fan culture

A friend just sent me a link to an amazing LEGO site and it reminded me of the silly attempt by some anonymous staffer at the Penn Museum to ridicule my interest in LEGOs. The link was to a full world creation of Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings movies and books. Now I must confess that I know more about Lord of the Rings from the superb WMS slot machine created recently with that theme than I do from the books and movies but I can appreciate the effort to recreate an entire world with LEGOs or any other medium (my theory of film is very much related to this concept). The work was collaborative, international, showed the value of community, expressed an entire comprehensive culture, was expertly done, cared about its audience, excited viewers, showed care and creativity, was both individual and communal, was family friendly and great for adults too, and just makes you smile with wonder. When was the last time you saw anything at a traditional museum that did the same for you?

Photo by Leda Kat

An overview of the 2011 Brickworld collaborative project


A comic book version of Arnold’s iconic status, originally presented at the “Holy Men in Tights: A Superheroes Conference”, University of Melbourne, Australia in 2005 and published in their journal, Refractory. It is not longer functioning there so here is a version of it.

Just when I thought it was safe to start doing a Terminator on my Arnold Schwarzenegger archives now that the End of Days is near, Arnold comes back into the news with a True Lies bombshell that takes an Eraser to all doubts that the Last Action Hero will ever be terminated in our collective eye. Arnold has had sudden Total Recall, just remembering he forgot to mention theJunior Arnold who pitter-pattered around the household for ten year: at least it wasn’t Twins! Since ending his Governator role (but revising it soon in a cartoon and comic book), Arnold has become The Running Man, showing up Around the World in 80 Days to sell himself once again in his classic Stay Hungry mode. Whatever Red Heat he gets from this latest Raw Deal probably won’t have much of an impact on Arnold’s movie deals and he will probably still Jingle All The Way to the bank. The Collateral Damage on us, the folks who elevated him to iconic status, is minor because this Predator behavior has become so commonplace it barely warrants aCommando response: the Twitter feeds about this are more funny than outraged.

On The 6th Day in the story of Genesis, God created the wild beasts and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Just saying…Perhaps the Kindergarten Cop just needed to keep the franchise going. So The Long Goodbye is here for us all. No longer a Hercules in New York or any other civilized place, the Arnold-icon may be finally permanently tarnished and even the muscle of Conan the Barbarian or a Red Sonja could not clean it.

I’ve co-authored (with Michael Blitz) two books about Arnold Schwarzenegger (Why Arnold Matter: The Rise of a Cultural Icon  and  Arnold Schwarzenegger: A Biography) and through all the research and writing for those books (and the hundreds of actual dreams about Arnold that accompanied the work) I’ve seen Arnold as a character who defies all explanation and who resists all rules. In the very first dream in our collection (20 years ago), Michael Blitz dreamed that, “Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to my door and says ‘I hear you are doing a book about me.’ He then tells me that Maria Shriver thought that she could find out about him by peeling away his layers like an onion. But he says that the only way anyone will find out about him is by breaking him into little pieces.” Whether Maria peeled that onion or someone has broken him into little pieces is what we may find out next.

For a comic book version of Arnold’s iconic roles, check this issue of REFRACTORY, an Australian media journal.

Our model of Professor Sprout’s “Greenhouse 3” has been chosen as one of the semi-finalists for the LEGO Harry Potter Building Challenge! If you would like to vote for us, go to this website and choose “Greenhouse 3.” You will be asked to register so that you can’t vote more than once. Help support LEGO activities by kids and adults and defeat the naysayers who claim LEGOs are silly!

You can see a comic book that shows the entire model and tells a story about Professor Sprout HERE!

OUR MODEL: “Greenhouse 3”

Did I forget to mention that I published a biography of Walt Disney this summer? Here is the description of it from Greenwood Press which published this series of biographies for young adults:

Description:Walt Disney has been dissected, criticized, and lauded in numerous biographies, most of which try to penetrate the psychology of the man and his motives. Walt Disney: A Biography takes a cultural approach, looking at Disney as both a product of his culture and a cultural innovator who influenced entertainment, education, leisure, and even history.

Drawing on many original sources, Walt Disney provides an overview of this genius’s remarkable life and family. At the same time, the book places Disney in the context of his times as a way of exploring the roots of and inspiration for his creativity. Because Walt Disney’s creations and ideas still affect our movies, play activities, vacation choices, and even our dreams and imagination, his influence is as important today as it was when he was alive, and this thoroughly engaging book shows why.
Title Features:
• Walt Disney’s prolific life is summarized in a descriptive chronology that notes his most significant artistic, personal, and cultural milestones
• An appendix explores the use of the name “Walt Disney” to denote excellence and innovation, but also mass culture and artificiality. Examples are documented with Internet addresses so readers can explore the phenomenon for themselves
• Original-source research assures the accuracy of quotations and descriptions of Disney’s productions

You can find it at Disney Biography


My research student Leanne is attending the Twilight Convention in New Jersey this weekend. She writes amazing blogs about her observations and shows how undergrads can do quality research. Check it out at:

I have always wanted to check out one of the many Harry Potter conferences that take place each year and I have just finished participating in Infinitus 2010. They are a fascinating combination of academics and fans, with professors with advanced degrees given equal status with a very informed fan base that also presents their analyses and opinions on all things Harry Potter. I have previously criticized traditional academic conferences for their deadly boring presentations: someone will stand in front of an audience of their peers and read a paper to them while one slide sits on the screen for the whole time. This bizarre ritual has not changed in decades and fan conferences like Infinitus provide an alternative model, especially for anthropologists. At Infinitus, there is no “Other” as “informants” and “anthropologists” switch roles endlessly, seamlessly, and delightfully.

I am not necessarily suggesting that we bay at the moon that one presenter urged as she began her presentation on werewolves but that communal howling (which she led) did start us all off on a more equal paw. The point is that new models of the presentation of research, thought, analysis, and appreciation could be a great benefit to anthropology, and fan events could provide a dynamic model that anthropology always claims it wants to have but doesn’t want to be embarrassed trying.

The Infinitus conference took several years to prepare and the range of activities and experiences offered to audiences suggests why. Each component of Harry Potter fan culture was well represented and showed the variety of approaches people take to understanding the world spawned by the Harry Potter books. There were academic and fan talks on particular aspects of the books or movies (themes like friendship, fat, religion, failure, mentors, mothers, money, and bullying) as well as applications of the lessons from the wizarding world to everyday muggle teaching, political and social activism, the creation of art, and official and fan merchandising. There was a dance and a quidditch tournament and life-size wizard chess.

Fan-created literature, parodies, spoofs, and homages in the form of wizard rock bands, paintings and drawings, crafts, fanfiction, podcasts, videos, and musicals were abundant as were discussions and presentations about all these productions. Performances were large-scale (the premiere of a full-length parody movie as well as a musical) and intimate (coffeehouse-style performances by singers and comedians). One group put several of the characters on trial in a fascinating debate that determined the possibility of their ultimate redemption (an activity that could be directly applied, with interesting results, to the AAA meetings).

The point is, I learned more about the world of Harry Potter by seeing and hearing the many different approaches to engaging with the ideas, passions, and interests that these folks, academics and fas, wanted to share. And in order to truly share they had to cross over into each others’ worlds and be flexible and knowing about how to communicate. That was the magic of Infinitus and should be the magic found in anthropology conferences, but it is not.

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