Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review -- Work/Text: Investigating The Man from U.N.C.L.E., by Cynthia Walker

    If you want to read background info on the development of the U.N.C.L.E. series, this is a great source.  Cindy also surveys fan reactions with a sampling of actual giddy fans (like me).  Tons of references contemporaneous with the series.

    All of this fannish stuff is in the center of a bigger context, the story of a creative concept (call it a “site”) that goes forth from its inceptors to integrate with its various processors and bounce around in the heads of its perceivers, who also get into the act by responding in ways that affect the original inceptors.

    In other words, the show was developed with lots of input from varying sources, but it wasn’t a “closed” system or a finished work like a piece of sculpture or other “high art.”  Not only did U.N.C.L.E. (as a concept and an intellectual property as well as a TV series) develop and change at the creative end, it was also influenced BY THE FANS.  As we all know, U.N.C.L.E. fandom was the prototype for media fandom to come.

    This fan attention not only proved the value of the concept to the “owners” (NBC, Arena, etc) but also demonstrated a possessiveness (it’s MY show) that we also see today in our discussions of wearing black turtlenecks or the “flame wars” about if a new U.N.C.L.E. movie will live up to our expectations/demands.

    But this is also a reference work.  I was able to follow the various discussions of “theories of creative art” with some concentration.  Personally I believe in objective reality, including that a single-author thing (sculpture, novel, song, etc) has one “correct” meaning – that intended by the author.  But of course if that meaning “gets across” to the consumer, is another discussion.  And the more fingers in the creative pie, the more “meanings” can be passed along, to be unpacked (“read” in literary terms) by the consumer.  And the greater the variance in consumers, the more likely various meanings or messages are perceived (whether originally intended or not).

    The concept of a work/text is a great fit for U.N.C.L.E., with its give-and-take between fans, creators, the media, and the rest.  It seems with every voice the “site” had a chance to become both more specific and more diffused (a diffusion which eventually led to cancellation).  Yes, fans “read into” works, especially those works into which the fans invest themselves.

    On the bottom of page 291, when Walker discusses how the interplay between writer-creator-fan-consumer keeps a “site” active in the public mind, it reminded me of that line Dr McCoy says at the end of STAR TREK II  about the (temporarily) dead Spock:  “He’s really not dead ... as long as we remember him.”

    Thanks to Dr Cindy for all the tons of work involved.  If you haven’t had to write a “survey and criticism”-type research paper, you have NO IDEA how involved, draining, and attention-demanding such a process is.  She does a fine job of not just citing things, but giving enough references that I, although out of the game for a while, could get the gist of the cited idea, but also see how it fit into the point or narrative she was writing.

    If you want to learn more about U.N.C.L.E. and are also willing to confront extensive discussion of ideas and art concepts, as well as media culture, this is a great book for you!

PS:   The cover art is pretty cool too, showing kids watching the show as if it’s being broadcast from a short distance away, in the distance.  In a minute the agents will run off the street set and through the living room.  Isn’t what we all wished would happen to us?  Cindy writes, Suzi Lovett, a fan artist who has illustrated many MFU fan zines, created the cover art. She did a really nice job translating my vague idea into concrete reality and I am extremely grateful.


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