This blog started in 2014 as a chronicle of my PhD research into Frankenfictions—books, films, television, and fine art that remix classic literature and historical documents in monstrous ways.
Now, four years on, I’m very excited to announce that I’ve just signed a contract with Bloomsbury Academic for my book Gothic Remixed: Monster Mashups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture. It should be out in hardback sometime in 2019, with a projected paperback release in 2021.
This post was originally presented as a paper at the 2017 Gothic Bible Conference in Sheffield. It has been reproduced here with minor changes and corrections.
The hit television series American Gods (2017–present), created by Brian Fuller and Michael Green, and distributed by Starz and Amazon Prime, adapts Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel of the same name. Both are fantastical narratives. In both the book and the television series, an agnostic named Shadow meets and begins working for an old man named Wednesday, who turns out to be more than he first seems (the Norse god Odin). With Wednesday, Shadow travels across America, stumbling into a war between old, immigrant gods and new, secular ones. All are personified in humanoid form—they are real people who feed on human belief. Without giving too much away, through his experiences Shadow eventually discovers the power of faith, and how it relates to his own identity as a mixed-race American.
WIRED Magazine suggested that Fuller and Green’s television reimagining of American Gods ‘gives “faithful adaptation” all-new meaning’. And the show does indeed manage to capture the wild, dark, and strangely reverent world of Gaiman’s novel. There are a few key differences that are especially interesting to examine in light of this conference, however. Specifically, where Gaiman’s novel is whimsical and fantastical, engaging primarily with pagan mythology and the heroic epic, as I will show, the television adaptation explicitly links itself both to contemporary visual Gothic, and to Christianity.
The remix, the mashup, and the reboot have come to dominate Western popular culture. These texts are the ‘monsters’ of our age—hybrid creations that lurk at the limits of responsible consumption and acceptable appropriation. Like monsters, mashups offer audiences the thrill of transgression in a safe and familiar format. And like other popular texts before them, they are often read by critics as a sign of the artistic and moral degeneration of contemporary culture.
With this context in mind, my research explores the boundaries and connections between contemporary remix culture and its Others (adaptation, parody, the Gothic, Romanticism, postmodernism). It often does so by examining remix culture’s most ‘monstrous’ and liminal texts: Frankenfictions, or commercial narratives that insert fantastical monsters into classic literature and popular historical contexts. In this definition, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein serves as a touchstone, offering an ideal metaphor for appropriative creativity in the twenty-first century.
Frankenfiction includes direct appropriations of classic literature, like the bestselling Quirk Classics novels, but also literary-historical dramas like the Sky/Showtime TV series Penny Dreadful(2014–2016), the depiction of monsters through an historical aesthetic in Travis Louie’s photorealistic paintings, and much, much more. It is monstrous not only because of the fantastical monsters it contains, but because of its position on the boundary between remix and more established modes of appropriation. Too engaged with tradition for some, and not traditional enough for others, Frankenfiction is a bestselling genre that nevertheless remains peripheral to critical discussions of remix.
Regular readers may remember my call for testimonials from other Star Wars fans, in which I asked ‘is Star Wars a boys’ club?’. The result of this research is now available as ‘Space Bitches, Witches, and Kick-Ass Princesses: Star Wars and Popular Feminism’, a chapter in a new edited collection.
You can read the chapter in full at this link, where it is available courtesy of the Utrecht University Open Access fund.
Read an excerpt of the chapter below:
Over the past few years, the Star Wars franchise has been widely praised for its feminism—especially since its acquisition by Disney in 2012. New heroes like Jyn Erso and Rey are hailed as feminist triumphs not just for Star Wars, but for mainstream entertainment more broadly. New characters aimed at a new generation of fans, like Rebels’s pink-clad fighter-cum-artist, Sabine Wren, and new novels devoted to existing characters like Leia Organa and Ahsoka Tano (from the animated series The Clone Wars),are often cited by mainstream news outlets as part of a growing commitment to female characters, and to feminism by association. Likewise, thanks partly to its alliance with Disney’s princess powerhouse, the marketing force of Star Wars can now be felt as strongly in female-targeted sectors (make-up, fashion, dolls) as it is outside of them.Does all of this mean, as one reviewer put it, that starting with The Force Awakens, Star Wars “finally awakens to a feminist world”?Such assertions have certainly rubbed some long-time fans the wrong way—after all, women have made up a significant and vocal portion of the Star Wars fanbase from the beginning.Moreover, one source’s assessment of what constitutes a “feminist world” (and of who is responsible for building it) is often fundamentally different from another’s.
Last month I participated in an online roundtable discussion of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) on ‘Confessions of an Aca-Fan’ (the official weblog of Professor Henry Jenkins). Other participants included Dr William Proctor (who convened the roundtable), Dr Rebecca Harrison, Dr Suzanne Scott, Dr Mar Guerrero-Pico, and Professor Will Brooker. The first instalment can be found here. … Read more
Next month I’ll be speaking at a Star Wars symposium in Portsmouth, hosted by the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries and organised by Dr Lincoln Geraghty. Celebrating Star Wars Day (4 May 2018) through discussion and debate, this symposium will offer us the opportunity to interrogate why the franchise has been so successful and how much it … Read more
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the mythologisation of great women writers, artists, and other historical figures. As feminist scholar Christine Battersby points out, writing against the postmodern impulse to declare the author or great genius ‘dead’: The concept of genius is too deeply embedded in our conceptual scheme for us to solve our … Read more
Last week I posted about disability in the Victorian age. This week, by some brilliant stroke of coincidence, I came across the following article on Steampunk Journal: In 2014, Mina was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. One of the significant symptoms is a weakness of the muscles which meant she required living aids to … Read more
One of the joys (and sorrows) of research is all the interesting information you find on one topic while doing research on something completely different. While researching spirit photography, for instance, I came across this fascinating account of the Victorian stereoscope in the art book for National Museums Scotland’s exhibition ‘Photography: A Victorian Sensation’.* If you … Read more
This post represents a section of my chapter for Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling that was cut for the sake of space. It looks at some of the ways Star Wars has explicitly engaged with political discourse over the years. Star Wars has always been a deeply political franchise. Not just in … Read more