JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

Notes  

1. The WB’s success can in many ways be attributed to the decision to emphasize children’s programming; The WB is singularly responsible for the import of Pokemon (the TV series, at least) to the U.S., whose American-translated pilot aired on Kids WB on September 8, 1998. Kids WB also aired reruns of Batman: The Animated Series, which began in 1992 on Fox Kids and proved extremely popular among not only kids but also older comic book fans.

2. The WB managed to secure this reputation mostly during the 1998-1999 season. See Diane Mermigas, “Defying the Odds at the WB,” Electronic Media, (January 25, 1999), 75; Ron Givens, “Hot WB Rides a Teen Wave,” New York Daily News, (February 2, 1999), 31; Lynette Rice, “The WB Takes a Bite out of Teen Audience,” The Hollywood Reporter, (October 7, 1999), for example.

3. In fact, Superman’s connection with the discourse surrounding 9/11 extended past the inevitable Smallville discussion. On October 20, 2001, VH1, AOL, Miramax and Cablevision presented a fund-raising concert at Madison Square Garden to benefit 9/11 victims and their families. Among the most heralded of the performances was that of Five for Fighting, who played their song “Superman” — a song that VH1 has been referring to ever since as 9/11’s “unofficial anthem.” The lyrics to “Superman” are written from Superman’s point of view, with the explicit suggestion that Superman, too, has dreams and fears and “the right to dream.” Lyrics can be found here:
http://www.lyrics007.com/Five%20For%20
Fighting%20Lyrics/Superman%20Lyrics.html
.
Maudlin, yes. But it was also capable of emotionally encapsulating a post-9/11 sorrow, and maybe, just maybe, a bit of disappointment that Superman didn’t actually show up.

4. The many incarnations of Superman have imagined the character’s youth in different ways, but Smallville appears to take its primary inspiration from Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman, which briefly presented teen Clark Kent as lusting after Lana Lang, running after the school bus, and longing to join the football team. Smallville’s pilot episode included all three of these elements, reworked for a cooler, cuter Clark Kent, yet still grounded in the idea that Superman in his teen years was largely unpopular and a bit on the dorky side.

5. The presence of the Metropolis-based Luthor Corporation in Smallville is a result of Lionel Luthor’s interest in progressive farming practices. In the pilot episode, Lionel sends (banishes) the rebellious, heavy-drinking Lex to Smallville to manage LuthorCorp’s Fertilizer Plant No. 3. Lionel is presented as the real evil force in the show — this version of Lex Luthor is particularly interesting because of the writers’ interest in painstakingly demonstrating exactly how he develops into an evil genius. Lex goes to therapy, hates his manipulative father, and even lapses briefly into paranoid-schizophrenia at the beginning of the show’s third season. Lionel’s decision to privilege corporate greed over proper parenting practices, apparently, eventually makes Lex Luthor into Superman’s crazed arch-enemy.

6. “Mytharc” is a term commonly used by fan communities to refer to broader storylines in a sci-fi show like X-Files; the word is basically an abbreviation of “overarching mythology,” but television producers also refer to a multi-episode storyline as an “arc.”

7. Smallville DVD audio commentary, “Pilot.”

8. And, of course, both Smallville and Spider-Man have been very financially successful. According to the Internet Movie Database (http://us.imdb.com), Spider-Man grossed about $403 million at the box office, which is substantial even by today’s blockbuster-oriented standards.

9. This idea is also worth examining (to a certain extent at least) through the lens of “great man” theory — there are several directors at work today who have made concentrated efforts at glorifying the “comic book nerd.” Just as Quentin Tarantino has done his best to make the video-store clerk/movie fan seem cooler to American audiences, Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy) has put comic book collecting, writing, and drawing at the center of his films, and has even had famed comic book artist Stan Lee appear in one of his films. As a result of Smith’s efforts, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the comic book nerd has come up a few notches in the minds of many Americans in the 12-34 demographic. This also ties in with the idea that fan culture has become less stigmatized due to the exponential spread of Internet use in conjunction with TV viewing. What can be considered “cool” is certainly elusive, but directors like Smith and Tarantino both come from a school of revenge-filmmaking — making films that allow them to make up for being considered “uncool” and “nerdy” in their youth. Further relating to the Tarantino-comic book connection is the fact that Tarantino has the title character in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) deliver an entire soliloquy about Clark Kent versus Superman, which ends with the line, “Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the human race.”

10. In fact, the first time we ever see teenage Clark, he is sitting at his computer surfing the web. “Pilot,” Episode #1-1, October 16, 2001.

11. Smallville Soundtrack: The Talon Mix, CD cover. Released February 25, 2003.

12. The O.C. is Fox’s current breakout hit about teen drama in California; during the past year or so Fox began to use the same sort of sound cards at the end of episodes that The WB has been using since roughly the first season of Dawson’s Creek in 1998. The official Fox website for The O.C. (http://www.fox.com/oc/home.htm) includes a blog “written” by one of the main characters, but the tone and language of the blog cannot be described as a true extension of the show’s canon, since the write uses terms like “character” and refers to events in other episodes in a very contrived, unnatural way. After looking at various web offerings from other networks, I believe that Smallville has the most extensive, authentic-seeming virtual universe.

13. http://www.thewb.com/Shows/
WithFeedback/0,9310,111513,00.html

14. Henry Jenkins discusses the Star Wars fan filmmaking phenomenon in “Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture,” in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, eds. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003).

15. Smallville Torch,
http://www2.warnerbros.com/web/
smallville/torch/home.jsp
.
Smallville Ledger
,
http://www2.warnerbros.com/web/
smallville/ledger/index.jsp
.

16. Although it’s almost impossible to prove that the ever-changing moods on the various message boards have an impact on the show’s narrative, every once in a while a storyline appears to reflect the opinions of the more vocal posters. As an example, in response to the show’s decision to send a character to Paris (“Truth,” #3-18, April 21, 2004), achilles13 posted, “I guess the writers read the message boards too. They realize that Lana's character has come to a standstill and needs a break. Great way to give her a break from the love story and have her come back to the story with a bang. And it will be exactly when Clark's personal life has a drastic change. Rumor has it that 2 people are leaving and who better right now than Lana. I hope she doesn't change her mind.” Posted on Smallville Ledger (April 21, 2004)
http://boards.warnerbros.com/web/messages.
jsp?topic=51137244&board=Smallville+Ledger

17. Mailing lists were the most prevalent form of fan community (aside from newsgroups) about five years ago, in the heyday of The X-Files. Although they still exist to a certain extent, much fan communication happens with blogging or the use of LiveJournal, which is a blog network. Grassroots movements in fan communities are often quite powerful if deployed on the Internet — in the early days of The X-Files, the idea of a romance between the show’s two main characters was very unpopular. Due to a concerted effort by a small mailing list called the “X-Files Romantics,” an effort which involved roaming newsgroups in packs and getting into flame wars on an hourly basis for several years, the Romantics managed to sway the opinions of enough fans so that the majority of vocal fans of The X-Files were pushing in every available forum for the show to head in that direction. This effort may have taken roughly seven years, but it eventually worked. Viral marketing is the advertising industry’s term for word-of-mouth information spreading.

18. http://www.thewbstreetteam.com

19. Several of the fans I interviewed for this paper have such screen names: clarkkent19, for instance, who is actually female.

20. http://smallville.warnerbros.com/
flash_large/flash_large.html

21. http://www2.warnerbros.com/smallville
/torch/starr-ware/VROS/login/index.html
.
This is the screen you access when you click on the crow’s eye on the header of the Torch. The user ID is csullivan, and the password is wallofweird.

22. http://www2.warnerbros.com/
web/smallville/luthorcorp/home.jsp

To access the investor center briefings, the passwords are respectively smallville, plantno.3, and manager. To access the Intranet under the name Lex Luthor, the password used to be “Lillian,” but has since changed. This author can no longer access Lex’s email.

23. Originally “slash” referred to male/male erotic contact. The generally agreed-upon origin of slash is fanzine Star Trek publications of Kirk/Spock erotica. Slash today, however, is a much wider phenomenon which describes fanfiction written about “deviant” sexuality in any cultural production, and distributed to other fans, usually on the Internet. As Punk Maneuverability describes it, “Slash is about subversion. It’s about subtext. It’s deviant behavior that needs to be hidden for some reason. In these ways, Mulder and Scully [the two leads of X-Files, male and female] had a slashy relationship. They couldn’t get involved because the cause came first. Their loyalty was to the truth and to each other, and sex would only get in the way. I liked Mulder and Scully because of that tension between them. I like Clark and Lex for that same kind of tension, this time stemming from mistrust.” (Email to author, March 23, 2004). The subject of slash and its variety of definitions is much larger than the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say that the constantly evolving nature of fanfiction genres is certainly worth continuing study.

24. Commentary for “Pilot.” Smallville. October 16, 2001.

25. Smallville Virtual Season.
http://www.smallvillevirtuality.com/vs/vs.html

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