Fan cultures have existed for decades and have produced their own versions and variations of expression as they drew upon pre-existing genre fiction elements. Star Trek is perhaps one of the best examples of this. Fan fiction production went on without the concern of the entities that owned the material. It was largely seen as harmless expressions of fan devotion, and it no doubt helped keep the material alive and contributed to the ongoing financial income of those that owned the copyrights to the materials as fan fiction pointed toward merchandise that could be purchased from the copyright holders.
Things have changed. Technology has leveled the playing field between fans and Hollywood studios. Now crowdfunding on the Internet enables fans to raise large amounts of money for use in fan fiction production, and film making technology for special effects available for amateurs rivals that of multi-million dollar budgets for big name studios. This has come to a head with Paramount Studios suing the makers of Star Trek: Anaxar. As NEWSWEEK reported:
Axanar’s budget and boasts may have been too much for Paramount and CBS, and in December, the two companies sued Axanar Productions, claiming that its work "infringe[s] Plaintiffs’ works by using innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes." The suit named the production company, studio head Alec Peters, and “Does 1-20,” an unnamed group that could expand to include personnel such as director Robert Meyer Burnett, an industry professional who had previously produced featurettes for CBS' Star Trek Blu-ray releases.
I appreciate Paramount's concerns over various copyright elements, but given the quality of the trailer for Axanar in contrast with J.J. Abrams' franchise reboot, in my view the studio's real fears are that this fan fiction effort has surpassed Paramount's own production efforts.
Today I came across an item that is a couple of years old, but it's worth taking a look at. It involves an essay by Jeffrey Kripal, who has been interviewed here at TheoFantastique previously on two occasions, once on his book on the paranormal and the sacred, and the second time on his book on comics and the paranormal. Kripal wrote a piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Embracing the Unexplained, Part 2." This essay responds in part to a critical piece that Jeffrey Coyne wrote for The New Republic in response to Kripal's first essay, "Visions of the Impossible", also written for the Chronicle. In his part of the critical exchange, Coyne accuses Kripal of being anti-science. In response, Kripal says that Coyne wrote a "materialist screed" that "effortlessly conflated science, rationalism, and materialism, as if there were no ways to be scientific and rational without adopting his own particular brand of antireligious materialism." Kripal goes on to point out how Coyne has misrepresented what he wrote, and sought to cut off argument and dialogue between science and the humanities. For those interested in the paranormal and how it is discussed among academics, this is an interesting exchange.
An area of multiple panels for the 2016 Film & History Conference:
Gods and Heretics: Figures of Power and Subversion in Film and Television
October 26-October 30, 2016
The Milwaukee Hilton
Milwaukee, WI (USA)
DEADLINE for abstracts: June 1, 2016
AREA: From Infinity to the Abyss: Gods and Monsters in Science Fiction Film
Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, reputedly said "I looked and looked but didn't see God." When Stanley Kubrick looked, he saw a cosmic star child. Ridley Scott found massive opportunities for capitalism to go awry. Whether capitalist entrepreneurs, monstrous aliens, colonial neo-gods, monsters from the id, or God waging war against communism, clearly the vacuum of space needs to be filled with a transcendent signifier.
This area welcomes proposals for 20-minute papers that focus on a broad range of depictions and interpretations of the monstrous, heretical, and divine in science fiction film. We encourage papers that examine how physical space relates to, alters or replaces religious space in modernity—from silent to postmillennial science fiction film. We welcome and encourage papers focused on the transcendental nature of human experiences in outer space from a wide range of moving picture types; animation to live action, films from different nations and cultures, independent films, as well as films and television programming produced by major studios.
Topics for papers might include, but are not limited to:
Imaginings of extra-terrestrial Hell, and/or outer space transcendent as Heaven
The 1950s space film and godless atheism
Post-humanist visions of human gods or radioactive demons
Geometrical extraterrestrials in futuristic films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey
Deep-space industrial production in 1980s science fiction film
Superhero gods from outer space
Nano- and biotech creations of sentient environments and their implications
Aliens as gods or heretics
The monstrous as transcendent in outer space
Capitalist and colonialist appropriation of terrestrial space, and beyond
The Nietzschean Superman and looking into the abyss in dystopian science fiction
Proposals for complete panels (three related presentations) are also welcome, but they must include an abstract and contact information, including an e-mail address, for each presenter. For updates and registration information about the upcoming meeting, see the Film & History website (www.filmandhistory.org).
Please e-mail your 200-word proposal by 1 June 2016 to the area chairs:
Call for Contributors (Abstracts 3/15/16; Essays 8/15/16)
Divine Horror: The Cinematic Battle Between the Sacred and the Supernatural (under contract)
The struggle between good and evil is classic and as old as time; this struggle becomes iconic when one or both of the combatants is associated with the divine. From Rosemary’s Baby (1968) to Deliver Us From Evil (2014), horror films continually use religion to both inspire and combat fear, and to call into question or affirm the moral order. Churches provide sanctuary, clergy cast out evil, religious icons become weapons, holy ground serves as battleground, and angels war against demons. But all of these may be violated or perverted, and turned from their original purpose. When the sacred is corrupted, evil’s grip on the world is tightened—trust is betrayed, faith is perverted, hope is lost, and the boundaries between the living and the dead are violated—jeopardizing not only human existence, but the fate of the immortal soul.
This collection focuses on genre horror films in which religious entities —whether sacred or profane — play an active, material role in the story. The volume will explore the collision of the sacred and the supernatural, asking new, incisive questions about our constructions and manifestations of the war between the ultimate good and evil on screen, and the ways in which those portrayals trouble our ever-changing understandings of that opposition and its archetypes.
Divided into four thematic sections— Holy Terrors, Saints and Sacrilege, Hallowed Ground, and Warriors of the Cloth—the volume’s organization will highlight the diversity of ways in which horror and religion interact onscreen, as each challenges and reinforces the tenets of the other. While Catholicism is prominent in a number of these films, analyses of films dealing with other religious traditions are welcome and encouraged (Sam Raimi’s film The Possession, for example, features a Jewish dybbuk, while Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism showcases evangelical Protestantism.)
We seek proposals for intelligent, accessible chapters that examine and critically analyze the intersection of the sacred (religion, clergy, angels, etc.) and the horror genre across a range of films and eras. Proposals for both topical essays and close readings of a single text are welcome. Previously unpublished work only, please.
Possible topics might include:
* Exorcism and demonic possession (The Exorcist, Deliver Us From Evil)
* Religious Visions of the Apocalypse (End of Days, Legion)
* The Anti-Christ (The Omen series, Devil’s Due)
* The Church as Monster (Witchfinder General, The Pit and the Pendulum)
* Warriors of God (Priest, Van Helsing)
* Flawed Heroes, Sacred Mission (John Carpenter’s Vampires, Constantine)
* Angels on Earth (the Prophecy series, Gabriel)
* Deals with the Devil (Angel Heart, Rosemary’s Baby, Needful Things)
Work on topics such as films about religious violence (Kingdom of Heaven, Joan of Arc) with no supernatural dimension; films about fallen angels (Dogma), Satan (The Devil and Daniel Webster), or the Apocalypse (Left Behind) outside the horror genre; and films in which the religious/supernatural elements are not “real” (or do not manifest themselves) in the context of the films are, unfortunately, outside the scope of this project.
Please send your 500-word abstract to both co-editors, Cindy Miller (email@example.com) and Bow Van Riper (firstname.lastname@example.org).
March 15, 2016 – Deadline for Abstracts
March 20, 2016 – Notification of Acceptance Decisions
August 15, 2016 – Chapter Drafts Due
November 31, 2016 – Chapter Revisions Due
January 15, 2017 –Delivery to Publisher
Acceptance will be contingent upon the contributors' ability to meet these deadlines, and to deliver professional-quality work. Contributors who do not submit their initial draft by the deadline without prior arrangement will, regrettably, be dropped from the project.
The Undead on the Battlefield: Horrors of War, edited by Cynthia J. Miller and Bowdoin Van Riper (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015)
Battlefields have traditionally been considered places where the spirits of the dead linger, and popular culture brings those thoughts to life. Supernatural tales of war told in print, on screen, and in other media depict angels, demons, and legions of the undead fighting against—or alongside—human soldiers. Ghostly war ships and phantom aircraft carry on their never-to-be-completed missions, and the spirits—sometimes corpses—of dead soldiers return to confront the enemies who killed them, comrades who betrayed them, or leaders who sacrificed them.
In Horrors of War: The Undead on the Battlefield, Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper have assembled essays that explore the meaning and significance of these tales. Among the questions that the volume seeks to answer are: How do supernatural stories engage with cultural attitudes toward war? In what ways do these stories reflect or challenge the popular memories of particular wars? How do they ask us to think again about battlefield heroism, military ethics, and the politics of sacrifice? Divided into four sections, chapters examine undead war stories in film (Carol for Another Christmas, The Devil’s Backbone), television (The Twilight Zone), literature (The Bloody Red Baron, Devils of D-Day), comics (Weird War Tales, The Haunted Tank), graphic novels (The War of the Trenches), and gaming (Call of Duty: World at War).
Featuring contributions from a diverse group of international scholars, these essays address such themes as monstrous enemies and enemies made monstrous, legacies and memories of war, and the war dead who refuse to rest. Drawing together stories from across wars, branches of service, and generations of soldiers—and featuring more than fifty illustrations—Horrors of War will be of interest to scholars of film, popular culture, military history, and cultural history.
Given my own background and research interests I am always intrigued to learn of others similar to myself, whether past or present. I recently learned of the Rev. Robert Kirk, an Episcopalian minister in Scotland in the 17th century. He pursued research on faeries, published as The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Faun and Fairies, that makes him of interest to those involved in folklore studies. Ancient Origins has a piece that examines Kirk's interesting work.
The new horror film The Witch is getting positive reviews, but prior to that it was the stuff of minor controversy as a Satanist group issued a public endorsement for the film, calling it a "satanic experience." Such an endorsement would have caused a major controversy in the culture wars from Christians as happened in the past with the Harry Potter books ad films, but little attention was paid to this with The Witch. Vox posted an analysis of this in a piece titled "Why satanists have given new horror movie The Witch their endorsement."
Jess Peacock, author of Such a Dark Thing, posted his Facebook criticism of last night's premier of the new The X-Files series reboot. In his view the dramatic shift in scrapping the reality of the UFO and abduction phenomenon in favor of a new set of conspiracies is akin to the 1980s television series Dallas where Bobby Ewing appears in the shower and the prior episodes are merely dreams. Here's my response:
I was interested to see how Carter was going to update the basic premise of the franchise given the changes in the paranormal and conspiracy theories since the nineties. This is of personal and research interest since I'm reading The Paranormal and the Paranoid by Aaron John Gulyas (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) for a review in Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.
The question remains as to what extent this was or wasn't good storytelling, but I think more is going on here than the equivalent of the Dallas shower dream scenario. As I mentioned above, the different cultural context made it necessary for for Carter to update the basic premise of the program. So while the UFO phenomenon was a significant part of the paranormal in the 1990s, as well as conspiracy theories connected to it, this is not the case in the 21st century. Therefore, the general idea of UFOs and abductions is scrapped in favor of assuming the reality of the Roswell UFO crash and cover up, and connected to contemporary conspiracy theories and concerns about government control in things such as phone wiretaps, drone strikes, the War on Terror as public distraction, global warming caused by the government, etc.
Again, we can argue about whether this scrapping of the explanatory premise of the original series is good storytelling, but it makes sense given changes in culture.
The BBC.com has an interesting story on the ancient origins of fairy tales titled "Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say." The story tells of the research at the Universities of Durham and Lisbon that reveals that some basic fairy tale ideas go back quite some time:
Using techniques normally employed by biologists, academics studied links between stories from around the world and found some had prehistoric roots.
They found some tales were older than the earliest literary records, with one dating back to the Bronze Age.
The stories had been thought to date back to the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Durham University anthropologist Dr Jamie Tehrani, said Jack and the Beanstalk was rooted in a group of stories classified as The Boy Who Stole Ogre's Treasure, and could be traced back to when Eastern and Western Indo-European languages split more than 5,000 years ago.
Analysis showed Beauty And The Beast and Rumpelstiltskin to be about 4,000 years old.
And a folk tale called The Smith And The Devil, about a blacksmith selling his soul in a pact with the Devil in order to gain supernatural abilities, was estimated to go back 6,000 years to the Bronze Age.
These findings are significant in helping connect the stories to the early history of human civilization. Fairy tales are not only found in ancient childrens' stories, but also find their way into contemporary fantasy, horror and science fiction. For an exploration of fairy tale connections to horror see my past interview with Walter Rankin on his book Grimm Pictures: Fairy Tale Archetypes in Eight Horror and Suspense Films. Read the BBC.com story here.
Supernatural Cities: Exploring the Urban Mindscape
Saturday 30th April 2016
University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
Keynote Speaker: Professor Steve Pile, Open University
Call for Papers:
Where do urban supernatural stories and beliefs come from and why do they survive in our modern cities? What is it about the nature of the urban environment that encourages our imaginations to respond in this way? How do supernatural accounts and legends alter urban geographies? What cultural roles have ghosts and other supernatural beliefs and practices played in historical and contemporary cities? How has and does the supernatural articulate the experience of urban living, unequal power relations, and fluid urban identities?
The urban environment, dense, sprawling, and perpetually haunted by multiple histories, has long played upon the mind of its inhabitants. Both the city’s known and unknown spaces and places have been prone to prompting fantasising, storytelling, and a search for influence in or over a powerful environment that is as much psychological as material.
This one-day conference aims to explore the haunted and haunting nature of the urban environment by bringing together scholars, discourses and theoretical approaches from a diverse range of academic disciplines. It also seeks to reflect on the way urban supernatural tropes such as ghosts, zombies and other urban bogeymen have been creatively represented in various media. This fusion of approaches and representations will be used to broaden our analytical scope, encouraging us to explore how we engage with both the mundanity and strangeness of urban spaces and places on intellectual, imaginative and emotional levels.
The conference’s overall purpose is to draw diverse disciplinary approaches to the urban and the imaginary into conversation with one another, enabling us to advance interdisciplinary discussion and reflection upon the supernatural and the uncanny as means of articulating urban otherness, estrangement and enchantment.
We welcome papers from all disciplines. Topics might include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
• Urban supernatural folklore and urban legends
• Ghost stories and urban temporalities
• Magic and occult beliefs in the urban context
• Uncanny architecture and urban heterotopias
• Hauntology, capitalism, and urban power relations
• Urban fantasy and urban gothic fictions (literature, art, film, TV, video games, music)
• Supernatural storytelling as intangible urban heritage
• Functions of the urban supernatural (communal identity and memory; socio-political and environmental critique)
• Baudelaire, Simmel, Benjamin and the phantasmagoric urban experience
• Psychogeography and urban space/place as palimpsest
• Monstrous urbanisation, urban monstrosity, and environmentalism
• Affective theory and the emotional urban environment
• Archaeology, concealed objects and domestic magical thought
• Urban supernatural, enchantment, and the de-familiarisation of the mundane
• Re-reading / re-writing the urban – supernatural cartographies; imagination as agency
Please submit a 300 word abstract for a 20 minute paper, together with a brief bio, by 1st February 2016 to email@example.com . If you have any queries please contact Dr Karl Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org
The registration fee for the conference will be £30 (waged) / £20 (students and unwaged). Speakers will not have to pay a registration fee, although they will still be required to register. Registration will be conducted via the University of Portsmouth’s online store.
It is intended that selective conference papers will subsequently form the basis of an edited essay collection that will further advance multidisciplinary reflection upon the urban imaginary.
The Supernatural Cities project is on Twitter @imaginetheurban