Friday, October 18, 2013

Kids Killing Kids

So I reviewed this show over on Australian Stage, and you can read all my thoughts on it there. (Spoilers – I thought it was remarkable.) But there was one point in it that I wanted to expand and riff on a little, because it touches on my own academic area (extremely tangentially, but still).

I’m fascinated by the process of reading/watching/consuming a text in general, and what that means. There’s this assumption you get a lot with popular texts that the readers (term used for ease, though obviously this includes viewers and other consumers) blindly imbibe meaning and mimic the text. The obvious rebuttal to this is the existence of fan culture, which by definition demonstrates an active, critical, and imaginative engagement with a text. It has been argued that fan practice is largely driven by three things:

1)      The symbolic richness of the text

2)      The inherent limitations of the text

3)      The degree to which the text can be appropriated and/or reconstructed by the reader. (Lanier & Schau, 2007, 327)

The fact that Battalia Royale garnered such a huge fan following is something I find completely fascinating, because it is just not something you see in theatre at all. I think this is often to do with the ephemerality of theatre, which speaks to both the second and third points on the list above. The transmedia aspects of Battalia Royale, which had a longer life than the show itself, probably mitigated this (in this sense, it would be interesting to look at its fan practices alongside something like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, or Such Tweet Sorrow, the all-Twitter production of Romeo and Juliet that Mudlark and the RSC did a few years ago). But what is also fascinating – and what the academic in me would love to know more about – is how those who wanted the show shut down conceptualised the fan community. There’s a tendency to treat fans of popular texts as if their reactions are uniform and banal, but the diversity and creativity of fandom belies this. To borrow a phrase, “...the community of fans creates a communal (albeit contentious and contradictory) interpretation in which a large number of potential meanings, directions, and outcomes co-reside” (Hellekson & Busse, 2006, 4). I can understand how seeing audiences cheering at the murder of the high school students is deeply, incredibly, viscerally disturbing – but how is this reconciled with the creative impulse of fan culture, which seeks to constantly renegotiate meaning?

I don’t have any answers to these question – this is very much on the fringe of my area of academic expertise – but these are issues I find so intriguing. There’s an argument that mass culture and popular culture are different entities, mass culture characterised by passive acceptance of a text and its intended meaning and popular culture characterised by active appropriate and reinterpretation, transforming meaning and usage (Lanier & Schau 325). I’m not especially enamoured of this distinction – I don’t think “mass culture” in this sense actually exists – but when thinking about Battalia Royale, it’s quite interesting. Some critics of the show seem to have pigeonholed it in this “mass culture” box, worrying that the audience will blindly imbibe it. The presence of such an active fandom shows, however, that it is clearly “popular culture”: any “intended” meaning it might have had was being constantly renegotiated, both within the fan culture and night after night in performance. I found it so fascinating that the writers were consistently being asked what the political context of the show was, when perhaps that question might have been asked more fruitfully of the fans. Just because an author intends to politicise a text, does not mean that the reader will read it politically, and by the same logic, even if an author intends no political meaning, the reader may well find one – and Battalia Royale seems to have been a text which resonated on a political as well as personal level.

This has all been a very long-winded way of saying that I found the sections of Kids Killing Kids dealing with fan culture absolutely fascinating. The way people read, consume, and use texts is so, so interesting – and idiosyncratic, something which is regularly glossed over and which is one of my greatest sources of academic annoyance. If this show ever gets a second season, I would love to hear more from people who saw Battalia Royale as to how the show affected them.

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