On Fandom: A Follow-Up Post

Two years ago, I did a post on fan culture, about how much I love identifying as a fangirl and how fun it is to use that word as a verb. Thanks to a very thoughtful comment, I’ve long intended to do a follow-up post on the “dark side” of fandoms … I think that time has finally come!

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[Get it, because the “dark side” of the fandom and the dark side of the moon? No? *sigh* Okay. I’ll try harder next time.]

So, in my last post, I talk about how fandom can be anti-capitalistic, how it can bring certain aspects of academia to the wider world, how it can be a great avenue to explore sexuality, and sometimes how fandom can be used as a tool to develop one’s writing. All of this, remains true, but as with everything: it’s complicated. And to un-complicate things a little, YAY, POINT-FORM DISCUSSION POST!

1. Capitalism: It Is Everywhere. Even In Your Shower Sink. No. Don’t Look.

Fanfiction used to be a place where we could elaborate on our headcanons, write out a scene of reprieve for the heroes who need a rest, or ruin the life of a character who is much, much too happy. It was a place of uninhibited imagination. We used to be able to explore female sexuality without having to be female and ascribe to patriarchal expectations from us and our bodies (thus, the birth of slash fiction), and now, we write up characters who are as diverse and empowered as we want them to be.

So, of course, businesses want in. Except! They only want the smut without understanding the intention. They want to stick to the status-quo, so they can churn out ugly, debasing franchises that people inevitably buy into, thereby creating a whole bunch of fans who create fandoms that perpetuate said ugly, debasing ideas. It just gets harder and harder to break out of this circle of ignorance and misrepresentation.

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about this point. The way I see it, the only way out is to educate ourselves … which leads me to my next point.

2. Where Fandom And Feminism Intersect, Somebody’s Head Has Exploded. Ew. Now We Have Chunks Of Brain In Our Books. Oops.

I have said this over and over again, but it seems worth repeating, being a fan of someone/something should not mean that you can’t be critical of that someone/something.

You can spot the flaws in something you love, without having to be unkind. Since I wrote my post on Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, I have been more critical of how she writes race (or doesn’t) in her books. Do I love Fangirl any less? Not really. I’d re-read that book anytime. Do I look forward to the Simon Snow books … yes, but with some apprehension. It’s alright to be that way, to expect better of the media you choose to consume. If diversity in children’s literature matters to you, and you have access to media, it means you as a fangirl/blogger/activist (yes, you can be all of those things) have quite some power. Use your voice wisely.

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Janet once pointed out in a Top Ten Tuesday that she dislikes how being a “fan” can take over one’s identity. At first, I was ready to argue … and then I realized how right Janet is. I mean all you have to do is critical of Supernatural, for example, and just see how personally fans take it.

Some fans do see their fandoms as a huge part of their lives. And hey, I totally get that. However, that probably does not mean you get defend the thing you love blindly and with no consideration for other. Just look at the backlash that Ellen Oh suffered for speaking out about the lack of female characters in Andrew Smith’s books:

That is dark stuff. I do not know what to say to fans who think this is a valid way to support Andrew Smith, but part of this is on Smith himself. I genuinely enjoyed Andrew Smith’s talk at Serendipity (wherein he ironically speaks out against online bullying), and I did enjoy Alex Crow. But given his hesitation to own up to this real problem, and open up a discussion on women in fiction and fandoms, I am less inclined to think he cares about dismantling the patriarchy as his book Alex Crow initially suggested to me. *disappointed sigh* Anyway, turns out, the solution to fight against fans-turned-trolls is to be the kind of fans that embrace the true superpower of fan culture: being subversive.

Shortly, after this petulant tweeting on Smith’s part …

… Smith and the more trollish ones amongst his fans unwittingly gave birth to the Women in Fiction hashtag:

Basically, being a fan and being a decent human does not have to be mutually exclusive, just as being a fan and being an inclusive feminist does not have to be mutually exclusive.

3. Fandom: Where The Radical Goes To Die Is Kinda Undead.

While #womeninfiction is a great way to deal with this particular instance of misogyny, it is in no way an end to the story. Fan culture, like all cultures, tends to take two steps forward and one step back. You could witness awesome head-canons like a Desi!Potter:

[God, I so dig that sherwani! And that invisibility cloak? Dang.]

And notice that it has this pushback from other fans:

I’m not going to go into how stupid it is police people’s headcanons. It is much too futile at this point.

Thing is, this brings me back to point one. Depending on how loud a fan’s voice is, depending on what fans pay attention to, depending on what fans respond to, or what fans decide to spend money on, or what fans boycott, we as a community will always have a say in what trend/story/trope that future creators and businesses want to capitalize on. That’s a lot of power to have. Personally, I think it’s worth using this subculture, this surprising power, to fight the stuff that sucks about the society we live in. “Radical” fan creations (i.e. diverse fan creations i.e. fan creations that actually reflect our world) will always be around– you can shoot them down, but they will just brush it off and shamble along.

So, here’s to shambling forward like the kindest, most educated, most radical zombie/fangirls ever, battling the dark side of life with every unsteady step.

And now, excuse me while I go weep over Katie Elle’s Desi!Potter artwork.

16 responses to “On Fandom: A Follow-Up Post

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  2. *More applause* Great post! SO many things worth talking about, and you say them eloquently.
    And oh my goodness, Desi!Potter is brilliant. Especially Hermione :)

    • Thanks Janet! You totally got me thinking about fandoms for a while. You’re the best! :)

      And yes, isn’t her art just great? I love that Hermione is black in the fanart. It’s very clever and it connects Hermione’s activism to real-life slavery in a very solid way, I think. Also, those natural curls. <3

  3. Fantastic article. I’ve never been deep into fandoms, but I have witnessed them from a close distance. You make a bunch of great, salient points.

    • I always feel like every post I make requires a follow-up, and then that follow-up may yet require another follow-up … but I’m glad you think that I made some important points in this one. Thank you for the comment! :)

  4. Your points are so valid. Being a Fangirl I feel that we are more open to accept possibilities in all aspects but certain fans get too defensive sometimes. They don’t let it go. Also the fanart touched my heart :’)

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  6. So I recently came across the thought that idea that Hermione might be black and it FLOORED me. Like seriously, it’s still probably the most awesome thought I’ve come across in months. I wish I could remember which post it was – I’m following Tor.com’s Harry Potter read-along and they’re already wrapping up the fourth book so there’s been a billion posts, but I think it mentioned that Hermione’s skin color is never outright stated. AND THAT IS THE COOLEST THING EVER. I’ve FINALLY convinced my boyfriend to read the series with me as soon as he’s done reading his current series (he’s only ever read up to HP 4!) and I’m super excited to read the series imagining Hermione looking completely differently. And well, if it turns out they were wrong and her skin color IS mentioned, I can just pretend it isn’t can’t I? Also that race-bent Harry Potter as Indian is gorgeous *drools*

    To be honest…I only get on Twitter when I get notifications now. It stresses me out so much – I feel like I only find out about all this drama and bad stuff that goes down and it is just this hugely overwhelming mess of negativity. I think it’s important to discuss things that have been happening (a la Andrew Smith) but Twitter is like this monster that feeds on itself and it just always seems to spiral out of control. So I’m super thankful for the bloggers who write about it on their blogs and not just on Twitter because it’s the only way I find out about these things now. And holy COW I didn’t know it had gotten that out of control! But hopefully good lessons were learned here and not just bad ones?

    • Oh, Elizabeth, how I so look forward to your comments!!

      I didn’t know that Tor.com was doing a read-along. I should check that out! As for the Hermione’s skin colour not being mentioned, I did notice that in the beginnings buuuut I also feel like Jo Rowling wastes no time in making race very apparent in the case of Parvati and Cho (via their names) and in Kingsley’s case I think she describes him as black almost immediately. Thing is, in my opinion, most writers make the mistake of writing characters who are “white unless otherwise specified” and unfortunately, I think Rowling does the same. I wish writers would be specific about race for every character, or leave every character open to interpretation because no matter what your story is about, things like race and gender are going to affect how we read the characters. I don’t know, I guess this is just what I feel. I’m sure lots of people would disagree.

      I mean, headcanons are great and all but sometimes it feels like it is born out of desperation; wishing that a certain window was a mirror instead. Why shouldn’t canon provide us with more mirrors, you know?

      As for Twitter *whispers* I use it to keep posted on tidbits from Cassandra Clare and SRB. Also, to see what’s happening with Malinda Lo and Diversity in YA. :)

      Thanks for yet another thoughtful, lovely comment! ^_^

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