The same phrase "Spashley is love" is used in the "Save Spashley" campaign.
An example of a simple "Save Spashley" banner.
South of Nowhere is just one text located between the margin and the mainstream with which young scavengers can construct their identities.
Jenkins describes this process as “textual poaching”:
In an analysis of girls’ zine making, Mary Celeste Kearney argues,
This process is particularly evident in the phenomenon known as “fan art.” Fan art can consist of fan produced video, drawings, paintings, desktops, icons, and fan fiction. Danielle Riendeau notes that in the past, the creation of fan art was something that only small groups of dedicated fans enjoyed as a hobby (1). However, in 2009, fan art has become “as much a part of mainstream fandom as episode analyses and debates about characters” (Riendeau 1). Contemporary fan sites are now as much “creative communities as they are "just” groups of fans” (Riendeau 1). While television producers and studios have reacted to fan art in varying ways—“some embrace the concept as a good way to keep fans happy, while others shut down fan efforts”—Riendeau argues that fan art has become an important way for the queer community to create personal stories (1-3).
It is interesting to note that fandoms constantly reinterpret the popular culture that they love (Hill 173). One particular new phenomenon arising out of fandom in the past few years is “vidding.” Vidder’s are fans of film and television (visual media) who make their own music videos and then upload them online for feedback from other fans.
Often requiring many hundreds of hours of work, the resulting vids are a conglomeration of visual media and popular music, and as such involve a great deal of cross-referencing with other popular cultural texts. One of the implications of such vids as Hill interestingly argues is that vidders are “perhaps unintentionally creating commentaries on… youth culture and society in general” (Hill 177). This is because the music and imagery that vidders use in their clips contain “a wealth of cultural and social information” (Hill 178).
However, as vids often involve illegal use of copyrighted material, they constantly face the threat of removal from internet sites such as YouTube. In this sense, fan vids could be described as transient explorations of popular youth culture. But South of Nowhere was a media savvy series that understood the need to encourage online fandom, vids in particular, and its website contained a link to a device called “The Video Masher.” The device (it is still functioning) acts as a platform through which fans can splice scenes and stills from the series with a number of songs. [open endnotes in new window] However, the material given to fans is limited. Currently they may choose from only 31 short clips from the three seasons of South of Nowhere (40 episodes) and splice them together one of 5 different songs to make up to 60 seconds of vid footage. It is interesting to compare vids produced in this officially sanctioned manner with vids produced unofficially and illegally.
A typical example of a “Video Masher” vid is simply titled “SPASHLEY” and runs for approximately 45 seconds. The vid opens with quickly edited clips of Spencer and Ashley smiling and laughing at each other over a nondescript instrumental soundtrack featuring guitars and bass guitars. This quickly cuts to an image of the logo of teen television channel The N and then short clips of Spencer and Ashley dancing and kissing. These clips are followed by an image of a South of Nowhere logo and a colourful transition to a number of clips of Spencer and Ashley playing at the beach, Ashley says “I need to process this” and we see further clips of the two running on the beach. The soundtrack stops and the images fade to black. Because the “Video Masher” is operated by the South of Nowhere parent website http://www.teennick.com, to locate such a vid, one must trawl through a number of pages of vids for other teen series. This suggests that the perceived pleasure from the “Video Masher” device—according to the television producers—is in the production of fan vids rather than the consumption.
An example of an unofficially produced vid is titled “Spencer/Ashley vid—Swans’, it runs for 2.5 minutes. The creator of this vid posted a short description of the vid and a disclaimer regarding ownership of content on the video hosting website:
As mentioned in the description, the vid uses the song “Swans” by Unkle Bob to convey this fan’s storyline in which Ashley proves her worth to Spencer. Using scenes from seasons 1-3, the filmmaker re-edits the material to convey this particular storyline. The employment of special effects such as cross-fades and alterations in colour and lighting emphasise the ability of the filmmaker to mould the initial material into something that suits their own creative desires. In this vid, the song choice is incredibly important as the music and images work in synergy to express the views of the filmmaker. At times, the rhythm of the editing mirrors the rhythm of the music, this coupled with the lyrics of the song serves to emphasise the intensity of the emotional struggle between the two characters.
Although both of these vids are indeed very different, they both valuable as they serve to highlight the innovative ways that fans are interacting with the popular culture that engages them.
Identity politics in the age of the Internet
The ambiguities of queer girls’ cultural investments within mainstream and marginal media are a productive part of the process of growing up queer today. Driver argues that mass cultural texts such as film, television, and music interact dynamically with the inner worlds of girls who challenge normative regimes of feminine heterosexuality. She also suggests media portrayals of queer youth are “partially constitutive of the very ways in which young female selves are named, recognised, regulated, and scrutinised according to binary gender and sexual norms” (Driver 4). Driver argues that queer girls invigorate meanings through their “experientially mediated readings, parodic responses, and thoughtful disidentifications” (11). What strikes me about this are the concepts of “experientially mediated readings” and “thoughtful disidentifications.” The notion of “experientially mediate readings” suggests that queer youth make sense of queer representations in terms of their own experiences. In other words, popular culture is something to be experienced, and something to understand through experience. If we look back to the quote that opened this chapter, this is most certainly the case. However, there are many more examples of this principle in action. One fan questions whether anyone has had a “spashley moment” in real life:
The numerous responses to this thread highlight the way that these particular fans assimilate images from the series into their understanding of their own lives. The sharing of “Spashley moments,” for example, also encourages a sense of community and friendship amongst the fans.
The concept of disidentification is also interesting to look at in terms of South of Nowhere, Jose Esteban Munoz (1999) theorises the concept of disidentification as
Driver argues that Munoz’s theorization is significant in relation to queer youth as it opens space to think “about the possibilities for queer youth who do not simply accept or reject, assimilate or repudiate popular images, but engage with what is available in order to imagine themselves otherwise” (11). In terms of its representations of queer girls, South of Nowhere is rather limiting, all of the queer characters are feminine, conventionally beautiful, upper class and white. But this doesn’t stop the fans from engaging with what is available and from scavenging particular images and assimilating them into their identities. And what’s fantastic about South of Nowhere is that it truly emphasises this through its strong ties to online content. This again stresses the fact that fans who do not find exactly what they are looking for in the series can create their own content online or form part of an online community through which they may challenge dominant ideologies.
In Driver’s extensive research, she points to a significant tension between the proliferation of mass marketed images of female youth and “passionate readings by queer girls that work to destabilize heteronormative modes of cultural in/visibility and significance” (234). This tension also arises within mainstream representations of queer stories, as they are both intensely pleasurable as the transmitter of collective stories and community, but also deeply troubling because they continually reproduce normative ideals. However, queer girl audiences work with what they’ve got to create intensely personal meanings in the gaps and excesses of “mainstreamed” queer representations. The character of Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one such example of this. For many queer girls, Driver argues, Willow has evolved to be much more than a secondary character, and has become a locus of desire and potential identification.
The same could be said with South of Nowhere and this is evident in the numerous fan postings concerning the main relationship of the series between Spencer and Ashley. As in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South of Nowhere fans in dialogue with other fans question and challenge themes within particular stories, characters, or episodes that inevitably “loop back into personally inflected readings about their own lives as teens.” (Driver, 236). Driver argues that talking through events and relations experienced by characters, such as falling in love, allows girls to share understandings that “refract socially varied readings” (236). With characters acting in this manner, as an open text through which audiences may challenge or contest meaning, South of Nowhere acts as an entry point for young audiences to publicly—via online message boards—discuss questions regarding their own sexuality.
Susan Driver argues that television shows actively inhibit images of queer physical affection and lust and films have the power to go further in depicting “images and narratives that exceed ideologically bound representations of girls (236). However, I argue that lesbian teen TV series such as South of Nowhere and their surrounding fandom complicate this argument. For queer youth, the dynamic synergy between TV and new media allows them to become “identity scavengers” as they push the boundaries of sexual representation, ideology and identity. To reiterate this point it becomes necessary to differentiate between Jenkins’ notion of “textual poaching” (23) and my theorisation of “identity scavenging’. Queer youth audiences are not nomadic poachers at the top of a hierarchy; they are scavengers that make use of what is available. As teenagers, they are fringe dwellers who reside in the liminal space between childhood and adulthood; as queer teenagers, they may find themselves even more marginalised. From the cultural debris scattered between the margin and the mainstream these scavengers construct their identities. The only tools they require are the synergistic combination of teen TV series such as South of Nowhere, new media technologies, and their imaginations.