Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture

By Henry Jenkins | Go to book overview

2

How Texts become Real

"What are the requirements for transforming a book or a movie into a cult object? The work must be loved, obviously, but this is not enough. It must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan's private sectarian world…. I think that in order to transform a work into a cult object one must be able to break, dislocate, unhinge it so that one can remember only parts of it, irrespective of their original relationship with the whole." (Umberto Eco 1986, 197-198)

In an oft-quoted passage from a classic children's story, the old Skin Horse offers the Velveteen Rabbit a Christmas Eve lecture on the practice of textual poaching. The value of a new toy lies not in its material qualities (not "having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle"), the Skin Horse explains, but rather in how the toy is used, how it is integrated into the child's imaginative experience: "Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real" (Bianco 1983, 4). The Rabbit is fearful of this process, recognizing that consumer goods do not become "real" without being actively reworked: "Does it hurt?… Does it happen all at once, like being wound up or bit by bit?" (Bianco, 1983, 4-5) Reassuring him, the Skin Horse emphasizes not the deterioration of the original but rather the new meanings that get attached to it and the relationship into which it is inserted:

It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things

-50-

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