Locating Anti-Fandom in Extratextual Mash-Ups

Bertha Chin

Abstract


Fan cultural production, be it in the form of fan fiction, art or videos are often celebrated in fan studies as evidence of fan creativity, fans’ skills in adopting technology and their expert knowledge of the texts. As Jenkins argues, “the pleasure of the form centers on the fascination in watching familiar images wrenched free from their previous contexts and assigned alternative meanings” (227). However, can fan mash-up videos can also offer an alternative view, not of one’s fandom, but of anti-fandom? Fan pleasure is often seen as declaring love for a text through juxtaposing images to sound in a mash-up video, but this paper will argue that it can also demonstrate hate. Specifically, can these videos affirm anti-fandom readings of a particular text, when clips from two (or more) different texts, seemingly of the same genre and targeting the same demographics, are edited together to offer an alternative story? 

In 2009, a video entitled Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed (hereafter BvE) (See Video 1) was uploaded to YouTube, juxtaposing clips from across the seven series of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and the first film of the Twilight series. Twilight is a series of novels written by Stephenie Meyer which was adapted into a successful series of five films between the period of 2008 and 2012. Its vampire-centric romance story has resulted in numerous comparisons to, among others, the cult and popular television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (hereafter Buffy) created by Joss Whedon, which aired from 1997 to 2003. In BvE, which has over three million views to date and reportedly has been translated into thirty different languages, Jonathan McIntosh, the video’s creator, “changes Edward Cullen from a smouldering, sparkly antihero into a self-obsessed stalker who's prone to throwing tantrums. Buffy Summers reacts to him with disdain and dwindling patience, assertively rebuking his every self-indulgence” (Leduc). By editing together clips from two texts seemingly of the same genre and targeting the same demographics, this video affirms an anti-fandom reading of Twilight.


Video 1: Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed

On the first viewing of the video, I was struck by how accurately it portrayed my own misgivings about Twilight, and by how I had wished Bella Swan was more like Buffy Summers and been a positive role model for girls and women. The content of the video mash-up—along with fan reactions to it—suggests and perpetuates an anti-fandom reading of Twilight via Buffy, by positioning the latter as a text with higher cultural value, in terms of its influence and representations of female characters. As McIntosh himself clarifies in an interview, “the audience is not supposed to go “Oh, see how TV is stupid?” They’re supposed to go “Oh, see how Buffy was awesome!”” (ikat381).

As such, the BvE mash-up can be read, not just as a criticism of popular commercial texts, but also as an anti-fan production. Much work surrounding fan culture extrapolates on fans’ love for a text, but I’d like to propose that mash-ups such as BvE reaffirms anti-fandom readings of derided texts via another that is deemed—and presented—as culturally more valuable. In this essay, BvE will be used as an example of how anti-fandom productions can reinforce the audience’s opinion of a despised text.

When BvE first launched, it was circulated widely among Buffy fandom, and the narrative of the mash-up, and its implications were debated rather fiercely on Whedonesque.com [http://whedonesque.com/comments/20883], one of the main sites for Joss Whedon’s fandom. Comparisons between the two texts, despite existing in different mediums (film vs. television), were common among general media—some survey respondents reveal they were persuaded to read the books or watch the first film by its assumed similarities to Buffy— as both feature somewhat similar storylines on the surface: a young, teenaged (human) girl falling in love with a vampire, and were presumably aimed at the same demographics of teenaged and college-aged girls. The similarities seem to end there though, for while Buffy is often hailed as a feminist text, Twilight is dismissed as anti-feminist, down to its apparently rabid and overly-emotional (female) fanbase. As one Buffy fan on Whedonesque clarifies:

Buffy was more real than Bella ever thought of being. Buffy was flawed, made mistakes, bad decisions and we never saw her sort out a healthy romantic relationship but she was still a tremendous role model not for just teen girl but teen boys as well. […] Bella's big claim to fame seems to be she didn't sleep with her boyfriend before marriage but that was his choice, not hers.

BvE appears to reflect the above comparison, as McIntosh justifies the video as “a pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behaviour”—essentially a problem that Buffy, as a vampire slayer and a feminist icon can solve (for the greater good). For the purpose of this paper, I was interested to see if those who are active in fandom in general are aware of the BvE video, and if it informs or reaffirms their anti-fandom views of Twilight.

Methodology

A short online survey was devised with this in mind and a link to the survey was provided via Twitter (the link was retweeted 27 times), with the explanation that it is on Twilight anti-fandom and the BvE mash-up video. It was further shared on Facebook, by friends and peers. At the same time, I also requested for the link to be posted by the administrators of Whedonesque.com. Despite the posting at Whedonesque, the survey was not particularly aimed at Buffy fans, but rather fans in general who are familiar with both texts. The survey received 419 responses in the span of 24 hours, suggesting that the topic of (Twilight) anti-fandom is one that fans—or anti-fans—are passionately engaged with. Out of the 419 responses,  357 people have seen BvE, and 208 have read the book(s) and/or saw the film(s). The other 211 respondents came into contact with Twilight through paratexts, “semi-textual fragments that surround and position the work” (Gray New 72), such as trailers, word-of-mouth and news outlets.

Anti-Fandom, Twilight, and the Buffy vs Edward Mash-Up

Fan studies have given us insights into the world of fandom, informing us about the texts that fans love, what fans do with those texts and characters, and how fans interact with one another within the context of fandom. As Henry Jenkins explains:

Fan culture finds that utopian dimension within popular culture a site for constructing an alternative culture. Its society is responsive to the needs that draw its members to commercial entertainment, most especially the desire for affiliation, friendship, community (282).

Fan studies has obviously progressed from Jenkins’s initial observations as fan scholars subsequently proceed to complicate and augment the field. However, many gaps and silences remain to be filled:

Hills (2002) […] argued that fandom is ‘not a thing that can be picked over analytically’ (pp. xi-xii) and separated into neat categories, but is a performative, psychological action that differs according to person, fandom, and generation (Sheffield and Merlo 209).

In a 2003 article, Jonathan Gray reflects that in fan scholars’ enthusiasm to present the many interesting facets of fan culture, “reception studies are distorting our understanding of the text, the consumer and the interaction between them” (New Audiences 68). So while there is the friendship, affiliation and sense of community where fans share their mutual affection for their favourite texts and characters, there are also those who engage critically with the texts that they dislike. Gray identifies them as the anti-fans, arguing that these anti-fans are not “against fandom per se, […] but they strongly dislike a given text or genre, considering it inane, stupid, morally bankrupt and/or aesthetic drivel” (New New Audiences 70).

Most anti-fans’ encounter with their hated text will not merely be through the text itself, but also through its surrounding paratexts, such as trailers and press articles. These paratextual pieces inform the anti-fan about the text, as much as the original text itself, and together they add to the formation of the anti-fannish identity:

Rather than engaging the text directly, […] anti-fans often respond to a “text” they construct from paratextual fragments such as news coverage or word-of-mouth, reading, watching, and learning all they can about a show, book, or person in order to better understand and criticize the text (and, very often, its fans) (Sheffield and Merlo 209).

Media attention directed at the Twilight franchise, as well as the attention Twilight fans receive has made it a popular subject in both fan and anti-fan studies. Dan Haggard, in a 2010 online posting, commented on the fascinating position of Twilight fans in popular culture:

The Twilight fan is interesting because of reports (however well substantiated) of a degree of extremism that goes beyond what is acceptable, even when considered from a perspective relative to standard fan obsession. The point here is not so much whether Twilight fans are any more extreme than standard fans, but that there is a perception that they are so. (qtd. in Pinkowitz)

Twilight fans are more often than not, described as “rabid” and “frenzied” (Click), particularly by the media. This is, of course, in total opposition to the identity of the fan as effective consumer or productive (free) labourer, which scholars like Baym and Burnett, for example, have observed. The anti-fandom in this case seems to go beyond the original text (both the books and the film franchises), extending to the fans themselves.

Pinkowitz explains that the anti-fans she examined resent the success Twilight has amassed as they consider the books to be poorly written and they “strongly dislike the popular belief that the Twilight books are good literature and that they deserve the fanaticism its rabid fans demonstrate”. Some survey respondents share this view, criticising that the “writing is horrible”, the books have “awful prose” and “melodramatic characterisations”. Sheffield and Merlo demonstrate that the “most visible Twilight anti-fan behaviors are those that mock or “snark” about the “rabid” Twilight fans, who they argue, “give other fans a bad name”” (210).

However, BvE presents another text with which Twilight can be compared to in the form of Buffy. As one survey respondent explains:

Bella is a weak character who lacks agency. She lacks the wit, will-power, and determination that makes Buffy such a fun character. […] She is a huge step back especially compared to Buffy, but also compared to almost any modern heroine.

Paul Booth argues that for mash-ups, or remixes, to work, as audiences, we are expected to understand—and identify—the texts that are referenced, even if they may be out of context: “we as audiences must be knowledgeable about both sources, as well as the convergence of them, in order to make sense of the final product”. Survey respondents have commented that the mash-up was “more about pleasing Buffy fans”, and that it was “created with an agenda, by someone who hates Twilight and loves Buffy,” which gives “a biased introduction to Buffy”. On the other hand, others have commented that the mash-up “makes [Twilight] seem better than it actually is”, and that it “reinforced [their] perceptions” of Twilight as a weaker text.

Booth also suggests that mash-ups create new understandings of taste, of which I would argue that is reinforced through BvE, which McIntosh describes as a “metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century”. In fact, many of the survey respondents share McIntosh’s view, criticising Twilight as an anti-feminist text that, for all its supposed cultural influence, is sending a dangerous message to young girls who are the target demographic of the franchise. As they reflect:

It bothers me that so many people (and especially women) love and embrace the story, when at its crux it is about a woman trying to choose between two men. Neither men are particularly good/safe for her, but the book romanticizes the possible violence toward Bella.

The idea that Bella is nothing without Edward, that her entire life is defined by this man. She gives up her life—literally—to be with him. It is unhealthy and obsessive. It also implies to women that stalking behaviour like Edward's is romantic rather than illegal.

I think what bothers me the most is how Meyers presents an abusive relationship where the old guy (but he's sparkly and pretty, so it's ok) in question stalks the heroine, has her kidnapped, and physically prevents her from seeing whom she wants to see is portrayed as love. In a good way.

These testimonials show that fans take a moral stand towards Twilight’s representation of women, specifically Bella Swan. Twilight acts in counterpoint to a text like Buffy, which is critically acclaimed and have been lauded for its feminist representation (the idea that a young, petite girl has the power to fight vampires and other supernatural creatures). The fact that Buffy is a chronological older text makes some fans lament that the girl-power and empowerment that was showcased in the 1990s has now regressed down to the personification of Bella Swan.

Gray argues that anti-fandom is also about expectations of quality and value: “of what a text should be like, of what is a waste of media time and space, of what morality or aesthetics texts should adopt, and of what we would like to see others watch or read” (New 73). This notion of taste, and cultural value comes through again as respondents who are fans of Buffy testify:

It's not very well-written. I strongly dislike the weak parallels one could draw between the two. Yes Angel and Spike went through a creepy stalking phase with Buffy, and yes for a while there was some romantic triangle action but there was so much more going on. […] My biggest issue is with Bella's characterization. She has flaws and desires but she is basically a whiney, mopey blob. She is a huge step back especially compared to Buffy, but also compared to almost any modern heroine.

There is tremendous richness in Buffy—themes are more literate, historically allusive and psychologically deeper than boy-meets-girl, girl submits, boy is tamed. Edward Cullen is white-faced and blank; Spike and Angel are white-faced and shadowed, hollowed, sculpted—occasionally tortured. Twilight invites teen girls to project their desires; Spike and Angel have qualities which are discovered.

Buffy the character grows and evolves. Her environment changes as she experiences the world around her. Decisions that she made in high school were re-visited years later, and based on her past experiences, she makes different choices. Bella, however, loses nothing. There's no consequence to her being turned. There's no growth to her character.

The final act in the mash-up video, of Buffy slaying Edward can be seen as a re-empowerment for those who do not share the same love for Twilight as its fans do. In the follow-up to his 2003 article that launched the concept of anti-fandom, Gray argues that:

Hate or dislike of a text can be just as powerful as can a strong and admiring, affective relationship with a text, and they can produce just as much activity, identification, meaning, and “effects” or serve just as powerfully to unite and sustain a community or subculture (Antifandom 841).

Conclusion

The video mash-up, in this case, can be read as an anti-fandom reading of Twilight via Buffy, in which the superiority of Buffy as a text is repeatedly reinforced. When asked if the mash-up video would encourage the survey respondents to consider watching Twilight (if they have not before), the respondents’ answers range from a repeated mantra of “No”, to “It makes me want to burn every copy”, to “Not unless it is to mock, or for the purpose of a drinking game”. Not merely resorting to mocking, what McIntosh’s mash-up video has given Twilight anti-fans is yet another paratextual fragment with which to read the text (as in, Edward Cullen is creepy and controlling, therefore he deserves to be slayed, as should have happened if he was in the Buffy universe instead of Twilight).

In other words, what I am suggesting here is that anti-fandom can be enforced through the careful framing of a mash-up video, such as that of the Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed mash-up, where the text considered more culturally valuable is used to read and comment on the one considered less valuable.

References

Baym, Nancy, and Robert Burnett. Amateur Experts: International Fan Labour in Swedish Independent Music. Copenhagen, Denmark, 2008.

Booth, Paul. “Mashup as Temporal Amalgam: Time, Taste, and Textuality.” Transformative Works and Cultures 9 (2012): n. pag. 3 Apr. 2013 < http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/297/285 >. 

Click, Melissa. “‘Rabid’, ‘Obsessed’, and ‘Frenzied’: Understanding Twilight Fangirls and the Gendered Politics of Fandom.” Flow 11.4 (2009): n. pag. 18 June 2013 < http://flowtv.org/2009/12/rabid-obsessed-and-frenzied-understanding-twilight-fangirls-and-the-gendered-politics-of-fandom-melissa-click-university-of-missouri/ >.

Gray, Jonathan. “Antifandom and the Moral Text: Television without Pity and Textual Dislike.” American Behavioral Scientist 48 (2005): 840–858. 

———. “New Audiences, New Textualities: Anti-Fans and Non-Fans.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 6.1 (2003): 64–81.

Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. London: Routledge, 2002. 

ikat381. “Total Recut Interviews Jonathan McIntosh about Buffy vs. Edward.” Total Recut 24 Dec. 2009. 20 July 2013 < http://www.totalrecut.com/permalink.php?perma_id=265 >.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. 

Leduc, Martin. “The Two-Source Illusion: How Vidding Practices Changed Jonathan McIntosh’s Political Remix Videos.” Transformative Works and Cultures 9 (2012): n. pag. 19 July 2013 < http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/379/274 >.

McIntosh, Jonathan. “Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed.” Rebelliouspixels 20 June 2009. 2 Apr. 2013 < http://www.rebelliouspixels.com/2009/buffy-vs-edward-twilight-remixed >. 

Pinkowitz, Jacqueline. “‘The Rabid Fans That Take [Twilight] Much Too Seriously’: The Construction and Rejection of Excess in Twilight Antifandom.” Transformative Works and Cultures 7 (2011): n. pag. 21 June 2013 < http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/247/253 >.

Sheffield, Jessica, and Elyse Merlo. “Biting Back: Twilight Anti-Fandom and the Rhetoric of Superiority.” Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media and the Vampire Franchise. Eds. Melissa Click, Jessica Stevens Aubrey, & Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz. New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2010. 207–224.


Keywords


anti-fandom; fandom; Twilight; Buffy the Vampire Slayer



Copyright (c) 2013 Bertha Chin

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