Episode 24: Kfan: Trapped In His Own Game
In this episode, Elizabeth and Flourish talk to Kevin Fanning, author of “Kim Kardashian: Trapped In Her Own Game,” about RPF, the fourth wall, Wattpad, and branded content. Then they answer reader mail with more discussion about RPF and the fourth wall—and try to figure out whether fandom really is “broken.”
As always, our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax. Hooray for ccmixster!
Nobody likes Clippy.
The story about women taking selfies at the baseball game. Seriously, this was the worst. Death to people who make fun of other people for taking selfies!
If you haven’t read Devin Faraci’s article yet, you really don’t have to, but it’s here.
Flourish’s response to the article on Twitter:
Javier Grillo-Marxuach is @okbjgm on Tumblr! He seems like a real mensch.
The Anthony Lane Scarlett Johansen article. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Get excited for Sarah Jeong by looking at her PINNED TWEET and understanding HOW GREAT SHE IS:
[Intro music: "Awel" by Stefsax]
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish.
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom! Episode…24?
FK: Entitled “Kfan: Trapped In His Own Game.”
ELM: Ooh, that was some eyebrow action! You were like Clippy.
FK: Oh no!
ELM: You remember Clippy's eyebrows?
FK: Take it back! So Clippy aside…[ELM laughs] In this episode we’re going to interview Kevin Fanning, who is many many things—Kfan—in addition to being a unicorn male fanfiction writer…that’s not strictly true.
ELM: He’s in the minority.
FK: OK. But he's also the author of the best Kim Kardashian fanfic on the internet, bar none.
ELM: That’s a bold statement. How much Kim Kardashian fanfic have you read, Flourish?
FK: [sheepishly’ Not that much? So maybe it was a statement without much backing it up? [ELM laughs] Anyway, after we talk to Kevin, we're going to talk a little bit more about last week’s episode.
ELM: Two weeks ago.
FK: Two weeks ago’s episode.
ELM: You always just wanna make this a weekly thing.
FK: I really…that’s too much work.
ELM: [laughs] In the last episode we talked about the fourth wall and we’ve got some reader mail, and we’re going to discuss that, and we also might be talking about a particular garbage article that caused a big stir in the broader fandom community last week!
FK: So stay tuned for that. Um…
ELM: [laughs] You can guess which one!
FK: You can also guess how strongly Elizabeth feels about this article, cause it’s like, there’s literally steam coming out of her ears every time…
ELM: You’re the one who tweeted at him!
FK: Oh, you’re right, I did tweet at him.
ELM: And I was just like “Oh, good luck!” So we’re subtweeting an article that we'll talk about later.
FK: True. True that.
ELM: OK, so let’s talk to a good man, that’s Kfan.
FK: One good man. Kfan. Alright, let’s call him!
ELM: K, perfect!
FK: Let’s welcome Kfan to the podcast! Hey Kfan!
Kevin Fanning: Hi everybody, how you doin’?
KF: Thank you for having me. I’m super psyched to be here.
FK: And we’re super…psyched…to have you…this feels like a ritual dance that we’re doing.
ELM: [snorts] What?
KF: OK! [laughs] Good. That’s awesome.
ELM: OK. Let’s start at the beginning. Can we start with your origin story.
KF: My origin story.
ELM: That can either be like, how you came to fanfiction…you can give us as much background info as you want. Who are you?
KF: Yeah right! I’m a writer and I’m a fanfic writer, like I think my most popular fanfic is about fanfiction, there’s a series of books called Kim Kardashian: Trapped In Her Own Game. And that’s sort of where people mainly know me from at this point. But I’ve been a writer for a long time, and I’ve been writing fanfiction for a lot longer than I realized that fanfiction was really a thing. I sort of grew up writing RPF without really even realizing that’s what I was doing, I guess?
ELM: Who did you write about?
KF: So my first stories that I wrote were in high school. I was gonna be a musician when I grew up and I had all these musician friends who were super talented but they were also a little crazy and weird and I was not as good of a musician as them and I realized, I’m never. That’s not gonna be me. So what am I, who am I? And I was like oh, I wanna be a writer. Because they were also all kind of in remedial English classes so they couldn’t really read or write very well, I was like “Oh, I can read and write.” [all laugh] So instead of being a musician I was gonna be a writer.
I didn’t ever do anything interesting but they were always getting into trouble, and like doing weird things, so I just started writing stories about my friends and showing it to them and they were super into it. They were really encouraging. So I was like “Oh, I’m gonna keep doing this, I’m gonna keep writing.”
ELM: We just read my friend’s novel about fanfiction and that’s kind of part of the plot, right Flourish?
FK: It totally is, she starts writing fanfiction that features her friends. Except she doesn’t show it to her friends—
ELM: It’s secret, and it’s mean, too, and…
KF: Oh wow.
ELM: It goes poorly, spoiler, but apparently for you it did not go poorly, they didn’t get mad at you.
KF: No, they did not get mad at me. I wish I had known that that was RPF and that it was a thing cause I kind of thought it was just a dumb waste of time. And then I went to college and I started trying to be more literary, I spent a lot of time I feel like off in the wilderness of my life wasting time writing stuff that I thought I should be writing instead of stuff that I really wanted to be writing.
FK: I’m giving you a high five.
ELM: I’ll give you one too actually.
KF: And then I realized, I’ve always been really obsessed with celebrities and thinking about what are their lives like off-camera or what are their lives like in transition, like when they have what we think of as their story arc. Like: Lindsay Lohan’s back in the hospital, what’s her life like after that. So that’s been an aspect of celebrity that I’ve always been really interested in, and I started writing and publishing online fiction about the Olsen twins and about Lindsay Lohan because The Parent Trap, her version of The Parent Trap is one of my favorite movies and I’ve been very invested in her career and the things that have happened to her since then. And so that felt really comfortable to me and I really enjoyed it and that was just a thing that I did, so I kept exploring more and more writing stories about celebrities.
I started putting out my own little chapbooks of stories that I had written, like I had a collection of stories about Jennifer Love Hewitt called Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity. And I didn’t realize, I wasn’t a Trekkie growing up, I wasn’t super invested in Harry Potter, I didn’t know that there was other people who wrote weird stories the way I did, not that they were weird, but just that they weren’t literary fiction—air quotes, hashtag, whatever. It wasn’t until I started putting together little books and sharing them with friends of my stories about celebrities that one of my good friends was like “This is so great, you know there’s this whole thing? This is like a thing? This is RPF, this type of fanfiction that this is.”
And I was like “This isn’t just me?! There are people doing this?!” And I was kinda blown away that this was an actual thing that I was a part of without realizing it. I was not disappointed that I hadn’t invented something. I was just kind of excited that there was actually history for what I was doing, it wasn’t just my dumb weird thing, I was part of something that other people were interested in too. So that was kinda cool for me.
ELM: How long ago was that that your friend told you about RPF?
KF: This would have been five or six years ago.
KF: I’ve been writing fiction online since the early days of the internet. I guess around 1998. And it was I guess around 2000, 2001 when I started putting stories about celebrities on the internet. But I was not involved in any fandoms really strongly at that point. I was aware of fanfiction almost accidentally because my first top-level domain was whygodwhy.com, and at one point there was a whygodwhy.net that was a fanfiction community. I was like, “Oh, that’s so funny! I’m a writer and I’m at whygodwhy.com and there’s these other writers at whygodwhy.net!” but I never actually read anything that was on the website and it went away pretty quickly.
It took a long time for me to realize there was this other stuff happening, I guess. I came at it from a really weird and random direction, and I feel like I missed out.
FK: I find it kind of amazing although actually completely reasonable and expected that somebody who’d been online and writing online for so long would not have overlapped with fanfic communities. But then I think about how insular fanfic communities were for even most of this time period, right? I guess it’s not surprising.
KF: Yeah, and it’s an age thing too. I think I’m a little older than both of you and I was just not focused on the things other people were focused on as fanfiction became the movement that it’s become over the last few years.
ELM: I was just writing about when I discovered online fanfiction, and kind of a similar thing in that—it was a lot younger, we’re talking about 14, but I had always written fanfiction. And I would have figured it out eventually, but the reason I figured it out the first time was I was just looking at Buffy sites. And because it was Buffy, because it was a genre thing…if it had been, after Buffy I got really into ER and it wasn’t the same. You go to an ER site and you are less likely to find random fanfiction. But because it was Buffy…you were in the celebrity scene, so it’s not a given that someone who’s been—not that everyone who liked Buffy was into fanfic, but you know what I mean.
FK: But there’s also something specific I think about RPF there, right? Because at the same time that I think we’re all talking about, 1998 or 1997 maybe, I was getting into X-Files and X-Files was like Buffy in that you go to an X-Files site and you figure out there’s fanfiction. But—
KF: And I wasn’t into X-Files.
FK: Right, right. But there was a lot of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny fanfic out there, there was a ton of RPF, but it was so underground, it was way more underground than X-Files fanfiction, which was itself kind of a secret. Not a big secret, but it was sort of a secret, but RPF was definitely a secret at that point.
KF: Right, and I wasn’t writing about anyone who was—I wasn’t writing about the big celebrities of the time. I was writing about Jennifer Love Hewitt and even the Olson twins were past their prime—
ELM: I don’t know, she was pretty big.
KF: I suppose, but not in a way that I would have stumbled upon writing about her.
KF: Not the way things are big. Like, you can’t not find Star Wars fanfic right now. It was never like that kind of a movement.
ELM: Right, yeah, that’s true.
KF: But also, it really wasn’t until—it’s just weird how eventually you find your show that unlocks this whole world for you. And for me it was Castle. Cause I was just so invested in that show and for some reason that was the time when I finally was like “The show is not enough! I need more! What is happening on Tumblr!” And that was when I really started to—that was really for me the first fandom that made me like the thing more. It was like, I loved this thing, and then I found these other people who also love this thing, and now I love that thing even more because of what they’re adding to it. That was my first real exposure to being part of a fandom, I guess, which is relatively recently.
FK: But these days you are most well known on Wattpad for Kim Kardashian things.
KF: Yes. Correct. So I had been just posting random stuff on the internet, like on Tumblr or on different journals or things like that, my little stories about celebrities. I had a story about Beyoncé that I put on Medium that really blew up, and then someone from Wattpad—Ashley from Wattpad—reached out to me and was like, “You should be posting on Wattpad.” I actually had an account, but I had never really spent much time with it. So I was like, “Oh, OK, I'll check it out.”And it was fun, I put my Beyoncé story on there too and got a few likes or whatever. Stars, I guess they are on Wattpad.
Around the same time I was playing Kim Kardashian Hollywood, her new game that had just come out, and I was obsessed with it, like I could not stop playing it, it was my favorite thing ever, and it was that fandom thing where I was like “I need more of this! It’s not enough!” So I started googling around, and obviously there was no fanfiction about Kim’s game. [all laugh] I was the only person on the internet who felt this way. So “Screw it! I’m gonna start my own Kim Kardashian Hollywood fanfic!” And I really just sat down one morning, I was like, here’s the first chapter. And didn’t think about it anymore past that, didn’t expect it to be anything that I spent any long term amount of time on. But it almost immediately blew up and it’s almost two years later now and I’m still writing Kim Kardashian Hollywood fanfiction.
ELM: That’s amazing.
KF: It’s the craziest thing ever. And it’s led to all this other stuff, and different opportunities, and it’s its own fandom now around my stories. It’s just the craziest weirdest most random thing ever.
ELM: So do you interact with the Kim Kardashian fandom a lot? Are you in the fandom of her, amongst her people?
KF: I’m not. I love Kim and I am very invested in stuff that she does, but I’ve only ever seen one season with Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I’m not so deep in—and it was the season that I got paid to write about for New York Magazine. I’m very interested in them but I’m not necessarily interested in the TV show version, I guess, it’s more of sort of what they represent. So I’m not hardcore Kardashian and I think that’s apparent to people in the fandom who I do follow on Twitter and try to interact with. It’s, I’m definitely not—I’m definitely a separate fandom if that makes sense.
FK: Game fandom.
ELM: I have seen probably more than you.
KF: Oh yeah, I wouldn’t doubt it.
ELM: My television in England for like six months only got one channel, and it only played three shows. It was that, Peep Show, and Eight Out Of Ten Cats, which is a quiz show. [all laugh] So I just like, I want it on so I’m just gonna watch it. I probably have seen about two seasons.
KF: I’m sure I’ll check it out eventually. But it all started for me with her game. And I’m very interested in her and her career and stuff that she does on social media, but I don’t have that—I don’t read her app, I don’t have the 360 degree Kim all the time stuff that people naturally do as part of her personal fandom.
ELM: Gotcha. OK. So one of the things I think that is most interesting about you is—I’m sure you’re aware of the big, there’s a lot of debates among fanfiction communities about monetization and the commercialization of fanfiction and what that means. And you seem to be up for it. [KF laughs]
FK: This is the part where Elizabeth is like, “You wanna go? You wanna go? You wanna go?”
ELM: No, no! What are you talking about, Flourish? Just cause I make fun of you for being obsessed with money doesn’t mean that I am against the monetization of fanfiction.
KF: Money’s cool. [All laugh]
ELM: Sorry I’m just dragging you. Just you. Yeah.
FK: But I think there is actually a question that you were seriously trying to ask that I derailed you from, so Kevin?
KF: Right. That's a good question. And I’m tangentially related to the answer. I think Wattpad as a whole is very interested in finding ways to connect the needs of writers and brands, I guess. They’re looking for ways to find writers ways to get paid, and they’re looking for ways to use writing as an outlet for advertising. I happen to be a fanfiction writer, but that’s not just what Wattpad is about. I think most of the campaigns you might see getting people to write are not from fanfiction, because that’s a lot more complicated. But romance writers, horror writers especially, there’s a lot of brands, movies, book series, authors, et cetera, who are interested in sort of using people who are writing in those communities to extend their brands and get paid opportunities to write.
I happen to write fanfiction and I’m very interested in finding ways to do the stuff that I want to do working for celebrities. But it’s a little more complicated than just money is flooding into fanfiction, because I can’t get paid to write a story where Kim drinks Coke or something like that, you know? I’m not her official representative, so I can’t write fanfiction about her enjoying a Coke, although I’m sure I would do a very good job of it. It’s not something that I could easily get paid for.
ELM: Well, that’s complicated though, because if you just wrote a regular old fanfic about her, she could drink some Coke. She probably would. Well, fine, diet Coke. [FK laughs] She’s a lady. But that’s where it can get kind of…I mean, the fanfiction stuff aside we’re also both journalists and this is a huge dialogue right now in journalism about sponsored content as opposed to there being a separation between the ad and the edit sides. Just straight up saying “This post was sponsored by whatever,” and what does that mean for the content.
I don’t know, it’s messy cause I think there are a lot of journalists who are like, “I’m not going there,” but it’s like, what’s the difference? It’s just kind of a shift, you know what I mean?
KF: Oh yeah. Totally. So one of the campaigns I worked on was for Comedy Central, when they had a show called Another Period, which was very Kardashianesque, but set in a different time period. They were looking for people to essentially write, I guess you could say write fanfiction for hire. The way it was pitched to me was we want you to write backstories, something that happened before the show takes place. Take these characters that are in these episodes and do something creative with them.
So for them it was a way of trying to foster community around a show that was about to start, and finding new channels into audiences, an new way to natively advertise this thing beyond putting annoying pop-up ads all over the internet or pre-roll footage on YouTube or whatever. So I think it was an interesting experiment for them and it was a really fun project for me, to get to suddenly have this officially sanctioned license to work with these characters and do something interesting with them.
FK: But it seems to me like having read at least all your Kim Kardashian works and loving them very much, it seems to me like they’re not universally things that necessarily match with the Kim Kardashian brand. Some of the things are, kind of, but I find it hard to believe that—I don’t think Kim Kardashian is likely to, although she made a book of selfies and tacitly talks about the feminism of selfies, she’s not Beyoncé standing on a stage with the word FEMINIST behind her and I don’t think she’s ever going to be, that’s not part of the Kardashian brand, right?
KF: Right, and there’s a lot of things that sort of remove me from the actual Kim Kardashian fandom, but in my stories she’s a witch who uses emoji-based spell—
KF: It’s clearly there’s something different happening here. It’s my own take on her.
FK: Right. The question I was trying to ask though was, is there any conflict, because the thing I find conflicting—to me fanfiction is at least in part about playing with and even tearing down things, critiquing—
ELM: Tearing down, we don’t have to be as aggressive as that, Flourish.
FK: No, but even tearing down! Sometimes being aggressive with the source material as being like, “Here’s what I see you as.” And that’s something that’s really complex when you’re getting paid by a brand to do it. It’s one thing to write a backstory for a character, but it’s another thing to write a backstory for a character that’s intentionally transgressive of what is being represented in the canon.
KF: Yeah I think that’s true. I don’t consider myself someone who tears things down, I consider my stuff that I wanna do more additive, I guess? I’m interested in creating more interesting histories for celebrities that I’m writing about. So I don’t know, it’s kind of a different perspective for me. I don’t consider myself a very transgressive person, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t—
ELM: Wait, really?
KF: Come at me!
ELM: Cause I haven’t read your stuff on Wattpad, but I have read—and we should talk about Imagines—your story in the Wattpad Imagines book and that is one of the most transgressive things I’ve read in awhile! You just aren’t critiquing Kim Kardashian. You’re critiquing society.
KF: I guess that’s true.
ELM: No, take it! It’s real progressive. Transgressive. You have to take this.
FK: It’s progressive also, I think.
ELM: Yeah, it’s progressive, that’s true.
KF: I appreciate that very much. Yeah, my writing doesn't come from a very…what’s the word I want to use? I write from the gut kind of. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my goals writing a certain thing, or this is what I’m trying to get across. It’s much more, like, here’s a weird idea, let’s see where it goes. So that’s what happened for me for the Imagines thing which was a really interesting project where Wattpad came to me and said “OK, we’re doing a book, it’s gonna be about celebrities, it’s gonna be imagines, send us pitches.”
So I sent them a few different pitches, one of which was “Selfies are illegal and Kim’s a freedom fighter.” And they were like “That’s the one! Do that one!” So I had a month to send them a 15,000 word story about Kim being a freedom fighter, which sounded like a fun idea to me. Then I had to sit down and be like “Oh my God, what is this story how do I write this in a month.” So it was just a lot of writing and just typing, I guess. Like, more than—
FK: One thing I really appreciate about you, Kfan, is that you have those things about your writing advice to teenagers on Wattpad and it’s just pretty much “Well, there are some keys, and you can smash your fingers into them, until something comes out.”
KF: Yeah I don’t believe in writer’s block or anything like that. I think you just keep typing until something happens. The only writing class I’ve ever taken in my life was with Lynda Barry and her whole thing is “Your pen does not leave the paper, you just keep writing, if you don’t know what letters to write you just keep drawing circles, but you do not take your pen off the paper.”
FK: You took a writing class with Lynda Barry!
KF: Yeah, it was transformative. She’s the best. She’s my idol. So that’s how I work. That’s how it’s been with the Kim Kardashian books, too. I started out and I just posted a chapter and people liked it so I just kept going and it’s like, I’m almost done with the second book, God willing it’s almost done in the next couple of weeks. And there was no planning, there was no “This is gonna be about this, and this is gonna be about—” There was no big picture stuff, it’s just me terrified of finishing the next chapter.
ELM: That’s incredible. And yet it’s about all sorts of things.
KF: Yeah. I care about stuff, you know? I think that comes through in the writing. And I think one of the things, around the time of Imagines, it was also around the time where there was a selfie contest at the baseball game and then there was pictures of women taking selfies—they were getting made fun of by the people who were running the contest. It was just fucking irritating as hell. So that’s—it was just on the forefront of my mind as I was doing this.
But also in my current Kim book, there’s also, it's about men who want to take over the world and there’s this whole thing about selfies—this guy is trying to make selfies illegal. So clearly this is a theme that’s very important to me.
FK: Plaid is also a theme. I notice that you’re wearing a plaid shirt today. Are you suggesting that your plaid choices would lead you to be caught in Kim Kardashian's trap to collect all the men?
KF: Yeah…so for the few people who haven’t read my second book [all laugh] Kim Kardashian #BreakTheGame, there’s this thing, the men are trying to take over and part of that is it’s plaid everywhere. Kim is continually complaining about how much plaid is in the world and refuses to learn anybody’s name, she only identifies them as like “fedora guy” or “goatee guy” and that sort of stuff.
ELM: So good.
KF: I happen to be wearing a plaid shirt today, and luckily the people on the podcast can’t see, because it’s really embarrassing.
FK: It’s a normal plaid shirt!
KF: So why that’s on my mind, in my day job I work in a tech startup industry with a lot of guys who wear a lot of plaid. So it’s like a thing, I show up every day and there's always five guys in plaid and five guys in gingham. And it’s like, come on, we gotta do better. We gotta work on this. This is terrible.
ELM: Untucked shirts—
FK: But you’ve given in!
ELM: One of my day jobs is I’m producing a podcast about tech, it’s hosted by two dudes and we were joking the other day that we should rename it Two Untucked Shirts. So.
KF: Yeah, my shirt is not tucked in.
KF: I almost left the house wearing a Fast and Furious t-shirt but then I remembered that I had actual meetings today that I needed to dress up for so I changed at the last minute.
ELM: To a plaid shirt.
FK: [laughs] I wish you were wearing the Fast and Furious shirt. That seems so wonderful and also kind of on brand.
KF: It is. It’s, I’ll wear it next time on my podcast. [all laugh]
FK: Which everyone will see.
ELM: OK. So when we were talking before you said that your dream is to actually be writing this for Kim Kardashian, right?
KF: Yes, totally.
ELM: Could you expand upon that?
KF: My dream as a writer, my goal is that Kim notices the stuff that I have written and notices how many people it has caused to download and play her game, and sees the fandom that I’ve created around something that she has created and wants to work with me directly. It maybe doesn’t have to be on game related stuff, but wants to work with me or maybe wants to let me work with her is a better way to put it, on something more officially branded. That’s the dream.
ELM: This is super interesting in the context of our last episode which was about the fourth wall. I think that, I guess maybe we’re not on opposite ends of the spectrum but we’re definitely—
FK: Oh I think you’re pretty close.
ELM: We’re not like polar opposites but we’re definitely not near each other on the spectrum. Cause my motto is “fuck canon” and I would never in my wildest dreams want anything I write or read to have anything to do with the people who make the source material. So it’s very interesting. This isn't a question. This is just an observation. [laughs] But I don’t know. It’s stupid for me to ask a question like “How are you like that?!” because it's like, I think people are just different, but it’s super curious to me.
KF: Right. Well, it’s also just different because I’m writing about real people and not, I’m not writing about characters. I’m also, my writing comes from a place of love, I want to say?
ELM: Me too!
KF: I don’t write about celebrities that I hate, I write about celebrities who I think are interesting, so to want that to be acknowledged I don’t think is like, outlandish or out of left field. There’s something about, I’m obsessed with these celebrities and I write stuff because I support them and think they’re interesting. So to want some kind of official seal of approval, I guess, to want that as a goal in my life—it just makes sense to me. My perspective, of course it’s my perspective so it makes sense to me, but it doesn’t seem crazy.
ELM: I ‘think it necessarily has to be an RPF, celebrity thing versus not. I mutually follow some people who work for Pottermore, J.K. Rowling's extra-canonical site, so they’re essentially writing Harry Potter fanfiction every day, as am I. It’s just their way of expressing their—I mean it’s also their job, so they’re paid. But you know, everyone who’s making that site is clearly a fan and expressing their love in officially sanctioned channels. Whereas that’s not something I would like to do. So…
KF: To me it’s just an extension of what other types of artists already get, especially visual artists. They’re often paid to create derivative works or different covers for things or ancillary art for whatever project is happening. It’s perfectly acceptable and reasonable for visual artists to expect to get paid for that, and it’s not a thing. It’s not controversial, it’s just a thing. So I don’t see why it should be a big deal for writers to be interested in that if they’re interested in that.
And I don’t think it means fanfiction is ruined, I think one doesn’t negate the other. If you don’t want to read my official Kim Kardashian fic that has her name on the cover, that’s totally fine. There’s lots of other fic for you to read. But I think they could both be interesting or be valuable in different ways.
ELM: I think the devaluing of writing is at the heart of this. I just saw—Flourish, did any of this cross your dash? There was a blowup in Star Wars about putting out tip jars?
FK: I saw that it has been in fandom right now in general. And lots of people—
ELM: I think lots of this came out of Star Wars. Some people that I know were involved.
FK: —I saw bringing up stuff from like literally 10 years ago about tip jars, and I was like, everything old is new again. [all laugh]
ELM: Yeah. Basically some people were like, “Oh, you like my stories, I’m gonna put out a tip jar. Which is something that you see, The Toast is going away but The Toast has a tip jar. If you like a story hit a dollar—
FK: And Twitch streamers have tip jars! To bring it away, even out of writing, into fan things, you can literally give money to a person who you just like watching play a game.
ELM: Twitch is, it’s esports?
FK: It’s not just esports. There’s a lot of female streamers who get really done up with huge push-up bras and do it, and then there’s comedy people who play games while cracking jokes, it’s a wide variety of different people.
ELM: This is fascinating.
FK: And you can watch whoever you want to watch play a game. If they’re a funny person, a person with big tits, a funny person with big tits, like—
ELM: Does that happen?
FK: —whatever you want you can find it on Twitch.
ELM: [laughing] The full spectrum of humanity.
FK: I’m just saying, this is even—it’s a lot of work to be a Twitch streamer, but, it’s also work to do…it’s another thing where people would be like “Are you tipping somebody to play video games?!”
ELM: I think it’s more extreme in writing because, not that I’m saying you don’t need to be skilled to play a video game or to do it with your boobs out while you’re being funny which sounds impossible to me. But we—we a society, I don’t know who I’m talking about, Western society? Americans? British people do it too? Don’t want to pay for anything. It’s absurd the amounts of money I’ve been paid as a “professional writer.”
FK: I have personally been shocked when you tell me what you are paid as a professional writer.
KF: In the past I have been paid to write articles for different online magazines and things like that, but then I’ve also gotten paid to write fiction through Wattpad. And it’s definitely—I don’t know the best way to put it, but writing fiction through Wattpad has been very good to me. And I don’t get paid to write my Kim Kardashian stuff, that’s me proving that I can write and that people are interested in my writing.
They say online advertising is starting to get really weird, that’s why The Toast is not gonna stick around. They couldn’t make money, as good as the writing is there, they couldn’t get paid to do it, which is crazy. So I think the way forward is gonna have to be to figure out how do we leverage all the money that these brands are willing to spend on the internet to get eyeballs and attention with the people who are really talented writers and the people who are proven, that they can get eyeballs on their writing. That’s really what it’s about for me, it’s about finding ways to match my writing and the people who are interested in reading what I write with the brands who are interested in working with someone like me. So I don’t know.
To me it doesn’t devalue the—everyone’s needs are aligned. If Coke wants to give me, wants to pay me to write something, and that's something I’m interested in writing, then we’re on the same page. And people can read that or they can not read it, but they’re aligned with giving me money and I’m aligned to take that money because we’re excited to work together. We can see if it works or not, but at least I’m getting paid and I’m writing something that I’m interested in writing and it’s not really like I’m whoring myself out or anything because I don’t have to take that, I don’t have to take that project if I don’t wanna work on it.
ELM: Right. One thing that I’m noticing, so the aforementioned podcast that I’m making professionally for my boss, he was talking about—his name is Paul Ford but, you know Paul, don’t you?
KF: Yep, I know Paul!
ELM: He was talking about, do you know the article he wrote for GE? Did you catch this? [KF makes doubtful sounds] I can say more to explain for podcasting.
FK: Yeah, you should explain cause I don’t know this either.
ELM: He talked about this on the podcast so I’m fine to talk about it. He was saying that GE contacted him because he’s a writer, he’s got a huge following on Medium, he also writes for all sorts of other places but Medium in particular. GE approached him and said, we want you to write a story about the future. And he was saying—and they offered him, he said they paid handsomely. And all they wanted was to put “Sponsored by GE” at the top.
So he said that he searched for what they were planning as a corporation, the next projects they were talking about when they talk about the future. So he put in some of these elements, into his story. And he sent it to them and they were like “No no no, take all of this out.” Right? I think it’s really interesting because it kind of signals a shift, and I’m wondering if we're gonna see this in this sponsored fanfiction space too. They didn’t want it to sound like a sponsored ad for GE, like “Drive a self-driving GE car in the future.” They just kind of wanted to sponsor good writing to have their name very subtly attached to it.
KF: Are you familiar at all with the campaign that GE ran on Wattpad?
ELM: No! GE, they’re all over!
KF: GE ran a huge and very successful campaign on Wattpad where my understanding is that GE has a lot of old comic books from the 60s that are about the future and technology. So what they did on Wattpad is basically took the covers of different comic books and gave them as inspiration to different successful writers on Wattpad and just used them as prompts basically. So it was writing that was sponsored by GE and it wasn’t necessarily fanfiction, it was science fiction writing, inspired by these comic books. It was really successful and it’s really interesting, I wasn’t aware of the Paul Ford thing but it sounds like they’re really looking for ways to find cool things to do with different writers. But they did do this really cool campaign on Wattpad.
ELM: That’s fascinating. It’s interesting to me because my knee-jerk reaction to all of this, to talking about the monetization that happens on Wattpad or whatever, is “Oh, these evil corporations,” blah blah blah, but they’re paying us anyway in a roundabout way. So if I and a lot of other people would get over our biases, the idea—you used that language and so did Paul’s co-host Rich when they were talking about this. His line was “I just needed to make sure Paul Ford didn’t whore himself out.” This is kind of—it's pretty transparent but we assume it’s not transparent because we’re so used to so much bullshit around brands and advertising and stuff like that.
KF: Oh totally! That’s why it’s such an interesting new channel to me. Brands are gonna do what they’re gonna do, right? They’re either gonna target the hell out of us on Facebook or they
re gonna somehow buy their way into our email or they're gonna be harvesting our data doing God knows what with it, or they're sponsoring these nice little fiction stories that people can read. [all laugh] So it’s like, to me it’s a really neat new, I hate to keep using the word “channel” but it’s a neat new advertising channel that is, I’ll take it any old day over not being able to skip the ad on YouTube, you know?
FK: So I think what we’re hearing is that Kfan is officially on my team—
ELM: Team Money.
FK: —in the corporate takeover of fandom‚ Team Money. Team Money!
KF: Team Money.
ELM: [reluctant] I’m not not on Team Money, it’s just—
FK: You’re not not on Team Money, huh. [ELM laughs] That’s the sound of somebody wavering, fandom.
ELM: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, if Coke wanted to pay me to write a story, sure. I’m not against it! If J.K. Rowling asked me to write…actually, if J.K. Rowling asked me to write a story I’d be like “Yeah, I could try.” But that's not my…it would be very different from what I think of as fanfiction for me. You know? Even if it was the same in practice, even if I…it wouldn’t be because she killed everyone I cared about, but that’s fine.
FK: Yeah. I get what you’re saying, which is there’s a weird thing about the using of the term “fanfiction” for both of these things, almost. One of these things is fanfiction, and maybe you’re interested in doing something that’s not fanfiction, but is like fanfiction.
KF: Yeah, I’m interested in exploring that a little more. I like the idea of finding ways to do interesting things with fanfiction, but I don’t know. A lot of writers, their goal is to have a published book, and that’s not interesting to me. My writing is already, frankly more successful than a lot of published authors that I know—
ELM: It’s true.
KF: And I make more money writing than a lot of published authors that I know. Having to go through the agent and the bidding war and you get one week of craziness around your launch date and then everyone forgets about you and it's on to the next book, that’s not interesting to me. I’m much more interested in breaking that fourth wall and actually interacting with the celebrities that I write about and creating something together. That’s my, that’s the hill I want to die on.
ELM: OK. If Kim is listening, and wants to get in touch or find you, rather, on the internet—
FK: How can she find you?
KF: The easiest way to find me is I’m @kfan on Twitter, or kfxinfinity on Wattpad.
ELM: Alright. And she’ll see your selfies and know that you’re committed to the movement, right?
KF: She’ll know that I’m super legit and I take in the gospel very deeply.
ELM: [laughs] Amazing. OK.
FK: It was so good to have you on.
ELM: Yeah, thank you so much!
KF: It was really nice being here, thank you so much, it was awesome to talk to you and I had a lot of fun.
FK: It is such a pleasure to talk to Kevin, always.
ELM: I’ve never talked to him before.
FK: But was it good for you?
ELM: Yeah, it was a really great first time.
ELM: Sorry Kevin.
FK: Sorry Kevin I couldn't resist!
ELM: Make you uncomfortable.
FK: I’m the worst.
ELM: OK wait wait wait, we should tell people that we’re recording this like 18 weeks later… more like two weeks later.
FK: Not literally eight—yeah.
ELM: And if people are wondering why your voice sounds different between now and two minutes ago it’s because you are sick.
FK: Yeah I got a cold. Womp-womp.
FK: But that’s OK because even though my voice sounds different waiting two weeks, I think, was good, because we want to talk about a lot of different things that related to the fourth wall episode and that related to the article by Devin Faraci that was big news a little while back.
ELM: The article that we were subtweeting in the beginning!
ELM: By Devin Faraci!
FK: Yes. And having some time let us relisten to Kevin’s interview and think more about these things, and so I think that we’re gonna have some good stuff to say.
ELM: Don’t oversell it.
ELM: Let’s talk about the article first. I think that’s a good starting point. And yeah it is true that having a few weeks away from this piece and not thinking about it has probably left me slightly less enraged. [FK laughs] Still generally frustrated!
FK: Slightly less enraged from where you were when you first read this article is like saying that a hurricane was downgraded like one step.
ELM: You’re saying that I was a hurricane and now I’m a tropical storm?
FK: But a really bad one still.
ELM: Um, category…? I don’t know what the numbers are.
FK: [laughing] I don’t know what the numbers are either! You get my—
ELM: You went down the metaphorical road. This is not my problem.
FK: I couldn’t, I couldn’t see it through. But in case anybody doesn’t know the article, it was entitled “Fandom is Broken,” and you can tell me if I’m summing it up correctly. I’m gonna try to be neutral as I do.
FK: As much as that’s possible.
ELM: Yeah, all right.
FK: The article said fans have grown entitled and want to have their own way in whatever they’re a fan of, which they express to creators by brigading them on social media. Examples were people complaining about the all-female Ghostbusters reboot and also #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. And there was also in the article some argument that fanfiction was one of the reasons that people now are entitled, because we're used to reading fanfiction and fanfiction…I didn’t follow that argument. It wasn’t very logically…
ELM: The fanfiction paragraph made less than zero sense.
FK: But it was an important part of the article, it seemed.
ELM: Sure, yeah.
FK: So that was the article and it went down like a lead balloon.
ELM: Amongst some people. The framing device was he said that, he had already written about this particular thing that he said that Annie Wilkes, I believe is the character’s name, who is the woman in Stephen King’s Misery, who—
ELM: Who kidnaps her favorite writer. And I haven’t read or seen Misery.
FK: Me neither.
ELM: But I believe she kidnaps her favorite writer because the writer had killed off, or didn’t want to keep writing, her favorite book series or something like that, and basically held him hostage to make him keep creating. So it’s a pretty, it’s a pretty—what’s the word—blunt metaphor. It’s a very easy metaphor to understand what he’s saying, and it’s not a happy one. And it did not go down like a lead balloon because a ton of creators shared the piece.
FK: That’s true.
ELM: That’s the part that upset me. Because people write stupid things about fans all the time, and fangirls in particular, but it was the kind of—there was a very I told you so kind of attitude when they were sharing it. I saw especially in the comics world creators, it was a lot of guys, white guys, presumably straight white guys, saying things like “Oh, I’ve been afraid to create. I was called transphobic and I’ve been afraid to do my craft cause of these entitled fans.”
ELM: And that was really frustrating. On a personal level, I have already had a lot of final straws, but Mark Gatiss who’s the co-creator of Sherlock retweeted it, and he was like “Yes, exactly.” I understand that creators have to deal with a barrage of just garbage from people on social media, but then so does everyone with a large platform. And if you are going to say that you’re being harassed every time that you’re being criticized, I think that we have a real problem here. And I think that that’s what I was seeing.
FK: I certainly agree with you that I was sorry to see how many people were reposting it, because I think it was a very bad article. But I guess after talking with some people who had sent it to me in various attitudes, sometimes approvingly, I realized that many of them weren’t reading the same parts of it the same way as I was. So for example, most of the people who I saw who reposted it approvingly initially, seemed to have just entirely jumped over the paragraph about fanfiction.
ELM: That didn’t even make sense, so that’s probably for the best.
FK: Right. But it was interesting to me because one of the reasons I was so mad at it was that it seemed to me like it had completely misunderstood every subtlety of fanfiction and also of fan movements in general, it was so broad and so blunt. But if you were to just skip over it and say, “Oh, this says that people are brigading folks online and that’s bad,” and you’ve just been brigaded…I don’t know, I wish people would be more careful with what they post, because when you have a big megaphone like that, everything you post is really significant, really amplifying it.
ELM: I agree too. One of the people I saw sharing it was Felicia Day; she’s got millions of followers. And this further frustrated me, because people then were in her mentions saying “Wait, but…” What I imagine happened for her was she read it and she’s been the victim of a lot of actual harassment, you know, being a woman in video games, making a web series about games. Being doxxed instantly when she spoke up far into GamerGate. Knowing exactly what was gonna happen and then having it happen. And people were in her mentions being like “Wait, this is not the same thing. Basically this guy is saying that people saying ‘Give Captain America a ‘are the same things as the guys who are doxxing you in GamerGate!” And I saw her responding to it and saying, “Oh, I didn’t really think about that.” The people who were doing that, the fan hashtag activism, were the marginalized people.
I’m paraphrasing heavily. This is not exactly how it went down. But I got the sense that anyone who had been disagreed with was sharing it, and with some people I think unthinkingly shared it, like her saying “People shouting at me—there’s a huge problem here.” And I just think that’s a really bad conflation of what's going on. It’s hard! I think the problem is that sometimes people do harass and it comes from a place of, sometimes, people with the same politics as me do harass people. Or do engage in the kind of online rhetoric that I think isn’t really helpful cause it’s gonna shut things down. Shouting at a creator because you think they’re homophobic? I'm not sure that’s gonna do much. And it’s undeniable that it’s the same medium, basically, as people who are homophobic and wanna yell at a creator, you know? People who do not share my politics, are on the other side of the spectrum.
So that’s what makes it really tricky. I want to defend fans’ rights to speak out critically, but I have also seen some bad behavior and—not to say that shouting back at a creator is bad behavior, but I don't know. This is complicated. I’m making this more complicated in my mind right now.
FK: I do think that you have a good point though, because something that I noticed coming up again and again in discussion of the article is when people pointed out criticisms of it, the response was “So you’re saying it's OK to send death threats over Twitter?” And I think that it’s not just fandom that’s broken, it's a broader online discourse that’s broken. Which many other people have said before.
When we talked to people in the “Race and Fandom” episode, they said, “If I post something that’s not nuanced, that’s just one note, it’s going to get shared and spread and that’s what people will hear from me. And if I post something that’s a complex, nuanced examination of anything, no one wants to read it.” And I think that’s a piece of human nature that gets amplified by the internet, and I think that both applies to people sharing the Devin Faraci article and not thinking more deeply about it, and also applies to some of the brigading things that happen on every side.
ELM: Right, because saying to a creator—one of the examples that was brought up to me when people were pushing back at me for being mad about, that was a lot of double negatives, but people who were like “Oh, there’s some truth to it, fandom really is broken,” were saying things like “Well, what about people who tweet directly at the creators saying ‘if you don’t make my slash ship canon you’re homophobic,’” and I think that is a much louder signal—tweeting that message at a creator—than writing some meta and explaining the queer lens through which you’re reading the text, talking about representation, all this stuff that you could do. It’s easier to send a threat. That’s really really hard for me to defend. I don’t know, it’s really tricky. It doesn’t matter what the actual example is here, but obviously this is the one that I deal with the most. You know what I mean?
FK: Absolutely, and it gets even more tricky when it comes to things where people are sending short, clear, declarative statements about what they want or don’t want to folks in a production who don’t necessarily have the power to make it happen. That’s not always the case, obviously, if you tweet at Gatiss he does have the power to make a variety of things happen on Sherlock. But I think that’s one of the ways it gets so complex on the entertainment industry side, why people start to knee-jerk away from legitimizing fan critiques, is because there’s just this gulf.
ELM: I think there’s a difference between me directly tweeting at Gatiss—well, Gatiss is a bad example, sorry I just went with what you just said. There’s a difference between me tweeting directly at a showrunner and saying “Make my ship canon” and a hashtag activist movement for something like #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. Because there’s no one that anyone who tweeted that was directing the tweet to. It wasn’t like people were tweeting at, I don’t know, the head of Disney. I don’t know who’s involved in the production of the Frozen sequel.
Much like other hashtag activism, the value was in the collective amount of support. So—and in that sense I have no idea what Disney’s thinking, but they have to be looking at the online discourse going, “Oh, God, there’s millions of people who tweeted this. So let’s keep that in mind.” I’m not sure that’s gonna mean they’re gonna start being more progressive, because people are also freaking out over the two seconds of the lesbian couple in the Finding Nemo sequel, but…did you see the whole thing with the Bee Movie commentary? Did you see this?
FK: No, I didn’t.
ELM: Someone, it was some post that, there’s briefly a visibly lesbian couple in the Finding Nemo sequel. What’s it called, Finding Dory I think? And conservatives were flipping out. And someone was like, no one had any problems when a girl was getting together with a bee? And it was a picture from Bee Movie, the Jerry Seinfeld movie. And then people were commenting, it seemed like in all seriousness, “Yes, but he was a male bee.” Or “It was a straight bee” I give up, I can’t do this anymore.
FK: But even when commentary is directed at a particular person, it's not impossible for there to be discussion of these things either. Look at, I hope I'm saying his name right, Javier Grillo-Marxuach? The writer for The 100 who wrote the episode where Lexa died. He’s talked a lot about how he had really good conversations with people about that. I know that it couldn’t have been pleasant for him to have as many people angry about that plot twist as there were, but he actually responded and has been engaged and it seems like good things came out of that. It’s not as though it’s impossible for there to be communication.
ELM: It’s hard, it’s just a lot of work. I know we talked about this in the last episode, too. The amount of work it takes and also in that example or in other ones like it the amount of, I don’t know, humility and openness it takes from creators to say “Oh, maybe I did screw up and I wanna learn,” but also when I talk about this not so great fan behavior, it also requires fans to sort out the difference between things you want and things that you need, I guess. You know what I mean?
This is why I get so thorny when it comes to issues of representation. Because we could have all of this literally with a bunch of white, heterosexual ships. Two competing ships. Team Bella and—no, she’s the middle of it. Team Edward and Team Jacob. You know? That—Edward and Jacob are both white, right?
ELM: Oh. Never mind. That’s a bad example. Wait, really? Is Taylor Lautner not white?
FK: I mean, his character certainly isn’t. I don't know what Taylor Lautner’s ethnic origins are, but—
ELM: His character’s not? I haven't read Twilight and I’ve seen one movie so I have no knowledge of this.
FK: His character is Native American and lives on a reservation, it’s part of his…
ELM: No way. This is a terrible example. I apologize. I’ve learned and I’m apologizing right now. [FK laughs] What’s another example? Team Peeta and Team Gale? Are those…?
FK: Yeah. That’s a—
ELM: Whatever. Just this hypothetical love triangle with two boring heterosexual white people shops. Half of the people are gonna be disappointed, so yeah, tweeting at the creator “You didn’t do the thing I wanted, I wanted this,” yeah, so, duly noted! I’m not sure what they’re supposed to do with that information. If it is genuinely a sense of you are harming people with these stereotypes, you are harming people with these tropes, you are harming people with your erasure, I think that’s a different matter. And I think that can be pretty hard to sort out, you know. Even on a personal level it can be hard to say. Not on my personal level because I don’t care about creators at all. But you know what I mean.
FK: Yeah, it can be hard to sort out in a lot of directions. Because, yeah.
ELM: l . So this is interesting because I feel like if we had had this discussion about this article a few weeks ago it would have gone very differently. Now we have some distance.
FK: I was definitely too mad to have this discussion about the article. I was pretty mad.
ELM: I feel like, I wrote a response to this and I stand by everything I said, and it definitely came from a place of anger and I swore more than I normally would, or than I would have if I'd published it.
FK: Yeah my core thoughts are not different, but I think the one thing that I did gain was a little more sympathy for people who automatically reblogged it. But that’s because of having conversations with them.
ELM: But the fanfiction element, though.
FK: Yeah, the fanfiction element.
ELM: So if anyone ‘know, our friend Aja Romano is an internet culture reporter at Vox. She pulled some receipts—internet lingo—from Devin Faraci in preparation to write an article which she ended up not publishing on Vox and just put on her Tumblr, which we’ll link to. And she found some of his past writings and tweets on fanfiction, and they were, they make me so—I’m not over this.
FK: Well, OK, I think the best way to say it is it seems clear he has a hate-boner for fanfiction. I don’t know how else to put it, that’s a little crude, but that’s what it is. So it was kind of unsurprising when there’s a paragraph in the article where he talks about fanfiction as what has ruined fandom, I guess, and his specific complaint is that fanfiction is all—what is it? He felt like coffee shop AUs, coffee shop alternate universes—
ELM: Coffee shop AUs, chill out, bro.
FK: —where all the characters are working together in a coffee shop, which he says means that there can be no drama, there can be no dramatic structure, the characters are just all happy. Which I have to say…
ELM: Yeah and he cited some dialogue where the actual person he spoke to wound up speaking up and it was hilarious. She was like, he was complaining because I guess she said something like “I just want Steve Rogers”—Captain America—“to be happy,” or something, and he was like “I had a conversation with one young fan who wanted to remove all dramatic tension from the story with her dumb—” and she was like, “I just said one thing in a tweet!” And I don’t think she’s that young, either, based on her commentary, so that was very funny. But it’s like, what’s wrong with you? Why do you hate it so much? You being Devin, I’m not talking to you, Flourish.
FK: Yeah. I didn’t think you thought that I hated fanfiction so much. Cause that would be pretty weird, that would be an amazing level of self loathing if I did.
ELM: So Aja found this article, actually she found this tweet, it was only a year ago and he said, “I miss the days when I could think fanfiction was trash without being an enemy of social progress.” And she found an article that basically was that times the length of an article. It was like “Fanfiction is garbage wish-fulfillment selfish people who just want the story to go their way,” and then it was like, “but it is very important for marginalized people seeking representation.” And it was just, this is the most empty, shallow lip service to this element of fanfiction! And if you can’t see that all of it is connected, then you’re just parroting what you've read because you don’t wanna look un-PC.
And that was the same thing with his response. He issued a follow up to this “Fandom is Broken” article and he was like “Yes actually it’s very important that Elsa, Elsa should have a girlfriend.” You don’t think that! You’re just getting yelled at for being homophobic, you know? [Sighs] I guess I’m still mad.
FK: You’re still really mad.
ELM: Anyway, the whole point is, him calling out fanfiction and him misunderstanding it so grossly I think ties into the fourth wall and the letter that we got about the fourth wall and RPF, and our conversation with Kfan, because most fanfiction I would say still—maybe this isn’t true on Wattpad but I think it is true amongst older fandoms or older fans—is still very pro-fan-erected fourth wall. And to misunderstand that, to think that there’s some kind of…you could argue that taking the story and rewriting it for yourself is entitled. But you’re not sending that story back to the creator, which I think is what makes it fundamentally different from…and so that just kind of underlied the, and this is what I wrote in my response to it, the fact that he’s conflating all these things underlies the fact that he just doesn’t want other people to be talking back to art and to media.
FK: Yeah. I certainly thought it was interesting, if the idea is the very existence…I wasn’t sure how he got from “People have written fanfiction that provides an alternate end to a story,” to “therefore they are lobbying the creator for something through having written that.” Not that I don’t think that fanfiction can be a source of critique, but I agree with you that even in spaces where there’s not a very strong fan-erected fourth wall, I don’t think most people are sending their stories to a creator. And if they were, they certainly wouldn't be sending them as a “You should have done it this way.” And I don’t think anyone who knows anything about fanfiction would say those things, so, I can only assume that he crawled out from under a rock somewhere.
ELM: Heh-heh, that’s true. But I am a book critic, I read a book, I write my review in a magazine—this is what critique is. It can take a lot of different forms, but it’s not—reading something and having a response to it and writing that response down is an integral part of art. So I don’t know.
FK: I actually think that this is a slightly weird but good transition into the letter that we received. Cause you’re talking about how all art relies on there being critique and response and interaction, right?
ELM: Well, if it goes out in the world. If it’s consumed by another human being. [FK laughs]
FK: If a tree falls in a forest does anybody care—on a mime—
ELM: I’m not saying that you need, your art show needs to be written up in the Times or something. But people go to your show and look at your paintings and tweet about them, not to you, maybe, just out in the world.
FK: So, right. The letter we received is about the fourth wall and RPF. And I’m just gonna summarize, the letter comes from Allyson, and she says “So much of your discussion was based on the crossing of a wall between fans and the actors that play fictional characters. But when it comes to RPF I wonder how easy it is to dismiss the objections or thoughts of the source. I.E., I don't care what Cumberbatch thinks about my Johnlock, and I also don’t really care what Harry and Louis think about my Larry fanfic, but the difference between the two feels a bit heavier or perhaps of a different caliber.”
I guess what I think when I read this in context of the discussion ‘just been having is, is not the life of a celebrity to some extent their art? Aren’t celebrities packaged for us as stories? That’s something Kevin was saying.
ELM: Yeah, that’s interesting. So when you become a celebrity, you become a work of art that is within the public domain?
FK: Well, I’m not sure I would say “within the public domain,” but I think that you can’t avoid having—coming to mean things to people.
ELM: I think your personality’s in the public domain if you…it’s really complicated, right? Obviously I wish, definitely people cross boundaries all the time. But if you are an actor and you are on TV, I’m allowed to look at you and imagine what I think your interior life is like. Right?
FK: You’re certainly allowed to do that about the fictional character. If it’s a reality TV show person like Kim Kardashian, I think that you’re invited to do that about her as a person as well, because she’s playing herself. She is a public figure in that respect.
ELM: OK, but what about an actress, like a regular old actress?
FK: I think that’s where it gets complex, but with social media—one of the things we were talking about with the fourth wall, right? Social media meaning that actors and actresses display their lives to people as a way of maintaining their fame. To some extent aren’t they creating little transmedia reality shows about themselves?
ELM: Yeah, that’s true though! I mean, have you ever watched, in the last couple of years have you ever watched a trashy Entertainment channel round-up of the news? It’s literally just all, “Well, Rihanna said on Instagram, and then someone else said on Twitter…” and you’re like, “Oh, you guys don’t have to do very much anymore!” You obviously have to do stuff, but they’re basically creating that story for you. Which is fascinating actually, maybe it shows how this shift in fan-creator interaction empowers celebrities in a way that they can control the narrative a lot more.
FK: I think a lot of celebrities find that to be true. I think probably Orlando Jones, who we were talking about in our last episode, I think he would say that. I think he feels like he’s been able to take control of his own narrative. But it also brings up, I think one of the reasons people get weirded out about RPF, because it means that—I have a Snapchat. I have an Instagram. I have a Twitter. Am I public in that way?
ELM: You want me to write RPF about you?
FK: Well, we’ve already sort of gone down that road. I’m open to all possibilities of having RPF written about me. I’m OK with it. But—
FK: It is weird, right? However unlikely it might seem, it makes it feel weirder, even.
ELM: I think that spending a lot of time in the literary fiction world, a lot of people that you write about—and a lot of writers talk about this—are pretty, either loosely or heavily based on people they know. So in a way this is interesting, because that’s like “Oh, you masked surface details, you changed names.” But it’s probably, some of it is closer to the truth of people you’re writing about. It’s your family and friends. Whereas this is, the reverse is true. You have the public persona and the name, but you’re creating the interior life and the truth. So.
FK: But then how does that impact breaking the fourth wall, either, right?
ELM: Well, so, I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say. It’s easy for me to say “Whatever, write whatever you want.” But I’m also not an RPF writer or reader and I’ve also never been in that position. I think it’s a shame that a lot of this discourse falls along the kind of low-key homophobia that rules the entertainment industry, all facets of the entertainment industry and frankly our country and the entire world. The media, the entertainment media and the news media fixate on—when they break that fourth wall instead of the fans breaking it, bringing up slash art and fanfiction to male actors, singers, creators. It’s very very rare that you see that done with women.
FK: Even when actually slash is a small—I mean it’s not an insignificant percentage of fanworks, but it’s probably not the dominant category of fanworks.
ELM: Yeah, I mean it’s so hard to measure because…
FK: On AO3, but it’s—but I would be shocked if it was the dominant category and yet it’s the thing that always gets brought up.
ELM: If you were some random person who had never heard of fanfiction until the last couple of years, I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought all fanfiction was slash. And erotic slash.
ELM: I’ve talked about this, I was on the Three Patch podcast a couple years ago, the big Sherlock podcast, talking about this and talking about RPF, with Anne Jamison and Lori Morimoto. And we were talking about—this gets into slash and maybe we shouldn’t go down this road, because I’m sure we’re gonna talk about it eventually. But the way I read a lot of these situations is slash is seen as a violation of these men's dominance and agency, whereas as opposed to all female celebrities lack that agency, and they’re instantly sexualized and it’s not seen as some sort of offensive thing when they are sexualized.
FK: There’s nothing wrong with having a poster of a sexy female celebrity above your bed and wanking to it every night.
ELM: Or taking one to dinner when you’re a reporter for Vanity Fair or GQ and then writing about how you're undressing her with your eyes and she seems so coy, you know? That is literally every male authored female celebrity profile in the glossy magazines. Even The New Yorker! Anthony Lane, do you remember the Anthony Lane Scarlett Johansson article?
ELM: “Ugh,” that’s correct. Anyway, the point is this is the problem when we get in the question of “should we care about their reactions.” Is the “they” in this instance One Direction?
FK: I do think it’s interesting when we get into should we care about their reactions because—for One Direction it’s an interesting case. Because on the one hand there’s sort of no way for them to play with the fourth wall in the same way as you can in a fictional story, because if they do, there’s nothing they can do that will not be interpreted as—maybe it’s good, there’s no way to queerbait, you know what I mean?
ELM: Yeah it was interesting, I was just talking to someone about One Direction today and she was saying that…I was saying that I saw One Direction in concert four years ago and I was shocked at how physically affectionate they were with each other.
FK: And they used to be even more, before they had media training and things.
ELM: I was watching them and I was like, these boys are not the boys that I see in the streets—like I’m watching boys every day, I’m so creepy—these boys aren’t afraid of anyone calling them gay. They’re just gonna hug the fuck out of each other while they’re on stage.
FK: And I think that’s actually complex because it seems clear that they don’t care, but on the other hand Harry and Louis haven’t been pictured standing next to each other in years because they don’t—supposedly because they don’t want to fuel the RPF rumors.
ELM: Right, which is so hard because then they’re not allowed to be loving with each other because it’s somehow real-life queerbaiting? The fact—there’s no story here, no one’s baiting anyone. I hate to take the route of, this comes up so often in slash, like, I don’t want to be one of those people being like “Can’t men be affectionate, loving friends together?” But can’t they?
ELM: It’s really tricky.
FK: Yep. Well. I don’t have any answers for Allyson but I think we had a really good conversation.
ELM: Sorry Allyson. So I think we are out of time, is that correct?
FK: I think we probably should wrap up. But before we do we should talk about next episode—
ELM: The law! We're gonna be talking about the law, right?
FK: We are! Specifically we’re gonna be talking with Sarah Jeong, who is an amazing internet lawyer person—
FK: She is a journalist. She’s also a lawyer.
ELM: A lawyer journalist. Internet lawyer journalist.
FK: Who spends a lot of time passive-aggressively tweeting while she’s in court watching proceedings.
ELM: I saw her today, having a crisis about Peter Thiel and I faved a lot of tweets.
FK: Her icon on Twitter is a Psyduck, like the Pokémon, and her name on Twitter is “A Literal Psyduck.” So that’s Sarah. And she’s gonna be talking about the Star Trek fan film case.
ELM: Which just wrapped up recently, right?
FK: Right, that ended up hinging on whether or not you can copyright Klingon. So be sure to return for that.
ELM: And before we go one last thing, as always, if you feel so inclined to give us a review or at least a rating on iTunes—I said that in a really upspeak way that kind of undermined the sincerity and the seriousness of my request.
FK: But really give us a rating or a review on iTunes or else we’ll come for you.
ELM: Wow. OK. That’s some fan-creator interaction that maybe crosses a line. [FK laughs] Fine.
FK: But you get the point though, it really makes our day when you guys give us a good review, so.
ELM: Until we find out whether reviews actually effect iTunes ratings, we think they do, and we would love some more.
FK: And they make us feel good.
ELM: All right.
FK: And you can always send us questions or whatever you want. We got noted from somebody saying that they didn’t know we have an email address. We do. It’s email@example.com.
ELM: Yes, and we are also fansplaining on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. So that’s all the info.
FK: And I’ll talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: OK, feel better Flourish!
FK: OK 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.