Examining discussions on “New” Literacies: Fan Fiction and Manga

Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel ‘s “‘New’ Literacies: Research and Social Practice” discusses the chronologically recent computing and communications technologies that allow social reading and writing that are new in kind, and have never been done before as they are currently. While they examine research surrounding many computing and communications technologies, their discussion of manga and fan fiction were particularly interesting to me because I know many people who are avid contributors to both. Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel ‘s “Sampling ‘the New’ in New Literacies” evaluated the socio-cultural approach to new literacy as an examination of “the relationship between human practice and the production, distribution, exchange, refinement, negotiation and contestation of meanings” contributing to reading and writing in computing and communications technologies. Between both of these articles there was a common thread: “there is no one singular phenomenon that is literacy.” Both articles assert that “new literacies” are “new” because they are technologies incorporating “different kinds of values and priorities and sensibilities than the literacies we are familiar with.” These “new” literacies are “participatory, collaborative, and distributed” in ways that are distinctly not traditional. The excellence of this “contemporary explosion of remix practices in fan fiction,” manga, “and the like, bespeaks mass popular participation in expressing this will of information to be free.” These “new” literacies are created to make literacy and inter-textuality accessible. (Lankshear and Knobel, 2007) Between only two of the “new” literacy practices I will discuss, educators can see how collaborative online writing can be. Fan fiction writing and manga are often accompanied by instant messaging or discussion forums that add to the development of an ongoing narrative. These sites provide online discussion, feedback forums, and online tutorials allowing students to participate in an authentic real-life process of creation.

In “Digital Design: English Language Learners and Reader Reviews in Online Fiction” by Rebecca W. Black examines online fan fiction sites showcases how school- age fans are using new information and communication technologies to participate in multiple “literate activities that are aligned with many school-based literacy practices.” Black highlights how students are not only dissecting pop culture and media but they are responding to peer and expert feedback as a means of co-designing writing pieces through their interactions with this feedback. This interaction is only a fraction of the intertextuality occurring on fan fiction sites, readers and writers are using “various media and narrative genres, such as a songfiction that combines a narrative storyline using anime characters and the lyrics of a popular song, or a crossover movie fiction that combines the characters of an anime series with the setting or narrative elements of a well known movie.” These texts are complicated syntheses of understanding genre conventions, storylines, character developments, etc. One example Black shares is an English Language Learner who has become so “adept at networking in this space and has developed a considerable group of readers and avid followers to the extent that she now has over 6000 reviews of her 50 plus publicly posted fan fiction texts.” This experience is an authentic engagement with a real-life audience, and there is no way that teachers can successfully or should even try to replicate the experience in their classrooms. However, teachers need “to critically engage with and develop activities around media and popular culture that are central to students’ lives.” Educators need to expand their understandings of how students are using digital literacies as innovative “learning spaces, creating and sustaining social networks, and enacting achieved identities as engaged, competent, and literate members of a writing community.” (Black, 2007)

Lankshear and Knobel’s examination of manga and fan fiction in “‘New’ Literacies: Research and Social Practice” provided the existing research and the gaps. They touched on how fan fiction is a sub-culture and there has been a lot of focus on the copyright issues at play, but there really is limited research on fan fiction as a literacy practice, or in terms of its complex intertextuality. I found this interesting because as a high school teacher I see that my students who are regularly engaging with reading or writing fan fiction produce much higher quality composition than students who do not engage with this intertextuality. My students who write fan fiction always show me their work and the comments that others are making online about what they have published. It is always so special for me to see that students are engaging with a complicated writing process outside of school and they are finding value in writing outside of the classroom. To me this is the most important part of “new” literacies, they are allowing people of all ages to finding writing environments outside of professional or academic scenarios. When students share their fan fiction work with me, I feel honored, they are giving me insight into what they are most interested in outside of the classroom and they are sharing it with me because they know that I value writing. I found the example that Lankshear and Knobel gave about the teacher’s refusal to read and assess a student’s piece of fan fiction because it was too long insane. Teachers should never disengage with long complicated student writing because that devalues the value the student is putting in this valid literacy. Due to my experience with secondary students and education, I was also interested in the research they discussed about adolescent writing and fan fiction and the connection to poor writing (narrative assignments) in elementary and secondary education. I give narrative assignments to all grades, and I never have considered the results poor writing. Honestly, when my students have been able to emotionally connect to the a narrative or creative assignment, their writing is better because the composition becomes more ‘writer-based prose’ than ‘reader-based prose’ as I see in their research or analytical assignments. This article serves to “potentially alert a teacher to alternative perceptions of who learners are and what they can do,” and I think teachers, especially secondary, need to be made aware of the value in “new” literacies such as fan fiction and manga. (Lankshear and Knobel, 2004)

My prior knowledge of manga is really limited to, an old friend, Lois van Baarle’s career as an animé artist, loish. I never knew that manga stands for undisciplined free form drawing/image which seems so strange to me because Lois has been a disciplined artist since I met her in 4th grade. What is interesting is that she is Dutch and we met living in Indonesia, and Lankshear and Knobel note “English-speaking countries have denounced manga as being too violent for young people to read, and as responsible for dulling readers’ minds.” I wonder if being Dutch and growing up in a series of non-English speaking countries allowed her the freedom to explore these texts and artwork, and become as successful as she is now. Lois’s connection to “the role women are playing in shaping the content and direction of what has traditionally been a male-oriented genre” is also something that I found thought provoking. To me, specifying genres as gender-oriented is bothersome. Manga are highly complex texts that “require English-language readers to learn to read comic frames from right-to-left and to operate a range of challenging meaning conventions like recognizing the ‘signification’ of different sized- frames.” These challenging modalities show that manga is a “new” literacy that could benefit and stimulate readers’ minds. Like most “new literacies, the “lack of research that focuses on young people’s engagement with manga as readers and writers/artists” is frustrating because as technologies evolve so rapidly, we need to be able to stay on trend with literacies that can engage our young students. (Lankshear and Knobel, 2004)

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One comment on “Examining discussions on “New” Literacies: Fan Fiction and Manga

  1. I really appreciate how you included your experience with including fanfiction in your high school class. It seems that most research involving new literacies and fanfiction mention adolescents or students in either primary and secondary education. Although you say in your post in response to the number of reviews received and fanfiction written by the English Language author, “This experience is an authentic engagement with a real-life audience, and there is no way that teachers can successfully or should even try to replicate the experience in their classrooms,” is it really impossible for college instructors to replicate this experience in their classroom with fanfiction? Students are already doing a lot of nonfiction writing and peer editing in the classroom, so why not with fiction? I think this all goes back to how we have students write nonfiction works, which is understandable because they will be consuming and making nonfiction works in both inside and outside of the classroom. However, engagement can be a problem because–no offense to the teachers assigning essays and think students should be writing essays–students are bored and don’t want to write nonfiction. I call myself a rebel in proposing that students should have the opportunity to write fanfiction in their college writing classroom either at the developmental or first-year level because fanfiction can create student engagement because, for example, of the intertextuality fanfiction is known and that you mention in your post. I guess it’s the difficulty of designing lesson plans and assignments for this kind of engagement to occur that stops college instructors from experimenting with fanfiction in their classroom. I may be biased in saying so, but I think as a field we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with new literacies like fanfiction. On top of the breakthroughs that Lankshear and Knobel and Rebecca Black have written about regarding fanfiction, who knows what other learning experiences both college students and instructors may take away?

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