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Grace Paizen
photo by Katie Chalmers-Brooks

Grace Paizen

This Victorianist‚ former model and author of historical reconstructions (she wrote her first novel at 16) grew up with the music of The Beatles and David Bowie. Her father‚ a superfan‚ had it on repeat. Grace Paizen thinks maybe that’s how her interest in fandom first took root. Now her research goes deep into stereotypes surrounding female fans‚ and how over-the-top reactions to celebrities can be traced to the 1700s.

Tell me about your research.

In one of my classes‚ we read The Sorrows of Young Werther‚ an 18th-century novel that tells the tragic story of unrequited love. There was “Werthermania” at the time‚ which is like Sinatramania‚ Beatlemania or Pottermania. I propose that Werthermania kind-of established the stereotypes of fandom. You can actually go back in time and see that we’re Victorians‚ just with cellphones.

What’s a stereotype you identified?

That girls are hysterical—they will lose their minds over their lust for a celebrity‚ even if he’s a fictional character.

Was it mostly women who were Werther-crazy?

Men bought into it‚ too. But you can sort-of see how the language developed into things like “these crazy girls.” In science‚ we’re always already hysterical because we have a womb—that’s the medical definition. It came from the Greek word for uterus‚ “hystera.” It marks women as solely controlled by their biology and unable to reason because of their uncontrollable animal desires‚ which placed them as second-class citizens.

For your PhD‚ you’ll be looking at gendered technology?

I’ll be studying how technology like Alexa and Siri is feminized because it’s designed to assist humans and bring them entertainment and pleasure‚ which is a role assigned to women throughout history. And I want to talk about 2001: A Space Odyssey and Hal 9000—because he’s so much fun. I’ll be exploring how male-gendered technology in fiction is often violent‚ then destroyed‚ implying again a stereotype: Men are intelligent but violent beings.

What’s your next book?

I have‚ like‚ 20 novels that are not published yet. I’m a bit like Stephen King—like‚ I have to write. It’s not an option to not write. I wrote a whole book just to have an Oscar Wilde cameo.

Whom are you a fan of?

Lady Gaga. I saw her in 2014—I thought I was going to scream and cry. I teared up a bit. But then it was like Oh, I’m good.

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