Kill Your Darlings, or the Passion of Megan Fox - Keynote at the Fan Cultures and the Premodern World Conference (2019)

Themed Spotify playlist for my keynote, featuring songs which capture the vibe

Not going to lie, I’m excited. This week sees the inaugural conference of the Fanfiction and the Pre-Modern World network in sunny (hopefully) Oxford. The network is near and dear to my heart, bringing together excellent scholars committed to doing new, engaging - and playful - work in the field. Much to my chagrin (and epic sadface), I couldn’t make it in person to the FPMW colloquium last year, and so missed out on the opportunity to soak up the fannish goodness. hanging out with scholars on the same wavelength. Happily, I will be at the conference later this week with (metaphoric) bells on and a slew of sassy slides. I have the profound privilege of giving the conference keynote, and will be presenting a paper weaving together medieval devotional culture and modern celebrity production. Follow the conference hashtag #premodfanfic19 and the network’s Twitter @premodfanfic to follow along remotely. Check out a very abbreviated precis of the paper itself, and my paper’s slides below. Content and trigger warnings are flagged on the title slide. When developing papers, I usually dig deep into music that captures the essence of what I’m trying to say, and what songs reflect the vibe of my sources. So I’ve put together a Spotify playlist - check out the embed - so you can listen along to the paper too, a window into the emotional substrate of my arguments.

Mocked-up front cover of  Patriarchy: The Magazine , July 2019 edition. Created by Alicia Spencer-Hall. Straplines: “Kill Your Darlings! [or] The Passion of Megan Fox”. Background image: Megan Fox, in character as Mikaela Banes, leaning over the bonnet of a Camaro, her abdomen exposed. Still from  Transformers  (Michael Bay, 2007). Source:  Maxim.com .

Mocked-up front cover of Patriarchy: The Magazine, July 2019 edition. Created by Alicia Spencer-Hall. Straplines: “Kill Your Darlings! [or] The Passion of Megan Fox”. Background image: Megan Fox, in character as Mikaela Banes, leaning over the bonnet of a Camaro, her abdomen exposed. Still from Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007). Source: Maxim.com.

In “Kill Your Darlings, or the Passion of Megan Fox”, I use concepts at the core of medieval devotional culture as a means to deconstruct the patriarchal male gaze which governs the production of acceptable (read: acceptably sexy) female celebrities. In the paper, I offer a specifically medievalist reading of Megan Fox, and the ways in which she is perceived in the public eye.

In the public imagination to this day, Megan Fox is her body, nothing more or less. The die was cast in Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007), the blockbuster movie in which Fox starred as Mikaela Banes. Stephen Marche tells it like it is, rejecting the name “Mikaela Banes” in favour of a more representative moniker for Fox’s turn in Transformers: “Belly Leaning Over a Camaro”, an object colonized by the spectator’s gaze, a sexualized freeze-frame guaranteed to stick, like a piece of grit, in the public’s eye. The relic by which most come to know her, that “belly leaning over a Camaro”, is as much apophatic as cataphatic in the service of patriarchal dogma. That belly testifies to the glorious existence of malleable, mellow girls with toned taut abdomens who just want to have a good time: hyper-sexuality incarnate. At the same time, though, that belly – that relic which has become the sum of Fox’s public persona – testifies loud and clear, this is a Bad Girl. This is a slut, a home-wrecker, a pornified Eve. God is not Megan Fox. This is the version of events the patriarchy proffers. But it is not the entire story, it never is. How, then, do we subvert this narrative?

The infamous “Belly Leaning over Camaro” scene from Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007), featuring Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf).

Aspects of medieval devotional culture show us the way. Consumption - spectatorial or literal - could be affirmative, a moment of union between a worshipful believer and the object of their adoration. This is the logic of the Eucharist, and more metaphorically Christ’s Passion itself. In this context, affirmative modes of consumption are integrally connected to the reality, the urgency, or redemptive sacrifice. Here we find the tools to re-contextualize Megan Fox’s celebrity, to push back against the patriarchal machine by seeing (her) differently. To wit: what if we understand Fox’s conscious participation in the Hollywood celebrity factory as a kind of Passion, with a capital P? What if our own (spectatorial) consumption of Fox could become Eucharistic? What if God is Megan Fox after all?

Promotional poster for  Jennifer’s Body . Megan Fox (as Jennifer Check) sits on the edge of a school desk, embodying the “slutty schoolgirl” trope, side-on to the viewer in a short skirt. A human hand is visible, with the desk closed over it. “HELL YES!” is scrawled in chalk on the blackboard behind her. Strapline: “She’s evil…and not just high school evil”. Source:  FilmBook .

Promotional poster for Jennifer’s Body. Megan Fox (as Jennifer Check) sits on the edge of a school desk, embodying the “slutty schoolgirl” trope, side-on to the viewer in a short skirt. A human hand is visible, with the desk closed over it. “HELL YES!” is scrawled in chalk on the blackboard behind her. Strapline: “She’s evil…and not just high school evil”. Source: FilmBook.

In search of answers, I offer detailed analyses of the feminist-horror flick Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009), in which Fox played the titular heroine. Despite its title, Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009) is about much more than a single woman’s body. With a laser-like focus on its titular character’s body, the movie speaks volumes about female bodies, plural – and, by consequence about Jennifer’s soul too, her subjectivity and that of the actor who plays her onscreen, Megan Fox. The film’s initial roasting from audiences – and its recent affirmative critical reappraisal, in the era of the #MeToo movement – throws into stark relief the reality of womanhood in patriarchal society, especially in terms of the heavy toll paid by women who have the audacity to step into the public eye.

If you’d like to read my paper, the majority of the material - and lots more analyses - can be found in a soon-to-be-published chapter:

‘The Passion of Megan Fox: Sacrifice and Spectacle in Jennifer’s Body’, in Cinema Liberation Theology, ed. by Anthony Ballas (London, UK: Routledge, forthcoming 2020).

Whilst very much a medievalist reading of both Jennifer’s Body and Megan Fox, the chapter is light on explicit discussion of medieval sources. I’m currently considering what, if anything, to do with the medieval-heavy d̶i̶r̶e̶c̶t̶o̶r̶'̶s̶ writer’s cut as in the keynote. But it’s much the same vibe as my work on Kim Kardashian West and Margery Kempe, presenting a specifically medievalist, feminist reading of patriarchal ideologies and the construction of womanhood in terms of big-name female celebrities.

Edited 04/07/19: Embedded Spotify playlist and relevant sentences.

Defiantly Deviant: Disability, Temporality & Medievalist Methodologies - Keynote at the Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference, 2019

Fig. 1: Untitled gif of three skeletons dancing, using detail of a bas-de-page MS scene of the Three Dead. Made for GIF IT UP 2016, by Erin Black, posted 18/10/16. Black text overlays gif, reading ‘Defiantly Deviant: Disability, Temporality & Medievalist Methodologies’ (added by Spencer-Hall). Skeletons from the ‘Smithfield Decretals’ ( Decretals o f Gregory IX with  glossa ordinaria ), southern France (probably Toulouse), c. 1300, with illuminations added in England (London), c. 1340 (BL Royal 10 E IV, f. 259r). Source:  GIF IT UP 2016 . ( CC-BY-SA )  The creator, Black,  describes the gif : ‘This GIF celebrates both #PageFrights and the #SkeletonWar with three skeletons dancing on a manuscript page. The image is an illumination from the bottom of a page (aka a bas-de-page) of the Smithfield Decretals. It’s one of a series of bas-de-pages depicting the story of The Three Living and the Three Dead, in which three kings are confronted by three of their dead ancestors and warned to remember the dead, lest they take life for granted. […]’

Fig. 1: Untitled gif of three skeletons dancing, using detail of a bas-de-page MS scene of the Three Dead. Made for GIF IT UP 2016, by Erin Black, posted 18/10/16. Black text overlays gif, reading ‘Defiantly Deviant: Disability, Temporality & Medievalist Methodologies’ (added by Spencer-Hall). Skeletons from the ‘Smithfield Decretals’ (Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria), southern France (probably Toulouse), c. 1300, with illuminations added in England (London), c. 1340 (BL Royal 10 E IV, f. 259r). Source: GIF IT UP 2016. (CC-BY-SA)

The creator, Black, describes the gif: ‘This GIF celebrates both #PageFrights and the #SkeletonWar with three skeletons dancing on a manuscript page. The image is an illumination from the bottom of a page (aka a bas-de-page) of the Smithfield Decretals. It’s one of a series of bas-de-pages depicting the story of The Three Living and the Three Dead, in which three kings are confronted by three of their dead ancestors and warned to remember the dead, lest they take life for granted. […]’

On the 2nd of April in the year of our goddess(es) 2019, I felt the call. I had heard the call for a long time, years even. But I had not felt it, surging through the fibres of my being and my brain in a compulsive thrum. Until that portentous day, at 3 o’clock after my third cup of strong coffee. It was time. It was time I began my true calling, the journey for which I had prepared daily by scrolling through the internet and the Giphy gospels for hours on end. And so was born my first professional gif (Fig. 1), based on the fine work of Erin Black for GIF IT UP 2016, now burnished with my paper title. Not yet content, I toiled onwards, pouring sweat and blood into a dazzling relic, a timeless work of art: my first professional Blingee (Fig. 2).

The inspiration for the outpouring of my creative spirit was the Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference, taking place 5-6 April 2019 at Kellogg College. The conference’s theme is deviance, and I have the profound privilege of giving a keynote there. In my talk, “Defiantly Deviant: Disability, Temporality & Medievalist Methodologies”, I attending to the ways in which disability has been conceptualized as deviance, arguing for, in effect, a kind of defiant - weaponized - deviance as a form of critical cripistemology. I examine temporal deviance in particular: the ways in which crip lives take place in crip time(s), alongside the ways in which medievalist research can and does de-center “linear” (i.e. telelogical) history by blurring bounds between the past, the present, and the future. Temporal deviance becomes an embodied methodology, a means to re-instate the marginalized and silenced to the historical record, to forge crip-chronic communities across time.

With my focus on crip time and/as methodology, the keynote covers similar ground to recent other papers I’ve given, so see here if you’d like details of the forthcoming publications that form the basis of my keynote. I’ve embedded my slides below, which convey the thrust of my arguments. As much as I tried - and believe me, I tried - I couldn’t feasibly integrate the Blingee into my deck. But never fear, I have embedded it here - an orphaned artistic jewel - as a treasure for your eyes only. You’re welcome.

Fig. 2: A  Blingee  of Fig. 1, with dazzling pink animated starbursts overlaying the image. In this version, the skeletons are static. Source: my deepest creative urges.

Fig. 2: A Blingee of Fig. 1, with dazzling pink animated starbursts overlaying the image. In this version, the skeletons are static. Source: my deepest creative urges.

Hagiography, Media, and the Politics of Visibility - Keynote at the Gender and Medieval Studies Conference 2018

I have the distinct honour of giving a plenary paper at the 2018 Gender and Medieval Studies conference (GMS) (8-10 January 2018). This will be the first year that this long-running conference has included a plenary from an early-career researcher, and I am delighted/thrilled/terrified to have been invited for the inaugural slot. My paper, entitled 'Hagiography, Media, and the Politics of Visibility', presents key arguments from my first book, in particular the Introduction and Chapter 3. Handy reminder: see my earlier blogpost to find out how you can download a .pdf of the full Introduction for free, and to snag a voucher code for 20% off the listed price of my book (valid till 1 February 2018).

In my GMS talk, I first sketch the theoretical foundations for my consideration of hagiography as media, setting out my terms of engagement. Then, I discuss in depth the ways in which the politics of visibility are central in the creation, consumption, and lived experience of female identities. In particular, I bring the fifteenth-century English mystic Margery Kempe and twenty-first century celebrity icon Kim Kardashian West into dialogue, analysing the ways in which the pair attempt to self-produce 'acceptable' exceptional identities in their respective contexts. Finally, I discuss the role of visibility in the academy today - for early career researchers, and for medievalists more generally. Flicking through the slide deck below should give you a feel for the material. I look forward to seeing all those who can make it in Oxford!