- A Different Kind of Love Song:Vidding Fandom’s Undercommons
Thieves and Lovers
Now more than ever, fannish love is an essential part of industrial production. To keep the machinery of content creation profitable, someone has to care about what is being produced; the more money spent on a product, the more it needs fans. As Abigail De Kosnik points out, fans are “essential components of the capitalist system within which official producers operate.”1 According to a 2014 article in the Toronto Star, fan-made music videos make more money for recording artists than officially produced ones, all without costing the producers a penny.2 Fannish labors of love, manifested in creative works or in less tangible, affective forms, may not typically be compensated, but the ways in which these labors produce value has become paradigmatic of digital capital’s blur between work, play, community, and advertising.3 Yet this capitalist-realist model for understanding fan creativity fails to account for many practices and collectivities that exist under the broad heading “fandom.” In “Living in a Den of Thieves: Fan Video and Digital Challenges to Ownership,” my contribution to 2009’s “In Focus” on fandom and feminism, I insisted on the importance of countercapitalist currents within fan production. This piece updates and extends those arguments.4
Considering fandom as theft seems to be the opposite of thinking of fandom as love; lovers, after all, would surely work to keep order in the systems that benefit their beloveds. Thieves, however, will take anything they want for their own, laboring to disrupt the structures that maintain a property-based social order. You wouldn’t steal from the people you loved. Or would you? Seeking an answer to that question that can honor the complications and contradictions within [End Page 138] fannish communities, I borrow Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s term undercommons. Moten and Harney use the term to name the revolutionary, elusive, and very real zone in which delegitimized subjects steal from and steal away from the production of official knowledge to which their labor, in other contexts, also contributes.5 I argue that fan production forms part of an undercommons in which dominant media and cultural forms are both reproduced and unmade.
“Living in a Den of Thieves” engaged Lim’s 2007 fan vid “Us,” which combined pop-culture images of rebellion with clips from shows familiar to slash fan communities to suggest that fandom’s revolutionary potential was real, if contingent and contradictory.6 Here, I turn to a more recent metadepiction of fans’ collective self-understanding. Gianduja Kiss’s 2012 vid “A Different Kind of Love Song” gathers TV and film imagery of fan practices, connecting this growing archive to extralegal content sharing.7 Looking to this vid enables me to think through labor and value in terms of not only intellectual property but also transient collectives that emerge among fans themselves—forms of being together that fan creations can capture and produce, where ideas of intellectual property as the dominant culture knows them simply do not apply.
Dedicated to Everyone
The opening sequence of “A Different Kind of Love Song” lays out its focus on fandom, copyright, and love. The first shot depicts a black man speaking to a white woman whose face blurs in the foreground. He complains, “Took more than an hour to torrent the last episode of Doctor Who” (BBC, 2005– ). Fans will recognize the character of Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) from TNT’s Leverage (2008–2012), a show about a team of con artists who combine their skills to fight corporate injustice. Those who don’t know the show will recognize the speaker as an American fan keen to keep up with a popular BBC production. That the epigraph for this celebration of fannish pleasures is a man of color is worth noting, given the commonplace stereotype of TV science fiction fans as white—though popular media representations and scholarly work alike have given the lie to this in recent years.8 From here, we cross-fade to a game of Klingon Boggle (Figure 1), complete with a Star Trek–brand dictionary (Star Trek, CBS/Paramount, 1966–2005), played...