If it’s January, it must be time for Arisia…

For those of you attending Arisia (at the Westin Boston Waterfront from January 13 through 16, 2017), here is my panel schedule. Hope to see you there!

And if you have any ideas for questions we can discuss during the panels I’m moderating, go ahead and share them in the comments or send them to me via Twitter (@drurbanski).
Friday, January 13

DC Movie Universe: Crisis on Infinite Screens

Time: 5:30pm – 6:45pm

Room: Adams (3W)

Tracks: Media

I am moderating this panel with Ed Fuqua, Bob Chipman, and Dan Toland as panelists.

With three movies under its belt, the DC Cinematic Universe is proving to be a creative cesspit, with bad stories, creative miscues, and a complete lack of a moral center. It’s easy to point at Zack Snyder as the problem, but with studio backing and decent box office, clearly the issue goes further. What’s gone wrong with DC on the big screen, and is there any hope to be had from future movies?

 

On Shaming, Bullying, and Public Humiliation

Time: 8:30pm – 9:45pm

Room: Marina 3 (2E)

Tracks: Fan Interest

I am participating on this panel along with Andy Hicks, Mark Oshiro, TheoNerd, and Inanna Arthen.

SF/F fans are no stranger to bullying — many of us who were picked on for being different at a young age found refuge and escape in the other worldliness of fantastical books, movies, and newer media. The internet age of un-moderated twitter, 4chan, and Gawker has made bullying and harassment easier. The behavior surrounding GamerGate has practically normalized it. What can this teach us about forms of public humiliation and bullying, and what we can do to push back against it?

 

Saturday, January 14

Another Look at the Bad Old Days

Time: 7pm – 8:15pm

Room: Hale (3W)

Tracks: Literature

I am participating on this panel along with Jonathan Woodward, James Hailer, Sarah Lynn Weintraub, and John G. McDaid.

A lot of SF has aged very badly. A lot of it bore appalling elements even for its time. There’s some usual suspects, but let’s look at the older works of SF with awful elements as a whole. Is there anything worth looking for in those stories? Who deserves to make problematic fave among the problematic horde? Are there lessons that are relevant to modern readers and authors to be found among the stories that make us wince?

 

Musicals as Fantasy

Time: 8:30pm – 9:45pm

Room: Bulfinch (3W)

Tracks: Fan Interest

Types: Panel

I am participating on this panel along with Chris Brathwaite, Brian Liberge, Victoria Queeno, and Jesi Pershing

Musical Theater is an art form that has a very passionate and committed fan culture. Many musicals have a lot in common with classical fantasy, both in concept and in form. So why aren’t musicals celebrated in the same spheres as Science Fiction and Fantasy literature or media? This panel will challenge the status quo as we entertain and explore arguments for and against including musicals under the umbrella of our love for all things SF/F genre!

 

Sunday, January 15

Beyond Physics: Many Sciences of Science Fiction

Time: 7pm – 8:15pm

Room: Burroughs (3E)

Tracks: Literature

I am participating on this panel along with Andrea Hairston (moderator), Heather Urbanski, Walt Williams, Dr. Pamela Gay, Dash

While a lot of speculative fiction is still very focused on physics, speculation can come from any field of study including anthropology, computer science, psychology, and history. A discussion of some of the more unusual ways that science fiction has chosen to examine the human condition.

 

Star Wars, 2017 Edition: Rogue One and More

Time: 8:30pm – 9:45pm

Room: Marina 2 (2E)

Tracks: Media

Types: Panel

I am moderating this panel with Mario Di Giacomo, Frank Wu, Kevin Cafferty, and Mink Rose as panelists.

Our annual discussion of all things Star Wars will focus on December’s *Rogue One*, but we’ll also spend some time looking at *The Force Awakens* now that the hype has settled down, and talk about future releases in the franchise.

 

Monday, January 16

Routing Around Cognitive Biases

Time: 10am – 11:15am

Room: Alcott (3W)

Tracks: Science

I am moderating this panel with Ruthanna Emrys, David G. Shaw, Stephen R Balzac, and Andrea Hairston as panelists.

Most of us have a friend who always plays the same lottery numbers, refuses to travel by airplane “because they’re not safe,” and thinks music was better when they were a kid. Your friend – indeed, most people – suffers from multiple cognitive biases. How do you make people aware of the flaws in their thinking so that they have the critical tools to avoid such biases in the future? What about the more difficult task of identifying your own biases?

 

Fan Etiquette: How Not to Be *That* Fan

Time: 2:30pm – 3:45pm

Room: Bulfinch (3W)

Tracks: Fan Interest

 

I am moderating this panel with Mark Oshiro, Eric Zuckerman, Justine Graykin, and William Frank as panelists.

Have you ever been embarrassed by your fellow fans when meeting actors, musicians, and other people of note? How can you control your emotions and come across as a fan, not a stalker? Even at movies, some fans are yelling at the screen distracting other viewers from enjoying the film. This panel would give some insight as to what is the best way to present yourself and your fandom in a favorable light.

Off to WorldCon I go…

Where to find me at MidAmeriConII (WorldCon) in Kansas City

I’ve got a great schedule of programming this week at MidAmeriConII (the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention). I hope to see you there!

 

Panel title: The Interstices of Historical and Fanfiction

Day/Time: Wednesday Aug 17 at 07:00 PM to 08:00 PM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2204
Historical fiction is a work of literature, comic, film, or television program set in the past. Fanfiction is a work of fiction produced by fans for fans, using famous people or source texts as their inspiration. Frequently the worlds overlap. Let’s discuss the overlaps, benefits, and pitfalls of working in these genres. The overlaps include writing fanfiction about historical fiction, setting fanfiction in an alternative universe by placing the narrative in a different historical era, fanworks about real-life historical figures (Historical RPF), or historical fanworks — any fanwork set in the past.

With Lyda Morehouse; Ms Sumana Harihareswara; Teresa Nielsen Hayden

 

Panel title: Joyful Disruption: Narratology and the SF/F Franchise (Solo presentation)

Day/Time: Thursday Aug 18 at 09:00 AM to 10:00 AM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2201

Despite familiar complaints about the lack of creativity, interlocking franchise stories like those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars saga rely on complex narrative functions that I weave together into a cohesive theory involving disruption among layers of narrative; the role of canon, and other forms of cultural memory; and textual boundaries. My overall goal is to identify what it is about these franchise stories that creates “built-in” loyal audiences in the first place. In other words, I’m working to answer the question, what are the narrative features of these franchises that keep bringing audiences back time and again?

 

Panel title: Science Fiction at Universities: Creating the Canon

Day/Time:Thursday Aug 18   06:00 PM to 07:00 PM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2204

Different universities including Dundee, Liverpool and the local Kansas City University run science fiction courses. The reading material they cite as foundational varies considerably, with some including very few women, PoC or otherwise diverse SF while others start from a basis that SF began with Mary Shelley and includes works such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915) and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s, We (1921). What influence do university courses have on canon formation and what responsibilities do they have in representing and encouraging awareness of the diversity of material that is published?

With Dr. Paul Booth; Ms. Lynne M. Thomas; Gary Wolfe

 

Panel title: I Don’t Believe in Science

Day/Time: Sunday Aug 21   01:00 PM to 02:00 PM

Location: Kansas City Convention Center – 2204

All too often we hear about people who “Don’t Believe in Science”, but science isn’t about belief.  A discussion about why talking about science in terms of belief does science, and faith, a disservice.

Moderating this discussion with panelists Renée Sieber, Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, Carl Fink, and Benjamin C. Kinney.

My Arisia 2016 Schedule

For those of you attending Arisia (at the Westin Boston Waterfront from January 15 through 18, 2016), here is my panel schedule. Because of other commitments, I won’t be arriving until Sunday but am looking forward to fitting in as much con as I can. Hope to see you there!

 

Sunday, January 17

Time: 4:00 pm

Panel #473: Beauty and the Best at 25

Location: Marina 2

Description: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remains the only animated feature to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination during the five-nominee era, and is one of Disney’s modern masterpieces. It’s got gorgeous songs, wonderful animation, and great acting, but also has some incredibly uncomfortable issues revolving around gender roles and abuse. How well has this Disney classic aged, how much has it influenced contemporary animation, and where does it rank amongst Disney films?

 

Time: 5:30 pm

Panel #480: Lesser Known Tropes v. Women in SF/F

Location: Faneuil

Description: We’ve had enough of the tropes of woman-as-accessory, sexual assault, and fridging. We debate what makes a Strong Female Character. But there are other tropes that crop up in stories around women characters that deserve discussion, many of which deserve to be retired. This is the panel to talk about these lesser-discussed tropes and what to do with them.

 

Time: 8:30 pm

Panel #460: The Hunger Games

Location: Burroughs

Description: With part two of Mockingjay, the big-screen adaptation of The Hunger Games has finished its run. We’ll look back on the series as a whole, evaluating it both as it relates to the books of Suzanne Collins and as a standalone set of films. How has the range of different directors and writers (as well as the casting choices, which have leaned very heavily towards whitewashing the cast) helped shape the franchise, and what affect has the series had on the state of YA filmmaking?

 


 

Monday, January 18

Time: 10:00 am

Panel #306: Inside Out: Pixar Gets Smart

Location: Marina 4

Description: Pixar’s Inside Out was a huge hit, and received rave reviews even by Pixar standards. Part of this love comes from the surprising depth of insight the movie has into what makes people in general — and young girls in particular — experience emotions, and why “negative” emotions like sadness can be absolutely vital. But beyond the insight, it was also a gloriously entertaining movie, and one that we’ll discuss and celebrate on this panel.


Time: 1:00 pm

Panel #323: I Hate the Hero

Location: Marina 1

Description: Is there a story with a protagonist that you dislike or maybe is just not likeable. I don’t mean, ‘The heavy is cooler than the hero,’ which is common. I mean you loathe the hero, to the point of rooting for the antagonist just to see them fail. What makes a hero likeable and do they have to be likeable for fans to be interested in the story?

 

Time: 2:30 pm

Panel #351: The Story Within the Story

Location: Marina 2

Description: Relatively few SFnal works give narrative the kind of central role within their heroes’ world that it often plays in our own. What works have best created stories within a story, and which are notable for the absence of a literary tradition where you might expect to find one?

Calling all writing instructors in the Northeast!

There are just ten days left to submit a proposal to the Northeast Modern Language Association Conference to be held in Hartford, CT in March 2016.

I’m chairing one panel and one roundtable focused on teaching writing and while there are some great submissions already, I’d love to hear from more of the scholar-practitioners doing the innovating in the classroom. Please consider submitting a proposal to one or both of these sessions. And if neither of these grabs your interest, take a look at the other awesome Rhetoric and Composition sessions being offered this year.

The Student as Writer: Embodiment, Mindfulness, and Disability in the Composition Classroom (Panel)

In this session, we review ways to approach the First Year Composition and other writing classrooms by focusing on the students as embodied writers, taking student-centered pedagogy to a new level. Areas of interest for papers include, but are not limited to, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and disability studies. A combination of theoretical and practical perspectives will be employed to locate the student as embodied writer within the disciplinary tradition.

Evaluating Student Writing (Roundtable)

Have you ever wondered, “How on Earth can I grade this poem? Can creativity even be quantified?” Or, “how should revision fit into the overall course grade?” In this roundtable, writing instructors from a variety of fields (rhetoric and composition; technical writing; creative writing; and more) will discuss their systems for assessing and evaluating student writing in the college classroom. Both conceptual and pragmatic concerns will be addressed for making the evaluation and feedback process an integral part of our writing pedagogy.

Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series; Post #4: Head Canon

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for an article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue of New York Magazine (see here for the article). As I have in the previous posts in this series, I’m sharing some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version. The focus for this final post is the phenomenon of fan production known as “head canon.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (the gold standard for academics, so I’ve been told), the first definition of canon is, “A rule, law, or decree of the Church; esp. a rule laid down by an ecclesiastical Council. the canon (collectively)” and reaches back to around the year 890. And in popular culture, there are few words that carry as much reverence and debate  as “canon.” When it comes to “head canon,” a key element of this fan activity is that it doesn’t change the established narrative of the “official” canon, unlike AU (alternate universe) fan fiction. It fills in the gaps, but doesn’t contradict the established storyline.

All stories have gaps. That’s the nature of narrative and this nature is counter-intuitively enhanced in long-running series. Fans want to know what is happening off-screen, between installments, before the series started, and, of course, after the stories “end.” This impulse fuels fan fiction and fan art but also the less-developed head canon. This is, as its name implies, primarily a private/personal mini story created by a fan for his or her favorite series, usually focusing on beloved characters. Social media, however, provides platforms for the sharing of these “personal” canons among fans. One of the most popular platforms for this is Tumblr, where just a quick search of the #headcanon tag can fill hours and hours of fun. It is one of those digital arenas that should come with a warning label for how much time it can absorb.

One of my favorite fandoms for active head canon focuses on Harry Potter. When I’ve looked at these before from a scholarly perspective, I found that fan interest in head canon tends to fall into three general areas for this series:

  1. Before the events of Philosopher’s Stone (split between the Founders of Hogwarts and the Marauders, Harry’s parents and their friends).
  2. During the seven books, minus the Epilogue of Deathly Hallows, particularly the summers Harry spends with the Weasleys at the Burrow.
  3. Between the end of Deathly Hallows and its Epilogue.

Another example of head canon I particularly like was shared by a fellow panelist on the Marvel Cinematic Universe session at the 2015 Arisia Convention (a Boston-area science fiction convention): the children and grandchildren of the Howling Commandos (from Captain America: The First Avenger) see themselves as family who get together frequently and can be called upon to support each other at a moment’s notice. This provides a nice gap-filler in the storyline from the mid-season finale of Agents of SHIELD‘s second season where one such descendant, who is part of the team, is killed. From my perspective, it allowed me to see that agent’s mother having an extensive support system to help her through her grief (which we glimpse briefly at the end of one episode) and also to imagine an entire network of skilled operatives looking to avenge their lost “cousin.”

Of course, head canon also comes with a downside in terms of memory when fans become so attached to one that they might lose sight of the “head” or non-official nature of it. I’ve fallen into this trap myself but haven’t let it stop me from delving into this particular form of fan production. It’s just too much fun.

Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series; Post #3: Canon’s Dark Side

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for a New York Magazine article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue (see here for the article). As I wrote in the previous two posts, I am sharing some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version via a series of weekly blog posts. Today’s focus is the dark side of canon used as an exclusionary tactic and gatekeeping mechanism to separate out “real” fans from the rest of us.

One thing that became clear for me while doing the research for The Science Fiction Reboot is that fans do not always wield the power of canon with an accompanying level of responsibility (or even common decency in some cases). Canon has been employed in much less joyful ways, particularly with long-running stories such as those in the comics universes and Star Trek. All one has to do is Google “Star Trek in Name Only” or “fake geek girls” to see this dark side in action (though I would add significant content warnings to those searches for abuse of all kinds, especially misogynistic).

One particular manifestation of this dark side (pun intended) that I encounter anytime I talk about Star Wars is those who declare that the prequels “do not exist” (as if they somehow live in a parallel universe where the movies were not made and released), which has also led to the social media meme/trend where “real” fan-parents pledge to only show their children Episodes IV-VI, “as it should be.” I covered my personal frustration with this attitude in the Afterword of The Science Fiction Reboot but, the TL;DR of my take on the prequels versus original trilogy “debate” would be that it was never going to be possible for anyone, let alone a mere mortal like George Lucas, to recapture the magic fans associate with those original three movies for those who saw them between 1977 and 1999. What can be indisputably observed, however, is the magical effect the prequel trilogy and related television series (Clone Wars and now Rebels) has on the children born after 2000, who encounter all six episodes. The magic lives.

There are also those who have expressed similar indignation at the canon “trim” to the Star Wars universe currently in process at Lucasfilm/Disney Studios. Some fans who enjoyed the extended universe (primarily the novel series that continued the story post-Return of the Jedi) are quite distressed that the events and characters in those stories will not be part of the ongoing canon. And they have been quite vocal, even vulgar, about it online.

To use the cliche, it seems we are either damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Not all changes to canon in reboots work for all fans. And when we write it that directly, it seems so obvious. Yet, there are those who seem to believe that their self-proclaimed status in a particular fandom endows them with the authority to pass judgment over what is “allowed” in canon and what is not. Such “authority” also seems to include deciding who may identify as a fan and who may not. I’m not talking about criticism or critique; I mean outright rejection of a text’s existence as part of the canon. I have said to my students several times over various genre courses that when you reject a text, whether it is a reboot or a sequel or even just a story arc you didn’t like, you are also rejecting the fans of that text at the same time.

That is not the fandom community I want to be a part of. Rather, I can illustrate what fandom community can be with a brief story about the first time I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on its opening weekend this past May. I was attending the Northeast Modern Language Association conference in Toronto and so went to a screening with a few fellow scholars. During our dinner after the movie, I spent most of my time answering questions about the Marvel Cinematic Universe for these three friends who were much more well-versed in the comics canon than I can ever hope to be. It could have become a competition at that point, and at other times in fan spaces it has, but we didn’t let it go there.

The competing levels of canon, and differing experiences with these stories, don’t have to be barriers to community or gates keeping the “unworthy” out of the realm. I’ve heard several times at conventions that the great thing about fandom is that when someone learns you haven’t read/watched/played a particular genre favorite, the response is not judgment or disdain but, in the vernacular, a “squee” of “Oh my God, you have to see/read/play it! Let me see if I have a copy with me I can lend you.” I’ve experienced both the dark and the light side of fandom and have seen canon employed for both good and evil (as it were).
Next up in the blog series on fandom and canon: the phenomenon known as “head canon.”

Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series. Post #1: Joy of Fandom

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for a New York Magazine article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue (see here for the article). As many who know me can attest, I can talk and write about the subject of science fiction/fantasy fandom and canon at great length and even in the digital environment, there are limits to the amount of room available for any single article.

I’m very happy with the way the article turned out but wanted to share some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version in a series of weekly blog posts. Today’s focus is the joy and pleasure that canon brings to the audience experience with a text (meaning film, book, television series, graphic novel, video game, etc.).

Perhaps the most obvious role of canon in any series is that it rewards the long-time viewer and this is especially true for the SF/F genre because of the complex world-building so many series rely upon for their storytelling. This can create a steep barrier to entry for new viewers after several years (or even decades) of material and one could argue that Marvel is getting close to that tipping point in their Phase 2 storylines. The benefits of added pleasure for fans, though, as we search for clues and hints seems to be worth that risk at the moment. Examples of such breadcrumbs within the Marvel Cinematic Universe include the slow reveal that Skye’s birth name is Daisy Johnson over the second season of Agents of SHIELD and the mention of Wakanda in Avengers: Age of Ultron, setting up the introduction of the Black Panther character in an upcoming film.

The impulse to spend more time in the storyworld is one recognized by fan scholars for many years and it seems to fuel the current success of book series/sequels/reboots/spinoffs particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genre.  Essentially, these books/films/shows/games provide devoted fans with another opportunity to experience a story we clearly love. Otherwise, why would we read/watch/play, and more concretely, spend our money? Fandom is about joy and canon is one of the elements of the pleasure fans derive from our favorite stories.

We are currently in an exciting time for this sort of canon-work in many different manifestations. For example, the A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones saga is running parallel canons between the book series and the HBO show, with both being ongoing as opposed to, for example, Outlander, where a vast majority of the story has already been told. The complexities of these parallel “official” canons are something to watch very closely in terms of fan reactions and behaviors over the coming years. Notions such as spoilers and “faithfulness” to the original source material are likely to be turned on their heads by this story when all is said and done.

In addition, deliberate, high-level attention is being paid to the canon of several other ongoing, high-profile properties, though in seeming opposite directions. While the Star Wars canon is being “trimmed” by Disney in preparation for the upcoming movies, there is no question of extensive and intentional planning within the Marvel Cinematic Universe where breadcrumbs and clues are being established in films years in advance in some cases, all masterminded by Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios (interestingly also owned by Disney).

As I argue in The Science Fiction Reboot, a more conventional explanation for changes to canon in reboots is that it allows for changes and updates to familiar stories. This is usually explained as making the stories “grittier” and less idealistic than their original versions but my perspective is that is a much too limited explanation. For example, as both a scholar and a fan, I was less interested in the Starbuck gender swap in the Battlestar Galactica series reboot and more compelled by the change to Cylon origins. This change to the canon changed the story from one of alien invasion, a la War of the Worlds, to one of the consequences of playing God and creating new life, a la Frankenstein. That is what kept me watching the rebooted series for as long as I did, though eventually I lost interest.

Next up in the blog series on fandom and canon: The long tradition within Western storytelling of putting one’s own “spin” on canon.