Episode 43: A Fangirl Goes To Hollywood
Elizabeth and Flourish talk with Britta Lundin, a longtime fangirl who’s now a staff writer on the CW’s new Archie Comics adaptation, Riverdale. Topics covered include her journey from fan to pro (including what it’s like to be a fan *and* pro), working with your idols, the writer’s room process, and fan/creator interaction, with special focus on two points of controversy on Riverdale: potential queerbaiting and asexual/aromantic erasure.
[00:00:00] The intro is “Awel” by Stefsax
[00:03:43] The promo with the Beronica kiss:
[00:07:42] The interstitial music is “schmaltz” by Jahzzar.
[00:12:17] Skinner’s secretary has a name: Arlene. The actress, Arlene Warren, was originally Gillian Anderson’s stand-in. Mitch Pileggi, who plays Skinner, ended up marrying her. They’re still together today and have a kid. The more you know!
[00:13:37] Someday Elizabeth will share her Giles proto-Tumblr notebook. SOMEDAY.
[00:16:09] We talked about Elizabeth’s ER fandom days in Episode 8: “One True Fandom,” where she reveals she still owns an officially-branded pair of ER scrub pants.
[00:16:43] Elizabeth wrote about Sweet Valley High! It’s rly sweet.
[00:23:35] THEY HAVE BEEN PICKED UP FOR A SEASON 2! Congrats, Riverdale!
[00:29:29] Jughead comes out as ace in Jughead #4.
[00:29:36] The Mary Sue has covered weird Archie comics with much glee.
[00:41:48] The Tropes Survey!
[00:44:25] This emoji: 😲
[00:57:59] The AO3 ace character tag for Riverdale (DON’T CLICK, BRITTA)
[00:59:11] The interstitial music is “schmaltz” by Jahzzar.
[01:03:21] An example: Maybe tweeting about Jughead’s “awkward romance” might cause some blowback. Maybe.
[01:11:09] We are not linking to fandom people being acephobic because, dude, let’s not.
[01:13:08] Go explore the Networked Narrative class! There’s so much there.
[01:17:43] Go support us on 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 43, “A Fangirl Goes to Hollywood.”
ELM: Did I say that in enough of a—can you imagine that written on a marquee?
FK: I can totally imagine that written on a marquee.
ELM: I know that Hollywood likes to think of themselves, like, in a self-referential way.
FK: Yeah. You know, I got into an argument with somebody the other day about whether “Hollywood” meant just the movie industry or the movie and TV industry and I firmly hold that it is both.
ELM: Are you sure it wasn’t an argument with me?
FK: Was it really an argument with you?
ELM: I think it was! [both laugh]
FK: I can’t remember!
ELM: I don’t think we argued about this, I just asked you.
FK: I firmly believe it’s both, and it’s a good thing that it’s both because the fangirl in question is Britta Lundin and she is a writer on Riverdale.
ELM: The CW’s adaptation of Archie Comics.
FK: A show which a lot of people I know were like, “They’re adapting Archie Comics?” And then they read the pilot script or saw the first episode and were like, “They’re adapting Archie Comics!”
ELM: Yeah OK that, the way you just described that entirely rested on the facial expression and so that’s not gonna work for a podcast. Maybe you could hear that slight shift in Flourish’s voice…
FK: Should I say it again with more emphasis?
ELM: No no no it’s fine, it’s fine. [FK laughs] All right. Britta is a friend of both of ours, so to foreground that, and a writer on the show, and a fangirl.
FK: Definitely, long-time.
ELM: I know of her as a Supernatural fan.
ELM: And we have I think wanted to have her on for quite some time. Possibly even before she got the job on Riverdale.
FK: Yeah, we’ve been talking about it for months and months and months.
ELM: So it’s interesting that when the timing finally worked out, it was right when Riverdale was on TVs and also the subject of discourse.
ELM: Is that not how I should put it?
FK: The discourse that is currently happening in Riverdale fandom, for those of you who don’t spend a lot of time in that corner of the internets…
ELM: Wait, hold up.
FK: Comes in two flavors.
ELM: Are you going to spoil things for people right now?
FK: Quite possibly so. But I think it’s gonna be hard to get through this conversation if you’re not willing to be a little bit spoiled.
ELM: OK. So maybe that’s a…if you are watching the show and you’re not all caught up, hold off.
ELM: I would say that everything that we’re gonna talk about is stuff that you would have encountered if you, like, have a Twitter and you are broadly in fandom, these are probably things that will have crossed your dash.
FK: Right. But if you wanna be safe then wait until you’ve seen Episode Six. Which actually is an episode that aired after we recorded our interview with Britta that we’re gonna play in a minute. So, that’s an interesting combination. But let’s talk about what the discourse around Riverdale is first in case you’re not in Riverdale fandom. So discourse part one is around the pairing of Betty and Veronica, who are traditionally in Archie Comics—they’re in a love triangle with Archie, and then on Riverdale they maybe have some sexual tension…maybe a lot of people really want them to smooch…and maybe there’s queerbaiting happening. And that’s one bit of discourse.
ELM: And maybe they actually did smooch in the trailer.
ELM: And which, I think it’s pretty widely known, was a fake-out, so that I think—particularly the fact that it was used in the trailer I think was what caused a lot of anger.
FK: Yeah, absolutely absolutely. That’s a correct description. So then the other piece of discourse is around Jughead, who in the Archie Comics series has always been portrayed as not really being into…certainly not really into women. Not really into sex in general. Really likes eating. Burgers, specifically. And he recently came out in the comics series as asexual, which is complicated because on the show he’s sort of been broadly—definitely not really explicitly asexual for the first five episodes, just sort of broadly, you know, a character who’s not entangled in a romance, and then in Episode Six he smooches a lady. And the context of the smooch has been, like, widely debated, it’s not like [dopey voice] “Hey, baby, come on” situation or anything, but it’s obviously really problematic from the viewpoint of a lot of ace and aro people. So that’s discourse part two. And as we said before, that kiss had not happened when we interviewed Britta, so keep that in mind as you listen to that interview.
ELM: Take a quick step back because I wonder, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a listener who didn’t know the difference between, say, L G B and T, or what those specific letters stand for, but I think asexuality and aromanticism may be…when we say ace and aro, those are two separate things actually, and some people ID with both. Asexual obviously means you’re not interested in sex, those experiences and preferences can vary within that ID, and aromantic means you’re not interested in pursuing a romantic relationship and obviously you can have sex without romance and romance without sex.
ELM: So I think that’s an important distinction too. I didn’t know. I had just been under the impression that he was stated as asexual, but I don’t watch this. And that’s another thing that we should mention, that when it came out that this was not a storyline that was going to be pursued on the show, not that this is the kind of show that I am “Oh, I’m in!” you know. It's being described as, like, descendant of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, which I have tons of friends who love those shows but that’s just not my jam.
FK: But it’s also Twin Peaks-y a little bit and that maybe will be your jam when I make you watch it soon!
ELM: You’re gonna be so devastated when it’s not my jam. But anyway, it was a situation where I’d known based on the media coverage last year that in the comics Jughead was ace so I was like “Oh that’s interesting, maybe I will watch it” and when I found out that he wasn’t in the show, I, like a lot of other people, decided not to watch it. And I just wanted to mention it up front because we’re recording this a week after we talked to Britta and I feel bad that I didn’t tell Britta this in advance of our conversation. So apologies to Britta. I think it’s fairly clear from my responses in the conversation [all laugh] that I have some feelings about this, but it’s a very fraught topic and especially right now as we’re recording this, there’s a lot of tensions and a lot of people are very upset and so it’s tricky, because I don’t know. It’s tricky.
FK: It’s tricky. [both laugh] Why don’t we just roll the interview and let Britta speak for herself and then we can talk about it more after?
ELM: Yes! And we’re not going to just talk about these things, we also talk to her about her career and the power of fandom.
FK: Yeah, there’s a ton of other things we talk about in the interview actually. [both laugh] You usually get to say this, but I’m gonna say it this time: Let’s not oversell this.
ELM: Yeah, no, I know, I know. It’s just like, if there are points of controversy in a conversation, obviously, it’s like, that’s the only thing you can think about. But it’s a wide ranging conversation, so yeah.
FK: All right, let’s do it.
FK: I think it’s time to welcome Britta Lundin to the podcast. Hi, Britta!
Britta Lundin: Hello everyone!
BL: Hi Fansplaining!
ELM: I love that you said Britta’s full name just to prove that you could pronounce it correctly.
BL: Thank you for pronouncing it correctly Flourish, it means a lot.
FK: I know her from not the internet, so if I didn’t get it right it would be…OK, admittedly with Meredith I also know her not from the internet so, actually…
ELM: Your track record is poor.
FK: Oh, it’s really bad. I’m so sorry Meredith, I don’t know why I still get you wrong all the time.
ELM: Meredith stopped listening right now because she’s so hurt. She’s been burned.
BL: Meredith Le-VINE.
FK: It’s good to have you, Britta.
BL: Thank you, it’s so good to be here. Longtime listener, first time guest.
ELM: That’s right! [laughs] Excellent. OK. So let’s start where we normally start: I wanna know about your fannish history, your professional history, and how those intersect.
BL: Mm. OK. That’s a small question. Good place to start.
ELM: You can make it, you can answer in a small way.
BL: I’ll say that my fannish history began in seventh grade when I started watching The X-files—
FK: YEAH!!!! [all laugh]
BL: It’s actually to the point where I’m shocked that Flourish and I didn’t know each other back then because I feel like X-files fandom online was so small and so…the internet was in its early days and everyone knew everyone and maybe we did know each other, maybe we had arguments, but there’s no way to know because all of that is sort of lost to the sands of old internet history.
FK: It’s true.
ELM: You could’ve been mortal enemies and you’ll never know.
BL: I doubt it. You were a shipper, right, Flourish?
FK: I was a shipper and I was pretty quiet at that time, shocking as it is today.
ELM: That is shocking.
BL: Wow, yeah. No, I remember getting in many arguments with people who for some reason did NOT ship Mulder and Scully and that was my first taste of what a ship war could be. But also, who doesn’t ship Mulder and Scully? [laughs]
ELM: All those people who don’t ship them!
BL: Ohh, are we gonna have to—
ELM: I’ve never seen the show so I have no feelings. But I’m saying, Flourish dont look so mad.
FK: All I’m saying is it is possible to simultaneously be the deepest Mulder and Scully shipper and also feel like Gillian Anderson should be your girlfriend. Those two things are not opposed to each other.
BL: No. Not at all.
FK: That is I think the space in which I lived, so.
BL: It took me a long time to understand just what my fascination with Gillian Anderson was. I was like—
FK: OH MY GOD ME TOO.
BL: “I JUST WANT TO SEE HER KISSING. Someone. MULDER! Yeah Mulder, that’s who I want to see her kissing. MULLLLLLLDERRRRR.” [all laugh]
ELM: That’s incredible. Can you imagine if there had been a viable femslash ship?
FK: Well there sort of is, with Monica.
BL: Much later when people kinda stopped watching the show, but yeah. Yeah.
FK: But I actually like her and Monica, weirdly.
BL: Ok. Yeah. [all burst into laughter]
ELM: Ship war!
BL: I’m not into it but I’m not against it. It’s fine. You can like that.
FK: Well there’s the thing where Monica helps her give birth and stuff and it was really touching and, aww. [ELM laughs] What was that gesture?!
BL: Just imagining…I’m just imagining the…
FK: [laughing] You’re imagining—
BL: The fanfic about Monica…
FK: …that's not the intimacy with her vagina that you want! [all laughing]
BL: She’s like “Well I’ve already been there once, I might as well go back”?!
FK: That is not how I thought about this you may have just ruined this ship for me Britta! Go on, tell us more about your fannish life.
ELM: And your professional history!
BL: Let’s not forget that Skinner has that unnamed assistant who sits outside of his door, so that’s someone you could ship Scully with.
ELM: That sounds like a show without a lot of women.
FK: They also look exactly alike, so it’s sort of like that thing where some lesbians go for women who look exactly like them!
BL: Yeah! Maybe Scully’s one of them! Or Mulder’s dead sister.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: This is, I mean, we’re talking about—as someone who’s an exile from the Sherlock fandom, where most of the women have maybe two minutes of screen time, this is what it sounds like when people are like “Well how bout these two?” They’ve each had five lines total.
FK: There’s also Diana Fowley. We hate Diana though, Diana’s awful.
BL: She’s the worst. But maybe Scully could change her in more ways than one.
ELM: So what you’re telling me though is that there's a lot of ladies that you coulda shipped her with, but instead you shipped her with…
BL: Well I think actually what I'm saying is I might have had a very different, like, coming to understand myself sexually experience if Scully could have been shipped with anyone aside from, like, random side characters or Skinner’s assistant who didn’t have a name. Like, I feel like today with how many femslash ships there are, it’s like “Oh, not that many,” but still compared to what I had when I was like 13, 14, it feels like a bounty.
ELM: Sure. That's fair. When I was 14 I was watching Buffy so there were real ones.
ELM: But then I wasn’t shipping when I watched Buffy, so it didn’t matter. I was literally only there for Giles.
BL: Well, Giles is wonderful!
ELM: My original fic was just about Giles. So. It’s fine.
BL: Yeah no, it’s the best! Giles is the best.
ELM: He literally is though. Anyway go back to you.
BL: I don’t know. OK so I grew up in a very small town in Oregon where there wasn’t a lot going on for people like me, like, by which I guess I mean gay people or like sort of weirdos or people who didn’t fit in. And so I lost myself in TV a lot. Like, a lot a lot. So after The X-files it was the West Wing, and it was like shipping the West Wing and reading West Wing fanfic and once you have this template for shipping and fandom, you start applying it to everything that you watch from that point on.
ELM: OK Flourish, stop having a fit.
BL: Flourish and I apparently had the same growing up process.
ELM: Incredible. Incredible how enthusiastic your gestures are right now to the point where it’s impossible to ignore. [all laughing]
FK: I’ll try to be more discreet.
ELM: No no that’s fine. Just let it all out.
BL: Just let it out Flourish. This is what this is about. And then I was so into the West Wing that I thought that I was really into politics, that’s how blinded I was by the West Wing, so I went to Reed College with Flourish, actually. We didn’t know each other at the time but we were there at the same time and I studied politics and I was like CONVINCED that I was gonna work in the West Wing and go and maybe run for office one day and I was working on campaigns and all that stuff and then it was just like, I found it really unsatisfying and really kind of like just like, not…it just was very frustrating and not exactly what I wanted to do. I felt like a lot of the times in politics what people are doing is trying to take the people who already agree with you and convince them to go out and vote for you. And that’s important work. And really a big part of the process.
But for me, I really wanted to like, figure out how to take the people who didn’t agree with me and convince them that I was right. And it felt like a lot of times a politician standing at a podium addressing a crowd was not actually getting that job done. And the people who were getting that job done were all in Hollywood. So after Reed I went to film school and I started learning how to tell stories and I started writing scripts and then I moved to Los Angeles and then I wrote a lot of scripts and then I just got my first job and I’m a staff writer on the show Riverdale. That was like very fast forwarded, but that was my story, that’s how I got here.
ELM: Wait, but that’s such a fantastic narrative!
BL: Thank you, I hope so!
ELM: It's also like, I don’t know if you remember this episode from a long time ago, but I can’t remember when we talked about my ER fandom…Flourish, you remember this, right?
FK: Oh I remember it! It was the first thing I thought. “Oh it’s just like Elizabeth and her love of ER and thinking that’s gonna make her a doctor!”
ELM: That wasn’t the only time I did—I did this with every fannish—my mom’s gonna listen to this so she’s gonna be like “uh-huh.”
FK: I did this with the X-files too, I thought I wanted to be an FBI agent for a while.
BL: Oh my God.
FK: Go on.
ELM: Well, I did this a LOT, to the point where I wound up writing what became my college essay about it and the thesis was, like, “I should stop doing this and just kinda see,” not set the template. So I was really really—this is so obscure. But I was really obsessed with Sweet Valley High, I was obsessed with Jessica’s best friend’s father who was a silicone chip magnate. [all laugh]
FK: Wait, you’ve never told THIS story.
ELM: He’s like an archetypal, it’s an extraordinarily minor character but there was a spinoff book about their family history, and he had his own section, and I was obsessed with it. He was a self-made man, so I read every little self-made man profile in the library in sixth grade. And then I said I was going to be a ruthless businesswoman.
ELM: So. That was one. And then yeah, I was gonna be a doctor. And that didn’t work. And there were a few others like that.
BL: I have seen ER, I wasn't in the ER fandom but I’ve seen a lot of it, and I just…honestly I cannot imagine watching that show and being like “I wanna do that!” Cause it looks terrible! Miserable!
ELM: It seems so great! They’re savin’ lives! Havin’ interpersonal issues while they save lives!
BL: They stay up for 36 hours at a time, they never, their relationships always fall apart because they’re always working and don’t have time for each other, it sounds terrible!
ELM: But wait, prior to that my model was a minor character who’s, like, an absent father because he’s with a millionaire. He’s always working and buys her love and stuff. Right? There’s a theme here.
BL: It’s an important, potent reminder of how powerful these stories that we tell [ELM laughs] can be.
ELM: When Viola Davis was talking about the power of story she was talking about my obsession with Sweet Valley High. [all laugh]
BL: I mean but kind of, yeah! She was talking about all of them! I don’t think—that's the thing when we’re sitting around in the Riverdale writers room or something and we’re just sort of chatting about what we’re gonna do the next episode, you’re not thinking about the fact that a million kids are gonna watch this show. Not kids but you know, people, and many of them young and impressionable or whatever, are gonna watch this show and maybe you’re gonna shape their views on a subject. And I think everyone definitely knows that in the back of their mind, but it’s also the sort of thing that’s really—if you dwell too hard on it you get paralyzed and you can never create anything, so you kind of have to not think about it too much, but also yeah, when an episode comes out you never know when you’re gonna introduce the silicon chip magnate that inspires some kid to become an entrepreneur and changes their life forever!
ELM: Oh my God. [laughing]
FK: It’s funny because I think also there’s some part of, maybe there’s some part of it where it feels like admitting that you have that much power potentially in someone’s life is like “Do I really? I don’t know, do I wanna say that? I don’t know, AGH!”
BL: I know, it’s a little, like, narcissistic.
FK: That must be a weird experience where you’re like, “On the one hand I have this huge power potentially in someone’s life, on the other hand it’s so weird to say I have this huge power in someone’s life, that’s absurd!”
BL: I know cause someone will be like, “Relax Britta, it’s just Riverdale, it’s not that big of a deal.” And probably for most of the people watching, it is not that big of a deal and they’ll tune in, they’ll watch it for an hour and then they won’t think about it later, but for some people it might just hit them at just the right moment and it actually becomes a model for the way they want to live or shows them something that they had never seen before in a way that makes them think about their own life. I think about the times when I fell most deeply into fandom and it was times when I was, like when I was in high school and I was really struggling socially and not doing that great—or times even when I’m older like in my 20s and 30s when I was maybe unemployed or struggling with some sort of problem in my life where I was like, not doing well in real life, and so I sort of fell into this world that was fictional and those were the times when those fictional worlds had an outsized effect on me and had a lot of power over me in ways that I think I still am struggling to wrap my head around how it worked. But yeah, that’s the kind of thing where you never know, when the right person sees the right episode of television it changes their life forever. AY. OH. AY. But maybe!
ELM: So here’s a question and it’s kind of a question for both of you since you both work in Hollywood. It’s definitely true that there’s a lot of people who work in the entertainment industry broadly, and I’m saying that I’ve encountered this within the book world too, where people can’t really understand the fannish mindset, right? “Oh, these people really take it too far.” But obviously both of you do. And I’m wondering how often you, do you think that everyone sitting in a writer’s room with you, not necessarily, this is a hypothetical writer’s room, has had experiences like that and can think about it that way, or are there people in there who are like “Well you know I’ve been moved by works of art or entertainment or whatever, but a lifeline or something that could shape my entire trajectory? NO.” You know?
BL: I think with Riverdale I think it, to a various extent I think everyone recognizes how lucky they are to be able to create something that’s gonna be watched by over a million people. And I keep saying a million people cause that’s how many watch live, that’s the number that comes in the next morning. I know that number’s actually way higher cause people will watch it later or they’ll illegally stream it or they get it on Netflix or whatever so it’s probably millions of people by the time all is said and done.
But there’s definitely people who understand it more than others. We’ve a couple writers in the room who’ve worked on Glee, and I don’t think anyone can go through an experience writing on Glee and not understand the power of fandom because that show had such a powerful fandom.
BL: Another guy worked on Degrassi and I think there’s a lot of people who make their living on these TV shows and when you do that you inevitably understand how much power these shows can have for teenagers. You have to.
ELM: OK. That’s reassuring that they’re not just like, “Kids need to deal with it and move on,” right. I don’t know. I’m cynical.
FK: I think weirdly maybe this is just speaking from my own experience, maybe Britta you’ll have a different experience than I do, but usually I’m not working directly with writers or if I do it’s not while they’re in a creative mode, it’ll be like I come in and talk with people and then I go away and then they do their creating away from me a lot of times. So I think I see a lot more of the sort of finance and marketing sides and those sides I think maybe are a little less likely to have that experience, just because of not having the same fingers in the guts of a story and also…yeah, not as much emotional entanglement. Although that’s not to say that some people don’t, but I don't know. Maybe it’s different. I don’t know if that’s your experience, Britta.
BL: The interesting thing about Riverdale is we were a midseason show so we started writing in June and we didn’t air until January, the following January. So we were writing the finale of the show by the time the pilot aired. Which means that we were writing the whole thing in a bubble, in a vacuum. We had no idea how people were gonna react to anything, we didn’t know what people would like or not like, we just kinda wrote what we thought was the best thing, and then you know now it’s airing and we just aired Episode Five and next week it’s Episode Six and so we’re just kinda hoping people will like what we did.
So it’s this interesting thing where we haven’t been picked up for a Season Two yet but if we do get a Season Two, now we’re in a situation where most of the writers are on Twitter or see the Vulture articles or the AV Club articles or whatever and they know what people are talking about and they know what they’re responding to. Next season will be different, because we’ll know that the audience is out there and what they’re talking about, and I don’t…I’ve never written on a show so I don’t know how how much that affects the direction of a show, cause I’ve never been in that situation before. I imagine that at a certain point you have to just kind of tune it out and write the best show you can, but you also can’t tune it out completely cause it’s everywhere. So it’ll be interesting to see how that goes should we get a Season Two. If we’re so lucky.
FK: How does that compare to your, I mean, obviously you spent a long time in TV fandoms before working as a writer. How does that compare…I mean this is obviously always an unfair question to ask, when we talk about it I’m like “I don’t remember what it was like, I don’t know that I remember what it was like before I knew the inner workings of this and how this felt,” but when you were a fan did you have different feelings about the process of writing a show? What was your experience of that versus now seeing the interior of a writing process for a TV show?
BL: I guess it’s interesting because I always, for a long time I’ve known I wanted to get into TV writing. So I’ve been researching it and learning about the process a lot, so I feel like more so than most fans I for a long time I had a perspective on what the writers’ room process was like, and so…you know, one of the things I think sometimes fans mistake is they think that when an episode has a writer’s name on it that it’s just purely that writer’s work, and nobody else really touched it, and so something they hate happened in a specific writer’s episode that it was that writer’s fault. And every writer’s room works differently and sometimes it is a little bit more like that, it’s never entirely like that, because the writer’s room is always a team and they always work together and the end of the day it’s probably if you have a problem with something that happened on the show it's best to take it up with the showrunner and not the specific writer of that episode. So there’s no episode that’s solely one person’s vision except maybe the pilot, which is really Roberto’s, who’s our showrunner, Roberto’s vision. But even that is guided by network notes and studio notes and producer’s notes and all of these things, it’s such a group effort.
And that’s one thing that I kind of wish was like, better understood among fans. Because I understand that when you see something that you don’t like, wanting to be able to hold someone accountable for that, I get that, because you know, like I said, TV has a lot of power and when you see something on TV and you feel like that TV show that you love very dearly just screwed up in a way that you don’t like you wanna hold someone accountable for that and it makes sense to hold the person accountable who has the name on the episode, when really it’s like a team effort. Your favorite basketball team lost the national championships, you can’t blame it on one player, it’s the whole team’s problem. So if you have a problem with something that happened on Riverdale I guess it’s all of us. Bummer. [all laugh] We all screwed up.
ELM: Well do you think this is a good way to transition into talking about some of the controversies? I’m not sure how much you can talk about them, though.
BL: I don’t know how much I can talk about them either but we should definitely talk about them anyway. Let’s do it.
FK: “Sock it to me and we’ll see what happens!” Great.
BL: Yeah, let’s see what happens.
ELM: [sighs] Well I mean there’s two that I know of! So it’s interesting to me and I’ve been having conversations with some people and they’re very complicated intersectional conversations too because Riverdale is not an all-white cast, which is awesome, right, and so obviously there’s levels of representation there, but I think the two biggest controversy points are both within the broader queer spectrum. One queerbaiting accusation and one erasure accusation. The queerbaiting being Betty and Veronica and the erasure being Jughead as asexual. So those are them, go ahead. [all laugh]
FK: You’re so mean!
ELM: Were you ready for—I was setting it up to be such an elaborate question! I guess it’s not like “What’s your opinion of these” or “are these things wait and see” kind of things. It’s more like I’m curious to know, because you and I—I remember more than a year ago talked about queerbaiting, so it’s a particularly interesting one…I’m personally more invested and thrown off by…thrown off isn’t the right word. But yeah, invested in potential ace erasure of Jughead in the sense of I can’t think of any explicit asexual characters in mainstream media. And that’s not to say that that’s an absolute, obviously, I know, but I also don’t wanna get into the realm of like, you know, “There’s grand plans and people just need to wait,” because I’ve seen how poorly that can go in fandom pop culture conversations too. I don’t know if that was really a question, more just a kind of setup statement, so…
BL: OK, let’s talk about one of them first. Let’s talk about Jughead first, just to pick one.
ELM: Hook me up.
BL: I mean the Jughead situation’s interesting. Jughead has been a character that’s been around for 75 years, he, you know, people have talked about what his love of hamburgers and total disinterest in women has meant in the past, and I think—and I guess just to give context in the most recent run of the Jughead comics written by Chip Zdarsky, who I love, and I love those comics, everyone should check them out, Jughead came out explicitly as asexual in those comics. That’s not to say that he’s necessarily asexual in every comic, although I guess fans are free to read him that way whenever they want to. He’s never really shown interest in women and he’s always loved hamburgers and you could definitely read that as asexual for 75 years. Of course. And now it’s finally been made explicit because our society has advanced far enough.
That’s not to say that all the comics share the same canon, because they don’t. There's a comic where there’s zombies, there’s a comic where Predator shows up, there’s a comic where Jughead slips on a banana peel, falls and breaks his head open. That's not canon in Riverdale either. So there’s lots—
ELM: Good. That’s traumatic.
BL: There's lots of different—
ELM: Does he die?
BL: There are comics where, there are versions of canon where Jughead dies. I mean there’s just like a million different canons, right. This is one that feels close to home I think because it’s like, “OH. That explains Jughead in a way that makes sense.” It’s, he’s like not explicitly anything in Riverdale right now. I think everyone is aware of, like, definitely when Jughead came out as asexual in that one comic, it was a sonic boom across media. And our showrunner Roberto is the creative director for Archie Comics and so he was definitely aware of that and knows all about that and knows Chip and stuff. So he knows all about this, and I mean, I don’t know what the right answer here is, because I think the best thing to do is be truthful, and the truth is, it’s not addressed in Season One. We don’t know if we’re getting a Season Two. If we do get a Season Two, they may address it, or they might not! And I don’t actually think they’ve decided yet. So…
FK: It’s really refreshing to hear somebody on the writer’s room side say that, like, say “we don’t know,” not say “watch and learn!” but say just, like, “I don’t know guys! We’re gonna find out!”
BL: Yeah! I mean and that’s kinda the truth, like, I don’t wanna say that in a baity way of like “yeah you should keep watching and maybe we’ll do it!” But, if it makes you uncomfortable, don’t watch it and go read those comics where he is ace. That’s still there. It exists and you should absolutely embrace that. I don’t know, I honestly don’t know if Riverdale’s gonna make it canon or not. I don’t know.
ELM: It seems like that’s what a lot of people are doing. There’s an explicit call even for a boycott, which is like, I guess is the opposite of wait and see? Because no one's seeing then, if you’re just choosing not to watch it because it hasn’t been foregrounded from the start. That’s just, that’s it then, right, though? That’s gonna be, I don’t know if there’s gonna ever be…I don’t know. I’d be curious to know. I mean obviously you have no idea what’s gonna happen but if it were to be made explicit in the next season I wonder if people who are boycotting right now were to decide to come to the show.
BL: I mean, I can speak from my own experience of when a show decides to have lesbians in it in like the second or third season I fuckin’ show up [laughs] I’m like “OH! That show got lesbians?! I’m there!” And I go binge-watch on Netflix or I might just skip to Season Two and just start watching whenever the lesbians show up.
ELM: I wonder too, I feel like you’ve given us plenty of answers so I don’t need to keep pushing on it but, in our last episode—did you listen to our last episode?
BL: Which one was that one?
ELM: With Tanya DePass from I Need Diverse Games?
BL: Oh, no. No, not yet.
ELM: We were talking about fan-creator interaction and dialogue with creators and she was saying things like “I know this is gonna sound tone police-y, but shouting at people is not gonna do anything.” Right? And it was, she offered that disclaimer of like, “I know this is tone policing.” Over and over again. And I appreciated that she kept saying that.
FK: Although the person who started the I Need Diverse Games hashtag, I think she is the person who’s kicked up one of the biggest ruckuses ever in the games world, so like…
ELM: There's a difference between saying, I think there’d be a difference between me going on Twitter right now and saying I think it's really fuckin’ ridiculous that I couldn’t name you a single show on television that has an openly, explicitly asexual character, not one by default because they don’t have a romantic partner, and there’d be a big difference between me doing that and sounding furious and using profanity however I want to say it or saying it calmly, and me tweeting at you or tweeting at the showrunner and being like “You’re garbage because you’re not doing this.” Right? So I guess there’s a difference between where you can direct—it changes where you’re directing your anger.
BL: I get a lot of feedback on Twitter, I’m pretty active on Twitter and I’m active on Twitter for a long time, and once Riverdale started airing I started getting a lot more feedback about what people thought about our episodes on Twitter. And I will, I love feedback, I love it all. The only stuff I don’t like is, there’s a specific brand of feedback that is violent. And I think this is not tone policing. I think this is just a basic standard where if somebody says, so the Betty/Veronica ship is Beronica, if somebody says “Make Beronica canon or I’ll open fire on my whole family,” that is the type of response that immediately gets you muted or blocked and actually hurts your cause. So I think…you know, I’m not telling people not to use profanity, like, fuckin’ use profanity, go, yeah. Go for it. Get angry if you’re angry. I think all of that is fine. I think as long as you’re not threatening violence against yourself or other people, I think it’s fair game.
ELM: So one thing that I will say to bring—not to bring Tanya repeatedly into this because you haven’t listened to the episode yet. Is one place that we wound up in that conversation, I’m wondering how you feel about that, I mean you are obviously a young person who is very clued into these conversations and…obviously, as a lesbian, too, right. But I kinda feel like this is a little different when the showrunner is like, a middle aged straight white cisgendered man, and you’re like, “DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR SHOW IS TRANSPHOBIC!” and they’re like “I don’t even understand your words and you’re shouting at me so now I assume anyone shouting at me is hurting my feelings and you’re all ridiculous and I’m not gonna listen to your concerns ever again.” And I wonder if, I feel like because you know the conversation, obviously you’re gonna receive this differently than if you’re, like, an unwoke man.
BL: Totally. Totally.
ELM: Or a woman!
BL: Yeah. I think it’s hard because on the one hand I think it helps people to be able to express themselves however they want to express themselves. And so if yelling about something on Twitter helps you process your feelings about not having any representation for your particular sexuality, great, do it. On the other hand if your goal is to make this specific ship or this specific thing that you want to go canon, then it probably behooves you to start thinking about who’s in charge of that decision and how to best persuade them. And I think that’s just a completely different mission, and I think those two things can—two different fans can love the same thing and have two totally different goals when they get on Twitter in the morning.
I don’t wanna sound like I'm advocating for one thing or another because I feel like it’s probably gauche for a creator to do that. So I’ll just, I’ll just be neutral on the subject and say that you guys should do whatever you want.
FK: OK OK but here’s something that maybe you can talk about a little bit, coming from a fannish perspective on the…so the question of queerbaiting is obviously a difficult one in a variety of ways and you’ve covered a lot of ways that it’s difficult already, but one of the things that I think is interesting is thinking about what the right response is from…what should a creator say? Like, what should a person on this side say? And I guess you have the opportunity to try and, you know, tee up your best shot now with the Beronica controversy, right?
FK: Lay it out if you think you have the answer to this! Or we could just talk about how to deal with this issue.
BL: I wish I had the answer!
ELM: To clarify too, and actually we were discussing this before we called you, too, but, for clarification, queerbaiting and erasure are…intersect and connect but are not the same things.
FK: Yeah yeah yeah.
ELM: So these are two different questions right? And it would be a different question too if—
FK: I was transitioning, it’s true.
ELM: I know, but I just wanna make sure that we clarify that too and Britta, you and I have talked about queerbaiting which I think is different than say specifically if it’s a queer ship, if it’s two men, it’s different from gay, bisexual erasure of a queer man or woman, whatever. So I think that’s important to keep in mind too as we discuss all of this.
ELM: Cause the intersection of the ship complicates things for me in a way, too, right? You can want…I don’t know. Having watched some queerbaiting discussions, for example, I’ve seen people who ship Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty on Sherlock dragged through the mud and called homophobic, that kinda thing. Do I wanna go there? Flourish, you’re looking unhappy.
FK: You just went there!
ELM: This isn’t a secret! I’m just saying that, like…
FK: So what you’re saying is that sometimes, because ships are so powerful, people get accused of being anti-queer if they aren’t into the particular queer ship that somebody likes. Even if they’re into a different queer ship in the same show.
ELM: This is not breaking news for this podcast.
FK: No, it’s not! [laughs]
ELM: Not only do we reference this a lot, but in the shipping and activism episode with Rukmini and Lori we talked about this for like an hour and a half, too, so. But that’s, I’m just saying…
FK: There’s a question somewhere in this morass of issues that we’re bringing up. [Britta laughs]
ELM: I’m just trying to bring up, it’s important to me to separate representation from ship validation. And I actually think that, I don't know, Britta, if your feelings have changed on this and I don’t want to hold your feet to the fire from a Twitter conversation we had like two years ago but…
FK: But you’re going to.
ELM: I think that you were more inclined to, you were more on the spectrum of being like, shipping and representation being more equal than I feel like they necessarily are. Do you, have you, do you not remember what I’m talking about? Am I blindsiding you?
BL: I don’t specifically remember what you’re talking about, I’m not…I’ll say I’ve been VERY vocal about queerbaiting in the past, I’ve had MANY conversations about it and I can’t remember what specific conversation you're talking about.
ELM: Channel your this, though. What, what’s your general feelings about it, about shipping, representation. Your general feelings about shipping, go ahead.
BL: I LOVE SHIPPING.
FK: Oh my God, Elizabeth, you can’t just ask someone their general feelings about shipping!
BL: My handle is “BrittaShipsIt,” I love shipping.
ELM: Yeah, you had a project even about shipping, yeah?
BL: I did! I wrote a feature film called Ship It about a teenage girl who was basically a slashtivist, to use the modern terminology. She wrote a lot of gay fanfiction about her favorite show, the show itself was not gay, but she wins this contest to go to Comic-Con or like a series of conventions with the cast of her favorite TV show, and she uses this opportunity to convince the cast and the showrunner that they have to make the show gay just like it is her fanfiction. And they’re like, “No fucking way,” and she’s like “Oh yes you will.” And they butt heads! So it’s basically a script about fan-creator relationships, it’s about gay shipping, and about basically what is the right way to convince someone to make their show gay if they don’t wanna make their show gay. [all laugh]
ELM: See? I knew you had feelings about this!
BL: I have a lot of feelings about this!
ELM: So many feelings!
BL: If this ever actually becomes a movie people will be like “Oh, this is clearly about Beronica” and it’s like, “I wrote it way before Riverdale.” But yeah, I know.
ELM: I have the DMs to prove that, so don’t worry about it.
BL: Oh good, good.
ELM: I have receipts.
BL: Yeah, I mean, look, OK, I mean, we’re talking about Riverdale so let’s talk about, let’s bring this back around to Riverdale, since we’re sort of talking in circles around it.
ELM: If you can.
BL: So in Riverdale there's this iconic love triangle, right, there's—it's gone back 75 years. There’s Archie and Betty, or Archie and Veronica. And fans now today in our lovely modern age of 2017 are like, um, what about Betty/Veronica? There’s a third leg to this love triangle, let’s not neglect that!
FK: By the way can I just say, a great leg and one which I am happy to say I am rooting for. I just wanna get that on the record right now.
ELM: But what about all three. [FK gasps]
BL: Great, even more modern.
ELM: Was that, I’m trying to remember was that answer [FK makes head explode noise] in our tropes test that was like, love triangles was in there and someone commented and they were like, “by love triangles I assume you mean like—”
FK: DIFFERENT THINGS! OT3 IS DIFFERENT!
ELM: Right, they were like “Three person poly relationships?” and we were like, “That’s not what a love triangle is!”
FK: By the way, can I also say that Archie is too boring and that’s why I don’t actually ship them as an OT3, even though I’m normally the biggest OT3 shipper in the world.
BL: Well you can’t have three super interesting people together, they’ll all conflict with each other. You need one who is just sort of the stable leg, you know.
FK: That is your screenwriting tip of the day, Britta. [all laugh]
BL: Yeah. I mean. I don't know. I think, when I think about shows that are classic examples of queerbaiting, I think the ones that always come up are Sherlock, Supernatural, and several others. But let’s talk about those. People are accusing Riverdale of queerbaiting and honestly I am the last person to be able to decide whether our show’s queerbaiting or not because I’m way too deep in it. I can’t, I can’t see this. Even though it’s, like, my favorite topic to talk about. I’m too deep in it, you know? I’ve no pushback there. So obviously it’s for some outside observer to decide or not.
But you know Riverdale, audiences have seen five episodes already, and maybe that’s enough to decide and maybe it’s not. I think Supernatural got leveled with queerbaiting accusations after a significant period of time between Dean and Cas where people were like, “Guys come on, at this point you’re writing to an expectation that fans have, and it’s unfair to those fans, because we know you’re never gonna follow through on it.” And I think that's what queerbaiting is, is like, pretending like you’re gonna do it and then not actually…having zero intention of actually doing it. I don’t know if Riverdale’s pretending like we’re gonna do it. I mean. Do you guys feel like we are? Do you feel like you’re watching the show and you’re like, “They’re doing it, they’re gonna do it?”
FK: I feel a little bit like…honestly I felt a little bit like that in the pilot.
BL: Yeah. With the kiss.
FK: Yeah. Because I felt like the kiss really set something up for me, and there's just no…I totally understand that maybe that was not intended to be that way, that maybe it is—I mean that is a thing that women who are not gay for each other do, at times, I’m…I’m a bi woman, I’m not trying to play into the “women do this to get attention,” but women also do this to get attention, it does happen in the world, so like—fine, I understand that from a writing perspective, but from a viewing perspective I definitely was like…
BL: Yeah. Yeah. She's making a face like “Oh my God.”
FK: They’re gonna close that triangle!
ELM: That was the worst podcast answer I’ve ever seen.
BL: It was all facial. [all laughs] She went on a face journey.
FK: It was like an emoji, so you can just use that emoji, the emoji of the 😲
ELM: Yeah, we’ll just pop that emoji into the audio track, great, I’m on it. [all laugh]
BL: The big round mouth, for those wondering which emoji. Yeah. Maybe. I’ll, OK, I’ll say this. First of all, I don’t know what Roberto had in mind when he wrote that scene, because I wasn’t in the writer’s room then, because there wasn't a writer's room.
FK: Also you’re not psychic.
BL: And I’m not psychic. But I can tell you what, I can guess, and I can guess what he meant by that scene, and I believe what he meant was exactly what Cheryl said—the very next line that came out of anyone's mouth after the kiss, when Cheryl says something like
“Sorry ladies, faux lesbian kissing hasn’t been in since 1999,” whatever she said. She said “the MTV movie awards” or something?
FK: Something like that.
BL: Madonna and Britney or whatever.
FK: It’s definitely a reference to Madonna.
BL: So she calls them out on it, and they’re like “OK, I guess that’s not enough to get us onto the cheerleading squad.” So if I had to guess I guess Roberto meant “This is not a gay thing, this is just something they’re doing to make a big splash,” and Cheryl immediately undercuts it. I think what he hoped was taking away everyone being like, that emoji face you just made. Everyone goes “Oh, OK, I get it, it was just a joke.” I think maybe queer fans have a different reaction to that scene than straight fans, and they have a little…their reaction is a little like, “Oh my God. They—this might—oh my God! This might be everything I dreamed!” And then either they just ignore Cheryl’s reaction or they think, “Well, the kiss was real and the reaction was fake, not the other way around.”
FK: Yeah I was gonna say, I will say this, as a bi woman watching that, my reaction was totally “Oh Cheryl is being a dick in the exact same way people are always dicks to bi women kissing women,” right. “You’re really straight, ha ha, very cute go back in the corner,” so that was my reaction to it, which I understand maybe is not…what was intended. But it totally is what happened for me.
ELM: I wonder, is it possible for you to hypothetically put yourself in the shoes of, say, you were not writing this show, and you were a fan, can…is it possible for you to do that mental exercise? This is a general question too. When you’re on the other side, is it possible…
FK: Separate from the Beronica situation, particularly.
ELM: Yeah, but we can use that as an example because obviously queerbaiting in particular and lady/lady ships in particular are obviously of personal importance to you and have been in your fannish life, so can you put yourself in that headspace or is that impossible to do once you…?
BL: No, I can, I can. I think the thing about Riverdale is, it’s a show that if I weren’t writing on it I would probably be obsessed with it, and it would be my favorite show of the season. So I can sort of stop and think about it in that way. I can’t do that…I can do that now, we’re on hiatus, we’re not working. I can do it as a fun mental exercise.
It’s really, I don't think I would be able to do my job properly if I did that in the writer’s room. You’re sitting there and you’re trying to pitch ideas to Roberto that you think he’ll love, so you’re doing this mental gymnastics of trying to come up with the ideas for what to do next in this episode that you yourself love—cause you don’t wanna pitch ideas that you think are boring or something you’ve seen before or something you’re just not interested in. So you’re trying to think of something that you like, and then also trying to think of something that Roberto will like, and you’re trying to find that center of the Venn diagram that’s perfect for everyone, and that when you say that idea in the writer’s room he goes “OH BRITTA. I’m obsessed with that idea! I love that idea!” And then it goes in the script and then it becomes part of the show and you’ve succeeded and you get to keep your job. That’s the treat.
FK: The last piece of “you get to keep your job” being really important.
BL: REALLY important. Really important. But that’s a lot of mental arithmetic you’re doing for every potential idea that flies in and out of your head. I don’t think I can do that and also be thinking of what I-as-a-fan want. Cause if I just pitched things that I-as-a-fan want, I don’t…I don’t think…I think eventually Roberto would be like “Britta, just…what?” [all laugh]
You gotta pitch toward what you know he’s already going for and you gotta pitch towards, like, we already—the first thing we did when we came together as a writer’s room was set up where we're going with Season One. So we figured out what would happen, what every character’s arc was over the course of Season One. And we deviated a little bit from that as we actually wrote the season, but you kind of already know where you’re headed by the time you start writing. So when you’re writing Episode Six you can’t suddenly be like “Oh, I think this person falls in love with this person” if you know that person’s supposed to be with a different person by the end of the season. You have to be pitching toward the light at the end of the tunnel that you’ve already decided on.
So even if I as a fan want like, Miss Grundy to start boinking Alice, Betty’s mom, like, I can’t pitch that—spoiler alert, that does not happen in Season One. I can’t—
ELM: Why are you baiting? My God, that was my new ship!
BL: I can’t pitch that in the room because people will be like, “What are you even talking about? Do you need to take a breather, go walk around the lot for a minute, come back and start pitching ideas that we’re actually gonna do?”
And then the other thing I’ll say is, by the same token, Roberto’s doing the exact same mental arithmetic in his own head. He’s trying to figure out stuff that he likes. He's listening to all of these pitches and pitching himself and trying to pick the ones that he thinks most closely resemble the show that he's trying to create, while also trying to satisfy the executives at the studio level, the executives at the network, the producers, Greg Berlanti, everyone else who’s involved in the show, and then also trying to create something that’s produceable, that’s not going to be over budget, that when we send the script up to Vancouver where we shoot they’re not gonna come back and say “This is a million dollar script, there’s no way you can shoot this.”
There’s so many different constraints that are playing into every decision that we make that I know I’m doing mental gymnastics, Roberto’s doing mental gymnastics, I’m sure the executives are doing mental gymnastics based on what’s worked on other shows they’ve worked on and what hasn’t worked. Everyone’s just making, there’s a million different decisions that go into why they do anything on the show. So I mean, that’s to say I can go in the fan space to a certain extent, it can’t not affect me, I’ve pitched multiple lesbian storylines on the show already, they—at this point they're expecting it from me. [all laugh] If we have a day player I’m like “But what if she’s gay!”
FK: I really love the image of you in the writer’s room as being the one who pitches the gay things.
BL: Well, I mean, look, I’m not the only gay person in the writer’s room, we have eleven writers including Roberto and five of us are gay so…
ELM: But you are the one who pitches the lesbian storylines?
BL: Well, I’m the only lesbian so I pitch a lot of lesbians. But I’m not the only one! There's a lot of other people that pitch lesbians too! Lesbians are being pitched right and left! [ELM laughs]
ELM: Why isn’t the show all lesbians?
FK: There’s a pitcher and catcher joke somewhere in here but I can’t find it.
ELM: So one more question though. Maybe not can you put yourself in the fan space of Riverdale, then, cause it sounds like that sounds like a Herculean task that you shouldn’t have to do, what about your own fannish life? Does that still exist? And, I mean, I know that Flourish has through just osmosis telling me about these things has ruined so much for me. [BL laughs]
BL: It is hard.
ELM: I mean it is fine.
BL: It’s hard.
FK: I’ve ruined things for myself, dude! I wrote Sleepy Hollow fanfic and now that will never have a sequel because I know too many people involved with it, I’m just like “It’s DONE.”
ELM: OK, that’s not how you ruined it for me. Just more like stripping away the artifice of it, and I’m wondering, I mean, I guess you’ve been studying the industry for a long time before, so maybe you haven’t been in that space since, like, you were watching The X-files, but…
BL: No, but it’s true, it’s like, the further you get into the industry the harder it is to maintain that sort of sense of wonder and amazement that you kind of…you kind of need part of that in order to continue your fannish life. I feel like at this point I have…it's like, I’ve been a Supernatural fan for a really long time. I love that show very deeply. I still watch it. It’s our lead in to Riverdale, which still, when I think about that makes me a little bit emotional, gives me the feels. Yeah. No, I’ve been to Supernatural conventions, I’ve been to Supernatural conventions since becoming a Riverdale writer and it’s a little…it starts to get a little weird. Cause technically we’re colleagues I guess.
But like, it’s to the point where when I have friends who are like “Oh yeah I’ve worked with Misha, I’ve worked with Jensen,” I’m sort of like, “I just…um…maybe don’t tell me anything? About them?” [all laugh] Because, you know, at this point I guess if I really pursued it I could probably meet them, or in my wildest dreams become friends with them, but it’s not what I want. Do I want to be friends with them or do I just want to have this fantasy in my life? And I feel like at this point I’ve met so many other celebrities, and Cole Sprouse who’s very famous to many people to me is just that kid who's on our show, and I don’t want to feel that way about the people I’m fans of. I want to maintain that thing, so I’m sort of, like, keeping artificially keeping my distance from the things I’m still a fan of so as not to ruin the wonder and the magic of it.
FK: I have to say I feel you so hard on this. Everybody in my company knows my Gillian Anderson rule.
BL: Oh my God.
FK: Which is that if I am ever…if I am ever invited to a meeting and Gillian Anderson is there I am going to walk out of it. [BL laughs] Everybody understands I am not going to interact with her, ever.
BL: Is this because you're going to make a fool of yourself or is this because you don’t wanna ruin the magic?
FK: It's because if I ever actually met her and she did not immediately become my girlfriend then every part of my life would be destroyed. You know in Westworld how there’s, like, a cornerstone memory? Gillian Anderson’s my cornerstone fandom.
BL: I get it.
FK: If that’s destroyed, then I would just go insane. Literally like an android who’s had their key memory removed. So I feel you on this is, what I’m saying.
ELM: I had a long string of meeting the writers that I admired most, and having very disappointing interactions with them, while I got my things signed, I don’t know. It’s hard at signings, right. They have to do a lot, it’s not a great time. But I think—
FK: Right, it’s not fair to them. So why put yourself in that position.
ELM: A lot of writers are also really awkward and not very good at writing small talk. These are like novel writers. And that’s, you know, from the last episode I had a really good—I don’t know if I told you I made George Saunders laugh. So George Saunders is one of my favorite writers and I made him laugh, which is amazing cause he’s the funniest, but up until that it’s just been a string of disappointments and it’s kinda ruined multiple writers for me. So I understand. And that’s not even in a professional context. That’s just as a fan.
BL: Yeah, totally! And it’s also this thing like, there’s writers who I love who I’m sort of, like, nervous to one day meet because what if they don’t live up to my high expectations of them, but it’s also kind of a different thing when you read fanfiction of somebody—when you’re like, “I don’t wanna meet you because reading fanfiction of you is gonna be weird, and I don’t want that taken away from me.” So.
ELM: You’re saying I should start reading George Saunders fanfiction, should start writing it? Can you imagine? He’s just a very nice guy who lives in Syracuse. That’d be amazing. Just writin’ novels.
BL: It would be amazing!
FK: You would write it too, you’re an upstate person, you’d get it so right.
ELM: Syracuse is not upstate, it’s in central New York.
FK: Oh shit, that was a well-actually! You just well-actually’d me.
ELM: I will always well actually people about New York state geography.
FK: To me anything that’s not in New York City counts as upstate. I am 100% that person.
ELM: Yeah, that’s why you should go back to the west coast.
BL: Yeah! Come back to the west coast!
ELM: I said that as an insult, and you’re like, “YAY!”
BL: YAY because the west coast is the best!
FK: OK, let’s wrap this up. I think it’s time.
BL: Guys, this was a fun conversation.
ELM: I loved, you were much more frank than I thought you would be able to. So I really appreciate that.
BL: Yeah! I really hope I don't get in trouble. I don’t think I will though, because I think the worst thing anyone can say in this situation is “The fans are all crazy, they should go fuck themselves!” And I think anything, I think the best thing to do in these sort of situations is kinda be frank and be like “This is the process, there's a lot of complications in the process and none of it is a clean line, and all that we can all do is try to keep the world better, so you keep doing that and we’ll keep doing that and hopefully we’ll come up with something great.” That’s really messy, but it’s kind of the true answer.
ELM: Well, it just also sounds, too, like, in a lot of these conversations I don’t feel like…I want fans to give creators the benefit of the doubt, even if they are continually disappointing people, and talking to you and hearing about the [inaudible] out there, I’m very inclined to give these people the benefit of the doubt—instead of certain other shows and certain other showrunners where it’s just like, “You don’t deserve that good faith, because you’re literally…you don’t, you’re not even gonna care that people are upset by this.” It’s not a matter of shoving them down, just “I don’t even see why this bothers you” kinda stuff. And obviously you can see why people might want various kinds of representation or storylines or whatever.
BL: Yeah, totally.
ELM: I hear there’s a lot of ace tags on AO3 in the Riverdale tags, so.
BL: I heard that as well. I have not checked out the Riverdale AO3 yet because I am legally not allowed to, so.
ELM: Maybe you shouldn’t! You can just scan them. We’re gonna slip a few into “The Rec Center,” Gav and I have discussed this, so you can just look at them and not click on them.
BL: Good. Good. I think that I can do. I don’t think I’ll be sued for that. [all laugh]
FK: It was so great having you on, Britta, it was really really wonderful.
ELM: Like, amazingly great.
BL: Good! Good. This was a pleasure, let’s do it again sometime.
FK: In Riverdale Season 15.
BL: When everything’s canon cause we’ve run out of other storylines.
ELM: I love that that means that it’ll be, like, Fansplaining 15 years from now. Yeah. [all laugh]
BL: Flourish just made SUCH a face.
ELM: I don’t think podcasts will be the same thing in 15 years.
BL: They’ll be…holo…holocasts, is what they’ll be.
FK: I’ll holocast with you in 15 years, Elizabeth.
ELM: All right, great, I can’t wait, I’ll call you then. [all laugh] Fine.
FK: Hashtag Flourish. Hashtag Elizabeth. Bye Britta!
FK: So one of the things that’s really striking me about that conversation is how different it is to talk to somebody who has been a fan. Regardless of any actual content or what she said about anything, talking to a television writer who knows what fandom is about and what fandom is like and so forth just totally changes the context. It’s really cool to hear a writer talking…you know, speaking our language, I guess.
ELM: Yeah, 100%. It also makes me feel like, mm, how can I phrase this, I don’t know. Britta has such strong feelings about queerbaiting, right, and to hear someone with very strong feelings about queerbaiting, someone who’s felt like they were being queerbaited, also talk about the realities of these shows and…I guess it’s in opposition to when I hear other, say, TV writers or showrunners or whatever talking about queerbaiting and it’s usually so dismissive, right? And so it’s like, to hear that conversation coming from someone to whom this is not something to be dismissed and she doesn’t dismiss it, to talk to someone who takes it seriously and thinks it’s a major thing and like…
You know, I can only imagine speaking to certain showrunners about an accusation of queerbaiting and saying like, “People are boycotting a show because they don’t like what you’ve done,” and in this hypothetical—not naming any names, but I can hear them scoffing and saying “It’s just a TV show! Come on!” You know. Right? Cause that’s the reaction they often have. Whereas opposed to that, Britta was like “Yeah, if this upsets you it’s totally within your rights to just not watch the show,” right? “And if it changes, come for it. If lesbians show up in Season Three, come on down.”
FK: It was also notable and interesting, I think—even though I work in the entertainment industry, I don’t always think about “Oh yeah, this show is completely and entirely in the can, the whole season, before it plays.” And so this is not in any way to reduce any of the problems that might be—that are, I’ll say—on Riverdale, but it must be a really weird situation to be like, “I literally cannot change anything that is about to play out, now I just have to sit down and listen to people criticizing this thing.”
ELM: Yeah, I mean, it’s not that weird in the sense of that's what book authors have to do all the time. It’s not rolled out over the course of twelve episodes if it’s a book, but it is a sense of…there’s no changing it. Or a movie, right? With movies too, it’s like, the problematic casting decisions and things like that, the controversy starts rolling in just with the announcements—but usually by that point so much money has gone into it that Scarlett Johansson’s still in your movie. For example.
FK: By comparison, if Riverdale gets a Season Two, maybe there can be a course correction, which I think was a really good point Britta was making. That said, there’s also lots of stuff that can be done in how you react to it, and while I think a lot of the stuff Britta said was great, of course it’s evident that not everybody who’s tweeting for Riverdale [laughs] has the same nuance of understanding of any issues, so, you know.
ELM: Right. It’s so, so complicated. This is the clearest example in my memory of the scarcity problem, which we definitely have discussed on here, that term in particular—it’s not an idea that's unique to her, but it was Linda Holmes came up with that title when she was talking about—do you remember this?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, but repeat it.
ELM: So this was during the Age of Ultron, the Avengers—second Avengers movie press, as you know there’s only one female Avenger, not the only woman in the movies…
FK: Right, and she’s the only female Avenger who’s an Avenger in the movies.
ELM: In the movies. I don’t know about these things, comic books Flourish, Jesus. She’s the only one amongst the ones we see and also, if we’re talking about scarcity, she’s not the only female superhero on our movie screens. There are not that many but there are a couple. And the storyline drew a great deal of feminist criticism and she wrote a really great piece where she’s talking about this is the problem when you have one character representing the group, it’s never gonna be everything to everyone, there was specifically storylines about her fertility and what that meant to her as a woman and not being a mother and she was saying, “Look, every story about a man is also a story about fatherhood. They’re not a father, they are a father, you know. But we never frame it that way, cause there’s so many of them,” right. Whereas for the woman, the one woman in the room, it has to come down to this.
FK: For sure, and I think that we’ve seen that a lot in some of the discourse around Jughead especially.
ELM: That’s what I mean about the most scarce, because—
ELM: I can’t think of any, the only other fictional ace characters I’ve ever seen EVER are fanfiction. In fanfiction.
FK: Yeah. I can’t think of any who are explicitly.
ELM: Right. I mean, I can think of a bazillion characters that you could read that way if you wanted to. But…and so it’s like, that’s an enormous amount of pressure on one story, and it’s, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know how to, obviously I know how to solve that, it would be to have many many ace and aro characters. But. I don’t know. I don’t see any, I don’t see any interest from Hollywood.
FK: Well, that’s also not something that just Riverdale can fix.
ELM: Right! I’m saying this isn’t—
FK: Even if they made Riverdale literally the town where everybody is ace and aro, like, every single person.
ELM: Can you imagine what a delight that would be? What an amazing show.
FK: That would be amazing. But if it did that there would still be a problem because they’d go off the air and then there’d be no…it has to be a larger fix.
ELM: No, I feel like if it was just everyone on the show that would be fine.
FK: They would never go off the air, either.
ELM: There would be 21 seasons for sure. Oh my God.
FK: Specifically, there was an article being shared around about an ace person who was saying that maybe the Jughead kiss was part of his growth, right?
ELM: She identified as asexual but not aromantic, she identified as panromantic. And I think she also identified on the asexual spectrum…
FK: But she was saying that she had kissed people because that’s a, a thing that you do when you’re figuring out what you want and don’t want. And then there were other people who were like, “That’s 100% not my experience and also this is an awful reading of the show because…”
ELM: Or an awful reading of the character.
FK: Yeah, an awful reading of the character.
ELM: I shared that article in the affirmative in the sense that, I’m glad that various perspectives are being displayed and I get a little frustrated when people say there’s one way to talk about any given identity. That being said, and the point was made and I strongly agree with this, the problem with that piece is it can set up this kind of idea of, if one person in the group isn’t offended then it’s not offensive.
ELM: Which is, I mean, and that’s the classic “Well my black friend said it was OK, it’s not racist,” you know. Absolutely not.
FK: This is also back to the scarcity problem though, right? Because realistically there should be more than one representation of an asexual person so that like…some characters have a, you know. If there were a bunch of asexual people being depicted on TV then I think that it would be way less of a big deal in general just because, you know. You wouldn’t have the scarcity problem.
ELM: Sure, but it’s impossible to say. I mean there’s a fair number of cisgendered gay men on our screens and still with every character I find opinions vary widely saying “This isn’t true to my experience!” or “This is the best depiction I’ve ever seen of being a gay man!” And that’s white cisgendered gay men, the most represented queer group of all the groups on our screens. So, I mean, that being said, it’s not like there's that many! Right? Who the hell knows? Does every cisgendered straight person see…I don’t know…The Hangover II and go “that one is me”? I have no idea. I was trying to think of a very straight movie. Is that a good one?
FK: Yeah? I guess so? I haven’t ever seen it, so…
ELM: No, neither have I! [laughing] Sorry. Anything with Vince Vaughn in it. How’s that?
FK: Yeah…Wedding Crashers?
ELM: The new movie where he and Mel Gibson play police brutality cops.
FK: There we go, that’s the best possible example.
ELM: I am the most problematic person. I shouldn’t have even brought it up.
FK: No, but I think—
ELM: Sorry, straight men. [FK laughs] I know you’re not all like that.
FK: Oh my God. I think that you’re right, and I think that this is an interesting case where it’s like…I shouldn’t say this is an interesting case, because that suggests that it’s a unique case, or something. But I think this is an example where something…this is not a problem that fanfiction can entirely fix, right. You were just saying, you’ve only read ace characters in fanfiction, and then this, basically. So obviously this isn’t a problem that can be solved by audiences writing their own versions of something. This is a problem that goes all the way…do you see what I’m saying?
ELM: Yeah, and I also think that to be frank—because now that we’re walking into the realm of fanfiction I feel more at ease calling people out—but while I found fanfiction, particularly for one fandom, to have a great amount of fantastic ace fic, and like, really good thoughtful stuff, one thing I’ve really appreciated is stories where the person—the ace character doesn’t have to make an exception for the other half of the ship, right? It’s more like the alloromantic and allosexual, that’s the opposite of ace, character has to be like “All right, I wanna be in a relationship with you, so we’re not gonna have sex. I’m gonna sort that out myself.” This is John Watson, in case you’re curious who I’m talking about.
FK: [laughing] Gonna do some loads by hand?
ELM: I don’t know, it’s always a part of it! This is all Sherlock I’m talking about, and John’s always like “I really like him, but I’m John three-continents Watson!” or whatever, and then he sorts it out it takes him like seven chapters. Anyway, this is a really reductive description of the variety of stories that I’ve read.
BUT. While all that’s great in individual fanworks, or even in an aggregate in the tag, good luck going out there and trying to say that Sherlock is asexual in the broader Tumblr space. You get called homophobic immediately. And it’s like…and this is not unique to that fandom, it’s just been what I’ve observed as a member of it. I’ve seen this in all sorts of fandoms. I’ve seen it invoked as a snide joke. As some kind of excuse to not want to make a character gay. Usually gay in particular. And so fandom, while being more open, doesn't necessarily feel more inclusive, is what I would say. So. That’s, I’m sorry. I just brought that right down.
FK: Well, I don’t think we have any answers to that.
ELM: Literally no answers.
FK: I know what’s gonna make us feel better though. [ELM hoots] Changing the subject.
ELM: OK wait wait wait. Before we change the subject, do you think that we’ve done a, a good enough postmortem?
FK: Well, I don’t know whether or not we’ve done a good enough postmortem, but we’ve done the postmortem that we can do right now, I think.
ELM: Great. Great.
FK: I don’t know what else to say.
FK: I think we’ve done our best, so.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. All right.
FK: OK OK can I change the subject now?
ELM: OK. I love how I just stalled us for like a minute to be like “Are you sure we’re done?”
FK: I’m sure we’re done.
FK: The thing that is gonna make us feel better is [singing] we got voicemail! You can’t see it but I’m kicking my feet under my desk right now.
ELM: Not only can the listener not see it, I cannot see it.
FK: That’s why I have to narrate it!
ELM: We did get a voicemail to our number 1-800-FANS.
FK: Our number is NOT 1-800-FANS.
ELM: What's that song? [sings] 800-588, 2-800-EMPIRE TODAY!
FK: That is not what it is either.
ELM: You know that one?
FK: No, I don’t.
ELM: You don’t watch enough television.
FK: I don’t watch basically any television. OK. Our number is 1-401-526-FANS, that’s 1-401-526-3267. And we got a voicemail because we came in as guest speakers to a class on networked narratives.
ELM: Yeah, amazingly, you chose the words “came in” even though it was a distance learning web-based class.
FK: That’s true. It was a metaphorical “came in.”
ELM: We entered the digital space.
FK: We entered their digital space. And it was really great!
ELM: It was wonderful. Thank you so much if you guys are listening, the members of the class. It was fantastic talking to you, and I’m sorry that I can’t carry on a Skype conversation and also answer questions in a chat box at the same time, but I literally cannot do that.
FK: We all have limitations.
ELM: To be fair, while you were answering those questions you were not as good at the out loud talking.
FK: That is true. OK. OK.
ELM: That’s my critique from the experience.
FK: A fair critique. So what we said in that class has been recorded, and we’ll put a link to it in the show notes, but the voicemail is really charming because they called us to thank us. So shall we roll it?
ELM: Yeah, let’s do it!
Mia Zamora: Hi, Flourish and Elizabeth, it’s Mia Zamora calling and I have here my partner.
Alan Levine: Hey, it’s Alan Levine, and we wanted to thank you for being part of our Networked Narratives studio visit!
MZ: We had such a great time talking to you, we learned so much, and we extended the conversation in class. This voicemail is a thank-you that we prepared. We were inspired to do a little bit of blackout poetry with your mission statement on the Fansplaining website. So we crossed out a bunch of words and came up with new meaning with the words that we left behind. So we’re gonna share three small poems with you right now.
Class member #1: In society the love of fiction invests [?] in creating something new.
Class member #2: Fans who love more transform interaction into culture and give meaning, for fans spark writing.
Class member #3: Writers began with the advent of obsessed geeks.
MZ: So there it is, three blackout poems for you guys as an appreciation of the wonderful conversation we had last week.
The whole class: THANK YOU!
MZ: Thank you so much! Take care, guys. We’re fans!
FK: THEY WROTE US POETRY!
FK: Oh. That’s so wonderful! It warms my heart.
ELM: Yeah, thank you guys so much.
FK: OK. So we always want people to call in our number.
ELM: And write us poetry.
FK: Whether you write us poetry or not we still want to hear from you.
ELM: Nope. You can’t contact us unless you write us a poem.
FK: Uh, Elizabeth is lying. But you can do that, you can also email us, email@example.com, or send us a Twitter message, tweet at us, or send us fanmail, or like, our asks are on and anonymous is on—so please don’t be mean, but you can do that. That’s at fansplaining.tumblr.com. As you might guess.
ELM: Or fansplaining.com, is a tumblr.
FK: That’s true too. OK. So you can contact us in all of those ways.
ELM: And you can send us feedback!
FK: Yes! And you should.
ELM: You can tell me my experiences reading fanfiction in Sherlock were completely unlike yours!
FK: That is an acceptable thing to do.
ELM: Don’t be mean though!
FK: Don’t be mean though! OK. Also. Other orders of business. One, I just wanted to mention to everybody that you guys might remember the Fansplaining fic tropes survey, which we published results from this big survey of fandom about what tropes fans like in fanfic.
ELM: Which someone like a week ago on Tumblr reblogged it and now it’s makin’ the rounds again.
FK: It’s goin’ around again! So delightful.
ELM: No it’s not, it’s a fresh new round of people being devastated that their favorite tropes are not the favorites of everyone else.
FK: Yeah, and people being really surprised to discover that a lot of folks don’t read gen fic.
ELM: Or, someone just said that we missed that “whump” and “woobify” are not used anymore, which I think is false. I still see it. It’s not in every fandom.
FK: I almost responded to them, but then I decided that it was not worth getting pissy about somebody.
ELM: Now we’re just doing it on the podcast.
FK: And now we’re just doing it on the podcast. OK. But point being, we did that survey and it was a big success and we are preparing a new survey on a slightly different topic, so we reached out, we’ve got some beta testers on it, and that’s going to be going live pretty soon, probably we’ll be announcing it next episode. So, look forward to that.
ELM: Yes! Final order of business, I’m assuming, is the Patreon.
FK: That’s exactly what I was thinking. You read my mind.
ELM: It was pretty easy to read your mind. So I’m currently wearing my very own WEASLEY SWEATER.
ELM: Flourish made for me. I did not have to pay hundreds of dollars a month to the Patreon to get it. I think it’s my combined birthday and Christmas present. [Flourish laughs] Unlike all the cheapskates back in the day who’d give me, like, a $10 Best Buy gift card for my birthday and Christmas combined. This is actually a really good combo present.
FK: This was a legitimate labor of love.
ELM: For context, I have a birthday that’s a week away from Christmas. So. But the reason I bring it up is because that’s our hilariously high level of support on Patreon. Flourish will knit you your own sweater.
FK: But there’s also a lot of—
ELM: Literally all of our patrons are paying less than—I don’t think we have anyone higher than $10 a month.
FK: We don’t have anybody who’s public who’s higher than $10 a month.
ELM: Oh. All right. I was just thinking of our—all right.
FK: Secret, the person paying more than $10 a month is my dad.
ELM: Don’t give him away, he’s private!
FK: [laughing] Hi, Dad!
ELM: Most people pay $1, $2, $3 a month. You get early access to episodes, you get special episodes, if you do $10 a month, of which there are a fair number of people, you get a tiny zine and we’re gonna start putting together the March tiny zine—March. I just said March.
FK: I think we’re calling it “spring.”
ELM: Spring. I don’t know where that came from.
FK: You’re trying to send vibes to us, like, “finish it in March!”
ELM: Yeah, just do it.
FK: But actually it’s a spring tiny zine so we’re OK at least till the end of April.
ELM: Spring zine. So those are the great benefits if you enjoy this podcast and you want to support us. Also, we’ve said this before but this is actually happening now, the Medium is getting back on track. I’ll be publishing the next piece, and we have two more queued up for the rest of the spring. They’re all gonna be deep dives into various fandom topics. So…yeah! Your donation supports that journalism, or that writing, rather.
FK: Yeah! OK, cool. So I think we’ve pitched the Patreon successfully, hopefully successfully, and…is that it? Is it time?
ELM: I think it’s time!
FK: All right. I’lll talk to you later Elizabeth.
ELM: OK, bye Flourish!
[Outro, thank yous and disclaimers]