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.