What has Larry Viezel, The Royal Mystic Order of Chaos, and articles you can quote in your senior thesis? New book “Fan Phenomena: The Rocky Horror Picture Show”!
“Fan Phenomena: The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (2015, Intellect Books, ed. Marisa Hayes; $16.74 at http://amzn.to/1HHel73) is one in a series of books by the University of Chicago Press in the US; Intellect Press in the UK. It’s book 16 in the series (we’ll forgive them for doing Star Wars, The Hunger Games, and The Big Lebowski first). According to Intellect Press’s website:
“The series aims to ‘decode’ cult subjects in terms of the appeal and far reaching connections each … have in becoming part of popular culture… each include a fascinating collection of essays which explore a particular area or aspect of the subject’s ‘universe’…”
The book is 9x7”, 146 pages. Small photos (mostly from the film, or fan-provided performer photos) are sprinkled throughout. This is an academic press, some articles more so than others (expect to encounter words like “liminal”). All have footnotes (some leaning heavily on the web). Half (!) of the Audience Participation album gatefold is credited to Tumblr, which gave me a giggle. It was gratifying to see a Crazed Imaginations Sue Blane interview cited (via the excerpts at http://www.rockypedia.org).
The 10 articles range from well-worn topics (coming of age and Rocky Horror) to articles on fashion, the identity of Frank N Furter, “Philosophical Currents Through Film,” and an article on Shock Treatment. Some are quite readable; some rather dense. If you’re interested in thoughtful analysis of your favorite film that doesn’t require hitting specialty journals, enjoy. Academic articles on Rocky are a hobby of mine, and I was pleased to see some topics I haven’t seen addressed in the literature before.
In addition, six “Fan Appreciations” present 3-5 page mini- Q&As with various Rocky Horror fans (disclaimer: I’m one of them). The six profiles cover seven fans, mostly US, though Stephanie Freeman, founder of UK Fan Club TimeWarp, is included. Her Appreciation covers the annual Rocky Horror Picnic, a delightful tradition where costumed fans descend on the Oakley Court hotel (which flies the Transylvanian flag for the occasion!) for a picnic and Rocky Horror screening. Freeman’s thoughts on how the internet has changed fandom, and brief gloss of the differences between UK and US fans are illuminating.
There are some surprises: Jim Hetzer’s profile focuses on fan fiction and indeed is combined with Bill Brennan due to his numerous fiction crossovers. Hetzer’s more recent work on Perry Bedden’s Rocky Horror Picture Book is also highlighted. Larry Viezel’s Appreciation leaves one wanting more– by the time he’s described his collection and plugged a few fan-produced RH videos, it’s over. Viezel also appears in Shawn Stutler’s Appreciation, which largely covers their documentary “Rocky Horror Saved My Life.”
Here are a few high/ lowlights from the essays – do enjoy the titles:
“Fashion and Fetish: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dark Cabaret Aesthetics and Proto-Punk”: Mines Patricia Quinn’s “Sue Blane invented punk” claim, visiting her costuming of Genet (whose play The Maids famously provided Frank’s corset) and making the usual allusions to David Bowie (whose makeup artist, Pierre Laroche, worked on the film, though the article doesn’t mention this). Not much new here, though it is handy having it all in one place, and the brief character fashion summaries are interesting.
“Doing the Time Warp: Youth Culture, Coming-of-Age and The Rocky Horror Picture Show Through The Years”: A few clunkers: the authors state that Frank doesn’t successfully seduce Janet, but only Brad, which is simply wrong. (These are the folks who didn’t recognize the AP album gatefold.) They do raise some interesting points, for example noting that presumably gay / bisexual creation Rocky Horror expands his sexuality by having a heterosexual experience instead of the other way round, and exploring how Rocky’s meanings are likely different for Millennials than Rocky’s original audiences.
“Shadowing the Boss: Leadership and the Collective Creation of Frank-N-Furter Identity in Rocky Horror Fan Casts”: Quite readable and features unusual insights into both Frank and Riff. Primary research includes input from fans who play Frank. It’s refreshing to see casts from Florida, Texas, and Delaware cited as opposed to the usual California /New York. The author appears to conflate Frank shadowcasters with cast leadership and is politely corrected by one of the interviewees. This is the first time I’ve seen an academic article address theme nights or non-screen accurate shows. The author’s thesis is rather murky but the journey is interesting and thought-provoking.
“‘A Strange Journey’: Finding Carnival in The Rocky Horror Picture Show”: Some of the allusions to Frank being Jesus are a bit of a stretch, and as the author stretches the Criminologist’s references to the “last meal” as similar to “The Last Supper,” she misses the fact that Da Vinci’s Last Supper is indeed displayed in the Crim’s book during that entire monologue. Some good points, though the thesis that Rocky Horror is carnival seems rather pat and the article veers perilously close to being a literature survey.
“Fishnet Economy: the Commerce of Costumes and The Rocky Horror Picture Show”: Starts with a charming description of fans gathering for a rare showing in Baltimore. I really enjoyed this article (disclaimer: I was interviewed for it). The language is plain and easy to understand, and it’s primary research instead of stitching together references. The DIY movement and “costuming with heart” both get shoutouts, but there are an awful lot of dollar signs in this article. I regret having discussed costs with the author: fabulous costuming doesn’t have to cost a bundle, and when it does it’s often a matter of priorities (beer money or fabric?).
“Sanity for Today: Brad and Janet’s Post-Rocky Shock Treatment”: another little-studied subject. Surprisingly, Shock Treatment’s foreshadowing of modern reality TV is essentially omitted, though the author points out that the film’s filmed musical numbers appear to foreshadow MTV. Hmm. The expected Rocky Horror references are spun into the idea of duality and Farley Flavors is called out as a fascist ruling a television-worshipping state. Interesting. The time spent on Jim Sharman’s underappreciated contributions as director is unusual and time well-spent.
“Mercy Killing – Rocky Horror, The Loss of Innocence and the Death of Nostalgia”: This article briefly touches on the death of Brad and Janet’s innocence, conflating it with the decline of monogamy and rise of homosexuality, then takes a sharp turn into glam rock (Frank) killing the traditional rock and roll (Eddie). The article delves into the historical setting of the film, starting with Nixon, continuing through the mid-1970s UK economic crisis and name-checking Vietnam. Janet sheltering from the rain under her “Plain Dealer” and Brad and Janet being literally overtaken by the Transylvanians are both cleverly presented as metaphor. The buzz-killing ending and Crim’s mysterious final speech are presented as a final takeaway “don’t take yourself too seriously,” which is an interesting counterpoint to “Don’t dream it, be it.” Readable, informative, and a nice finale to the collection.