Episode 101: Stan Culture
In Episode 101, “Stan Culture,” Flourish and Elizabeth talk with Keidra Chaney, co-founder and publisher of The Learned Fangirl, about the terms “stan,” “stanning,” and “stan culture.” They discuss the evolution of “stan” from a derogatory term to point of pride (for some), the structures of stan culture, similarities between pop music and sports fans, and the transactional nature of some stan behaviors.
[00:01:25] Although The Learned Fangirl is on hiatus, you should definitely go explore their archives!
[00:07:27] Sign up for Elizabeth’s newsletter “The Rec Center”!
[00:10:23] Partial results for the Shipping Survey are in Flourish’s article “Shippers on Shipping.”
We are not joking about the pervasiveness of streaming culture. Just two examples out of literally thousands of tweets encouraging members of different fan groups to continuously stream:
[00:27:02] In case you were under the impression that watching your favorite show boosts the ratings, here’s Flourish’s Nielsen ratings explainer.
[00:34:03] We discuss conspiracy theories and their intersection with fannishness in a bunch of episodes, but particularly Episode 54, “Is This The Real Life? Is This Just ARG?”
[00:50:17] The subject of capitalism is endemic on Fansplaining, but Episode 65 “Fandom and Capitalism” is, uh, all about it.
[00:51:27] Kenyatta Cheese came on Fansplaining for Episode 88.
[00:56:09] Episode 100: “The More You Know”!
[00:57:06] Elizabeth is quoting Sally Rooney in “‘I’m Not So Interested in Feelings People Go Through on Their Own’: An Interview with Sally Rooney” by Haley Cunningham in Hazlitt.
[01:02:28] The article about Monopoly’s origins is apparently actually from 2015—and actually there’s more than one (here’s one from Smithsonian). They were occasioned by the publication of a book, The Monopolists, by Mary Pilon.
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 101! And it is called “Stan Culture.”
FK: Stan. Not as in a person named Stan.
ELM: [laughs] Thank you.
FK: Just being clear! We’re not talking about, like, Stan of the Night Bus here.
ELM: That was the first Stan that you went to?
FK: What Stan were you gonna go to?
ELM: Um, who’s a Stan? Oh, now that’s the only one I can think of!
ELM: I feel like there were, like, some famous Stans in, like, mid-century popular media.
FK: Probably, but I can’t think of any.
ELM: Yeah, cause we’re Millennials. So stan culture…I don’t wanna go too much into definitions right now, because we’re going to define it at length when we talk to our guest, who is Keidra Chaney.
FK: AHH! I’M SO EXCITED!
ELM: A fandom expert, stan expert…
ELM: Publisher! Founder! One of the founders, I believe. Co-founder? Of The Learned Fangirl, a website that I love!
FK: YES. Has been a long-running presence in talking about fandom in really smart ways.
ELM: Yeah, and actually, uh, one that has very—I, like, an unparalleled space. I can’t think of any other independent media that’s explicitly not, like, just fans…I don’t wanna say “just,” but it’s not fans writing meta, like…
ELM: Which, you know, plenty of fans write meta that is as high quality as the stuff that The Learned Fangirl’s published over the years, but this is meant as a media outlet, you know, not as an within-fandom project.
FK: Yeah. It’s a really really cool project. It’s on hiatus right now, but I hope it’s gonna come back. We’ll talk, we’ll talk with Keidra about that.
ELM: Yes. So we wanted to talk to her about stan culture which, I don’t know, I feel like we should say something about what it is? Maybe not. Maybe let’s just let people who don’t know what it is, [laughs] keep listening and find out!
FK: [laughs] I think that that seems fair! OK if you don’t know what it is, then right now, think hard, and guess, and then find out if you’re right in like…two minutes.
ELM: Great. That’s very helpful advice.
FK: [laughs] What?! I mean, at the end, you can write to us and say if you were right! I don’t know.
ELM: No, please don’t. I mean, you can, but like…don’t be like “I thought stan culture was something to do with yogurt cultures and I was so wrong!” You know, like, no. [FK laughing helplessly] It’s fine…
FK: And here I’m trying to make this all interactive, it’s just not working.
ELM: Yes. Write to Flourish, that’s @flourish on Twitter. Don’t write to anyone else involved in this podcast about, about your, your random guesses about what stan culture is…
FK: All right, we should just call Keidra. I need Keidra to save me from this.
ELM: Yes. Let’s call Keidra.
FK: All right, I think it’s time to welcome Keidra to the podcast. Welcome!
KC: Hi! Thank you!
ELM: Thank you so much for coming on! We are very excited to talk about stans with a stan ex—I was gonna say “stanspert,” but that’s not great, so.
FK: [laughing] Stanspert.
KC: Oh, I don’t know if I wanna be a stanspert. …I’ll take it, I’ll take it, I’ll figure it out. [all laugh]
ELM: OK. So, all right. Before we talk about stans, I, we should contextualize you. So do you wanna talk a little bit about yourself, especially how that relates to fandom, like, professionally or as a fan or both?
KC: Absolutely. So, um, hi! I’m Keidra Chaney. I am the publisher, founder, co-editor of a website called The Learned Fangirl that has been around for 11 years. It was started as a way of, at the time, there weren’t a whole lot of websites or publications that really bridged the gap between fan studies on an academic level and pop culture critical writing for the public. There wasn’t a whole lot, and my co-founder and I, Raizel Liebler, wanted to create a website that explored a lot of those issues that scholars were writing about but also that fans were also interested in, like meta discussions within fandom, and making it more accessible for that discourse to be for everybody to kind of take in. And this was, of course, before the discourse became a thing [all laugh] on Tumblr and Twitter and everywhere!
It was to create a space for that, and then over time, it kinda evolved into focusing very specifically on marginalized voices within fandom and fan studies and talking about some of the issues with race and gender and sexuality and class and labor and exploring some of those issues within fandom and fan culture and fan studies and uplifting the voices that even within, I think, formal fan studies, or even in critical writing, that don’t always get focused on with so many issues.
And last year, due to a lot of issues, we went on hiatus. It’s just expensive to do a publication, and pay people, which we did for awhile. And we just got burned out a bit of trying to keep the website alive. Especially now, within, you know, online culture there’s just so much content and there’s so much of a demand for constant content, and there’s, like, a lot of hot takes and a lot of…you know, that expectation to respond to everything as it happens. And we have full-time jobs, and we have full-time jobs that we like and/or careers that we have that we want to do [laughs] so it, you’re trying, we’re in a…what did somebody call it? Chrysalis period!
We’re in a chrysalis period where we are trying to figure out what the next step for the publication is, where we do some of the same things that we have done in the past, but perhaps in a slightly different medium and format than what we’ve been doing, which is just traditional online publishing. So probably later on this year we’ll figure out what that next step is.
But I’m also a fangirl myself! Like, I’m a huge—I, I call myself geek-adjacent, cause I have grown up with, like, Marvel and comic books and Star Wars and all of that, but I consider my primary fandom to be music and different kinds of music. Like, I’m a big metal-head, what happened to me is I’m newly into K-pop, and I’m active in those fandoms. So that’s kinda where my fandom activity lies, even though I am first in kind of geek fandom and geek culture.
ELM: It’s a, you know, just like—not to linger too much on The Learned Fangirl which—wait, oh! Did we confirm how to say it? Learned or Learnèd?
KC: It’s Learnèd Fangirl. Yes. Learnèd. We’re fancy.
ELM: That’s right! I got it right! You know, as you may—I don’t know if you subscribe to my newsletter, but I’ve included you guys a lot, because I—so much good writing! And one thing that, not to, not to make it even more depressing to be like “Oh, why can’t it continue?!” because obviously I understand the economics going on currently, but I feel like you were so early to this conversation and crossing those bridges, and…it’s not like a lot of these mainstream publications have, like, picked that up in your stead. Instead it’s like, just churning out kinda garbagey fandom-related hot takes, and it’s like, “for every five of those you could publish one of these pieces!” And, like, for the amount of money you’re paying, too, you know, to churn ’em out, you know?
KC: Right. Right.
ELM: So, it’s just…
KC: The slow takes. And that was something that we really wanted to do. We were like “instead of hot takes we’re gonna do slow takes, and if it means that it takes longer for a piece to come out, to get the writer to really explore the topic and give it its due diligence, then we’re gonna do that,” but unfortunately there’s not much of a model, like…online publishing does not support the slow take.
KC: It’s very, very difficult to get, you know, funding or…and especially with, you know, metrics that…those slow takes don’t get the kind of traffic or virality that hot takes do, just cause, you know, people don’t wanna take that time to read a longer piece. They wanna react to it. It’s like, you know, nuance doesn’t really play well on social media. And people want to kinda know what it’s about and say “I agree or disagree!” And if it’s something that’s in a grey area, or it’s historical looking back, that also doesn’t always play well either. So it’s just a weird, hard time.
And it’s so, and people are interested in it, so it’s very…thank you so much by the way, just for saying it, that you appreciate it, because we always appreciate when people say, like, “we actually read your stuff and your writers’ stuff and we think it’s great!” [FK laughs] Yeah, I just think that it would be…I would love for there to be a space for that, and I feel like if there ever is a point where there is a space for that kind of writing to be supported, honestly, then we would make the effort to bring back TLF in the way that it was. And that’s why we’re like, that’s why we’re on hiatus as opposed to just shutting it down. Cause it’s not even that we want to go away for awhile, we just don’t…it’s just too much to put in and to keep it going in the way that it has been, so. Yeah.
KC: Bring it on!
ELM: Well, we, all right, you heard it here first, everyone with all the money listening. [all laugh]
KC: Please, please!
ELM: Seriously though, I am glad to hear it’s hiatus, because, you know, who knows where we’re gonna be with the media. Not like I’m feeling hopeful right now at this moment, but you know what I mean. So.
FK: Yeah. At the same time it’s interesting how that applies also within fandom and the way that fandom picks up on information, it’s something that I’ve just been observing right now because we’ve had these Shipping Survey results coming out and seeing the difference it makes, as compared to publishing an article versus publishing one graph.
KC: Right right.
FK: That you can click into on Twitter. And that gets shared incredibly much and you go “OK, great,” you know? There’s a lot more context to this, there’s a lot more stuff that you can talk to. And hopefully people are clicking through to read the article, but that, like, bite-sized piece of content…I don’t know, I kind of feel like there should be some transition here to a broader conversation about fandom, because I feel like there is a relationship between the ways that fans interact with each other about the things they’re fans of and the ways fans interact with these topics. But…
FK: I don’t know what it is! Maybe you’re gonna find it for me, one of you two. [all laugh]
KC: Yeah, I totally agree with you.
ELM: All right, but we can’t talk about fandom at large because we’re here to talk about a specific type of fan culture: stan culture.
KC: Yeah. This is, yeah. [all laugh]
KC: I don’t even know where to start cause I feel like there’s so much and, oh man. I don’t know.
FK: Well why don’t we, why don’t we start by defining “stan”? Because I think that some of our listeners might actually not know what that means, or have, like, some vague connection to Eminem appears in their mind, but they don’t know… [laughs]
KC: So, the term “stan” has evolved over time, like, it is based on the Eminem song in…I think it was 2001 when that came out. And I don’t, if you’ve heard the song, the song is not a positive portrayal of fandom. [all laughing] It is about a fan who’s obsessed with Eminem and there’s violent consequences to that fan obsession. It’s not a glowing look at fandom.
And it’s evolved over time! Like, when my first experience with stan culture was in around 2009, Chris Cornell had an album out with Timbaland and I was a—am, still—a Soundgarden/Chris Cornell fan, and I posted on I think YouTube that I didn’t like the song and I didn’t like the album. And a bunch of Chris Cornell fans came to my website at the time…
ELM: Oh, no!
KC: …found my email, and wrote horrible, horrible things about me, about like, you know, violent things, threatened me, insulted me, I had never seen any—like, they came for me! They were looking up comments about Chris Cornell and wanted to fight me. And I had never seen anything like it before, and they came in droves, and like, yeah. And that was back in 2009. And it was around that time that I started hearing the word “stan” as a way to describe these obsessive superfans who were very…kind of violent or antagonistic in their behavior.
But at least at the time, around 2008-2009ish when I started hearing it for the first time, it was not…like the song, like the original song, it was not meant to be an overall description of what fan behavior is. It was supposed to be a pejorative term to talk about the negative side of fandoms. You were like “I’m not a stan, I’m a fan.”
ELM: Right. So when do you think people started claiming that as something…do you, I feel like it was within the last, like, definitely within the last five years. It really, maybe even more recently than that, that people started to say, like, using at as a verb too. “I stan for,” et cetera. And with that verb I feel like it took on…I mean, not necessarily a positive connotation, like, for you looking at stans you might say “Jesus, stans.” But when you’re within it that’s a positive thing.
KC: Right right, where you go “Oh I stan.” Yeah! I mean, I feel like I started to see the usage of it change on Twitter when it did start to become a verb and it did start to mean…now I think if you ask people what “stan” is they’ll say “oh, it means superfan.” And I’ve heard people say that they thought that “stan” was just another term for “superfan,” that the S was not “stalker” or negative, that they, they didn’t know anything about the Eminem song…these are mostly younger, younger stans or fans. They don’t know anything about the Eminem song, or they thought it was, that “stan” equals superfan.
FK: Right, cause again, another sort of in-between thing, people would say they didn’t know about Eminem but they’d be like “oh yeah it’s for stalker fan.” But this is just “superfan.”
KC: Right, right. And again depending on who you talk to, some people think it is a shortened term for “stalker fan,” some people think that it’s “superfan,” or that it can, depending on how you use it it can be either or. But it, it was definitely five years, maybe longer than that. My sense of time, especially with Twitter, is so…something I think was like five years ago was actually eight years ago and I’m like, what. [all laugh]
FK: Do you think that it was, do you think that it was because of people—[laughs] Do you think it was because of people using it ironically? Being like “oh yeah I stan that,” and then pretty soon being like… “Is it irony anymore?”
KC: Yeah, I do think so! I think that it did become, I think it was an ironic kind of way of talking about “I’m really into so-and-so,” like, “I stan so-and-so.” And I think it did evolve, the usage of it did start to become less negative and more neutral, that “to stan” is a more neutral term than what it was before, based on people using it as a verb. So to be a stan is different than stanning, if that makes any sense.
ELM: Sure, yeah!
KC: You know? And I do feel like the usage of it did start to evolve over time, and a lot of that did happen on Twitter.
ELM: So, can I try to define it now, and you—both of you tell me if you think this is what, how you would define it. Right? But I would articulate the difference between a stan and a fan…I think that most of the time stans are towards real people, but you increasingly are seeing people say they are stanning for fictional characters. But it’s mostly use with celebrities and especially in music fandom, right? Or, you know, actors too, but that kind of thing.
But what I would observe is the kind of celebrity fandom that is far less critical than a lot of the fandom that I spend time in of the object of fandom, and maybe using that kind of “stan” label as a sort of…like you’re saying, like, a little bit of distance from the like, “I LOVE THAT PERSON and I will MURDER YOU if you insult them!” Right? That kind of vibe. [all laugh] Right? And so then you get to put that label on that stan, like, “I am in this person’s army, and I am gonna fight all of you to protect my person!” Right? And that is how I would define “stan” as opposed to, like…
I guess I don’t see it as often in celebrity fandom or music fandom, the kind of… music fandom that’s not true, but celebrity fandom I see less of the, like, “Well, it’s nuanced!” You know, like, “I think sometimes he’s good but actually I think this was a problematic storyline!” [FK laughing] “His narrative,” you know what I mean, the way we would do it in media fandom, right? So what do you think about my definition?
KC: I think…yeah, I think, I think you’re right. I think at least for me, I make a distinction between stan, the word “stan,” “stanning,” and “stan culture.”
ELM: OK, hook me up.
KC: And I think stan culture is what you’re talking about. Stan culture is the “I will do whatever,” you know, being a part of that army, to defend my person. And I do think that it is, it’s very much focused around pop music fandom in particular, because so much of pop music fandom is, is focused around the creation of content for social media and that kind of constant, you know, consumption of content of that person and that feeling of like, “I know that person, I’m communicating with that person daily.” Like, they… “They need me and I need them and we depend on each other,” like, “I consume their content and they depend on my love.”
FK: Does gossip feed into this? Like, I’m just thinking like, there can be only…all the narratives about “X person is feuding with Y person.” Right? Like, “You have to pick one! You can’t love…” I don’t know. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. Like, “You have to pick! You can’t like ’em both. You have to pick!” You know?
KC: I mean, it’s funny because I feel like that—that isn’t necessarily new, as a metal fan I feel like…
FK: Oh, no, it’s not new!
KC: The, like, Metallica vs. Megadeth thing was a huge thing. [all laughing] But, like, I think what makes it different now is, like, so much of what I think is based around stan culture is so…stan culture now is so much a, a part of this social media, social mediated environment. I don’t think stan culture could be what it is without it, so the one, like, “you either love one or the other and you have to choose and you have to defend” is so based around, like, “here’s a new poll!” There’s a poll, and you have to vote for, you know…
KC: And they have to chart higher! And it’s not even enough to say “I love this person,” they have to win the charts. They have to win the polls. They like, it feeds in.
FK: So like in the ’90s you could like Angelina or you could like, God, what’s her name. Her face is in my head! Jennifer Aniston.
ELM: I’m lovin’ your examples, Flourish. They’re incredible.
FK: [laughing] I’m tryin’ to pull ’em from very different places! But that was, you could love one or the other, but no one was asking you to defend one or the other, like, in the court of public opinion.
ELM: Well, hang on, hang on. There’s a difference though. There’s a difference between actors and music here. Cause what you’re talking about now—and I’ve gently mocked Flourish a little bit for this, with the Harry Styles fandom, like, “Oh, I’m gonna put—” [FK shushes her] “I’m gonna put his album on loop on Spotify for a week to help him win the charts!” Right? It’s just like, what have you done with your life Flourish? [all laughing]
FK: I may have done that a little bit. I, to be fair I enjoyed it!
ELM: But it’s funny to me, because, and Keidra I love—you talk a lot about this, I watch your tweets about K-pop, and this kind of idea of like…we’ve been talking a lot about, recently, transactional monetized…and transactional, like, attention. But in music, as opposed to movies where you can just support someone’s career and go see their movies, but like, sometimes it’s just keepin’ their PR vibes up.
KC: Right, right.
ELM: In music you actually feel like you could—PR vibes! Don’t mock me, Flourish.
FK: PR. Vibes. [all laughing]
ELM: But in music—
FK: I’m gonna use that term!
ELM: Use it in, next time you’re in LA say it immediately when you step out of the gate. [FK makes finger-kiss noises] Thank you. Anyway, in music, there are actual tangible things. But then I feel like, and especially I love seeing you talk about this, cause I feel like so much of it is like—some of this stuff, that, a lot of that like I see in, not necessarily in K-pop or western boy bands or whatever, it’s not even stuff that counts actually? But it feels like you’re doing something that counts, you know what I mean?
KC: Yeah, yeah! Like the, the—sorry Flourish, the streaming culture! That streaming culture—
FK: [laughing] That’s fine.
KC: It’s so...it’s like, so much a part of not just K-pop, like, pop music fandom. Streaming culture, you have to make sure that their YouTube hits are higher than any, you know, they break YouTube records, they break Billboard records. That is like, corner—even more so than actually buying a physical record or anything. You stream! Streaming is how you show devotion. And if you’re not a part of that, like, if you’re not in the fandom, then like…if you are in the fandom then you’re gonna be streaming, or you’re gonna be depended on, or mocked if you don’t stream, if you’re not a part of that.
It really is so much a part of the culture now, and I do think that’s a big part of stan culture in particular, is, you know, that transactional—either the streaming or YouTube views or participating in polls or making hashtags trend. All of that is, like, the participatory element of, of stan culture, rather than, say, writing fic. Which there is a part of that, but not—for pop music stan culture—that streaming element and that charting, that is the cornerstone of it more than really…and memes…more than anything else. And, and how you—how you show and how you prove your worth as a, as a true stan is to participate in that.
FK: You know, the more I hear you talk about this the more I wonder if stan culture is somewhat, is like, related to sports team culture in a certain way, you know? If those are similar. Because one of the things I was thinking about was when I was doing that mockable streaming of the Harry Styles album…
ELM: Mockin’ you.
FK: …how much it felt like…yeah, it’s OK. Was how much it felt like, you know, like being in high school and having someone go around and try and get everyone to, like, wear a shirt for Spirit Day or something. You know? [all laugh] It really did. The last time I felt this way, I was making pomps for the Homecoming parade. And it’s kind of delightful.
ELM: Wow, you were cheesy in your California teenhood.
FK: We had a, we had a full-on Homecoming parade with floats.
ELM: Good, that’s America. Congrats.
FK: And I went to the same high school as my parents, and my dad was a football star, so you’d better believe we were hosting a homecoming float party.
ELM: Oh wow. [KC laughs]
FK: Yeah. Well, anyway. But it felt like that right?
KC: Yeah, no, I’m totally with you! And I’ve said this a few times, where I feel like, like, pop music stan culture has more in common with sports than it does with, say, rock music fan culture. Like…
KC: Yeah! It’s just the interaction and the focus on, like, you’ll see with pop music fans just “charts, charts, charts, charts, charts!” in a way I think of, like, baseball fans. [all laugh] And I’m not, I’m so sports-ignorant, I know nothing. But like, the kind of argument about the worthiness of a song, like, “Oh, I love the music, I love the lyrics,” that does happen, but like, the fights and the way that fans in, and fandoms, show their supremacy? That’s based around charting and that really is…
FK: The fact that you care about showing your supremacy, right? [all agree loudly]
KC: Yeah! And there’s always something new. If there’s a new release—and especially now, like, I feel like now with pop music fandom the turnaround for release, like, people expect new content constantly in a way that…and it’s sped up even within the past three years or so, that I feel like, you know, there used to be a point where people would understand that it might take a year, 18 months between releases. And now I just think about the way that people come for Rihanna constantly about putting out a new album. Leave her alone! She’s got other stuff to do! [all laugh]
FK: She has a LOT of other stuff to do!
KC: Yeah! People, that content, that need for new content, to consume new content, to rank it, to have it “win” against others, to have somebody’s, you know, supremacy replaced by another, like, you know, Beyoncé has been supplanted—Beychella is over because it’s Arichella now, you know? [all laughing] Like, that kind of, you know, that competition is something that, that’s a big part of it! That’s the language of stan culture, that’s the interaction, that’s the cornerstone of a lot of this in a way that it’s not just “Hey, I love this new album, hey, do you like X song,” I mean, it matters, people talk about it, but that’s not what brings people in and that’s not, you know. People feel, I think, a sense of identity and purpose to support an artist, a pop music artist, and to make sure they win. It’s like with sports teams, their win is ours. [laughs] If, if Ari wins, if Ari tops the charts, we win. It shows, it shows that…
FK: Yeah, yeah. But even more so, right? Because with a sports team you can’t do anything to help them, you know, make that touchdown.
ELM: Right, right.
FK: But you can, in fact, even in the tiniest way, in theory, buy an album and contribute.
ELM: Well, but also less so, because in sports there are like, really defined structures of what “winning” means, like…
FK: [laughs] That’s true!
ELM: They have games, and one team wins and one team loses, and…whereas like, I mean, this is what I was earlier saying, it comes back to where the amorphously defined goals and what actually makes a difference in anyone’s career, right? It’s like fans setting…I’m pretty sure, it’s also, you do see this in media fandom where people are like, you know, “Make sure you, like, just watch it so the ratings will go up,” and someone always has to wearily reblog it and be like, “Unless you’re a Nielsen family you are not gonna affect the ratings of Season 15 of Supernatural…” It’s this sort of misinformation.
FK: Yeah, and you also see sort of emerging differences, right. So one of the things I see a lot in my job is people being confused…well, historically it’s been confused by YouTubers. Like, what does it mean that they’re very popular? What does it mean to be popular on YouTube? How can we be popular on YouTube? How does it work? You know what I mean? And it’s just this very weird, things are very big and “winning” in one area may not transfer to another…
ELM: Well, can I, can I take a step back? Many steps back. You said you drew a distinction between…
FK: Oh yeah!
ELM: …stan culture, stanning, and stan.
ELM: But then we just talked about stan culture. Can you tell us how you define those other two?
KC: Yeah! So when I talked about stan culture I was talking, I was referring to kind of those practices that I was referring to before, like participating in streaming, sharing memes. Being a part of that interaction, to me, is what being a part of stan culture. But you know, people will say all the time “Oh, I stan so-and-so.”
KC: So you can say “I stan an artist,” a performer, whatever, but not necessarily be a participant within stan culture. To me, I, I feel like once you make that move into stan culture, that’s a very specific thing. Like, you can be a stan, or say “I stan so-and-so,” and be passive about it. But if you are…I think to me, and this is gonna sound weird and maybe not, it doesn’t make much sense, but like, once you participate in stan culture, you’re calling yourself part of the Beyhive, you’re, “I’m an Army,” that’s BTS for K-Pop fans. “I’m an Army.” You know, “I’m a Once.” That’s Twice. K-pop fandom names are the best. [all laugh]
But like, once you’re in stan culture, you’re referring to the name of your fandom. You’re not just like “I stan so-and-so,” you’re like “I’m a so-and-so. I’m an,” insert fandom name here. And that’s, that kind of participation means you’re in it. You’re like, deep in it.
But then the word “stan,” to me, like, “to stan,” calling yourself a…like, using the word “stan,” I think, now has moved to the point now where it’s not…it’s a neutral term. Stanning is just a thing you do. But to be a stan is something else.
ELM: Yeah, I feel like I see—cause most of my feed is, if they’re not people in fandom, they’re like, pop culture people. Or like culture journalists. Or whatever. So they’re constantly saying, like, “We stan!” You know, even a meme of, a “we stan a legend” or whatever. Right?
KC: Yeah, yeah!
ELM: I never think they’re saying “I would like, I love this random man celebrity so much that I will stalk him before I,” you know, like…that’s never the implication I’m getting from that very casual, and like you’re saying… Cause I don’t think, there’s no way to say that with the word “fan.” “I fan Chris Evans” is not, like…but saying “I like him,” that’s a weird example.
FK: Doesn’t cover it, yeah.
ELM: He’s nice enough. I don’t personally stan Chris Evans, I wanna clarify. It’s fine.
FK: I’m pretty sure that if I met him I would, like, melt into a puddle.
ELM: Oh yeah. Seems like that.
FK: I think that you would too.
ELM: Sure. Yes. I think everyone would.
FK: But I’m not invested in making that happen. [all laugh]
ELM: Yeah. Just go back to Sudbury or whatever it is, you’ll see.
FK: I know, right? Like…
ELM: Yeah. Anyway.
ELM: But yeah, there’s no…it’s a nice shorthand, the verb is a nice shorthand. Cause just saying “I like X person” doesn’t mean much. Right?
KC: Yeah, and it’s…I feel like in a way stanning has made fanning—being a fan of someone seem like the lesser thing to do. [all laugh] It’s like “Oh you’re just…” It used to be like “Well, I’m not a stan, I’m a fan of so-and-so,” and now it’s the other way around where it’s just like, “You’re just a fan. You don’t even count. If you’re not stanning somebody you’re just like, why are you even bothering.” I feel like being a stan has been, is like the elevated version of being a fan of somebody. You can’t just say you’re a fan. It’s almost like you’re not really—you’re not really in it, you’re not really loyal enough if you just say “I’m a fan” of something.
FK: That’s funny.
ELM: Do you think part of that is because of this idea of like—and you agree that my perception of stans as, like, generally uncritical—a more uncritical side of fan culture than other parts of fan culture? Do you think that’s part of it too, like, “I love that person. I love them a lot, and it’s not an ambivalent feeling,” like, “I stan them, love ’em. I will defend this shit.”
KC: Yeah. I think that, like, participating in stan culture does mean to a certain extent leaving your critical thought at the door. [ELM laughs] And I hate saying that, because I think that there are other things—like, when we talk about that, and when people think of stans and stan culture, they tend to think of girls, they tend to think of young girls, it’s a lot of the same kind of, the sexist way that people look at teen girl fans as generally uncritical anyway. And so I don’t wanna fall—
KC: —into that stereotype, and say that that is, that’s the case, cause I know plenty of people who do participate within stan culture who are super critical and are super smart and really understand the broader picture, but I think that that is not the engine that runs it. Like, the engine that runs it is devotion, and it’s monetizing that devotion. [laughs]
FK: Well, it seems like—you know, I mean, like, it’s not like being…it’s not like being part, and maybe this is my ignorance, but it feels to me like being part of stan culture is not necessarily totalizing, right? Like, I can go and stream Harry Styles’ album a bunch, and yet dip out of it. Maybe while I’m doing that in the moment, it’s like, it’s pretty immersive, but it’s not as though once you’ve been infected by this, like, thing, it removes all cognitive faculties. Which I feel like is sometimes what people suggest about fandom, and stan culture especially.
FK: Like, once you’ve been infected by this, you’ll never be able to think straight again! [all laugh] You know?
KC: I believe, I think it really depends, but I wouldn’t necessarily blame that on stan culture in particular. [all laugh] I think that is kinda the nature…it gets back into the nature of being on social media, and social media participation becomes all-encompassing and overwhelms kinda what you do and how you think and, and to me stan culture has a lot in common with that. I think the same elements that make people who are obsessed with arguing about politics on Twitter or Facebook all day, it’s the same thing that motivates people to fight about BTS versus Exo all day.
ELM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
KC: Or whatever. Please don’t come for me! [laughs] Any Exo-Ls or Armies listening to that, please don’t fight me!
FK: Other people have drawn similar connections between, like, conspiracy shippers and, like, the way that people think about conspiracy theories in other parts of life, right? It seems like there’s, you know, it’s not like there’s something special about fandom that makes…I mean, there are lots of things special about fandom, but maybe this is just more pointing towards broad human cognitive tendencies.
KC: Yeah, yeah. That’s what I think. I mean, it’s, you could replace this with pretty much anything: with politics, with sports. Stan culture is just kind of a name—or video games! I actually think that, that pop music stan culture has a lot in common with gaming culture, sports team culture. Like, there’s…you can see a lot of that same behavior in different groups of, of communities.
KC: They’re just focused around different things, and I think the reason why people come for stan culture in particular is because there’s a lot of girls and women and there’s a lot of people of color and there’s a lot of queer people and there’s a lot of people who are the “others,” who are participating in these things. “You all are the ones who are unhinged, but we’re gonna go and fight about…”
FK: Right, “I’m gonna paint my entire body blue and get into a brawl over my football team…”
ELM: [laughs] Yeah, it’s funny though, and I’m obviously very wary of, like, trying to suggest that any—you know, primarily, like, group of women or people who were assigned female at birth is uncritical sort of mass. I guess I’m just thinking about the amount of space that any given group allows for critique. And it’s funny bringing up sports again and again, because actually sports culture can vary a lot on this. Like, I lived in the U.K. for years, and the way that they talk about soccer, mostly, is very similar to the way I experience television fandoms [FK laughs] which are like: “I hate that I like this, and I wanna die, they’re always letting me down and I can’t stop liking this.” Right? And so, that’s not all…
FK: You also carry this tendency through into your sports teams.
ELM: My dad’s family’s from Buffalo and we lost the Super Bowl four years in a row and we’re just being punished for so much. But like yeah, we can’t stop! I don’t know, I can’t even watch football anymore because it’s too upsetting to me and I still feel, like, tethered to them somehow spiritually. [FK laughs]
So it’s just like, yeah, I don’t wanna pin this on any one gender or anything, absolutely not. But it’s also interesting to see the kind of, like, sports fandom talk that you see in British football culture I don’t think would be acceptable in a lot of other sports cultures. Cause you’d be like “Stop, stop it! That’s my team, don’t insult them!” Whereas for them the default is often, like, [sighs] “Ah, God, miserable fuckers,” right? [all laugh] Then you don’t have to watch this, sir! So yeah, I just wanted to clarify that, but.
KC: Yeah, for sure. In a way I feel like… With television fandom, well, OK. Like, with sports fandom, a team loses, like you were saying before, there’s a definite delineation between who’s a winner and who’s a loser. The teams play. One is—there’s going to be a victor.
KC: While with music fan—and with television, like, a story’s gonna grab you or it might not. It might let you down. Like, you wanted the story to go one way and it doesn’t, and like, emotionally you’re gonna be either happy or unhappy about a storyline or a character or whatever. With music fandom, with pop music fandom now, what I feel like is going on is that especially with this focus on charting, you’re like, “Well, these charts are objective. These charts, like, you can say you like something, but Billboard—this is a Billboard Hot 100,” doo doo doo. [ELM laughs]
“So, like, that means that it doesn’t matter that you think this is better, because Billboard has determined that it is.” So now people use that—it’s like, “This is an objective way of viewing the,” you know, “that this artist is better,” but because of that then you can’t really have conversations about whether it is better, because people are like “The charts have proven that this is quality.” So any other discussions about whether something is quality or not can’t really happen, because people are focusing on this objectivity—this so-called objectivity of the charts.
ELM: That’s really interesting, and that’s not something that I see very much of in TV, movie fandoms, book fandoms.
ELM: You don’t say, just because Endgame is, like, the best—highest-grossing movie ever or whatever, you do see some people being like “Yeah! Yeah! Got it!” you know, but I think it’s much more often that that’s just not a part of the, like, whether I thought it was good or not. Or look at the Star Wars, Star Wars did just fine at the box office, but that’s not like “What a win!” It’s like “I’m so offended you’d do these things to my characters that I put my entire—” You know what I mean? So, like…
FK: Unless there’s some big record being broken like with Avengers.
ELM: Even then, I feel like only some fans care about that.
FK: Yeah, that’s true.
ELM: I know that some do, but like, some people couldn’t care less.
FK: It’s true.
ELM: Cause it’s like, great, what? It’s cool. Money for Disney. Great.
FK: Yeah, and I think there’s also more of a tendency for, like, the underdog show, for people to be like “Well, they’re just not measuring it right!” or “There’s not enough people—”
FK: “They’re not ready for the brilliance that is this show,” you know, that’s the tone.
ELM: I think that if there’s like a, if it’s something like that where the show might get canceled, you know. But some of the mass media, like a franchise owned by Disney, I don’t think that people—people seem to not care that much.
FK: Yeah, well and even if it’s small and it might get canceled, it’s like the opposite direction, right? It’s not like “Oh, no, this show must not be very good because it’s about to get canceled,” it’s like, you know…
ELM: OK wait. I wanna ask you—I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna harp on the negativity. But here’s—here is another stan culture thing that I wanna talk about a little bit.
ELM: Is the defense—I would like to bring in the, like, the kind of flip-side of cancel culture, if we can talk about that for one second. Which I think, they go hand-in-hand. And also—
FK: So wait. “Cancel culture,” in case someone has been living under a rock. [ELM laughs] Because I actually do think that there are some people who listen to this podcast who maybe are not—
FK: —as active on the internet.
ELM: Not Extremely Online.
FK: As all of us. Not Extremely Online. Let’s define.
ELM: “Cancel culture” is when people are canceled because…for any number of things. They may have committed sexual assault, they may have said something vaguely problematic. And it doesn’t necessarily mean anything beyond the moment that people are yelling about it, right? [laughs] [all talking over each other]
FK: But in the moment people are saying “they’re canceled and I’m never gonna interact with them or their stuff ever again.”
FK: Whether or not that’s actually true over the long term. Often the jury’s out. Sometimes clearly not true. But.
ELM: Right. So the reason I think of this, all of this stuff together, is often when I think of stans, I think of that as sort of the flip-side, especially in the last few years with very high-profile…either accusations, revelations or like “hey, this person has been a serial abuser for a long time and there have been these court cases for 20 years and now we’re actually gonna talk about it,” within celebrity culture. The people who defend…the people who are such hardcore fans of those celebrities that they defend them.
ELM: And that is something I think of as part of stan culture, or related to stan culture, and maybe that’s too specific. Maybe that’s just a side of celebrity fandom that exists. But I feel like they’re…it’s all connected, you know.
KC: It is, but I feel like there’s differences, because I feel like there are… When I think about R. Kelly, R. Kelly has had his defenders from jump. He still has them. Chris Brown. Like, you can think of so many people who, you know. And this was pre-social-media or Twitter where, you know, stan culture kinda lives and thrives. Like, if you say something, you’re gonna get their supporters after you, you know, even before Twitter they’d come after you with letters to the editor [all laugh] or whatever, cause, you know. And that existed before this.
I think now, what stan culture in particular has done is made it easier for such groups to kind of congregate and find people to, like…if somebody says something, it’s much easier for those groups of fans to kind of congregate and start to do kind of campaigning for their fave, or against this person, in a much quicker way—and to organize on that level, than it would have been even five years ago.
ELM: Sure, and searching terms, too, you know.
ELM: This is something that I, we’ve personally encountered, you know. Not even saying very serious things but just repeating stuff about certain actors who’ve been accused of abuse, and like, immediately getting a response, you know. And there’s this whole thing of “don’t tag your hate” or whatever, but it’s like, I wasn’t engaging in a fannish conversation about this person! I was just saying “these are some accusations,” you know! And immediately…
FK: Question: would you tag your hate if you used the term at all? I’m sorry, I’m not going to put asterisks in the middle of my word.
ELM: Right, right.
KC: Some people do, though! I get why, though.
FK: I get why! [all laughing]
ELM: I don’t wanna…
FK: My personal belief is, you can come in and I’ll block you, right? I will stand for this!
KC: But I think, yeah. I think you’re right. I feel like stan culture is an extension of that, because I feel like the people who defend their faves and have been organizing for their faves, that did exist. The Chris Cornell thing that I was saying before: this was before stan culture became a thing on Twitter, and became a thing on social media. But they were like, and I found where somebody had, like, ratted me out on some message board somewhere and was like “get her!”
ELM: Oh no!
KC: [laughing] And that was before, you know, it became kind of a widespread thing. That was like, my earliest interaction with that. So I think that it’s like a mutated version of that kind of fan organizing or defending that has been—especially online has been probably a thing for a while. I just think it’s much easier. And fans—stan culture is a much more sophisticated version of that. Because, like, once you get in—once you start calling yourself a whatever-your-fandom-is, you kinda get into, like, “Here’s how you stream. Here’s who you need to follow.” Like, you learn the tips, the tips and tricks and tools to, you know, help defend and promote your fave. It’s like, everyone is a part of a little street team now. It’s the street team—y’all know what street teams are, right?
FK: Oh yeah.
KC: OK, OK! I never know, some people are like “what’s a street team?”
FK: No it’s OK because—
ELM: Define them, define them for the listener!
KC: Well, yeah. Street teams in rock music fandom is like, if a group comes to town they will hire, the label will sometimes hire fans to be kind of on-the-ground promoters of that particular artist to get people to, you know, putting up posters or graffiti or putting up stuff in record stores and basically getting the word out so that when that group comes to town, there’s, you know, enough people to come fill up the thing and have the show. And that can be part of why rock, especially like punk and all underground music fan culture…street teams, that whole model is used by a lot of places, creative, art professions.
FK: So it’s funny because when you frame it in those terms, we’ve been saying a lot of negative things about stan culture, but when you frame it in those terms I really see the fun things about, the good things about the parts where you’re like, supporting something you love and you’re, you know, part of a team, and you’re being—you’re, like, learning to do things that are actually making a difference for something that you love. And, like…I don’t know.
It’s, it’s curious because it’s…I feel like a lot of times people are really…you know, especially when people are just saying their opinions about stan culture, it does sometimes get negative and sometimes, like, the positive feelings, the reasons that people are involved, like, those get lost. But when you put it that way, it makes it really clear to me.
KC: I mean, I talk about stan culture negatively all the time on Twitter. “Ah, stans! Dah da da da dah.” But there’s a reason why, I mean, I’m in it. I’m in it. I do this stuff on, I do stan-related stuff on Twitter, on Instagram. I do it too! I’ll defend my fave if I feel like, I mean, I’m not gonna like fight you, but like…I might talk about fighting you… [all laugh]
But yeah, there’s a reason why, and especially if you like an artist and you, and you want other people to like them too, and see, you know. And promote them. That’s really, there’s a reason why people get attracted to it, because you’re telling the world about your fave! And, you know, the negative parts of it, I feel like, are the negative parts of socializing online. Because I definitely don’t see it limited to pop music fandom or stan culture. I see it in so many different communities and how interaction goes wrong, gets negative, gets kind of scary.
I think that my big thing with stan culture in particular, where I get really upset about it, is that I do feel like many companies, like—many record labels, publications—really do manipulate and use audiences and use their labor and exploit their labor and knowingly do that and don’t really give much in return. Like, they see these fan armies as basically like free marketing departments. Like, you have fans, you have stan communities, really doing some work.
KC: Doing some work that could be a couple of people’s jobs. I mean, especially with K-pop fandom, I feel like there are K-pop fandoms that do… This label should be doing this work to promote, not y’all. Y’all are spending money and spending real time, you know, promoting, like, putting ads up and just, like…taking thousands of dollars of fan money to put ads up, like, in New York, in Times Square. Like, it’s ridiculous! But, and they expect it. That’s money that, like, that’s a line item they’re like “Zero! We’re not spending money, we’re just gonna wait for fans to do it!”
And that really, that exploitation of fan labor gets me heated. Especially where you have, like, it becomes like a job for, you know, a lot of these are, like, young fans. It becomes like an extra job for them that the only thing they’re getting paid in is, like, feeling good about it. Which is wonderful, but like, this is a job, everybody! And that really bugs me a lot. You know?
There’s a lot of talk about how toxic stan culture is, and it can be quite toxic, but I think that unfortunately being online is toxic right now! [laughs] It’s no more toxic than all the other spaces online where if you have a conversation you’re gonna have people jump on you and attack you. It’s just, like, kinda scary right now to be online. So I wouldn’t necessarily put that all on pop music fandom, because it’s pretty, it’s pretty ugly everywhere, sadly. And I do get why people do find the positive things of, in pop music stan culture. Because, you know, you wanna be on a team—a team of people doing, working together to do something fun, to promote something that you like, to share that other thing with other people. And it just happens to be that you have people who are really sophisticated at it. Like, know—a lot of stan army, the campaigns that people do, it’s like, they’re amazing! The creativity that’s involved, the hard work. There are—there’s a reason why people are attracted to it, and I think you can talk about that while also saying “but you can also calm down.” [all laugh]
ELM: You know, it’s interesting. So this is something for the last, like, year, we’ve been talking a lot—a lot, a lot—about fandom and capitalism. And one thing that’s really striking me as you’re talking is, and I wonder if both of you think this is a true observation, that like, depending on the kind of like flavor of fan culture and fan structures, individual different kinds and spaces, like—the cycles between fan and creator can be tighter or looser, I guess? This is maybe kind of a weird way to say it. And it feels like here, the cycle is so tight, in the sense of like, the value within a lot of pop music stan culture scenes is so directly connected to the kind of structures of the…like the streams, and…
FK: The direct monetary win and the direct…
ELM: Exactly. It’s not like, good vibes, you know. What did I say? “PR vibes.” [laughs] It’s not like the kind of broad sentiment, and lots of people are chatting about this and having different conversations. It’s about, like, legit numbers, right? And that’s how you win in the fandom, but it’s also a win for the creators? And so, of course they’re gonna exploit that, because it’s such a tight loop. And so it’s just like…it just seems like that’s gonna be a hard one to break.
As opposed to like, we each were talking, one of our favorite guests last year was Kenyatta Cheese, who mostly works with TV franchises. And there’s a lot more space in there to kind of have those loose circles and to do different kind of, but in this sort of thing…because TV fans are less likely to get that, like, that high from like, “Yes, the numbers!” You know what I mean?
ELM: It’s not like those goals are directly aligned. So I don’t know, I don’t know if there’s any way out of this without pop music, you know, the people on the creative side being like, “Sure! Here’s some cash,” which of course they’re not going to do, because they want the cash. You know what I mean?
KC: Yeah, I don’t know either. I mean, the only…the only way I think it’s going to change is, and I’ve seen a little bit of it, people might just get tired of it. I think just the, the exhaustion of it for some people might lead to it changing, because I think that there’s just going to be a fatigue. That cycle…especially because with pop music, that cycle is becoming almost never-ending. Like, it used to be a point where there would be breaks. [all laugh] In between albums, in between content, in between tour…
FK: Yeah, yeah.
KC: And now it’s like, boom boom boom boom boom. And I think whether it’s fatigue on the artist side or fatigue on the fan side, something, like, that continual—you know, the churn rate is just gonna, like, you’re gonna get people who are just like “I can’t do this anymore, I have other things I’m interested in and it’s too much of my time and energy.” Or the artist is gonna be like… That’s why I like Rihanna. Cause Rihanna’s like, “I’m not putting out an album. I’m not going to the Met Gala. You’re just gonna have to wait for me.” And I honestly feel like that’s needed.
I feel like, unfortunately, now you have a lot of pop music artists who do feel like “I have to always be on, I have to always create content, I have to always be online, I have to always be present or I’m gonna be forgotten about and left behind.” Fans are like, “If you don’t give us something then we’re just gonna bug you or leave you behind.” And I think, you know, I think just exhaustion on one end or the other is gonna lead to that breaking. But I don’t know when that’s gonna happen, whether it’s gonna be an artist or…I think honestly it might have to be the fans, either, you know, growing out of it or just not wanting to do it anymore. And companies, labels not seeing the value in keeping that cycle going as much. I think if it’s, if it’s not as beneficial to companies, then they’re not gonna push it as much and so on.
FK: Yeah. Well, I kinda feel like we should just say that we hope for that? I kinda hope for that!
ELM: Yeah, seriously, for everyone’s sake.
FK: It sounds like it would be good. I sort of…
KC: To keep the fun in it.
FK: Yeah! But I wanna say that without, you know, without saying that I think that…I don’t know. I don’t want this to turn into a “stan culture is bad,” but I do sort of hope that the unhealthy things in it can, you know, be released. [laughs]
KC: I do too. I feel like there are people, I see this sometimes too, people are like “this just isn’t fun.” Like, like, where you have people who are participating, and they do it out of habit, but it’s like—they feel like it’s a job. And you’ve got like 14-year-old girls who are like “this feels like a job.” [laughs] It’s like, “You should not…!” Like…! Like, “I don’t wanna do this cause I don’t, I feel like I’m working.” And I think if that sentiment increases, we have more people who are like “Hey, I came in this for fun and community, I didn’t come into this to get exhausted and stressed out all the time, and attacked,” maybe that will change.
ELM: A somewhat depressing but, like, vaguely hopeful note for the future. Like, “I hope people will burn out and find passion again!” [all laugh]
FK: But I am so glad we had you on because I feel like this was the stan culture conversation I needed, anyway.
FK: I hope that you feel that way too Elizabeth! It was amazing.
ELM: Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much for coming on Keidra, we really appreciate it.
KC: Oh, thank you for having me! Yeah, this was a blast.
ELM: Well, that was a fantastic conversation!
FK: Yeah! It’s funny, I often come out of these conversations feeling like I’ve learned things, but this time I felt like a bunch of connections were made that I’m gonna, like, keep thinking about…it’s not just that I’ve learned things, it’s that I’m gonna come up with, like, new information. Like, I’m just really interested in the idea of stan culture and sports fandom, and… I don’t know. I…a lot of food for thought.
ELM: Sure, absolutely. And, you know, it’s interesting too, I was thinking a lot about it, thinking about your comments in our 100th episode about transactional, you know, trying to push back against the transactional nature of fandom. I don’t know, and I was just reading an interesting Sally Rooney quote about this. You know Sally Rooney, a very hot young novelist?
FK: I don’t, I don’t!
ELM: Flourish! Get with the times!
FK: I’m not with the times.
ELM: I actually haven’t read any Sally Rooney so I don’t want to make it sound like I’m some sort of… [FK laughs] Though this is like the literary fiction zeitgeist right now. She’s an Irish novelist, she’s Millennial…
FK: Oh! I do know who this is! She writes these stories that are sort of like about, like, post-college Millennial people sounding very much like they’re writing IMs to each other all the time, right?
ELM: Uh, OK? I guess…
FK: I read some article about her and this is what I got out of it, so. [laughing]
ELM: She’s written two novels and she’s, she’s like in her late 20s and so she, like, understands how we communicate.
ELM: Cause she does the same. I mean I haven’t read either of her novels, so I don’t know why I’m trying to, like, Rooneysplain to you right now. But. [FK laughs]
FK: But you know more than I do.
ELM: It’s not like she’s writing chat stories! Yeah. Anyway, she was talking about, it was in an interview and she was talking about, like, everything’s political, but like, there has to be something more…more than just buying and selling books, has to be more than this commoditized, you know, transactional exchange, like, you know. Those aren’t the only two things that exist, right? This sort of like…there has to be something more within a novel that leads you to read it, right? It’s not just “I bought it, and that’s…this is the way the world goes on, cause I’m gonna continue to buy books,” or in this case “I’m gonna continue to read fic.” There is something more than that transaction. The quote was very good. I’ll put it in the show notes, but…anyway…
FK: You’re really whettin’ my appetite for this quote.
ELM: Yeah, sorry! Do you want me to read the quote to you? So I just thought this was a pretty interesting quote and it’s long. Are you ready for it?
FK: Yeah, I’m ready for it!
ELM: All right. This is in an interview in Hazlitt that she gave recently, and I say, once again, that I haven’t read either of her novels. So the interviewer asks: “In the Louisiana Channel video, you talk about the role of literature, and how its role in the economy might compromise its ability to speak truth to power. What role do you see literature playing in shaping political ideas and challenging ways of thinking, whether positively or negatively, and what is its potential?”
I think that’s a really interesting question to begin with, right? I’m sure you have a lot of feelings about this.
ELM: This is in your wheelhouse! You got some feels! All right. Sally Rooney says: “I’m very skeptical of its potential in that way. This has been a debate throughout the twentieth century—socialist writers and critics obviously argued about the extent to which aesthetic forms, like the novel or like plays, forms of writing other than polemic, can intervene helpfully in political discourse and how they should do that, and what is a socialist novel? And what is a socialist play? And you have writers like Brecht or whatever who manage to answer that case for themselves, but not necessarily provide an answer that works in general. I’m just deeply skeptical because of the ease with which the novel is accommodated by the system of profit-driven publishing. If the book is turning a profit for shareholders, then the book cannot meaningfully be critiquing the system by which that profit is turned. It can offer the critique, but clearly the critique is capable of being accommodated, because the very presence of the book in the market tells us that. So, is it important to keep offering the critique anyway? Maybe? I don’t intend to stop doing it, because it would just be dishonest to stop, because it’s what I believe. But I also want to be appropriately skeptical of the value of that. And not pat myself on the back for including a paragraph in the book where I suggest that that’s the system, that that’s going on, and that the book contains the critique. [laughs] Okay, it contains the critique, but it is also contained by the system, you know, so. I’m skeptical of it.”
OK. And then this is the paragraph that I encountered on my Tumblr, but I’m really glad to have my context too.
ELM: “But I also think that there have to be parts of life that are not…I don’t think anything is completely separate from politics, I think everything we do is captured by one system or another, we’re never totally free of it. But I also think there have to be parts of our lives that make it worth going on with the struggle. And obviously one big part of that is our intimate lives, and that’s what I write about. I think that our personal relationships with other people give us a reason to keep living. And I think for a lot of people, or let’s say for a small number of people, the novel is another reason to keep going, to keep feeling like the struggle is actually worth engaging in, like there’s something worth protecting about human civilization. And for some people that’s the novel. And for other people that’s like, sports or other forms of the arts. There are loads of other things that are of course part of these broad political systems but that bring us a joy or a pleasure that we can salvage that isn’t totally just transactional in its nature. And I think that the novel is one of those things, maybe. That’s obviously not to say it’s fenced off from political concerns, but that there’s maybe something in it that transcends the transaction of simply paying for a book and owning it as a commodity. I would hope so.”
FK: That’s a really good quote!
ELM: Is it really helpin’ you connect all those things?
FK: It is and it’s also making me think that the next time that we go on a rant about capitalism, I’m gonna have more thinky thoughts in those directions. But they aren’t, like, baked yet.
ELM: Yeah, and it’s interesting too, because obviously I’m framing a lot of my fandom stuff though these things that are kind of connected to capitalist cycles in weird sort of disconnected-but-still-connected ways, cause of demonetized spaces or whatever, so it’s interesting to think about this and to think about… I’m especially thinking about the very, very small margins of novels, right?
You know, cause it’s often, when we talk about this we’re always talking about, like, Disney-owned fran—that’s a redundant statement [FK laughs] but Disney-owned franchises at this point, you know. So we’re talking about, you know, we’re talking about thousands, maybe tens of thousands of copies sold, not billions made in two weeks or whatever.
FK: And even with that she’s like “Yup.”
ELM: Right! Right. Absolutely. And I think all of that is really, really interesting. And so when I started to think about that compared to my own fannish life, and then I started to think about a lot of the stan culture stuff we’re talking about, and those parallels to sports, which…you know, I mean, just look at sports! Look at all the discourse over the, over paying college athletes.
FK: Oh man, yeah.
ELM: You know? Which is an incredibly fraught topic that I don’t wanna…
ELM: …get into right now, but there’s all this, all this kind of murky ideas of like, well, what’s the purpose of this? But then also, who’s profiting off it? And all this stuff. And what is beyond the transactional nature? And, you know, who gets the thing that’s beyond that and who gets the thing that is that, you know?
FK: Yeah, and I think there’s also probably something to be said in here about, like, the ways that transactions can be playful or, you know, because there’s also certain things like gambling or like…I mean even playing a game, like, well, I guess Monopoly was intended to show us that the capitalist system was broken originally.
ELM: You saw that article that’s been going around?
FK: Yeah, is that true? I don’t know if it’s true or not. But I saw that article and I want to believe.
ELM: You didn’t even mention in our 100th episode that you learned that Monopoly was not a specific game to Boston.
FK: [laughs] That’s not…I knew that it was not a specific game to Boston, Elizabeth.
ELM: Do you remember when we learned this together?
FK: I do remember this, I do remember this. But I—[laughs]
ELM: Anyway, yes!
FK: Anyway! So there’s ways that—and questions about, like, is that a good thing, is that just like the structures of…I don’t know.
ELM: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. Gambling, gambling brings a whole other—and I say this as someone who has worked in the gambling industry for a very long time. But gambling is a different thing and kinda of itself. It’s not like the gambling is paying for the playing of the sport, you know. It’s something that’s happening completely on the, often completely separate structures.
FK: Totally, totally. I guess I’m just interested in the ways that money and other things interact with…
ELM: That’s true, that’s true.
FK: Pleasure, fun in other ways…I’m trying to think of…
ELM: Yeah. And if you’ve ever gambled on anything that you would have watched for sporting reasons otherwise, or not even like a sport, but put money on Eurovision or something, you know what I mean. Something where there’s some kind of outcome. Or had a pool for American Idol or whatever.
FK: Yeah, or who’s gonna die on Game of Thrones.
ELM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Obviously it completely tangles up your own—I mean, for the individual doing the gambling, it completely changes the experience of it. It’s suddenly kind of, you know. It is very different, so that’s true.
FK: Yeah, OK. Well, I think that we should just sit with some of these thoughts for now, and I think that we’re gonna refer back to this episode a lot in the future.
FK: That’s just the sense that I get.
ELM: And we’re gonna refer back to Keidra in the future.
FK: Yeah, hopefully have her on again!
ELM: Fingers crossed.
FK: OK! So we should do wrapping-up business I think.
ELM: Patreon.com/fansplaining! Transactional in nature!
FK: Transactional in nature. It is how we fund this podcast. We really, really appreciate your monetary donations in our capitalist system. You can also help us out in a variety of ways, but that is one really very appreciated way and there’s rewards that you get for doing it to show our appreciation.
ELM: Yeah, and you know, we say this over and over again but it’s worth repeating especially since we’ve gotten so many new listeners recently, you know, the first—the lowest pledge level is $1 a month, and every dollar helps us!
FK: Yeah, for real.
ELM: So it really—cause we have gotten messages being like “I feel bad because I can’t afford more than $1 a month,” and it’s like, no, that’s a—and it’s a fantastic commitment too! There’s people I should be donating like a dollar a month to, but you know, like… So if you are appreciating the work that we’re doing, and it doesn’t matter as much or as little as you have to spare, $1 a month all the way up to, you know, $1,000,000 dollars a month. [FK laughs] No, but realistically the top level is most people max out at $10 a month and if you have that much money to set aside, then you get a quarterly tiny zine, and recently we’ve been collaborating with Maia Kobabe, who is an incredible artist. We’re talking about early, our early fannish experiences. And Flourish was the most recent and mine will be up next, probably coming out—probably not too, too far into the summer! Probably midsummer.
FK: Mm-hmm! Yeah, I think so.
ELM: Ideally? So.
FK: And if you can’t see your way clear to donating to our Patreon, that’s OK too! And there’s lots of ways that you can help us out, for instance by spreading the word of the podcast, by reviewing us on iTunes or wherever you may find your podcasts, by sending us questions.
ELM: Feel like you didn’t mean to say it in a Jesusy way, but you accidentally said “by spreading the word of the podcast…” [FK laughs] and it just had such a, such a vibe to it!
FK: Spreadin’ the word.
ELM: Have you heard the news?
FK: Have you heard?
ELM: The news about Fansplaining.
FK: The news about Fansplaining. Yeah! But you know. Like, why not, right?
ELM: Right. Yeah. Sorry. I cut you off. So you can write to us if you have questions, we wanna reiterate, because it’s now happening frequently and maybe we should put some sort of message on the website, if you leave an anonymous comment on our website fansplaining.com, and it’s a question that requires a response, you leave us no choice but to either read it aloud on the podcast or to not engage with it, because we don’t have any way to contact you. And we’ve gotten several comments where we don’t know what to do with them because they really, we’d like to just write you back and talk to you privately, they’re not read-aloud comments. So it feels like they’re just falling into the void now, and we don’t want that to happen, we want to be able to respond to you. So…
FK: And if you want to yell into the void, feel free, but be aware that you might never get a response.
ELM: These comments were not yelling-into-the-void comments, they were like, questions, and then they were like, “Goodbye! Anonymous.” And it was like “AGH! I don’t know how to reach you!” So if you have something like that I would highly recommend writing us at fansplaining at gmail.com, say something like “I don’t want this read out loud, I just want a private response,” or “please don’t use my name if you do read it out loud,” we will absolutely always respect that, but that’s the best way cause then we can write you back.
FK: Yes indeed!
ELM: Alternately, you can call us—this is not something we can reply to you. We would have to play this on air—at 1-401-526-FANS, but you can say you wish to remain anonymous, don’t use your name, or if you use it we’ll cut it out if you just clarify that’s what you want. You can ask questions, leave a comment, we love to play other people’s voices.
FK: We love it.
FK: All right, well, I think that might be it!
ELM: Wait, you don’t wanna tell people to find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at fansplaining? And of course our Tumblr?
FK: I think they’ve figured it out.
ELM: Our Tumblr?!
FK: If you haven’t figured it out, that’s where you can find us.
ELM: Fansplaining at tumblr.com? Also, also, we still have our ask box on Tumblr. It’s been receiving a lot of asks.
FK: It has.
ELM: So that’s another place, that’s a much easier place, I think, because a lot of these questions are very asky kinds of questions, Tumblr ask kind of questions.
FK: Yeah, totally, totally.
ELM: So…you know, that’s not to say, you can do whatever you want, but just, just, if you have a desired sorta response, just givin’ some tips.
FK: All right. Now I think we’re done.
ELM: Yeah, I do think that’s it.
FK: All right, I will talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: All right, bye Flourish!
FK & ELM: Thank you to all of our Patreon subscribers, and especially Amelia Harvey, Anne Jamison, Bluella, boxish, Bradlea Raga-Barone, Bryan Shields, Christine Hoxmeier, Christopher Dwyer, Clare Mulligan, Clare Muston, Cynsa Bonorris, Desiree Longoria, Fabrisse, Diana Williams, Dr. Mary C. Crowell, earlgreytea68, Felar, froggy, Georgie Carroll, Goodwin, heidi tandy, Helena, Javier Grillo-Marxuaach, Jay Bushman, Jennifer Brady, Jennifer Doherty, Jennifer Lackey, Jennifer McKernan—that’s a Jennifer streak—Josh Stenger, Jules Chatelain, Julianna, JungleJelly, Katherine Lynn, Kathleen Parham, Lucas Medeiros, Maria Temming, Megan C., Meghan McCusker, Menlo Steve, Michael Andersen, Molly Kernan, Sara, Secret Fandom Stories, sekrit, Stephanie Burt, StHoltzmann, Tablesaw Tablesawsen, Tara Stuart, veritasera, Willa, and in honor of One Direction and Captain James McGraw Flint-Hamilton. [ELM laughs]
Our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax. Our interstitial music is by Lee Rosevere. Both are used under a Creative Commons BY license. Check the show notes for more details.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are not our clients’ or our employers’ or anyone’s except our own.