Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies (at the University of Maryland, College Park), Alexis Lothian’s recent talk at the University of Michigan, “Queer Geek Methodologies: Social Justice Fandom as a Transformative Digital Humanities,” highlights several aspects of the non-normative modes of discourse found in internet fandom, such as the mixture of creative, artistic expression with legitimate television theory, that occurs in vid culture.
These transformative texts operate in ways that move the traditional intellectual labor outside of the university and challenge how we conceptualize techniques of intellectual expression and analysis.
However, the talk also admits how difficult it is to take this internet culture seriously, and even more so to classify it.
The association between radical, alt-right groups and 4chan trolling, for example, exists in the same digital space (in terms of the internet as a whole) as the leftist, social justice warrior movement on places like Tumblr. The online prevalence of aspects of culture that our society does not take seriously, such as: internet styles of discourse, memeing, trolling, even things like anime icons, which are associated with both trolls AND fandom, works toward conditioning people to overlook the darker sides of internet culture, and also results in the devaluation of the legitimate theory and discourse occurring in other circles of the internet by association.
Accordingly, these types of unconventional content remain underrepresented in direct academic study. However, if I consider the talk through the lens of Muñoz’s “Performing Disidentifications,” it opens the door to the possibility of understanding Lothian’s talk, and the subsequent internet culture, from the titular “transformative digital humanities” position.
As Muñoz describes, often the queer media we consume presents content that we cannot completely identify with, or against. We see ourselves in representations that we cannot agree with, but continue to see ourselves in them anyway, and thus, we disidentify. So if this transformative digital space that provides a platform for the queer geek methodologies of movements like social justice fandom may not be disconnected from the more unsavory aspects of the right wing internet culture (4chan, Reddit, trolling, etc.) that also inhabits fandom communities, then it may be necessary, or possible, to circumvent this issue through disidentification.