ICFA, Night Vale, creepypasta, and post-patriarchal consumption of stories

I am at ICFA (Int’t Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts), a longstanding conference of academic research and critique in science fiction and fantasy. I’ve wanted to come to this conference for a long time, ever since Bernadette Bosky talked my ear off about it around 1993. (I was in grad school myself at the time, getting a masters in writing and publishing, and Circlet Press was about a year old at that point.)

Here we are, 20+ years later, and I’m finally here. Why this time? I actually got invited as an author guest. So here I am. I’m reading on Friday (tomorrow) at 4:15. I still haven’t figured out what to read, but I might read an abridged version of a steampunk erotic story that has never been published. The theme of the conference is Fantastic Empires and, well, of course I want to read a story that critiques the British Empire and the patriarchy.

The panel of papers I attended this morning was on creepypasta and the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I am only passingly familiar with either, which made it fascinating, as both Night Vale and the world of creepypasta are both media that can be enjoyed in passing.

Creepypasta, if you’re not familiar with it, is the art form of bite-size horror stories (kind of like urban legends) in text or maybe an image that can easily be copy-pasted and shared on the Internet. Line Henriksen from Linkoping University presented a very coherent paper that drew together concepts from Derrida and Donna Haraway, and I can’t even begin to summarize it, nor should I since you really should be here yourself if you want to get the good stuff… but the central idea I’m taking away from it, given that I’m a non-academic and I’m here as a writer who goes to see these kinds of papers because I love to have my intellect stimulated, is this:

The idea of a detached observer who can glean any kind of “objective” truth by observing from a distance without contaminating what is being studied or being contaminated by what is being studied is a false contruct and one based on the Western patriarchal idea that the ideal observer is a white able-bodied property-owning male. Whereas both feminist critical theory and postcolonial critical theory posit that it’s in fact impossible to study a subject without engaging with it and it’s impossible to understand a subject without becoming a part of it and it becoming a part of you.

This relates to creepypasta and to Night Vale in a couple of ways, including the fact that the audience for both are not mere passive receivers of the media but are necessarily a kind of participant in the experience. When you hear the Night Vale podcast, which is done as if it is a public radio program in Night Vale itself being broadcast to its citizens, you as a listener become one of those citizens. When you read a piece of creepypasta and pass it on (or don’t) – some of these take the form of cursed chain letters that you can only lift the curse by passing it on to others – you are part of the story and the life of the meme.

More later if I have time?

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