Fandom and Neomedia Studies

The Phoenix Papers 4.1 Abstract Pre-Prints

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The Phoenix Papers Issue 4.1 Abstract Pre-Prints

Below you will find the abstracts for the papers that will be out in the 4.1 edition of The Phoenix Papers, to be published in August. Many of them will be presented at this year’s FANS Conference in Ft. Worth, TX.

On Superherology

Kyle Hammonds, University of North Texas

In 2012, Travis Langley’s book Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight introduced the term “superherologist,” indicating Langley’s belief that scholars who study superheroes belong in a unique field of study. This presentation seeks to explore historical academic standards for the constitution of disciplines, fields, and topics and hold them against Langley’s claim that superhero studies warrant their own field. Further, if “superherology” does indeed qualify as an academic field (versus a mere topic, subject, etc.), what are the boundaries of the field and how should researchers engage in appropriate scholarship for the subject matter? The legitimacy of superhero studies in academia is bound up in whether superherologists fit the historical boundaries of rigorous scholarship.

Further, this presentation does not solely seek theoretical ground for determining whether superhero studies belongs in scholarship; a praxical approach to superhero studies is suggested through a discussion of the questions: 1) Who can be a superherologist? and 2) What are the practical aims and scope of superherology? Ultimately, the presentation will conclude that superhero fans all have the opportunity to engage in superherological work.

Feeling The Force: Exploring Star Wars Through the Lens of Durkheim

Jacob Hardy, Texas A & M University

This project explores an application of Emile Durkheim’s classic work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life to Star Wars fandom. In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim studied Aboriginal Australian religion in an effort to better understand humanity as a whole. In doing so, he introduced a variety of concepts and terms that to many of today’s readers could be considered rather confusing. This project works to make tangible and relatable the implications behind the esoteric Aboriginal Australian terminology used by Durkheim. It does so by relating vocabulary and themes contained within the text to the galaxy far, far away of Star Wars. Several key examples of this application and relation to Star Wars include relating Durkheim’s totemic force to The Force in Star Wars, connecting the concept of a churinga to the lightsaber, and examining Durkheim’s division between religion and magic by looking at the Jedi and Sith. This project then, utilizes fandom to bridge the gap between a classic sociological text and the pop culture phenomenon of Star Wars.

A Boy and His God: The Promise of Masculinity in Captain Marvel

Ryan Johnson, University of Texas at Dallas

Film and popular culture critic Bob Chipman has argued that, during the Golden Age of comics, one of the primary draws for many readers was the relationship between the adult-male hero and his young sidekick.  Many boys, left without present fathers during the 1930s and 40s, found ersatz masculine role-models in the superheroes of the day, particularly those who mentored a young sidekick, as with Batman and Robin.  While Chipman’s theory accurately explains one strong appeal of comics characters such as Batman, Superman, or Captain America to young boys, it does not account for the interest in one of the most dominant figures of the Golden Age: Captain Marvel.

The best-selling comics star for a number of years in the 1940s, Captain Marvel was a super-strong, flying champion of justice, who in reality was preteen Billy Batson.  The relationship between boy and man was, therefore, markedly different for the Fawcett Comics publication.  In this analysis, I will examine the precise nature of the relationship between Marvel and Billy through the lens of 1940s-50s masculinity in comics and culture, examining how the Captain alters and adapts the traditional heroic role of the ersatz-father to provide an idealized version of self-reliant maturity.

One and Done: The Futility of Nietzsche in One Punch Man

Ryan Johnson, University of Texas at Dallas

It is not a particularly controversial claim to say that Superman, and almost all of the be-caped figures who followed him, are examples of Friedrich Nietzsche’s übermensch.  They tower above the mortal world, exerting their great prowess for the good of humanity, regardless of social conventions.  Even the name of the Ur-hero, Superman, is indicative of the German “Superior Man.”

But the wholesome image of a beneficent demigod has not been left unchallenged in the intervening decades.  Authors such as Alan Moore and Mark Waid, among others, have imagined a world where these übermenshen are not truly heroic, but are corruptible, fallible people.  Other comics have posited similar concerns about the unthinking adoration of a pseudo-master race, and it is in this tradition that the manga One Punch Man lies.

A parody of the traditional superhero narrative, One Punch Man details the adventures of hero so incredibly strong that he defeats every opponent in the eponymous one punch.  Although an apparent exemplar of the Nietzschean ideal, the hero finds himself so strong that nothing is a challenge, and his life is ultimately unfulfilling.  By contrasting the works of Nietzsche and the mainstream superheroic interpretation thereof with the hero Saitama, I will examine precisely how the mangaka ONE and Yusuke Murata engage in hyperbolic satire to deconstruct the concept of the übermensch, portraying it as lackluster and ultimately self-defeating.

“My Group Is Discriminated against but I’m Not”: Denial of Personal Discrimination in Furry, Brony, Anime, and General Interest Fan Groups

Connor Leshner, Arizona State University

Dr. Stephen Reysen, Texas A & M University at Commerce

Dr. Courtney N. Plante, MacEwan University

Daniel Chadborn, Texas A & M University at Commerce

Dr. Sharon E. Roberts, Renison University College, University of Waterloo

Dr. Kathleen C. Gerbasi, Niagara County Community College

We examined perceived discrimination directed toward one’s fan group and toward oneself in multiple groups of fans. Specifically, furries, bronies, anime fans, and a group of miscellaneous fans completed measures assessing the extent to which they perceived discrimination toward both their fan group and toward themselves. Across all samples, participants reported greater discrimination directed toward their fan group than toward themselves, suggesting denial of personal discrimination. The difference between personal discrimination and fandom discrimination is a reliable one, as suggested by its persistence despite considerable differences between the groups with regard to the level of societal stigma, differences thought to be a product of their perceived similarity to prototypical fans (i.e., sport fans). The implications of these results and future directions for this line of research are discussed.

“Something Wicked This Way Comes”: Apocalyptic Overtones and the Descent into Ennui in John Logan’s TV Series Penny Dreadful

Dr. Richard Logsdon, Professor Emeritus, College of Southern Nevada

While scholars have provided some insight into Penny Dreadful, no one has addressed the relationship of the piece’s overall design to the writer’s vision. Indeed, Penny Dreadful is offered as a warning of a darker age to come.  Accordingly, writer John Logan sets his series in a late Victorian, Gothicized London that serves as a microcosm for a contemporary Western world experiencing a psychological and spiritual disintegration that touches the individual and the larger culture. Logan calls attention to the anxieties generated by this disintegration by incorporating into his series characters from late Victorian Gothic fiction: Frankenstein and his creature, Dracula, the Wolf Man, Dorian Gray, and Dr. Jekyll. The individual and cultural anxieties suggested by these characters’ “monstrous” behaviors have their basis not only in their sexual dysfunctions but in their despair over God’s absence. This crisis is centered in sexually adventurous Vanessa Ives, whose attempts to return to the Christ Who has rejected her hold the series together. In the series’ final episode, just before her death, Vanessa has a vision of Jesus. In response to Vanessa’s death, most of the remaining characters are seized by an ennui that has its counterpart in our own culture. The suggestion is that Logan uses Vanessa Ives as a symbolic representation of a dying world view, which, somewhat ironically, provided for her remaining friends a hope that sustained them.

My Hero Academia and Durkheim: A Case Study of Blood and Hair as “Sacred” Objects in a Japanese Anime Television Series

Dr. Ronald Lorenzo, Prairie View A & M University

In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), Emile Durkheim analyzed religion sociologically. Durkheim stated that religions are defined by the way they classify the world into the categories of the sacred and the profane. In religion, people, places, and things can be designated as sacred. Anything that is sacred in religion is set apart from everything else in the world that is not sacred. Strict rules are put in place on how to treat anything or anyone designated as sacred and people regard the sacred with awe and respect. In religions, gods and spirits can be sacred, but also people, places, and things. Durkheim noted that two substances of the human body conferred universally with sacredness are hair and blood. Both substances are associated with power. Thus, blood has been used in religious ceremonies as part of initiation rites or to mark a place or object as holy, even when blood is used symbolically through the use of the color red, for example. Hair, too, is a universally sacred human substance, also associated with power and respect. Societies establish rules for how hair must be worn or handled. In sacred places, rules may exist about how hair must be either exposed or covered. The hair of sacred people in different religions is worn differently from the way hair is worn by ordinary people. Durkheim’s observations can be extended to examine the way in which blood andhair are portrayed in the Japanese anime television series My Hero Academia, originally airing in Japan as Boku no Hīrō Akademia. In the series, blood, hair, and the characters associated with those substances are often portrayed as having powers above normal, or being outside the realm of the profane. The use of blood or hair as “sacred” substances by the characteristics in the animated series results in either the gain or loss of superpowers. How blood and hair are portrayed in the series is not random or idiosyncratic, but is based on shared meanings attached to these two substances.

Sounds of Silence: The Artist as Critique of Contemporary Film Methods

Lia McChane, University of North Texas

Nonverbal communication is a part of our everyday communication whether one realizes it or not. There are more messages being sent nonverbally from sender to receiver than one might initially think through forms such as your choice of clothing, lack of speech, environment, and more (Calero, 2008). Nonverbal communication between humans express so much more than language could ever tell in such a small amount of time. To cinema and theatre scholars, there is discourse about the role of dialogue in communicating a narrative to audiences. This paper focuses on understanding nonverbal communication through a silent film artifact and serves to explain and critique how nonverbal communication in the film communicates the intent of the filmmakers. Focusing on the French-directed film The Artist (2011), the author studied the use of nonverbal communication in a twenty-first-century film through the visual communication on conscious and unconscious levels. Despite being set in 1927, the 2011 film The Artist focuses on the Hollywood industry during the change from silent films to sound films. Through analyzing the film, the filmmakers for The Artist (2011) exceptionally expressed their intents to the audience through nonverbal communication, which many movies in the twenty-first century are not able to do due to their over-reliance on dialogue. Stemming back to the 1930s, Antonin Artaud’s Theatre and Its Double (1938) begins the discourse between visual communication and dialogue focusing on the premise that theatre must evoke emotion within its audience through visuals which therefore convey concrete meaning. The current study concluded that the filmmakers’ intents include the nostalgic side of setting this film in the silent era and the subtle critique of contemporary movies and Western over-reliance on dialogue to tell narratives visually. Artaud’s theory further explains the method and premise of the study and the lens used to break down the artifact. Through watching and understanding silent films, audiences have a better grasp of how the nonverbal communication, such as kinesics, proxemics, haptics, and more, in the film communicates the intent of the filmmakers. By doing these exercises and understanding nonverbal communication on a higher level, viewers are better able to pick up nonverbal cues in everyday lives which help to connect, empathize, and sympathize with other human beings.

“Coming Out” as an Anime Fan: Cosplayers in the Anime Fandom, Fan Disclosure, and Well-Being

Dr. Stephen Reysen, Texas A & M University at Commerce

Dr. Courtney N. Plante, MacEwan University

Dr. Sharon E. Roberts, Renison University College, University of Waterloo

Dr Kathleen C. Gerbasi, Niagara County Community College

In a large-scale survey of anime fans we tested whether there were differences between cosplayers and non-cosplayers with regard to their well-being and assessed the potential role of disclosing one’s fan identity as a mediator of this relationship. Anime fans indicated whether they engaged in cosplaying or not, and rated the degree to which they disclose their anime fan identity to non-fans, satisfaction with life, self-esteem, and depression. Compared to non-cosplayers, cosplayers reported greater self-disclosure and better well-being across a number of indicators. Mediation analyses revealed that the relationship between cosplaying and well-being was consistently mediated by disclosure, a finding in-line with existing research. The results highlight both the potential benefits of cosplaying, an activity often stigmatized for being unusual, as well as the importance of disclosure as a possible mechanism driving the benefits of this and other expressive fandom-related activities.

Motivations of Cosplayers to Participate in the Anime Fandom

Dr. Stephen Reysen, Texas A & M University at Commerce

Dr. Courtney N. Plante, MacEwan University

Dr. Sharon E. Roberts, Renison University College, University of Waterloo

Dr Kathleen C. Gerbasi, Niagara County Community College

We examined differences between cosplaying and non-cosplaying anime fans with regard to their motivation to participate in the anime fandom. Participants, all anime fans, completed scales assessing a myriad of possible motivations for anime fandom participation. Cosplayers rated all of the assessed motivations higher than non-cosplayers. The highest-rated motivations for cosplayers included entertainment, escape from everyday life, belongingness, eustress, and aesthetic beauty. Modest sex differences were also found, as women were more likely than men to cosplay and, even among cosplayers, women reported higher belongingness, family, self-esteem, and escape motivations. With the exception of sexual attraction, however, where men were considerably more motivated by sexual attraction than women, the effect sizes for sex differences were fairly small, suggesting little true difference between male and female cosplayers. The results are discussed in relation to past research examining anime cosplayers.

The Sartrean Struggle of Banner/Hulk in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe

Jason Sams, Arizona State University

Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk is gauged as the least favorable showing of Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). Despite its criticisms, the film remains in the cinematic canon. The opportunity to retcon the content of Ang Lee’s Hulk has been possible in any of the subsequent appearances of Banner/Hulk in MCU. However, this has never come to pass which indicates that Hulk makes a significant contribution to the character.

Unlike the traditional comic book representation of Banner/Hulk, Ang Lee’s offering does not establish the emergence of the Hulk as the result of the gamma radiation accident. Instead, an attentive analysis shows that the Hulk has been, from Banner’s birth, a part of the unity of the character. The gamma accident in the film is just a catalyst that tears away any sort of divide between the two facets of Banner/Hulk. This duality can be understood through the existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Sartre develops two concepts within Being and Nothingness that ultimately drive the ontology of Banner and Hulk, bad faith and authenticity. Banner is the epitome of bad faith, or the denial of one’s freedom in the face of the conditions of the world. Eric Bana’s banal performance becomes justifiable in this context. The Hulk, on the other hand, represents the authentic within the character. These two concepts establish the philosophical ontology through which Banner/Hulk can be best understood; driving the development of Banner/Hulk through his subsequent appearances in the MCU. The distinction between Banner and Hulk, along these existential lines, begins to decay as the interpolation of these ontologies begin to affect one another in their continuing presence within the ever expanding MCU.

One of the criticisms that was directed towards Sartre’s philosophical offering was that he underestimated the strength of the world to limit the freedom of the individual, particularly in the face of oppressive political and economic regimes. As the MCU expands, and increasingly powerful entities emerge as antagonists, it is my intent to use Banner/Hulk as a response to such a criticism. The power and strength of the Hulk may, at first, seem the key to such an argument. However, the events of Thor: Ragnarok represents the apex of the interpolation between Banner/ Hulk, which can be predicted through the existential understanding established. A possible solution to Sartre’s criticism and the continuing development of Banner/Hulk lies not with the Hulk, but in the rise of Banner.

Visual Disability in Kyōgen Zatōmono Viewed in a Sociohistorical and Religious Context

Stefanie Thomas, Ohio State University

In Noh’s sibling art of Kyōgen, a theatrical form employing many of the same conventions as the former but treating its subjects with levity rather than gravitas, one subcategory of plays which has fallen out of favor with contemporary audiences is zatōmono, i.e., plays in which the shite (primary character) is a blind person. Today, researchers of Japanese theaters are left with the question of whether these plays are supposed to make fun of the sightless characters’ disability, or whether playwrights and audiences during the Sengoku and early Edo periods saw social and/or political context in the sufferings of the blind.

This study seeks to explore the above question by providing a historical overview of the historical periods during which Kyōgen developed and flourished, and by analyzing the plots and original libretti of three plays: Chakagi zatō (茶嗅座頭, “The tea-sniffing blind men”), Tsukimi zatō (月見座頭, “Moon-viewing blind man”; this play is present in literature collections in two diverging versions, and both have been considered for the purposes of this paper), and Kawakami zatō, 川上座頭, “The blind man at Kawakami”). It will show that, inasmuch as intent as discernible in textual as opposed to performed versions of these works, the respective shite’s blindness does indeed seem to serve as an adjunctive property to other factors the playwright and audiences would have found worthy of ridicule.

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