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About the Author
Katie King is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of Theory in Its Feminist Travels: Conversations in U.S. Women’s Movements.
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NETWORKED REENACTMENTSStories Transdisciplinary Knowledges Tell
By KATIE KING
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNATIONALITIES, SEXUALITIES, AND GLOBAL TV Highlander, Xena, and Meanings of European Union
COUNTDOWN, 1992: TRAVELING IMAGES
THE YEAR 1992 was the countdown year for the formation of the European single market, the regional economic entity—utopian for some, dystopian for others—now intended to recenter Europe in a global politics fragmented in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union (even given that earlier plans for "European Community" considerably predated "the fall of Communism"). It was this new "European Union" that would necessarily refigure what counted as Europe—literally which countries now would be in this redesigned entity "Europe" and which not—and that now would also reconceive the telescoping meanings of nationalisms, regionalisms, and localisms backdropped by the global economy. The year 1992 also marked the five hundredth anniversary of the so-called discovery of the new world: the invasion of the Americas by European conquerors. The contest to represent that moment in this one was part of a new "war" of "image superpowers":= engaging national desires to valorize old colonialisms in the face of new ones, and oppositional political movements attempting to address the face of new racisms in Europe and elsewhere only too often traveling as national and ethnic identities.
The year 1992 was also when the action adventure TV series Highlander first premiered—"the first European co-produced weekly hour to be sold into the US syndication market." Based on a fantasy world of immortal sword fighters similar to the worlds created in comics and computer games, Highlander might well be historically positioned among conventions refined in hobby communities such as the Society for Creative Anachronism. Today Highlander communities are managed on the web, often by commercial interests. It is here with Highlander we begin looking for and at reenactments networked under globalization.
And in this chapter Highlander is paired with its mid-nineties US counterpart, Xena: Warrior Princess, as a complementary but differently centered response to changing conditions in media making, one in a trajectory of off-shoring production at other ranges of globalization. This chapter takes as its case study of globalization processes the political economies of images within and beyond the European Union generated by those making, using, selling, and showing off the action adventure TV shows Highlander and Xena. It introduces thick descriptions of globalization processes that in later chapters work to narrate and demonstrate interconnecting televisual infrastructures.
So this chapter starts off with noting how sexual and national identities inhabit strangely shifting geographies, literal sets on which to stage productions of European Union. Commercial powers named in cultural studies by David Morley and Kevin Robins, "enterprise culture" and "heritage culture," showcase a particular kind of "global citizenship." Freddie Mercury of the mega-international rock group Queen displays such citizenship in a range of sexualized masculinities, before and together with the Highlander films and TV series. Sexual and national identities are intertwined as forbidden topics in interactive Highlander Internet communities of practice. Such communities literally construct a map of the niche markets for consuming the reenactments of Highlander and Xena, while their interactive dynamics animate image maps of European Union. All together these shiftings, stagings, and mappings exemplify forms of consciousness cultivated, sometimes celebrated, and necessarily inhabited by those of us altered and altering under globalization.
GLOBAL GAY FORMATIONS AND LOCAL HOMOSEXUALITIES
My own pleasure in Highlander began with the principal actor Adrian Paul's eroticized image. I immediately (and somewhat idiosyncratically) "recognized" it as gay (the image, not necessarily the main story character Duncan MacLeod, or the actor Adrian Paul). It was in this "recognition" that I discovered my pleasure in the show. As a lesbian I was surprised: this was really the first TV show since my adolescence in which an eroticized male image seemed so powerfully attractive to me. Perhaps that is why I assumed it was somehow gay. Other signs appeared to heighten my pleasure in what seemed to me to be a circulation of gay meanings. First was the use of Paris's Shakespeare and Company as a location and story site—this bookstore that in the twenties on the Rue de l'Odéon had been run and made famous by lesbian lovers Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier was now known on the show simply as "the American bookstore." Second was the powerful emotional engagement of the show's theme music, "Princes of the Universe," composed and performed by Queen and originally sung by the late Freddie Mercury. Mercury had died of aids in November 1991, the year before the TV series Highlander began.
It was not that I assumed that there was a latent homosexual subtext, a topic repeatedly raised in the mid-nineties on the international Internet newsgroup alt.TV.highlander but usually treated with scorn by those fans; no, I assumed it was something else. I puzzled over it. On impulse at the supermarket I picked up a special issue of Entertainment Weekly. This issue shouted on its cover "The Gay '90s: Entertainment Comes Out of the Closet." In the cover article by Jess Cagle, "America Sees Shades of Gay," I found words to describe the impression I had received from the show: "mutual inclusiveness—the give and take back—of gay and straight audiences. Its sex appeal bids for the attention of all sexual persuasions; so do its jokes, and the screen winks broadly in all directions." Or, "the most striking and omnipresent outgrowth of that awakening has been in the mass marketing of erotic male images." "They're all things to all persuasions." Or, "not gay per se but something. 'It's all become one bright pop blur.'" And finally, "in short, this revolution is the only kind Hollywood can trust—one driven by the marketplace."
WHAT SORTS OF QUEERS?
Entertainment Weekly's political angle differs markedly from the cautionary analysis narrated in Marxist terms by the feminist theorist Rosemary Hennessy when she discusses "Queer Visibility in Commodity Culture"; she says, capitalism's need for expanding markets has in its own way promoted the integration of art and life ... continuously working and reworking desires by inviting them to take the forms dictated by the commodity market.... The aestheticization of daily life encourages the pursuit of new tastes and sensations as pleasures in themselves while concealing or backgrounding the labor that has gone into making them possible.... We need a way of understanding [queer] visibility that acknowledges both the local situations in which sexuality is made intelligible as well as the ties that bind knowledge and power to commodity production, consumption, and exchange.
It was in 1995 that I first encountered Highlander and read Cagle's essay. Two years later I could watch the final episodes of the US TV comedy Ellen, after being both captivated and depressed by the "Ellen Watch," the countdown to its coming out episode. I recall with a similar ambivalent mixture my interested speculations concerning the commercial success of "Xena feminism," and the politics of the producers of the globally successful action show of the late nineties, Xena. I and others especially speculated about their playful encouragement of multiple readings of the sexual lives of main characters Xena and Gabrielle, who adventured through a postmodern world vaguely modeled on ancient Greece.
These TV events are examples, in telescoping layers of locals and globals, of what I call global gay formations and local homosexualities, intersecting with what David Morley and Kevin Robins have titled Spaces of Identity: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural Boundaries. Large political and ideological issues are played out in concrete terms clearly economic in the Canadian and French TV show Highlander and also in the US show shot in New Zealand, Xena. Xena here is a counterpoint to Highlander, each with a ranging Internet media fandom, a subculture of fans that is largely female and was, once upon a time at the beginning of my research in the early to mid-nineties, a rare site of women's concentration on the World Wide Web. While importantly international, these media fandoms still tend to be dominated by English speaking fans from all over the world and by fans within the TV shows' principal market, the United States. Australia, however, is increasingly a new center for Highlander fandom. Part of my aim in this chapter is, using the science journalist and semiotician Steven Johnson's vocabulary, to "probe" the complex "telescoping" patternings of globals and locals in layers that constitute the processes of globalization in "spaces of identity," that is to say, in intersections of nationality, sexuality, and gender.
The point of all this is not to celebrate female media fandoms, TV shows, identity politics, or globalization. With other feminists I am complexly critical of and influenced by (and sometimes take necessary pleasures in) all, indeed, I am inextricably embedded in all, on the one hand in ways deliberate, political, perhaps even visionary, but also in other ways structural and inevitable, in unintended but certainly not innocent complicity. Fandoms, TV, identity politics, and transnationalisms are sites of and for political contestation, and the many cognitive styles that register such contestation are at stake as examples here. Single-hearted stances of negative critique are only partial registers for our accountabilities among dynamically altering regimes of globalized capital. Mindful of the Chicana theorist Chela Sandoval's vision and analysis of "differential movement," potentially liberatory but ever dangerous, tools from technoscience studies prove helpful for working with these locals and globals in layers. For example, using Donna Haraway's non-innocent historical "naturecultures," or invoking Bruno Latour's "parliament of things," facilitates an alternate feminist and progressive politics about technology cultures under globalization.
PLAY AMONG LAYERS OF LOCALS AND GLOBALS
Steven Johnson's vocabulary of popular culture cognitions is also a great resource, especially for considering the technology cultures of media fandoms and other users. He describes skills cultivated in gaming and extended to television, computer use, and to film: "probing" (learning the rules of a game by trial and error, while necessarily also checking out its edges, limits and unexpected artifacts or patterns; in queer contexts you may add many sexualized jokes here as well) and "telescoping" (apprehending simultaneously all the structures of nested hierarchy and mobilizing them in various sequences; once you attend to the phallic imagery it is impossible to escape it but highly possible to joke about it!).
This chapter will also point "flashing arrows" (signposts to help readers entangle themselves properly into the book) to such practices as "filling in" (tentatively trying out possible materials in spaces left empty in production, sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently), "multiple threading" (keeping track of many story arcs and a range of narrative frames, noting which ones are currently active and which ones are latent but potentially significant), "texture" (noting which details are irrelevant but added tacitly for the pleasure of a heightened realism), as well as significant layered jokes (rich associations built up humorously over long time frames that animate a complex intermedia intertextuality).
My intentions are similar to Johnson's, that is, to point to cognitive skills used in these global television technology cultures. Very occasionally this book itself might perform such practices, subtly and not so subtly asking readers to work together on these intellectual engagements, or to examine and care about jokes and play, as they might in games, television shows, and Internet sites. While it is asking a lot to be so cognitively nimble, how else could users probe (yes, do laugh, while continuing to notice how appropriate this imagery is) the sensations and affects of these globalized products and processes, or index global economic knowledges across narrative, anxiety, and play?
STRANGE AND WONDERFULLY TEXTURED ECONOMIC GEOGRAPHIES
Let us start with the economic arrangements surrounding the coming-into-being of the TV show Highlander concretized in 1992, this year of formation of the European single market. Gaumont, the French firm that has been called "the world's oldest film company," was Highlander's principal production partner. That first year financing was a money mix from France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, but in the second year Gaumont found another partner, Canadian Filmline International. Highlander thus became a coproduction filmed entirely in France and Canada and shot in English for a world market. It has been seen in seventy countries in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, where it has competed with syndicated series produced in the United States. In distinctly French and Canadian cultural strategies Highlander has been another of those culture products intended to combat US media hegemony. Its quotas on European content were insured during several seasons by shooting half the time each season in Vancouver and half the time in Paris under a Franco-Canadian agreement in which "segments shot in Canada qualify as European, and segments shot in Europe qualify as Canadian." Note these European single market's strategically shifting economic geographies!
The year 1997 was Highlander's last broadcast season; indeed, the US distributor ordered only thirteen episodes (rather than the usual twenty-two), all of which were shot in Paris. A TV spinoff series lasted one season —Highlander: The Raven. It starred the principal female recurring character and was clearly intended to capitalize on Xena's commercial success and demographic appeal, thus attempting, if unsuccessfully, to mobilize the interests of female media fandoms among others. So far two, not very good, feature films starring the TV series actors have been released, Highlander: Endgame (2000) and Highlander: The Source (2007). Contrasting with the previous three feature films from the late eighties, early nineties, the cast of each of these combines actors and premises from both previous films and from the TV series.
Looking back, in 1991 Gaumont had just opened its new television division. This marked a shift in economic strategies by the company that pioneered massive vertical integration as the winning strategy among global media corporations. Gaumont's empire, begun in 1895 with manufacturing and selling photographic equipment, quickly became first "the world's largest film studio" with the first woman producer, director, editor and soon after "the world's largest movie theater." Today media corporations are a complicated mix of parent companies and subsidiaries with multinational lineages. For example, the US company, MCA, the principal partner with Sam Raimi's Renaissance Pictures first creating the TV show Xena, became a private subsidiary of the Canadian multinational Seagram, who bought it in 1995 from the Japanese multinational Matsushita. MCA in the mid-nineties had divisions and subsidiaries involved in movies, TV, videotapes, publishing, music, concerts, audio tapes, cable TV, and more. Seagram renamed the company Universal Studios, but it was sold in 2000 to Vivendi in France becoming Vivendi Universal. In 2004 NBC combined with Vivendi Universal Entertainment to form NBC Universal, 80 percent owned by General Electric and 20 percent owned by Vivendi. The television stations division was built from NBC and Telemundo stations, while networks distribution oversaw properties, including, in addition to NBC, Bravo, Sci Fi, and the History Channel, while TiVo is managed by Digital Distribution.
Excerpted from NETWORKED REENACTMENTS by KATIE KING Copyright © 2011 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsForeword / Donna Haraway ix
Preface. What Are Reenactments in This Book? xv
Introduction. A Thick Description amid Authorships, Audiences, and Agencies in the Nineties 1
1. Nationalities, Sexualities, and Global TV: Highlander, Xena, and Meanings of European Union 21
2. Science in American Life: Among the Culture Warriors 59
3. TV and the Web Come Together 129
4. Scholars and Intellectual Entrepreneurs 203
Conclusion. Toward a Feminist Transdisciplinary Posthumanities 273