Fifty Shades of Fan Trailers: Feminist Creation From Fan Archives

Curator's Note

Curators: Abigail De Kosnik and Miyoko Conley, UC Berkeley

One of the most interesting aspects of this Jack/Elsa (Jelsa) trailer by Thali Pavlova is that a viewer has to know something about Fifty Shades of Grey, Frozen, and Rise of the Guardians (or just Jack Frost), even if that knowledge is only a vague grasp of the stories and characters. If a person knows something about the three overarching “archives” -- the mythos, the storyworlds, the baseline narratives -- then that person can “get” this trailer, which plays on the dissonance of the source materials, their surprising emotional similarities, and movie trailer formulas. This ability to understand the humor and maybe even the poignancy of this fan-made trailer illustrates how fan texts and fan productions work based on the fan reader’s knowledge of the source material(s), and how these very different sources can be made to work together in intertextual, heteroglossic, and polyvalent ways.

We regard this Jelsa fan trailer to be feminist, in the way that many female-produced fan texts are feminist, because it illustrates how women fans can pick and choose what “works” for them and what doesn't from among the different -- though limited -- depictions of female sexuality, eroticism, and emotion that mass media offers. Fans’ approach to mass media is not simply to accept the narrow views of female experience presented, but to use mass media as raw materials from which they construct images and narratives of womanhood that please them more than mass media does. Perhaps the fan vidder who created the Jelsa trailer made it only to humor themselves and their friends, but nevertheless, the trailer shows that any mass media content can serve up some elements that are useful for women fans to work-through and define what it means to be feminine or female, what it means to relate to another, what it means to embark upon a risky encounter with another, what it means to try for an ecstatic experience with another, and what it means to be devastated or ennobled by those choices.


I find the wide difference between your reading of this trailer and mine really fascinating. I found myself horrified that the powerful Queen Elsa was not the Christian Grey analogue but instead was positioned as the impressionable young girl role. It's also interesting to me that while I am familiar with the 50 Shades trailer and with the many fan trailers that play with it, and with Frozen, I have no idea who Jack is--maybe that would make it less distressing if I did? Then too, is my reading inflected by my distress over THIS thing being the mainstreaming of fanfic, BDSM, and women's unapologetic sexuality. I am in favor of those things, but 50 Shades is such a terrible example of all three. So the combination of stripping Elsa's status and using 50 Shades makes it hard to see this as feminist, even as the reworking popular culture part clearly is. Shades of gray indeed.

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