Episode 26: Consplaining
Flourish and Elizabeth break down fan conventions. Elizabeth, who has only recently (grudgingly) started going to cons, is fresh out of Leviosa, a small, fan-run Harry Potter con, and both she and Flourish are getting ready to attend the big mama, San Diego Comic-Con. They discuss the differences between cons large and small, how things change when you physically meet the internet, issues of race, class, gender, and accessibility in a variety of con spaces, and the joys of encountering exactly your kind of nerd.
What, did you think that we were going to get through these without using that gif?
Nine Worlds is the con that Elizabeth’s talking about, and some info about their accessibility policies is here. Really great work! But hilariously they are not in fact poker chips. At least they weren’t in 2015. Oh well, the idea is the same.
We were gonna just post a bunch of Comic Con gifs but many of them were too silly/sad to post, boo.
The interstitial music is “Rockin’ Riff” by Nicolai Heidlas Music!
Wow is that it? These are short show notes, but lo and behold, that is it. Tune in next time for the world of nerdy art!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish.
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: Flourish, you know that I was just listening to one of our first episodes, and—oh, because I was on a plane and I was like “Do I have any podcasts that are downloaded?” and weirdly our third podcast was downloaded and also two episodes of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” from a year ago.
FK: That must have been two great tastes that tasted weird together.
ELM: No, it was super weird because it was last summer so they were like “Donald Trump, LOL.” Because it’s a news quiz? Anyway, in that third episode of Fansplaining, the enthusiasm from you in the intro was unbridled. It was just like, “And welcome to FANSPLAINING!”
FK: Yeaaaaaah, c’mon down!
ELM: What happened to lose that spark?
FK: A year of recording all the time? I am really excited though because this is the episode where we’re gonna talk about conventions and I love conventions.
ELM: Yes! Sorry, I derailed us from giving the topic at hand. It is episode—
ELM: [laughing] 26! It’s 26!
FK: I knew there was a six in there!
ELM: 106,000. Episode 26. We’re gonna call it “Consplaining.” So I just got back, I am a little tired, I just got back from Leviosa, as you probably knew I was going—this bodes poorly for the way I am going to be able to speak—I went to Leviosa, which you probably knew if you listened to the last few episodes, because I mentioned it. Which was a Harry Potter and YA convention in Las Vegas. Or Henderson, Nevada, with a nice view of Las Vegas.
FK: Right, and we’re also both preparing to go to San Diego Comic Con for our first annual—annual celebration episode? What are we calling that?
ELM: I was gonna call it our first anniversary episode.
FK: Oh that’s so cute! Our first anniversary episode.
ELM: Yes, because we found each other at last year’s San Diego Comic Con, so we should celebrate that.
FK: Literally had never met a year ago.
ELM: Right! Yeah! I learned later you actually resented me beforehand. [laughs]
FK: [sheepish] Only a little bit. But we’re gonna do a lot of cool stuff for that episode but it’s not actually I think gonna be Comic-Con particularly, it’s gonna be back to the sort of—well, we won’t spoil the excitement. We’re gonna have another episode between now and then too. This is off topic.
ELM: OK, well, let’s get back on topic. Let’s talk about cons in general, because I don’t really want to talk about—we had talked about using San Diego Comic-Con to talk about cons, but I think that that is maybe, is there a good analogy for using something that’s large and maybe not exactly a great—
FK: Like using whales to talk about fish?
ELM: Whales are mammals and fish are fish.
FK: I know, that’s the point.
ELM: No, but like using a really large shark to talk about fish.
FK: All right, using a really large shark. Comic-Con, guys, is like a really large shark. San Diego Comic-Con.
ELM: Like using lions to talk about my cat Orlando.
FK: Aww. But Orlando believes she’s a lion.
ELM: Not really. That’s not really her vibe.
FK: That’s true.
ELM: Anyway, cons come in all shapes and sizes, that’s the moral of the story, just as cats and fish do.
FK: Correct, and they’re very different from each other sometimes.
ELM: But there are some commonalities. There’s the idea of going, leaving your house to do something fannish. Right?
FK: Being visibly fannish in the world and maybe meeting people you’ve seen online but have no idea what they’re actually like in person.
ELM: I don’t think that’s necessarily—I think there’s tons and tons of people who go to, especially commercial run Comic-Cons, who have no fan interaction line. They like Batman or whatever, and…
FK: I agree with that, but then you’ve got the aspect of you’re gonna go meet the writer of your favorite comic and you have no idea what they look like and suddenly there they are.
ELM: Sure! It’s definitely taking something that at this point in history you probably do digitally, even if you’re on your own, even if you’re the least participatory fan you probably encounter the stuff you like online, because that’s the way the world works. You encounter things online. Right? And you have a chance to go make that real.
FK: It’s true.
ELM: So those are commonalities.
FK: I think there’s also stuff that tends to happen at every con about commercial buying and selling of things, so for instance if you’re at a traditional science fiction and fantasy con you’re gonna have booksellers that have a crazy good selection of all sorts of books that you might even not be able to find at Amazon; if you’re at a Harry Potter con you’re gonna have people selling all kinds of stuff, really; if you’re at Comic-Con you’re gonna get into line for that Comic-Con exclusive…
ELM: If you’re at Comic-Con you’re literally not gonna be able to do anything except look at things to buy.
FK: And occasionally go to panels—
ELM: Occasionally, but it’s so foregrounded it’s hilarious.
FK: And go to parties! Or bars. If you do that.
ELM: I mean, that’s what I’m going to do, personally. [both laugh]
FK: I was having a conversation with somebody recently—and this is another thing about cons, right? Some people go to cons for the stuff that’s actually at the con, and then some people go to cons just to meet up with their friends. I was talking to somebody about how, happy to go to Comic-Con just to say hello to people! To have an excuse, to have everybody in one place.
ELM: Hmm, is this a person who—is this in a professional context too? Because that’s one thing about a lot of these: Comic-Con to me felt like a weird, there was a weird dissonance between everyone who was there in a professional capacity and people who were there just to be fans. And then there were people in the middle, which was kind of me? I don’t know. As a fan it didn’t really speak to me as an experience beyond the fact that it was what it was and it holds a place in culture.
FK: I think that’s actually a pretty common thing at cons. So, like, at VidCon there’s literally different tracks if you’re a fan or if you create YouTube videos or if you work in the business of YouTube—or Vimeo, or whatever your internet video thing is. And at science fiction and fantasy cons, there’s fans and fanfiction people and professional writers and sometimes you can’t tell the difference between them. In fact, generally you can’t, because everybody sort of is all together.
ELM: And at these is there space for—if you’re aspirational, if you’re a budding YouTube creator, is there space for you? Or are there spaces that are not accessible to you?
FK: I think there’s both. Just like how at Comic-Con if you’re a budding comics artist you can be in Artist’s Alley but there’s also spaces that are not accessible to you. You probably are not gonna be invited to the Eisner awards, right?
ELM: Gotcha. But at none of these cons, there's no panel that’s like, “Everyone in this room is already an established comics artist,” right?
FK: Well, there is at VidCon, because they’re separate tracks.
ELM: Oh, so there are tracks at VidCon where you have to be—?
FK: There’s a professional track.
ELM: And you have to be approved to be on that track?
FK: I don’t know about how the process of going works, but having been there once, it was certainly…there was nobody up there…it was literally on the third floor of the convention center. There was nobody up there who didn’t work professionally in the entertainment industry, and not even just as a creator, as an exec.
ELM: That’s really interesting. So one thing I’ve observed—for context, I feel like we jumped right into it, but I had never been to a con prior to 2014. Which goes hand in hand with my narrative of lurking. And I never ever ever had any desire to go to a con. I never thought, this is I think an integral component of my lurking which was almost exclusively fanfiction based, I never sat there and thought “Oh, if only I had the courage to go to one of these.” It’s nothing I even ever desired. I only ever even started going to them because I’m a journalist and they’re things that people cover, weirdly, even though there’s not very much to cover that's interesting if you weren’t there.
ELM: Beyond, obviously, you see people coming back from cons or tweeting from cons where celebrities will say fun new things.
ELM: The entertainment journalists are interested in that.
FK: Well, I think one thing that’s funny about it is this is one of those episodes where we have very different takes on cons and experiences with them, right? When I was a kid I always, my mom would take me to trade shows of rocks, and stuff, because she really likes rocks—
ELM: That rock fandom!
FK: And geology—she is in the rock fandom! We would go to rock shows but not for music.
ELM: Rock show!
FK: For, like, geodes. And the first con I ever went to I was on the concom for. It was a Harry Potter convention, I was just so God damn excited. We had to have a convention.
ELM: Seven years old.
FK: I think I was 15. And ever since for me it’s been like, yeah, let’s go to a con! Let’s go to con!!
ELM: I don’t ever feel that way. I mean they’re fun, I always have fun when I'm there…actually I’m starting to think of them as kind of like weddings. I’ll just be like, “Ugh, why did I agree to this, I gotta pay a whole bunch of money, gotta fly somewhere that I would never choose to fly to,” like, no offense to any of these cities but I would never take a vacation to San Diego or Las Vegas, to Orlando, Florida. But then “Oh, I have to pay all this money,” and I do this with weddings every single time, I start to resent the people getting married. Then I get there and I’m like, “All right! I’m just gonna have a lot to drink and dance and talk to people!” You know? Then by the end I utterly forget that I ever had any resentment about going.
ELM: It’s not so bad with cons. It’s kind of an extreme. I hate the idea of weddings and going to them more than I hate cons. I don’t actually hate cons.
FK: Oh, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say that you don’t hate cons!
ELM: That’s weird because it’s not true. It’s not how I would choose to—it’s tricky for me because I’m going semi-professionally to all this stuff, and so then I wind up writing articles about it to pay for the cost. But it’s not something that I would ever choose as a vacation, or a way to spend my leisure time. Being in a convention center for four days and not seeing the sun is just not really my style. So. But I also understand that it’s plenty of ‘style, you know?
FK: Well also I think it’s hard to know whether it’s gonna be your style or not until you go. Maybe we should talk a little bit about the road to con. I guess I’ve talked to a lot of people who have never been to a con before and don’t know if they'll like it, and don’t know what to bring or to do or to expect.
ELM: Oh, do you want to make this like a how-to?
FK: Well, just a little bit I think! If we’re gonna be consplaining, we might as well consplain.
ELM: Yeah definitely! I feel like before I ever went to con I’m definitely a person who wings it and can make things work, so I’m not a preparer or a planner, but I think a lot of people are so I think that’d be useful. And if we wanna talk about cons in general, I just got back from Leviosa, so let’s definitely talk about some of the stuff there and maybe contrast it with Comic-Con—
FK: For sure!
ELM: Cause that’s where we’re both going and as I found last year, it’s dramatically different in a hilarious way.
FK: Absolutely, because Leviosa is small, for one specific fandom, fan-run, and Comic-Con is huge, for literally anything you can think of. It is—it’s fan-run, but there’s a huge entertainment industry presence.
ELM: It’s fan-run, still?
FK: OK, so one of the things I think is important if you’re going to a con for the first time is obviously figuring out if it’s the big kind or the little kind, and I think that should be obvious. And if it’s big you’ll have very different things than if it’s little. Because if it’s little you’re gonna have, you know, a smaller amount of space that you’re walking around—literally physical things. When you’re thinking about packing and going to a con. At San Diego Comic-Con you should wear closed-toed shoes because someone’s gonna stomp on your feet, because it’s literally a mass of people, like a cattle run.
ELM: I’m not gonna wear closed-toed shoes. I’m gonna wear sandals.
FK: Living on the edge!
ELM: Yeah. Flourish! I live in fuckin’ New York City!
FK: Eh, so do I!
ELM: Sorry. 150,000 people vs. 8 million people? I wear sandals every day here. Not flip-flops though! Anyone who comes to the city and wears flip-flops—anyone who lives in the city and wears flip-flops should probably be put on the next Greyhound back to Cleveland. Throw Cleveland under the bus. Do you wear flip-flops?
FK: No, I don’t. Are you kidding?
ELM: Just checking.
FK: And I would certainly not wear flip-flops to Comic-Con because that’s the other thing, even if you’re choosing to wear sandals and live on the edge you’re gonna be walking a million miles. Not literally a million, but especially if you come from a city that you don’t walk a lot—
ELM: This is actually something that I’ve noticed and I’m trying not to be ableist or judge-y or both, because definitely I don’t know anyone's mobility issues, but I do think lots of people come from places where they just don’t walk. So I’ll hear a lot of complaints like “Oh, it’s so far, there’s so much walking.” Just something to keep in mind if you don’t regularly, if 10,000 steps on your Fitbit are not required to live your life as they are in a place like New York, you know? Which I know is not normal for America.
ELM: It is a normal amount of walking for New York City and not a normal amount of walking for elsewhere, is that—does that sound too judge-y? I feel bad.
FK: I don’t think it sounds judge-y! I think it sounds like what it actually is like. Right? And obviously we can’t comment on the things that people who are in chairs might need and so forth, but obviously that’s a thing to consider as well.
ELM: This has been a thing that’s been very interesting to me to see, just talking about accessibility on that level or other in-person things. Not just about physical accessibility but also mental or psychological accessibility. The first con I went to was London Film & Comic Con and that was just as a member of the press, and that was kind of a mini San Diego Comic-Con in terms of that. It was still big, but.
The first fan-run con I went to was Nineworlds in London, which is really wonderful space. And they had—I feel like they might have been one of the first ones to do this, but they got a lot of traction the last few years. It definitely was shared a lot on social media. But they had, I believe they were like chips, like little poker chips, red yellow and green, and there was a code, and you could put them in your badge. Green meant “Please approach me, I would love to talk to strangers,” I think yellow was like “I would like to decide if I am up for talking to people.”
FK: So if I don’t want to talk to you don’t take it personally?
ELM: Yeah! I am an in-between, yellowish amount of comfort in engaging in this way. And red meant “No, please don’t approach me.” So especially, for neurodiversity, that felt…it’s just like clarifying gender pronouns. It doesn’t hurt! I’m happy, I’ll talk to anyone, I’ll put on my green button. So no one who has a red button feels like they don’t belong in the space, you know what I mean?
FK: Completely. And I think that there’s a wide diversity of ways that cons deal with this stuff. So WisCon in the past has done a lot of different things in this space and also things like making the hallways more accessible to people with mobility issues by having sort of lanes put in so that you can say “OK, stand and talk to your friends over here! This is the part where we need to make sure that everybody can go along,” you know.
ELM: That’s interesting.
FK: But in comparison, San Diego Comic-Con has a lot of accessibility—they work I think well with accessibility but because it’s so big, there's no way people are wearing poker chips, you know what I mean? Such a huge number of people, and such a large crowd—
ELM: Can you imagine if 150,000 people had to put the poker chips on?
FK: It doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but on the other hand…
ELM: Yeah, but also it just highlights the gap in the discourse between open liberal fannish spaces online and—like trying to explain transgender bathrooms to some random, average person you might meet. “I don’t get it.”
FK: Right. I think that’s another good point. In certain ways very small fan-run, specific cons can be more accessible and in other ways they can be much less accessible because on the one hand there’s lots of things like neurodiversity poker chips, and if that’s what you need that might be a better space for you, but on the other hand at SDCC you don’t have to have any knowledge really at all about fannish community or expectations or anything like this. You can just show up and whatever you do, there’s somebody who's doing something the same or that’s worse. If you’re awkward, there’s somebody being way more awkward than you at San Diego Comic-Con so don’t you ever worry. [laughs]
ELM: That’s funny. It’s true, though, very accurate.
FK: Some people feel good in a crowd of people so they feel like they blend in, and other people feel good when they know that they're in a smaller group. Different kinds of cons might be for you depending how you feel about that.
ELM: Yeah. If you wanna feel very anonymous, San Diego’s the place for you. But this brings up another thing about the difference between the big cons and the small ones and what the responsibilities are. This is something that’s struck me as I’ve started to go to both kinds. One of the advantages—I mean, this moves beyond just the getting there and the being there, and bringing up WisCon is actually interesting too because I know that they’ve had a lot of discourse and unhappiness? Is that the right word? That feels too mild. Anger, maybe? About race.
FK: Right, for context for anybody who's not familiar, WisCon is a somewhat traditional science fiction and fantasy convention, but it’s an explicitly feminist science fiction and fantasy convention, so a lot of focus on books, a lot of focus on the traditional science fiction and fantasy publishing industry, but from an explicitly feminist perspective and there’s been a lot of discussion about race in the past few years, just as Elizabeth said.
ELM: So that’s actually one of the only contexts in which I’ve encountered it, is particularly women of color talking about how this isn’t as inclusive a space as you make it out to be. And I can’t speak to that because I actually don’t know enough information about that con beyond the things that I’ve read. One thing that’s really struck me is somewhere like San Diego, because of its size, because of its commercial nature, it has the same—mandate isn’t the right word, but it has the same responsibility that a professional convention, a professional conference might. You go to a tech conference, this is a whole thing: you shouldn’t have your panels, seven white guys and one woman. Seven white guys and one Black person, you know, or any person of color. When it’s in a professional space there’s a responsibility to that, and I definitely think there’s a responsibility for creating diverse panels at San Diego. At a small fan-run convention? That doesn’t seem to be there.
FK: Well, I think it’s a complex issue, because I think there is a responsibility to work towards creating diverse panels, but at the same time cons can be difficult to get to in the first place. So if you have a small fan-run convention about a single fandom, a relatively small fandom, and only certain people can afford to go to the con, obviously there’s great charities that work to bring people to cons who can’t otherwise afford to go, but that can be complicating as well, right?
From the perspective of a con organizer, you can be really well intentioned, you can reach out to people, you can seek to bring diversity to your small convention, you can do everything right in those respects, and you’ll do better than if you hadn’t done any of those things as far as creating diversity at your con, but it still probably isn’t going to be—it won't necessarily be as effective as you want it to be. Whereas with San Diego Comic-Con, because it’s so huge, I don’t think there’s really any excuse to not have diversity there because there’s hundreds of thousands of people.
ELM: It can be a very professional thing, too, so especially if you’re doing a panel about one of the industries that touches it, there is no excuse. Yet you still do see panels that do not seem very well balanced, and I’ve heard a lot of white dudes’ opinions about things.
FK: But of course at small cons it's bad also. I actually don’t want to go to another panel that’s just a bunch of the same usual suspects and so forth. But at the same time I have a lot of sympathy for a con organizer trying to make that not the case.
ELM: We get into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I think this is particularly—prophecy’s the wrong word. No. Is that the expression? Right?
FK: It is. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
ELM: Self-fulfilling—whatever. I can’t. This is explicitly, I’m thinking of race. Some of the fan-run cons I’ve been to have been deeply white spaces. But it’s very diverse on other fronts: lots of discussions about various sexual and gender identities, obviously a lot of women, and I obviously can’t speak to the experience of any fan of color who’s coming into these spaces, but if they’re not very racially diverse, that’s not gonna change—that’s gonna continue to feel like a white space in perpetuity. So that’s hard.
FK: I’m pretty sure we’re not gonna solve this problem right now, but I think it’s important that we talk about it, because—
ELM: Well it’s funny actually, I’m not trying to call out Leviosa in particular but on two of my five, on two of my four panels that I was on—I did four panels and a roundtable—none of which were about race, we managed to turn the discussion to race for like 20 minutes of it, which feels like, I’m very conflicted about it because it’s still a bunch of white women discussing race. But it’s also, you could have the discussions we were having, one was about slash and feminism, one was about adversarial ships, you could talk those whole things without talking about race at all but that is wrong. I don’t know.
FK: I think the point is that there’s these issues that exist within cons naturally because one of the things that happens online is when you’re not embodied and talking to each other face to face, these issues, even as much as they come up, they’re not as visceral. And when you go to a con, there you are in this space with these other people who are embodied around you, and you see if there’s gender diversity, if there’s neurodiversity, if there’s racial diversity, to some degree you see sexuality diversity also depending how open people are about it, and—
ELM: This was an open con that I just went to!
FK: [laughs] Right! Comic-Con is not particularly.
ELM: Not at all.
FK: So you know, I think it’s a different experience and I think it’s probably good—I guess I shouldn’t say “It’s good for people to meet in person” but I think it is to some degree because I think it really humanizes people. I had an incident a while back at a con, not to name names, where I was put on a panel with somebody I had gotten into a horrible internet argument with in the past. I discovered that actually we didn’t hate each other at all. They were a reasonable person whom we had gotten really angry at each other and it was a good thing we had been forced to see each other as humans and talk to each other. And you know, I still don’t agree with everything they say but now they’re a person to me. And I think that’s a really valuable aspect of cons.
ELM: So, OK, this is perfect, because I was on the adversarial ships panel. I can see it now: you were once in a massive internet war and you come and you’re on a panel together, there’s all that old tension, and old bad blood, and then you fall in love.
FK: Someone needs to write that fic.
FK: You gonna write that fic?
ELM: No, cause I—wasn’t this a man? I was in the adversarial slash ships panel, so I can’t write your adversarial het story. Save it for the sitcoms.
FK: [chortles] All right, all right.
ELM: Should we take a quick break?
FK: Let’s take a quick break. And then when we come back maybe we can talk about the different kinds of programming.
FK: OK, we’re back! Let’s talk about programming at cons because I feel like that can vary hugely.
ELM: OK, can I talk about something that I loved at Leviosa?
FK: Do it!
ELM: OK, I’d never been to a fan specific convention before, and maybe I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t actively rejoined Harry Potter fandom. I met Alexa, who you may have heard on, oh, five episodes ago or so, she was in my room in San Diego last year. And she was like, “You gotta come!” And I was like OK, whatever, Harry Potter, I don’t care. That’s my old fandom. Then by the time a couple months ago she was like “You gotta come” I was like “Yes!” Oh, and this is also, the slash and queer lit track was being run by some writers that are Harry/Draco writers that I really was actively loving so I was like “Yes! I’m on my way.” But it was a very interesting experience for me, particularly the round table that I led, which was about—sorry I feel like I’m giving a speech right now, but I just have a lot of feelings!
FK: That’s OK, you're allowed to give a speech about something that you were really happy to be at.
ELM: OK cool thank you! So they asked me to, I was gonna be on a couple of panels where we talked about things, like “Slash and Feminism” and stuff. That’s fine, I can talk about all that stuff. But then they said, “Well, we know that you’re a Remus/Sirius shipper, and we’re looking for someone to lead the Remus/Sirius round table.” And I was like, “I’m not qualified to do that.” Then I was like, “…I’m not actually sure what qualified means in this context.” I did read that pairing every day for eight years, right? So maybe that’s qualification.
FK: That sounds pretty qualified to me!
ELM: Right! The funny thing about it is, the thing about being a lurker, I thought so so so much about these characters and this pairing, just by myself. I’ve written things about them, I’ve written little metas just for me, and so I led this round table and it was really wonderful and if anyone who was there is listening, thank you so much for coming and everyone who’s participated. It was just like, all these conversations that I’d only been having with myself for years, I got to have out loud. And the things that I had thought about for years, my insights into the characters or whatever, I like how I just undermined myself by being like “Insights, LOL” [all laugh] —people were like, “Oh yeah absolutely! Great point!” And nodding and stuff and I don’t know. It was, I have never—gotten in plenty of arguments about Harry Potter with IRL people over the years. But I’ve never really gotten to talk about a ship and the stuff I like in fanfiction in that way. And the deep ways that fanfiction interrogates these characters. So that was magical.
FK: That’s wonderful.
ELM: I didn’t even say “magical” like a Harry Potter thing. It was magical! —Go ahead, sorry.
FK: No, that’s wonderful! Also because it illustrates one of the greatest things that can happen at cons, and then something that especially happens at small conventions where you’re with a bunch of other people who are really into the thing you’re into specifically. By comparison, big cons like Comic-Con can be great because you get to see, there’s these panels with all the celebrities that you love on them, there’s the writers of the books that you're into etc., but sometimes that means that those panels or round tables don’t always get as deep into things as you want them to. Because it’s for everybody, so it’s accessible to everybody, including the people who haven’t thought about Remus and Sirius for eight years. The Harry Potter panel at Comic-Con is not going to be about Remus and Sirius loving each other for eight years.
ELM: FYI, I'm on that panel and I can’t guarantee that it won't be about that. [FK snorts] What if I hijack it in the middle and I’m like, I’m just here to talk about Remus and Sirius love each other!
FK: Unless you hijack it I don't think it's going to be about that.
ELM: The moderator Heidi has shipped that ship! She came to the round table.
FK: Unless you and Heidi get together and hijack it—
ELM: Can you imagine?
FK: —it’s probably not going to be about that. That would be—
ELM: “You thought you came here just to hear general surfacey things about Harry Potter, but we’re gonna talk about Remus and Sirius and we’re gonna talk about the racism of magic in North America and that’s it. Nothing else.”
FK: Oh, but that would be, that would actually be a huge mistake for Comic-Con don’t do that, right, because it’s a different kind of thing!
ELM: I’m just talking about what I want, not what the audience wants! We are gonna talk about magic in North America, 100%. Because I think—Ebony, who you may remember from very early on, Episode Seven I think, is also on the panel, and I saw her talking about it, and I think we’re both feeling a little frustrated with the current franchise. So.
FK: Yeah. I think that’s actually one of the cool things about specifically the Harry Potter panel at Comic-Con is that it’s basically the only panel for a really big franchise that is completely fan-run.
ELM: Sure, that’s interesting.
FK: That’s not entirely true, but I think it's pretty close. It’s just about the biggest panel.
ELM: And there is actually going to be a Fantastic Beasts panel, so the people who are actively involved in making the franchise will be there. Which hasn’t been true for years, because there hasn’t been any active—
FK: There’s never been an official Harry Potter panel at San Diego Comic-Con. But you see what I’m saying. At small cons you have lots of different things for very specific interests and it can be incredibly wonderful to do that, but at big cons you have the opportunity to go to something that’s, it’s just a bunch of different Harry Potter fans from all walks of everything, some of whom have never been involved in fanfiction or been involved in online fandom—
ELM: Who’ve never heard of fanfiction.
FK: Yeah, right? And so that has its own charm. Because you can, for instance I would feel awkward going to an Outlander specific fan con, because I love Outlander but I'm not in that fandom at all, whereas I was at last year I went to the Outlander panel at San Diego Comic-Con and it was wonderful! It was so great. It was like one of my favorite things at the con and it was just the actors and a couple of the producers talking about it and everybody in the room loved them, you know?
ELM: I think this actually gets us, not to drag us into the depths of the “what is fandom” question, but one thing that really struck me at Comic-Con last year, San Diego, was it felt more like an entertainment—it didn’t feel fannish to me in a way that resonated in any way. It felt, this is actually what I wrote in my coverage, is it felt like Hollywood, maybe you can speak to this as someone who works in Hollywood, it felt like Hollywood looking at all of us as a bloc as like geek or fannish people, and presenting us with entertainment or potential entertainment. It didn’t feel connected to any fan activities that I know of or any fannish modes of thinking that I know of. And I know that that is a specific branch and I don’t think that affirmational fans or consumerist fans, obviously that’s a great space for them. But…
FK: I think it's complex too because I think you’re reacting to the television and movie franchises that show up at Comic Con and have big things in Hall H and have giant things on the show floor—
ELM: I'm talking about walking up to the convention center and being handed fliers! It’s the same thing, I think I’ve already mentioned on the podcast but I like to bring this up a lot, it’s the same thing as the person who worked in book publishing I met last summer and I said I wrote about fan culture and she said “We have a great new book about vampires.” It was just, how are those two things connected?! “You’re a fan? ‘Fan’? We’ve got a new zombie show coming out, you’re gonna love it.” And it’s like, you have no idea what things catch me fannishly, you know?
FK: Right, but I would also say that in addition to those things that are happening, which is sorta that broad-based geek culture, there’s also some very specific comic book things that happen there still. And that’s a side that still exists, and still is happening. You can go down Artists’ Alley and you can see a lot of people doing things that are comic book fandom things.
ELM: Yeah, I saw a lot of big gazungas.
FK: There are some big gazungas, there’s also—
ELM: There’s a lot of gazungas, Flourish. An alarming amount.
FK: I love the term “gazungas.” But you know what I’m saying. The Eisner Awards are being held there, which is not a big deal to people outside the comic industry, sorry Eisner Awards. But it’s a big deal!
ELM: This is what I mean to say I know that it’s about my experience and my side of fandom or whatever. It isn’t to say that it’s not an ideal space especially for comics and consumerist, the people who want the exclusive Pop Funko figures. Right?
FK: I like that you call them “Pop Funkos” instead of “Funko Pops.”
ELM: Is it Funko Pops?
FK: They’re Funko Pops. This is an illustration of how far Elizabeth is from this side of fandom.
ELM: Hey hey hey, let me tell you what happened Friday night at Leviosa. I went to the trivia contest, a pub night trivia kind of thing. Run by MuggleNet, really good job MuggleNet, that was painfully hard—it reminded me of one time I went to pub quiz when I was living in England with some friends of mine and it was brutally hard and one of these guys on my team in his deadpan Irish accent just looks at me and says, “I feel like I’m in school.” He just looked like he was gonna cry! [laughs] This is miserable. We are actively failing a test right now and we’re supposed to be just drinking. That was how hard this was.
FK: But that’s wonderful when you’re used to Harry Potter trivia that’s too easy!
ELM: Yeah if it was a pub doing Harry Potter trivia I’d be like, duh. Who cares? This was painfully hard and we were in fifth place at the halfway point and if my team’s listening, they’re probably not, I’m not gonna take credit but the final round was Harry Potter soundtracks which I listen to, to this day, every single day I listen to Harry Potter scores. Especially five through seven and eight. They are really well constructed beautiful scores by very good composers. I do! Don’t make fun of me. You’re makin’ a face right now.
FK: I am not making fun of you.
ELM: So literally they just played the tracks from all of them and then we had to name what movie and if we could name the title, and I got all of them right and I got like two thirds of the track names right too. And we won!
ELM: And the reason this is connected is we got to pick our prizes and I picked a Draco Malfoy Funko figure.
FK: So now you have one!
ELM: I already owned one. I needed to make the free shipping at Amazon so I got a Sirius.
FK: That’s so cute. You’re adorable.
ELM: Now I have a Draco and a Sirius sitting on my mantle.
FK: You could ship them.
ELM: So could we talk very briefly about how, when we talk about accessibility, you think of mental, physical, psychological, all these in person facets of accessibility. But actually the discourse that I’ve encountered a lot, especially I saw it a lot on my dash during Sherlock fandom, is about even getting to the con.
ELM: And I don’t mean “Oh I can’t travel for whatever reason,” it’s mostly about money. And it’s very interesting because what I’ve observed, and I don’t know if this is universally true, people very rarely say that this is so unfair this is so inaccessible about fan-run cons, even though those are gonna cost you at least several hundred dollars. You gotta pay for flight, hotel, cost of con. It’s when there are commercial entities involved, I see this discourse involved. I see it around Comic-Con every year, how unfair it is that other people can afford to do this and I can’t, and I saw it very specifically in the Sherlock fandom around there was the actual show did a convention somewhat in the style of the Supernatural cons.
ELM: So there were different tiers and if you paid like 2000 pounds or something you got full access to, like, snuggle with Cumberbatch or I don’t remember what it was. Poke him in the face. Whatever you want to do with your 2000 pounds. So people were like, “This is so so unfair.”
ELM: In my opinion that was the clash of a fandom, do people have this dialogue in Supernatural where this happens every weekend? I don’t know. The fact that this was the first time that Sherlock was accessible in that context and that it cost so much money, you know.
FK: I think there’s always the discussions about money of some sort, you know?
ELM: It’s tricky! It’s weird that this is the only time I see people bringing up money in fandom, when it should always be there in the discourse. I get really frustrated with the lack of class discourse in fan spaces and Tumblr culture, I think it’s grossly underrepresented considering how integral it is to all of our lives.
ELM: It seems like an easy target and it also seems like, you could be jealous. I can’t really afford this, I have to work, I can’t take the time off—
FK: I was certainly jealous that you got to go to Leviosa and I was working.
ELM: Right, you know?
FK: And that wasn’t about money at all, that was just about how I had to work, you know?
ELM: And before I read the Cursed Child spoilers at all, when I thought it was something I still had to be excited about in general—spoilers—I was like “Oh, why didn’t I go there? Why do people get to go there and not me?” Well, I made different choices this year. I could’ve, I have the privilege of having a decent paying work and a flexible work schedule so if I wanna travel somewhere I take more freelance work and work a lot. But a lot of people don’t have that privilege at all. But then people make different choices. It’s a weird thing to assume that everyone who gets to travel to these spaces inherently has a lot of money or has a lot more money than you. They may just prioritize things differently. I think this is true across all sorts of things, but. I think it’s just a really fraught discourse.
FK: Well, that’s one of the things that’s interesting, it’s a discourse that’s similar to discourse about everything. I mean—it could be not just about, it costs money to put on cons, and the reason why it costs 2000 pounds to talk to Benedict Cumberbatch is probably not so much because, speaking from the perspective of somebody who has run cons, whenever there is a celebrity present, and it costs a lot of money to speak to them, ‘not about “Let’s make a lot of money and get rich off this con” because I hate to spoil you but literally nobody gets rich off of running conventions. It is “We would love to have this celebrity attend,” and because their time is very precious, because they are a celebrity who gets paid a large amount of money to act because they are famous and good at acting and whatever else, they will not come for under a certain amount. So we need to make sure they get paid. And I don’t know if I can blame a celebrity for that.
ELM: That seems surprising to me. This is a much more cynical way to look at it, but in this specific instance, Cumberbatch—no offense to the stars of Supernatural, but we're not talking about the stars of Supernatural, we're talking about an A-list celebrity actor, right.
FK: I don’t know anything about Benedict Cumberbatch’s fee structure for this stuff, so. But. Let me be clear.
ELM: I would be curious to know if setting such a high price point is just a way of limiting access. Because it’s not like they had to fly him into London where he already lives, to entice him—do you really think he said “Oh I need a minimum of 50,000 pounds to show my face there.”
FK: I think it probably is a limiting access thing too. The other thing is when you run a celebrity meet-and-greet at any scale, people who show up want to have really quality time with a single person. You know what I mean? If you’re paying to meet a celebrity, even if it’s just in an autograph line, you don’t want it to be “Hey I turned up in this line, they signed the thing, they didn’t even look at my face.”
ELM: Right, you could have just bought their autograph online at that point and then stood next to them.
FK: Right. I think that you made a really good point: then it’s like how do we limit that space and how do we fairly decide who gets that?
ELM: But a fair way to decide that would be to have a lottery, not to set an incredibly high price point.
FK: I agree, but I also think that there’s different strategies that people take. Some people wanna make money; I wouldn’t be surprised if he did have, I mean, I don’t know about Benedict Cumberbatch personally at all but I think that there are a lot of celebrities who don’t like—on the one hand they wanna be nice to their fans, but a lot of actors are not very outgoing!
ELM: I can’t imagine, I’m not here to fan shame but some of the stuff I see coming out of cons just feels a bit dehumanizing to these people and yeah I can’t imagine being in that position, so if they want to charge a lot of money for their time…
FK: There are some actors who charge a lot of money for their time because they want to be nice but it’s very hard for them to do, and there’s other people who don’t go to cons. I know of many actors who choose not to attend conventions because they are introverted and they know that they will not have a good time nor will anybody else, because they will not be fun to be around. Those people, some of them I know have had a lot of response from fans: “Why don’t you ever show up? Don’t you love us?” And I totally sympathize with that because I wish that, for instance, more of the actors from the Harry Potter series had made it out to cons.
ELM: I know one who did! One who still does!
FK: Big ups to the ones who do! Percy Weasley we love you!
ELM: I heard a lot about Percy’s psychology!
FK: He’s wonderful, right? But I can’t be mad at people who choose not to do that.
ELM: It’s interesting, the shift into the “everyone’s a fan and everything’s about fandoms” is extra complicating. There was a time where the only people who'd be expected to go to conventions were the Star Trek actors or whatever. Not just that but you know what I mean? And now the idea, it’s so broad what winds up at San Diego for example. You could think that you’re doing the most fancy non-genre oriented kind of work and somehow you still wind up having to be in Hall H or be on an autograph line or whatever. Which is interesting because we have a lot of discussions about fans and creators and the expectations of creators, but broadening so much what creator encompasses in this context…
FK: And what creators were expected to do. So over the weekend while you were at Leviosa and I was working I had some really good conversations with people who are—
ELM: Go back you said it was a retreat, Flourish.
FK: It was a retreat!
ELM: I was on five panels and I have to write an article.
FK: OK, yes it was a retreat but it was also work.
ELM: We were both doing some fun work.
FK: We were both doing some fun work. [ELM laughs] While I was there I talked to some of the other people on the retreat were writers of various sorts in movies and comics and a playwright. And one of the things talking about that was the changing role of a creator of a world, and what they’re expected to do. In the past you didn’t necessarily expect to have to be on Twitter with everybody, or to go to conventions. And some people really like to be on Twitter with people and want to have conversation and do that and are good at it, and other people don’t, and that’s not what they want to do. They’re more like you, Elizabeth, and they’re like “Why would I want to go to a convention, I wanna write.”
ELM: That’s not me, that’s old me!
FK: But they’re like old you!
ELM: It’s still kinda me, actually.
FK: But that’s complex because now all of a sudden we’re in this brave new world where you are the figurehead for the thing that you’re, if you’re an actor you have to be out there, if you’re a writer. And some people love it; there’s a producer on Stargate, an executive producer on Stargate who is a complete fan and knows everything about it and is very happy to interact in that space, but there’s other people who are not that way.
ELM: The IRL thing really complicates it. This is part of what I wrote my dissertation on in grad school. Cause I was talking about book publishing and the shifts from, the way that books were sold and that readers interacted with people making books over time. And you’ve seen this, I think it’s dying down now but for years you saw people saying “Authors need to get on social media.” And so many authors are so bad at it and they get upset when it’s like, they don’t wanna think that way. They don’t wanna have digital conversations with strangers and make new friends that way. A lot of them are really shy. It’s like, well, I think this actually hurts more than it helps, if you have bad social media presence. Then it looks like you’re incompetent at something when actually you’re really great at writing books maybe.
FK: Right, and should that be part of your job.
ELM: It’s tricky. It’s really hard.
FK: All of these things I think are part of the con experience, thinking about these issues. This is stuff that personally I think about most at cons and around cons because of the physicality of it.
ELM: Yeah it’s a time when it’s foregrounded cause you’re like “Here I am and what does this mean.” A con is an existential crisis, clearly.
FK: And about class also. If you’ve been to a con you’ve had that moment where your friend is like either, is like, let’s go to this incredibly expensive restaurant and you’re like “I can’t afford that,” or is like “Let’s go to McDonald’s” and you’re like “I don’t wanna eat that,” or—
ELM: Flourish in the middle class having some feelings! [laughs]
FK: But you see what I’m saying! It’s not something that’s exclusive to—suddenly you’re in this space with another person and you have to talk about your class, your race, your gender. Because you’re embodied with each other.
ELM: Sure, and that’s the sort of thing that I think comes up when you travel with friends inherently. Especially when you figure out what people prioritize and what people can afford or feel they can afford.
FK: And your opinions about what they can or can’t afford have nothing to do with what they feel like they can or can’t afford.
ELM: And by a similar token, there will be people, definitely I have friends who have a lot more disposable income than me, and sometimes their opinions of what I can afford are correct and sometimes I’m just being obstinate and I’m like “Screw you! Just once I could do this but I don’t want to out of principle because you’re being ridiculous.” [FK laughs] This is a subtweet to all my friends, basically. My fancy friends. But yeah it’s something that you don’t—I don’t think you’re given the permission in online fandom to have frank discussions about all this stuff. That feels very invasive. What, are you gonna be like…the discussions about labor and invisible labor and unpaid labor are so often divorced from the realities of this stuff, so.
FK: Well, this is kind of a depressing point to end on.
ELM: [laughs] I had a wonderful time at, let’s do a very happy cheerful ending, I had a wonderful time at Leviosa, obviously my knowledge of the Harry Potter soundtracks and my knowledge of Remus/Sirius made me feel like a champion.
FK: And I’m getting incredibly excited to see you in person for the first time in what feels like months and probably is months.
ELM: We had lunch in early May.
FK: I think that probably is the last time we saw each other.
ELM: It is. That’s the last time I saw you IRL.
FK: Despite living in the same city most of the time.
ELM: I’m the one who lives here. You’re the one who pretends to live here.
FK: I’m really excited to see you in person for the first time in months and also to see you at San Diego Comic-Con. I know you’re gonna be on the Harry Potter panel, I’m just gonna be wandering around having fun. If any of our listeners are there, they should find us and say hi. We’re gonna be recording some bits for not next episode but the episode after.
ELM: For our anniversary episode! So totally tweet at us or send us an email, we are—I’ve met a few of our fans IRL, fans, our fans? Is that too extreme? Some of our listeners who enjoy our content. And it’s been universally awesome, so please get in touch if you're gonna be there, and the Harry Potter panel is Sunday at 10:30 and it’ll be me and a bunch of other people who think about different things in Harry Potter than I do so it’s gonna be really interesting I think.
FK: I think it’s gonna be awesome. And, for our next episode we’re gonna have Leslie Combemale, who has an art gallery. She runs the Art Insights art gallery. We’re gonna be talking about fanart and professional art in fannish spaces and so for everybody who emailed us and was like “Y u never talk about fanart guys,” hooray!
ELM: The way you set that up it was gonna be like, “So everyone who’s emailed us about this, like, stop complaining, we’re doing one.” You ended it much more positively.
FK: I’m really excited about this and I’m excited for us to talk more about fanart in the future too, but this is just a good starting point.
ELM: Yeah for sure. I have a lot of questions. I’m very excited to talk to her.
FK: Yeah! And by the way, if you’re at San Diego Comic-Con, she’s running two panels, as I understand it. We’ll post about her panels on Tumblr also, so if you’re there you can catch up with her even before she comes on Fansplaining.
ELM: Perfect. All right, well, I look forward to seeing you IRL in a fannish space so we can interrogate class, race and accessibility to each other’s faces. [laughs] I’m also looking forward to, like, drinking with you in San Diego California, which to me is what Comic-Con is all about.
FK: Totally is.
ELM: It’s only time I’m ever gonna drink in San Diego California. No offense San Diego, lovely city.
FK: You keep saying this. I don’t believe you actually like San Diego.
ELM: San Diego just is a fine—it just feels like a fake place to me and maybe this is my east coast bias.
FK: I think it's because you only go there for Comic-Con.
ELM: No, I went there when I was 12.
FK: Or when you were 12 and therefore didn’t know what a real or a fake place was because you were 12.
ELM: It was ironic because the year before I had had this vision in my head that I needed to move to California to change my life and by that next year—so I was 12, so I was long distance dating this boy in Florida, whatever that means when you’re 12. We were really pen pals and we kissed a few times. And we had always gone to Florida for a vacation, it was the first year we had been to California. I was 13. And you can imagine this 13-year-old not having it, right?
FK: I can totally imagine that.
ELM: So apologies to my parents.
FK: And to California I hope?
ELM: No. I did my time, I lived in California for six months. I paid my dues.
FK: I think we should end this podcast before I go ballistic.
ELM: [laughs] Oh this is our east coast/west coast battle!
FK: BOOM PUT ’EM UP PUT ’EM UP! OK. I will talk to you later, for once on my favorite coast. Bye Elizabeth.
ELM: I will hold off my criticism of the state of California for like 10 days max.
FK: Goodbye, Elizabeth.
ELM: Bye, Flourish! [FK laughs]
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.