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Friday, January 16, 2009

Gil Grissom erotica

My friends say I should end my relationship with Gil Grissom: "he's too old for you," "he's emotionally remote," "he's not real." So we're over tonight, now that he's left CSI: and he exists only in Spike TV's syndication. (This feature of my Grissom crush was annoying, as my mom pointed out one night when we had watched several episodes in a row and had seen the question 'will beer make my girlfriend's breasts bigger?' posed several times. "Don't the commercials bother you?" she asked. "If I were Spike TV's target audience," I said, "I'd be troubled that advertisers see such a lucrative link between MANswers and all the dead women on this show...")

Until yesterday, I didn't know that others shared my feelings for him--and published them online in elaborate Gil Grissom fanfic erotica. It's a weird phenomenon, but it fits in with the show so well that I'm surprised there hasn't been a CSI: episode about fanfic. It may be that Griss is a good fanfic subject less because "he could be up for anything," as Stevens puts it, and more because he's a student of conventions of alternative lifestyles--as in the episodes about furries, narcocorridos (a dangerous form of fanfic?), horror porn (ahem, Spike TV), and, this season, sitcoms for aging actresses, when the murderess explains how the murder would have occurred on her own badly written TV show. When a fanfic author delights in anatomizing a CSI: episode and reconfiguring the conventions into a new story, s/he's being Gil Grissom.

In this way, Griss is less compelling as a character and more as a motor for the show. But confusing those two things is the way to move the form of fanfic forward. The erotica setting is a stand-in for the crime procedural in its repetition of conventions for pleasure. It's an odd remediation of the show: the frequently voiced concern about eroticizing dead women (on a TV serial) gets turned into eroticizing a grizzled detective's intellectual interest in genre conventions (online in a forum). Virginia Heffernan explains how forms of media respond to and create different forms of desire:
We have to develop content that metamorphoses in sync with new ways of experiencing it, disseminating it and monetizing it. This argument concedes that it’s not possible to translate or extend traditional analog content like news reports and soap operas into pixels without fundamentally changing them. So we have to invent new forms. All of the fascinating, particular, sometimes beautiful and already quaint ways of organizing words and images that evolved in the previous centuries — music reviews, fashion spreads, page-one news reports, action movies, late-night talk shows — are designed for a world that no longer exists. They fail to address existing desires, while conscientiously responding to desires people no longer have.

In another column, Heffernan points out why "the thrill of cognition" creates new forms of media about procedures:
Still, the cube video is part of a larger genre of popular online video: the “solving spectacle,” which typically shows a soloist in a modestly appointed room trying to work out a problem — an intricate guitar solo, a speed painting — that is largely in his head. The solving spectacle is crucial to the mix on YouTube, where how-to videos, videos of ordinary people and everyday displays of virtuosity are all in demand.

Maybe I'm killing the mood by dissecting it, but that's what CSI: is all about! When I recently re-watched the episode about vampire aspirants who confuse fulfilling rituals to fit in to a subculture and real bloodlust, I thought of this Slate article by my old Spec colleague Chris Beam about why vampire movies are obsessed with smirking at conventions of the genre:
Or consider this exchange from the Twilight books: "How can you come out during the daytime?" asks Bella. "Myth," says Edward, her fanged paramour. "Burned by the sun?" "Myth." "Sleeping in coffins?" "Myth." Being smug jerks? True!

Slate is becoming a great site for genre theory! On CSI:, the vampire subplot is paired with another case involving a traveling Mikado troupe which has staged a burglary of a Japanese art show for an insurance scam. With the vampires/Gilbert and Sullivan stories paired together in a single episode, we can see how lots of types of stories rely on explaining how rituals, performances, and fantasies are put together through repeating and reconfiguring different conventions. Some fanfic subgenres export one type of story into another, creating Star Trek erotica, vampire action movies, and so on. As Beam puts it: "All genres evolve, and in this respect vampire films are nothing special. But vampires seem to relish deviating from their conventions more than most. At the very least, it keeps the genre fresh for Lesbian Kung-Fu Robot Vampire Killers From Space." (I'd say the game isn't fresh for Lesbian Kung-Fu Robot Vampire Killers from Space; it was created for it. It depends on it. And it needs an online companion for commentary.)

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Anonymous Anonymous on Mon Jan 19, 01:42:00 PM:
Hi Alice,

Don't take the following too seriously.

I'm always pleased, of course, to get a mention in your blog. But I felt that my mild remarks about Spike/CSI's commercials were used to set up some sort of unreconstructed feminist straw woman, insufficiently attuned to the interplay of genre and cultural (including advertising and fanfic) context.

You recall that I don't ordinarily watch CSI on my own. I actually prefer to learn about some television programs by watching them in marathons with you and listening to what you have to say.

When we watched the marathons together for CSI and for House in the post-Christmas period, my efforts to understand always came as questions about story structure and genre. Does this sort of thing always happen at this point in the narrative--that was my question, over and over. Does this minor character always serve as a foil for the major character's struggles in this way?

As a mystery reader who always mentally notes the span and complexity of narrative time between the genre-required first murder and the pretty-much-required second murder, I needed to know these things to make sense of what was happening. You did a good job of explaining to me what you called the "grammar" of the show--mostly, its generic characteristics.

But as you answered these questions for each episode, I could see that Grissom held few surprises for you. He was tired, according to the story line. But you seemed a little tired, too.

And that's why I think that Grissom's move to syndication/marathons may be good for your relationship with him.

Fanfic wouldn't work for you, and really doesn't work for anyone, since it just narrows and heightens the obsession, removing any semi-authentic agency the beloved character might ever have had.

But if a show is seen in out-of-temporal-order syndication or marathon, then it is relived more in the way that we relive a memory. When the past is past, we are free to re-edit it a bit, noticing only what we want to notice and not having to be alert for any surprises. We can even skip an episode that we didn't really like. What happened remains separate from us, but also gets merged into our own life story in an a way that works for us.

In syndication/marathon, Grissom will become more available and, I think, less powerful. An edited nostalgia will slowly begin to replace the loss.

So, here's to the new shows. There seems to be a big crop of bright, emotionally available guys this new season.

Not that I'm watching.