Paper Proposal

In my final paper for this independent study, I want to explore how some fans have combined GIF sets and fanfiction to create a hybrid genre, GIF stories (or what I insist on calling it: GIF fics). Both GIF sets and fanfiction, albeit in different ways, function in fan communities as ways to communicate interpretations, generally about ships (the romantic pairing of characters). In this paper, I want to examine how the GIF fic draws from these two rhetorical traditions within fandom, making use of the affordances of each to develop a new form of argumentation.

On social media site, like Tumblr, GIF sets, groups GIFs, are circulated to craft

GIF set by Tumblr user sardoniyx.

arguments and evoke feels. The looped nature of GIFs encourages viewers to pay attention to the subtle subtext of actors’ gestures and facial expressions. Often interpretations of the actors’ nonverbal cues are directed (as per Roland Barthes) by captions, tags, or superimposed text. GIFs are often paired with lines and lyrics from poetry or songs; the combination of text and image working together to create an argument about the characters’ relationships or romantic attachment.

Fanfiction, too, functions as a form of argument. Through fic, fans present their interpretations of different characters and promote different ships or theories. Like GIFs, fanfiction tends to focus on the romantic relationships between characters, using their stories to demonstrate how romantically or sexually compatible they are. But fanfiction is about more than just making your favorite character do it. Henry Jenkins, and numerous other fan scholars, have observed the deep understanding of the source text, and the fanon that has developed around it, that fanfiction requires. In crafting arguments about the romantic or sexual attraction of characters, fans will often allude to events within the source’s canon or popular theories posited and promoted by the fan community.

GIF fic emerged from the practice of pairing relatively short GIF sets with “incorrect” subtitles. The dialogue imposed on these GIFs might have been

Incorrectly subtitled GIF set by Tumblr user soapieturner.

taken from television shows, borrowed from other users’ posts, or invented by the creator of the set. These GIF sets follows the conventions of dialogue captioning and are visually indistinct from the GIFs with the canonical dialogue. If a person unfamiliar with the show were to encounter one of these sets, they would not be able to tell from their visual presentation whether or not they were original to the show or created by a fan.

GIF fic “Jonsa Season 8” by Tiny Little Bird

But for the fans that recognize the remixed subtitles for what they are, the images of the GIF are de- and re-contextualized. The introduction of the new subtitles alters viewers’ reception of the image; certain gestures or expressions might be emphasized because of the added text or the interpretation of them might shift because of subtitles offer a new direction for reading them.

GIF fics function on a similar principle. In GIF fics, new dialogue is added to GIFs, though the sets are much longer, sometimes encompassing multiple themes. GIFs are arranged in such a way as to tell a sustained and cohesive story. In this paper, I will be examining “Jonsa Season 8,” by Tumblr user Tiny Little Bird. The story was posted in six parts, each containing at least thirty –five GIFs, with some chapters exceeding fifty.

Some questions I plan to explore in this paper:

  • How does the dialogue added to GIF sets interact with images? What is the relationship between visual and the verbal?
  • How does GIF fic fit into fan communities’ discourses about specific scenes or interactions?
  • What resonances exist between the scene in the source material and the way in which it is remixed in the GIF fic?
  • What approaches to authors of GIF fic take to “missing scenes” for which they do not have footage (for example, a sex scene between characters who are not a canonical pairing)?
  • How do GIF sets function as a rhetorical tool? How the inclusion of material from the show help to visually support the argument made in the story?

4 Replies to “Paper Proposal”

  1. After doing a quick search on fan fiction and the distribution of power–saw a lot of interesting things. Fanfic writers in general seem pretty savvy to the task of redistributing power through their moves, which often seem rhetorical in nature. The images in the gifs hold power beyond the printed word since they embody the characters as they were first fallen in love with or adopted by the fan, so to exercise control over the images is a great power. If you think of earlier ages and cut-ups for the surrealists like Man Ray and how those packed quite a surprise, possibly for similar reasons although with dissimilar intents and executions.

  2. I also wonder if GIF fiction might have similarities with dream fiction or magical realism because of how it warps structure. It’s going to be cut-up, choppy, blocky most likely or, if not, it’s a kind of beautiful seemingly Frankstein monster (or Patchwork Girl).

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