I just returned last night from my quickie trip to London (well, really Heathrow) for RDC3 – Behold the Red Dragon Con 3, which was a short but very sweet celebration of all things Hannibal. And this morning I thought, oh I know, I should write a con report… but then I remembered a question Demore Barnes (Tobias Budge) asked all of us gathered there: “what does Hannibal mean to you?” And that (oh so predictably) made me want to write a little more than a report; so instead, here’s a kind of extended (self) reflection on Hannibal, RDC3, and what that all means to me.
Hannibal kind of starts for me with The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991), which I thought I saw in Columbus, OH when I was in college, but clearly saw in Columbus, OH when I was in graduate school, part 1. because 1991. And I thought it was FUCKING BRILLIANT OMG. The fact that the girls being taken were “roomy” was especially terrifying, being rather roomy myself even then, but it was Clarice’s clearly female POV that really left an impression.
But the film didn’t become Meaningful to me until about 25 years later, when I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out where I was going wrong with my PhD thesis, all the while caring for a 3 yo and an infant who wanted to nurse approximately every 2-3 hours of every fucking day omg. So that, I was anxious, Geneva convention-grade sleep deprived, and desperate to figure out why all the data I had on Japanese women fans of Hong Kong stars did not fit into the “women fans are fighting the patriarchy/capitalism/whatever” framework I had to work with.
So there I am one night, toddler asleep in bed, infant nursing quietly in my arms, spouse off at his nighttime MBA program, and SotL is on TV – so, of course, I’m watching it. And this scene comes up:
And, I don’t know. It was probably because my brain was turned off for the night and thus open to free association or something, but this made something click for me: the fans I was studying were fans because they LIKED THE THINGS THEY SAW – resistance, fighting the man, whatever; IF it happened, it was ancillary to liking the thing. The interesting thing, then, was how they managed to like the thing – how did they see it everyday, or enough, to be able to fall in love with it, given that Hong Kong films had an interesting history of distribution in Japan, different from most other countries outside a Chinese diaspora. Thus was my thesis born.
So, SotL became something more than just a favorite movie to me – it was the thing that enabled me to pull my thesis out of the graveyard of broken ambition in which I’d mostly buried it and actually write the damned thing (best moment, post-defense: when one of my committee members said to me at graduation, “Given how long it took for you to finish,* I assumed we would have to give you a pity-pass. It was a pleasant surprise to see that it was actually well-written!”).
There is a point to this.
So, in late 2012 I hear there’s going to be a Hannibal series. And my husband (also a SotL fan) and I are all… why??? Like… what does such a show even look like? So we tune in, and it’s all this business
and I’m all… okay, then. I can keep watching this.
And it’s good, you know? Really good. So we watch the next season, where I somehow manage NOT to see “Mizumono” until just before season three, when I’m all, OMGOMG, and then season three happens, and it’s AMAZING, but then we go on a two week trip to London around about “Primavera,” so it takes until August to finally watch it all.
And, I don’t know. Suddenly, I’m all… wait a sec. I need to see that again. And I do. And by October I’m all
Like, I’m so obsessed I actually, finally decide to teach myself how to edit video so I can finally make the vid I have been wanting to make since I first threw Mulder and Krycek together with this song in a RealVideo slideshow like 18 years ago.
I write and vid all the things. I love it SO MUCH YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I go to Behold the Red Dragon Con 2 and hear Lara Jean Chorostecki and Kacey Rohl and Katharine Isabelle and Hettienne Park and Vladimir Cubrt talk about the show and themselves, and it’s AMAZING and I love the show more and keep writing all the things and vidding all the things and… yeah.
So, RDC3. Hugh Dancy is announced early on, and I have my ticket by 10 pm on the day of the announcement. I am going to be there come hell or high water, because Hugh Dancy. A little later, Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams are announced, and I have Heard Stories About Them and cannot wait. And then Demore Barnes, and I recall that he was all this
in “Fromage” and I am all YES I will be there I will do the thing.
And then they announce that Bryan Fuller will be there, and I’m all
because, see, I do fan and media studies, you know? And I’ve been looking at him and his show and his interactions with fans forEVER (in which “forEVER” = approx 12 months), and this is like IDK meeting God or something. Maybe not God. But someone important to me. Because Hannibal is Art, and I never, EVER get tired of watching it and wondering at all the beautiful things that make it up, and trying to write and vid about those things so that everyone else can see them too, because I am an unrepentant Hannibal proselytizer (with at least six conversions to my name, thank you very much), and this is just unreal. And then to find out that Ellen Muth has been added at the last minute is just the cherry on top of a huge honking Hannibal sundae of joy.
So, I go, and there I meet up with several other academic Hannibal fan friends (on the last night, we dub ourselves “acafannibals,” because why not?)
and we sit at a table with three other lovely new fan friends and, at around 12:40 am, THIS HAPPENS:
and we’re all left in his wake going, so, we just had 20 minutes of a showrunner’s attention, and this almost never fucking happens to fans, much less acafans, and it’s a transcendent experience that pretty much sees me through to this
(and also this
which, like the sun, I am still not able to look directly at, because pictures of Hugh Dancy looking into the camera make me blush and giggle like a 14 year old, I shit you not.)
And then there’s this business as well
AND this kind of thing
and Demore asks us what Hannibal means to us
and… it means this, you know? It means that Hugh Dancy noticed my flower crown
and asked about it, and I explained that it was a visual representation of an essay I’m writing called “Hannibal: Adaptation and Authorship in the Age of Fan Production,” and he’s all “That’s so cool!” and then he says again, when we do the picture, “I still love your flower crown,” so that I’m all “Here’s a copy of the essay” and hand him a printed copy of the current draft (imperfect, so very imperfect) when he’s signing an autograph for me. It means that Bryan Fuller looked a few feet across the table at the crown and goes, “Is that Red Dragon?” and I’m all
so that I kind of awkwardly thrust it at him when he’s signing an autograph for me all
But see, the thing is, I’m theoretically supposed to be all distanced from my objects of research, you know? I’m supposed to be CRITICAL, DAMMIT.
I WAS A SCHOLAR.
But, otoh, I’m a fan-scholar. And I’m a big believer in muddying the lines – between fans and scholars, between producers and fans – because IDK I’m a third culture kid and have no actual boundaries to speak of. This is what informs my research on transcultural fandoms, and (I have a point, I swear) one of the things that draws me, personally, to Hannibal. Besides the sheer beauty of the thing.
Hannibal, as everyone else probably has known from the start, but which only occurred to me mid-question to Demore and Ellen about their characters’ respective feelings of loneliness, is about nothing so much as the loneliness and yearning for connection of people who don’t fit in. TCKs are social outsiders – not (necessarily) unprivileged or otherwise marked on the outside as not fitting certain ‘norms’ of social belonging, but rather alienated by experiences and attitudes that simply aren’t shared by a lot of people. I lived in Hong Kong as a kid, throughout my ‘Hogwarts years’ (10-17), and as a result my popular cultural references, thoughts about Americanness, attitudes towards people who are not like me, etc., seem to be different than those of people who identify strongly with the communities they live in. So to see so many different people struggling to accept themselves in a TV show, struggling to find others like them (or inadvertently finding someone else like them, then framing them for their own serial killings, because Hannibal “what even are friends” Lecter) is profoundly moving (as in, I kid you not, I almost got teary listening to Ellen and Demore answer the question, because the weight of it throughout the entire series just kind of hit me all at once).
And listening especially to Bryan talk about the show, and thinking about all these lonely people… I just cannot help but think that here’s someone who gets that kind of loneliness, and he made us all a show – like, it feels very personal at this point, you know? It feels personal when Scott Thompson is talking about being cast for himself, and not as a “gay” character – about being thought – boxed in, even – as one thing, when there’s so much more to him. I think that’s what Hannibal – and RDC3 – mean to me: a group of people, fans and creators alike, who have some experience/knowledge of that kind of difference. The show respects that difference, rather than pathologizing it like so fucking many other shows/films, and I felt unusually respected in the con space by the show’s creators, and that sense of validation – of feeling seen, even a bit – I think that’s what Hannibal means to me.
Which sounds kind of dorky reading it, but I’ll probably work it into an essay at some point anyway, so for now… this is not a con report.
*Suffice it to say, there was exactly one month left on my seven year clock when I defended. Because this.