Episode 110: Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 5

Episode 110’s cover, an old-timey mailman.

In Episode 110, “Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 5,” Elizabeth and Flourish answer a new collection of listener letters and voicemails. Topics covered include ageism, “valorizing” bad behavior in fic, multishipping, and further thoughts about the phrase “OOC,” in real life and in fiction.


Show Notes

[00:00:00] As always, our intro music is “Awel” by stefsax, used under a CC BY 3.0 license.

[00:00:47] Our last AMA: Episode 96, “Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 4.” 

[00:01:33] Our last episode was #109, “Covering Fandom.

[00:13:52] We hope we spelled your name right, PBK—with just audio, we had to guess. Let us know if we need to correct it!

PBK is talking about Episode 102, “OOC.”

[00:24:27] Read everything we’ve written about the Shipping Survey, and download the complete results, on our Projects page.

[00:29:28] DEATH OF THE FANDOM (in situ, on Tumblr, in case you too want to reblog it, dear reader).


A graph of enjoyment of fandom over time. It’s high, then goes rock bottom, then returns high after “Officially stopped caring and reached nirvana-like state of pure idgaf bliss.”


A Sarah Andersen comic labeled “Getting into a series years too late.” A character says “That…was incredible. Time to join the PAR-TAY!” and walks in on…a party at the very end of the night with jut one or two sad people and some spilled beer.

[00:33:29] Our interstitial music is “Systematic” by Paul Rosevere, from Music for Podcasts 6. Used under a CC BY 3.0 license.

[00:34:03] Episode 84, “Purity Culture.”

[00:52:00] blamebrampton’s answer to the query about Boris Johnson, and also their Harry/Draco fic, some of Elizabeth’s favorite writing in the ship! 


A small enamel pin of the Fansplaining logo.
Flourish models a Fansplaining pin on their lapel.


[Intro music]

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 110, “Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 5.”

FK: Yeah!

ELM: Yeah.

FK: So, you’ve all been asking us questions! And we’ve got some answers!

ELM: Yes, as you can tell, I—we’ve done four of these so far. [FK laughs] We haven’t done one in a while. I feel like it’s been, not since, at least much earlier this year.

FK: Yeah, it’s been awhile. So it’s about time!

ELM: So this is a collection of letters you’ve sent in—not letters. That makes it sound like you’re just writing us in the mail. Which you could do, you don’t have our address. Don’t write us a physical letter. We are not putting our address out there. I guess you would have it if you’re a Patron and we sent you something, but still.

FK: Yeah, don’t do that. 

ELM: Don’t do that.

FK: It’s creepy.

ELM: Wow, you don’t think it’s charming and old-fashioned to send a letter?!

FK: I don’t know…just don’t do it.

ELM: I’m gonna send you some letters.

FK: Physical mail…anyway, whatever.

ELM: Yes. Anyway. So, they are emails or they are Tumblr asks or they are voicemails or other audio files. But first of all, we need to do a sort of, like a correction/clarification sort of moment. So.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: Our last episode was critiquing…well, it was broadly critiquing the coverage of fandom in mainstream publications and by journalists and editors. But it was specifically pegged to a couple of pieces that had come out recently, one was in the New York Times and one was in The New Yorker. And we didn’t actually dig too deeply into either of them, um… 

FK: No.

ELM: And in particular because I have been working for The New Yorker for a long time, though actually, I’m not longer working for—completely unrelated, not [laughs] it’s not like they heard and they fired me, it was coincidentally that my last week there when we put that out. But we didn’t specifically critique them, but… 

FK: Yeah, I mean, for a variety of reasons, one of which is just that it’s like, that might have been the thing of the moment, but there’s always more. 

ELM: Yes.

FK: We’ve had several other annoyances of this sort happen since that episode came out!

ELM: Since that episode, incredible how that works out! Um, they call it a “peg,” Flourish, in journalism we call it a “peg.”

FK: Thank you, a peg. A peg. I call some other things pegging, but anyway. [laughs]

ELM: Wow, you had to go there. You had to sexualize a profession.

FK: Sorry. It was, it was just right there. [laughing] I couldn’t… 

ELM: Do you think like, is that why Hollywood thinks all reporters sleep with their sources, is that why?!

FK: I don’t know but now that you mention it, maybe!

ELM: “What’s the peg?” [laughing]

FK: What is the peg? Move on.

ELM: Oh, too sexy! All right. Anyway, anyway! So, the author of the New Yorker piece is a staff writer named Michael Schulman and he actually wrote to me in an email that I thought was very gracious in its acceptance of our many criticisms, even if they weren’t, like, specifically directed at his piece. I really appreciated this email, because he—while graciously acknowledging the criticisms—wanted to clarify some factual inaccuracies or misrepresentations we had in the last episode, specifically about whether or not he talked to academics other than Henry Jenkins, which is essentially how we presented it based on what we had kind of gathered from some conversations that we had.

FK: Yeah and also just the fact the he only quote—like, he really basically only quoted Henry in the piece, right. But of course, like, obviously reporters do more background than that. So we shouldn’t have made it sound like he just literally called up Henry and then hung up and was done! [laughs] That’s not how that works!

ELM: Right.

FK: And it’s unfair to him to, you know, to make it sound like that.

ELM: Also to say that there was a list of academics that might have been ignored, I think that something got lost in translation a little bit between our communications about this. 

FK: Yeah yeah yeah. Because I mean, obviously like, it’s one thing, like, what shows up on the page and it’s another thing what research someone did, and so I guess I was…I was very glad that he wrote us and, like, basically clarified that he had looked at a bunch of other things. And you know, I was really impressed that he like, voluntarily went in and listened to people like, dragging his, you know, profession, and like, you know, this thing! I don’t know that I woulda had the stomach for it and that was incredible that he did it, and like… 

ELM: I, I love that—so I feel like this is just like, you know, I, yes. I wouldn’t frame it as incredible in the sense of like, I mean, maybe it’s emblematic of what you see of other people’s inability to be critiqued.

FK: Yeah! Well, right! I mean like, you know what I mean?! Maybe I shouldn’t say that I wouldn’t do it, but I would say that it would be hard for me, and I think that it’s hard for a lot of people and I just want to, like, throw that out. Because it is hard and I think a lot of people just choose not to do it. You know what I mean? Especially like, when the internet is like “aaa,” giving them backlash.

ELM: Yeah, I also think that it’s interesting—not to further pin on those two pieces, but I do know that Amanda Hess, who wrote the New York Times piece we were unhappy with, actually pushed back pretty hard against any critique and said, when people said “That’s not what those words mean,” she said “Yes it is.” So kind of a study in the way that different journalists work, and you know, two journalists who both have the institutional support and are established enough to—I think the, the, Michael Schulman’s response to us was the professional one! But.

FK: Yes, I agree. I fully agree.

ELM: That being said, also, not to put too fine a point on it, to belabor this, but I also think that it’s not necessarily the responsibility—journalists don’t have to listen to criticism. This is one thing that I always think about with fanfiction commenting conversations, also, like, and why I kind of, I still prefer reccing something to, to directly telling the author. Because I’m kind of putting it out in the world and talking about it to other readers. It’s the whole, like, should people respond to their critics thing, you know?

FK: Yeah.

ELM: It’s, it’s not like every journalist needs to listen to every single person criticizing them, because the criticism could be more for the reader than for the writer, you know what I mean? So it’s like, I don’t wanna put that expectation out there, basically. Does that make sense?

FK: Well, it’s complex, but good guy Michael Schulman. [ELM laughs] Is the summary. OK.

ELM: Clarify, clarification over. [both laughing]

FK: All right. Shall I read the first of our many asks then?

ELM: Yeah, hook me up!

FK: All right. This is an anonymous Tumblr ask. “Recently in my main fandom, for a show based on a comic book, I’ve noticed an interesting intersection between fandom ageism and shipping as activism. Namely, the canon ship in the comics—let’s call them K/Q—is derided as being old or outdated or from the ’60s by those who ship pairings that have only become popular because of the show (K/L and Q/N), and their shippers are treated similarly, just because K/Q is het, K/L is WLW, and Q/N involves a trans woman. Is this a unique phenomenon?” And that’s from an anonymous person.

ELM: All right. Let’s break down this example. So, back in the day… 

FK: There was a comic with a het ship in canon.

ELM: K is a lady, Q is a dude.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: Right?

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And then that was the classic ship.

FK: And there’s been a television show since then in which this classic ship was broken up and—

ELM: The lady gets in a lady ship and the dude gets in a ship with a trans woman.

FK: Right. And then this anonymous person is complaining that the canon ship is, like, derided for being old, and the shippers of that ship are being derided for being old. And that this is tied to the fact, like, het people are old.

ELM: Sure.

FK: Queer people are new, young.

ELM: Scientifically true.

FK: [laughs] Scientifically, het people are old!

ELM: So, this is interesting and complicated and maybe a little more of a…I don’t wanna say cleaner example than what you see in Star Trek, but has, it has some—cause that’s, that one’s very… 

FK: The Star Trek one is kinda flip-flopped in certain ways, right?

ELM: Well, it’s fraught, right, because it’s like, well, you have a white… 

FK: It’s fraught.

ELM: …male/male ship that’s the classic versus, versus a… 

FK: An interracial het ship.

ELM: Yeah, with a, a ship with a black woman but it’s a het ship. Not but. It is a het ship. Sorry, I shouldn’t frame that in a diminishing way.

FK: Yeah, and complicated by the fact that Spock is often read as being like—I mean, he’s biracial in the sense of like being half alien, right? So that’s very meaningful to a lot of people in its own ways and that gets dragged in too.

ELM: Right, right. So that one I think gets really thorny, because then you’re dealing with like—if you are framing ships by which one is the most progressive, which doesn’t even, like, what does that mean, right?

FK: Right, well absolutely, and I think that new interpretations of things always come up with this. So I was talking with one of my friends about an old book series that’s being made into a TV show, and it’s being cast really diversely and wonderfully, and she was like, “Well, I was kinda disappointed in the casting because I always read this character as, you know, like, not white.” He’s explicitly white in the book, but he is from, like, two different cultures. And so I was like—and a lot of people read him that way! Because like, he’s, he’s, his skin is white but he’s from two different cultures so he was a very, like, relatable character for people who were not white and dealing with cross-cultural interaction.

ELM: Sure.

FK: So it was really interesting. Who’s right in this situation? Is it disappointing that he was cast as a white guy when there’s all this other diversity? Obviously, like, people have feelings! It’s so hard. And it’s not necessarily a straight-up, like, “This person is right and progressive and good and this person is bad and old and conservative” or something, you know.

ELM: Right. But I can also see, you know, and I’m only thinking about Star Trek now, which is dumb, because that’s not what this is about. But like… 

FK: The “K” in there really is tough, because “K”… 

ELM: Yeah, the second I saw it I was like “K slash what? N, who’s N?” But you know, there is definitely—when we talk about ageism and shipping, I think that unlike other -isms where, like, reverse racism is not real and straightphobia is not real or whatever, I do think ageism works in all directions and it just manifests differently. And so you can see, from people who have been fans of things longer—not necessarily older people, but people who have been fans, especially of a comic, to a visual medium, this is very common. You know, there’s a lot of purity kind of discourse. Not purity discourse. Sorry. But you know what I mean, sort of, “Well, this is the real and true thing—”

FK: Right.

ELM: “—and you Johnny-come-latelies, you know, with your…” right?

FK: “…with your show have fucked it up!” Yeah.

ELM: Right. This feels like a “You don’t get it right, this is false,” so whatever this is, it feels like a perfect storm of, you know, and then people saying “Well, your original thing is for, like, hetero, like, homophobic dinosaurs,” or whatever, “and it’s time to move on,” right. Like, it just feels like there’s no winning there, right.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: But then, it’s also like, I say this as someone who’s in, like, the film fandom for the massive comics world, like, at some point like—I just don’t—if someone tries to engage with me about the comics or say something to me about the films, I’m like, “We’re in different—”

FK: Fandoms.

ELM: Yeah. This is not the same thing, right? And a lot of the people who write X-Men fanfiction engage with things in the comics, but not really. You know, a little bit. Right? Like… 

FK: And this is different depending on what fandom you’re in too, right?

ELM: Absolutely.

FK: Cause there’s some that are like that and then there’s some that are like—whatever, you know, in Game of Thrones certain ships deeply engage with the books and other ships don’t seem to at all. Or vice—and some ships are like book-only ships. And you’re like “OK!” You know? This is very different depending on where you’re at in the fandom.

ELM: Yeah, and I think—I think there’s like, established norms in a lot of places where it’s like, you kinda know. And it depends on how you tag it or whatever in fanworks. I think, I think it’s different when you’re dealing with not-fanworks, because then you’re just talking about it, you know. Or you know, writing meta and then what is your baseline? It’s really hard to kind of signal, like, “Well, these are the frameworks I’m using, and this is canon to me,” or “this is what I’m engaging with,” who cares what’s canon.

FK: Unless you say explicitly “This is primarily about X canon and I’m pulling stuff in, cherrypicking stuff from the comics when I feel like that’s interesting,” you know, or whatever.

ELM: Right. That is to say that, like, I don’t know. I mean I obviously have, I have some sympathy too for, especially if it’s like people saying “Well, I’m a fan of this,” you know, K—what is it, K/Q?

FK: Yeah.

ELM: “K/Q ship, and I’m a fan of the comics, and like, that’s my thing!” And people like, coming at—if that’s, which is what they’re saying, and not being like, “And you youngsters are getting it wrong with your new thing,” you know, like, then that’s, that’s fine. And so then I would definitely critique anyone who was a fan of the show being like “Get outta here, oldster!”

FK: Totally.

ELM: You know what I mean? Like, I think that there’s a potential for bad behavior on both sides and I think there’s a potential for good behavior on both sides, too. 

FK: Yeah. I agree completely and I think that this also partially gets back to like, I don’t—like, I feel like the older that I get, maybe it’s just because of like seeing more, like, internet fights…and this is not about, like, my actual age, some old people are terrible about this…I’m always like, “Why do you instigate? Why are people instigating a fight here? There shouldn’t—you can just stop! You could just ignore each other.” And it sounds like this is kind of part of this, right? Like—there are two different canons, please just ignore each other! You know? [laughs]

ELM: Yeah. I mean, like, isn’t that the solution to all ship wars?

FK: Yes it is. I think that’s a good answer to this question. 

ELM: So, all right. It’s fraught, we don’t know the details, I don’t, I, who should I ship? What’s my ship? Q… 

FK: I don’t know.

ELM: What if I just ship L… 

FK: L and N!

ELM: L and N.

FK: We’re on team L/N.

ELM: Which sounds like a really awesome ship.

FK: It does. It’s a, I think that if I read this correctly then it probably has to be a cis woman and a trans woman.

ELM: Yeah.

FK: And that makes it [laughs] you know, obviously the best of these ships.

ELM: Where are my L/N shippers? Come on!

FK: All right. OK. Let’s move on, let’s move on. [laughing]

ELM: All right.

FK: All right, we should listen to the next one, which is a phone call I think.

ELM: OK, let’s listen to it!

PBK: Hello! I love you guys, I think you’re amazing and hi, I’m PBK, or Phoebe Kates, and I’m calling from Melbourne, Australia. It’s so funny, I’ve been thinking about your “Out of Character” podcast for a really long time, and I keep going back and forth about how I feel about it, and I’ve gotta say: it’s a problem that I’ve had a lot of the time over many, many years about how I feel about people calling something “out of character.” 

Because, hi. You know? I’m, I like to think of myself as a good person, most people kind of think of themselves as good people, and for the most part people do the right thing. I do believe that. But. I cheated once. I cheated on a partner, and it was really really painful. And it was completely out of character. And, you know, I think that it would have been very, very easy for someone to say “Hey! That’s OOC for PBK!” And I would have said “Yes, it absolutely is, but it still happened.”

And I guess, you know, I think it’s really important that we keep, you know, a small part of ourselves, keeping in mind that “out of character” is sometimes just a thing that happens. We’ve all done things that we just go “Holy fucking crap!” about. And we’ve all done things where we think “That’s just not me.” And we’ve all done things where we think, “Well, I would not have done this except X,” or Y, or Z, and you know, I think that’s good. I think we’ve gotta acknowledge that sometimes we all do things that are completely out of character. 

I’ve never blamed my writers for what I just did, and I have a problem with this. Because if I blame the writers for out of character behavior from a character on a TV show that I love, then who the crap am I supposed to blame when I act out of character? I really want people to think about this. Everyone does things that later on they say “I would never have done that,” or “I would never do that,” or “it would have never happened except for X.” 

I love you guys, but seriously, I wanna get some interaction about this, because it drives me insane.

FK: I love this. More like this one please. I felt like I was sitting and having a glass of wine with her. Excellent.

ELM: You stole my line! I said that, Flourish!

FK: You did! You said it to me while we were listening and I was like, “It’s so correct!”

ELM: How dare you! How dare you! My glass of wine with PBK! Or non-alcoholic drink depending on what you prefer! I don’t know, Phoebe, what you want! 

FK: [laughing] Yes. So, what are your reactions?

ELM: Oh, so many! Well, I would say, human beings act irrationally all the time. They do things that are out of character in the way that we would use them in real life, like, we would use that phrase, “Oh, that seems very out of character for him.” We say that about other humans, right?

FK: Right, totally.

ELM: “Oh!” Or, or, like a more insidious, like, “Oh, they would never do that. He’s such an upstanding gentleman,” or whatever. You know? Like… 

FK: Right.

ELM: I don’t know why I immediately went to the most extreme, like, bad things in my mind, like a Klan member or something, be like “He’s such a good member of the community!” You know? Like… 

FK: Oh no!

ELM: I don’t know why I just thought that so I apologize. But humans act irrationally, and I think that you can write a character acting irrationally well. But to me, that’s not a character acting out of character. That’s a character acting against character, irrationally, like, what have you. I think when we say “out of character” about characters we’re actually saying something different, which is: “Have you done the work to show why the character would respond to this situation X way or Y way?” And if he responds Z way, and you haven’t done any of the work to show why he might do that or any of the consequences if it is truly out of character the way we would say a real human acts out of character—then very often it is bad writing. It is people taking plot ideas and then imposing them over their characters without earning it. I can think of many examples of this.

FK: Yeah, and there’s also something about, too, I think—I think sometimes it can be frustrating when it feels like, “Well, maybe we’re gonna learn about why this happened,” do you know what I’m saying. So, you know, I could be reading a novel and in the middle a character does something that seems very out of character, and then later on we get the explanation for why, and you’re like “Oh, OK,” right? So sometimes I think when people are responding to something, I can be quite irritated, because it’s like, “Well, they’re not done yet! We aren’t done with the arc, we aren’t done with the season. Maybe it is this bad, but I’m gonna give them a little bit of rope,” you know, and maybe they’ll hang themselves with it, or maybe they’ll…make a rope ladder and climb out? I don’t know. You know, right? Like, maybe it’ll be fine. 

So I agree with this frustration that a lot of times people will say “Oh, that was out of character,” when it just really means like, “I don’t like the thing that character did,” or “I haven’t quite figured out what’s going on yet.” But I do agree with you that there are things that are truly—that, that don’t work in the writing, you know what I mean. And I guess the writer wrote it, like, the character did whatever the character did, so whatever, “out of character” is maybe the wrong way to put it. I would say “unconvincing portrait,” you know.

ELM: Right. I’m trying to think—well now I’m thinking also about, I mean, we mostly frame this around professional writing and fans engaging with, like, professional creators’ work, but we also use it all the time in fanfiction and there are a lot of other ways that we use “out of character” in fanfiction too, right? Like, I would use it if the character is speaking in a way that feels wildly off, you know? Like, I don’t wanna call anyone out in particular, but I remember there was a—there’s not a lot of Black Sails fanfiction and there was one series that I tried to enjoy, but one of my favorite characters—oh, how far have you gotten, Flourish? Flourish is watching Black Sails, by the way! So you know who Thomas is now!

FK: I’ve finished it and I was waiting for you to get back from Hawaii to talk about it.

ELM: Holy shit, holy shit! Oh my God! All right, all right!

FK: I’ve been sitting on this until you could fully enjoy this.

ELM: You buried the lede! This should have been the title of the podcast, “Flourish Finished Black Sails!” Oh my God!

FK: I, I totally lost it, I loved it, I loved every part of it, everyone should watch it, and we will talk about it later. But I was waiting for you to get back.

ELM: We are doing a Black Sails special episode next, it is coming out soon! It’s gonna come out within the next week, I swear to God, we’re gonna do it!

FK: Oh my God, oh my God!

ELM: I’ve waited so long, so many years! As long as Flint waited for his revenge. [FK laughing] OK, so, all right, setting that aside, all of my feelings, I just had so many feelings all at once. [FK laughs] A series I really wanted to love but Thomas, Thomas Hamilton, you know Thomas, was written as like a, a fop. And it was really like they were writing a different character. It was just like “Oh goodness, silly me!” Like, “Ha ha ha! I’m an aristocrat!” And you’re like, “What?” Like, that’s—I understand this character because I’ve read a lot of literature, like, English literature… 

FK: He’s certainly, he’s a little—right. He’s slightly floppier than Captain Flint, but that does not make him into the aristocrat-y—

ELM: He’s floppy, he’s not a fop. He’s like, “Oh, good, good old bean,” you know?

FK: Yeah yeah.

ELM: He’s not a dandy, and he’s not fun.

FK: Yeah, totally.

ELM: He’s not really fun. Like, he’s very earnest, you know? He’s got a lot of ideas. And so to say that felt really out of character, and when it feels like you’re writing some other character or—another example from my own fandom, sometimes, you know, my ship right now is two very arrogant, confident people. And so whenever I read a story where one of them is very unsure, I’m like “Can you explain to me what happened in their past?”

FK: Right.

ELM: “That turned them from this, this very arrogant asshole…”


ELM: “…into someone who’s constantly doubting themselves,” oh, this feel actually maybe more like how the author would feel in this situation. But you haven’t shown me why this character would feel that way, and it’s actually something I care about and it’s something that other fanfiction readers I know don’t care about, you know? They like internal consistency, but it bothers me when I feel like there’s no connection between this version of the character and the one that I, I have seen.

FK: Right.

ELM: And there’s a big range in there, but there are some things where you’re like… 

FK: Yeah, I think I’m more OK with internal consistency than—but, but not like the character than you are, but there are some cases where I’ll be like, “Nope! Not that! That’s not the character I’m here for!” 

ELM: Yeah! And so, you know, and it’s also like, what made this person that way, right? There’s a whole host of factors. If you wanted to write me an AU that changed something deep in their past that just turned them into a very different person, whether it was an act of something traumatic or removing trauma and giving them more reason to trust… 

FK: Yeah, and there are some fics that do that well.

ELM: Yes.

FK: For sure.

ELM: But I just think that character is such a fuzzy thing, and I, I do think Phoebe Kates is absolutely right about the way that we talk about ourselves, you know? And we tell a lot of lies about ourselves and the people we know. About what we think rings true of another human being and what doesn’t, right. Because people act, for all sorts of reasons, right?

FK: And people can also say “Well, that seems out of character for him,” but it’s actually perfectly in character, you just don’t have the full facts, right? You know?

ELM: Absolutely. So that’s what I—I think that’s the way that it kind of connects to the, to the writing element, because I definitely think that in television writing in particular this gets thrown over for plot a lot.

FK: Often. 

ELM: Like, very frequently, and to the point where I think with a lot of formulaic television, you wind up, that’s why you get so many tropey types, you know. Like, “He’s a hard-bitten alcoholic with a—” you know, cause then it’s very easy to just be like, “Oh, of course he would do this,” you know. Because we know those patterns.

FK: Right.

ELM: You kind of blanket yourself in advance by making such a type of a character that you—

FK: Yeah yeah yeah, you sort of cover it. It makes it easier, especially for a large number of people collaborating, to come up with a consistent character, because we all know the type already.

ELM: Right. I mean people pitch things as types, right. “He’s a blank.”

FK: Totally.

ELM: And you’re like “OK, he’s a blank. I got it.”

FK: Absolutely.

ELM: “I’ve seen that show.” I love this voicemail, Phoebe Kates, can you call us every week?

FK: Please do. Should I read the next one?

ELM: No, you read the last one.

FK: OK! Then read it!

ELM: Selfish.

FK: You usually say you like it when I read—

ELM: I do like it when you read.

FK: —so I was trying to be nice to you.

ELM: But we gotta mix it up here.

FK: OK, fair enough.

ELM: “Regarding multishipping.” This was one of the asks that came in, we got many asks during the Shipping Survey. I’m not sure why we didn’t answer this one, but we can talk about it now, to remind people about the Shipping Survey, which we are still analyzing and planning to write more things about.

“Regarding multishipping and your surprise at how common it is, I would be curious to know how that intersects with active/casual shipping, and whether a lot of people who identified as multishippers have one main ship that they feel very strongly about, plus some other ships that they like and are happy to read fic about or whatever, but are much less invested in. This is the case for me, at least, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s true for a lot of other fans as well.” That’s from Orangistae on Tumblr, a person who has sent many great recs to “The Rec Center.” So thank you, Orangistae!

FK: I think that the reason that we have not yet gotten into this one is that…yup. [laughs]

ELM: Oh, why we haven’t answered it, the answer is “yes.” I, I also—

FK: Yeah yeah yeah.

ELM: I think that the survey revealed that people, many many people use the term “ship” very casually, right?

FK: Yep, totally.

ELM: That was one of my biggest takeaways, and that was something I already had a sense of, just anecdotally or in my travels on Tumblr, but this is like one—multishipping as defined as “I like Steve/Tony and I also like Steve/Bucky,” right? When there’s a fulcrum point, when I’m happy to see Steve with either of these dudes, right?

FK: “Make Steve happy!”

ELM: Right. I think that is, it’s hard for me emotionally to, like, connect with this. I can’t imagine what that’s like.

FK: Oh, that’s funny, cause I feel this way—

ELM: And this is how you are. Cause you privilege single characters, right? Like, you definitely do.

FK: Yeah, no, I would say that! I would say that I care a lot about a character and that I’m interested to see how that character would, like, play out in different relationships with people, and sometimes I have a particular favorite, but often I will be happy to see them with—if it’s well-written I’ll be like “Oh yeah! That’s very interesting! That’s how this character would interact in this relationship,” you know?

ELM: Right, which is very—it’s interesting to me cause it’s a similar sort of framing, but it’s just foreign in a sense for me like, for me—and I’ve seen this articulated many times so I know that this is a portion of shippers—like, shipping is an argument, and it’s an argument about those two or three or more, but you know, that this text works through this lens. 

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And when I say it that way that makes it sound very reductive, like, “This, this text is all about these two people bonin’” or whatever. I don’t feel that way at all.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: But I do think closing that gap between Remus and Sirius is an argument I have about those character, right? And it’s not an argument about Remus and it’s not an argument about Sirius, it’s an argument about the two of them. Even though I do have individual arguments about the two of them individually.

FK: Yeah, and I do see that as a position, I just think that usually like, I can hold that, but I hold it more lightly, you know what I mean? Like, like, I’ll be like “Oh yes, I do, I see this argument about the two of these characters,” but for me that doesn’t foreclose on arguments about other characters, and for me the fulcrum or the heart of it is still in this one character that I care about. So.

ELM: Yeah.

FK: I don’t know. And, I mean, it sounds like maybe you sometimes have, like, I don’t know.

ELM: No.

FK: It’s not like you don’t care about a single character. You do! You have feelings about that character, you know?

ELM: So much!

FK: Very much! You care about them individually as well as in the ship, so. 

ELM: Yeah, it’s also like, and we’ve talked about this, and something I actually wanna go into more deeply, I often find that when I’m both writing and reading, often in the ships that I’ve had, there’s one character that I might feel more strongly about or be more interested in looking at, and that’s usually the one that I relate to more and so wind up writing from the other person’s perspective. Like, with Remus/Sirius, to take an old example, so I don’t feel emotionally compromised by it, definitely would always write Remus point of view.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: Cause I much, like, Remus Lupin and I have very few similarities, character-wise. Like, you know. Am I out of character right now? But Sirius and I sadly have many similarities. 

FK: [laughs] Yes, we’ve discussed this.

ELM: Yes. And everyone agrees. So I know it’s true. And that’s fine. You’re just gonna watch me go off into the veil right now. But like, I’m not necessarily less invested in the other character, but I am interested in particular arguments and particular ways to look at individual characters, but through the lens of a specific ship, not Sirius/Snape. I don’t know. What’s another ship? Sirius—

FK: That’s one! That’s one of them.

ELM: That’s, I, I have read that in the past. When I was like, deep into Harry Potter fandom, like, 2002 and 3 and 4, I did read all of the combinations of those people.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: But that was just more like “Why the hell not,” you know. That’s not my, like, my M.O. generally.

FK: Yeah, totally.

ELM: It’s interesting. I, I would be curious to know—I think this really boils down to like, I think it is nuanced, the way that both of us are talking about it.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: But I do think for a lot of people it is because “ship” means something pretty casual.

FK: Totally.

ELM: For most of the time. And you don’t necessarily have a different word for it. Like, “This is my ship!!” or my ship-ship, you know, as opposed to just like, “I ship this.”

FK: All right, should we read the next question?

ELM: Now it’s your turn.

FK: OK. This is another anonymous Tumblr ask. “So I’ve listened to all your episodes so far, and I’m currently going through them for a second time.”

ELM: Wow.

FK: Ooh!

ELM: Wow!

FK: “And you may have mentioned this before, but have either of you ever had an experience where you disliked a fandom you were in? I’ve been involved in a couple of fandoms that were—still are—very discourse-heavy, and though I want to stay positive, the persistent nitpicking and discourse mostly just makes me want to avoid discoursing and retreat into being a lurker. What are your thoughts?” That’s the question.

ELM: Let me read aloud to you a Tumblr post that I reblogged recently that I have now put in Fansplaining’s drafts. Summarizes how I feel.

FK: Read on!

ELM: OK, I found it. It’s in our drafts. We’ll post it after the episode. Oh, deactivated account? That’s sad. [laughs] “I see your death of the author and raise you death of the fandom: for when other fans and the content they produce are so unbearably bad that you divorce yourself entirely from the fanbase, except for one or two Trusted Mutuals™.” Yes.

FK: Yeah! I mean…yeah! I, yeah. I too am familiar with this. I, uh, it’s also not always about discourse. Like, I just, I don’t want to deal with all the drama in Star Wars, so even though I still read Reylo fic, like, I’m not really interacting with anyone but some trusted mutuals in that space right now?

ELM: Trusted Mutuals™. Right.

FK: Different reason but like, also happening, totally a thing.

ELM: Um, I obviously have maybe perhaps been too elliptical in my constant subtweeting of the Sherlock fandom on this podcast! Obviously I disliked a fandom I’ve been in a great deal and I think—

FK: And that fandom was Sherlock.

ELM: I think it’s been five years, I’m happy to just—I mean I genuinely reference this a lot and I… 

FK: You’re still mad. You’re still so mad.

ELM: Oh my God of course I’m still mad, you know? [FK laughs] What a fucking shitshow! I mean, I, like, I feel like it’s been a long enough time and enough people have talked about it but like, the behavior I—it wasn’t even about the content at a certain point, of the conversations and the arguments. The behavior, it was so abysmal, and I don’t care. Like, doxxing is bad! [FK laughs] Calling the people’s employers because you, you disagree about the interpretation of a ship that you all ship: bad! That’s bad! Like, undeniably! I’m happy to say that! It’s been long enough that I can explicitly say, that was bad, Sherlock fandom! And it’s not unique to them but that’s the one that I was in! So like, you know?

And like, I was, I was trying to explain what went down in 2014 to a friend of mine who’s not in fandom a couple days ago. And the levels I had to add here were wild. And even saying like “Doxxing is a thing that fans do to each other,” that needed to be a part of it, right?

FK: Right, totally.

ELM: And it was hard to really explain how significant it was that the behavior I saw and some of the conversation led me to actively unship the ship. And for someone that’s not in fandom and someone that doesn’t ship, that, I think that part she was like “OK.” And I was like “You don’t understand.

FK: No, that’s really bad. I’ve never gotten to that point, not ever, in all my years of fandom.

ELM: Yeah, and like, I don’t wanna see these actors’ faces. I don’t wanna think about it. Like, and I know a lot of other people who felt this way about this, and I think there are people who felt this way in other fandoms, who were just, it’s, you know, it’s that famous graph that we’ve even included in the show notes where your enjoyment of a fandom over time, and you’re supposed to bounce back into a… 

FK: But sometimes you just fall off… 

ELM: “My field of fucks is barren,” but sometimes you just stay in the pit and then you’re like “I need to leave, for my own mental health.” So.

FK: So in short, asker, the answer is “Yes.”

ELM: I, I highly recommend joining a fandom like seven to eight years after it’s actually had a significant number of people in it. Because this really solves a lot of these problems.

FK: Great. Is that the note on which we should take a break? [both laugh]

ELM: Yeah! No, do it even better. Join a fandom that ended in the Usenet days. 

FK: Ideal.

ELM: Like that comic the other day, that Sarah Anderson comic, that was like “Joining a fandom, like, way too late,” and it was like you enter the room and it’s a party with one person at kinda rocking slowly. We should include that comic in the show notes too. It’s fine! It’s really great in that room, no one’s shouting.

FK: I have been there for parties and also for fandoms. [both laugh]

ELM: OK. Yes. We should take a break.

[Interstitial music]

FK: All right, we’re back.

ELM: More questions, you ready?

FK: I’m ready!

ELM: My turn.

FK: It’s your turn.

ELM: Laurencrabtree, in a Tumblr ask, writes: “So, I listened to the episode on purity culture, and while it had some good insights, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on the bit about fandom’s quote ‘valorizing bad behavior,’ unquote. I like capital-P capital-S Problematic Ships, where the characters aren’t apologetic for their actions, but I’m aware that those ships aren’t a roadmap for an IRL relationship. Since you also made a point about writing about things like rape or murder but not condoning it IRL, why do you still believe this valorization is an existing problem?”

FK: Oh man. Do I have thoughts on this topic!

ELM: [laughs] Great! I’m glad we got this ask!

FK: OK. So, this is one of the things that’s hardest about talking about quote “purity culture” for me, because so many people can get so extremely that they’re like, “You can never write about anything bad and it’s all evil to write about bad things,” and then like, the, the answer—which I fully sympathize with—is “Fuck you, writing literally anything is great and everyone should write whatever they want at all times, no matter how fucked-up, and like, live with it, we all know what fiction is and what reality is,” and I am much more on that side than on the other side—if there’s only two sides I know which one I’d pick.

But. But. Within that, there can still be, to me, stories that, like, make it seem really romantic that someone’s being really awful and controlling. Now, that story, I’m not saying, is like, innately bad. But it can valorize bad behavior, and then the job is on the reader to be like, “I’m into this” or “I’m not into this,” like, “I can separate this from real life” or “I can’t.” You know what I mean? And not everyone always does the best job of that, and that has to be an individual reader’s way of dealing with it.

And so yeah, that can be a problem sometimes. Like, I’ve read stuff and like, gotten into bad mental situations and been like, “Wow, this is really, like, do I think that’s romantic?!” You know? For myself. Do I want people to stop writing this stuff? Absolutely not. Do I think that there are healthy ways to enjoy this stuff? Yeah, sure! Not everyone is always in that healthy place at a time. But that’s not the responsibility of the writer. But like, when you start getting in this black-and-white purity culture thing, you can’t have any of those conversations and it suuucks.

ELM: [laughs] That’s a very good answer. I don’t know how to add to that. [FK laughs] You know?

FK: Thank you for listening to my rant!

ELM: No! I absolutely agree, and, and I really—I am getting, I mean, I already was frustrated by the binary of this conversation, and it’s kind of wearing on me over time. I would be a very bad student of English if I—and particularly one who studied what I studied, which was the literature of colonialism, if I thought that fiction and real life had no connection! Like, I literally studied, I like, literally read literature, domestic British literature, looking for the ways that ordinary British people being complicit in colonialism was reflected in their writing about their domestic lives. Right? Like, that was my work as a student of English.

So like, the idea that there’s no connection between those two things is not something I can wrap my head around. Just, I mean, thinking about the word “valorizing,” I mean, I just, I also think that “valorizing” and by similar token the word “fetishization” have kind of, like, jumped the shark, both as words that like, don’t mean very much in fandom anymore. Right?

FK: Yeah, maybe we should throw both of these out.

ELM: Yeah. And we used the word “valorizing” too, because I think that we just kind of fall into these patterns, right? 

FK: Yeah, totally.

ELM: I understand the specifics of this question. Like, I, I understand those stories, I’ve read them. I, like, have I found them romantic? Like, I was the one who praised a story’s, like, an underage story I read’s ability to be willing to go there and say repeatedly “The adult should go to jail.” You know? Like, I have also read a lot of stories where that doesn’t happen, and where the, the logic of “the ship must stick together” supersedes the real-world logic, or what you root for. You know?

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And am I gonna root for real-life 30-year-old and 15-year-old to make it work? No. [laughs]

FK: Yeah, and maybe that’s part of the tension of some of these—

ELM: Yes!

FK: That, like, you know, there’s this tension between “I want the ship to get together, and this is also obviously objectively wrong,” like, like—that’s part of the pleasure for me in reading some of that stuff.

ELM: Right! And like, part of it, in the—not to intellectualize it too much, because yeah, I think the emotional response that you have and the tension that you may not even, like, consciously think about as you’re reading it, is part of it. Right? Like, “Oh! It’s so wrong, but so right.” You know? That kind of thing. That’s a very, like, emotional response. 

The intellectual response, I think, is also interesting here, and I mean, that’s the same stuff I’m talking about with, with like, reading domestic literature to understand, you know, how people thought about colonialism. Like, I think it’s the, the stuff that’s really interesting to look at. The way we think about these characters and the way we think about relationships and all this stuff. 

I think that all these things—to kind of just say, like, “Well, I should be able to write whatever I want,” and it’s not even a matter of like, “I should be able to.” Of course! Write whatever you want, right? And then we can discuss the kinds of things we see in it. And I think that there’s a very, the backlash around this is a little… [sighs] It’s not, what’s the word? Trying to kind of solve quote-unquote “problematic fiction” through other fiction is kind of tedious to me. People can do whatever the hell they want. But, you know, like, “I’m going to write some corrective fiction to fix all of the problems that you were doing in your fiction”? Have fun. You know? Like, do whatever you want; also, you can write whatever you want. I’m not gonna stop you, right? But that kind of response I think is also, kind of flattens what this conversation could be. Right?

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And so you could say, like, “I found this really sexy, this story that is valorizing bad behavior in the relationship,” you know. Like… 

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And I wanna talk about like what that means. Obviously I don’t want that to be in real life. And like, what is it about me, what is it about the things that I like, let’s talk about this! This is interesting. But instead it just turns into a, like, “You shouldn’t do that! Here’s how you should write it.” And then the kind of reverse happens, too. Right? And then… “I’m gonna do whatever I want,” et cetera. Does that make sense?

FK: Totally! Totally. Absolutely. And, and sometimes when you think about that, like, sometimes the answer is like, “Fine!” You know what I mean? Like, I long ago decided that it was OK for me to like, read about whatever, forced marriage or rapey, like, you know—

ELM: You love forced marriage.

FK: Dubious consent stuff. I love that shit! I love it! I long ago decided it’s totally fine for me to read that and find it fun and sexy and interesting and like, I’m totally down with that! There’s other things that I’ve actively decided are not so great for me to read. Like, that are leading me into places of like, maybe this actually has a personal relationship to my life and I don’t want to valorize this kind of behavior. You know what I mean? Because—“valorize,” there goes that word again. But maybe I don’t want to, like, steep myself in this kind of behavior because then I know that, like, I read it and I get ideas in my head about how the world is and like, I don’t like how I feel.

ELM: Sure.

FK: At the end of that. Right? But that’s very personal, and someone else might feel the complete opposite to me. And that’s OK. So, yeah. I mean, obviously like, I could say like “Oh, it’s a problem if I’m in a fandom and like, it’s full of the thing that is, like, not good for me to read.”

ELM: Right.

FK: But it’s a problem for me. It might be a problem for people in general if there’s no way for me to get out of that and everyone in that fandom is like, “This is the only way that you can read these things.” You know what I mean? Like, but, it’s not just as simple as like, one thing bad, one thing good.

ELM: Yeah, I think part of the problem too is we just don’t really have the tools… [sighs] You know, it kind of connects to, it’s interesting that this is all going down at a time when people don’t criticize in…by “criticize” I mean “offer criticism” of fanfiction, because that’s not a part of the culture these days. And so then you wind up not really being able to dig into a work. 

And it doesn’t even have to be direct, like, I’m not saying it should be directly to the author. Like, I, you know, there isn’t really a space for me to say, like, “This story was really thorny and complicated and I’m going to write my review.” Like I’m reviewing a book. You know? “And I’m gonna situate my criticism and talk about why some stuff didn’t work for me, and why I understand why it might work on an intellectual level, but really rankled on an emotional level,” blah blah blah, like I might do when I was writing a book. Writing a book review.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: There’s really no space for that, and so then you wind up with only space for praising the author or total condemnation and canceling. You know? Like, [laughs] “And this person needs to die!” Like, “They, they are so problematic and they are literally poisoning people and they are condoning abuse and the F.B.I. should know about what they’re writing,” right? [FK laughing] There’s no, there’s not a lot of space for other things. Right? And then, you wind up with people who wanna offer kind of structural critiques having to talk in big, broad strokes. Cause they don’t, you know, they don’t feel comfortable calling out specific things.

FK: “I wanna call out one particular fanfic,” or one particular interpretation of this, yeah.

ELM: Whereas like if I was writing a critical review of, you know, books from the last 10 years that I thought actually, you know, like, reified white supremacy in insidious ways or something, I would name specific examples or that editor would not take my piece. You know? I wouldn’t just be able to say “Some books are kinda racist.” You know? [laughs] Like… [FK laughing] “And all you writers are racist!” You know? Like, I would have to name examples.

But I absolutely understand when people are offering structural critiques that they don’t wanna pin it on individual works, because that’s not the way the fanfiction world works. And it’s also just a kind of growing feeling that you have of like, “Oh, I see the same things over and over again,” these same patterns. But that wouldn’t… 

FK: And no one has, like, the protection—whereas someone might be, like, a prominent author who you feel like has a lot of protection, no one in fandom has that really. And so then the dogpiling commences, and you’re like “Great, well, you dogpiled one person, there’s really 500 people who do this, but…now you, I just ruined this person’s week.” You know?

ELM: Absolutely. When I’m writing a critique of, like, Jonathan Franzen’s last three novels, everyone’s happy. Everyone wants that actually, you know? Like, he has the, the structural privilege to be able to take it. And also,t hat’s a part of what writing books professionally is about, you know. It is about the critical conversation, back and forth, and that’s not the way fandom works. And I understand that. And so then you wind up with these, these kind of extremes, and it’s a problem. [laughs] 

FK: All right.

ELM: Yeah… 

FK: It’s a problem, OK.

ELM: Yeah, I don’t know, it’s fraught. And it’s an interesting question, and I also think that we’re not taught very well in school to kinda answer these questions. We’re taught that there are right and wrong answers about how to think about literature, and we’re not asked to situate our perspectives. And so we aren’t given these tools. And it’s something that a lot of professional critics are not very good at, particularly people from structurally advantaged groups. You know? And it’s something that I think critics are really working at and trying to get better at, and I, I just, I think it’s really hard to, to say “Oh, my read on something is not universal read on something.” And that goes in all directions. It’s all right. Depressing.

FK: All right. Are you ready for the last question, Elizabeth?

ELM: I’m ready!

FK: OK. “Hi, Flourish and Elizabeth. I was wondering if you’ve thought about making an episode about fans writing about disasters, catastrophes, or social trauma as a way to process it. I’m talking about how after big, dramatic events—9/11, school shootings, hurricanes—there’s always an influx of fanfiction about these subjects. It’s a fraught discourse matter with one side arguing that this is tasteless and gross, and another side arguing that placing beloved characters in those situations and playing them out in fiction is a natural part of processing social trauma and having indirect discussions about these subjects. 

“I’m just very interested in the question. I find the idea of taboo real-life events in fanfic to be a fascinating subject. It’s a bit like an offshoot of the rape discussion in fanfic, but applied to trauma that affects everyone, isn’t it? Thanks for reading this, Marie.”

ELM: Very interesting question.

FK: Seriously.

ELM: You wanna take a first crack at it?

FK: All right! First I wanna say that like, I think that anyone can and should, like, process their trauma in any way that they can, that like, doesn’t hurt anyone else, right? Like, write that story! Like, do whatever. I don’t think that there’s something in the fundamental act of just, like, writing down something about something—like, write whatever you’re gonna write. 

But I think that where it gets complicated is when you start posting and sharing stuff online to different people, you know what I mean, and when people start reading it. Because then, there’s like, so many different people engaging with it with different relationships to the original source of trauma, especially when it’s something big. Maybe you were physically in the hurricane and someone else had family in the hurricane and you’re both dealing with, like, thoughts about the hurricane, and someone else is like, broadly worried about climate change and they’re, like, thinking about that. And then when one of you writes a fic, you’re taking a different perspective, and it can feel like—to someone who was like, had their house destroyed, it can feel like you’re appropriating their, like, pain, in a certain way.

But maybe that’s not the right way to think about it, right? Maybe it’s fine, because it’s fiction, and they’re like, processing their stuff. And maybe if it had been shared in the right context, or talked about in a different way, then no one would have had this problem? Or some people would’ve, but we would have decided not…I don’t know, it’s just so, that’s the sticky part to me. Do you get what I’m saying, like, what I’m trying to drive at?

ELM: Yeah. It’s really complicated to think about. And now I’m just thinking about professional works that engage with real life events. So I’ve thought a lot about this because I’m writing X-Men fanfiction and [FK laughs] while, you know, having Magneto—he’s not Magneto. Erik Lehnsherr hunting Nazis… 

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And thinking, “Should I actually be basing some of what I’m writing on real incidents?” Because there were Nazi hunters and their, like, organizations, and certain governmental organizations that hunted Nazis! And there are famous documented cases of that. And like, should I make something up, or would it be appropriative for me to use this real fictional thing? And then I’m like, was, you know, started to think about it and talked to my beta about it, who was like, “They already went there with the Holocaust!”

FK: Right.

ELM: You know? Like, and they did.

FK: You are not opening a new field of discussion here.

ELM: No. You know? And so references to the Holocaust, obviously you’d have to tag for them, and I, you know, people do tag for them, but it’s also canonical and so then you feel like “Well, they already went there so I can keep going there,” right? You know, because they already inserted these characters into a traumatic event in history. 

FK: Right.

ELM: And, and knowing that particular example, I know that—I’m sure some people think it’s not appropriate to put a cartoon character to have, be a Holocaust survivor, and I know a lot of—tons and tons of people find that to be a very important part of his character. Right? And like, even the depiction of it is important.

FK: Mm-hmm.

ELM: That being said, the Holocaust has been widely depicted in fictional works for 75 years. 

FK: Right.

ELM: And to the point where people, a lot of people who have direct connection to it historically have believed it’s very important to depict.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: Right? And I don’t know if that’s necessarily a universal about large-scale traumatic events. Like, would you feel comfortable sticking your characters into Columbine?

FK: Right, and also… 

ELM: Would you feel weird? Or—would you feel comfortable having your characters, having the characters in Supernatural in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

FK: Yeah! Well, and also, there’s, there’s that and then there’s also the question about, like, what about—well what about characters who might have been there? Right? Like, why else—you know, whatever. There’s a very special episode of The West Wing. But like, so, you know. What about, what about characters who it was never mentioned. Like it’s set in New York, those characters existed in 2001, the show never made a mention of it: is that different somehow because the characters, like, quote “could have been there,” and so it’s like implied in a certain way? Right?

ELM: Yeah! I mean, I think in that case then it feels a little less like you’re kinda shoehorning your…I think when people get upset about this often it’s just not done as sensitively as it could be. And it does feel, like, “appropriation” is the correct word. It kinda feels like you’re sort of making light of it by sticking your favorite fictional characters into something that happened to real people.

And I think, so when I bring up the fact that “Oh, the X-Men already went there, they already invoked the Holocaust and depicted that,” like, you feel like they did that for you. Right? Like, and I’m also thinking about Doctor Who, which deals with the actual historical traumatic events constantly, and perhaps a bit lightly. But no one, I, I can’t think of a single example… 

FK: But it’s also, like, you get in the Doctor Who fandom and you know that that’s in there, so Doctor Who maybe gets the ability to do some of that stuff.

ELM: Right, and I think that, I think that it—thinking back to the last question, like, do I want people to write about traumatic historical events flippantly? In a Doctor Who fanfiction? Not particularly! Are they allowed to? Yes. You know? It’s, oh, it’s so, it’s just, it is very thorny, and it also makes me think of like, when we think about the reader, the problem is you’re never gonna be able to know who’s reading it. And I think one of the biggest problems is your reader…it’s very likely your reader may not have enough context. You may have all the research and the personal experience or just historical knowledge or whatever to, to do it justice. And you feel like you’re treating it very seriously. Your reader may have only a fraction of that knowledge. 

And—I was thinking about this letter when it came in because I saw a fanfiction writer I admire a great deal, blamebrampton, who’s written some of my favorite Harry Potter fiction, she has written stories that—she’s put Boris Johnson and other, other real life British politicians or light references to them that anyone who knows British politics would have recognized. Over the course of the last, you know—stories she wrote ten years ago.

So someone left her an ask and it was like, “I don’t, I’m a little confused about how Boris Johnson from your story is like, this one that everyone’s mad about now!” And it’s like…and you know, that is so many levels of context of like, well, to understand that you have to understand who Boris Johnson was when he was Mayor of London, or who he was when he was like a presenter and a columnist before that, you know?

FK: Yeah yeah yeah.

ELM: You know? Like…and what British politics is and all this, and sometimes when I read her stories I wonder how they read to someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of British politics at all, you know. Cause I’m like, “Ha ha! Witty!” You know? And it’s like, all that is completely, like, you think of Boris Johnson as a fictional character almost. And then all of a sudden he shows up and people are like “This is the end times now that he’s Prime Minister.” And you’re like “Wait, what?” You know. And I feel like if it was about…Brazilian politics, or something…that I know very little about, you know.

FK: Oh my God yeah yeah yeah.

ELM: Or, I don’t know. I’m just gonna name a country that I, like Spanish politics or something. I know very little about contemporary politics in a lot of different countries, so I, you know, those things would go right over my head, right?

FK: Right.

ELM: And so I think that’s really hard then. And it’s hard when you’re mixing it, I think especially hard when you’re mixing it up with fictional characters that people know pretty well. You know?

FK: Yeah, and I think also there’s a level of, it’s not just like…it’s like you, the writer, and you, the reader, might not completely…maybe neither of you know who the other person is and like what’s going on with them, so like, if someone writes something that is very close to their heart and is about their, like, own experiences, someone else who’s had those same experiences could read that and find it flippant. And be offended. And not know. And, you know, I mean, obviously then they would feel like—when they found out I’m sure they would be like either “Oop, egg on my face,” or “You’re still an asshole and you shouldn’t have written that,” you know, because we have different opinions. 

So I think it’s just, I think it’s just full of mine—it’s a minefield. And I don’t think that there’s a hard-and-fast answer to whether people should or should not post this stuff. I think that people should write it if it helps them. I think that they should or should not post it, like, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this. There just isn’t.

ELM: Yeah, and I’m thinking too about the way, like, it’s—it’s, the collective trauma element of it is, is a real challenge.

FK: Mm-hmm.

ELM: You know, I don’t know, I was in a writing class in college, it was a nonfiction writing class. And someone wrote an essay about 9/11, and they were from New York and they were like, physically quite close. And someone else wrote an essay about watching it on TV from the midwest.

FK: Right.

ELM: And it was really hard to read those side-by-side. And the one person who watched it on TV, it seemed so diminished in comparison, and it seemed inappropriate. It was like, “This person sitting next to you was there! And you have the audacity to write about being sad watching TV!”

FK: Right.

ELM: But like, I will also say that like, it is something that affected everyone! It affected the culture.

FK: And it had a, it had a huge impact. Like, watching it on TV, obviously it’s not the same impact, not remotely, as being there, but like, it also had a huge impact! Like, people who watched it on TV went out and signed up for the military and like…you  know? Like, it’s not as though it’s not something that didn’t shape the course of people’s lives. And then when you get to the question of like, then maybe it’s a context question of “Well, is he sitting right there? Cause maybe you need to, you know, keep it in.”

ELM: Right, right. Exactly! Yeah. 

FK: But you’re in a writing class, so then… 

ELM: Read that literal room! Yeah, I mean, it was also…that class was like a, almost a parody of like, when we were asked to write about like, more traumatic things, some people wrote about like traumas and some people wrote about like, “I didn’t get an A on the test.” And it was like, this is awkward! You know? Like, and you can write eloquently about any subject but like, there were some, there were some awkward… 

FK: But that’s hard, when everyone is asked to write about trauma, and you’re like, “That is now abundantly clear that we’ve had very different problems in our lives.”

ELM: I don’t actually think everyone was asked to write about trauma, but I think it just like, kind of, people were looking for interesting things to write about. This is college students writing essays. You’re really feeling your way out and I think these were some of the current things you would encounter in that scenario.

But I just kind of think that fanfiction is really hard, because if I were saying you were writing original fiction, you get to the #OwnVoices question, and you get to the “Why do you, white person, need to write a story set in, during the slavery era about an enslaved person from their perspective. Why are you doing that?” Right? Or, or contemporary. “Why do you, white person, need to write about, you know, the violence that black young people face in any given city,” right.

FK: Right.

ELM: And that’s the classic #OwnVoices question right now. Yes, you can write about that, but tell me why, sir, do you, you know. Sirs of all genders, just to clarify. [FK laughs] Ma’am. Ma’ams of all genders! You know. So, that’s true. 

But fanfiction I think inherently removes you from the #OwnVoices…not inherently, I shouldn’t say that. But it is kind of asking you, on the surface of it, to remove yourself from your perspective and your experience. Because you’re writing about other characters. And the characters aren’t—

FK: That someone else created.

ELM: Yeah, the characters aren’t a thinly veiled version of you. They aren’t your experience. 

FK: Right.

ELM: I’m not a superhero, or a pirate.

FK: And indeed we were, earlier in this conversation, talking about how sometimes a character begins to feel like a thinly veiled person and then that’s, like, not always great, you know. Like… 

ELM: Right! It veers more towards you, if, if like, if all your anxieties are being expressed through the character and it’s not something that feels like it’s what the canonical character would ever experience. And you’re obviously welcome to do that. So I think that’s one of the ways that makes it really hard, it’s the context collapse when people do this and they say, you know, yeah, like, “What if the Supernatural characters experienced 9/11?!” You know. “In the world?” I don’t know, that’s maybe an extreme example, like, who would do that. But like, I understand why people would have that instinct, especially—I don’t wanna be ageist but it feels like something that a younger, younger, like, when I think back to my younger writing experiences. 

FK: Right.

ELM: It’s an instinct I remember and it’s one that I feel like I had to grow out of, you know, like… 

FK: Yeah, and there’s also like, the using a tragedy as a background for your ship, you know. Someone’s a member of Doctors Without Borders, you know.

ELM: Yeah. Right! And so many levels, right, of how it can feel, you know, it can feel appropriating or white savior-y, or, it’s—

FK: Right. There’s lots of different ways it can be handled badly. [laughs]

ELM: We were just talking about, you know, like… 

FK: And that’s not a way to process it! Sorry. Just to be clear, like, I’m not saying that’s a way to process it, but it gets—sometimes it all gets rolled into one conversation, because you don’t know where the person’s coming from.

ELM: Right, and I also, I sometimes feel some discomfort when I see characters being put into like, historical struggles that I don’t think, especially with queer—historical queer struggles. And it’s like, “Well, if I have to accept that these characters would have been alive at this time,” you know, like, “do you want to have Remus Lupin actually engaging with the AIDS crisis?”

FK: Yeah.

ELM: You know, I have a—I’m really ambivalent about that stuff. You know?

FK: It’s a metaphor!

ELM: Yeah! And the greatest respect for people who actually write this, or any of those characters, or Snape or whoever, actually…

FK: Yeah, totally totally.

ELM: I have a massive amount of respect for people trying to engage with this, and I, it just, I have a lot of ambivalence around this. I’m like, “Oh! But…this is a fictional character, and people actually died within living memory, like, millions of people died!” You know, like…but, don’t I want to have a way to process, like, you know, historical queer narratives? But actually, these characters canonically weren’t, are not written, you know, et cetera et cetera. And then I wind up tangled up in knots and I don’t know what to do.

FK: All right, well, it’s complicated, I think is the answer to this question. 

ELM: [laughs] I, I think that the instinct is, I would say if you’re reading this and it feels like it’s not sensitively handled, my instinct is to say just stop reading it. 

FK: Yeah.

ELM: You know? Cause I don’t think there’s a way to say “You don’t have a right to write about this.” Because, obviously you can critique it. But I also, I don’t think people should get tangled up in knots if this is, their instinct is to process something by sticking their fictional characters in it. But I just restated my ambivalence, basically. So that’s cool. We can end now. We can wrap up on that.

FK: OK, great. We actually should wrap up because that was the last question, Elizabeth. [both laugh] All right, all right, all right. OK. So. In wrapping-up business, important news: the pins have been shipped to me! 

So, if you guys have been following along with this, we made cute enamel pins for our $5-a-month supporters, and they have been in process of manufacturing, and they have now been shipped to us. Which we will then ship out to you, dear $5-a-month supporters! In order to get one, you have to put your shipping address in there. So I don’t wanna have to chase down each one of you individually, put your shipping address in Patreon. This has been an announcement.

ELM: Are we missing that many shipping addresses?

FK: Yes.

ELM: Mm. Cool.

FK: We really are.

ELM: Well, we’re gonna get your shipping addresses, but if you become a $5 patron or you bump up your patronage—so it’s patreon.com/fansplaining, and as you heard, as I learned on this episode, Flourish has finished Black Sails. No delays, we are going to record a Black Sails episode in the next two weeks. Before your next episode. I don’t care if you’re busy Flourish, we’re doing this. I need this fresh in your mind, I need your immediate responses, this is what you’re here for! Everyone wants to hear this, guarantee it.

FK: So yes, there will also be a new special episode, and if you’re a $3-a-month supporter or more you’ll get access to it.

ELM: So. I’m, like, these are—these are undeniable great rewards. Right? So if you can afford $3 a month, you’re gonna get these really important, real-time reactions.

FK: All right.

ELM: Yes. Am I selling this?

FK: So patreon.com/fansplaining, support us.

ELM: But! But! But! If you have two extra dollars a month, on top of that three, you get a pin! A cute pin!

FK: It’s really cute.

ELM: I don’t wanna undersell it! People have been really here for this pin.

FK: I’m here for the pin! Everyone’s here for the pin.

ELM: You don’t have to be here for the pin. You’re gonna get a pin. You don’t have to pledge $5 a month.

FK: Thank you. Thank you for that.

ELM: You pledged your labor, which is… 


ELM: …vastly undervalued.

FK: All right.

ELM: So that’s Patreon. Also of course, of course, if you have a tight budget but you do have $1 a month, any amount is incredibly welcome. It all adds up. So we would really really appreciate that. If you don’t have money at all, normal.

FK: Totally.

ELM: Classic. Classic!

FK: Classic! [ELM laughing] Send us your thoughts! Number one. As you have witnessed in this episode we openly…invite…your thoughts…and we answer them…we answer your questions… [laughing] What were those words?

ELM: What robot were you appropriating right now?

FK: I don’t know what robot I was appropriating! Anyway, we answer questions, you can send us the questions at [laughing] fansplaining at gmail.com… 

ELM: Aw, a robot would be way more eloquent. You wouldn’t have been programmed that way.

FK: 1-401-526-FANS is our phone number and you can leave us a voicemail, as you have heard in this episode. You can also write to our Tumblr ask box or tweet at us if you really want to, we’re fansplaining everywhere. 

Another way you can help us is by spreading the word! Tell people about Fansplaining! That’s really helpful. It… 

ELM: Yeah, rating us on iTunes, Spotify…I actually don’t know if you can rate on Spotify.

FK: But rate us if you can rate. If there’s stars… 

ELM: Stitcher? Can you rate, can you review… 

FK: Give us some stars, say some things, it really really helps.

ELM: Max stars.

FK: All right.

ELM: Five out of five.

FK: We’re not requiring that. We are requesting that. But not requiring that. We won’t be mad.

ELM: Please! We’ll be… 

FK: We’ll be a little mad but we’ll hold it in.

ELM: We’ll be sad, not mad. We wouldn’t be mad at you, we’d be sad at ourselves.

FK: Great. OK. What else is there to say?

ELM: That’s it! Black Sails! Black Sails! Black Sails!

FK: Goodbye, Elizabeth!

ELM: [laughing] Bye Flourish!

[Outro music]

ELM: Fansplaining is brought to you by all of our patrons, especially the following people and especially everyone who’s pledged $5 or bumped up their pledge since we announced this cool pin. 

FK: Woo hoo! OK.

ELM & FK: Alaine Sepulveda, Amanda, Amelia Harvey, Anne Jamison, Bluella, Boxish, Bradlea Raga-Barone, Bryan Shields, Carl with a C, Carrie Clarady, Chelsee Bergen, Christine Hoxmeier, Christopher Dwyer, Clare Muston, Desiree Longoria, Diana Williams, Dr. Mary C. Crowell, Earlgreytea68, Fabrisse, Felar, Froggy, Georgie Carroll, Goodwin, Gwen O’Brien, Heart of the Sunrise, Heidi Tandy, Helena, Jackie C., Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Jay Bushman, Jennifer Brady, Jennifer Doherty, Jennifer Lackey, Jennifer McKernan, Josh Stenger, Jules Chatelain, Julianna, JungleJelly, Katherine Lynn, Kathleen Parham, Kitty, Kristen P., Lizzy Johnstone, Lucas Medeiros, Maria Temming, Menlo Steve, Meredith Rose, Michael Andersen, Mark Williams, Matt Hills, Meghan McCusker, Molly Kernan, Naomi Jacobs, Nozlee, Poppy Carpenter, Rachel Bernatowicz, Sam Markham, Sara, Secret Fandom Stories, Sekrit, Simini, Stephanie Burt, StHoltzmann, Tara Stuart, Veritasera, Willa, and in honor of One Direction and BTS and Francis Crawford of Lymond and Sevigny and Captain Flint.

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.