Otherness: Essays & Studies 6.1 and 6.2

Edited by Matthias Stephan

 


Introduction

by Matthias Stephan

The current volume of Otherness: Essays and Studies represents our first double issue, combining a special issue, dedicated to fandom and celebrity studies, with our 2018 general issue, the fifth such general issue of the journal.  

The special issue 6.1, Otherness and Transgression in Fandom and Celebrity Studies, builds upon the successful international conference hosted by the Centre for Studies in Otherness at Aarhus University in 2014. The conference had, as its focus, both the consideration of otherness and alterity, staples of the Centre and its journal extension, as well as considerations of the liminal, boundaries normalized or constructed, constantly breached, as they are either reconsidered or, more often, simply transgressed. Leaving the subject of transgression and otherness as categories open for discussion, the conference focused on the emerging fields of fandom studies and celebrity studies, which focus on and operate functionally as related and often overlapping fields. Placing them together in the same conference, one which explicitly focused on boundaries and exclusion, on otherness and transgression, not only did the subject matter of the individual contributions explore these categories, but the considerations of these two fields was also explored and reimagined along these lines.

This special issue continues that conversation with four contributions which span the breadth of the two topical disciplines. Not only have the concepts of otherness and transgression permeated the thinking leading to this issue, but they have remained salient in both fields in the past few years. Celebrity studies has served as a showcase of how otherness is an appropriate approach to contemporary life, with ongoing discussions of representation in film and television, the exclusion of women from prominent roles, and the marginalization of those that have dissented from prevailing notions within many industries. Movements like #metoo and #oscarssowhite have led to widespread discussions of otherness and transgression, intersectionally. Even the recent royal marriage, hailed as a demonstration of unity, can be read as controversial on a number of lines, including race and gender, as highlighted in consideration of the Duchess of Sussex’s (post)feminist framing within British society (Clancy and Yelin 2018).

Otherness has been highlighted in fandom studies in recent years in ongoing discussions about the role of fandom studies scholars themselves, and the validation that parts of fandom achieve through such lenses, with calls for improved considerations of marginalized aspects of fandom discourse (Pande 2018, Wando 2015), as well as considerations of where one searches out fan scholarship. Even the platforms often used for fan works are battlegrounds of otherness, transgression and exclusion. As demonstrated in the recent changes to the popular platform Tumblr, centered on removing content that seemingly transgressed shifting norms on the platform, as well as the debate surrounding exclusion of types of fandom on Archive of our Own, the concept of othering is vital to understanding the differing attitudes at play within the field.

Opening the special issue, Alen Ríos and Diego Rivera, in “Vulnerability and Trash”, explore how dynamics within and outside of fandom affect the construction and otherness of various fan discourses. They contend that considerations of platform, in its structural as well as content elements, allows for an understanding of the sides of fandom, and that these elements are mediated through complex strategies by the readers and producers of fan content. Using a virtual ethnographic approach, and through a focus on Stucky fandom, based on a slash pairing focusing on Marvel’s Captain America universe, and specifically on Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, Ríos and Rivera explore the contingency of fan readings, and demonstrate that fan approaches should not be considered as static, but in a state of continual reinterpretation. This, they contend, can be extrapolated beyond their topical consideration of the Tumblr platform and its prevalent Stucky fandom, to other platforms (Twitter, AO3) and is relevant in multiple fandoms.

Lucy I. Baker focuses her analysis, in “The Other Woman”, on the AO3 platform, where she explores the dynamics found in regendering canonical characters in a series of fan fiction stories. Baker’s insightful analysis traces how various factors limit and alter the reception of genderswapping stories, from the relative acceptance in fandom circles, to the limited participation in more formally published venues. This is further developed in discussing which types of characters, and within which traditional power constellations, are taken up in this discourse. Using grounded methodology, Baker contends that considering regendered characters in fan fiction allows for challenging notions of gender binarism, and questioning the defaults we associate with canonical presentation of mostly male characters, and she opens up the field for further research along other intersectional axes using a similar framework.

In “Everyday Bro?”, through a discussion of the popular vlogger Jake Paul, Pernille Rosenlund and Susanne Lisberg Jørgensen consider the boundaries not only of otherness within Paul’s vlog, but between the dynamics of celebrity and fandom studies as well. Through an exploration of Paul’s use of authenticity, Rosenlund and Jørgensen explore the ways in which Paul transgresses seemingly bright lines between his veridical self and his public persona, positioning himself as both the celebrity and the fan, and even reacting to and denigrating his celebrity position from a fan perspective. Their insight into his behavior, and his use of othering to both construct his persona and his fannish identity, allows an exploration of the phenomena of the social media celebrity in contemporary discourse, and challenges the compartmentalization of these two emerging academic discourses.

The line between celebrity and persona is not limited to social media, or to the dynamics of generation Z. In “‘We Must Learn to Speak to Each Other So That We Can Embrace from Afar’”, we see that the blurred lines between writer and reader, between subject matter and text itself, are also blurred in contemporary literary as well as new media contexts. Andrea Aramburú Villavisencio uses Bellamy’s own exploration of her relationship with punk and avant-garde author Kathy Acker, to set up a reading which uses a different ethical dynamic, Lynne Huffer’s thinking-feeling ethics of alterity (2013), to blur the lines not only within friendship and narrative, but in how one considers interpretations of physical objects in the exploration of literary narratives. By looking at Acker’s wardrobe, and Bellamy’s performativity, combined with the shifting role of the author in the exploration of their own work, vis-à-vis the subject matter they themselves are presenting, Aramburú challenges the construction of the interpersonal and the foundation of our notion of friendship and its limitations. Just as she contends is present in Bellamy’s work, her work is also political in the sense that it challenges existing interpretation, and transgresses the norms we have come to use in literary interpretation.

Our general issue 6.2, Otherness and Representation, is the fifth such general issue of Otherness: Essays and Studies, and the first such issue since 2014. The issue presents a range of disciplines, from the historical to the literary, and each has a focus not only on otherness but also on representation. Representation is topical, permeating contemporary discourse in a variety of ways. The term is multivalent, in which it can imply a standing in for, a replacement of, speaking for (or instead of), or even simply a changed presentation of a concept, person or even community. Each of these definitions of the concept of representation are highlighted in our eight contributions, which are spread across not only academic discipline, but national boundaries, timespans, and media.

Starting with a historical perspective, Naomi Alisa Calnitsky considers national representations, and othering on racial, national and ethnic grounds, in looking at the historical situation in US and Canada in the early twentieth century. “Defining the Mexican Other” looks at three distinct timeframes, the 1930s, the period from WWII to the mid 1960s, and the present day (1975 onward), in considering Mexican labour conditions under official programs in the US (the first two timelines) and Canada (the present day), exploring the ways the labor force was constructed, managed, considered and othered. This is done through an investigation of historical archives, as well as representation in secondary literature and media accounts. Calnitsky uses her recounting history of labor to advocate for reconsideration of the way labor and its nativist resistance is represented, with a call for more research in to the implications of her research on contemporary labor and migration practices, which remains a salient condition in US and Mexican relations in our new millennium.

Turning from the US to Syria, Ella Mudie discusses the representation of the various cultures at stake in the recent armed conflicts in and around Palmyra. “Palmyra and the radical Other” looks at discourses of heritage and culture, preservation and representation in considering how local and global cultures frame discussions surrounding the monuments and cultural artifacts of historical cities and civilizations. At stake is how, and who chooses, memory of specific locations is maintained and documented, and to what end the process is undertaken. Digital archiving of historical sites, placed into a heritage frame, Mudie argues, risks erasing or othering the contemporary lived experiences of the population, and diminishing or occluding their suffering in favor of preservation of cultural heritage. She urges reconsideration of the use of technology, and the aims to which it is utilized, in the construction of our collective cultural memory.

In “Egypt in Western Popular Culture”, Aintzane Mentxaka develops a similar theme through the lens of popular culture and media representation. Exploring the lens through which Egypt is seen, in particular during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Mentxaka uses a framework of ‘active witnessing’ to interrogate presentations of Egypt in Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of the Nile, as well as in more contemporary interpretations ranging from novels to television documentaries. She does this with an aim to undermine historical renderings of postcolonial spaces, arguing that popular culture allows for reconsideration and rewriting of the representations of Egypt and other postcolonial spaces, via contemporary perspectives on otherness.

Using a contemporary lens to challenge misperceptions or characterizations of group of people in the past is also the project of Helena Bacon. In They’re Just People, That’s All, Bacon considers the representation of American carnival folk in Daniel Knauf’s Carnivàle. Using McGowan’s American version of the carnivalesque (as opposed to the Bakhtinian) she problematizes the representation of the Other, by positioning the space of the American carnival experience as both othering and redeeming, allowing the disabled and dispossessed a space to present, and re-present, their own identities outside of the normalizing framework beyond the walls of this public sphere. The use of seeing as a framework parallels other contributions to this issue, and helps develop the trend of representation, in its various forms, through its use of both representation as standing in for a marginalized group, as well as re-presentation signifying a positively framed new identity for the marginalized and displaced. The other, as she concludes, is not a simple as one might imagine.

Adele Hannon also argues for a reconsideration of those othered by contemporary society, though shifting from media representations of twentieth-century America to literary representations in early Victorian England. In “Othering the Outsider”, Hannon argues that while intererpretations of Emily Brontë’s iconic novel, Wuthering Heights, often present Heathcliff as monstrous, and settles him in a framework of alterity, her analysis challenges this notion by looking at the figure of the monster. She argues that the consideration of the monster, seen through a postmodern lens, is destabilized and undermined in its  otherness, which challenges conventional readings of Heathcliff, who is then best read as an antihero as opposed to a prototypical Gothic villain. She argues that affiliations between the unknown and undefinable Heathcliff map more appropriately onto the reader’s own anxieties, and thus reconsideration of the representation of the cultural other needs to be taken.

Likewise, Rachel Willis, in “‘A Man is Nothing without the Spice of the Devil in Him’”, urges looking at an iconic Victorian anti-hero in a new light. Here she uses considerations of Rochester’s masculinity in interpreting the elder Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Willis argues that associations of Rochester with an imperialist and colonialist frame is part of the literary representation, rather than references to contemporary historical representation, and that within the novel reading Jane and Rochester’s respective gendered presentations is key to understanding the structural message of the novel.

Rather than a close look at a specific text, Hamza Karam Ally focuses on a set of paired readings of the same event in “The Stranger and the Other.” Ally uses Kamel Doaud’s re-rendering of Camus’ classic novel, exposing a lack in Camus’s classic novel, the identity of the Arab victim. Doaud’s novel represents a writing back, in the postcolonial tradition, but such an enterprise, Karam Ally suggests, is not a simple affair of rewriting a context, and fixing an erasure, as the dynamic in place can never resolve, but only further, dialectically, the conversation of and about the identity of the characters, the reader, and the authors in question. Reading the two novels against each other, Karam Ally uses phenomenological and ethical frames to interrogate the symbolism of this lack, and the impetus beyond the presentations, finding that each novel fails along ethical lines.

Rounding off the collection, Sean Weaver considers the complex framing of identity in Hasan Namir’s 2015 novel, God in Pink. In “Postcolonial Transformations”, Weaver analyzes Namir’s novel and its presentation of national cultural norms which nonetheless exclude the lived experience of the protagonist. In questioning the established legal and cultural hegemony of sexual identity, Namir’s novel questions the creation of national cultures that can establish patterns and, at the same time, other discourses of dissent. Weaver’s analysis sees the novel as providing a voice to underrepresented aspects of Iraqi society, and the novel itself then becomes a site of representation, as well as the diegetic frame within the novel. Weaver concludes that queer narratives, such as Namir’s, can decolonize national discourses, and make visible the various identity markers available. Literary representation, thus, can force larger cultural change, through the representation of otherness.

Bibliography

Clancy, Laura and Hannah Yelin. 2018. “Meghan’s Manifesto: Meghan Markle and the Co-option of Feminism.” Celebrity Studies.

Huffer, Lynne. 2013. Are the Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex. New York: Columbia University Press.

Pande, Rukmini. 2018. Squee from the Margins. Des Moines: Univ of Iowa Press.

Wanzo, Rebecca. 2015. “African American acafandom and other strangers: New genealogies of fan studies.” Transformative Works and Cultures 20.

Many thanks to our contributors.