Camille Bacon-Smith and Henry Jenkins at Gaylaxicon 1992

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Camille Bacon-Smith and Henry Jenkins at Gaylaxicon 1992
Interviewer: Shoshanna (moderator)
Interviewee: Henry Jenkins, Camille Bacon-Smith
Date(s): July 18, 1992
Medium:
Fandom(s):
External Links: Camille Bacon-Smith and Henry Jenkins at Gaylaxicon 1992; archive link (part one)
Camille Bacon-Smith and Henry Jenkins at Gaylaxicon 1992; archive link (part two)
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Camille Bacon-Smith and Henry Jenkins at Gaylaxicon 1992 was a panel discussion at Gaylaxicon. It was moderated by Shoshanna.

Other fans' comments are included, and they are identified by initials only. The comments in brackets were added later to the transcript by Shoshanna, the moderator. They are italicized here on Fanlore for clarity.

The transcript of this panel was posted at Henry Jenkins' blog Confessions of an Acafan in 2010.

In Historical Context

The panel discussion took place July 18, 1992. At that time Jenkins was about to publish Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Bacon-Smith had just published Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth.

Some Topics Discussed

Some Excerpts from Part One

Camille: Okay, well... The reason I studied this community at all was because I'd actually started to study the science fiction community; that's my next book. But while I was studying science fiction fans, I kept bumping into these attitudes, or I'd talk to these guy fans and they'd say, "Well, gee, you should have been here before all these women came in with their Spock ears, and screaming teenybopper things." And then I was, of course, talking to women, and they'd say, "I am in Star Trek fandom." And I'd say, "How did you get into it?" and they'd say things like, "Well, I'd been reading science fiction since I was nine or ten..." and a funny thing about that--when I asked guys how they got interested in science fiction, they'd say, "Well, I started reading it when I was nine or ten." And so it was like, hmm...something's wrong here. You know? These women, who seemed to be in their twenties and thirties and forties and fifties, didn't look like the teenyboppers with Spock ears who went screaming after stars, and passing out, and behaving like I did when I was thirteen and the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. They have master's degrees, this woman is a chemist, this woman is a botanist, this woman is an English literature professor... So I had this real peculiar dichotomy, difference, between the perception of women in the science fiction community and what those women really turned out to be. So I decided that the more interesting question at that time was, well, if these women are not doing what everybody thinks they're doing, what the hell is it that they're doing? So that's what I went to find out. What I found out was that they were writing. Just thousands and thousands of stories. Billions and billions of stories. And every one of them had sentient life. Well, most of them had sentient life; some of them just had mad rutting sex, and they're the ones I collect the most. [Laughter.] Can you say "hatstand"? That is a very insider word for a story that is very very short and exists only for the purpose of presenting a sex scene.

Camille: ...So I started studying this, and then I started studying what people were reading and writing, and then... why were they writing this? I mean, not just for slash but for just about everything I read, I sort of had this question: Why do all the women have to be so young, so smart, so god-awful perky, and in particular, at the end, why do they have to be so dead? ...

Yes, in the stories that the women are writing. And with the slash stories, you know, gee...hmm... Where are the women? Where are the women in these stories? Why are there no women? And of course in the hurt/comfort story, "you only hurt the one you love"...and why? So I had all these "why" questions, and I spent years in school being told that "why" was a question you couldn't answer, that it was an inappropriate question to ask, and that I had to restructure my question into something that was more askable. But unfortunately I never got past six years old. So "why" remained my question, and that's what I'm trying to answer.

I should explain the title, Textual Poachers. Camille, I think, has a much more reader-friendly title, Enterprising Women; you know more or less what she's getting at, there. "Textual poachers" is a metaphor that runs through the book, and one that has a certain resonance in many academic communities, but I've found that fans don't always know what to do with it. It comes out of the work of a French sociologist, Michel de Certeau, who argues that reading, essentially, is a matter of appropriation. As we read, we take up materials that someone else created for their reasons, and we make them our own. We take them over and reallocate them, to speak to alternative interests. And I think that's certainly, dramatically, what takes place in Star Trek fandom or other fandoms. People don't just literally reproduce the episode; they rewrite it. They restructure its orientation. I have a subsection in my book called "Ten Ways to Write a Television Show." It identifies ten very different ways that fans restructure the television shows they're given, to make them speak to the alternative interests of that particular community. And the term "poaching" refers to that.

And I think what's important about it is that it also recognizes the power relations that are involved, and the political dimension of what it means to be a fan. Which is that there's someone out there who controls the means of production and the networks, who controls what makes it on the airwaves, and controls the content. And we as viewers are in subordinate positions; but we have the power that the traditional poachers, the original peasant rebel groups, had to take up the resources belonging to the landowners and reroute them, and make them our own. You can think about Robin Hood as a classic poacher, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. And, essentially, what I see taking place in fandom is that process, where we steal the cultural resources that belong to the networks and we remake them, to speak to what we as fans want them to be, be they concerns as women, or racial concerns, sexual politics questions or whatever. That's what I think happens most of the time, when people are engaged in fan writing, in one way or another. And I'd like to talk some about intellectual property at some point in this, but I wanted to move on to other questions.

Camille: I remember in--I think it was eighty-three [1], the Baltimore WorldCon--does anybody remember when Baltimore's WorldCon was? [Pause.] You're all too young to have been alive then, I know. There was a really interesting panel among the professional science fiction writers, the commercially published science fiction writers, because it was right about that time that the controversy over Marion Zimmer Bradley's sponsored fanzines came up. [2] Because writers were very much afraid of the precedent that Marion Zimmer Bradley's allowing fans who did not ask her specific permission to write stories in her universe, what implications that would have as a precedent for their ownership of their own characters and universes. Because what they feared was that, if this terrible movement got out of hand, there was the potential for a change in the law, and they would by precedent have the right to control their own characters taken away from them. So this was right at the point where shared universes were coming into being; it was before Merovingian Nights, before Damnation Alley--I think that's Roger Zelazny's shared universe--and this whole concept of, if you share the universe, have you lost the rights to it? And if you share the universe today, and want it back tomorrow, do you have the right to take it back, or have you lost the right altogether? It was a huge controversy at the time, it was a major, major controversy in the Science Fiction Writers of America [a world-wide, not just US, professional organization], and the entire thing pretty much died down, not because it was even tested by law, but simply because people began to realize that there is a certain etiquette and courtesy that goes on. That material that is borrowed tends to remain at the folk level, and in material that moves out of the folk level, there is a very carefully maintained sense of etiquette. So that people ask people if they can use their characters; even fans ask other fans if they can use the characters they created. And this very interesting thing goes on in fan writing, that they will use the commercial characters with impunity, but ask permission for the character that the fan writer created. And I think that this has been a very interesting balancing force in this whole ownership of creativity kind of argument.
Shoshanna: Oh, I didn't know that [the Open Letters to Star Wars Zine Publishers (1981) were about explicit straight stories, not slash ones about Han and Luke]. Okay. So Lucasfilm was objecting to explicit straight stories. And what they said was, "You may not do this. This is our property. We will let you use the characters for things that we approve of, but you are not currently following the family values of the Star Wars films, and so we will not let you do this. We will sue." And what happened was, first of all, Lucasfilm's lawyers were bigger than our lawyers, and so people stopped publishing this stuff, but it went underground, and it throve underground, and I've seen a number of stories that begin, "Lucasfilm says we can't do this. Lucasfilm has no right to say we can't do this. I am doing this partly to piss Lucasfilm off." And there were other fans who said Lucasfilm did have the right. So the whole issue of intellectual property became crucial there, and it centered around sexuality, which I find interesting.

Shoshanna: Oh, yeah. It's died down. On the other hand, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has just sicced her lawyers on a fanzine publisher and confiscated all unsold issues because they made unauthorized use of a character of hers. It still goes on. It's still a fight.

NB: Oh, yeah. C. J. Cherryh, I heard her in a panel at Darkover Grand Council, where she said anyone--she has a trademark, not a copyright, it's a trademark, and anyone who writes in her universe without her permission, she's going to sue them. I'm a fanzine editor, and I had to reject a story because it was based in C. J. Cherryh's universe, and I can not afford to be sued, and the story is now on the circuit. I haven't read it, I understand it's wonderful--I've read the author's other stories--and I'm sorry I couldn't use it.

Some Excerpts from Part Two

Camille: It's hard for me to say because one of the things that I really feel strongly about is that media fans are doing something, in a particular way, that is a folk process that goes on in all kinds of ways, for all kinds of things, everywhere all around the world. The problem we have is that we tend to think that what happens in straight white male America is the norm. In fact, it is the exception. And what women in media fandom, what the guys who come into media fandom, are doing is what everybody else all over the world is doing. They are taking the items of their culture, they are recombining them, remanufacturing them... The notion of originality has to do with how well you can represent the norm, what you can bring to the aesthetic conventions of what you already hold dear. The important thing is not to write a slash story that's completely different from every other slash story. This would be a total waste of effort. No one would want to read it. The point is, you want to write the slash story that is the best slash story because it does what everybody else does, better. It does the same theme, but does it with a little more insight. Or even with the same amount of insight as this other story you liked. Or you're recombining this element instead of that element. But this whole notion that you have to be different to be good is different from--it's what we think of as high art, but it's different from the way most of the world conducts its art.

Henry: If I could follow up on that... The other thing that I think is radically different is the economic relations involved in fandom. What excites me is the degree to which fandom is really based on the communal notion that you have something that you want to share with the community, not you have something you want to make a profit off of. And fandom at its best is when fans... The circuit is a good example of this. Things are distributed at cost. Ideally, zine publishing as it started was a matter of, I will charge you what it cost to produce the zine, with maybe enough more to let me start up the next zine. You're not profiteering off of zine publishing. The fan filk clubs trade tapes back and forth. The fan video artists make, you know, "Send me a tape and I'll give you a copy of my videos." I see some danger of that changing, and I'm a little concerned at the advent of semi-pro filk organizations that publish conglomerate filk, or at some of the new conglomerates of zine publishing that are just sucking in zines and selling them, and there's now a middleman between the writer and the reader. What I like about fandom is that, unlike in professional publishing, the writer and the reader actually have something to say to each other. I write a letter to a zine editor and say, "I'd like to read your zine." She sends it back to me. I write back and say, "That was a great story. I really liked this, this, and this." That creates a channel in which the reader can become a writer, the writer is always a reader, the roles are not as rigidly bound up apart from each other, and that sense of possessiveness and profiteering is absent, in favor of a sense of community, of sharing, of giving back. You write your stories to be read by your friends, you don't write them to be read by your customers, and I think that that is something that's really important about fandom, and very different from the notions of intellectual properties that we've been talking about, in corporate America.

Camille: What I did when I was working on my book, particularly when I hit slash, was, my field, folklore, is overwhelmingly gay. It's overwhelmingly gay. So this may be one of the few fields in academia where heterosexual people are in the minority. And so it was very easy for me to just go to any number of my classmates and just, cold, slap a fanzine on their desk and say, tell me what you make of this. Generally speaking, the gay men thought it was hysterically funny, and there was this Professionals story called "Masquerade." [It's on the circuit.] When they hit "Masquerade," they would come back to me and they would say, "I've seen it." Not, "I've seen this story," but "I've seen this in real life. I have seen this dance," they would call it, this first-time dance. There were some stories that were totally ludicrous, and in fact one very dear friend, who is a gay man and who does write the stories, and in fact likes the most romantic, just to be authentically slash will deliberately put at least five impossible sexual acts into his stories. [Laughter.] And he called me up one day and he was devastated, because his library had just gotten in a copy of the Joy of Gay Sex and he discovered one of his impossible sexual acts was in fact possible. [Laughter.] So now he had to think up another one. I'm looking for a picture here, I can't find it... Because one of the things that--yes, I found it. However, one day... [She is getting ready to hold her book up; laughter.] Now this is not a wildly filthy picture I'm going to open this book up to. However, this picture came in one day and I showed it to one of my friends, and first his mouth dropped open. Then a couple of hours later, we were in the archives, he came back with a friend of his, and said, show him the picture. And his mouth dropped open. Now the thing is, that's the picture. [She holds it up. It's on page 185, for all you folks reading along; it's a TACS portrait of Doyle, shrouded in mist and gazing piercingly out at you, with his shirt and jacket open to show his chest and his trousers unzipped to show pubic hair but no genitalia. It originally appeared in "Discovered in a Graveyard" [3].] Now these are people who had no idea who this person was, but it sort of got them. The gay women that I showed it to had no interest in it at all; they thought that this was totally politically incorrectly stupid. And they basically said, you know, if I want to read men together, I'll read The Deerslayer; I don't have to read these, you know? And they would say to me, where are the stories about the two women? And I would say, I don't have any. Or I only have these, and I'd give them copies of this one fanzine that I had, and it would be, like, this thick, and it maybe had two pages [of female slash]. And they would say, well, I'm not interested in this anyway, and they'd put it aside [? unclear].

Henry: I could address your question. Your question poses a number of possible responses to me, all of which, I think, are important to raise. One is that one of the problems I've had with Joanna Russ and other writers who have written about slash--is that the question is often posed as, why do straight women want to write sex about gay men? And it became immediately clear to me, as I was doing this, exactly what you're saying: there are large numbers of lesbians and bisexual women in the slash community, and there needs to be a way to account for that pleasure. I'm not sure I fully address it, but at least I think it comes up in my book, with accounts that don't hinge on heterosexual fantasies, which I think some of the earlier accounts did pose a very heterocentrist conception of what is going on when people read and write slash.
Camille: I just wanted to add something that I thought was very interesting. I started my study in 1982. And what I found was that the representation of gay and bisexual women in particular increased dramatically in fandom after 1986, when Joanna Russ's article came out. [This article was published in two versions. One, aimed at non-fans and entitled "Pornography By Women, For Women, With Love," was in her collection of essays Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans, and Perverts (Crossing Press, 1985); the other, aimed at fans and entitled "Another Addict Raves About K/S," was published in a K/S zine--I think it was Nome (Star Trek: TOS zine published in the US)#Nome 8 but I'm not certain. It has been circulating informally in fandom since.] That article seemed to make-- It was not really just a matter of that an audience became aware of this that didn't know about it, but an audience also was told that it was for them. And I think that was a very important thing for many people, because many people said that that's where they heard about it.
NB: [unclear; in Darkover fandom, lesbian slash is written] not only by lesbians, and bisexuals maybe, but by perfectly straight women who maybe are just exploring that tiny bit of bisexuality, and some of them... a couple of the best lesbian slash--I mean, they have that lesbian slash feel that's been in the professionally published anthologies, have been written by women I know are straight, and some of them by straight men... [something unclear, suggesting that Darkover fandom/fan writing isn't segregated by gender or orientation, unlike media fandom, which] is kind of segregated, you know... I am a writer of lesbian as well as male slash, and I can't, you know... I just wrote a Thelma and Louise story, and it was published, and the editor called me up and said it's getting a positive response, and I'd like to think that there are some straight women who are responding positively, as well as gay women and everybody else. One of the big problems with lesbian media slash is the lack of credible women; it probably is the main problem, that tv and movies don't give us... They are terrified of women in pairs; look at the big brouhaha over Thelma and Louise.
Camille: Yeah, okay. There's thousands and thousands and thousands of fanzines. There were over thirty thousand people who had written in them when I stopped counting in 1986. The fanzines that I know that have sold the most are pretty much mainstream genzines--well, not genzines; what that word means has changed its meaning in fandom, in the fan community. The ones that have sold the most are some of the oldest zines, and they're still selling. Jean Lorrah's Night of the Twin Moons has sold--each individual fanzine has sold over five thousand copies. DL regularly will sell out her Star Trek, basically PG-rated fanzines with no slash content, and she can sell out fifteen hundred copies regularly, and she comes out with two or three different ones a year. Slash... the most explosively distributed fanzine that I recall in slash was Courts of Honor. It sold six hundred--they printed six hundred copies. And I believe Nome, which is another very big, very well-respected Trek zine, does between six and seven hundred copies. So we're talking very different numbers for slash. And once you leave Star Trek, the numbers drop dramatically, so that a print run for a minor... less... for what used to be called a "fringe" fandom, but fandom has changed, is between two hundred and a hundred copies. So the numbers really start to drop off pretty sharply when you get into slash, and that's a major move up in slash.
Henry: One of the things that interests me is precisely the global circulation of zines. You read zines from England, Australia, Iceland [4]. These zines are read, and people can build a national or even international reputation in fandom that nobody on the street would have even heard of. Artists at cons... I have JK's artwork on the cover of the book, and that may mean something to media fans, and her name on a painting at MediaWest, say, will up its price six, seven hundred dollars fairly regularly. My publisher, of course, never heard of her. This is, so far as I know, the first commercial book cover that JK has ever done. But I chose it with the confidence that that name recognition would be there for media fans, and it would be a signal that this book, despite its kind of academic title, is addressed to them as well. The notion in our society that women, particularly, have so few outlets for gaining status, that women who are in low-paying jobs, who are in secretarial positions, who are, you know, in service sector jobs, can gain a national and international reputation as an artist, as a writer, as an editor, is a very important aspect of fandom, I think; precisely that it is a larger community that you can become important in. And I think that matters to people on a lot of levels; I think it's really important that such a space exists.

Camille: Well, I suppose that it's time to 'fess up. All the while that I was doing my book, I was an academic, and that's all I did. And I would actually write stories, and I would go around from group to group, and get them to finish the stories for me, and tell me what to write, so that I'd know what was going on, and what the process was. But when I finished the book and put it all away, I discovered there was this one little set of stories that I couldn't put away. And so somehow I had gone native in this one little tiny section, and the problem is... It's not the big section like, you know, Star Trek--If I ever saw Kirk and Spock again...well, you know, I'm here. One of the reasons we don't have many people here [at the con] is they're probably all over watching Bill and Len's Excellent Adventure as we speak, because they're at the Civic Center, Shatner and Nimoy [at a CreationCon the same weekend]. But there's this little tiny group called Pros--The Professionals. And it's a show that you've never seen, unless you're from England, in which case you won't admit to having seen it because it is total trash. Oh, it is, it is...if it wasn't trash I wouldn't like it. [Laughter.] But I couldn't--some of the stories were really neat and I couldn't stop. So, if anybody's got anything that's been written in the last two years about the Professionals, I want it. And I want it now! [Laughter.]

Comments

Those of you who remember what slash fandom was like in the early 1990s: If you read nothing else, go look at the very end of part 2, where Camille mentions "one little set of stories . . . this one little tiny section" of fandom.

Little. Tiny. Section. [5]
Thanks for the links. I remember Camille and her absolute fascination for The Pros, which reminded me of why I became so entranced with the fandom. [6]

I thought the most valuable thing about the Gaylaxicon panel was the clear understanding by both the audience and the panel that a significant percentage of slash writers were GLBT--apparently the common wisdom of fandom has forgotten this along the way?

That said, I got a bit of whiplash from reading the two sets of posts, because in the Escapade panel y'all pretty much harshed all over Camille, and there you were in the Gaylaxicon panel having quite a nice chat with her. NB: I have met Camille, and like her, although I haven't read her book since I first got it about ten years ago, and have no opinion on its merits as compared to anyone else's work. But the dissonance made me uncomfortable. [7]

I can see how it might. For what it's worth, I think the difference is due to a couple of things: one is certainly the fact that nearly everyone at the Escapade panel had read her book (and many, as you can see, felt strongly about it), whereas at Gaylaxicon I think only six or seven people had, of whom one wasn't a media fan and three were Henry, Camille, and me. Also, for me it's a very different thing *moderating* a panel, and being *on* one. For what it's worth, I also did a several-hours-long interview with Camille in March 1992 (thus, four months before the Gaylaxicon panel) in which I spoke with her about aspects of her book that I found problematic. The transcript of that interview also circulated in hardcopy in fandom for some years afterward; unfortunately, however, Camille has refused permission to post it.

The branches of fandom I hang out in certainly never forgot that there are lots of queer women in fandom! 'Cause, you know, lots of us are. *g* [8]

References

  1. The year Marion Zimmer Bradley's book The Mists of Avalon was published, which was one reason it was heavy on people's minds.
  2. Actually, this topic had been discussed by Bradley herself in 1978. See Darkovans Invade Boskone!.
  3. Shoshanna, whose comments are in brackets in this transcript, misidentifies the name of the zine. "Discovered in a Graveyard" is the name of a Pros episode. This illo actually appears in the zine. Discovered on a Rooftop for a fic called The Need. The illo is also misidentified in the book, Enterprising Women, which is why Shoshanna got it wrong.
  4. Iceland? I can't think of a single media zine out of Iceland. -- MPH
  5. moar acafannish history!; archive link, comment by Shoshanna, February 24, 2010
  6. moar acafannish history!; archive link, comment by persimmonfrost, February 24, 2010
  7. moar acafannish history!; archive link, comment by cofax7, February 24, 2010
  8. moar acafannish history!; archive link, comment by Shoshanna, February 24, 2010