perfect blonde wife, and Edgington’s former partner being brutally dispatched in the midst of an ugly vampire feud a couple of seasons ago.

The “Teenage Dream” lyrics, of course, are perfect — two vampires dancing amongst blood and gore as Katy Perry sings about staying young forever is a great way to remind us that pop-culture and bubble gum songs aren’t always so innocent. But the construction of the scene also made me cackle loudly, not just because I watch Glee, which also used the song in its own rather unforgettable way, but because of the degree to which the themes and visuals remain oddly the same from one show to the other.

Maybe it’s the wood-paneled room. Maybe it’s that I’m pretty sure the sea of corpses Edgington and Newland are dancing amongst is entirely made of men (frat house, all boys school — what’s the difference?). Maybe it’s that everything is so new and magical to Newland. Or maybe it’s, if you’ve been watching True Blood faithfully (even in the not exactly intentional way I have been), the degree to which a major plot point currently revolves around the faerie kingdom, and how Edgington wants to enslave it for his own in order to enable himself and Newland, and their kind, to come out of the shadows and walk in the day.

The degree to which it felt like a corruption of the Glee scene (and while True Blood often plays hard with other pop-culture, I wouldn’t trust myself to hazard a guess on the intentionality of this) — from the dead men to the alcohol to something that is anything but the glorious romance of children — was not insignificant.

Regardless of why this scene exists, it gave me a good and disturbing laugh last night, and I imagine it’ll merit an odd chuckle from many regular readers of this blog as well. Enjoy!

The Newsroom: Symbolism – 0; Mythology – 3

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait a little bit longer for my review of The Land of Stories (although the giveaway on my Tumblr continues apace), because my personal, non-giveaway copy got nabbed along with my bag and my wallet at Pride today. Luckily, a friend is lending me their copy, and I should be able to get that in by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, tonight was the first episode of The Newsroom on HBO. In many ways, it’s not the type of show I’m inclined to write about, because it doesn’t particularly trade in symbolism. No one is secretly Death’s beloved servant, and we’re probably not going to be able to predict episode structures based on what colors people are wearing.

But I do like Sorkin, a lot. I like the hyper-verbal quality of his stuff and the degree to which he’s good at making it clear how much certain types of intelligence can be really agonizing to functioning in the world. When our main character Macavoy recounts, in detail, what happened at a baseball game he went to with his ex’s father years ago, this doesn’t just tell us about the lingering feelings he has for her, it tells us about how he retains information, holds grudges, and develops wounds unable to heal. It’s vastly informative about the character, and for some people, unpleasantly realistic.

What’s super interesting about Sorkin though, isn’t the incredibly dense language and racing pacing (although I thought the first episode of The Newsroom got severely bogged down during some of Mackenzie’s speeches), it’s his ability to amplify, beyond reality, the importance of things that are already pretty important.

The evening news, for example, is pretty damn important, even in this age of cable and the Internet. It sets the media agenda through trickle-down into other mediums and broadcasts; even if it doesn’t reach an audience directly in the same way it used to, it absolutely reaches an audience indirectly with remarkably similar power. The linkages between TV broadcast tonality on the economy and the Consumer Confidence Index, for example is marked, and news tonality in fact usually leads the CCI by a couple of weeks. When the news tells people it’s bad out there, people decide it’s bad.

Yet, despite this, Sorkin’s romanticism makes the news somehow even more important in his world. Some of that is a result of the breaking news pacing, but a lot of that, in the case of this show, is in the initial set up. As Patty said to me tonight so succinctly after I made her watch Macavoy’s initial statistical tirade, “Does America really care what happens at some random J-school forum?”

Well, no. But… but it could! Right?!?!? Sorkin convinces us his world could be, and perhaps even should be, true, even as we all know better. His fantasies remind us that we know better.

The West Wing, in some ways, is an even better example of this exaggeration of importance. What could be more important to Americans than the US presidency? Well, a lot, actually, and I don’t even have to make a catty remark about American Idol for that to be true. The American presidency is not nearly as central to the thoughts of most people most days as The West Wing makes its viewers feel, and that’s one hell of writing trick, creating a show in which the only sensible response is to say it’s blowing the US presidency out of proportionate significance.

So, despite many very rough edges both in execution and content, I think I am totally on board for The Newsroom. I may or may not write about it much here, as it’s not a particularly symbolic world, and we know how I love that, but I’m interested in its existence, both because it shares so much in common with many of the other things I write about here and because my original degree is in journalism.

The Newsroom is a backstage story. It’s about performance, competition, awkward people, and the fiercely, unpleasantly ambitious. It’s about romance. And, even without symbolism, it is about mythology — American mythology: newsmen, politics, and baseball.

It’s about the business of the truth, but it’s also about our lies. Like Glee, I suspect it will require us to do as much work, if not more, than its creators to make it work in the contexts we want — or even need — it to work in. But, like Glee, I suspect that work may be a lot of fun, at least for me.

Did anyone else out there tune in?