A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness
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A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness

In "Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator," Mary Ann Doane claims that it is "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for women to be fetishists, that they do not have the requisite lack.1 But for many fannish vidders, fetishism is not associated with lack and loss, but with surplus and pleasure. Take, for example, "A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness (Hot Hot Hot!)" (2005), a fan vid made by the Clucking Belles. This vid invites its female spectator to a veritable orgy of scopophilia and stages, as its playfully scientific name suggests—sufficient emotional and visual distance to qualify as fetishistic. "A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness" not only tells us about how some women watch television, but it also creates new conditions of possibility that recall other moments of successful female erotic spectatorship. Vidding, as an art form made through editing, also complicates the familiar symbolic characterization of women sewing and men cutting. Vidding women cut, slicing visual texts into pieces before putting them together again, fetishizing not only body parts and visual tropes, but the frame, the filmic moment, that they pull out of otherwise coherent wholes.

"A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness" is part of the thirty-year tradition of fannish music video known as vidding. Practiced overwhelmingly by women (as opposed to fan filmmaking, which remains male dominated2), vidding is an art in which clips from television shows and [End Page 107] movies are set to music to make an argument or tell a story. The song is used as an interpretive lens; the music and lyrics tell us how to understand what we see.3 The vid makes a seemingly simple argument; it sets images from a wide-ranging number of popular movies and television shows to Buster Poindexter's dance hit "Hot Hot Hot." Both song and images play with what it means to be "hot": the Clucking Belles not only label various images as hot but also articulate the feelings they induce in the spectator—these visuals make us hot. In its original context, the song describes and gives voice to partygoers on a dance floor: "People in the party—hot hot hot." In "A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness," the "party" becomes the broad spectrum of polymorphously perverse images offered up by the media, and the "dance floor" is the vid itself: a place where people from different backgrounds can meet and move to the beat. The vidders create this metaphorical dance party by editing images together in rhythm, paying close attention to frame composition and internal movement, so that characters from different television shows and films all seem to be at the same party and dancing together. The Clucking Belles are able to edit these discrete characters into a single party because so many films and television shows feature scenes in which characters go to clubs, dance, or drink; the clichéd nature of much mass media imagery means that a good vidder can slide easily between one visual narrative and another.

But while the Clucking Belles create a rhythmic montage of beautiful people, "A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness" isn't about people; it's about tropes. Scenes of people dancing give way to more metaphorical kinds of dancing: montages of men shoving at each other, montages of swordplay, montages wherein characters defy the laws of gravity by floating in midair or swinging from ropes. In the swordplay section, the vidders cut from sword fighting in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (syndicated [USA Network], 1995–1999) to Jackie Chan making a nearly identical move in Shanghai Knights (David Dobkin, 2003), and then to swordplay in The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003), Highlander (syndicated, 1992– 1998; film dir. Russell Mulcahey, 1986), Star Trek (NBC, 1966–1969), Xena (syndicated [USA Network], 1995–2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003), and others. Much circling, leaping, and twirling of swords is on display; sword fighting is obviously a form of dance. Less obviously, perhaps, the Clucking Belles reread the trope wherein one man grabs another by the lapels and shoves...