Episode 1: “Why Wasn’t I Consulted?!”
It’s the very first episode of Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom! Elizabeth Minkel and Flourish Klink introduce themselves and discuss their panel at SDCC, “Fandom Is My Fandom: Or, We All Live in a Coffeeshop AU.” Topics covered include “going pro,” selling out, making money in fandom, fandom as a safe space, and whether we should use the term “fandom” or “fandomS.”
[00:00:00] If you want to know more about Fansplaining, we have a nifty About page, which includes bios of your fabulous co-hosts and more! Oh, and our intro, break and outro music is “Awel,” by stefsax, used under a CC BY 2.5 license.
[00:01:15] The panel we were on was “Fandom Is My Fandom, Or, We All Live in a Coffeeshop AU.” It was on Thursday, July 9, 2015, from 5-6 PM, and it had a beautiful banner to promote it:
[00:02:45] One of Flourish’s favorite fanfics at age 10 was Oklahoma, by Amperage & Livengoo. In retrospect, she definitely should not have been allowed to read that fanfic.
[00:04:14] In addition to providing the audio for our podcast, the Geekiary did a great writeup of it. Thanks, UndieGirl!
[00:06:10] Aron on Twitter!
[00:06:13] Amanda on Tumblr!
[00:06:16] Meredith on Twitter!
[00:07:19] Jules on Twitter!
[00:07:27] Betsy on Twitter!
[00:10:27] If you were at the panel and noticed that something’s off, don’t be confused: we cut inside this clip for length.
[00:15:46] If you haven’t read Finnegans Wake and want to know what a “thunderword” sounds like, wonder no more.
[00:24:03] A.O. Scott’s article about San Diego Comic-Con can be read online (if you’re willing to deal with the NY Times paywall). If you want to read about that “we’re all children” thing Elizabeth mentioned, the relevant article is here.
[00:27:11] If you haven’t read Roland Barthes’ essay “The Death of the Author,” and for some reason you have a burning desire to do so, it’s available online!
[00:34:05] The word we’re looking for is “doublethink,” and it’s in George Orwell’s 1984.
[00:36:42] We couldn’t track down the post Flourish is referring to here! If anybody has a link to it, could you drop it in the ask box so these notes can be complete? Please-and-thank-you
[00:44:11] The relevant article by Paul Ford: “The Web is a Customer Service Medium.”
[00:47:08] Obviously K/S (Kirk/Spock) long predates this. The X-files was just the most recent link in the fanlore chain.
[00:49:18] The TED Talk Elizabeth is talking about is “How reliable is your memory?” by Elizabeth Loftus.
Flourish Klink: Hello, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: This is our first-ever podcast, and we’re already cracking ourselves up.
ELM: Yeah, we’re pretty funny to only ourselves…but that’s fine.
FK: That’s a good sign, though.
ELM: All right. You are listening to the first episode of Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom. And since it’s our first episode, I think we should probably start with introductions. Flourish, do you want to go first?
FK: Yeah, totally. I’m Flourish Klink. If you know me, you probably know me from Harry Potter fandom, where I helped run a series of conventions and an archive. And these days, I’m a partner in a company called Chaotic Good, and I explain fandom to Hollywood.
ELM: I’m Elizabeth Minkel, and if you know me in fandom you only know me from the last two years, because prior to that I was a total lurker. I was also in the Harry Potter fandom, but you’d never know it unless you met me IRL… and I mentioned it. I’m a journalist. I have a column about fan culture for the New Statesman, and I talk about things that happen that tangentially or directly affect fans.
This is our first-ever episode. Maybe we should talk about why we decided to do this. It was your idea, Flourish, so maybe you should talk about it.
FK: We were on a panel at Comic Con together—San Diego Comic Con—and it was a really big panel. There were a lot of great people on it. But none of us really got a chance to talk very much about what we were there to talk about. We each just sort of got a soundbyte.
After the panel, we were talking in the hallway, and I was like, "Dude! We should have a podcast! And talk to each of the people who were on this panel, and lots of other people."
ELM: Exactly. And the one thing that we were saying is that we felt like we were having a lot of different conversations on this panel, but Flourish and I were having the same conversation. So I think that’s a good start for having these conversations, coming from the same perspective, but talking to people from different perspectives.
FK: I think that we’re both pretty invested in communicating about fandom, but also not changing fandom, letting fandom be fandom…hey, The West Wing.
ELM: But also acknowledging that lots of things are changing and have changed.
FK: Right! Because nothing’s static, and we’ve both been around long enough—I think that I was reading my first fanfics in ’96 or ’97, so we’ve both been around long enough to see some real big changes.
ELM: Were you reading your first fanfic online in ’96?
ELM: That’s really…how?
FK: I was 10.
ELM: That’s impressive.
FK: I was 9, 10.
ELM: See, I was writing my first fanfic then, but I didn’t know there was an internet thing. I had legal pads. You would never guess what it was about. Literally never.
FK: What was it about?
ELM: You don’t want to try to guess?
FK: No! You just said I could never do it!
ELM: It was Sweet Valley High.
FK: Sweet Valley High! Man…
ELM: And you’re from California, right? I would have have been literally the most jealous person of you when I was twelve.
FK: I am from California, but by that point I was already really over it. I was mad at Dawn in The Baby-Sitters Club, I was like, “She’s nothing like me!”
ELM: Yeah, I am shaking my head angrily right now, because how could you be over it? No, I moved to California after college and I was like, "It’s nothing like Sweet—" I moved to San Francisco, and I was like, "It’s nothing like Sweet Valley High!"
FK: I grew up in Sacramento. There’s nothing in Sacramento except politicians, tomatoes, and conservative people who get drunk river rafting on weekends. Boom. Mic drop.
ELM: That sounds literally like Sweet Valley High. That’s the Wakefield twins right in there. With the tomatoes. And the rafting.
OK! We were on this panel, and thankfully the panel was recorded, and you can go on YouTube—my friend Sulagna accidentally recorded it on video, so shout-out to Sulagna, thank you. But it wasn’t a complete video—you can watch most of the panel on YouTube. But the Geekiary website recorded the entire thing. And we might be putting the audio up in full, if we have permission from them…?
FK: Yeah. The Geekiary recorded our panel and may or may not be posting it in full, but they’ve been kind enough to let us use it today.
ELM: Specifically Undiegirl, thank you Undiegirl.
FK: Thanks, Undiegirl! I love your pseudonym!
ELM: Thank you so much for recording it. It’s definitely a workable recording, we can hear all the audio, so in kind of a fun game to ambush Flourish, I listened to it and pulled—you should see the face she’s making—pulled out some audio so we could talk about some of the clips that brought up some of the issues that we thought came up on the panel, and things we really wanted to discuss further.
FK: Now let’s note: although I was on the panel and said some of these things, I haven’t actually heard myself saying any of these things, or anybody else saying any of these things since, so who knows what terrible things I said. Not me! Elizabeth knows.
And she is covering her face with her hands. So we’ll find out and we’ll talk about it, and then I’ll probably remember why we needed this podcast, in order to explain the weird things we said.
ELM: OK, so I think before we jump into these clips, we should very quickly explain who was on the panel, and how the panel came about. And I know that you were responsible for putting it together to some extent? Or advised?
FK: In part. Heidi Tandy and I talked it through, and she’s the one who was actually the formal putter-together. She was the moderator. Heidi and I met when I was a pre-teen. We’ve been fandom friends ever since, and we often work together to put together panels for conferences, so we worked together to brainstorm and figure out who should be on this one. And we had a lot of people. Probably too many. But in a good way.
ELM: Yeah, it was an interesting mix. A few people were representing specific platforms that fandom spends a lot of time occupying. There was Aron Levitz from Wattpad, Amanda Brennan from Tumblr. There was Meredith…Levine is how she says her name? Levine [Lev-een]? Levine?
FK: Levine [Lev-een]. I say it Levine.
ELM: Sorry, Meredith! She’s probably stewing the entire time when you said it wrong, but…[laughter]. Meredith Levine, who works for Zefr, they work with YouTube?
FK: Yeah. Zefr is a company that, as I understand it, helps YouTube figure out what content is infringing and not. That sounds really evil, but it’s actually a good thing, because they figure out what content isn’t infringing.
ELM: OK. And then I came as a journalist. You came as a…
ELM: Wait. If you met someone at a party, what would you say your job is? If you had to say it in a sentence, not like, “I do X, Y, and Z,” if you had to say, “I’m a ___.” Do you have a word for that?
FK: There’s not really. You know, Meredith uses the term “fanthropologist.” Usually when I’m at a party I just stick with, “I work in film and TV development!”
FK: We had Jules Wilkinson, who is the administrator of SuperWiki.
ELM: Supernatural encyclopedia….wiki…?
FK: Supernatural Wiki. Yeah.
ELM: Betsy Rosenblatt, who’s a lawyer who works for the Organization for Transformative Works, and spoke a bit about fair use.
OK, so we got everyone. The original conceived idea was, correct me if I’m wrong on this, by bringing people who work for the platforms where fandom is spending a lot of time these days, and people who kind of analyze fandom on a broader level…maybe analyze is the wrong word, maybe that’s only what I do? But looking at fandom on a broader level, and talking about how the platforms affect the way we communicate and fan, or…?
FK: In retrospect, actually, I think I was supposed to be talking about older fanfiction archives, Betsy was supposed to be talking about the Archive of Our Own, Jules was supposed to be talking about the wiki as a platform, so it was really supposed to be very much…
ELM: What about…what about me!?
FK: I have no idea what you were supposed to be.
ELM: What was I supposed to be talking about?
FK: I don’t know.
ELM: I am a journalist, so I was analyzing!
FK: There you go.
ELM: That’s right. I’m an analyst.
FK: I think the original idea was that there are all these different types of platforms that fandom has been on, just like you said.
ELM: Yeah. Which is obviously an interesting question. Maybe we didn’t really dive as deeply as we could into that, but…
FK: Or almost at all.
ELM: There was literally no time to dive, we could only swim in the…shallows…there goes the analogy...
FK: Doggy paddle, I think is the term you were looking for. Doggy paddle.
ELM: Let’s go to the clips!
[Panel audio begins]
ELM: I guess coming from my perspective as a books journalist, I remember five years ago, I told a coworker—I work for a fancy magazine that I probably shouldn’t name, not to indict anyone—and I told her that I’d spent the weekend writing fanfiction (it was Torchwood fanfiction, but I didn’t mention that part) and she said, “Don’t say that word in this office.” And I was like, “Oh God, I’m so sorry. I’m so embarrassed.”
Now when I talk about fanfiction with these people in publishing and magazines, they want to buy me lunch. I think that the big change in that realm comes from money, from people seeing particularly Fifty Shades of Grey. All these publishers go, “Oh, there must be more of that.” I don’t know if anyone here works in book publishing, but there’s not really a full understanding. They can only see the end result. They can’t see the organic growth.
FK: I think what a lot of this comes down to is money. You said that first, Elizabeth, but I think it’s really true and I want to underline it. Actually, I’m really happy about that. When I got involved in fanfiction at first, in fandom at first, it was this thing that was totally hidden, it was a secret, and I think that part of the reason it’s not secret now is that you can make a living doing it, and therefore you don’t have to be ashamed of it!
I think that’s sort of sick about our culture, that you find it shameful to do something that you can’t make money from, but I think it’s true. People would always say, “Why are you writing fanfic, don’t you ever want to write original stories and make money with them someday?” Like, well…sure... [laughter]
But there’s a lot of people who are coming from fandom, women especially who are coming from fandom, going out and doing all sorts of different things. Not necessarily being a YA writer, or being a star from YouTube, but also explaining fans to people, working in social media and PR—I would love to see more script writers come out of fandom, because I think that’s a central skill that we hone when we write fanfic. I hope the next move is going to go from “Here are some fans that we can…” I don’t want to say exploit, because I don’t think that’s really what I mean—
Heidi Tandy: Collaborate monetarily with. [audience laughter]
FK: An audience, if we can figure out what they want better, and therefore make more money off of them because we’re giving them what they want better—I think that’s a good thing. I actually want to give people money for things that I like. That’s cool. But I want it to go a step beyond that, and I hope that the next step is going to be a true appreciation for the talents that can develop through fandom.
[Panel audio ends]
ELM: So, on the spot: initial reaction to you talking about how much you love money. Go!
FK: I do love money. Doesn’t everybody love money? Let’s just be honest with ourselves here. Everybody loves money.
ELM: Um… communists don’t love money.
FK: OK. Communists don’t love money.
ELM: Oh, I don’t know. Priests? I don’t…
FK: Priests love money, dude. How many priests have you ever met?
ELM: It’s true. They seem to like money. I read a lot of wanky meta on Tumblr about how people in fandom don’t want money.
FK: Well, I think people in fandom don’t always...I think I came off suggesting that people in fandom should want money, and I don’t think that’s really true.
ELM: Don’t you think that part of the problem with suggesting that…actually, someone brought this up, and I don’t believe I pulled the audio from this because it was a little fuzzy. It was one of the questions that we got at the end, a person saying, “What if you don’t want to monetize this? What if you don’t think of fandom as a skills-building place?” It’s great that everyone on this stage is making money—except for Jules—
ELM: Who was very explicit about how she didn’t want to make money, but...
FK: Yeah. That was something that I was definitely trying to get across, and maybe didn’t succeed at: that the reality is that in Western culture, money is really important. In the United States, it’s a capitalist country, money is the yardstick by which things are judged, and skills and productivity are also something by which people are judged, right?
When you look online, minimalist bloggers who are all about getting out of consumerism, it’s about losing your stuff so that you can be more productive. So that you can be a better worker.
FK: I think fandom has become more socially acceptable because of money.
ELM: That’s so hard, though, because...well, there could be exceptions, I’m not going to say carte blanche every fanfic shouldn’t become a novel. I don’t think… A) I think as a literary critic and as a student of English, I don’t believe that many fanfiction stories structurally should be novels. Or I think tons and tons of them, millions of them, don’t serve the same purpose as, you know. And that’s fine. I mean, I’m not—when I go around looking for, like, fake boyfriend stories, that’s totally different than what I’m doing when I pick a novel up. That doesn’t mean they’re not amazing, you know?
FK: Completely! That’s the other piece of this, right? I think that one of the ways that fanfiction has become acceptable is because there’s this idea that every fanfic should be a novel, or many fanfics could be a novel, or let’s have Wattpad help connect your fanfic with somebody in Hollywood. And I don’t think that that’s actually—I agree with you.
I mean, in my job, I do not option fanfics. That’s not a thing that I do. I’m not saying that it will never happen, but I do not read fanfic thinking, “Hmm, which of these people am I going to pull out of here and turn into Fifty Shades of Grey next?”
ELM: Yeah, you’re not some, like, weird fairy godmother, trying to upend the...
FK: Because most fanfic isn’t that.
FK: And doesn’t want to be that. And shouldn’t be that. And that’s not a value judgement.
ELM: Yeah, and even from the far, high intellectual end of the spectrum: I’m friends with Anne Jamison, and I think you are, too, who wrote a book about fanfiction, and she talks about this a lot, too, the fact that a lot of fanfic is networked texts, and the way they work together in a system, and you know, it’s not just about the story and plucking them out and turning them in… because a lot of it doesn’t work without that context, the system of tropes, the history, where these stories come from, how they link together.
FK: Completely. And it can be…I usually don’t like it when people compare fanfic to Ulysses, because I think it’s true in certain ways and really not true in others, but one way in which I think they are related is, man, you know, you read Finnegans Wake, you get really pissed off at the thunderwords, because you don’t know what they are, and that’s the reaction people who have never read much fanfiction before have to a lot of the tropes in fanfiction. They’re like, “What is this mpreg? That’s like a thunderword. I don’t get it.” Like, not just don’t get it in terms of what male pregnancy is, but more like don’t get it in terms of what it means culturally within fandom.
ELM: You’re upstaging me with a literary reference, so I can’t connect to you because I haven’t read that.
FK: Yeah, but I mixed up Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, so, you know, I look very non-erudite. Don’t read Finnegans Wake. You’ll get to the thunderwords and be like, “What the fuck?”
ELM: Oh, good sell. I am not going to, don’t worry.
FK: Good. [laughter] OK, so you were saying some interesting things in there that I don’t think we fully addressed. You were talking about the fact that people can’t see the organic way fandom grows, they only see the end result of… and again the example was Fifty Shades of Grey, but we might as well use…?
ELM: I don’t know. That’s the one. I feel like a broken record sometimes, because I talk about this organic thing a lot, because in the last couple of years, since I started writing about… because I come from being—and I still am—a book journalist and a book critic, but I also write about the publishing industry in general, and so I have started talking to people in the publishing industry. Or even in a very casual way—BEA, Book Expo America, earlier, you know, when you go to panels, and that’s not people talking to me, that’s when I go to panels and listen to people talking about it—
FK: So you’re going to like—
ELM: Be a journalist.
FK: —conventions for… publishers?
FK: Yeah, Book Expo America is North America’s largest… the commercial publishing industry’s largest… trade… trade expo….
FK: OK. So you’re at a panel on this, and…
ELM: Yeah, the last two years I’ve been to a bunch of panels that relate to this, where they talk about, you know, the same thing where they talk about authors building platforms, and I think it’s really hard because you see someone like John Green, or Rainbow Rowell, people who look like it’s effortless: huge platforms, their books are flying off the shelves because they built up such an audience who hangs on their every tweet. I’m sure there are other examples of authors with a lot of tweets, but…
FK: Well, you know what’s funny, is E.L. James is actually a good example of somebody who started aggressively marketing her story even when it was only fanfic. She used all of the tricks to make her story more read and more reviewed, and get those numbers that would lead—and God bless her for it, I think that that’s a really valid thing to do? But it’s not as though it wasn’t work.
ELM: Right! Yeah, absolutely. So I guess the thing that I see where… it’s impossible for you to look right now at an unknown author, who maybe doesn’t have that many followers, and say, “That’s going to be the next hit.” But it might be the person who is building something, who is very slowly building something that’s going to become a fandom. And obviously I know it’s an impossible task to say to publishers that you need to look for people who—you can’t just look for someone who has all the numbers there already. You need to look at the way that builds, and the way enthusiasm builds. I think that’s really hard for someone to just pop into. And if you’re not used to hanging out in these spaces and seeing the way people talk about stuff and get excited…
FK: Well, it’s also more about talent development than it is about talent exploitation, and I’m starting to sound a little bit movie industry right now, but that’s OK, I think, right?
FK: I just came from VidCon, where I was on a panel talking about developing shows, and when you think about things in terms of Fifty Shades of Grey, let’s buy it and repackage it and sell it, you’re thinking in terms of “let’s make money on this one book,” right? Whereas if you’re somebody like an agent looking for a talent, you’re looking at them and going, “OK, you aren’t there yet, but how are we going to nurture you so you ultimately become really amazing.” And I think that that’s one of the things right now in the publishing world, looking at fandom, is they see it as a cash cow, to some degree, or as a way to find, “Oh, we didn’t have to do anything, and these stories just rose to the top.” Right?
ELM: Yeah. Oh, and these billion readers will be… a billion book buyers? Probably not. This is the thing that’s also not proven, right? I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey is really the only one where you had huge read numbers that translated then into huge sales numbers. And it’s not even that black and white. A lot of the book sales came from people who never knew it was fanfiction.
ELM: We’re gonna be back with some more discussion in a moment, but first—we started this podcast in order to start conversation. We want to hear from you, argue with you, air your ideas.
FK: So if you have anything to say in response to what we’re saying, put it online! We’re @fansplaining on Tumblr and our askbox is on. Or tweet @fansplaining, or if you’re feeling grandma today, leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Just search for “Fansplaining” and we’ll come right up. Nitpicks, questions, suggestions for future guests… it’s all fair game.
ELM: This might be a good time to mention that we’ve provided episode notes. They’re posted on our Tumblr tagged, well, “episode notes.” We’ve also got a transcript of the podcast available for anyone who needs it. And with that, back to the chatter!
ELM: OK, so, next clip! So I left little notes on all these clips for Flourish, and the note on the next clip says, “In which Meredith says things about selling info to #brands that depresses me, even though I am a realistic person who exists in the world.” Which I think about sums me up!
[Panel audio begins]
Meredith Levine: I mean, it’s changed since I started at the company I work at. We do a lot of rights management, and major media companies were really hesitant to have that out there in vidding, and it’s changed with the concepts of earned media, and social media has really changed fandoms. Because it’s really brought to the forefront of the minds of the Powers That Be and brands with money that fans can actually show up in places and say, “I count, and there’s a way to count me.” The way I see it changing is suddenly now you can say, “Oh, well, this is exactly how many ship videos for Harry Potter there are on YouTube, and exactly how big X, Y and Z community is,” to stand up and say “we’re here,” and it’s not about breadth, you can measure depth, and depth and devotion is important, and now we’re starting to see companies really understand what that means and trying to figure out how to make that work for them.
[Panel audio ends]
FK: Meredith always sounds like she just came out of Planet Marketing, because she’s learned how to talk to them really well, but the thing that you have to realize is that “earned media” just means that companies have figured out that it’s good when fans say nice things about them. That’s literally all that that term means.
ELM: Right, but can you blame your average fan for not loving that kind of language?
FK: The terminology, like the way that… I can never blame anybody for not liking terminology that they don’t use, or that they don’t find natural, but I actually kinda can blame the average fan for not liking the fact that someone would refer to fandom stuff as “earned media,” because before people in corporations used the term “earned media,” that was why we were getting cease and desist letters all the damn time in Harry Potter fandom.
ELM: Yeah, but… hmm.
FK: Well, there’s something interesting about the fact that terms are so alienating. I do feel that as a fan, when I go into my fan headspace instead of my corporate headspace.
ELM: Well, so, here’s a question for you: Earlier you were talking about what your company does and you said the term “IPs” multiple times. And I saw the other day A.O. Scott, the film critic for The [New York] Times—is he still the film critic? I’m not sure. The big guy at the Times who writes about culture and angry articles about how we’re all children. I don’t know if you caught that controversy last year.
FK: [laughs] I caught that controversy.
ELM: That’s good! He wrote his dispatch from Comic-Con, and he was saying something about how the San Diego lingo for fandom was “IPs.”
FK: Yeah, that’s not a fandom thing.
ELM: I don’t know, I was tweeting about it with some people and some of them said, well, that’s how people in comics fandom talk about, say, Batman.
FK: And that’s how Heidi and Betsy talk about it, because they are lawyers.
FK: I find it a really useful term, which is why I use it even when I’m not talking to corporate people.
ELM: It’s interesting because it’s just, it sounds cold and legal to me. And if I thought about Sherlock Holmes, I wouldn’t think, “Oh, that’s some intellectual property right there.” I’d think, “He’s an idea, he’s a man, he’s a legacy, a literary legend,” you know, it just sucks kind of the mystique about these big broad old universes that we kind of turn over and retell, which I find very interesting—I know people seem to be sort of weary of the fact that we’re just recycling the same characters, but I think it’s just more interpretations, which is exciting. But using legal language on it is kind of a bummer, but I also understand why it exists.
FK: Yeah, it’s a bummer, but on the other hand, so I’ve been really into Hannibal, and whenever I’m watching Hannibal, whenever anybody’s watching Hannibal, it’s inescapable to think of the realities of that IP and who owns what copyright. Because the reason there’s no Clarice Starling on Hannibal is because they’re not allowed to have her. So she’s been parceled out into the storylines over the course of—I mean, you’re sitting there going “Oh, now Will is more like Clarice! Now Alanna is more like Clarice!” Right? I mean, once it’s been seen it can’t be unseen.
ELM: That’s so hard! I mean, do people wanna see those parts, to think about…? I think that’s one thing that fanworks can expose, in a way. If you just wanna watch a show and enjoy it, and then all of a sudden…
FK: But different people like fanworks for different reasons, right? Like, I’ve always liked fanworks as critiques, and so my enjoyment of them is not diminished by my thinking about why Clarice isn’t on Hannibal.
ELM: Just takes it out of the realm of pure artistry, you know. I used to write Torchwood fanfiction, so I know all about pure artistry. [laughs] The fic was really good, to be fair! It was much better than the show, no offense, Russell T. Davies.
FK: But it is actually kind of interesting, right, because when people in the literary world talk about fanfic—
ELM: Did you just, like, rustle your fingers to gesture to the literary world?
FK: The literary world!
ELM: I’m gonna be offended on behalf of… no, that’s fine, go for it.
FK: When people in literature talk about fandom, fanfic, they use terms like “the death of the author,” and it’s really all about separating out from a romantic idea of having a story and getting lost in the story and all, you know? It’s so funny, cause I feel like that’s completely the opposite of a lot of fans’ experiences, and yet that’s what fandom represents to them because of the way fans play with stories and rewrite them.
ELM: Sure, or they talk about the “anxiety of influence” or whatever. These two influential critical theory papers that somehow affect the entire discourse about how people write fanworks.
FK: I think we’re getting a little… I think the thunderwords may be OK, but I think I probably shouldn’t have gone all the way to the death of the author.
ELM: Death of the author. Too soon, too soon!
FK: Too soon!
ELM: OK! Let’s just do other clips.
[Panel audio begins]
Jules Wilkinson: One thing, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I feel there starts to be a tier coming to the culture where the emphasis coming to the fandom is the skills you learn, what you can do, go on and, you know, a lot of us are in fandom not with that in mind. All I want is to make friends and wank. [uproarious laughter from the audience] There’s a sense that some of that validation or legitimizing comes from, either you can sell it, but even if you’re not selling it you’re “learning good things.” And for me—
Betsy Rosenblatt: But I think that’s why industry, I agree, but I think that industry has come to accept and be enthusiastic about it, because of that learning good things bit. That may not be why fans are doing it, I hope it’s not why fans are doing it, but…
Jules Wilkinson: I suppose I’m just thinking, you know, I don’t care what industry thinks. It’s really nice that they run platforms for me to play on, but I suppose it’s—what place does this have in a fan conversation?
Betsy Rosenblatt: Fair enough.
Jules Wilkinson: I’d like to get some ideas from the audience later about that.
FK: But I think that you also, you do like that you can now have a—I like that you can have now a fanfic reading [publicly in a bookstore], right? I think that’s the problem, that this is why it’s become in the wider culture more accepted, but unfortunately those aren’t the values—I mean certainly I didn’t come into fandom thinking that I was like, “This is going to be my career move, guys!” And I still don’t really like that, I don’t, I have rules on working on things in fandom that I actually like because I like them too much and I don’t want to work on them, you know? So I appreciate that, I just think that it’s a tough, that’s a tough…
[End panel audio]
ELM: OK, so we’re on Skype right now, and I was watching Flourish as her clip came on, and first she looked… like you were terrified of what you were gonna say. Like you were gonna say something. Don’t you think you’d remember? And then you looked down and I swear it looked like you were on Final Jeopardy and you were writing your answer down just now. That was incredible. I was ready for you to hold up a sign and be like, “What is monetization of fanworks?”
FK: Well, I do think I said something in there that didn’t really get caught in the audio very well.
ELM: So what’d you say?
FK: Jules had earlier been talking about how she enjoyed that now—
ELM: Tentacle porn. Tentacle porn. That’s what she enjoyed.
FK: Oh, Jules loves tentacle porn. And when she comes on this podcast, I hope she’ll tell us all about it. She literally brought a little tentacle.
ELM: She brought a tentacle. Stuck it right up there. Above the stage [laughs]. You should see the visuals! Why is this not a YouTube show?
FK: Because editing video is way harder.
ELM: And we’d have to do our hair. Your hair is done. My hair. I’d have to do my hair.
FK: But what I was saying is, you know, Jules really likes the fact that she can now hold fanfic readings in queer bookstores. And it’s cool! Which it would not have been 10 or 15 years ago. And so, whether or not she likes that the conversation is all about fandom making people money or getting people skills, that’s what she has to thank for it.
ELM: I mean, I think I can cop to some of this too. I feel like I want to have my cake and eat it too, and maybe she does also. We want…
FK: Have the tentacles eat the cake!
ELM: I’m all annoyed that MTV was at Comic-Con doing the Fandom Awards, or actually a lot of the commercial networks being there and acting like it was, you know, super cool. But like, as I started out in my first clip? I was shamed at work for mentioning that I was writing fanfiction! And now? To be honest, I don’t think that the people at The New Yorker, if I tell them about this, or I tell them I was writing some fanfiction, I don’t think people are gonna be jumping for joy or asking to see it, but they might be more likely to say “That’s interesting,” or “Oh, that’s something you do?” and not chastise me.
FK: Right, and there are other people who lost their job over fanfic in the past who definitely wouldn’t now.
ELM: One specific example!
FK: Aja Romano once lost her job because she wrote fanfic. She wasn’t, like, a preschool teacher who was reading dirty fanfic to her preschool students or anything. It was just literally her boss did not like that she wrote slash. That would never happen today.
ELM: Right, and now she is in fact employed to write about fandom. Like, she’s a fandom reporter, it’s her job. You know, and the fact that that exists—and even three, four years ago did not exist—is, I think, pretty extraordinary.
FK: It’s been a huge cultural shift!
ELM: But yeah, we can’t have it both ways. There’s an interesting clip, I’m not sure if I pulled it out of the panel, but someone said something about how there is a spotlight now and you can’t get upset because it’s—you’re gonna get upset, because it’s shining on some things and you might say, “Oh, that’s not what I know. Why isn’t it shining on me? But then I don’t want it to shine on me…!” You know. But you’re gonna be resentful that it’s shining on other people and things you’re not familiar with. It’s hard! And I always think that part of what it comes down to is that I feel like we get really hung up about who gets that spotlight. Because this is the stuff that we love. And we’re like—you know, I think even some of the wank that comes from BNFs [Big Name Fans] and people arguing about whose opinion is the loudest, it’s like, “no, I love this the most!”
FK: I’ve felt, even when I was most like, “Why won’t they leave fandom alone?” there was another level on which I was like, “Why won’t they leave fandom alone except me because I’m right!” [laughs]
ELM: Right! So I feel like this spotlight is dangerous. Because you also wanna slip into it. Even if you don’t want it anywhere near you.
FK: Right. You can hold—it’s one of those thoughts where you can hold two opposing ideas in your head at once.
ELM: Yeah, is there a word for that?
FK: I think it was in 1984.
ELM: I didn’t read that.
FK: Oh my God! You’re the one who has a literature degree! [Elizabeth laughs] It could’ve been in Aldous Huxley.
ELM: I didn’t read that either!
FK: What were you reading?!
ELM: [through laughter] Victorian literature! Yeah. You don’t have time to read these important books of the 20th century when you’re reading 900 pages about seating arrangements. …That’s Regency literature, not Victorian literature.
FK: I mean, I will say this: I recently read Vanity Fair and I enjoyed it.
ELM: Do they sit a lot in that? I bet they do.
FK: Actually they sit surprisingly little! They spend a lot of time in the Napoleonic Wars, like in battles.
ELM: Are they sitting on horses? They probably talk about that.
FK: There are horses that get sat on.
ELM: All right. Let’s do the next clip!
[Begin panel audio]
Meredith Levine: I think it’s really easy to get caught in this trap of monolithic fandom as a singular idea, that when I say “fandom” I have an idea of what that means, but somebody else can have an idea of what that means and it’s very different from mine. And I think that within fandom it’s really really diverse, and so you have all sorts of different cultures. For instance, some people migrate through: I’m a fanfiction writer, now I’m a fanfiction reader, now I’m gonna go on this vid bender and totally ignore the fact that I can read at all… and it’s transient and it’s diverse, but we say “fandom” and I think really we mean “fandoms.”
[End panel audio]
FK: Yeah, so, fandom vs. fandoms. I think one of the hardest things about this is that we all only get to see our own perspective on fandom. And there’s a huge diversity of perspectives on fandom. I have no idea what’s going through the mind of a One Directioner, even though I have friends who are One Directioners.
FK: Is that even the right term for them? I don’t know! I’m an old!
ELM: I have been to a One Direction concert, so I guess I can speak for them! [laughs] It was wonderful. It was really great.
FK: I believe it! It actually seems like something I would really enjoy. But they have a very different perspective on, for instance, what the most important archive is, and what the most important platforms are, than I do.
ELM: Even just you and me, we have such different experiences. We spent all of the 2000s in Harry Potter [fandom], but we had vastly different experiences. And I can say, “remember that time when this thing happened?” from my creepy lurky position, and you’ll be like “remember this and this and this and this?” and I’ll be like, no? And even what you ship or what authors you read or what meta you read or if you do none of that, just the way you engage.
FK: And how you think about ships, right? I recently saw this really amazing Tumblr thing going around, and it was actually posted by someone I knew in Harry Potter fandom years ago, and it was people talking about Draco and Harry, and then someone was like, “Why would anybody ever think that Draco was straight?” And then the response was, “I think that he had a crush on Hermione, he’s my bi angel!” And the response was, “We found a Dramione! What do we do with them?”
And I was like, woah, this is such a weird interaction on so many levels for me. First of all, because when I initially came into Harry Potter fandom, the argument was about whether there should be any same-sex pairings in fanfiction because “kids might read it.” This was legitimately an argument that was happening. Second of all, because “Dramione”? What the fuck is that ship name! It’s Draco/Hermione, we don’t smash shit together like that!
ELM: Which drives me crazy, can I just say?
FK: But that’s because we’re olds, right?
ELM: I can’t get over it!
FK: Anyway, my point being though that it was this moment where I realized that I was in a very different Harry Potter fandom than my old friends in Harry Potter fandom, who have clearly moved on with the times, whereas I am still, you know…
FK: …freaking and talking about the good old days.
ELM: Yeah, those times were obviously much better. I’m literally sitting in the kitchen right now where I used to read Harry/Draco in 2001. I’m at my…
Elizabeth & Flourish [unison] …parents’ house!
ELM: …right now. I sat at the desktop in the middle of the night. So. Hi guys, if you’re listening to that, parents! It was just all—it was G-rated stuff, so…
ELM: It was completely. There was… [both talk over each other, listing innocent tropes—inaudible]
You know, one thing that I think is important when you’re talking about different fan experiences, I can see it both ways. I think both you and I, we’ve discussed this before, use the term “fandom” and we say “fandom is” because we want to present to people outside of any fan experience. I think you do need to present something.
FK: And other people will do it for you if you don’t do it. I often feel like I say things just because otherwise someone who is way, way less informed than I am will do it for me.
ELM: Yeah, you know, I write this column on fandom, and my first article was about a year ago, and it was just kind of explaining what I was gonna do, saying that fans are more exposed and it’s more mainstream for fans than ever. And the first two comments I got, I’ve committed them to memory because I’m so traumatized. They’re, like, not that bad. They weren’t like “You should die in a fire.” But one was “It’s mindless consumerism,” and the other was “A fan is the lowest form of life.”
FK: “A fan is the lowest form of life”? This happened in 2014?
ELM: Like, bro, what is your problem? Like…
FK: I mean, never read the comments, but still.
ELM: I know. And bless Caroline, my extraordinary editor, there’s no more comments on these articles, they’re not allowed. So that’s a…
FK: …a victory of moderation!
ELM: She’s the most sensible person in the world. You know, I saw that and I was like, “Oh no, maybe this was a mistake. Maybe this—the climate hasn’t shifted enough if these are the first two responses,” y’know? So I’m gonna be over here like, “Fuck off! The fan is not the lowest form of life, and it’s not mindless consumerism! I’m not buying anything!” You know?
FK: Right! That’s what’s funny is like, most of—I mean, I’ll be perfectly honest, like 90% of my job is explaining to people that fandom is not mindless consumerism.
ELM: I think it’s hard for people to see, they go to San Diego… I bought stuff! I don’t know, that’s a lot of…
FK: Everybody buys stuff! That’s what San Diego Comic-Con is for! You can buy stuff at home, but it’s less fun than when you buy it at San Diego Comic-Con! Like, I’m not even a collector and I still buy stuff.
ELM: I almost bought a giant Harry Potter poster even though there was literally no way I could take it on the plane.
FK: But who wouldn’t want a giant Harry Potter poster?
ELM: They were like, “You could buy it online!” I was like, “It’s not the same!” And I ended up—of course I was sensible; I didn’t buy it.
FK: I will tell you this that my worst ever convention impulse buy was a Harry Potter marionette. It is two and a half feet tall, it is creepy as fuck and it’s based on the German Harry Potter covers.
ELM: You are my hero.
FK: It still lives in my closet!
ELM: What character is it?
FK: It’s Harry!
ELM: Is it Harry?
FK: He’s holding a broomstick and he has Hedwig on his shoulder. Anyway, but the point is, right, it’s true, San Diego Comic Con is totally consumerist, but that’s not all that fandom is. It’s just that the only time that fandom wants them there is when we want to buy their shit…
ELM: We shouldn’t be too narrow…
FK: That’s true.
ELM: …because I think that there’s a large element of fandom that’s material, that’s about materiality, people who collect…
ELM: …comic books. People who collect not-comic books. People who collect action figures. And that’s not—consumerism feels like a shallow way to describe someone who values materiality.
FK: Right, we don’t necessarily, like, no one would call me consumerist for the thing you can’t see here, is that my home has literally every other wall but the ones that are behind me right now is covered in books. And nobody calls that consumerist.
ELM: Right, because that’s seen as something of value, whereas tons of things that fans like is seen as, I don’t know what, childish?
FK: Yeah, because it’s [books are] high class?
ELM: You’re wasting your money on these not-adult, like in The Forty Year Old Virgin where he’s painting his action figures, and throws them out, sells them, and that’s the way he becomes an adult man and then he can have sex? I don’t know. I actually like that movie, so maybe I shouldn’t have said that.
FK: The Forty Year Old Virgin is good, but it does still have that moment where you have to throw your action figures away to have sex. And I am here to tell you that you can successfully have sex while still owning action figures.
ELM: She’s waving an action figure right now.
FK: I am waving an action figure right now. It’s Scully.
ELM: Going back to the fandom vs. fandoms thing, I think that Meredith has a really great point. Because there isn’t one big fandom. The person who’s defining fandom inherently gets to shape the narrative. I think that was one of the tensions on this panel, you know, whether it was between the people on the panel, or [between] the audience and the people on the panel. You talk to people coming from these big corporate platforms…
FK: Of course.
ELM: Even Betsy coming from the OTW [Organization for Transformative Works] or the AO3 [Archive Of Our Own] in general, the people who compile an encyclopedia are the people who determine, you know, Wikipedia’s written by men, right, and so it inherently has a bias…
FK: Not SuperWiki!
FK: Yeah, but I see: what you’re saying is that we’re in a situation where everybody has their own platform, and so nobody really wants to be spoken for by somebody, no matter how great that somebody might be. There’s always something that you can disagree with and do disagree with.
ELM: But inherently even if you’re—do you mean people have platforms like they have the right to say things, or do you mean they’re on a platform like a physical, like a social platform?
FK: Well, I mean, I mean that people can post, you know, as opposed to… I think that people have, at least in theory, anybody can post a YouTube video and become really popular. Right? Like, it’s not true, but we all have this vision that if we just had the right, if we found the right way to say the right thing we would all be really successful, and we would be the face of fandom, or we would be the face of whatever, or just we would be famous, right?
ELM: OK, so my boss has this expression, and he’s a web designer and he’s also a writer, his name is Paul Ford, I should probably say his name before I steal his line, and he said it’s the rule, I believe he says it’s the rule of web design but I think it basically goes for anything on the internet as well, is “Why wasn’t I consulted?”
FK: Yes! Why wasn’t I consulted?
ELM: And that’s literally, that’s exactly it. And you think that every time someone writes something about fandom, because it’s like, “Oh, I’m an expert in this. Why didn’t they ask me?” And I think that’s just, that’s the inherent reaction. And I have to wonder if it’s something, something about the web that really lends itself to that. Because when I watch TV and people are talking about something I know about, I mean yeah, I probably actually get annoyed at them too. There’s something about the democratization of the internet where I’m like “I coulda said that LOUDER!”
FK: So this next clip is a question from the audience, and we didn’t get the questioner’s name, so we’re really sorry.
[Begin panel audio]
Audience member: But the one thing that I think you really, you got close but you never quite got to the point of fandom as a safe space. And that’s the problem with turning it to the corporate, I don’t mean like super corporate, but corporate at all. It’s because fandom is a safe space, and it’s a generational safe space, where like generations of fans can come together, and like [inaudible] with one another, and pass down lore and mythology within the fandom itself, [inaudible] old fandom is, and then you have groups, like, it’s so diverse, and it’s LGBT, it’s race, and so many different things, but like, when it gets corporate you lose a lot of that.
[End panel audio]
FK: I don’t know what fandom this girl has been in, because I’ve never been in a fandom that was a safe space!
ELM: Well, can I say that having listened to the clip again, the one thing that I thought was interesting and kind of lended itself to what we were just talking about is she talks about how there’s like lore that’s passed from, like, older fan to younger fan, you know? And I think that kind of lends into how these narratives get created, about what fandom is and what it’s always been.
FK: Right. And I do think that there’s, I think that she—I mean, I was unfairly dismissive just then, because I think that she did have a good point. Which is, first of all, maybe she has been in a totally different fandom from mine, right?
ELM: Who knows, who knows?
FK: Who knows? She has been.
ELM: Cause she’s a different person from you. You’re two different humans.
FK: Yeah. And I do think there’s something about that passing down. Because there is something about that passing down, right? Like, the reason why in early Harry Potter fandom people would describe stuff as R/Hr or H/Hr—Hermione/Harry and Ron/Hermione—
ELM: Look, you don’t need to spell it out for me, I got those! [Flourish laughs] Do you really think our listeners aren’t gonna know that? They’re not gonna know those pairings?
FK: Well, I don’t know, I mean, they’re reading Dramione! Anyway, the reason that stuff was spelled out like that was because of X-files fandom. Was because there were a few people, myself included, who had come from X-files fandom, and in there, people would write, like, S/Sk for Scully/Skinner. And so, you know, the sort of shortening of the names came over. And so there is something about that lore, right?
ELM: Well, wait, why is it necessarily from The X-files? Before Harry Potter I was reading Buffy and that’s the way they were shortened.
FK: Yeah, I mean, I’m just saying I know that it was, because when I got into Harry Potter fandom there was only one fanfiction archive and there was no page on fanfiction.net, and so there were a limited number of people who were writing and reading and talking about it. And I know from personal experience that the people who were talking about it were all from—
ELM: Were all from there.
FK: Were all from X-files fandom.
ELM: Sure, sure.
FK: Take away my historian card. “Personal correspondence. With myself.”
ELM: But I guess I feel like, I don’t know—it feels weird to call that “lore.” Because it’s like I didn’t, no one guided me through anything when I was reading Harry Potter fanfiction, and I figured all this stuff out. You know? I mean, I guess maybe that’s presuming that there’s like some sort of ceremony where like an elder teaches you the ways, whereas like you just kind of get it through osmosis. You’re like, “What is this? I don’t get it!” and then you’re like “Oh, I get it. I got it. Yeah.”
FK: Well, and in order to be part of the community too, right? So fanvidding is a great example and I’m sure we’ll talk about it more later, but for so many years in order to, like, make fanvids, someone pretty much had to show you, because you were not going to think of hooking up two VCRs and VCR-editing shit to music otherwise. That was not a thought that was gonna pass through your head unless someone showed you it. So yeah, I think that people do get lore, but you’re right, I think people get it through osmosis so it’s hard to pin down. There is no, like, you know, moment when you are inducted into the fandom.
ELM: Right, and even reading… you know, you can read a fandom’s wiki that details the history of how things came about, or general fan wikis, or whatever, someone’s narrative account of how things went down, and obviously just like we were saying before, it’s gonna have the bias of the person writing those things or the community writing those things.
ELM: If people talk about an event or an interpretation in a certain way and then… it’s like when you look at a photograph and then you remember…
ELM: …the thing that happened differently, which is an actual—I listened to a TED Talk on NPR about this! And that’s actually what your memory, they said your purest memories are the things that you never think about right after they happen and then you recall them ten years later. Yeah, I listen to TED Talks. Don’t judge me! I keep talking about them, that’s what I should be judged about. I’m like…
FK: I’m judging you for talking about it TED Talks right now.
ELM: I’m sorry!
FK: We can include that to sound conversational. You should include that to sound conversational. That’s what our conversations actually sound like, is you saying things and me judging you for them!
ELM: Waah, I’m so ashamed…! This is fandom, we’re not supposed to be ashamed!
FK: We’re not supposed to be ashamed, therefore, embrace your TED Talk fandom.
ELM: [as music fades in] Oh God, no…
FK: Welp, that was Episode 1 of Fansplaining, TED Talks and all!
ELM: So you know how we kept talking about having lots of perspectives on fandom, at least some of which are different from ours? That starts next week! We’ll be talking to the other members of our panel. First up is Meredith, whose title is, fabulously, “fanthropologist.”
FK: And, if anybody wants to write us a Tale of Two Cities drabble, we promise to stage a dramatic reading!
ELM: …or just yell at us on social media about what you disagreed or agreed with. We’re “fansplaining” on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. And remember, you can find episode notes and a transcript of this episode on our Tumblr.
ELM: Special thanks to Sulagna, UndieGirl, Heidi, Aron, Meredith, Jules, Amanda, Betsy, and everyone who attended our panel at San Diego Comic Con.
FK: The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Stratus Media Ventures, Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or our employers, or anyone’s except our own.