Episode 29: Shipping and Activism
Flourish and Elizabeth talk to fan studies scholars Rukmini Pande and Dr. Lori Morimoto about what happens when peoples’ ships become emblems of political positions. The conversation covers the history of shipping-as-politics, the changing nature of the fan/creator divide, and the intersections of race and queerness. They also discuss a listener’s response to episode 27, “Fanart Insights,” and debate the monetization of fanworks.
Our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax!
Fanlore has the story on Guns & Handcuffs, if you want to know.
Flourish is essentially Clippy.
Aja Romano’s article, “Social justice, shipping and ideology: when fandom becomes a crusade, things get ugly”
All our interstitial music this week is by Jahzzar, from the album “Tumbling Dishes Like Old-Man’s Wishes,” which is an amazing title that 100% sounds like it was computer generated in the best way.
Flourish’s beloved Escaflowne fanfic, “Four Minutes” by Didodikali. She does not recommend the actual anime unless you like mechs.
Lori mentions Rebecca Wanzo’s “African American acafandom and other strangers: new genealogies of fan studies.”
Wattpad Futures program, monetizing fanfic thru video ads.
And we’re very serious about you both 1. sending us messages and 2. pledging to our Patreon!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 29, “Shipping and Activism.”
FK: Two great tastes that taste…great together?
ELM: No, I often think they don’t taste great together and that’s kinda what we’re gonna get into. So we are going to call up two academics at once, those are two great…I’m not gonna go down your taste road, that’s gross. [FK laughs] Two great people to talk to simultaneously!
FK: And it’s gonna be our first time having two guests on simultaneously, isn’t it?
ELM: At once, yeah, so—
FK: At once! So the first person we’re going to talk to is Dr. Lori Morimoto, who is a independent scholar who works on transcultural fan studies and she’s fascinating. You know her from the Sherlock fandom, right?
ELM: I do, and she’s really great and I love talking about her with all sorts of things, so this was very exciting to get to talk to her, and the other person is Rukmini Pande who was the first person we interviewed on our Race and Fandom episodes, and she’s getting her PhD in race and fan studies I believe.
FK: Yep, yep. And we’re really excited to have her join us, but we have to make a confession now which is we already recorded the conversation, and unfortunately Rukmini’s internet dropped out twice during it. So there’s like, weird gaps where Rukmini is not there.
ELM: If you're wondering, in the middle if you're wondering why she’s so silent…
FK: Yeah, it’s cause it turns out that rainstorms don’t do nice things to your internet.
ELM: We haven’t muted her and then we lose her at the end, so. Apologies about that. But when we do have her, she says really fantastic stuff, so I’m excited for you guys to listen to the conversation.
FK: It’s a really great conversation.
ELM: Yeah well let’s not oversell it. [both laugh] We’ll talk a little bit about the topic, cause I think we might have some new listeners.
FK: Yeah we probably do, because of our Patreon!
ELM: Yes! So first let’s talk about the Patreon, and after that, sometimes I feel like we’ve been talking about this, sometimes we feel like we go too deep into it, too quickly, or we assume a baseline level of knowledge which I think if you already have that baseline level of knowledge you might appreciate the depth, but I think that’s hard also. We don’t wanna be about just one kind of fandom or one set of conversation or, you know what I mean.
FK: Oh, you mean about particular fandoms, not about the Patreon.
ELM: Oh my God! [laughs]
FK: I was so confused there.
ELM: I was like “Why are you making that face?” So anyway we’ll give a little background. But you know about the Patreon. It’s universal. It’s about money, so.
FK: We all love money, right? So we’re so so so grateful, we’ve had this Patreon for about a week as of this recording, and we’ve already blown through our first three goals in terms of fundraising. We’ve got people pledged to donate like $275 a month? Is that it?
ELM: Yeah, a collection of $1, $2, $3, all the way to $10 a month pledges.
FK: So we’ve got like 70 people donating right?
ELM: Yeah, which is incredible. So thank you so much to everyone who has. If you somehow missed this, even though it’s literally the only thing we’ve been tweeting about—
FK: Sorry guys.
ELM: Or discussing with our families or anything for the past week, patreon.com/fansplaining, Patreon is like a rolling sustained Kickstarter. The beauty of it is it will give us, you know, a sense every month of what we have to work with because we want to use some of this money is to help us, the two of us individuals, continue to do this, but some of it we are going to pay to fanartists, to writers for our Medium collection, medium.com/fansplaining, where you should check out we’ve both published a few things on there, Flourish has done some explainers.
ELM: And I wrote a piece about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so yeah, basically a donation to us is a donation to fandom at large.
FK: That’s how we like to think of it anyway.
ELM: Is that too highfalutin’?
FK: I love it. Let’s say it. Let’s just stick with it. [ELM laughs] OK, so you’ve found us through our Patreon, as Elizabeth was just saying, you might be listening to this first episode and we’re gonna be talking in this episode about a lot of episodes we’ve discussed in earlier episodes, so we wanted to sort of catch everybody up to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of the fandom things we're talking about. So we’re gonna be talking about shipping and activism.
ELM: Initially I framed it as “we’re gonna talk about slashtivism,” which is a portmanteau of activism and slash, which is…we can quibble over the definition but generally it is pairings…well, we should probably take a step back and do ship first before I go into slash, but it’s male/male pairings, usually.
FK: Let’s talk about what shipping is.
ELM: OK. So when you need to transport goods over an ocean, sometimes you put it on a…
FK: Not boats! Not boats, Elizabeth. Not boats. Shipping in this context. So I just published an explainer about this recently.
ELM: Go ahead, explain it. Explain it.
FK: Shipping, I’ll ’splain! Shipping in this context, “to ship,” a verb, is to pair or group people or fictional characters intimately, romantically, and/or sexually, or to create an intimate pairing or grouping between at least two people or fictional characters.
ELM: And “create” means, like, you could just do something you like to think about. It could be something you are rooting for. It could be something you like two characters in your show and you want them to kiss. Like on the most basic level. It could be something that’s already happening that you just like, right?
FK: Right. So sometimes you’ll see this, I’m sure everybody listening to this has seen some of these, seen ships in the wild, right? Sometimes they’re written like two names on either side of a forward slash, like Kirk/Spock, or sometimes they’re portmanteau names like Olicity on Arrow, or sometimes they’re some other name for it like JediStormPilot, for Finn and Poe and Rey all shipped together.
ELM: Because one of them's a Jedi, one of them’s a Stormtrooper and one of them’s a…
FK: Jedi. Storm. Pilot.
ELM: Sometimes in early Harry Potter fandom they had absurd names that Flourish thinks are great.
FK: Like Harry and Hermione was the good ship Pumpkin Pie.
ELM: Guns and Handcuffs.
FK: Yeah, there was a very famous Draco and Harry story where…
ELM: Wasn’t it, like, an AU with guns?
FK: It was an alternate universe wherein I believe Harry was a private eye and Draco was the femme fatale and everybody decided they really liked the guns and handcuffs in it and so they decided to name the ship Guns and Handcuffs.
ELM: That’s fine, I wasn’t there so I didn’t get a vote at the table.
FK: I don’t think there was really any voting. It sort of happened.
ELM: All right all right, so it can either be like you’re just thinkin’ about it, you’re rooting for it, or you can be depicting it in fanworks, so…
FK: Writing fanfic…
ELM: Fanfiction and fanart are the two most popular, but also fanvidding is a very popular practice to kind of recut scenes between your faves.
FK: The other term that you might have heard that often gets conflated with shipping is part of shipping, but it’s a subset of shipping, is slash. To slash people is to pair or group at least two people or fictional characters of the same gender, usually male, in a romantic or intimate or sexual way. So that’s the dudes gettin’ it on version of shipping.
ELM: Yes, and femslash is with ladies, and obviously there’s a robust discourse about why slash is the default and you have to add “fem” so I’ve been more conscious to say things like “dude slash” even though that sounds slightly flippant, but dude slash seems to be popular.
FK: A very few people call femslash “altfic” or “saffic.”
FK: Saffic! I really love “saffic”.
ELM: Yeah! I wish there was a cooler word for “slash”.
FK: Right? Like “saffic”. And then there’s also poly pairings as well, like JediStormPilot.
ELM: Yeah, where you have groups. And then you have OTPs, one true pairing, where people play fast and loose with the “one” part. A new OTP every two weeks.
FK: But you’ve also got your OT3s, your one two—one true threesome.
ELM: In K-pop you have, like, your OT12s also.
FK: Yeah, One Direction is really into OT5s.
FK: The whole band. Just all of them. Puppy pile.
ELM: I have to say I’ve seen people say “OT5,” I think because they’ve heard about One Direction, cause there’s five, right. Literally having no idea what that means. They’ll be like “That's my OT5!” and I’ll be like “No no no,” [laughs] “you skipped way too many steps to be saying OT5 about these two characters.”
ELM: So shipping was developed in the mid 90s in the X-files fandom, the term came from a very specific place.
FK: Slash is an older term.
ELM: Right. But the verb and noun “ship” which comes from “relationship” didn’t come till more recently, and it’s really, really penetrated the [snickers] I can say the word penetrated like an adult. It’s really, really [laughs] penetrated the mainstream in a way that kind of catches me off-guard. I know people who use the term “ship” who still think fanfiction is weird.
FK: Yeah, that’s very strange to encounter.
ELM: But this is mine! You know? And in actuality, it originated from not a fanfiction place. It originated from a will they won’t they in the text place. Right?
FK: Yeah, I mean people were certainly writing fanfiction about it though.
ELM: It developed in conversations about—
FK: On alt.tv.x-files.creative.
ELM: But the term originated in conversations about what was gonna happen on the show.
FK: On the show. Yeah.
ELM: So that’s an interesting and I think that kind of speaks to some of the tension that we’re seeing now. So the reason that we wanted to talk about shipping and activism is because over the years, and this has gotten stronger and stronger, you’ll see people kind of pegging their—can I say “pegging” like an adult too? [all laugh] Pegging their ships to political activism. It’s particularly, I see this a lot because I’ve been in slash ships and slash fandom so that’s mostly male/male romances, for more than 15 years I guess at this point. And you know, you increasingly see people saying things like “Well, my ship is a gay ship, so it is inherently progressive. And it is a form of activism. And if you deny my ship, whether you’re someone who ships something else or you’re the creator of the show where these characters are, you’re homophobic, and my shipping this is activism.”
FK: Right and it also works the other way too, right, like Rey and Kylo Ren being shipped together is sort of a thing that a lot of people vilify and say this ship is evil and it’s anti-progressive and if you like that you’re wrong. So political positions get pegged to ships in different ways.
ELM: Look at how you can say “pegged” just cool as a cucumber!
FK: Cool as a cucumber! [raises eyebrows almost audibly] As a cucumber.
ELM: [laughs] No, don’t raise your eyebrows, Clippy! Part of the reason we wanted to talk about this right now is it’s pretty timely, because there were a couple of news items that got a lot of attention. One was a fantastic piece by our friend Aja Romano who is the web culture reporter at Vox. And she used to write about fandom for the Daily Dot, if you’ve been in a few fandoms you’ve definitely read her fanfiction, she’s been around forever and knows a ton. When this episode airs it’ll have come out a couple weeks ago, and it’s called “Social Justice, Shipping and Ideology: When Fandom Becomes a Crusade, Things Get Ugly.” And the subtitle is “Fans merely rooting for their favorite characters to get together has somehow evolved into ideological warfare.” Soooo, do you wanna summarize the piece or should I?
FK: Why don’t you go for it?
ELM: All right, sure. So basically the piece talks about a few different things. It talks the most about Sherlock and that’s something I'm not gonna lie I'm very reticent to discuss in any context on this podcast since I am a person who’s retreated from Sherlock fandom due to discourse. [laughs] So I’m not really gonna get into it and I apologize to anyone who has written to me in the last month or so asking if I will write something about it because I just don’t feel comfortable really talking about it at this point, after everything that’s happened. So basically in Sherlock you have some fans that believe that Johnlock—I like how I just said that and now I’m gonna talk about it. Talk about it in the lightest terms possible.
FK: You know you will, you know you will.
ELM: So some fans, and I was a shipper of the two main characters Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, but there’s a subset of the fans who believe that it’s going to be canon by the end of the show.
FK: That it’s gonna happen on the show. That they’re gonna get together.
ELM: You know, I read the show as a romance currently, but it’s not a sexual story and they believe that there will be a kiss or some explicit acknowledgement that it’s a sexual and/or romantic relationship. And the showrunners have said repeatedly “Stop it. This is not what we’re doing.” It’s further complicated by the fact that one of the two showrunners is a gay man and proud, openly gay man, and they get accusations of homophobia because they say “We’re not doing this. This is not our show, these two aren’t getting together.” People will say “That’s homophobic.” This isn’t unique to Sherlock, but this has been a flashpoint in recent weeks around this article. So it’s basically talking about ships turn into camps. They’re tribes. And it’s often framed in terms of winning and losing: “My ship’s gonna happen, it’s the endgame, your ship’s not gonna happen.” My ship will win, your ship will lose, et cetera. And it’s this kind of conversation of winners and losers and validation from the creators who are dictating what happens in the show.
ELM: Also in the news, for Steven Universe. Do you wanna talk about that one?
FK: Yeah. This also sort of touches on a lot of the conversations about “fan entitlement” that people have been having, right, because—
FK: People, all sorts of people have been having conversations about fan entitlement!
ELM: Not just one person.
FK: Not just one person! Many people have been having these conversations. So another recent occurrence on Steven Universe.
ELM: Which is a cartoon.
FK: Which is a cartoon. It has a bunch of characters, many of whom are queer in some way, right, it’s a very queer cartoon.
ELM: Very diverse too, as far as I understand—I’ve never seen Steven Universe but as far as I understand it everyone is a gem?
ELM: [laughs] Do you watch?
FK: It’s really trippy.
ELM: Are we like the two oldest people? Are we like “What’s the YouTubes and the Steven Universe?”
FK: Eh, maybe. But the point being though [laughs] they’re gems, they’re like gem beings…
ELM: So, OK, neither of us have seen this show but the way I understand it is it’s not just queer, it’s very poly-oriented and a lot of the characters love each other and to be honest people should write in and tell us if we’re getting this completely wrong. But the way I understand it from reading articles about it is that one of the artists on the show who is queer tweeted or shared some fanart that privileged one ship, and there’s a rival ship and one of the characters is in both ships, so it’s a rival for, for, I’m assuming her affections. And the fans of the other ship, that wasn’t depicted in the fanart, accused this creator of queerbaiting, and basically hounded her off Twitter.
FK: Saying that she was, you know, queerbaiting, and homophobic, and basically dangling representation in front of them like “Oh we’re gonna have queer characters on this show” and then taking it away, which is…kinda patently ridiculous because…
ELM: If you’re unfamiliar with the term “queerbaiting,” it’s actually relatively new and I think someone recently tracked the rise of it and it's only a couple of years old. And people have different definitions. I think one of the more standard definitions is the idea that a show will have, often have queer subtext or close friendship between two characters of the same gender, and hint at a relationship or just has a lot of subtext, and sometimes literally teasing and literally baiting and then not delivering. Which goes back to the whole idea of “endgame.” And also queerbaiting can get really muddled, because as we’ve talked about when we’ve talked about the fourth wall, or we’ve talked about fan-creator interactions, we’re not just talking about a sole writer of a show and a fan, we’re also talking about the social media people.
ELM: Whatever's happening in the show, you might have a social media team tweeting “Look! Your faves are gonna, we love them too, these two dudes!” And then that never happens on the show, people say that’s queerbaiting. So it’s not always as cut-and-dried as “they're playing gay” or something in some sort of relationship and then that doesn’t happen on the show.
FK: But it’s easy to see how incredibly messy this can get so quickly, and especially when you start viewing your pairing, your favorite ship, as being the marker of good and right and correct politics, basically. The banner carrier for whatever your particular political viewpoint is or for anti homophobia or whatever else. So that’s what we’re going to talk about.
ELM: Right, and since we already had this conversation, and because it was notably absent from what we just discussed, I’m really pleased that these ladies are coming on because Rukmini in particular thinks there's not enough positioning and framing of this conversation around race, and default whiteness and whiteness…I even loved her short statement on our anniversary episode, talking about whiteness as a racialized identity too. So I think these conversations get really myopic and—not the conversation we had, I mean…
FK: No, it’s OK, we do too, sometimes.
ELM: [laughs] I think it can get very myopic and you can say, “Oh, my ship is the end-all and be-all of queer representation and progressive politics in general.” And you utterly disregard the fact that you’re just only going to bat for white characters, or maybe other problematic elements of your show, and this is not to say, I’m also not gonna sit here and say that every piece of media needs to be some shining beacon of perfect unproblematic-ness, you know? Obviously I don’t want racist and homophobic and misogynist and ableist media out there. But I also think that sometimes we can get kind of hemmed into sort of…I sometimes feel like people want, I don’t know. This is a tricky thing. Maybe I shouldn’t go down this.
FK: Let’s not.
FK: It’s a hole.
ELM: Can I say “hole” without laughing?
FK: I don’t know, can you?
ELM: Yeah. I literally can.
ELM: Stop, Flourish!
ELM: Anyway, this is complicated and these women are so smart and I’m so glad that they’re gonna come on slash they already came on.
FK: So let’s take a break and then hear from Rukmini and Lori!
FK: All right! Let’s welcome Dr. Lori Morimoto and Rukmini Pande to the podcast!
Lori Morimoto: Hi!
Rukmini Pande: Hi! Good to be back!
ELM: Yeah, welcome back! I was on a podcast with Lori once so I feel like we’re back again too, but this is a different context, so.
LM: Yeah, we were on “Three Patch” podcast that time.
ELM: “Three Patch” podcast that time! Which had some related topics actually, so.
RP: I’ve talked Lori’s ear off on multiple occasions, so [laughs] it’s business as usual I think.
ELM: Excellent. So we’ll just be eavesdropping on your regular conversations. OK. Is shipping activism? Go. [all laugh]
RP: Uh, well. No! I don’t think shipping is activism. I think shipping can be very very meaningful, and I think shipping can be incredibly important to push for representation, but once it becomes conflated, I think that is when both aspects of actual conversations about the importance of representation and what that means get mixed up in highly individual and subjective interactions. And while I think shipping and being invested in certain pairings is absolutely a powerful act, and a meaningful act, I think that once it becomes a campaign in the sense that it overwhelms everything else about a text, that’s when things get hairy for me.
LM: Yeah, Rukmini and I tend to be on the same page about a lot of things, but in particular this as well. I’ve been in fandom I guess for, gosh, since 2000, so 16 years. I've noticed since I had this long hiatus from about 2001 to 2011, so a lot of things changed. Not just LiveJournal to Tumblr, things like that, but the ways that we were talking about or we do talk about our own shipping has really changed, and as I was telling Elizabeth the other day, to my mind one of the things we’re seeing is the sort of…I don’t want to say trickle-down, but trickle-down effect of early fan studies. And especially the emphasis in early fan studies that was very much centered on women's slash fiction and the communities that rise around that, the emphasis on sort of resistance and things like that that were at the time that scholarship was being written, those were the ways to get into a cultural studies conversation. They were really strategic, I think, in terms of bringing fan studies to academic attention. And I see sort of the arguments that were made early on being codified in fandom now, and if you’re on Tumblr occasionally once in a blue moon a quote from Henry Jenkins will sort of come by my dashboard. I notice that almost no other fan scholars get cited, you know, on Tumblr, besides Henry Jenkins.
FK: Camille Bacon-Smith might as well never have written.
LM: Yeah, yeah. And we’re a really growing field now, I think within fandom it’s a flattering sort of way of thinking about fandom. It says that “Yeah, we’re fighting the Man, we’re fighting the patriarchy,” and as Rukmini can talk to much better than I can, not only is that very much about white women fighting the patriarchy, but I think we can’t really, we don’t talk about fandom in those terms necessarily quite as much as we used to in fan studies. I think fandom as well, it’s increasingly insufficient to talk about what we see these days.
ELM: Rukmini, do you want to pick that up, talking about white women championing some progressivism with white dudes only…? Dot dot dot?
RP: I actually don’t think, I think it’s right, I think Lori’s right in the sense that fan studies has an investment, and that’s fine. Fields have investments in political ends and that’s fine. I don’t have, my entire project is very much about talking about non-white fans, and that is a political project, and that’s important. But whilst yes, the resistance of slash has perhaps been exaggerated, slightly, I think that that’s not…what I keep tripping up against is this kind of partitioning off of slash versus het versus femslash versus gen. Because the whiteness is there everywhere. It’s there if you’re in the Flash fandom, then you have people who are pretty rabidly anti-Candice Patton, and they don’t like the fact that Iris and Barry are kind of endgame, and the language that you see there is very coded and very much about this discomfort. That’s your het space. And then in femslash you have Agent Carter who had this whole Cartinelli thing that people were, a lot of nonwhite fans were like, “You aren’t pushing the male love interest in the same season. You’re just completely disregarding him.” And that’s not OK. Slash of course has a lot of examples like that.
So it’s the centering of whiteness in every space, and so you have things like “Oh, Finn/Rey is boring het, and you straights don’t understand how important queer relationships are,” where a lot of the people in het spaces are queer women. Most of the people I follow who are deeply, deeply invested in het relationships are primarily invested in them because of non-white women in those roles. Those are the kind of intersections, those are the kind of I suppose, they cut through spaces and a lot of the times I get really annoyed at fan studies because slash people just keep talking about slash, and gen people keep talking about gen, and het people keep talking about het, and there’s this weird correlation that keeps happening about, you know, oh they’re straight women. Oh they’re queer women. But nobody seems to go beyond the queer and the straight and the women. And I think that once you place the whiteness as a common factor between all these spaces, it suddenly becomes a lot less, there’s this whole thing of “Oh, there’s so many shifting shoals, there’s so much different stuff happening in different fandoms.” But once you put whiteness at the heart of it, it stops becoming so shifting, to me. The patterns become very clear. A lot of non-white fans have been talking about the patterns across these spaces.
So for me it’s not just about, yes, slashtivism annoys me a lot because there’s usually a lot of noise around it, but so do femslash ships, so do het ships. All of them are very much about centering whiteness as acceptable romantic or endgame pairings and every time there is a non-white character it’s either too boring or too heteronormative or too fraught. There’s always an excuse.
ELM: Or even too strong. Right? That whole, “Oh, she’s too strong. She’s too good.” Which is partly a compliment but, you know, why is she always too strong for a relationship.
RP: Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.
FK: So I hear you saying that, if I understand what you’re saying right, then you’re saying slashtivism claims to be very progressive, claims to be fighting the man, but actually is completely ignoring the fact that there’s this giant race problem at the heart of fandom whether it’s slash or gen or het. So maybe it’s not really as progressive as it claims to be or expects, or wants to be. Is the problem more with, I know we just said “is shipping activism,” but can shipping be activism if it’s centering characters of color? Or are there problems within that as well? Do you see what I’m saying? Is the way to solve this problem more shipping of characters of color and decentralizing whiteness? Or is there something else that needs to happen?
RP: To me it’s not about centering characters of color in terms of…that’s the other thing that keeps, that I keep running up against. Which is when people are like, “We need to change things, and we need,” it’s about framing the love for characters of color as an activist stance. Which of course completely others the characters themselves, very fundamentally, because apparently the only time you can care about characters of color is when, you know, you kind of eat your vegetables. That’s not, it’s not, I don’t want to frame characters of color as a problem and as a solution to that problem.
Because everybody keeps saying the whole Force Awakens thing, people were like, “You can’t make people do things.” And I agree. You can’t make people do things, but you certainly, I wouldn’t say shipping characters of color is activism, because the same thing in The Force Awakens is the fact that Finn/Rey, Finn and Rey versus Finn and Poe is a really interesting example of that in which case, is Finn and Rey boring het versus Finn and Poe which is progressive slash? And I don’t think it is, because Finn and Rey would be quite remarkable if it was endgame. It would be quite remarkable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that, you know, play out on that kind of scale before.
So I think that in every case it has to be approached, what does this mean? And that doesn’t mean that it’s denigrating people's investments in ships, but again, I don’t think shipping is activism. I think ships can be meaningful, I think ships are really important, I think ships can be extremely powerful, that’s always gonna be a part of this landscape, but there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to shipping characters of color. Maybe the answer is just looking at relationships that do center characters of color and seeing their importance and whether you ship the two white dudes or the two white ladies or the white dude and the white lady, not letting that turn into the juggernaut or the flag that everybody marches under until it becomes reality. I think that’s my position on it.
LM: One of the things she said is kind of the key to stuff I’ve been working on in general. Basically it depends, I think part of the problem we face when we’re talking about things like slashtivism or whatever is that we are kind of looking for a one-size-fits-all answer and I think we need a paradigm shift. It’s not that all slash is necessarily progressive; I know the slash that I write isn’t particularly progressive, I’m not fighting the Man when, you know, I write anything, I swear to God. But that’s not to say it can’t be. I think instead of, and this is something that fandom does, you know, because it’s a gay ship it’s necessarily, we are transgressive, we are progressive, it doesn’t work like that. I think we need a case by case basis to understand what’s really going on in any given situation and for me, I keep writing this essay, but for me it’s not a question of whether or not slashtivism is good or slash is progressive or however that’s framed, it’s more a question of what happens when, dot dot dot.
What happens when you get a film with a black actor who is in one of arguably two lead roles in a massive blockbuster and the majority of fic which I looked at yesterday for that fandom is two white guys, one of whom is on camera for maybe five minutes. I think it’s too easy to hide behind this kind of one size fits all approach to slash or whatever fannish thing you want to talk about. But particularly slash. And argue that because it’s non-heteronormative it is therefore progressive, that’s sweeping a lot of stuff, as Rukmini said, that’s sweeping a lot of stuff under the carpet that increasingly we can’t afford to ignore. If that makes any sense?
ELM: Absolutely, and I think that sometimes and I’m not going to name any particular fandoms but you might know one that I’m subtweeting right now, but I’ve seen this in other ones too: the idea that an endgame canonical representation of the big ship, the big slash ship in these fandoms will erase even the problems within the queer space of the canon that already exists, right? You have people now saying, with certain shows, “Well if this isn’t endgame, this show’s kinda homophobic!” And it’s like… [all make noises of agreement]
FK: Maybe it’s still homophobic!
ELM: Right? And even if you’re not talking about that ship, we were talking as we were sending emails about this episode, oftentimes, I zero in on slash cause I’m in slash fandom so that’s what I see a lot of, but people privilege their ship and the progressive idea they have of the shows in their head, which often doesn’t actually match the text, over, we were talking about The 100, which has a lot of problems far beyond Clexa and killing Lexa. Especially in terms of race. And I’m not a fan of the show, so I can’t speak to it specifically, but I’ve read a lot and heard a fair amount from fans, and just because you want to see your faves kiss doesn’t mean that…I don’t know, sometimes I feel like people will talk about the things that they’re fans of and then I’ll watch that and be like “There’s nothing progressive about this.” It’s a fantasy version in your head; Steve Rogers on the screen isn’t actually a gay rights activist. He seems like a nice guy, but I don’t see him going to bat for… [sighs]
FK: Elizabeth, I have to warn you, when I make you watch Twin Peaks, I am not watching that show assuming that there is anything progressive in it, so don’t even, don’t even get that fantasy in your head. [all laugh]
ELM: That makes me excited! That makes me feel more comfortable! Especially in Tumblr you will encounter other fandoms that are like…there was a really great, I don't know if you saw it, after the Steven Universe blow-up over the weekend there was a really great tweet thread where this woman was saying that she hadn’t seen the Marvel movies and she said that she thought it was some epic love story and then she actually watched it and she was like “these gifsets you’re making are scraps!” It was talking about how you’re like, yeah, people were demonizing actual queer creators creating queer characters and valorizing the little, little bits of hints at your ship.
FK: So what’s funny about this is you guys are talking from the slash perspective, but talking from the het perspective I feel like I’ve seen this not about progressivism or progressive causes, but just about people liking their pairing or feeling like, pulling things out about their pairing and ignoring other stuff. So maybe, I don’t think it's unique to slash that things get paired with progressive causes—certainly within Sleepy Hollow the major het pairing—which is very important in terms of representation—also got paired with the idea of we want a black woman in a pairing, this is really important, and I’m not saying I don’t like that, I’m a fan of that pairing, but it definitely did in that case get paired with sort of a progressive mindset and the idea that we’re going to be superior in some sense because look at, we actually finally have this show that has this and this pairing has to happen.
But in other areas, so for instance I read a Escaflowne fanfic which was amazing, but in this fanfic it was entirely—
ELM: A what fanfic?
ELM: Is that a show, is that a ship? What is that?
FK: Yeah, it’s a…I don’t even know, is it a manga or an anime? I’m not sure whether it’s animated or not because I’m so far away from it. I really had no context, it was just a writer I liked had written this story, so I read it and I was like “Oh!” You know? And it had a het ship in it that I really liked and I was like “Oh, this, oh, it’s so delightful!” And then I found out that Escaflowne is actually about giant mechas. And I was like “What? I don’t care about mechs! I don't care about any of these characters!” I was reading a summary of the story and I was like—
ELM: What word were you saying? It’s about giant whats?
FK: Mechs, mechas! Like giant robots?
ELM: You say “mecha,” I hear Islam.
FK: Oh. Well, that is a reasonable thing.
ELM: I am so disconnected from Japanese cultural products!
LM: Like I said earlier, I started in fandom in 2000 right? It was X-files, and I was late to the game and the whole nine yards and I was one of the Mulder/Scully relationshippers. In that sense, because Chris Carter fought it as much as any showrunner does these days. When people say “But they have chemistry! They belong together!” I mean, he fought that tooth and nail every time he turned around, it was the same old “No, they’re just really really close colleagues.”
FK: Really really close colleagues.
LM: [laughs] I have never had a colleague like that! And it was the same kind of thing: long prolonged looks, “You’re my touchstone,” all kinds of things that very much sent, OK! In a really analogous way to the way that some relationships get played out in television today. And I sometimes wonder, although they absolutely say you do take out this romantic text/subtext from it and suddenly some shows become really in poor taste at the best, even so I’m wondering if we’re sort of in a generation of showrunners themselves who…I don’t know exactly how to put this, but if you look at Joss Whedon, if you look at Bryan Fuller or I know Mark Gatiss isn’t a showrunner but close enough, they’re all basically my age, which is around 50, cause I’m, like, that old. And it was a different time, you know? [all laugh] We grew up in ways that I think they’re really trying to negotiate, and I think some of them do it better than others, but I wonder if there’s not sort of a generational thing involved with “Well, this is how we tell stories. We show them together, they do lots of things, but they’re really just friends,” it’s like “They’re really not!” “No, they really are.”
What I’m trying to say is, I think that what you’re saying about the desire to bring characters together regardless of activism or progressivism or anything, I think that is very much sort of something you see across the board: het ships, slash ships, and so on, and in that sense you know, having been in X-files fandom, I get the desire to speak to the showrunners and say…
FK: “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
LM: Right! Yes! I don’t know what you’re watching, but that is not the show I am watching. You know? That said, we were talking about this on email, and I think it’s pretty well known at least in some circles of some fandoms, that this kind of blurring of the lines between fans and producers especially on social media really contributes to a sense of…I mean, I’d see this when I was teaching. I saw this with students. Before we had e-mail, even, the relationship between teacher and student was quite different. Nowadays, “Hey there!” I’m like, not “hey there!” “Dear doctor whoever!” Social media, I think, for a generation that is younger than mine and the showrunners’ who are currently at the top of the pile, is a very different thing than it is for people who are younger and who in some cases have grown up with nothing but social media. Or it showed up very early on in their lives. And I think we see a lot of those negotiations on Twitter especially.
But you know, it loosens that line, so I think for a younger generation it feels like I can talk to this person, I should give them my input, it is a good thing to do these things…and it sort of devolves into less productive conversations in ways that we didn’t have when I was a young fan. And so there was a divide between producer and fan that was wider. It wasn’t solid, but it was much wider and so you got the media, and you consumed it and you did what you wanted with it, because who cares? And that was sort of the end of the story.
ELM: I think there are people who, I am younger than you, though I am not…I am out of the youngest of the, cause I’m in my 30s now, [laughs] so like you know, got social media at a different point than some people who are in their 20s or younger. But I am still in that camp. I also think it’s inclinations, like I love that divide. And I would never, ever talk…I say this cause somewhat hypocritically because I do write articles criticizing J.K. Rowling, but I would never tweet at her my feelings. And I don’t need her validation! I will work with what she gives me or I’ll ignore it. And I think that’s also an inclination. I think we’re seeing more and more a clash of people who are inclined that way and people who aren’t, pretending to have the same conversations.
LM: What you say about validation I think is really important too, because when we choose to become a fan of something or when we just sort of end up a fan one day and don’t know how we got there, those things become ours sort of necessarily. Not in a kind of weird “Oh, I think it belongs to me now,” but simply we understand it and we consume it and we fan over it, if that’s a verb, in very subjective ways? So like Flourish is saying about the anime, read the fic and it's one thing, watch the show and it’s like “What. I’m not seeing it.” Or when I watched, I was in Sherlock fandom. When I would watch it by myself I’m like “Oh my God, it’s right there! It’s right there! How can you possibly miss it,” but when I’d watch with my husband next to me, I would often see it through his eyes.
LM: And although he picked up on some things that I was seeing, for the most part he was seeing a guy relationship.
ELM: You mean like bros.
LM: Yeah, like bros.
ELM: Not like guys in a relationship.
ELM: Have you ever watched it in a theater? I’ve seen it twice in a theater.
LM: I haven’t, no.
ELM: It’s so fascinating. Because every moment where—I watched the special last year, this New Year’s, alone, and there’s sad moments, the Sherlock at his lowest, humanizing, there’s John, and I’d just be like “oh.” And in the theater people were, like, laughing. And I was like “ohhhhh”!
LM: And I think that’s something that, you know, we begin in calling all fans everywhere “fandom” as if it’s just one thing. And then the further we get into a specific fandom and a specific subsection of fandom, the more sort of codified things become so that this ship obviously is the thing. If you can’t see it, there’s something wrong with how you see things. That kind of thing. The further out you get from that, the more I think you kind of realize that “Oh, other people see this differently than I do.” There’s a scene in Hannibal which is, I don’t know, Elizabeth knows is sort of my big thing right now, there’s one scene towards the end of the series where Will Graham asks Hannibal’s wife, ex-wife, I have no idea, and psychiatrist, “Is Hannibal in love with me?” And she says “Yes.” At that point, if it was subtext before, which it totally wasn’t by that point, it’s not subtext anymore. But I have a friend who sees that scene completely differently from how I do. Not that she’s not saying that, she said “I think he’s totally yanking Bedelia’s chain. I think he’s trying to sort of rub it in her face.” And I’m like “No, I think he’s sincerely asking!” Everything that we watch is subject to our own subjective interpretation.
RP: I think that there’s two different things that I was thinking of from what I heard. I think that there is this lessening of space between producers and fans. And that’s absolutely true, the distance between your interpretation and the right interpretation and being able to tell somebody that, “Oh, this is the right interpretation” has absolutely collapsed. And that in some cases does explode into these kinds of, “This is just the way it is.” And there is something to be said about take the text and do what you want with it.
But my other thing that I’ve kind of been thinking through is of course that canon is important to marginalized characters, and especially to non-white characters. Because really at the end of the day, canon is sometimes all that you have. You’re not going to get the same loving expansions of characters, of relationships, of possible slash interpretations, femslash interpretations, you’re not going to get those in fandom 99% of the time.
So you do have a different relationship to canon. My investment in The Force Awakens is significantly different from my investment in, say, Due South or in Stargate: Atlantis. I didn’t give a crap about what Stargate: Atlantis was doing most of the time, because I was reading my fic and I didn’t really care. The show was nice, but really wasn’t that important. But The Force Awakens is important. It’s very important, because Finn and Poe’s primacy comes from the canon. If it was up to fandom, they would be a rarepair. To me, that’s…this whole idea of “who needs canon”? Non-white characters need canon! They need canon. Because they’re not gonna get it from anywhere else.
ELM: If I'm understanding correctly, you’re saying because fandom…so I would say, “who needs canon” for queerness. I mean, I don’t actually, I think that those are two separate things. I think my problem comes with the conflation of shipping and queer representation. I think those are two separate things that both need to exist. But I can also rely on fandom to make everyone gay.
ELM: Right? That is not something we’re in danger of having. I cannot rely on fandom to make the uniformly white characters not white. And so as a white person, I definitely think that that’s something that I am less cognizant of and I’m not thinking about that constantly. So I’m not invested in it in the same way. So I definitely…is that the correct interpretation? Because I think when it comes to queerness, I don’t…I also, canon, I can think of so little canon that does queerness in the way I need it, the way fandom does it.
RP: Exactly, and that’s what the difference to me is between…I’ve been trying to think through this kind of canon versus fanon kind of thing, and for the longest time I was a “who needs canon” kind of person. We have our archetypes, we have our narratives, and we’ll run with it. And those are the stories I want, and I don’t care whether they are the same stories I’ve read a hundred times, those are the stories I want. But as those stories themselves, as those characters have changed, I’ve realized that it’s not that simple. That I can go and find versions of queerness, but those versions of queerness in fandom will mostly be white queerness. They’re not going to be brown queerness, they’re not going to be black queerness. And that’s something that I’m going to have to rely on canon to center those characters to the point that they cannot be ignored. And that is very very rare.
We’ve now kind of come to the tipping point where how much primacy can a character of color get and still be marginalized in fandom? And you know [laughs] it seems like we’ve come to the end of that rope! I don’t think you could have, this is a question I think that a lot of people have kind of been thinking about at the back of their minds. Surely some text will come along where there’s no other option. And we’ve seen that fandom will make the option and it still won’t be black or brown queerness. A lot of people have now suddenly gotten into, I hear a lot of “Oh, well, these things are too edgy, we can’t really write those kinds of stories because we feel so scared,” and I’m like, “Sure, of course, many fans and many people need those kinds of…those very difficult stories that kind of skirt the edge of very difficult topics. And sure, perhaps we can have a conversation about what that means when those kinds of stories are enacted on non-white bodies. But most of the time, we kind of like our fluff.”
So I fail to see how suddenly this whole conversation seems to have kind of been very strategically almost been repositioned so that now we’re talking about darkfic. Massive power differentials. All those things, which are all important, and they’re all valid and they’re all interesting, but they’re not the entirety of why people since the beginning of fan studies have said why people write fic. So I am feeling very uncomfortable with this kind of shifting of the goalposts that’s happening. Just in terms of fan studies that I see sometimes. Because it feels like the minute you started chipping away at the idea that “Oh, we just don’t have the characters, we don’t have the centrality”—we started chipping away at that, and now it’s “Oh, people only like to read problematic stuff, and you guys get really mad when we write problematic stuff, and so we can’t do it,” and that is just a very convenient…
LM: On email when we were talking, I mentioned that one of the things that kind of gets short shrift in fan studies is this issue of pleasure and how things are for fun. In fandom, it’s usually the first thing people throw in the road when somebody criticizes racial representation in media texts and in fanfiction. “Well, it's just for fun, why are you ruining my fun.” And as Rukmini pointed out, and she can probably talk to better than I can, it’s a very white kind of pleasure. I mean, we’re sort of—especially in sort of an Anglo-American context, white women and I’m a white woman aren’t asked or otherwise compelled to even worry about racial representation. We do worry about misogyny, if we’re queer we might worry about representations of queerness, but race is sort of uniformly pushed, again, pushed under the carpet.
And the conversation put me in mind of a really really terrific essay in the open access journal Transformative Works and Cultures. It’s online, it’s free, have a look, by a scholar named Rebecca Wanzo. And in that, and this was something that she mentioned in a talk that she gave a couple years ago and it stuck out so much I tweeted it, she basically said the experience she was talking about, African American audiences, the experience for African American fans is always one of I think she said “anxious waiting.” You’re sitting there basically going, it’s coming, it’s coming, I know it’s coming, and…neither media nor fandom really lets you down in that sense. It’s not a good sort of feeling of expectation, obviously. But for fans of color, that’s always out there. It’s always at the very least a possibility, often times a probability, and so there’s never the same kind of carefree innocent pleasure in a mainstream text that white fans have access to.
ELM: Can I ask you to clarify, “it” in this context, you’re saying racism in the text? Racism from fans? Or…
ELM: Both, OK.
LM: She was talking specifically about texts, I would expand it to fandom as well and say it’s out there. And probably gets to you faster than it does in media texts, you know. Media texts are sort of slowly starting to at least begin to evolve in terms of representation. It’s slow going and it’s, there’s a lot of bumps in the road. Fandom much less so. I have friends in fandom who are fans of color, and the shit that they have to deal with on an almost daily basis, both from the media that they consume and then from the fandoms that rise up around it, is almost unthinkable to me. It’s obviously not my experience of it, and it’s one that I’ll let Rukmini talk, it’s one that we’re blind to because it isn’t our experience.
RP: I think that’s true in the sense that when we talk about pleasure, when we talk about most things in fan studies [laughs] in terms of authorizations, it’s a very unarticulated generalized universal kind of idea of what pleasure is and what meaningfulness is, what relationships, what heteronormativity is, it’s so powerful that you have even today people being like “Oh, Uhura is so demeaned by her position or by her relationship with Spock.” And people have been yelling about this since 2009. How important it is, and how meaningful it is, that Uhura gets the boy! That she is in a relationship and she is respected! And I as a Kirk/Spock shipper, as Kirk/Spock shipper of color, didn’t get it for the longest time because that universality of white queerness was so ingrained in me as a non-black person. And that I think is, it is really really powerful. And I’m not really surprised that it continues to operate, but I do think that fandom does encourage the operation, as Lori says, by being like, stop trying to be politically correct. Stop trying to score social justice points. Stop trying to make us write dutyfic.
And most of the time, it’s about, on the other side, I don’t want you to write dutyfic! I just want you to see that the same character that you’ve loved in every text that you've reblogged since I followed you, it’s the same character. I was looking at somebody who was talking about Cisco Ramon on The Flash. And Cisco Ramon is the archetype. He’s Stiles. He’s the fast talking geek with the hundred pop culture references. He’s self depreciating, he’s funny, he’s witty, he’s really smart, and that’s not a particular—that’s every character that fandom has loved. And the fan who was writing about it was like “Where is the fic? I know that you like this archetype! I know that you do!”
And I think that’s the wall that people run into when these ideas of, one level you’re like “We’re into this ship because of queer representation,” and on the other hand you’re like “please stop trying to bring your race politics into this, we’re just trying to have fun.” And it seems like the fun just keeps getting cut, it’s not even a possibility. You cannot have fun with Cisco Ramon, apparently. You can’t have fun with Finn and Poe. Even though they’re the same, they’ve been cut from the same cloth, and this kind of everybody being like “Oh, stop shaming people,” at what point do you have to say that that’s enough, I can’t deal with this any more. I know I hit that point, because I was like, I can’t not see what’s happening.
LM: I was just gonna add to what Rukmini says and especially about how much both the online English language transformative fandom is saturated in a kind of white, specifically white pleasure, white queerness and so on, and also fan studies. And this is actually, Rukmini tweeted…I don’t know, awhile back, a few months ago she tweeted and said “We foreground feminism and queer politics in fan studies and race is frequently a footnote.” I had just written something on my blog which is no longer there that was talking about Hannibal and how revolutionary it is, because I do believe this. And I actually said, rather than masculinist quality TV, I used these exact words, I said “This is quality TV for the rest of us.” I hadn’t said one thing about race. Hannibal does nothing progressive in terms of race. It engages in colorblind casting, which is fine, but it doesn’t engage with race in any meaningful way, and yet there I was saying that this was for everyone.
I try hard to be aware of my limitations, but that just popped right out. And as soon as I read that, I actually had put a footnote that said, literally a footnote that said “doesn't do much in terms of race.” And she’s exactly right. We do. That’s the conversation we’ve just never seemed to get to in fandom, and where my problems begin is when people say “Well, this ship is necessarily progressive.” Because it’s queer. When it is, as Rukmini is saying, every white relationship that has ever been slashed in fandom; that’s not that different. So, and it doesn’t do anything particularly for race, so how exactly is this progressive? It’s not something that I’m immune to. I don’t think any white fans are immune to it because it’s simply where we’ve been for so long that it’s hard to get out of that paradigm and into another one where we can at least recognize that when people say “this is racist” or “we have a problem with color in fandom” or whatever, that we’re not suddenly retreating to a defensive position of “no no no, it’s this this and this,” and actually listening, I think that’s sort of where we need to be.
ELM: It’s tricky. It’s complicated. The one thing that when I think about different strands that we’ve been talking about, I really bristle whenever I see anyone say “If you don’t like my slash ship you’re homophobic.”
ELM: And maybe this is acknowledging that I am a white person in this, but if someone were to say “You don’t like my ship that has people of color in it, you’re racist,” I mean, maybe this is just the position of being in the dominant group in one sense and not in the other. I don’t know. It’s complicated. I am not gonna let the “You don’t like my slash ship, you’re homophobic” fly ever. But the racial discourse is so complicated and so fraught and I definitely think that the privileging of white characters is racist, you know.
LM: For me, because I have the same kind of resistance to my slash ship or else, to me part of the resistance to that is in some cases but obviously not all, it’s almost like the queerness itself is fetishized.
LM: It becomes a thing. So you see blogs on Tumblr for example that says, “I’m all about the gay.” There’s always people talking about “the gay.” And I hate that so much.
ELM: My gay babies, yeah.
LM: Yeah, my gay babies and stuff. And I’m like, “at that point it really isn’t about representation.” It’s about something else that I don’t think has been adequately defined.
FK: This is actually kind of relevant to something that I, we were just talking about before we got on. Which is the idea of being a slasher versus being somebody who reads slash or the separation of het, gen and slash. We were talking, I was like, “The most recent story I wrote is femslash; the story before that is a poly ship that’s two men and a woman; I read a lot of slash, I'm definitely not a slasher for sure. Absolutely not.” And sometimes we get into conver—like I’ll be in a conversation, someone goes "Oh but you’re a het shipper, you don’t do slash.” I’m like, “The fuck you mean I don’t do slash! I read lots of slash. I don’t write lots of slash…”
ELM: [teasing] Flourish, you’re a boring het shipper!
FK: No, this actually makes me enraged! You know? Because—it’s very frustrating!
ELM: You said it made your blood boil.
FK: It makes my blood boil as a queer woman who reads slash and het and gen and femslash and tends to write things with women in them, whether there’s slash or not, it’s just like “Ugh, do we have to have this be so fetishized that we have to, like, have a purity test almost?”
ELM: I think you also see this too with slash fandoms’ historical resistance to making male characters bi and not gay. There seems to be a fear, I can sit here and theorize about that all I want, I’m not sure I’m gonna get to an answer that’s very satisfying.
FK: [laughs] This is perhaps a bigger problem than we can solve.
LM: What Rukmini was saying about archetypes, to me, really resonates because like Flourish I sort of ship across the board. My first was heterosexual, I’ve got no issues with a het pairing, three-way, you know, however you want to do that. But I’m really drawn to a certain archetype and it’s a pretty popular one in fandom: sort of the darker one and the lighter one, Kirk/Spock, and so on. It’s always there. As she was saying with the one pairing that she was talking about, which I’m not familiar with, but by context I assume that it’s people of color, it is interesting at that point when the archetype isn’t enough to get people shipping across race.
FK: That was the thing on Sleepy Hollow where it was like, “Oh but it’s such a perfect partners to lovers archetype! You can’t!” That is so, so delightful, it’s exactly what got me on Mulder and Scully is what got me into Sleepy Hollow.
LM: Exactly, exactly.
ELM: Elementary versus Sherlock. Why is—I know there's plenty of Elementary fic, but it’s not BBC Sherlock Johnlock.
FK: No, it’s not that big.
ELM: No. I don’t know. Flourish, you were in that fandom, how often is that a romantic pairing versus, like, just friends casefic kinda stuff? Do you know?
FK: There’s a large debate. In fact I would say probably one of the problems with it is that half the people are like “NO! We want Joan to be Joan and it's all about Joan and not about Sherlock and don’t make her get together with Sherlock, that’s offensive and horrible,” and the other half are like “Yes, make them kiss like dolls! Smush them together!”
ELM: Alright, so you’re saying all Sherlock shows have some conflict in this realm.
LM: All shows! X-files!
FK: X-files came up with a word for people who hated shipping!
LM: And it reflects, for God’s sake, I watched Mork and Mindy and I really wanted them to get together.
ELM: Did you ship it?
LM: It isn’t qualitatively different, you know? If you’re attracted to two characters and they’re working for you, you want to mush ’em together like Barbie dolls or Ken dolls or whatever, and there’s always gonna be people who are like “No, you’re wrong.” And that’s why I think, to come full circle in a way, that’s why I think we sort of run aground when we begin from the perspective—and again, I think this is at least partly what fan studies has currently bequeathed fandom—when we start from a position of “Slash is automatically progressive.” And if we write slash, we read slash, then we are fighting the man.
If we get out of that mindset, and begin to sort of look at individual cases, different things that pop up, are we shipping to the exclusion of whatever. Just the different things that happen surrounding ships. I think we would find very different things than we do when we begin in that position, and it’s too easy a fallback for people who are un-inclined to listen to other kinds of criticism. And I’m sounding really judgmental here, but.
ELM: No, no.
LM: I’m 50. I can be a mother. [laughs] In the end, I do transcultural fan studies and it’s not just, people hear that and they think transnational, across national borders and stuff, but transcultural is cross cultures. And there are cultures within fandoms that have a very difficult time talking to each other. And one of those is sort of the old school fans versus the newer fans, some are fans of color versus white fans, there’s a million. They produce cultural clashes and I think the only way we’re going to at least learn to kind of coexist in these spaces where we can’t throw up borders and gates like we used to be able to in locked communities and things like that, is to start listening to some of the criticism. And taking it seriously and acknowledging when, yeah, there might be a problem and not sort of retreating to “No, because I’m shipping slash ergo nothing, I can’t be critiqued.” That got polemical, but I really do feel that way.
ELM: Yeah, no. Rightly so.
FK: Well, that might be a good button?
ELM: Yeah, I think that you brought it full circle so that feels like a good place—we’ve full-circled and lost someone along the way.
FK: We’re sorry that we didn’t get to say goodbye to Rukmini, who now presumably is…
LM: I’m so sorry she was having problems!
ELM: So goodbye to her spirit, and we’ll say goodbye to you, your corporeal form.
LM: Thanks so much, I really enjoyed this!
FK: Thank you for coming on!
ELM: Thank you, Lori!
FK: Well, we’re back! I think that was an incredible conversation.
ELM: Yeah, fantastic. I wanna fly Rukmini here so she could just talk into my microphone cause I’m really sorry we lost her.
FK: I know! It was, it was horrifying.
ELM: That’s an elaborate scheme that I just proposed as opposed to, like, “Let’s call her again when her internet’s working.”
FK: Right, right. It was really, I mean I’m sure that we’ve cut out all of—we’ve cut out as much of the awkwardness as we can, but it was really really sad. There were moments where we were like “Rukmini! Oh no!”
ELM: Popped away, her little icon popped away—
FK: And we all went “Oh!”
FK: But it was great to have her as long as she was on.
ELM: And Lori I'm glad we had the entire time!
FK: Yeah for sure.
ELM: So I would love people’s thoughts cause this is a very fraught conversation. And we covered a lot of ground, so anyone who wants to write in, we would love to read your comments on the air. Fansplaining.tumblr.com, we have an ask box, anon is on, though please don’t be mean. And we also have email@example.com…
ELM: Twitter, I don’t know, don’t tweetstorm at us, that’s a lot of work. Just… [FK laughs] And Facebook I guess too.
FK: And you could email us!
ELM: I already said that!
FK: OK. I missed that in the long list of ways that we could get connected to people. Basically we’re here! Talk to us. We love it.
ELM: [laughs] Yes please. So speaking of talking to us…
ELM: We thought we’d get more response but we only got one so far, you’re welcome to continue to respond. Also, some people have asked us in the past, like, I’m only on episode 12 or whatever, can I still respond, it’s like, “Yeah! Why not?” Usually so few of these topics are not sustained conversations within fan culture that we’re happy to revisit any topic at any time.
FK: Completely. But this response was to our, not to our last episode but to the episode before that actually where we had Leslie Combemale on talking about fanart and official movie art.
ELM: And she said some things that we thought people would find controversial.
FK: And apparently they only, like one person did and maybe other people found things controversial but they didn’t tell us so. So you know, go listen to that episode and yell at us if you want to.
ELM: Yeah let’s not, maybe, who’s this listener and what did they say.
FK: So we got an email from Hanaobira, who I hope I’m saying your name right, there was no audio guide, and she writes, regarding monetizing fandom, I wonder if people feel more comfortable with paying for fanart because of the cost of the art supplies involved. It doesn’t cost me anything to make fanfic but I know that good pencils, paper et cetera get hella expensive. I would support fan artists charging at least as much as it costs to make the art itself.
Also, I’m not sure I accept Leslie’s claim that fanart sales hurt licensed art sales. Has anyone ever done a study on the economics of that? I think it’s generally accepted that fanfic doesn’t hurt book sales. I don’t think that J.K. Rowling would claim that Harry Potter fic should be shut down because it’s preventing people from buying Harry Potter books. I can’t think of anyone I know who would have been perfectly willing to pay $400 for a Jaws poster but gave up on the idea after they found a $50 one on Pinterest. My friends and I are all broke and we aren’t gonna spend $400 on a poster, no matter what fanart is available on Pinterest. I don’t have any data to support it, but my hunch is that fanart makes fans more passionate about the fandom, which ultimately makes them more willing to save up the $400 to get the official licensed merch. But I’m willing to hear of any scientific evidence that contradicts this.
ELM: Hm. Well, so, one thing that was interesting to the last point, but I would like to definitely talk about the first point too, is we talked to Leslie before we went to San Diego Comic-Con, and I kinda wished we’d talked to her afterwards, because I wasn’t paying attention to this last year; I hadn’t realized the full extent. There are so many people there making derivative art of the licensed, you know. I wouldn’t, I understand the distinction she’s making between transformative and derivative in that point. Literally just trying to mimic the official licensed stuff.
ELM: And I definitely see fanart on my dash that is very true to the source and very, you know, realism kind of. But that feels different than people who are making kind of derivative works, bringing them to Comic-Con…
FK: And selling them for money in direct competition with the artists who worked on the thing, yeah.
ELM: Right, you’re what, six booths down, which is like an hour long walk from the actual Marvel booth selling the Iron Man picture that looks exactly like the Iron Man poster, I think that’s complicated. I’m not sure I’m ready to go to bat for those people. But I also don’t know if those artists are fans. I don’t think they’d call their work fanart. I think they’d call it commercial art, depictions of movies.
FK: Yeah, I don’t know. I think this does get really complicated where that connects. You see Teefury—I guess, is Teefury a company that does this? There’s a bunch of companies that take fan art and you have a contest and they print up T-shirts of a fanart piece. Things like that. A lot of times those artists are absolutely fanartists, but I’m not sure that they’re actually getting the benefit from the T-shirts that are being printed out. Are they making the most money out of this? I’m pretty sure the T-shirt company is making the money.
ELM: Yeah but if you do it on Etsy or you do it on Redbubble or something…
FK: Right, it’s true, that’s different, but that’s the difference I'm trying to—that’s the distinction I’m trying to draw, right? There’s people doing things as fans for themselves, for other fans, and then there’s a place where it shades over into “Well, but if we blew this out to people who aren’t part of the community, then we can make a ton of money.”
ELM: Yeah that’s tricky.
FK: I don’t know the answer to this at all.
ELM: But OK, then let’s table that and go back to the first point. I do not like this argument that the reason people wanna pay for fanart and not…I don’t think they’re saying that explicitly, but what I read in that is “Well, it’s OK to pay for fanart because of the materials, but since there are no materials to write fanfiction…”
ELM: Cause it was framed in opposition to something and I’m assuming that something is fanfiction.
FK: Yeah, she said “It doesn't cost me anything to make fanfic but good pencils, paper, et cetera is expensive.” But I think that what this ignores is fanfic…I actually think that they might be onto something here, not that I agree with the logic, but because in the past when fanfiction was distributed on paper, in zine format, people absolutely paid for fanfiction. They paid for zines. You bought zines. They were not distributed for free. And when they shifted online, fanfiction became always free. Right?
ELM: I think this is…yeah, OK, sure, I’ll give you that. I think that prior to the web, it was very hard to get other people’s writing for free. Newspapers weren’t given away for free. They didn’t have the special free…maybe there were some free newspapers, but for the most part as opposed to now, where you can literally get all the news for free. And I think this is just endemic of the utter, utter devaluing of writing in general with the invention of the web.
FK: Right because you actually also can do fanart with no paper or pencils involved whatsoever. Lots of people draw digitally.
ELM: Tons of people do. I think probably a lot of the people you see on your dash every day. So it’s not really about materials, it’s about time, and I think that we value visual contributions more than we—we don’t value writing.
FK: Well, and also, even with writing, it is about…to some degree it’s about materials, in that you need to have, in order to be a really active fanfiction author who’s involved with this, you need to have good internet access and access to, if not a computer then at least a phone, right? You may say that these things aren’t a big deal—
ELM: I think this is true for every fan creator. Needs—you know. And it’s true that I think you have the lowest barriers to entry cost-wise to be a fanfiction writer versus a vidder or a visual artist.
FK: Or a podcaster for that matter, you know!
ELM: You can podcast with all free software! But you can’t really create art, it’s hard to create art with wholly free software, right.
FK: Well, I think you can do a pretty good job with the GIMP and so forth, but you probably want to have a tablet, right, to draw with. It’s more the physical stuff.
ELM: I mean, do you want Photoshop? Like, I don’t know.
FK: I mean the GIMP is pretty good as far as a Photoshop clone, but then you have to learn to use it and you’ve probably learned Photoshop if you’ve taken an art class or something like that. You probably already know Photoshop.
ELM: …or if it’s part of your job like mine.
ELM: I feel like I’m yelling at a larger thing. I don’t want to yell at our letter writer, who I appreciate.
FK: I think that they’re right that this is how people think about it, I absolutely think this is how people think about it.
ELM: Right. But that’s, it’s frustrating to me. You know? It’s like, you have to beg people to pay a dollar to read award-winning journalism or whatever. Or beg people to pay, you know, what was it? There was some tweet a couple years ago that apparently has haunted me that was something like
“There’s something wrong in our society, people pay more for a greeting card than they will for an eBook of a novel.” [FK laughs] And it was true! You don’t think twice about spending $7.99 at Papyrus!
FK: Guilty. Freakin’ guilty. I’m guilty.
ELM: Yeah and you’re over here like “$10 for an eBook?” It’s like yeah, for a freaking novel! 400 page novel! And you’re not willing to pay $10?
FK: Yeah I get all my romance novels for 99 cents! …that’s not actually true. I don’t do that all the time. But sometimes!
ELM: It’s true! I’m not sure, I should know because I did my entire master’s dissertation on the history of the book industry, but I’m not sure how we got into this state where writing is so devalued. But that’s where we are, so…and like, yeah, everyone can write, but not everyone can write well. Everyone can also draw. But people are more willing to admit they’re bad at drawing. Really good writing is valuable, but that doesn’t mean I think fanfic should be monetized by default, so. Hmm.
FK: You’re just talking yourself in circles, in a corner, you’re just spiralin’ in. Spiralin’ in.
ELM: Yeah. I like the idea of tipping, of paying money to writers rather than paying for individual stories. I would like fanfiction writers to do Patreons.
ELM: Do you think that’s too bold?
FK: I think that’s pretty bold.
FK: I just think that it’s really, I think it’s really different than the culture around fanfiction, right?
ELM: Well, I think a certain culture. Today, we’re recording this on Wednesday August 16th, Wednesday August 17th [all laugh] It’s my friend’s birthday, happy birthday Bradlea! Thanks for pledging! There’s an article today about Wattpad going hardcore into monetizing their fiction writers.
FK: That’s very true.
ELM: So I don’t think we need to say that universally there’s, I think there’s historically been antagonism, but I think there’s a lot of misinformation, I think there’s a lot of resentment and jealousy and I think there’s a lot of entitlement, and I’m happy to say that.
FK: All right, well now I think we have something that people may be willing to write to us about. [ELM chortles] So maybe we should end the episode on this, Elizabeth. Uh, guys, sharpen your pens, uh, sharpen your typing fingers, you know, send us responses, and…
ELM: Oh my God, first we call you racist, then we call you entitled. So…sorry fandom.
FK: Yeah, that’s pretty much the Fansplaining way this episode.
ELM: Next episode we’re going to be talking about video games, right? Finally.
FK: We are! Finally.
ELM: You know our guest.
FK: Yeah, we’re gonna have Evan Narcisse, who is—I hope that I’m saying his last name right because I don’t think I’ve ever had to say it out loud, I just say “Hey Evan.”
ELM: [laughs] All right. Evan N.
FK: Evan N.! [laughs] Who is a writer at io9, and he used to be working at Kotaku, and we’re gonna talk about video games and fandom and how the two things intersect and why gamers don’t always call themselves fans and—
ELM: “Pokémon Go.”
FK: “Pokémon Go,” probably also.
ELM: Probably. OK. I am looking forward to actually talking about something I know nothing about.
FK: [laughs] I’m looking—I don’t know that much about it either generally speaking, so.
ELM: I’m really good at “Candy Crush” so I guess I’m a gamer too.
FK: You are a gamer too, if you’re really good at “Candy Crush,” you are a gamer too!
ELM: Yeah that’s right.
FK: All right, I’ll talk to you next time Elizabeth.
ELM: OK bye Flourish!
ELM: OK, so for the very first time ever, we have some people to thank in the credits. You said we were gonna do it like “Car Talk” though, do you actually want me to do it like “Car Talk”?
ELM: John “Bugsy” Lawler! Do you want me to do my Boston accent for you?
FK: No, don’t do that. OK, let’s just go. [both laugh]
FK & ELM: Christopher Dwyer, MCF, Chloe-Leonna Steele, Clare Muston, Christian Gossett, Menlo Steve, AR, Katherine Lynn, Clare Mulligan, Heidi Tandy, Megan C, Lucas Medeiros.
FK: Bradlea Raga-Ba…roney? Is that “Raga-Baroney” or “Raga-Barohn”?
ELM: Wow. It’s Bradlea Raga-Barone. One of my oldest friends and you really screwed that one up.
FK: Sorry Bradlea. I’m trying. You guys, please critique our pronunciations, we strive to get better.
ELM: Jules, Jules…ah, Jules, I don't know how to say your last name. Chatelaine?
FK & ELM: Jenna Hale, Georgina.
FK: And we also had two “in honor ofs.”
ELM: Jacob Sanders.
FK: And One Direction! [ELM laughs] YES.
ELM: All right, so FYI if you haven’t donated yet and you want to, we will literally and I mean nothing offensive, or mean, but we can dedicate it to whoever you want. Including One Direction.
FK: All right. Thank you all.
FK: The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or employers, or anyone’s except our own.