A few months back, I had to quickly familiarize myself with NBC’s Hannibal, an adaptation of characters from the Thomas Harris novel and popularized in films. I had previously seen the first three episodes (which I found to be subpar), but had a general knowledge about the show’s obsessive fans w/r/t the queering of the center relationship between the detective and serial killer. My goal was to watch some clips from the later seasons to get a general rhythm of the show’s beats, but I found it rather impossible. Or rather, I could not find clips from the show that had not been someway morphed. Instead, the majority of YouTube clips were montages like this:
The queer reading of Hannibal, which never literalizes in the series (but has been more or less endorsed by series creator Bryan Fuller), is not just an off-product of Hannibal’s existence. It seems to be the most popular reading. Henry Jenkins describes fandom as “a vehicle for marginalized subcultural groups to pry open space for their cultural concerns within dominant representations…a fashion that serves different interests” (472). But for Hannibal, the “straight” reading of the text feels rather limited and pointless. The text is tumblr-bound.
Here’s the big question then. Jenkins proposed his alternate reading of fandom as a necessary “challenge to the culture industry” (491), in which the slash fiction and feminist readings could “radically restructure the concerns of the show” (485) if certain dominant readings go against the fan reading. In Hannibal, however, there is no challenge to the culture industry to a point it seems. Hannibal will go as far as it can with its obsessive non-narrative imagery and surrealism, and give the audience everything it needs for the fans to work with, except allow these two men to kiss. It’s essentially an ever-approaching asymptote.
Perhaps Mark Andrejevic provides some of these answers in his exploration of Television Without Pity, in which viewers suggests not having “any illusions about transforming or improving the culture industry” (35), but certainly the unpaid labor can be used in some ways by the networks for good use. “This is one of the defining characteristics of the contemporary deployment of interactivity: the ability to enfold forms of effort and creativity previously relegated to relatively unproductive (economically speaking) realms within the digital embrace of the social factory” (42). Hannibal was notoriously under-advertized and thus had poor viewing numbers, but NBC didn’t necessarily need to use those resources when the fans could do all the advertizing they could possibly need. Can subversive fan readings work in an era where the ability to break outside the culture industry is nearly impossible?
(Ironically, as Hannibal as come to its end, series creator Fuller has been put in charge of a new Star Trek TV series)