Episode 104: The Fourth Wall Redux
In Episode 104, Flourish and Elizabeth revisit the fannish version of the fourth wall—the barrier between fans and creators. In the first half, they look at fan/creator interaction around the new TV adaptation of Good Omens, from “death of the author” to validating fanfiction to the false dichotomy of “fan vs pro.” In the second half, they tackle the dustup around HBO’s Euphoria: Did the show go too far when they depicted Larry Stylinson fic—or when they created a Tumblr for a fictional Larry writer?
[00:00:41] This episode follows on from Episode 23, “The Fourth Wall,” from May 2016.
[00:05:42] If you really wanted to know all the ways robot sex works in Transformers fandom, have we got a meta for you!
[00:07:24] 🎵🎶Zendaya is Meechee🎶🎵
[00:09:37] If you are unfamiliar with The Dynamic, prepare your mind for a framework that will change how you see the world forever.
[00:11:01] Michael Sheen has tweeted a lot about fanfic, but this is one of the exchanges that really blew folks’ minds:
[00:15:47] Neil Gaiman saying “you’re welcome” to fans, in this case about gender presentation:
[00:23:00] Michael Sheen as Robbie Ross:
And, of course, Jude Law, being a beautiful asshole:
[00:39:45] Unfortunately the actual clip from the episode isn't easy to link here (as people upload it, it gets taken down as copyright infringement!) but it’s easy enough to see just this one scene if you subscribe to HBO: it’s the first few minutes of Episode 3 of Euphoria.
[00:41:00] We did an entire episode about RPF, if you want to dig deeper into this topic!
[00:44:21] We’re referring to Episode 103, “Slash: The Play,” here.
[00:44:46] The actor, Barbie Ferreira, told Refinery29 that she was “also 14 once, liked One Direction, and was on Tumblr,” which is...yep.
[00:52:13] In a radio interview, Taylor Swift described how she puts “clues” in her videos: “[The fans] make it so fun to make a music video, like, when we’re planning a music video and I know that it’ll be really fun for them if we create a scavenger hunt throughout the video. For me, that’s more fun than when I used to make videos and I didn’t try to plant clues. I love this! It’s all bred from the fact that they’ve let me know over the years that they really are looking for every single detail. If they weren’t interested in the details, then I wouldn’t have fun putting them in the video. Basically, when new music comes out, they’ll realize there are dozens are lyrical references and symbolic references.”
[00:56:09] The Autostraddle piece Elizabeth is referring to is “Toward an Understanding of Whether Straight Fanfiction Exists: A Study.”
[00:58:11] Louis Tomlinson: not pleased.
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode Number 104, “The Fourth Wall Redux.”
FK: Yeah, because it’s a call-back to an earlier episode we did, also about the fourth wall, now that a couple years have passed.
ELM: A couple years? Three years, in fact.
FK: Three? Wow.
ELM: Yeah, I looked it up. It was, we put it out the very end of May 2016.
FK: We’ve been doing this podcast a long time, Elizabeth!
ELM: And we’d been doing it for a year at that point. This is like our, four years. Four years. It’s like how long I was in college.
FK: Oh my God. [both laughing] All right. So I think, before we, before we start talking about anything else, I think that we should talk about what the fourth wall is in the context we’re talking about. Because the fourth wall can mean multiple things, and people are gonna be real confused if they have the wrong meaning.
ELM: Right. So, I mean, it’s more likely now that people will know—if they’re regular listeners of this podcast—because we defined it at length. But, if you did not listen to our back catalog…so basically the traditional definition of the fourth wall comes from theater. It’s somewhat physical in fact, but imagine three sides in the theater, the back of the stage and the two sides—imagine the side between you and, the audience and the performers, as a sort of invisible fourth wall that’s also…not even metaphorical, it’s kind of literal in the sense of, like…
FK: Yeah, you see the delineation. There’s the stage, and there’s you.
ELM: And as long as actors are not breaking the fourth wall, as long as the text doesn’t break that line, that line exists—the things happening on the stage are on the stage, you are in the audience viewing that through that fourth wall. And so when an actor turns to the audience and addresses you, acknowledges you’re there, that’s breaking the fourth wall, right? That’s acknowledging that you’re seeing a play and that you are the audience and that they are the actors. But if that’s never broken, then you can suspend your disbelief. Does that make sense?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, totally! And this kind of fourth wall breaking is like—one of the reasons it might be confusing is this kind of fourth wall breaking, the theater kind, is in a lot of the conversation right now around shows like Fleabag. Right? Cause in Fleabag, I guess, the main character breaks the fourth wall a bunch.
ELM: Yeah, or, I was—I was just listening to our original episode and I mentioned House of Cards.
FK: Oh yeah!
ELM: Which is a very 2016 reference that I wouldn’t make now, but you know…
FK: Now we would say Fleabag!
ELM: That kind of—that’s an evolution, I feel like, in the culture. The kind of directly looking at the camera, and it’s, you know—especially if it’s the protagonist acting like you-the-viewer—you have an intimate relationship, saying “I’m talking to you right now,” you know?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, completely.
ELM: That’s something that, that television in particular I think can do effectively, playing with the fourth wall.
FK: Right. But fandom has a different definition of the fourth wall. And in fandom—especially fanfiction culture, but also fanart and so on—the fourth wall is the wall between fans and creators, and “breaking the fourth wall” is like, creators acknowledging fanfiction or fanart sometimes. Like, basically looking at transformative fan culture and being like “Yeah, that! That thing!”
ELM: Exactly. Usually, traditionally…and it’s never been so firm as that. It’s obviously been more porous than I think we often give it credit for. But traditionally, the fan fourth wall protected—protected fans, essentially, and made the gaze one-sided. It was fans looking at the source material, looking at the creators, looking at the actors, without being seen in return and having their works seen in return.
FK: Yeah yeah yeah. And like you said, it’s, sometimes people will be like “Oh, in the past people preserved the fourth wall, and that was good, and now we break it, and that’s bad, because of the internet,” and that’s not totally true. I mean, like, if you watch the documentary Trekkies you see that people were sending sexy fan art of Data gettin’ it on with people to Brent Spiner in the early ’90s, you know? But it is, I think, something that has become more porous over time. And especially with, like, Twitter, and with people engaging with fandom, you know, in a more public way all of the time in more shows.
ELM: Right. And not just more porous, but you know, to break it in the past people would have to make much more active decisions than they do now. Now it’s, now it’s, you know, I don’t have to send Brent Spiner my sexy Data fanfiction, you know? He can go look it up if he wants. I like that this is the example. We are—you haven’t seen Parks and Rec.
ELM: Ben Wyatt—the best character on Parks and Rec—writes sexy Data fanfiction. [FK laughs] So. And it’s not a joke.
FK: He’s a fully functional android, and a lot of people are into that. And that is a line from the television show.
ELM: I like that that’s immediately what you went to. You don’t need, look, “sexy” doesn’t—he wouldn’t have to have anatomically correct and functional genitalia for him to be a sexy android, Flourish!
FK: He wouldn’t, but the fact that the show makes a point of, in like the third episode, telling you that he does really works to sexualize that android.
ELM: You’re just, you’re just imposing these kind of normative frameworks! Just because you do it in the show doesn’t mean you need to reify them, Flourish!
FK: That’s true, that’s true, that’s true. We could have as many different views of how androids have sex as people in the Transformers fandom do.
ELM: Oh no we can’t go into that right now.
FK: OK, great. Well. Moving on! [ELM laughing] So why are we doing a fourth wall redux episode, Elizabeth?
ELM: [sighs] Cause things have happened in the last few years and…there are some very high-profile examples right now of the fannish fourth wall just kind of being, like, set on fire and I don’t know. I don’t know what structure it is in this metaphor. Maybe crumbled? You know, like…
FK: Yeah, it it made of stone or wood?
ELM: Or glass?
FK: Shattered? Is the wall shattered?
ELM: Yeah, you know? Like, like a big sheet of glass and you, like, poke it in the middle and it just goes schoomp all at once?
FK: Mm. Very cinematic vision of this.
ELM: [laughs] Thank you. So we wanted to talk about it, and also because we got a bunch of questions that were fourth-wall related. So the two things we’re going to be talking about are Good Omens, the television adaptation that has probably taken over your Tumblr dash—whether you’re a part of it or not it’s there, almost definitely—and Euphoria, which is a television show on HBO that is in the middle of its first season, I know, starring—Zendaya [zen-DIE-uh] is the most famous person on it, I believe? Anyone else I know? I’m not down with the teens.
FK: Yeah. It’s Zendaya [zen-DAY-uh]. And then there’s—
ELM: Oh, do you say “zen-DAY-uh” or “zen-DIE-uh”?
FK: It’s “zen-DAY-uh.”
ELM: Wow, that song got it wrong then. You know?
FK: Oh wait, did I get it wrong?
ELM: [sings] “Zendaya is Meechee.” Remember that song?
FK: No, it says “zen-DAY-uh” is Meechee.
ELM: [gasps] No. Really?!
FK: [typing sounds] I’m literally looking it up right now because she congratulated him on getting it right.
ELM: It just sits in my head!
FK: I’m listening to it! [pause] It’s “zen-DAY-uh” is Meechee.
ELM: OH! All right, Zendaya, I apologize.
FK: [singing lugubriously] Zendaya is Meechee!
ELM: What a—
FK: [still singing] And dah-dah-dah-dah-dah…
ELM: So, we’ll put that video in the show notes [FK laughing] in case anyone isn’t familiar with that reference—it was a completely bonkers ad campaign for an animated film that I don’t remember the name of, and someone set it to music and it was great. So. That’s a deep cut reference right there.
FK: Good job, internet. OK!
ELM: All right.
FK: So yeah. Zendaya’s probably the most famous person on it, I think.
ELM: So those are the two examples of shows that are happening right now, fan-creator interaction that’s happening right now. So I think we should start with Good Omens.
ELM: Before we get to the letter and the voicemail that we received that are related to this—actually, the voicemail isn’t really about Good Omens, but I feel like it’s connected, so. I think that it’s worth talking a little bit about what we’re observing right now in fan-creator interaction around Good Omens.
FK: Yeah. So Good Omens is an interesting case because it’s written by…I think probably everybody who’s in fandom has been aware of this by now because, I mean, as you said, it has completely taken over everything on my dash. Written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett who died since it was written, so Neil Gaiman is the one who’s around to talk about it at the moment.
ELM: Published 30 years ago, for full context, if anyone hasn’t, isn’t familiar, it’s a fantasy novel…fantasy?
FK: Uh, apocalyptic fantasy, sure.
ELM: Yeah, all right. And it came out about 30 years ago. It was a cult classic sort of novel in the ’90s.
FK: Kinda poking fun at some horror kind of, like, horror-y, sometimes like apocalyptic tropes?
ELM: Yeah. And then as internet fanfiction fandom was developing, the main pairing in it, Aziraphale and Crowley, was very strong—for a book fandom that wasn’t Harry Potter, I would say this was one of the most influential books in transformative fandom ever.
FK: Yeah, and it’s because it is peak Dynamic.
ELM: Capital-D Dynamic.
FK: The Dynamic, it’s like…
ELM: Actual sweaterboy, absolute nightmare, Crowley is a demon and he’s just like “Yeah fuck it! Whatever!” And Aziraphale is a sweaterboy angel and he’s just like, “Good heavens!”
FK: Literally the most that you could.
ELM: “We can’t do this! No, no, no!” You know? So. That’s—it’s a lot of Dynamic. Yes.
FK: That’s pretty much—if you had asked me, if you had said “What is Good Omens about?” I would tell you, “It’s about the Dynamic. That’s what it’s about. And a little bit of apocalypse, but mostly the Dynamic.” So. Yeah. That’s the situation. And it was made into a miniseries.
ELM: Starring Jon Hamm. [both laugh]
FK: And Michael Sheen and David Tennant, who are the two parts of the Dynamic. And then Jon Hamm every once in awhile comes in and is like, “I’m Jon Hamm! And also apparently an angel.”
ELM: I think Jon Hamm was very well cast and I like it when he gets to, like, be a little bouncier, you know?
FK: Yeah. Bouncy Jon Hamm is good.
ELM: Yeah. I think he does it well.
FK: So the thing is that the cast, like, Neil Gaiman obviously is, like, very engaged with various kinds of fandom. And the cast has—you know, David Tennant was on Doctor Who, and the cast has been pretty playful with fans about this. I guess “playful” is one way to put it, but like, Michael Sheen defended fanfiction on Twitter, for example.
ELM: Michael Sheen, in particular, who is very active on Twitter, is very directly engaging with fans. And, you know, someone sent him a link to a fic, and he wrote back “a classic,” you know, and I saw mixed reactions around that. I saw some people being like “He loves us and validates us, and now my life as a fanfiction writer is complete because he validated this,” and I see other people saying “Please don’t do this.” I saw, the one reaction that was in that realm that did genuinely annoy me was people seeming more concerned about protecting him and his interest in fanfiction than any of the fanfiction writers. So they were like, “Don’t reveal his fandom presence, if he has an AO3 account,” or whatever. And it felt like such—I felt like we were into, like, backwards town when that was going on.
His comments about fanfiction are incredibly well-meaning, and I think sincere. They’re not pandering. They’re someone who’s clearly reading it and enjoying it and celebrating the community elements of it. But it is contextualized in broader actors and fanfiction context, and that makes it a little more fraught.
FK: And it’s tough, too—it’s definitely made me think about, as I think I was saying to you earlier: wow, he’s engaging! And he’s so well-meaning, and he’s discovering this stuff, and here it is, and I don’t know about his context but it really seems like that’s what’s going on…but there’s so much stuff he doesn’t know about, you know? And he’s doing this all on this, like, very public stage. Oh my God! So.
ELM: Right, right. Exactly. So that’s been very interesting to watch. And then Neil Gaiman has had a lot to say and—I don’t know, I feel like that’s enough context to go into that first letter, because it’s really specifically about Neil Gaiman’s responses to people.
FK: The first letter. Yeah yeah yeah. OK. Should I read the first letter and then you can take the first take?
ELM: Yeah, please do!
FK: OK. “Hey Elizabeth and Flourish! Love your show, and hope you’re not sick of discourse asks, because do I have a doozy for you! Like everybody else on Tumblr, I watched the Good Omens miniseries and immediately fell head-over-heels in love with it. However, I was surprised to see that some folks in the fandom saw what I interpreted as a pretty self-evident on-screen love story between the two main characters as queerbaiting.
“There are a lot of confounding factors complicating the authorial intent, if that even matters: Does one co-author have the right to change the story in a definitive way when the other co-author has passed away? What role do the actors play how they choose to portray the script they’re given? How much credence should the fandom lend to what’s outside the miniseries itself in the first place?
“Apart from that, and more interestingly to me, the question of ‘are the two main characters in love, and if so, are they sexually interested in one another?’ seems to have opened up a dialectical rift between fans who interpret the show as a sexual and romantic gay love story (some of whom see the lack of physical affection shown on screen as queerbaiting) and fans who see the show as a romantic asexual love story (who are by and large content with the canon and frustrated that other queer fans don’t see their kind of love story as queer enough).
“It’s made more complicated by the fact that Good Omens was a book 30 years before it was a miniseries, and while the relationship between the two main characters is much more platonic in the book, there’s three decades of fandom largely (but not exclusively) interpreting the relationship as slash—which one of the actors has even referred to as part of his inspiration in how he played the role. It seems to me that Good Omens’ Neil Gaiman being Extremely Online has only served to throw fuel on the fire (and the question of ‘does it actually improve or detract from fan experiences when creators are Extremely Online and in the same spaces as fans?’ is an interesting one to me as well).
“I came up in the BBC Sherlock fandom, so it’s hard for me to imagine anything where the creators repeatedly say ‘sure, run with the romantic interpretation if you want, we like that way of reading it and most of the creatives involved share that reading too’ as queerbaiting. But since I myself am ace, I’m pretty content to watch a love story without a lot of demonstrative physical affection and see it just as loving, just as committed, and just as queer as one with more on-screen physical intimacy—but I can understand why not getting that would be frustrating to gay audiences wanting more decisive representation of their experiences.
“So, anyway, that's a huge can of worms to open, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! All the best, SJ.”
ELM: That’s a huge can of worms.
FK: It’s a big can of worms.
ELM: Yeah. So, I mean, there’s other things going on in this letter—oh, great letter, by the way, SJ, side note, and also: dialectical rift! Excited to receive a letter with that phrase in it. And I think these observations are spot-on and I think it summarizes what we’ve been seeing a lot of. The actor in question is Michael Sheen, the one who’s talking about how explicitly romantic and—explicitly sexual fanfiction and playing it as a love story…though whether that has to be sexual or not is obviously, like, it doesn’t have to be, right? Et cetera.
The part that kind of brings this back to what we were framing this episode as is, is Neil Gaiman in particular. And one thing that’s been very annoying for me personally to watch is Neil Gaiman kind of taking—what I felt was a little bit of taking credit for the multivarious fan reactions? In particular for ace representation. You know? Cause there’s a difference between being like “You can interpret this however you want, go ahead, death of the author, I’m not here actually—but I am very much here—but don’t worry I’m not here,” which is like his line and has been his line for a long time, and being like, you know, there has been some of his engagements over the last six weeks, two months since this came out of people being like “Thank you, I feel like this is ace representation,” and him being like, essentially saying “You’re welcome,” you know? And for something that has almost no representation in popular media, and while the show is easy to interpret that way it’s not made explicit—that’s been very frustrating to see.
FK: Well, I’m thinking about, like—what the right response to that is. And this gets to that question of “should creators be online at all and make these responses, or respond,” you know? I do think that there’s…I don’t know. I just don’t know entirely what I would want that response to be. Maybe something like, “It gives me joy to see people seeing themselves in the work,” or something like this, right?
FK: That doesn’t, you know. But it’s also tough.
ELM: To be fair, I’m not sure that that’s not what he was saying, you know. Maybe that’s just my cynicism being like, “He was taking credit for it!” You know.
FK: Well, that’s the thing is, that it’s hard for me to know, because I think the very nature of Twitter kind of makes it—when someone engages with someone saying “thank you” like that, it’s hard not to take it as a “you’re welcome.”
FK: So even if, even if that’s not what he means, right? Even if what he’s just trying to do is be like “Hey look! We wrote this thing and you’re seeing something beautiful in it and that’s great!” You know? I don’t know. It’s just…I don’t know that there’s a good way. I don’t know that there’s a single…there’s certainly not a single solution, but it’s also… [sighs] I don’t know. It’s tough. Because I also don’t know that anyone would say “Neil Gaiman, get off Twitter,” because it’s obviously working. On the business side.
ELM: Absolutely. I think even the questions that we’re trying to engage with here are even a step too far. Because I think the fundamental problem is, like, the fact that he’s in that space at all is inherently going to create this and there’s no way around that as long as he’s there. And people—and it’s not just him. People are sending their headcanons to creators and asking “Is this true, can you tell me this, please tell me,” you know, we’ve long talked about this with J.K. Rowling in kind of an eye-rolly way, of her being like, decreeing from on high. But part of this is people—I mean, she’s much less engaged now than she used to be, but a few years ago, you know, people would say, like, “Were there any X kind of people at Hogwarts?” and she’d be like, “Yes! Indeed! I thought of this one—” and then it’s annoying because it’s like, “Well, you never said it before and now you’re just saying it on Twitter.”
But it’s people—it’s not just, like, creators are bursting into fan spaces like the Kool-Aid man and being like “I’m here to tell you what’s right and wrong!” Obviously some of them do that. But it’s so much more often fans looking for that kind of affirmational [laughs] affirmation!
FK: And, it’s also sometimes not even like creators bursting into fan spaces—I think that George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman both are similar in that they’re both people who existed in the SFF con space for, you know, many many many years long before online fandom was a thing. And they were—like, and that space is their space in a real way. They’re people who attended these things. And that’s a different vision of fandom than a lot of online fandom is today, but I think it’s wrong to be like—you can’t tell George R.R. Martin, like, “Stop being in fan spaces.” Dude has been in these fan spaces since long before I was born! So it’s this tension…
I think this also gets back to this Michael Sheen question, right? On the one hand, is it really rough sometimes watching Michael Sheen discover fanfiction, right? But on the other hand, can I tell Michael Sheen he’s not allowed to read fanfiction? [laughs] I don’t think I…you know?
FK: It’s this weird coming-from-both-sides thing. What are these boundaries, what are we allowed to police? When should people self-police themselves out of their own spaces, and is it even their space at that point any more?
ELM: All right, but I think this brings up a really good point, something that’s been really really bothering me, not just in the last few months but for quite some time in these fan-creator interaction conversations: something that fans seem to have almost no conception of, but the fact that there are a lot of people who work in the entertainment industry who literally cannot engage with a lot of fan activity.
FK: That’s true.
ELM: Specifically fanfiction. So, I mean, you can probably speak more to this, but anyone who’s a—especially if you are a writer in film and television…
FK: Yeah, there’s—so, when people say, like, “I don’t read fanfic about this thing,” they’re doing it because legally speaking they are concerned that they are going to be sued for having something show up in their writing that showed up in fanfic. And that’s not an absurd concern by any means, right? Not even remotely an absurd concern. And often people are not even able to make this choice for themselves. You’ll have situations where, for instance, there will be something, like, by fiat in the writers’ room. Maybe someone has a higher risk tolerance and they’d be happy to engage with fanfiction and fan culture for themselves, and they’re willing to run the risk that they would get sued. But their job won’t let them. They can never do that. At least they can’t talk about it ever.
And so it’s quite an interesting thing. Because like, like you said, it’s this weird balance between, like, there are some things that you’re allowed to look at, there’s things that are in your own—it’s, it’s not easy.
ELM: Right, so then you have—actors can do what they want.
FK: Actors can absolutely do what they want. They’re not writing anything.
ELM: Right. And so—and obviously actors have different motivations, and some actors seem to think about characters as themselves and seem to think that, you know, fanworks are depictions of themselves…unless it’s RPF, in which case it’s kind of about them, actually, you know. It’s kind of weird to see people—you know, like, look, I don’t think that you should be basing all of your worth as a fan on the opinions of any actor. This one has been hard for me, because I’ve fuckin’ loved Michael Sheen for like 20 years, like…
ELM: You know, I’m a Michael Sheen hipster, I think you could say. [laughs]
FK: You liked him before it was cool, huh?
ELM: Well, I mean, my side recommendation, if you—have you seen Wilde? Have we discussed it? I mean, I’ve told you I’ve watched it—
ELM: So he played Robbie Ross, who was Oscar Wilde’s first boyfriend…“boyfriend” might not be quite the right term. First lover.
FK: [laughs] Fucktoy…?
ELM: No, no! Stop it.
FK: I don’t know, I haven’t seen it.
ELM: And he was like—his one, his true friend, like, with him to the end. Like—
FK: I see.
ELM: Long after Oscar Wilde was like, “Bosie! He’s sexy!” And Robbie Ross was like, “Oh, not that guy, he sucks!” You know, he’s like the one loyal guy in the background being like “Oscar, come on!” So there’s a biopic starring Stephen Fry and Michael Sheen played Robbie Ross and he plays him so humanely and just beautifully, and I’ve watched this movie dozens of times since I purchased it on DVD in the year 2002 or whatever. So.
FK: That’s a huge—I mean, I’d heard good things but that’s, like—all right, I’ll watch it.
ELM: If you ever wanna watch Wilde with me…
ELM: You can come over. I have, I have a functional DVD player. Anyway.
FK: [laughs] Maybe we’ll do this when we’re too overwhelmed at Comic-Con.
ELM: [laughs] Just sit in the hotel room and watch a movie we’ve seen!
FK: Watchin’ Wilde.
ELM: Dozens of times.
ELM: Jude Law as Bosie, perfectly cast, just such, such a prick.
ELM: But he looks, he looks great doin’ it.
FK: Back to Michael Sheen, let’s get on topic again.
ELM: [laughs] Anyway, anyway! Michael Sheen! So some of the reactions have been like saying “I, I’ve spent decades in fandom and I always felt so ashamed, and like, so many actors have made me feel so ashamed and finally an actor understands me and is validating me and is one of us,” which, like—no. That’s not, he’s not one of, I’m sorry. That’s not, just. Functionally not correct. He’s an A-list actor and fandom is fandom, and it’s unlikely there are A-list actors in your average fan circle. Unlikely, Flourish, unlikely.
FK: It’s unlikely there are A-list actors in anyone’s circle at any time.
FK: There aren’t very many of them.
ELM: Your drum circle…your AA circle, like…
FK: Yeah, no, probably not.
ELM: Not your AA circle, but, they probably have their own. Yes. Unlikely. There aren’t that many… [laughs] Fraught, I’m sorry! Anyway, I understand that instinct, but that kind of sets up this problem for me of like, “Well, if they aren’t like Michael Sheen, then we’re back to me feeling worthless. If they don’t wanna engage, if they are made uncomfortable,” like, I tried to have a little bit of sympathy here for actors being like—this is why I’m always like “Don’t show them this shit.”
ELM: You can be—I think you can be not homophobic but also not want to imagine yourself boning your…I mean, whatever! Even maybe it’s with a head ship! Maybe you don’t wanna think about having sex with your coworker of any gender! Not interested in engaging with that! And especially when it’s two male actors and they’re shown it and they’re like “Ehn!” Then it obviously looks homophobic—and maybe it is somewhat. You know what I mean?
FK: Yeah, totally.
ELM: So then you get into this very…
FK: There can be both homophobia and also a natural desire not to think about having sex with your coworker. ¿Porque no los dos?
ELM: Yeah, I’m gonna tell you, if you—if you suggested, if you said you were writing fic about me and any of my coworkers having sex, of any gender, I would feel not thrilled. I would say that’s for you.
FK: “Don’t show me it,” yeah.
ELM: This side is for me, let’s erect that wall right here.
FK: Great, great.
ELM: I’m erecting it in front of my face right now. I think it’s really really hard, especially because—especially when we’re talking about who can look at what, who’s allowed to engage with what, who should engage with what, you know? Like, and then when we set a standard of “This is what, this is how creators should be interacting with fans,” I think that’s A) wildly unrealistic, and B), I think that’s a really really bad standard to set! Honestly. Because that’s, there’s so many factors involved and so many different kinds of stories, and what fans want out of something and what the creators are doing often is wildly divergent and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad! That’s why fandom exists and is a beautiful creative ecosystem, you know?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah! OK, wait, let’s listen to the voicemail we got. Cause this is relevant to this specific bit of this conversation. And I think that we’ll have a better conversation when we listen to it.
ELM: OK, cool. Let’s do it!
Voicemail: Hi Flourish and Elizabeth! Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about whether it matters if the actors who portray the characters in your ship support the ship. I realized it kind of relates to the endgame question that y’all posed in the Shipping Survey, because to me, you know, if a ship is quote-unquote “endgame” that means, you know, the writers and the showrunner and whomever are actively writing towards the ship and thus support the ship, and the actors probably support the ship, et cetera.
So I’ve just been, like, really struggling lately with the idea. Cause intellectually, I don’t think that it matters, you know? I believe in transformative fandom and, like, the idea that, you know, that we can do whatever we want with characters, that if we wanna ship them that’s totally fine and it doesn’t matter what the showrunner or whomever thinks. But, I have found that in my past experience that it really has affected me, you know? That despite my intellectual ideas, you know, that emotionally, you know, when an actor or whoever says something negative about something that I’ve shipped, it has hurt my feelings and thus kind of affected my feelings about the ship and, like, being in that fandom.
So I guess really my sort of question is, like: I wondered if other people sort of have the struggle of thinking that it shouldn’t matter, but sort of being affected by it anyway? Cause it seems like y’all both don’t really have too much trouble sort of disregarding what actors or whomever says about your show or ships or whatever. I just wondered if other people have these struggles, cause I don’t want to feel this way! [laughs] So thank you for listening to my ramble-slash-question. I love the show, so thank you for listening. Bye!
FK: Yeah! So kudos to you for putting your finger on something which I feel is like, really…I mean, I feel this all the time! This, like, difference between what intellectually…I mean, I know that you’re saying like, Elizabeth and I are so easy to, like, dismiss what creators and actors have to say about our ships and everything else—it’s not totally true. For me, like, intellectually I’m all the way there, but emotionally…well, it doesn’t bother me when someone is mean about my ship because I’m just like, “Eh! Fuck you! Stay punk!” You know? [ELM laughs] But when someone says something good…
ELM: You said that with a vague aesthetic of, like, my Italian uncle. “Eh! Fuck you! Stay punk!”
FK: “Stay punk!” [both laugh] But when people say good things about the ship…like, I am in Brienne and Jaime in Game of Thrones and, like, every time I see those actors interacting and being like “Yeah! Brienne and Jaime!” I feel good, you know? They like what I like! And similarly with authors, when, when something I like is going in a canonical direction, I feel good about that! And then I’m like, “I’m not sure that I should, because I wish that I could divorce myself from wanting this approval.” So, you know. Sympathy, is what I’m trying to say. Sympathy. I feel ya.
ELM: Absolutely. I think it’s really natural. I think also some of this is a little jumble-y, like… So, I’ve had multiple canon ships, slash ships, male/male ships—for anyone who thinks that never happens, which is something I see on Tumblr every day, and it certainly does! [laughs] There are gay ships on television!
FK: There are definitely gay ships on television!
ELM: But like, so even when it’s canon, that doesn’t necessarily mean what’s happening in the show matches the way I wanna ship it or what I wanna see from it. So that’s one point to consider. Torchwood is my best example of this. I thought the, the fanfiction handled that relationship far better than the writers on the show ever did. And we can all have different priorities about what we’re doing, and different mediums, and that’s fine.
There’s also me thinking about my current ship, which I have to say, James McAvoy may ship as much as I do. [FK laughs] And it’s, I think I’ve talked about this before, but it’s very interesting to kinda ship a ship that is simultaneously always happening and not actually happening—in the sense of, like, I know that Disney or Fox or whoever is doing this story is not gonna go there and I don’t really care, cause they’re gonna do it stupidly, cause they’re bad at romance. And I can ship it and James McAvoy can ship it. And do I feel more validated because this actor is, you know? No. Honestly no. Genuinely. That being said, I take amusement in it and I enjoy that reaction…
FK: Yeah, when James McAvoy does a thing, you send it to me!
ELM: I’m not gonna be like “This is for me, James! Not for you!” Like, no! Let’s all, whatever! And obviously I know the way he thinks about it is gonna be different than the way I think about it for 18 million reasons, right? But like—there’s something very enjoyable about being [both laughing] “He ships it a lot!” You know? And I think also in this case, when it’s something like that, when it’s like—it feels like an A, A-list actor, just feels, in a corporate setting, feels like they’re literally on a different planet from what I’m doing in a fandom, you know? Like… Which is different when it comes to, honestly, when it comes to television, especially more genre-y television, I think, or British television? You know, like—
FK: Where the actors are closer to you.
ELM: Yeah yeah, the closer it gets, the smaller it gets, the more tight it gets, the more accessible they seem.
FK: Yeah, which is part of where we get also back to the writers who—I mean, this is obviously different, it’s different if it’s a writer and an actor. But writers who attend a lot of small conventions, the closer you get, right.
ELM: Exactly. Right, right. So that kind of thing I think really does make a difference. And especially if it’s, if you’re in a book fandom and it’s not J.K. Rowling but it’s an author who’s likely more accessible than that. Or someone who’s putting all their, you know, Extremely Online, capital-E, capital-O, as our letter writer correctly stated it, you know? I think that makes it really hard.
FK: Yeah. It’s complicated and I don’t know that there is… [sighs] Like, I…I mean, this is going back around, but I think that one of the things that’s really tempting is to say that this way of interacting is bad and this one is good, and so everyone do this and not that. But there may be no outcome that makes things better, you know? Like, there just might not be. Because everything ends up with either, you know, you kick some people out of some spaces that realistically they have just as much of a right as anyone to be in, or you know, you ask people to be validated by things that they really don’t need to be validated by, or…it’s such a mess and I don’t have an answer.
ELM: I feel like it’s the validation part that I would like to set fire to on all levels, right? It’s like, I would like to convince fans to validate themselves. It’s like, I don’t think Michael Sheen or whoever, who are doing a very very nice job being nice in fandom and respectful, and—I would not tell him to go away. But I cannot get on board with the, like, “This is the reason why what we do is valid.” That’s—that’s such, such a power imbalance. And it’s not his fault at all. It is—I’m sorry to say!—it’s people framing, it’s people within fandom being like, “Now we’ve been blessed with the wand of validation.” Like, he can continue, these things can continue to exist simultaneously. But it’s that framing as the part that I really can’t get behind.
FK: Yeah, I think that this has to do also with sort of broader—this would be something it would be interesting to talk to a psychologist about, the way celebrity functions, broadly, and the way that people understand themselves as being validated by people of all sorts, right? Because I do think that there’s something here about, like, internal or intrinsic motivation and validation and feeling that you are—you know, having self-confidence and having self-respect in a certain way. Or, or a strong sense of your own dignity and your own righteous…not righteousness. Like, rightness, that it’s OK for you to…I mean, you know…no. Not at all “righteousness.”
But you see what I’m saying? Like, there’s something about like—I think that this is a broader issue and I think it’s about seeking validation outside of yourself period, and it’s something that people have in all parts of their life all the time as, like, a normal psychological thing going on with them. And I agree with you that, that, I don’t know. It’s tough when it turns into a “Senpai noticed me and therefore fandom is now legitimate” issue.
ELM: Yeah. Right. Especially—I mean, there are obviously gender elements here too that I think are really, I just, really nagging at me. And you know…
FK: And at the same time, no one’s feelings are invalid, right? You know, like, people feel this way, and it’s OK to feel that way, it’s just hard to… [sighs] Yeah.
FK: We can feel ways that are not good for us sometimes. And this might be a case where it’s totally valid to feel this way, but it might not be good for you, or us.
ELM: But I just think—I mean this is such a legalistic way of putting it. But it’s like, not about this ship, it’s about the next ship, you know? So it’s like, what I would say to the voicemail leaver is like: I think that it behooves you to, to practice [laughs] self-validation, because some people are gonna be dicks about your ship. And you may start shipping, like, like tons of ships are never gonna be canon, ever ever ever. You know? And you—like, might be a really obvious-seeming dude and lady, and just because Hollywood seems to love those relationships doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen! And people may say derogatory things about it, they may scoff at it without meaning to be derogatory, and it’s just: if you do find validation from the creator side for the ship you have now, I think that sets up an expectation that that’s the way it’s gonna be in the future.
And so it’s helpful to keep that in mind, I think. Because you can’t really control what you’re into, and you can’t control the way the people who make the next thing you like are gonna respond to what you’re doing or to what your fellow fans are doing, frankly.
FK: Yeah, I agree. I think that we should take a break on that, because I think that we now have to go into something else, which is like, about as far from this—I mean, it’s like a hard right turn into too much validation.
ELM: That’s a weird way to frame it, but OK, we’ll take a break. [FK laughs]
FK: All right. Coming back on my weird segue, which was weird, but we’re gonna roll with it because I said it and now we’re just goin’…
ELM: I’m just following you right now.
FK: On to our issue number two with the fourth wall, the television show Euphoria.
ELM: So. We were at the beach last week.
ELM: We talked about a lot of business-related things on that trip. Like, I jokingly said that we were in a strategy meeting, but…
FK: But we kinda were.
ELM: We kinda were! We just were, you know, at the beach.
ELM: People started tweeting at us about this HBO show Euphoria, which is about #teens.
FK: I mean, if you’ve heard anything about it you’ve probably heard “the teens: they do drugs and fuck.”
ELM: Yeah. What I heard from you and everyone else is, is, people have penises.
FK: Oh there are so many penises. I have never seen so many penises on a television screen in my entire life. Not sure I wanted to see all of them, but I am glad for there being more, you know, like, balance?
ELM: [laughing] Equality.
FK: Equality! There are a lot of penises in the show.
ELM: Oh my God.
FK: So many! Yeah. So, it’s a show and it’s about—Zendaya plays this character who is very on drugs. And she has a bunch of equally fucked up friends. And they’re teenagers. And they’re being a lot wilder than I think teenagers usually are. [laughs]
ELM: Maybe you were just super square. You saw Booksmart.
FK: Booksmart felt about right. I don’t know. I did a lot of drugs as a teenager.
ELM: Wow, Flourish.
FK: I didn’t do that many drugs, as on—I definitely didn’t see that many penises and I did not do that many drugs as is in, as is in this show. If I did that many drugs I would be dead now. So. [ELM laughing] So it’s like, you know, everyone has their own flavor of being fucked up, right, on this show.
ELM: So how does this relate to fandom?
FK: Well, in the third episode there’s animated Larry Stylinson fanfiction. [laughing] OK. So there’s this character, and her flavor of being fucked up is that she is…she’s got, like, body image issues, she’s a little heavy, and she’s got this like—I mean, she describes herself this way, like, this is her problem with herself. I’m not casting any judgment. She is like, anxious about the fact that she’s not very sexually experienced, and the thing that we’re introduced to her is her, like, wanting to lose her virginity, and like, doing it, and like, having this, um, scandal because someone takes pics of her, and like, puts them online. And they get posted to Pornhub and she gets all this validation from it and people are really into it, and she starts camming, because she feels great about, like: “Turns out, I’m fuckin’ sexy!” Right?
FK: And in the context of this journey, which is how far her journey has gone so far, it is brought up that she—when she was younger—wrote Larry Stylinson fanfic, and the show says that she, like, popularized Larry Stylinson. Which is definitely not true, but whatever, it’s television. Um, and there’s a clip from it.
ELM: Why are you saying “definitely not true,” it’s like a fictional show. Why can’t this—why can’t this be the most famous Larry writer?
FK: Well but there’s also not a single person who popularized—that’s not how that works. That’s not how that—there’s no level on which it works. Anyway, whatever. It’s television. And the first episode [sic] opens with Zendaya narrating this fic and having an animated segment. And it reads—I mean, it reads pretty much like a Larry Stylinson fic! I’ve read a lot of them, I buy it. Someone read a bunch of fic for this. Sure! But, uh, they did not get [laughs] Harry or Louis’ approval on doing this. People lost it about the fact that this happened on television. And I think that there’s a lot of different issues.
The other piece is that they created a Tumblr blog for this character. She says her Tumblr name on screen, right. This is quite a common thing, if you’ve got a Tumblr or something like that people create the blog. And then a lot of people also got upset that there had been this Tumblr blog. She, like, followed a bunch of Larry Stylinson people and wrote some Larry fic and some X-Files fic. And so a lot of people also got upset that HBO was, quote, “infiltrating” fandom spaces by creating this blog and doing these things. So that’s the, that’s the drama right now around Euphoria.
ELM: Yeah. So it seems like there are a lot of different things going on. The idea of, like, putting—OK. I’m gonna go through these one by one. So all right. First of all, I do not care whether Harry Styles or Louis Tomlinson felt, you know, were upset about this. I’m sorry. Like, that’s just an RPF question. The context is different, of course, but like…
FK: To me this ship has kinda sailed, right? I mean…
ELM: And so the reaction, the like, celebrity fandom protecting these poor celebrity boys from these terrible RPF people, like—that’s not something I need to engage in right now and help you feel differently.
FK: Yeah, I mean, I don’t—I respect the fact that, like, that might not be pleasant for them, and I appreciate that there is a fourth wall question here of should this bring this to light, but at the same time I also feel like if we say that the fourth wall exists to that extent, then we can never have anything about fanfiction or RPF on TV—
ELM: Frankly, yeah.
FK: And I don’t think that’s true, so.
ELM: It’s not about fanfiction at all, like, it’s the like, where RPF bleeds into literally any mention of any public figure ever. Which is like, a huge portion of media, and it’s just like, well, if you’re gonna decide this offends you, but if it was a super, like, super hetero cool portrayal of, like, a boy band—you know? Or like After, were they mad about that? Maybe, actually.
FK: Some people were.
ELM: Yeah. You know. But like, not in the same sort of way. That gets us into like—it’s the male/male RPF protecting, that’s a whole can of worms that I think we can just kind of set aside.
FK: Yeah. But my general feeling on this one is regardless of anything else, this, this ship has long ago sailed and this is part of culture and people are allowed to talk about it. That’s my take.
ELM: Yes. Agree! All right. Number two, HBO and the show’s writers highlighting fanfiction in general: also not sure who owns the right to talk about fanfiction.
FK: Yeah, we can like or dislike the way that they portray it, but they’re totally allowed to and I would be shocked if there were not people involved in this process who were actually Larry people at some point.
ELM: Or in fandom in some other ways.
FK: Yeah, or in fandom in other ways.
ELM: There are, you know, the number of people who are our age working in the entertainment industry who are from fandom is large.
FK: And unlike almost anything else, in this case—there was one big howler, they say that, like, there’s this voiceover, right? Zendaya says that this girl got famous in fandom for writing “crossover AUs and lots of porn,” and to me I was like, “Huh, this is like a clunker, because crossover AUs exist, but like I don’t know anyone who got famous for writing them.” But then I was like—oh, unlike almost any of these clunkers, I can imagine a way that it could have been written reasonably and fucked up in the process. Someone could have written “crossovers, AUs, and lots of porn,” Zendaya’s doing it in voiceover, they don’t necessarily have someone who knows this from the writers’ room in there, she delivers it differently, huh.
So to me it was also like, I was like, “Unlike a lot of these, this is actually kinda close enough that I feel like—sure, I’ll give it, I mean, that’s not great but I’ll give it a pass!” Like, it feels in enough to me. Whether that means I like the way it—do I love fandom being portrayed as this thing about people’s sexual awakening on the internet? Not always? But does it feel real? Yeah, it kinda feels—like, putting it in those contexts, to me that feels real, like when I was a teenager camming and fandom were things that existed together, like… I don’t know. Like, so it’s a weird case. Because you have to separate out “Is it right for them to talk about it?” from “Do I like what they’re saying about it.”
ELM: Right, right, exactly. So I feel like we would come down on the side of, of “Yes, of course they can talk about it.” I mean, it brings us back to thinking about some of the conversations we had with Leah and Emily about “Slash” in our previous, in like, our last episode: to sit here and say, like, “Oh, should you make a play about slash for this audience, this fancy older man audience at The Public?” And it’s like, well, why do I get to—I don’t get to be the arbiter of where it’s the right context and where it’s the wrong context for this stuff, you know?
FK: Yeah, and in this case, also, like, the actor who plays this fanfic writer character said that one of the reasons she took the job was because it rang true to her. That she knew so many people who had written fic and had, like, been really immersed in online worlds. Like, can I tell her that she shouldn’t do this thing that seems like it’s a true—like, I don’t know if it is a—I’m not trying to make judgments on whether this is a true portrayal of what teens, the teens are like today, but if that’s why she wants to do it, I can’t tell her that that’s not a thing.
ELM: It really does just make me—I get kind of hung up on the double standard here, just thinking about the first half of our conversation.
ELM: And praise for some actors being involved in fandom worlds and disdain for others. Interesting.
FK: And it’s also funny because in this case—I will say, for anyone who has not seen Euphoria, it’s not making fun of her for writing this stuff. She’s not portrayed as a, she’s not like a hero character by any means, and she’s not what I would like people to associate with fanfic writers all the time, probably, but she’s—she doesn’t come off any worse than anyone else in this world. Everyone, all the characters have these various fucked-uppednesses. And it’s not played for laughs. I don’t—it’s not like people are laughing about the concept of this at all. So. I don’t know.
ELM: OK. So then we get to the final part, which I think is the part that’s most contentious, and I think it’s the part where we have the most ambivalence. And it is the idea of creating this Tumblr, which as you say, is not that unusual to do when a show mentions a social media handle. They might create that account on that platform. It was the question—and people got really hyped about this—of what that Tumblr was doing, and you know, we were seeing things like “infiltrating,” “spying,” “engaging with minors without their consent”…
FK: “Stealing our fics for the show…”
ELM: Yeah. “Stealing the idea of Larry fanfiction.” And the way that it was being framed, too, was “HBO, soulless corporation HBO.” Which is fascinating to me. It’s just fascinating to me when, when fandom—people in fandom choose to frame the creator side as individuals and when they choose to frame it as a corporation.
ELM: And sometimes it’s just like, it’s so absurd. There are ways that people talk about the MCU, it’s as if it’s their buddy. Their buddy Kevin and the MCU! You know? And it just depends on how you’re feeling, if you’re feeling charitable towards them or not. Whether you want to frame them as something that’s successful and in your world versus a “soulless corporation.” It’s like, HBO: we both know writers who are our peers who write for HBO television shows. They are writers’ rooms made up of people of varying ages and genders. And it might have been the writers, it might have been—it probably was the writers. Could have been people in marketing, but it feels more likely that it’s someone involved with the production of the show.
FK: Yeah. It’s hard for me to say. I think that—so, to give some context, the Tumblr has now been deleted, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who took screenshots. So what you are hearing now from me is a combination of mostly the things that I read while literally on the beach scrolling through the back parts of this Tumblr. [laughs] So.
ELM: Flourish did a lot of sleuthing.
FK: I was trying to sleuth, and then I went back and I was like “OK, let me double check to make sure everything I say is gonna be true,” and I was like “OK now it’s deleted and no one has the screencaps.” So send me screencaps, like, please don’t take this all as completely set. But what saw on it was a lot of people had been followed, and they had reblogged a bunch of shitposts, a bunch of Larry stuff, you know, like, the kind of thing anyone does on Tumblr. Then, there were a couple of anonymous asks, and responses to those anonymous asks that were like, little ficlets. Right? I don’t recall seeing anything clearly that was like them interacting with other fans, and like, lying about who they were.
ELM: Signing up for a fest of some kind, like…yeah.
FK: Signing up for a fest…they might have done this. Like I said.
ELM: We don’t know.
FK: I scrolled through it. We don’t know. But I saw a lot of people claiming that they had been “deceiving fans” and doing all this stuff and I mean, on the one hand, yeah, sure, I guess. I wouldn’t have been able to tell that that was—it was not labeled as viral marketing in some way, right. I wouldn’t have been able to tell. So that’s deceptive I guess. But on the other hand it’s also like…I mean, is reblogging something deceiving people entirely? I’m not sure I can call that “deceiving people.” You’re reblogging something.
ELM: Maybe this is too fine a distinction, but like—and obviously again, we’re getting this second-hand, and you did do a lot of sleuthing, but we didn’t actually see this Tumblr in action, but like—the difference between it being a part of production and a part of marketing does make a difference to me. You know? Because like, if this is something that the people in the production—whether it was the writers or someone else—created, in the process of making this character come to life, you know, whether it was so they could—I don’t know, do they film? You watched it and I didn’t. Do they film—
FK: They show the Tumblr.
ELM: Her—yeah. So they have to show it anyway. But I could also see creating this in sort of a, “What would this character do if they had a Tumblr?” You know? Like—
FK: Well, one of the proposals was that maybe the actor had created it to get into the character’s head. And people were cool with this idea, and then they were like “No, it probably isn’t.” But I would say also that like: it’s not clear—it was not, like, being used prior to this episode in any way to…it didn’t seem like it was being used to draw people in. The Tumblr wasn’t doing things, you know, people would call it a “hoax,” and I think that’s not totally wrong…
ELM: “Catfishing” or something.
FK: Catfishing. But it wasn’t clear—it wasn’t doing any of the things that I saw, and maybe other people saw this, but it wasn’t doing any of the things I would have done on that Tumblr if I were trying to garner an audience. Do you see what I’m saying?
ELM: Right, right, totally.
FK: It seemed like it was a thing that they’d created that they thought, “Oh, fans will go to this URL and they’ll think it’s cool and they’ll read these X-Files ficlets and it’ll feel like a thing the character had made.” Now, does that—was it a great idea to make it? No, I don’t think so. Like, I think a lot of times these things can be kind of…well first of all they can be kind of bad, and not very deep, and then not feel great. And I think this kind of falls into that category. But more than that I think there is something very sensitive about fanfic communities and I think that they should have thought harder about that in this.
ELM: Right, sure.
FK: Because it is sensitive, and it is—particularly in RPF communities, very sensitive. So yeah, they should have thought harder about this. But there’s a lot of, like, “They’re hoaxing us. They’re stealing our fic.” They didn’t need this to steal your fic! Your fic is online publicly for everyone to see. If they were stealing your fic, they didn’t need to make a Tumblr to do it, you know?
ELM: Right, exactly. And in fact probably wouldn’t have, because that’s just going to draw attention to what your doing.
FK: Right. So no, it doesn’t seem great, but there was a real panic narrative around this, I feel like, about “HBO infiltrating us!” and I don’t get that panic narrative. It’s more like, I think the call is coming from inside the house, right?
ELM: Yeah, yeah.
FK: You should be worried: why are these—if you’re worried about anything—why are fans enabling HBO to… [laughs] You know? To, to depict our community? Well, I mean, I think there’s good reason why fans might do that. But.
FK: That’s the direction I would be thinking, if anything.
ELM: Yeah, yeah. It’s really tricky. I wonder what they were thinking. I would love to know. I feel like some of this plays into, the reaction we saw plays into a little bit of the… not necessarily conspiracy theory, like, lens on the world, but there is some sort of element of intent, thinking everything is intentional. We were talking about this recently with Taylor Swift saying that she’s laying out all these little clues, and me thinking about how fraught that is, because this is what everyone’s saying everyone’s doing, but she’s actually doing it.
ELM: This kind of idea of, everything in fandom being one big ARG that’s being literally intentionally created to have this outcome. When, like, that’s almost never the case, you know? So this is being framed as “they had this plan, they were hoaxing,” this big setup, and it’s like, I—I don’t know why you’d think that people are doing this. I mean, I know why people think that, but they’re not.
FK: Well, it’s tough too because then also, like, my friend Jay was saying—and he’s a guy who, you know—
ELM: An actual ARG creator, in fact!
FK: An actual ARG creator, and he was like “this sucks,” and I was pushing back on some of his using the word “hoax,” and he was like “Yeah well, I think I’m taking a different perspective, because I’ve been in so many rooms with executives who don’t understand why any of this could be harmful. Who are willing to do super hoaxy things, because they don’t know and they don’t care.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s tough, because that’s also true, but it’s very different from the conspiracy theory end of things.” It’s more like incompetence and unwillingness to think about the ethical ramifications of, of a project that you don’t really understand.
FK: So, it’s…
ELM: I think, while you were—I remember while you were on the beach and you were saying, that line that really stuck with me that was about how both sides of this equation know too little about the other. Right? And I think fans have a tendency to—unless they feel like they’re being validated, in which case creators can do no wrong—have a tendency to literally think the worst of, you know, the corporate side of the fan-creator interaction. I think that, it seems to me, that a lot of the creator side…maybe not necessarily thinks the worst of fans, but maybe doesn’t think of them, can’t really humanize them…
FK: “I don’t think about you at all!” [laughs]
ELM: Why are you bringing up my line?! This is me!
ELM: It’s my line! It’s my Don Draper line. “I feel sorry for you,” and Don Draper says, “I don’t think about you at all.”
FK: But also both of these takes, then, completely miss the person who’s in the middle here, which is the actor who plays this fanfic writer character, or the—I am sure—young, non-male person who pitched this idea in the writers room, or actually was the one assigned to make this Tumblr, right, the production assistant who went and made the Tumblr, who probably does have a relationship to fanfiction, right? We know the actor does because, maybe not writing it herself but certainly being around it and seeing other people doing it, right? And it completely misses that there are these people who are working in that role, who maybe don’t—again, also don’t have a full understanding of both sides of this.
ELM: Right, right.
FK: But are real, and are actually coming from—coming from a space where they’re speaking about their own experience, which they’re allowed to do.
ELM: Absolutely. Yeah. I have this issue sometimes, it reminds me of—so there’s, like, a lot of really really—I see all of it because I, for “The Rec Center” because sometimes I do, like, a Google news search on fanfiction. And the number of really, really mediocre articles about fanfiction that I feel like—where it’s just like, “What are you even talking about?!” Like, what—and then I’ll sit there and think like, but this is this person’s…like, I don’t have to highlight this as great writing about fanfiction if I think it’s not a good piece, but like, often it’ll be… Sometimes my immediate reaction of “You don’t know anything!”—it’s like, “Oh, actually, this is just what you’ve seen.”
ELM: I don’t know everything, right? I think, part of my project to be a better writer about this is to start caring about the things that I’m not directly involved in. [FK laughs] At least looking at them. I don’t have to love them, you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, totally.
ELM: This is not an example of a bad piece, but I remember very distinctly there was that one Autostraddle piece where she talked about how all fanfiction was femslash. [laughter] And everyone was like, “Wait, what?!” And it was from such a pure place of like, “That’s all I’ve seen!”
ELM: It was just so funny to me, specifically because so many people who are like—
ELM: In quote-unquote “femslash fandom” are constantly complaining, femslash is always playing second fiddle to dude/dude slash. So. I don’t wanna call that out as bad writing cause it wasn’t, it was just like, so clearly…
FK: It was just so clearly what they’d seen, very pure.
ELM: …your experience. Yeah. Loved it. Loved it. So, so this is something that I try to be, I try to keep this in mind when I think “Oh, that rings false, that’s not my experience.” Like, and this is me trying to be super generous to Michael Sheen. We have had very different experiences with fanfiction. I don’t know what it’d be like to portray a character who is beloved in fanfiction and read a bunch of fanfiction and have that influence my portrayal in an Amazon Prime Original Series. I’ll never know what that’s like. Probably. Unlikely. [FK laughs] But you know what I mean.
ELM: Especially cause I’m not a British man, so.
FK: I do, I do.
ELM: That’s my only barrier to me starring in an Amazon Prime show.
FK: Yeah, if you were a British man you would already be starring in Amazon Prime shows right now.
ELM: [laughing] Constant, constant Amazon Prime shows for me.
FK: Always the sweaterboy.
ELM: Oh my God, you know I’m not the sweaterboy.
FK: Yeah, but I feel like if you were a British man starring in Amazon Prime shows you probably would be.
ELM: Wow, wow.
FK: You’d be acting against your own, you know, self.
ELM: Yeah. I would have to read fanfiction to get inspired. To get in that sweaterboy mindset.
FK: Oh my God. [both laugh] All right. Well, you know, I feel like—it’s funny because I feel like a lot of the conversation in One Direction fandom about this has not been about these issues at all, has been, like, a lot of it has been about, like, purely how do Louis and Harry feel about this, and the fact that Louis tweeted negatively, and like—that conversation, I think, as we said at the beginning, to me is very…it’s not cut and dry, by any means, but it’s sort of like, “Well...I don’t know what to say!” I don’t know what anyone expected at this point in this fandom, right? Like I said, that ship has sailed.
But this other stuff, the ship hasn’t sailed on. I think that, more to the point, it’s not so much about this—like you were saying earlier, it’s not about Euphoria, it’s not about this portrayal of fanfic, but I really hope that as more people portray fan culture over time—which I think is only going to increase because of the much greater visibility fandom has had—and the fact that people of our age are beginning to be in those writers room, you know, and are doing these things. I don’t know. I really, I look forward to us continuing to talk and think about this. Because it’s tough. It’s like, I think like any subculture coming to a broader portrayal in pop culture, you know?
ELM: Yeah. In a final wrap-up-y kind of way, I will say that I think one of the differences between now and 2016 is actually exactly what you’re talking about about the middle bits. I feel like there’s way more in-betweens now, whereas it was easier to have a conversation three years ago or five years ago about the big guys and the little guys. And I think some of the tension that we’re seeing with this in particular is people still kind of stuck in those mindsets, being like, “Corporation! Fan!” You know? Whereas it’s not just a bunch of people on the corporation side who don’t know what, you know. Who maybe have to hire you to explain it to them and then sort of don’t really get it and then “Whatever! We’re gonna do it! It’s a gift for the fans!” stuff, right? It is, there are people all throughout this whole spectrum, and it’s not a divide, it’s a spectrum of fan to pro, right. And more and more people being in these spaces, having these perspectives, you know.
And look at all the conversations we’ve had over the last three years with people, talking to—Britta, obviously, is the one that jumps out in particular, but Lilah as well, you know. People from fandom who aren’t hiding that, who have these perspectives, who are creating media now that fans are engaging with, makes it more messy.
ELM: Nuanced, but messy.
FK: It does.
ELM: Yeah. That’s my perspective.
FK: All right. Well, should we…I mean, should we actually do some wrapping-up now? Because I don’t know that I’ve got any more, there’s no, there’s no outcome to this that’s like “Here’s the solution.” There never is in any of these episodes, but in this one especially not.
ELM: No, I have a million more things to say so we’ll revisit this topic over and over again. I mean, it’s not like we haven’t talked about the fourth wall since May of 2016. So.
FK: No. [laughs]
ELM: Definitely send in your thoughts, people, especially—it’s a little flip for us to be like, “You should learn to validate yourself, goodbye!”
FK: Yeah, yeah yeah. It’s hard!
ELM: I’m going to think about better ways to articulate, like, how you might go about that. It’s easy for me to just say it. It would be more helpful if I could actually articulate, like, how to do it. So this is something I’m going to think about.
FK: There’s so much rain happening right now.
ELM: FYI, if you hear some rain, it’s raining.
FK: It’s raining a lot.
ELM: It’s weathering a lot here. So. Yes, that’s a—quite a bit of weather.
FK: All right, well, let’s move on to some wrapping-up business. Last week we announced our panel at San Diego Comic-Con, which is about long-running franchises, properties, whatever coming to an end. It’s happening on Friday from 7 to 8 p.m., and we’re also, Elizabeth’s going to be on the Harry Potter panel on Thursday from…what time is it?
ELM: I believe it’s at 8:30, but go back! Let’s talk about our panel for a minute! Let’s take two minutes and talk about it. If you are going to San Diego Comic-Con, we are hosting our very first panel. We are very excited about it.
ELM: The guests are me.
ELM: That’s it. It’s just me. [FK laughs] Just talkin’. Let’s see, it’s Delilah Dawson, who has written Star Wars and is writing a Firefly comic right now. And Justin Bolger, who works for Lucasfilm, Star Wars social media.
ELM: Craig Titley. Is that how you say it?
ELM: Titley! Sorry Craig. Who is an executive producer—he’s a showrunner of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., right?
FK: Yep! He’s, yeah, he’s an EP on it and he’s very involved in the day-to-day running of that show.
ELM: And Joelle Monique, who is a journalist and, we specifically wanted someone—we had been looking at different properties that had been coming to an end, and we brought her on to talk about Game of Thrones, in particular black Twitter fandom around Game of Thrones which has been so massive and such an important part of the fan conversation around Game of Thrones. And then, Lynn Zubernis, who is one of the two Fangasm authors who have written those series of Supernatural books.
FK: And a psychologist.
ELM: And a psychologist, yes. Along with, I have widely quoted Kathy Larsen, the other Fangasm person, who I believe is an English professor, who had the line “the act without the affect,” which I’ll never stop saying. But Lynn is the psychologist of the pair. Talkin’ about Supernatural. We already said me, and Flourish is the moderator! I think I hit everyone on the panel, didn’t I?
FK: Yeah, yeah! So it’s gonna be awesome. I’m very very very excited.
ELM: Yeah! So obviously the fandoms there, it’s Marvel television, Star Wars, I’m apparently talking about the X-Men film franchise.
FK: [laughs] I was not gonna let you get away with not talking about it.
ELM: It’s gonna be great, because I’m just gonna hit them with like, “All right, what’s better: Omegaverse or, like, dom/sub AU?”
ELM: And then I’ll explain to them why one of them I think works better for the X-Men film franchise than the other.
FK: Great. So if you want to watch that, then you should show up. We’re gonna try and get it recorded, we’ll definitely do a podcast about it though. So if you can’t make it to San Diego Comic-Con, we gotcha covered.
ELM: Yes. But hopefully, there’s a chance, we’ve been talking to someone about it potentially being filmed. So that would be really great, and we’ll obviously share that if it does happen, but if not we’ll just talk about what happens on the panel.
ELM: Harry Potter panel the night before, Thursday night, 8:30, I don’t know what I’m gonna say about the discourse but I’m gonna say something.
FK: Yup, and the day after that, at 6 p.m., we’re gonna go to—you know, the Marriott pool bar, the Marriott, the official con hotel with like the pool in it, we go to the pool bar and we hang out. Saturday night.
ELM: The day after that being Saturday evening at 6 p.m. So if anyone is gonna be at SDCC, please come by, especially Saturday. Well, come by, come by Friday! We would like people to come to our panel. But just stop by, we’re gonna be there all night, and it was a really great time last year, and it’s a very very chill gathering. If you’re not a party person, it’s very much—it’s a big giant outdoor space, it’s not a loud bar. And there’s lots of spaces to have. And if memory serves, I believe it is fully accessible?
FK: It’s fully accessible. There’ll be a lot of people, but it is Comic-Con, so…
ELM: It’s a huge space, so…
FK: And it’s a big space.
ELM: There is a lot of space to stretch out.
FK: And there’s food as well as alcohol available, so it’s not like…
ELM: Yeah, if you’re already at SDCC you understand that there’s gonna be people in a space.
FK: Right. Anyway.
FK: But yeah, you can come find us there! And…what else is there to talk about?
ELM: No, those are the big things, so we’ll come at you after Comic-Con.
FK: We will. Should I do the wrapping-up business?
ELM: Let’s, let’s trade it off.
FK: OK. So, Fansplaining is supported by listeners and readers like you through our Patreon, patreon.com/fansplaining. There’s a lot of different levels of support, even as little as $1 a month is very helpful to us, so we really appreciate it—if you are a consistent listener, if you are able and willing to, we appreciate your support.
If you don’t have cash to give to Patreon, we totally get it! Another way that you can support us is by reviewing us on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts. That helps get the word out about us. And just, just, you know—spreading the word about Fansplaining is super helpful! So, you know. Tell your friends about our panel, for instance. That is completely free and extremely kind for us.
ELM: That was so earnest! It’s my turn to take over right now.
ELM: Do you want me to change it up, since you’re sweaterboying right now?
FK: Change it up! Be the absolute nightmare!
ELM: Write to us! Just write to us! Chaos energy! Why don’t you write to us! Is that my absolute nightmare?
FK: Yeah, do it! Keep goin’!
ELM: Yeah! [laughs] Um, if you would like to send us your feedback—maybe you’re mad about my ambivalence about Michael Sheen’s role in fandom right now—please do! Fansplaining at gmail dot com is the best place to send us a comment of length or a question of length. You can also message us, leave us an ask, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, we’re at fansplaining at all of those, on Tumblr anon is on, so you can leave us an anonymous comment, please don’t be mean. We would really appreciate that. And, you can leave us a voicemail as one of our listeners did this week. It’s 1-401-526-FANS.
ELM: I got it right, I did that nice and slow and it all came out right! If you wanna remain anonymous, just don’t say your name. If you wanna be anonymous in an email just let us know not to say any identifying thing. Obviously we would never say your email address or anything on air. I know that’s a concern for a lot of people, so just wanna make that super super clear, it’s totally fine if you wanna remain anonymous or use a pseudonym. And, um, I think that is it.
FK: All right! Well, Elizabeth, I’ll see you soon. There’s gonna be one more episode before we’re—well, no! This episode, the next episode is coming out after Comic-Con! So I’ll see you at San Diego Comic-Con.
ELM: I will in fact see you at the Los Angeles train station.
FK: Yeah, on our way to Comic-Con.
ELM: Yeah. It’s gonna be great. Just ridin’ down that coast, feelin’ those shocks. Aftershocks.
FK: All right, I’ll see you then.
ELM: [laughing] Ready to go to California!
FK: Goodbye, Elizabeth!
ELM: 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, 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.