Episode 22A: Race and Fandom Part 1
Flourish and Elizabeth follow up on the last episode’s questions about the impact of racism in the Star Wars fandom—and how it’s a microcosm of fandom at large. They interview Rukmini Pande and Clio, and they hear clips from Holly Quinn, Shadowkeeper, and PJ Punla. Topics covered include the historical presence of fans of color, space nazis, femslash and its discontents, and the Filipino perspective on the whiteness of media.
Here’s Toast’s Star Wars stats post, and another post specifically about kudos for different Star Wars ships & explicit fic. And here’s the episode where we discuss it, Episode 21, “Trash Ships and Fandom IRL”!
Franzeska’s controversial meta, “Your Vagina is a Bigot; My Vagina is a Saint” (you’ll need an AO3 account to read it) and her response to Toast’s stats, “Why Isn’t Stormpilot Staying Popular?” (also heavily critiqued regarding how it deals with race, both in the comments and on Tumblr). Make sure to read the comments, because there’s a lot of conversation about both metas there (and there are more than 400 comments on the metas combined, many of which are lengthy and great!)
We’ll be linking to our contributors’ responses to the metas and stats as we go, but for now here’s another commentary on the second of the two metas from @thekinkawakens. If you, Dear Listeners, have others, please link us!
Also from Holly: “Or Maybe Richonne IS a Litmus Test for Racism.”
Want to get straight into Star Wars? Holly has you covered again, with “Fear of a Black Fandom”.
Or what about a conversation specifically in response to the Star Wars stats we covered last episode, which @toastystats posted? (Our discussion last week focused on the “trash” vs “cinnamon roll” dichotomy, which is [partially] why we are focusing on race this week!)
Oh yeah, and Holly’s a writer too! Check out her fanfic at http://archiveofourown.org/users/undeadstoryteller.
AND, if you’re a POC who’s written a zombie story, why don’t you submit to be part of the short story collection she’s putting together, In Undead Color?
The musical interludes are all by Paul Tyan, taken from “Electronica: Deep: Inspiring.”Thank you for your Creative Commons licensed music, Paul! :D
And next up… our first interviewee is Rukmini Pande, @rukminipande on Twitter!
Rukmini made a long, impassioned Twitter response to That Meta and it’s been storified for your reading pleasure! An excerpt:
We spent a ton of time talking with Rukmini about the ways that fans of color get erased from fandom history, and we wanted to include links to the various discussions around the founding of the Archive Of Our Own… but the FanLore page could use some work! If you’ve been around and remember who posted early criticisms about AO3′s Western centric nature and race issues, please go update the FanLore page so that we all can follow the discussion… Wiki party! (We’ll be working to improve the Wiki too, having ventured into the depths of del.icio.us links from 2010 and before—we’re rereading stuff that we haven’t seen in literally ten years in some cases—but we wanted to get these show notes out in a reasonable amount of time, so let’s call this a work in progress and all go chip in to improve coverage of this, k?)
ALSO! Though this didn’t make it into the final cut, if you’re listening to this and are thinking “how can I do something positive for fandom w/r/t race?” why not enter theSeeing Color Exchange? Write some fanfic or make some fanart about a chromatic character you love!
Our second contributor is Shadowkeeper!
The famous Kylux meta, discussing how canon Hux is a blank slate but fanon Hux is… every other fanon woobie… which Shadowkeeper mentions is here.
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT PEOPLE DENY THAT HE IS A SPACE NAZI COME ON
Our second interviewee is Clio, @clio-jlh and @clio_jlh on Twitter!
If our interview has you jonesing for femslash FEAR NOT, http://femslashrevolution.tumblr.com/ is wonderful! And if you want to check out Clio’s work in particular, check out “A Strong Heart and Nerves of Steel” (Teen Wolf, Braeden/Marin) and/or “Ritual Madness” (How To Get Away With Murder, Laurel/Michaela). And remember: in the spirit of Star Wars and POC and women, you can get all of that (and more!) just by reading Rey/Jess!
Our third contributor is PJ Punla, @ninemoons42 on Twitter and Tumblr!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: The podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: Episode...s...22A and 22B. This is, this is just 22A. I made this really complicated for everyone, including myself. This is our first two-part episode. We have had one double episode, but we made that one big long thing, but we thought this time we would experiment with splitting it in two. Just to make it a little more approachable, I guess? I got some feedback on the other one, basically. So. [both laugh] From a couple people who were like “Oh, it just seemed too long.” Even though people seemed to enjoy it. That’s Episode 17, by the way, “The Powers That Be.” Plugging our archives.
FK: But in this episode…
ELM: In this one! This one. Focus on the now. 22A and B, “Race and Fandom.”
FK: And it does what it says on the tin! So the way that this episode came about was our regular contributor Toast did a series of posts about statistics, as she does, talking about Star Wars, and how Finn and Poe were a very popular pairing at first and their popularity has decreased, at least comparatively—I think absolutely also—while Kylux has become more and more popular since The Force Awakens came out.
ELM: OK, wait. More specifics. She’s talking about AO3 and Tumblr.
ELM: It’s fanfiction and what gets tagged on Tumblr in terms of content and as we discussed, Tumblr isn’t great at tagging, but it’s logical to assume that everyone is proportionally bad at tagging on Tumblr, so if you’ve got a ship…
FK: Right, and also AO3 doesn’t cover all fanfiction and she tried to account for that—
FK: But the point is the trends were disturbing. You can’t look at those stats without being like, there is a race thing happening here.
ELM: Wait, I don’t think we explained who Kylux was. Because if that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s probably because you don’t even remember General Hux, because—
FK: The space Nazi—one of them.
ELM: —played by Domnhall Gleeson, he has like five lines, and has shiny boots, my favorite meme about him was that he looks like he’s watching you not use a coaster. And that is the permanent look on his face. [both laugh]
FK: So when we had Toast on to talk about these stats…
ELM: I’m just saying, I’m just contextualizing who General Hux is because if you’re not in Star Wars you may literally have no idea who we’re talking about, but you probably know who Finn is, he is the male lead, he is a Black man, played by John Boyega. Poe is Oscar Isaac, and Rey is the female lead which we’re not even talking about her are we.
FK: No, basically not at all.
ELM: [laughs] Anyway, Star Wars. So the first thing you think when you look at this, and the first thing a lot of people think, is OK, that, there’s some racism going on here, whether it’s explicit or implicit. And you know.
ELM: If that makes a difference, the outcome is the same.
FK: And as we started talking about it with Toast we realized that this is podcasting so you can’t see us, but I am white, Elizabeth is white, Toast is white, and we were about to be three white women pontificating about race. And that’s not a good look. So.
FK: We decided that we wanted to devote some actual time to inviting people of color to talk about this issue, to reaching out to people of color and interviewing them about it, and basically to not be white women pontificating about race. But instead to provide a platform for other people to talk about this issue.
ELM: Right, and if you heard the last episode we asked specifically about this, and this is, I spent a lot of time with the audio as I've edited it over the last few days, I think this was said but people talk about this as a macrocosm [sic] or a very illustrative example of broader trends in fandom. The privileging of white guys, frankly, we’ll be talking a little bit about—gender will come into this but it’s definitely the privileging of white characters over characters of color. And this is a movie with characters of color in the lead, and somehow they don’t get to be in the lead in fandom’s mind. And what’s going on here, basically is the question that we want to explore.
FK: Right, and this was all underlined by the fact that coincidentally at about the same time as Destination Post, [laughs] Destination Post! Listen to me. Destination Toast posted her stats, there came out a meta by Franzeska which covered issues of race and gender in fandom. But really got talked about because of the way that it handled race, which a lot of people found very problematic. And we’re going to link to the meta and to a lot of responses to it in the show notes, but we wanted to call it out because it hit at just the right time to be tied up in this conversation and to be a major issue.
ELM: This became part of the discourse. Yeah, I mean, the basic way to say it is like, it’s discussing preference. So if you’re working from a point of saying “fandom privileges—” fandom, and we spend so much time talking about what is fandom, we’re talking about transformative fandom, female dominated fanfiction-y kind of fandom. And obviously you see parallels in other corners of fandom, or media consumption, or society at large, but this is who we’re talking about. Talking about preference. Saying, if you always go for the white guys, there’s a lot of ways you can excuse it, right? Or you can attempt to excuse it. So that's basically what it’s going at, and there were a lot of problems. And some of our guests are going to be talking about this, but this has been a huge part of this discourse, so if you haven’t read it you obviously don’t have to, but—I think, will we link to it?
FK: Yeah, go to the show notes. It’s pretty—I think it’s important for everybody to read to have context and understand.
ELM: If you want to engage with this, but absolutely I would say if you don’t want to there’s absolutely no reason why you should. And I would say that about any meta or any point of discourse. If you think it’s gonna make you mad you can always just skip it, and we’ll be linking to a bunch of commentary that our guests have provided for us. So I think that’s probably all the context that our listeners need if they haven’t been deep in this discussion the last few weeks, do you think that’s true?
FK: Yeah, so just a couple notes about format…we put out a call and we got so many respondents that we really wanted to take everybody, and we have. So that’s part of why this is going to be a double episode.
ELM: Just as an aside, sometimes we kind of beat ourselves up over kind of like trying to keep things to like an hour, these two because we didn’t want to cut anyone out or really edit anyone down significantly, these two are a little over an hour, perhaps a bit more than an hour? And I would love to know, not about this in particular but in general, if anyone has any feelings about length. If you see an hour ten and you're like “No! I can’t do that in my life,” if that makes a difference to you, I get the sense that most of our listeners listen when they can, maybe listen when they’re interested in the topic and won’t say no…I’m only thinking about this because I’m producing a podcast professionally and we’re constantly talking about like, how it needs to be less than half an hour and “developers have limited time” so, like, maybe I’m letting this infect it and maybe this is not an issue. So anyway.
FK: Right. But let us know your thoughts on how long Fansplaining should be, because we’re obviously still experimenting with format.
ELM: Yes. Yes. That’s what I was trying to say.
FK: And with the note of experimenting with format, just so you know what to prepare for, for this episode, Part One, we’re going to have five contributors. Two of them we’re going to interview, and three of them have prepared statements that we’re going to play. So first we’re gonna hear from Holly Quinn, she prepared a statement, then we’re going to interview Rukmini Pande, then we’re going to hear from Shadowkeeper with a prepared statement, then Clio we’ll interview, then PJ Punla is going to, we’ll roll her statement.
ELM: We’ll introduce the other five contributors in the next episode. What you need to know about these prepared statements is we basically, to the group of six we gave them a series of kind of broad questions, and the one great thing about Holly Quinn going first is she pretty clearly states the question that we asked and then gives an answer, so you’ll know immediately what those questions were. They're basically about, like, broad perceptions of race and fandom and also how that affects our respondents personally. Do you think they need to know anything else?
FK: I think that that’s good! So why don’t we hear from Holly?
Holly Quinn (recorded statement): Hi, my name’s Holly Quinn. I run the blog Diverse High Fantasy on tumblr. My fandoms include Star Wars, The Walking Dead and Killjoys, and most of my fan writing is representation in media commentary.
“Do you see racism underlying fandom's pairing preferences?” Absolutely, there’s no question about it. With fandom the kind of racism that you most commonly see isn’t things like racial slurs and hate speech and white hoods. What you really see is a constant communal prioritization of white people and white characters, even when there are non-white characters in major roles. This is a trend across almost all fandoms; there are very few exceptions.
“How have fandom’s attitudes on race affected you personally?” I’m affected by it every day. I see it every day. Every time that I go onto Tumblr, every time I enter a fan space. It’s had a lot of impact on me in that fandom is maybe more aware that racism is really that ubiquitous, even among people who consider themselves progressive, and that a lot of people even in the US are actually really isolated from people of color, especially Black people.
“How have fandom’s attitudes changed in the time that you’ve been involved in fandom?” I’ve been in online fandom since the 90s. The changes that I’ve seen in fandom as far as race really have more to do with the increase in Black voices in fandom than any real overall changes in attitude. I do think there’s more white fans who are interested in Black characters or characters of color, simply because there are more of them, but I think overall the patterns are the same. You see the same comments, the same discourse, the same everything, you know. I can see the same comments being made about Michonne today that would be made twenty years ago. Really not a lot of change.
I think the things that have had the biggest impact on increasing diversity in fandom have been the birth of social media, the fandom migration to Tumblr as a major platform, and the premiere of Sleepy Hollow, which as you know is a US genre show with a Black woman lead. As much as there were failures with that show, it created a fandom where a Black woman was in the top ship on AO3, a special tag where fans could have an ongoing discussion on race, with minimal opposition, and it’s just a very different space. And I think that that more diverse fan culture has spread to other fandoms.
“What constructive steps can fans take to improve the situation?” I think for fans of color, when you see racist patterns, you have to say something, you have to say something, you have to speak up, reblog when other people are talking about it, or just say something yourself and don't be afraid to use words like “racist” and “racism.” I know when I use those words, people get really defensive, they’ll act like I’m being extreme, they’ll act like I’m over the top and out of line, and to me that’s really just people refusing to discuss it, discuss issues that we’re seeing in terms of race and just running away.
So for white fans, I’d say don’t run away. Don’t try to avoid the conversation. Listen.
FK: All right! So that was Holly, and our next guest is an interview, and it’s Rukmini Pande. She’s from India, she’s currently finishing her PhD on race and fandom, and she’s been around fandom since 2003, she’s currently mostly into Star Wars but Sam Wilson is also her fave. So shall we welcome Rukmini?
ELM: Let’s call her up!
Rukmini Pande: Hi!
ELM: Hello! Thanks so much for coming on!
FK: All the way across the time difference.
ELM: So we’re really excited to talk to you, so you’ve been in fandom a long time, right?
RP: I have, yes. I have been in fandom since I was 18, I'm now 30, so it’s been awhile. I’ve moved between anime fandoms to more Western-centric fandoms I suppose—though of course that’s a pretty random line to draw. And yeah, so I’ve been here a long time, I’ve been watching fandom and engaging with it and making friends and all of that. So it’s been a ride.
Personally I think what is my issue with the ways that a lot of this conversation is framed is we keep seeming to be set back to zero. We keep seeming to have these conversations, RaceFail happened, the treatment of Uhura happened, the arguments continue to be the same. We seem to keep repeating ourselves. And that’s tiring and not very productive. Also I think this, not to get into the meta…it’s this continual framing, I think, and I was talking about it today on Twitter as well: “Let me tell you about the history of fandom.” This very condescending and completely pretending to be historical but rather ahistorical look at what the Archive of our Own is, what slash is, what kinds of conversations have been happening…
To frame it as historical and not talk about all those times when these conversations have happened and have been happening not with outsiders who have suddenly decided to rip apart somebody’s safe space, but as people who have squeed, who’ve ran challenges, who’ve written fic, who’ve contributed, who have I suppose in a sense bought into the narrative that these are spaces where we talk back to culture.
RP: To craft all these narratives and then to be told that you are just ruining everybody's fun to score social justice points is, it’s deeply hurtful and it’s deeply alienating. And again, we’re set back to zero. We have to start all over again with the justification of why we’re here. When were we here. How long have we been here. What have we been writing. What have we been reading.
It’s that position of feminist killjoys, I suppose, once again. You talk about it, you’re the problem. Everybody else is having fun. I suppose that’s my take on this cyclical thing that just keeps happening. And you see patterns that have always been present, but you perhaps looked at—like I said, you look at them through the corner of your eye, because you know the minute you look at it you'll never be able to unsee it. And I think these people who are finding communities that talk the same kind of, you know, who value characters from different backgrounds and who legitimize the squee. You’re not being random when Finn is important to you. You’re not asking for something that is not valid.
Now, for a lot of people who perhaps have been sailing along in their particular experiences of fandom are saying, “Well, this was never a problem earlier, I don’t see why you guys are coming in”—you know, coming in and taking over our spaces and spoiling our fun. And I’m like, we’re not spoiling anyone's fun! I don’t see how saying “Hey, Finn is a great character, I know you like these characters because I’ve read the fics that build these characters up even when there isn’t—” We’re not unfamiliar with the tropes! We’re not unfamiliar with the traditions! We’re not unfamiliar with trash ships or whatever! I am not somebody who is “Oh, I will only read PG-13 fluff.”
It’s not about that! The consistent characterization of fans who talk about these things as somehow kink-negative or slash-negative or somebody who’s like “We’ll only read these kinds of stories” is ridiculous. The smugness of the “Oh, I read all these very edgy fics while you want to be safe in your little cocoons of unproblematicness,” this is not true!
FK & ELM: Yeah.
RP: And everybody comes up to me and goes, “But it’s so difficult.” Why is it so difficult? Did fandom suddenly change and hate all fluff because after the whole—not to pin it on particular ships, but there was this pushback, like “Kylux is so popular because it allows us do do all this edgy stuff.” OK. And I went to the AO3 and I was like, “I’ve never been on this tag, let me see what’s happening.” And I went through, I clicked on the additional tag, the first additional tag that comes up is fluff.
RP: I went down the whole first page and I picked out the relevant tags and it was, you know, arranged marriage, Han Solo as a smuggler, soulmate AU, kissing in the bleachers, fluff! [all laugh] There was one non-con, I’ll give them that.
FK: But if it’s forced marriage non-con, that’s not exactly, you know, innovative.
RP: It’s not anything that is radically different to what is coming out of other fandoms. This whole idea of somehow the freedom that Kylux gives over Finn/Poe seems to be a complete red herring. I don’t see it. I wouldn’t have spent half my fandom life tripping over fluff, and I did not want it, if people, if fandoms weren't built on it. And I’ve been here! I’ve trolled tags! I’ve tried to find fic that I want to read and you can’t tell me that fandom has suddenly decided that fluff is just not an option. [all laugh]
It’s not fair, and it’s not fair to bracket people who are talking about these problems as somehow not participating in this, as I said, in this fannish currency of love and squee and support. We’ve run chromatic character challenges, we boost fic, we love art. There are entire blogs that are, so many blogs that are built around joy and making characters interesting and celebrating them, and isn’t that what fandom is supposed to be?
RP: Isn’t that what we’ve built stuff like AO3 on? It’s a mischaracterization, “Oh, you just want to score points.” Why would I want to score points? I just want fic.
ELM: I’m very curious about the cycles of like, flashpoint, versus the everyday happenings. Does that make sense? So like, I think it’s interesting that you have a bunch of white fans who never ever think about race and only ever think about white characters and have this total systemic blindspot to characters of color, and then there’s a flashpoint and that’s the one moment that they have to think about it and they get so defensive. Do you know this cycle? I’m not sure, this isn’t a question. I'm just trying to formulate…
RP: The flashpoint idea is really interesting cause I think that we’re gonna get more of them just in terms of the fact that the media is getting better. I’ve always had this thing about when people say fandom is the space, we keep making more space for more stories, for all of these ideas, and I think that for the first time—and this is why I think a lot of people that usually don’t take notice of this—The Force Awakens is perhaps the first text where there is literally no wiggle room on this argument.
I did not expect to see this movie. I did not. I did not expect to see what I did. I walked in, I avoided spoilers for two months because I was moving countries and I couldn’t get to a movie theater, and I literally went off the internet for two months and I was like, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. And everybody was like “Oh my God, Rukmini, it’s amazing, it’s amazing.” I was like “It couldn’t be, it’s J.J. Abrams!” [all laugh] “No no, you don’t understand! It’s amazing!”
And I walked out of there with this, it was this…the fact that I saw Finn take off his helmet and that was him. And Poe was Poe and Rey was Rey and these character types that I’ve loved all my life had suddenly expanded. I genuinely walked out of that theater thinking that this was it. This was the tipping point. This combination was going to be impossible to ignore because it’s perfect.
RP: Of course, it didn’t happen. I hope, at least, that as texts get better with representation fandom will stop having the same excuses that it’s always had. It’s very interesting that this is not something that fandom has made room for. It’s what the texts are forcing onto fandom. And I think that that’s, just talking from my own point of view as a fan studies person as well, like, not just as a fan but also as a fan studies person I think it's going to, I hope it really does force a reconsideration of what fans do with what they get. Which has been a little one note so far.
ELM: That is such an interesting distinction and so different than…so I’m a slash person and I have been for a long time, and I was going to say as an aside, one thing that I really love about the Star Wars conversation is that it’s not like the Kirk/Spock/Uhura conversation because that is also a het ship versus a slash ship and it’s hard to be like, there’s two things happening at once.
FK: And Spock has his own complications with regard to race and the way people have historically read him and so forth. There’s just so much going on.
ELM: Right, whereas this was like, two men of color versus two white dudes. Obviously there’s a big het ship in the middle of this too, but forget about that.
RP: Yes, yes.
FK: But they don’t even have to be—what's funny is the men of color and the two white dudes don’t even have to be mutually exclusive. And yet that has become the discussion.
ELM: I know! They could just be there.
FK: About people not wanting Finn/Poe over Kylux, these could be two great tastes that taste great together if you really wanted them to be. But, and it seems like Finn/Poe shippers do, because Kylux shows up in Finn/Poe fic.
ELM: I was, it’s interesting because I think that one of the things I really value about slash—and slash has tons of problems and someday we’re gonna actually sit down and have a slash episode—but one thing I really value about slash is it doesn’t wait for anything, and it just makes the text, queers the text immediately. It’s not waiting for the content creators to catch up and often doesn’t care about that. And I think it’s pretty telling that because I think of white people’s…I don’t know if it’s discomfort or underlying racism or whatever, but I’ve never, I shouldn’t say never because I think that erases—there’s plenty of people doing plenty of work. But the fact that it has to come from the content creators first makes me sad. Because one thing, I’m a very fuck canon kind of person and I love slash because we’re like “I’m not gonna wait for you! Fuck you! They’re gay!” And it’s sad that we have to wait for the people that we're supposed to be kind of fixing to come in and say “No, you can’t ignore it anymore.” Does that make sense?
RP: Yeah, no, I’ve been saying this for awhile actually in the sense that I think Star Wars proves it. I think Star Wars proves, and this is something that I want to say in my own work, that whiteness is a structuring force in fandom. That’s what it is. It’s something that we don’t want to talk about because it goes directly against everything we love about the space, but you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say that this is a space that talks back to culture, this is a space that resists narratives, this is a space that allows for all these exploration of identities, and in 70+ years of writing we haven’t had one juggernaut, not one. It’s unavoidable. And it literally took a J.J. Abrams directed movie—
ELM: Disney owned!
RP: To bring us to the point where I can say that Poe and Finn are absolutely the archetypes. That gives me the backing to say these things. And that needs a reconsideration.
RP: It’s telling to me…and even now, that’s not just in terms of slash! I think slash gets it more, because this is the space where we’re supposed to be, that has been built up as this kind of resistant space, but I think that there’s an equally interesting conversation to be had about Finn and Rey. About—and particularly about Finn. Because Finn is this, he is unavoidable. He’s right there. He’s unavoidable in every conversation you have in Star Wars and he is right there and he is not allowing any kind of sweeping under the carpet. And I think that that’s very key.
It’s a particular combination of character, of actor, and of plot and of film. It is the Star Wars franchise. It means things. It’s tapping into a whole lot of nostalgia. It’s tapping into a whole bunch of archetypes about what a hero is and what we love and as I said, what happened when Finn took off his helmet? He’s just standing there right in the center of all of this. And for once fandom can’t ignore him. They can’t. They’re going to have to deal with him in some way. And how they’re dealing with him in both het and slash, because I think they’re quite connected now as spaces—the fan continuum is not—and even in femslash! My friends who’ve kind of been in femslash communities, Finn is so important there. And one of my friends who's been in femslash very funnily said, “Usually our reaction to boys is like, ew boys, why boys, why are boys here.” And she was like, within those spaces, Finn—you know, the great Peradi fic Have You Heard, that fic is being passed around. Finn is being seen as this important moment, this important character.
And I think Finn’s Blackness is huge in all of this. I think if he were any other type of character, if he had any other racial background, it probably wouldn’t be this flashpoint. It goes straight to the heart of these insecurities and kind of just lays it open.
ELM: Yeah, that is so interesting.
FK: I do think the het space is—it's funny because you were talking about the complexity and the perfectness of the archetypes, and I think that actually Sleepy Hollow on a smaller scale is the good comparison of the het space. Like, here you have the dueling partners, it’s clear that they are the ones that should be shipped in this if you’re a het person. And I think Star Wars is a little more complicated than that because of the attractiveness of the dark fuck prince sort of Kylo Ren space, and the fact that there is so much blowback on Reylo to the point where the top Reylo fic is a “Reylo is bad and wrong.” That is actually a space where—
ELM: I believe it says it's incest and Kylo Ren should be thrown in the garbage.
FK: I'm not saying it’s not a trash ship! [laughing] But it is different; the top fic in Kylux is not saying “Kylux is wrong and space Nazis,” you know what I mean.
RP: I think you're right in the sense that in the het space there is more of a conversation perhaps to be had, but I do think that Finn again is very much a part of the—if you switched it, if John Boyega was playing Kylo Ren and if Adam Driver was playing Finn…
FK: [anticipating her, laughing] Yeah, that’s true! Never.
RP: I don’t think anybody can argue with me about that. Everybody would be like “It’s racist! You can’t ship her with her,” you know, “Star Wars is racist for having cast Kylo like that and we can’t go there.”
FK: Right. It’s true.
ELM: Or people who are now saying “He’s a complicated moral character” would be just “No, he’s evil, I’m not gonna touch him,” you know.
ELM: If we’re waiting for Hollywood to give cues on this, it’s so complicated because they’re probably going to hesitate to cast, they’re not gonna want to cast a Black man in the role of dictator of the space Nazis or whatever. But like, [laughing] it’s interesting for everyone saying “Oh, I just wanna write about dark characters,” dark fuck princes or just tortured sad man babies, so if we need more tortured sad man babies of color—and to see if then they get completely ignored.
FK: John Boyega was also—Finn was a stormtrooper! Finn was a stormtrooper, so it wasn’t like he wasn’t part of the evil space Nazis.
RP: Exactly! If one wants to talk about character archetypes and how they’re treated, you wanna talk about PTSD? Bucky's PTSD seems very very popular as a fic trope. So I don’t know why suddenly Finn's pain, which parallels that a lot, the whole idea of being brainwashed, the idea of being, refusing to kill, the idea of…it's this whole idea, plugs into this idea of “Black people don’t feel pain, they’re too strong.” He’s just inherently good. He’s too good. And I’m like, there’s a lot to be unpacked in all the years that he was put in that particular position! There’s a huge amount of interest, and historically fandom has been very interested to see how that works.
ELM: For sure.
RP: Within my experience of the Star Wars fandom, I don’t think I ever saw anyone say “Please never touch Finn, please never make him into—never explore his theme.” This whole idea of social justice warriors are all up in our face, I never saw that. I was in those spaces. I follow blogs that say “This is a particularly gross trope, maybe we should think about how we’re using this.” But I never saw—I saw in fact people being like “Let’s talk about his pain. Let’s talk about how he experienced that. Let’s talk about what could have happened. Let’s talk about his relationships within the First Order.” And in fact there was a genre of fic that did that really well! The whole idea of FN-2187 was a stormtrooper and he rebelled and that’s important. That led to a great genre of fics.
There’s no reason for that to not be as much of a generator of fic than the darkness of Kylo Ren, for whatever reason. And again, if we flipped those roles, it would not have happened the same way. The dynamic between Kylo Ren and Rey would not have been read in the same ways. It would not have. And you can do that again, if you flipped it, if Oscar Isaac and John Boyega were playing Kylo Ren and General Hux, nobody would have had the slightest interest in a trash ship. “Trash ship.”
ELM: Those were air quotes. I’m also skeptical about this distinction.
FK: We just talked about this last episode, you know, discussing whether this was a thing. So.
RP: I think to broaden the conversation is really important. This makes it really clear, but these tropes have been—these patterns have been seen again and again and again. Everybody is really interested in characters that do stupid things and screw up their relationships and all of that, and I’m like “Yes! So am I. I'm also in this space, I love these tropes.” But in The Losers, when Idris Elba’s character completely screws up and completely betrays his friends and everybody’s like “Why, why did you do this?!” And him and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character had such a, they were, it was right there, and nobody was particularly interested.
And I think that it is the interiority that is granted to white crime and to white evil that is just not granted to anyone else. Sure, you might like villains, you might like dark characters, but the whiteness of those dark characters is very key to why you feel you can explore them.
ELM: Yeah, definitely.
FK: That’s incredibly insightful. That's really—I’ve never heard anybody say, make specifically that connection before, maybe just because I haven’t been reading enough and that’s incredibly insightful.
RP: People were coming up to me and being like “But it’s so…” A) not every fic that comes out of fandom and is hugely kudosed is edgy and dark and treading on 100 tropes, please miss me with that because I’ve been here, I think one of the highest kudosed fics in Hannibal fandom is a coffeeshop AU, so…
FK: Oh god, Hannibal fandom is flower crown fandom! It’s nothing but that! I own and I love my flower crown, but my God, it’s not about actually exploring evil, it’s about how hot Mads Mikkelsen is and how much of a woobie he is.
RP: Yes! It is this whole idea of being able to explore problematic characters when their humanity is not questioned. Their humanity is always there. Their humanity is always right there, it can be unearthed through this exploration. But if you’re not going to grant that level of interiority to problematic characters that are played by non-white people, then you’re never going to get there, and you’re always going to be able to pass it on to something else.
That’s what makes me mad, because it becomes this constant idea of “Oh, let me tell you, I only like this.” And I’m like, OK, maybe you do, but fandom at large certainly does not! If problematic characters are your jam, then why should be difficult for you to explore the problematicness of somebody who seems to be written as a racist character? We cross all kinds of boundaries in fandom. That’s what we fly our flags about. We read all kinds of, to go back to trash things, we do! We do age differences, we do—
ELM: That’s Flourish. [all laugh]
RP: We do power differentials. We do all kinds of things. So why does suddenly this particular—and you get people up accusing you of all kinds of things in various…
FK: If you’re willing to go to the mat for Reylo then you should be willing to go to the mat for problematic representations of Finn that are, like, trying to get at something.
ELM: I also think as a parallel if you're going to blame the source material and the writing and say “I’m not gonna go there because this is a racist one dimensional character,” but every single day in fandom people are rewriting women to make them complex, not sexist. And this is a mission! This is what I try to make all the women have dimensions in my stories, you know. So again.
RP: Exactly, exactly. It’s a really interesting point in these conversations. Because you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t keep telling yourselves and everyone else around you that this is a space where you come to to expand storylines and to push back against toxic cultural messages, and at the same time maintain that this is a line too far, that this is not something that is within your control. Because there is no reason! And it also sets up this weird kind of thing where your identity is kind of sectioned off. Fen of color are queer! This is why these spaces have been so important to us, because this is as much our space as anyone else’s. This is where we come to relax as well! To make it into an us vs. them thing or a “We just want to relax and you’re being such dickheads about it,” you know, it’s not…it gets really tiring when it’s framed like that.
ELM: I’m incredibly sad to say I think we are running out of time, but will you promise us to come back and talk to us again about whatever you want, but, or all of this again, because this was just so fantastic.
RP: Yeah! Very much I would like to. I’d like to keep talking to whoever would want to keep talking to me. Sometimes I’m just like “Nobody will want to talk to me anymore.” [laughing] Very soon, they’ll be just like…
FK: Well that is not true!
ELM: There are two people who would still like to talk to you at a future time, so.
RP: Thank you so much for having me on. It’s been a great conversation, and I hope that the rest—your other interviews sound great as well. Thank you!
ELM: Awesome. Thank you!
FK: Thank you for joining us!
ELM: You know, that was such a great conversation.
FK: I actually. I can’t. I feel like she put her finger on things that I think people have tried to say to me before and I did not get.
ELM: [laughs] That was kind of a mixed metaphor or image. She put her finger on things people have tried to say to you.
FK: But I didn’t get them before. [ELM laughs] I mean I’m being honest! Really, actually.
ELM: It’s interesting how framing can change the way a discourse can go. That’s not to say that [laughs] that the people who haven’t penetrated your thick skull have framed it wrong.
FK: [laughs] Thanks, Elizabeth.
ELM: Just thought I’d throw you under the bus while we’re here. But this has been great, and I honestly, I’d love to talk to her more. So.
ELM: So please come back, Rukmini! Anyway, time to get on to our next statement. This is from Shadowkeeper, right?
FK: I think so.
ELM: Who was I think the first person to get in touch after we put our call out. So thank you so much. And let’s roll it!
FK: All right.
Shadowkeeper: Hello, I’m Shadowkeeper. I’m mainly a fic reader, although I write occasionally. Some of the fandoms I’ve read for recently include Hannibal, Star Wars, Marvel and Person of Interest. I’ve written fic for Sense8 and I also watch a silly amount of K-drama.
I absolutely think there’s racism underlying fandom’s pairing preferences—fandom referring to the collective whole. Fans will individually have reasons for shipping the way they do, liking specific characters or actors, identifying with them, preferring certain chemistry, or only shipping slash not het or vice versa, and the one or two characters of color in that piece of media don’t fit any of those criteria. Considering that Western media is mostly made up of white characters, it’s not surprising when the majority of a fan’s ships are white-only pairings. It’s when you start adding up the uses of all those reasons the problem kind of becomes clear.
In individual fandoms, white couples are almost always the most popular, despite non-white leads in canon pairings. Individual fans can be part of the problem when they don’t consider themselves racist because they don’t think that they hate non-white characters or people. They’ll just participate in multiple fandoms or multiship within a fandom with prominent non-white characters, and all their favorite ships and all their favorite characters just happen to be all white.
Fandom digging up minor white characters to ship and focus on while ignoring non-white characters is the clearest display of fandom racism. I know Star Wars led to this discussion with Destination Toast’s stats on Kylux, and Star Wars feels like a microcosm of all these issues. There was a meta on Tumblr by a user named wildhack that brought up the fact that fandom seems to have given Hux a consistent personality in fic, despite his complete lack of screen time or characterization in canon. And that personality, being really similar to ones being used in other fandoms with other white dudes that have minimal screen time and character development. I personally got fed up with the Pacific Rim fandom when it became clear that the most popular ship there was Newt/Herman—two secondary white dudes that have over triple the amount of fic written about them in a pairing with a non-white lead. And Herman seems to have been given that same personality that Hux has!
On a super basic detached level, fandom attitudes on race make fandom a little less fun because it stifles diversity and homogenizes fandom output, keeps things looking similar. If I want to read fic about non-white characters, chances are that there’s just gonna be less written about them. So there’s less fun stuff to enjoy. Then there’s the personal level that keeps you aware that fandom just doesn’t really care about or hates non-white characters. The constant barrage of racial microaggressions. Some of it looks similar to fandom misogyny, where characters of color are more frequently criticized, hated, or ignored compared to white characters. And of course there’s the popular habit of defensive people coming up with all the reasons and excuses for why they hate certain non-white characters and why they won’t ship them with anybody. Even when trying to curate fandom experience to cut out the obvious racism, microaggression always makes it through and it makes fandom a little less fun, just keeps you reminded of the real world.
I’ve been in fandom for about nineteen years at this point and fandom was racist back then and it’s still pretty racist now. There’s been a little bit of progress. The fact that there are more non-white characters in Western media than there were 10, 20 years ago, especially in the media fandom latches on to, has helped fandom seem a little less like a monolith of whiteness where white media is made for white fans. Fans themselves seem way more comfortable identifying themselves as nonwhite than a decade or two ago, also more comfortable speaking up about it. There’s a sense that there’s a community non-white fans can find support in to call out Hollywood or fandom when they need to.
I feel like putting the onus on fans of color to improve fandom racism is like asking people to work harder to fix societal racism. Fans of color can speak up and bring attention to the issue, call out racist behavior, but we’re not the ones with the power, and we’re not the ones Western media is mostly catering to. Half the time, it feels like fans of color are only speaking to each other about the issues, and occasionally get loud enough for white fans to hear us, which of course brings defensive white fans and racist trolls flocking in to derail the conversation. White fans as the majority have the privilege and power to ignore the issue and carry on with the status quo. Things will only improve when white fans recognize that their behavior is contributing to the problem and take steps to improve it.
White fans who only have white favorites or white OTPs, who only write fic or make art about white characters, could take a second to question themselves about why that is. What is it about characters of color that don't appeal to them? Or if they do appeal to them, why are they staying silent about it? I'm not saying white fans need to make their fandom hobby all about trying to solve racism or other social issues, but that in the fandom activities they already participate in, white fans try and consider including more characters of color in their fannish focus. If you write or make art and you like a character of color, maybe spend some fandom time focusing on them as well.
FK: OK, so that was Shadowkeeper, the person who saved us from worrying that no one would respond to our call for people because she came back to us so quickly and was like “It’s OK!”
ELM: Oh, I thought you were gonna say the person who saved us from no one giving prescriptions for what white fans can do!
FK: Well that’s true too, it’s actually really helpful and makes me feel secure that there’s something I can do.
ELM: Having listened to all the statements, Shadowkeeper wins the prize for giving us the most directives, which obviously no one was under any obligation to give us directives, but that’s not to say that we don’t appreciate them.
FK: Yes. I respond well to authority.
ELM: [laughs] Instruction! Can I just say that behind the scenes I made Flourish a checklist for this episode so we didn’t forget any information and I modeled it on the ones I had at work and she seems to be responding really well to this very directed space.
FK: It was delightful. If anyone wants to send me a checklist for how not to be a dickbag I will do that too. [ELM laughs] So however we should probably get our next guest.
ELM: Yeah yeah! It’s Clio, right?
FK: Yeah, it's Clio! So Clio is Black, she’s biracial, and she started off in the Harry Potter fandom before she spent time in American Idol and Star Trek and MCU and Teen Wolf, and these days she’s a huge femslasher on Tumblr, and I’ve known her since I can’t even remember because I was a sprog and I am really looking forward to calling her up!
ELM: Yes! I am also looking forward to calling her so, we should totally do it!
FK: Hey, Clio!
ELM: Thanks for coming on!
C: Sure thing!
FK: So we are so excited to have you on for a lot of reasons, but one of them was—we’ve known each other a long time in fandom and one of the things that has kept coming up as we’ve been talking to different people in this episode is the sort of cycle of fandom interest in issues of race and discussions about race.
ELM: You know, #notallfans, that's part of the narrative that comes up. Because it often comes up that this discussion doesn’t go away for plenty of fans, especially people of color. And then everyone else who is like “Why are you making us think about this now?!” You know, the flash points we’ve been talking a lot about, but in a cyclical way.
C: It’s more like “Why are you listening to me right now? You weren’t listening to me five minutes ago, but now there are enough people making enough noise for you to be listening to me.” Most of the people who talk about this talk about this all of the time. It’s part of everything they say, but it has to get in people’s way for them to listen to it in any significant way and decide that something is going on.
FK: Yeah, one of the things that I thought of as we were talking about this with different people was how much fanfic you write about women and characters of color and that you’ve been doing this for so many years and I remembered you talking about “Hey guys, always been here.”
C: Yeah, and I remember talking about this with another friend where she was like “I have written femslash, but because slash is always more popular, people only think of you for the slash you’ve written even if you’ve written way less slash.” If you have three or four really popular slash fics, people just think of you as a slash writer, even if you have like 25 femslash fics. But no one was looking at them, so they kind of don't exist. Which is sort of the larger issue, that things that aren’t mega-popular kind of don’t exist, we don’t have a middle. We just have things that we decide aren’t important and things that everybody must be paying attention to.
ELM: That’s an interesting distinction.
FK: Do you think that it functions this way for issues of race, as well? For femslash, no one pays attention to it and then someone’s like “Let’s make a femslash challenge because everybody’s being sexist!” Is it the same for race?
C: Yeah, I think so. I think that there’s right now, especially in Tumblr I definitely have drifted into something more like a femslash fandom. Which, femslash is so small that it ends up being its own space and everybody may be watching this show or that show or into this movie or that movie but it’s sort of this larger multifandom femslash space that a lot of people are participating in all at once. So all those people are talking about it all of the time and interested in it, reading it, participating in it. And then things bubble up, like a whole bunch of lesbian ladies on television getting killed in a week, and then it kind of bubbles up, and people kind of talk about it for 10 minutes, and then it kind of descends.
And I think the same thing happens with race, where there can be a lot of things, a lot of small ongoing things, and no one’s paying attention, and something becomes too big to ignore, and then everybody talks about that for awhile, and then that issue gets resolved or no one cares about it, everybody’s done talking about it, everybody’s tired of it. Which I totally understand. And then it just goes back down. Because people don’t really change.
I think that if there’s one thing, if I were a person who talked about things a lot on social media that I would say: there are a lot of people and I think they’re very well meaning, who will reblog or retweet or link to someone writing understandably frustrated meta about either people writing about women or people writing about characters of color. But then that’s all they do. They just reblog the meta. I mean, I know that I will get more attention if I write a really pointed, sarcastic, angry series of paragraphs about race than if I write anything nuanced or thoughtful or if I write an actual story.
Those will not get attention, and in fact someone I knew who was not a person of color and I was saying something about that to, she was like “Well, that’s not as useful.” I’m like…to who? I’m not writing this…! Someone had said once, “We’re not writing these things about race to be useful to other people, we’re writing about our experience in the world.” And so I’m not writing it so you’ll reblog it and a whole bunch of other people will read it, I’m writing it just trying to write my truth or I’m frustrated today or whatever.
So seeing that happen over and over when it’s so easy to go find a bunch of fic and kudo it. I’m not even asking people to create fanworks they don’t feel super excited about. Just go find some fics and kudo them or make a rec list of the fics that you found! Because the reason people don’t create a lot of this work is because it doesn’t get as much attention. After awhile if you don’t have the ship that you just love, love eternally, you kind of burn out and you’re sort of like, “Well, why am I doing this?” And I think that mega-slash fandom really runs on the idea that you should do things that are in the white-hot center of attention. Not just because you want attention, but because it’s fun to do the thing that everybody is doing.
And so there’s a thing you’re pushing back against, always, because I wanna do this cause I wanna do it, and people are like, “Why would you do it if you know only four people are doing it? That doesn’t sound fun.” And you have to push back against that all the time. It’s sort of like, “Am I in fandom if I’m not writing Steve/Bucky right now? Does anything that I’m doing in fandom in May matter if I’m not writing Steve/Bucky?”
C: I mean I spent enough time in and near that kind of big mega-slash thing to know ultimately it’s not my thing. I was in Trek fandom and ultimately I still am, but I was a Kirk/McCoy person who was watching Kirk/Spock happen just from afar. Not really in a rival way, because we didn't feel that way about it. But you watch it from afar and the problems, the race problems that it started, the way that that whole thing went down, and we were like, I’m glad I’m not over there.
And then I ended up, I don’t know how this happened but I ended up in the middle of the whole Sterek thing in Teen Wolf and that got really racially messy in a lot of ways, very quickly, and became a difficult space to live in. And after I backed out of that space I moved into femslash mostly from there.
But I’ve spent enough time in slash fandom to know—it’s hard. Because I know this started from that Destination Toast stuff and I’ve always had a lot of problems with those kinds of fandom metrics. Obviously there’s the problem of them only looking at AO3 and I know people make all these disclaimers, but we all know that het ships usually tend to go off in their own little places and they have their own tiny archives. Pride and Prejudice is not a Yuletide fandom and that’s all happening on its own archive off in the depths of the internet somewhere.
FK: And they’re incredibly well organized, also!
C: Super! And so they are all having their party somewhere else, and it’s not a place where you can see a lot of other things, it looks small, cause it's just one fandom. And a lot of it is just one ship. But it’s enough that they’re not gonna be in Yuletide. And I think that when I look at people who are only pulling from AO3, I’m kinda, “That’s not great.” And I know we can say “That’s not all of fandom, but let’s look at these numbers anyway,” and I have a problem with that but, but that’s probably just because I was trained as a historian so I’m like “Mm, your sources.”
And then on top of that my other big problem with that stuff is that we’re constantly looking at numbers of stories and we are never looking at numbers of words. I mean a 100,000 word Finn/Poe story just got finished the other day. And it makes me sad that that’s just gonna be one checkmark, and if someone goes and writes a 500 word any other ship, that’s gonna be the equivalent.
C: And that doesn’t seem quite right to me. But ultimately I was kinda perusing around what Toast was doing and someone had said “Oh, I’m sad because my ship fell below the number of ships you were looking at,” and I think that people feel erased by that. I think that people feel like “Well, if my thing isn’t an important enough thing…” So when you look at these things, those ships aren’t rival ships. They don’t in large part really care about each other.
But when you have a downturn in the number of stories over a period of five months, a downturn that happened right before a huge exchange for Star Wars day, by the way, then someone says “Why?” and I’m just not certain that’s a question that needs to be answered.
I think this all started from people going “Why aren’t there?” and, why do there need to be? Why is it we need to have this idea that if we have the numbers we are the thing that matters? I used to read Fandom Secrets pretty religiously, and one of the reasons why I did was in the middle of feeling like there can be one big thing and that's all anybody cares about, it was constantly reminding me of the hundreds of tiny tiny things that people care about. And I think it’s really easy for that to get lost. It’s obviously easy for that to get lost on something like Tumblr that tends to aggregate and exaggerate the popular and lose the unpopular, and it’s also easy to have that reaction to. I mean I think that obviously she’s doing statistics in a very value-neutral way, but the outcome is always gonna get valued in some way.
C: And that’s the part that I think is unfortunate.
ELM: I think, yeah, I mean—I guess the one disclaimer we have to say, anyone engaging with Toast, she is a regular on our show and she’s a friend of ours. And I mean, she’s trained in this, she’s well aware of the limitations. And I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I think that the interesting thing about focusing on AO3 is, I think for me and I’m wondering if it’s true for you guys too, there is a value of saying “Well, this is what’s happening on AO3, so let’s interrogate why we’re all like that,” you know. Because I, I mean, I’ll read in other places but it’s only because that’s older stuff.
It’s hard. One thing I’ve been talking about with other people that comes in line with what you’re saying is, there’s also kind of a privileging of the ship in these stats discussions.
ELM: You read plenty of—I mean, I read in ships and I’ve only had a few ships. But the idea that those are the only two people in your story or your story is only about these two dudes or whatever is a kind of blankety thing that frustrates me, you know what I mean?
C: I have always written a lot of ensemble stuff and it makes me really super anxious when people write those posts of “Here’s how to filter effectively on AO3 so you get stories that are only about the ship you want and don't have any of these other people in it.” While I totally—obviously being a femslasher I totally understand that problem of people putting in the femslash ship as a background ship and then you have this femslash tag that supposedly has 130 stories but really only has 70 because most of them are background. But if I’m gonna write a story that has…
I really love writing stories that are a slash ship and a femslash ship interacting. I just find something really interesting about that, so it makes me kind of tense when I think that people are like, “But is this really a slash story or is it really a femslash story?” I’m like, it’s really an ensemble story, and I don’t think there’s a space for that.
FK: This is sort of going back in time to something you said a moment ago, just because we’ve touched on this briefly with some of the other folks we’ve talked to. Could you talk a little bit more about the Star Trek Kirk/Spock and Spock/Uhura mess… [all start talking and laughing]
ELM: You should see the whoooo-boy face she just made.
FK: Because I feel like one of the things, we’re talking about how complex slash versus het versus ensemble versus do we just love the characters and want to see them love each other…it feels like that was, way more than even Star Wars now that that was a really complex instance.
C: Yeah. I mean I think that one of the biggest things that complicated that particular mess was that I think the television show, the original series, is much more purely, or actually I would say not even the television show, I would say the original slate of movies were much more purely Kirk/Spock than lots of other things we're having. I think a lot of people went into that reboot movie assuming that it would be very Kirk/Spock, and did not realize how much they were gonna take a relationship and make it initially antagonistic and then bring it closer. So they were kind of a little taken aback and disappointed.
There were people who felt like the Spock/Uhura relationship, they were a little jarred by it. And I can understand that. I adored it. It’s probably part of why I floated off into Kirk/McCoy land, and also then I just adored the way that Kirk and McCoy who really were friends for that entire movie, they had a great interaction that I really liked. And so we were definitely, our Jim and Bones people were sitting watching this play out. And a good friend of mine at the time who was very much invested in Spock/Uhura was really dismayed and felt…
Someone had made a point at the time, and I can’t remember the other ships that were their examples. But that it seemed like when people were really like “This slash ship should really be canon, and we should have a petition and this is homophobic that this isn’t happening,” that the woman who, she refers to them as “leftover ladies,” that those leftover ladies were almost always women of color. That this did not happen as often…
There’s that argument that people make often that “Well, if you have a woman why does she need to be in a relationship.” And I understand that argument! I’m more romance-focused just as a matter of course, so I almost never see it that way, whether the woman in question is white or non-white, I don’t care about whether in canon in the new Star Wars films Rey ends up with some dude or ends up alone or, all those possibilities seem cool to me. So I understand that argument, but the problem is the times at which it gets floated seem convenient to people doing other things.
And it got really, it got really heated and it was sad because the Spock/Uhura people were really excited and there were lots of things about that ship that were really great and could have been explored and they felt really kicked by this idea that, of the history of Kirk/Spock and that that history should have been honored. And I think that that was the tough part of those arguments, was people were like “But it’s the slash, it’s the original slash!” And I’m like, you know, mm. [all laugh] That’s not enough of a reason! And also you can go ship it. Go ship it! No one’s stopping you.
ELM: That’s the thing! They don't cancel each other…some people can do one thing and some people can do the other. I obviously know that ship wars are, I wrote an article about ship wars and why they’re serious, but like, you know, yeah.
C: It does seem strange nowadays to have real ship wars over canon in slash. That seems really weird. One of the appeals to me of slash, coming out of Harry Potter fandom and that het ship war, coming out of that I really kind of gravitated toward slash because I did not want to be in the middle of that again. And because I’m not really a canon shipper anyway. I feel like canon is a story someone else is writing, and they can go write it, and that’s cool. And whatever—maybe I won’t like it and maybe I will, but there’s nothing I can really do about it except refuse to continue to consume it. That’s all of it.
And so I am not intensely, even in the middle of Harry Potter fandom when people were fighting over who was gonna be with Hermione, I had a ship that I loved and then I had the ship that was gonna happen in the books, and they weren’t the same thing and I didn't think they had to be. But I saw that happen with Star Trek, I saw that happen again with Teen Wolf.
I think the interesting thing that happened with Teen Wolf though was that a lot of people who had thought that the big slash ship that would come out of that fandom would be Scott and Stiles, and obviously it has drifted more in that direction now, especially since Derek’s not on the show and Derek and Stiles haven’t had a lot of interactions during the last two seasons that Derek was on the show. But part of their argument was, why can’t we ditch Alison? We’ve ditched so many other ladies.
And it’s like, it’s gonna get harder to ditch those ladies when they become better characters. Alison was a great character, and people really liked her on screen romance with Scott, so people kinda left it alone, sort of the way that Harry/Draco people just kinda left Ron and Hermione alone and went off. Cause they were like “Aw, that’s cute! I’m gonna go slash these other people!” And I feel like that was the thing that happened, and as we get the better female characters we’ve been yelling about, I think the idea that you can ditch all these ladies is gonna become harder.
I really think, I’m looking on the horizon at the media that's being created, and once we get past Steve/Bucky [all laugh] and I’m not even going to start talking about hockey because I’m gonna say things that I won’t be able to take back, but once we move away from that I don’t see another juggernaut on the horizon. That kind of media doesn't seem to be getting, movies are moving away from bromance and just letting the guys have sex. And then you have a lot more ladies floating around in movies who are actually there to do a thing and are interesting.
So I don’t know. I think that the idea of slash is gonna become more complicated as we have all of these things happen. And the race thing is gonna be equally, where are we gonna find all these white guys to slash.
ELM: It’s true.
FK: Clearly in space Nazi uniforms is the answer. [all laugh]
ELM: So we were talking to Rukmini Pande, this ties in really nicely because one thing she was saying about Finn as a character from Star Wars is: he is a Black character and he is the lead and he is unavoidable. And you know, if I were to think about the MCU—which I am right here with you—nothing against the Steve/Bucky people or any of them, but, alright, guys. My friend says to me “Why don't you ship Steve/Sam?” And I’m like, “Well, I think Sam’s an awesome character, but he’s this fun sidekick guy to me.” Right, and you can say people of color aren’t being given these starring roles and I need a tortured man-baby to be in my ship or whatever, and they’re not often cast in those roles. And Finn is the lead of the biggest movie, you know what I mean?
FK: And he’s kind of a tortured manbaby in that he was a stormtrooper.
C: But I think the people who talk about Finn/Poe being a cinnamon roll ship have a point, just because I think one of the things a lot of people, people in fandom and critics as well, pointed out about Finn and Poe and especially their interaction, is that it was very joyous. They were in a super tense situation, they immediately bonded in a very positive way, and then in the ship they cheer each other on. And when they see each other again, they’re just purely happy to see each other. And even sort of that moment when Finn looks up and is like “That's the best pilot!” or whatever, he’s just really—they just make each other very happy and it's a very uncomplicated kind of relationship, and there just isn’t a lot…
I mean you can put angst in it, they both have suffered a lot of trauma and so there’s a lot of stuff, and there’s a war that they have to go fight now, there’s a lot of things. But their general attitude toward the world is very like, “A whole bunch of terrible things have happened, but the way I’m gonna get through it is by keeping my attitude up and just pushing through the next thing and the next thing and the next thing till it’s over.” And that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of sturm und drang kind of stuff.
I will say though, just as a disclaimer, I am a Sam/Bucky shipper, cause I find their interaction to be hilarious. [laughs]
ELM: Alright, maybe Finn isn’t the…I mean, one thing we learned in this process is that the number one tag in the Kylux ship on AO3 is fluff, and half of it’s like coffeeshop AUs. So it’s like, who’s to say what people “want” in their fic. I mean I think people want everything. But it just seems like with more, if it’s not like 17 white dudes and one woman and one Black man, if it’s not gonna be that anymore, people are gonna have to. There’s gonna be a lot more to engage with, right? It seems like that’s what you’re saying in general.
C: I mean, I would hope so. I think that there is in the meantime gonna be this kind of stuff where people try to find the one place to go. That would be the politically incorrect thing I would say about hockey fandom. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at the moment that race and gender in fandom became a thing that people seriously started talking about, that a sport that is—and look, I’m from Maine, I went to a hockey college, I love hockey, but that sport is hella white and people don’t really talk about it. And there’s some femslash going on with those professional ladies, but that’s not where the action is.
C: So I can’t think that it's a coincidence that a whole bunch of people went off to a space where it’s not an issue. And then they tripped into a bunch of other issues, but, you know, they don’t have to worry about that issue, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
ELM: That’s interesting. So where’s the NFL fandom in this regard?
C: Or NBA, or baseball, or even tennis!
ELM: We can name all sorts of sports that are very diverse! [laughing] Do you think I should try to—I’m a football fan. Do you think I should try to get the football RPF fandom?
FK: YES. YES. YES.
ELM: [laughing] Flourish! Yeah, it’ll be really sad cause my team lost the Super Bowl four years in a row, so it’ll be a lot of hurt/comfort, cause they all feel ashamed.
FK: [laughing] There'll be so much hurt/comfort! That’s awesome.
FK: That’s all I want from you. Write me this fanfic, Elizabeth. And it has been such a pleasure to get to talk to you, Clio. Thank you so much.
C: Thank you! Thanks for asking!
ELM: Thank you!
ELM: All right, that was an awesome conversation with Clio. What the listener doesn’t know is Flourish had to hang up immediately afterwards and then Clio and I called each other back and talked for another hour. [FK laughs] So we’re best friends now. Clio probably doesn’t think so, but.
FK: But you’re gonna be standing outside of her door like “Hi Clio!” creepily.
ELM: You just did a cat scratch gesture so that’s accurate. [FK laughs] Good good! So this is a stalker podcast now. That’s fine.
FK: Don’t be a creeper!
ELM: So we have one more prepared statement, and this is PJ or ninemoons42. So we should roll the tape.
FK: Let’s do it.
PJ Punla: Hello there, my name is PJ or ninemoons, I am currently in Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America fandom and I am also in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens fandom, I write fanfic for Stucky and for JediStormPilot. Maybe a little background about me first: I’m from the Philippines, which is a country that got colonized by both Spain and the United States and then there was Japan too for awhile. So when you look at the media here in my part of the world, they usually say that it’s white characters or characters who can pass white who are the heroes. They’re the heroes, they're the ones who are promoted, and that being said we enjoy a lot of Western media. Thing is, we can’t actually see ourselves in those stories, even if we try to look for them it’s really hard to think of a hero or a heroine of Filipino descent.
People always say “Oh, you’re just Asian-Americans,” or “You’re not even Asian cause you can speak English.” You look like you’re pretty much at home in the Western media, you’re really not going to acknowledge that we're from Southeast Asia, if ever. That was brought home to me in one of my previous fandoms, which was Dragon Age: Inquisition. I had the opportunity to write an original character, an Inquisitor who looked much like me. And it was a little OK, I guess I didn’t really reach a lot of people, but those of my fellow writers who were insistent on writing African American inquisitors or African American original characters, they really got the brunt of the negative commentary. A lot of people were saying “People like you don’t belong in that setting.” You mean to tell us that dragons belong in a setting like that but not African Americans, not Asian Americans, not Inquisitors who might be from India or Korea or something like that? It kind of doesn’t fully make sense, when you think about it. But that really was the major underlying tension that we saw.
Briefly, as well, I was in on the ground floor in Inception fandom, I stayed there for awhile. And it was very strange to note that there were a lot of people who would write stories for, you know, Arthur and Eames and Cobb and Ariadne, but very very little fic for Saito and for Yusuf who were just as integral to the story as the others. I would never really understand why those characters were of less import when they were just as much an integral part of the team as the others. And take note, I’ve been doing the fandom thing for about 20 years and I’m still fighting against the idea of we are only tokens, we are only plot devices.
I was all over the place when the news of the Ghost of the Shell recast came out. I’m still very angry about that. That’s not the story for people who are not integrally Japanese. That’s a fundamentally Japanese story that needs to be told in the right way, and they’re not going to do that. That’s it for me, and I’m glad to have had the chance to join this particular part of the Fansplaining podcast. Thanks guys! Bye!
FK: So that was PJ, one of the five guests that you have just heard, but they are not all the guests. So we should keep our goodbyes short, because we’ll be back tomorrow with five more guests, all of whom have much to say on this topic.
ELM: One of whom isn’t from fanfiction fandom! Can you believe it?
FK: I know, isn’t it shocking?
ELM: This will be one of the first people we’ve ever had on the show who is not from fanfiction fandom [laughing] That’s fine, that’s fine. As I stated earlier, if you were listening to this as this comes out, that will be tomorrow, Thursday May 19. If you’re listening to it anytime after that day, go ahead! You just click right to the next one and you will get another five voices, another five perspectives on race and fandom.
FK: And if you’re looking forward to those voices, that’s gonna be Roz, Jeffrey Lyles AKA Lyles Movie Files, Traci Canada, Zina, also known as the proprietor of Stitch Media Mix, and zvi. So we’re really looking forward to having them on next time, which will be a shorter next time than usual.
ELM: Alright. Uh, our shortest next time ever.
FK: Alright. I will talk to you I guess tomorrow, Elizabeth!
FK: Alright. Bye!
FK: [over the music] The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Stratus Media Ventures, Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or our employers, or anyone’s except our own.