Episode 59: Fandom Histories
Elizabeth and Flourish discuss common narratives of fandom history and lay out their approaches to thinking about the antecedents of modern fan culture. Topics discussed include 19th century amateur press associations, early science fiction fandom, gatekeeping, the concept of “feral fandoms,” and myths about people in the past. They also respond to a listener question about romantic relationships in fanfiction, and discuss where fic and romance overlap—and where they don’t.
[00:00:00] As always, our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax, used under a CC-BY license.
[00:00:54] The listener ask about history is here.
[00:01:20] The episode in which we discussed this is Episode 8, “One True Fandom.”
[00:26:46] Jahzzar’s music, which serves for this interstitial, is here. Used under a CC-BY license.
[00:41:46] The Fathoms Deep podcast is here.
[01:04:03] The outro music is Jahzzar again.
Flourish Klink: Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 59, “Fandom Histories.”
FK: Fandom Historiessssss. S. S.
ELM: Did I make it clear that it was the plural? Multiple histories.
FK: You did. So the thinking behind this episode is we got a really good ask about sort of what we think about fandom history. And we realized, as a result of that ask, that we’ve never actually done an entire episode about it. We’ve talked about what is fandom, but we’ve never talked about fandom history. We’ve had guests who’ve talked about it, but we’ve never had an overarching one. You know what I’m saying.
ELM: Right, and I definitely think that embedded in the way that some of our guests have talked about fandom is ideas of certain narratives. I think that they vary based on who they are and not just what fannish behaviors they engage in but what fandoms they’re in. I think that can really affect the way you think of whether there’s some kind of lineage that helps define who you are as a fandom, or as an individual fan, or whatever, and that varies from fan to fan.
FK: Absolutely. And I’m really excited to talk about it because I think it can be really easy to assume that everybody shares your idea about the lineages, if you have such an idea, bu it’s become really clear—at least, I think to you, as well over the course of doing this podcast and before, that those are not…they’re not shared, just like you said.
ELM: Well, yeah. I think this conversation goes hand in hand with the “what is fandom” question which was one of our earliest episodes in which we learned and grew and fought a great deal… [FK laughing] I feel like…
FK: We’re gonna try and fight less this time.
ELM: Well, I genuinely also feel like, all right, how do you feel about this framing of that is like, I think that you, all right… I don’t wanna be too critical here, but I do think that when we started the podcast you had a relatively strong feeling about what fandom was and maybe some of that history too, but I was coming from a different perspective and so I may have shattered some of that for you. Meanwhile, I’m not saying I didn’t also learn things, but I think that my weakness in this is that I still think my experience is better, even though I know it’s not the dominant experience. Do you think that’s all accurate? [FK laughs] Your journey has been like, acknowledging that other fannish experiences are also valid. I’m not saying you were being mean about it, but I do think this is one way that you’ve learned and grown over the last two-plus years of this podcast.
FK: So I actually, I really don’t think that that’s true. I do think that I had—
ELM: Oh good, let’s fight! Let’s fight.
FK: No, I don’t think that’s true, because as you’ve noted, as we’ve talked about, one of the things I do…maybe it’s true in that I think that I did have a stronger idea of the center, the centerpiece of sort of community and shared culture, for certain views of fandom. I was like, “Well, I’m in this particular category of fandom, this Western media fandom space, and I think it’s really important we’ve got this shared culture, all this.” But I wouldn’t say that I thought that other types of fandom weren’t valid.
ELM: Maybe that’s unfair.
FK: That’s way unfair! My job is to look at lots of other types of fandom and I actually do that all the time.
ELM: Sure, but…
FK: But I did come in thinking, “Oh, we’re gonna be talking on this podcast mostly about my type of fandom,” and then it was like, not only are we not gonna mostly be talking about that, but my type of “fandom”—in big quotes—doesn’t even necessarily apply to everybody who’s fans of the same things that I’m fan of.
ELM: Or on the surface, you would think that you and I are the same type of fan, but actually we’ve had very different experiences and have different preferences. I think that’s one thing that we’ve definitely established in the course of this podcast.
FK: Totally, and it’s something very different to apply that critical lens to your own experience and your own opinion talking, than it is to do it in like… “Oh, I’m gonna go study this group of people.” Then it’s really clear when you’re like, “Oh, I’m gonna go look at this fandom, I’m gonna think about this and…” Right? Then it can be really easy to be like, “obviously different people have these different experiences.” But when you have to look at it in your own life that’s harder. This podcast has definitely helped with that.
ELM: Flourish, your own experiences inform all of your study.
FK: Of course, and yet it’s also easier. Even then it’s still easier, because then you’re like, entering into it. You’re like, “I’m going to try and set as much of this aside as I can,” right.
ELM: Yeah, with the knowledge that you can never wholly set it aside. I feel like I’m now interrogating the field of anthropology.
FK: Of course. Oh my God.
ELM: THERE’S NO NEUTRAL OBSERVER.
FK: There is no neutral observer, and yet! Anyway, OK. This is all, I think, very fair, and it’s true that we’ve both learned and grown over the course of this podcast.
ELM: I’m just saying this is how I felt, we are literally talking about 51 episodes about.
FK: Oh my God it’s true.
ELM: I know. Really something. And I definitely feel like we’ve had the same, the same sort of clash of coming from the traditional directions we’ve both come in, and the impact has been…it hasn’t been, like, a wreck. [FK laughs] As time has gone on. You know? It’s been like, light fender-benders as opposed to…
FK: There may have been moments where it felt like it would be a wreck, but it’s turned into just sort of bumper cars.
ELM: I think that over time, we’ve understood each other’s driving styles, and… This metaphor is off the rails.
FK: This is the best extended metaphor ever.
ELM: Yeaaaah. So. Yeah. That’s just all to say up front, and hopefully we can make this conversation not so abstract once we start having it, but we’re gonna, I think we should answer…we have an ask to answer first, right?
FK: Yeah, we do! So someone anonymously left us an ask on Tumblr and the ask goes like this: “Hi, I’ve been wondering how, unlike in literature, there’s hardly any ‘bad endings’ to romance in fic. I don’t mean one of the characters dying, or they can’t be together for external circumstances, but the relationship actually not working out, e.g. one can’t handle a relationship. It’s probably due to the nature of shipping, where you’re convinced that these people belong together, but still, I’d love opinions on this.” So. I thought that was a really interesting question. I was glad that they knocked out the obvious “Well, people are shippers, so…” Because that’s obvious, but it’s true but…
ELM: Yeah. At the heart of this question is the kind of messy overlap between romance and fanfiction. So you’re a romance reader, so don’t let me romancesplain here, I am not a romance reader, but I understand the HEA question is a perpetual, people will be like “Why is it necessary?” and then I always see 150,000 romance people on my feed being like “FUCK YOU,” you know, so.
FK: Wait wait wait, HEA stands for Happily Ever After.
ELM: So you tell me. You romancesplain to me, as a romance reader.
FK: Oh my God. I’m not gonna keep romancesplaining. I’m just gonna say that the Happily Ever After ending is really important to people in the genre of romance, to the extent that many people will say it can’t be a romance unless there is a happily ever after. And the “happily ever after” is usually defined as the two main characters, whether they are hero and heroine or two heros or whatever, getting together. Historically this has been accomplished through marriage, sometimes it can be as simple as they kiss at the end, sometimes now it can be like “Well they may not be forever partners but they’re really great today partners and they’re in love,” and that’s where we end, but it is a big deal if there is not a happily ever after. People say that’s not romance. And also, if there’s, like, an idea that the heroine might be, or the hero, whoever sort of the lead is, usually a heroine, is going to be in love with one person and they turn out not to be the one she ends up with, that can also be a big drama for people.
ELM: I didn’t know about that last one.
FK: Yeah, if you think that someone is going to be the love interest for like half of it and they die tragically or something, that can be really difficult for people.
ELM: That also draws interesting parallels to the context of a ship-driven fic. Right?
ELM: In a romance, you won’t necessarily have on the cover “This is a Joe/Sally romance, heads up! These two people on the cover are gonna be the ship for the book!” Right? You don’t go in with those expectations. You probably have some because the back of the book is like, “Joe is a Texas oil man and Sally comes to town—” I don’t know, I don’t know. I read the back of some romance novels at the train station at Port Sunlight, England, a couple days ago.
FK: Oh yeahhhhh.
ELM: They had a free book drop and they were, they had Georgette Heyer! I thought of you!
FK: Oh wonderful!
ELM: Yeah, we read the backs of maybe 30 of them and many of them, it was like Mills & Boon and stuff, it was a British train station.
FK: Yeah, totally. Heyer is one of the few authors, because she sort of founded the Regency romance genre, not all of her books totally comport with this, which is a little bit interesting. But that’s an aside. I think that it’s true, when you do read a romance, though, something that’s similar to reading a ship-focused fic is that there’s a lot of signposts for what you’re gonna get, right? You know from the cover, from the line you’re reading in, from the back copy, whether for instance if it’s an inspirational romance—which is typically Christian themes and usually pretty tame on the sex.
ELM: This is what you read?
FK: I’ve read a few of them. Some of them are very good! I usually do not read those.
ELM: I know you’re a Christian, that’s why.
FK: I am not a passionate inspie reader, no. But sometimes they’re good.
ELM: We are both churchgoers but sometimes I feel like we surprise each other with where that, where our limits are, where we go with that. Actually, you’re probably not surprised by any of my feelings. [FK laughing] Like, I go to cathedrals and sing songs.
FK: Yeah, you're mostly just surprised whenever I’m like “JEEEEEESUS.” And you’re like “Holy shit, what just happened?”
ELM: [snooty voice] Let’s not talk about him! Oh no.
FK: Anyway, yeah, but, so you already know a lot about what you’re getting into, even down to how much sex there’s gonna be, right. And sort of what themes you expect to find in it. So it’s a little bit, actually, like learning how to parse the covers and everything is a little bit like learning what the tags mean, right.
ELM: Interesting. Or ratings and everything that’s explicitly a part of the, it’s not metadata because it’s…maybe it is metadata to some degree. But you know what I mean, it’s also signposting and wayfinding.
FK: The paratext.
FK: You’re learning to read the paratext.
ELM: Yes, yes. OK. So all of that is context for I think, one of the things I see as kind of…people speaking different languages or talking across each other in fanfiction world, because I think there are a lot of readers coming from that space, or not coming from it but simultaneously occupying that space, there are a lot of readers who aren’t. Not all, what is it, like, a third of all fic is gen. Isn’t that…on the AO3 at least. Plenty of other fic that you would label as “shippy” is also canonical ships, you know. Just people who are already together and it’s not a “get ’em together” romance story, because that’s just, they are together in the story. Maybe that’s not even canonical, but you know what I mean. Established-relationship story.
ELM: I’ve seen people get very upset when they’ve encountered stories where the ship breaks up or doesn’t work out, I’ve recced plenty of stories like this and people have not been happy, and you know, I don’t know what to say. I’m not reccing these as, they’re not romance novels, you know? And I don’t feel that there’s a contract there, and some people do, but I think that’s hard, because I don’t even know if it’s a majority of people who believe that contract is there.
FK: Right. It’s interesting, you talking about some people having the romance expectations and some not. I went from fanfic to romance novels specifically because, I like fanfic that’s sort of dealing with…you know, that’s really in conversation with the source text, and sometimes that means that I really like a couple but they’re, that’s not my vision of what the source text is. I don’t want to, I really wish I could get them together in my head but I can’t quite, you know what I mean? So after a while I was like, “Ugh, I’m just frustrating myself reading all these stories about couples that I would love to get together, but actually they don’t fit into this romance space; that’s just not gonna work, it’s not good, I don’t like it.” So I’ll just go read actual romance and then go read fic and not…
ELM: And have that satisfied.
FK: Right. Not try to satisfy all of that through fic. Because you know, the good news is in romance you can find any flavor of whatever, the characters’ names change but you can still have the same stereotypes or whatever that are falling in love. And of course the good ones transcend that, but it’s nice sometimes. That’s part of, one reason why people like reading particular ships or are into different ships is because they’re like, this ship is like that ship.
FK: And you do that in romance too, it’s just that in romance I don’t have to be “Ugh, this ship is the thing that I love, but it doesn’t work with the canon, oh no!”
ELM: [laughing] I wonder how often people feel that way?
FK: I don’t know. I’d love to hear if anybody else does. I don’t think that I ever fully established it until just now, you know? I never, it took having this conversation for me to realize that was going on with me.
ELM: Yeah that’s really really interesting. I don’t know, it’s tricky.
FK: Cause you read really heavy in particular ships, right?
ELM: I only read in ships. Not only. I’ve read gen fic before. But yeah, I’m into…this is a little…I hate to say it this way but I was gonna be like, oh, I only, most of them are canon or canon-y kind of ships, in the sense of Holmes and Watson I think are canon-y. Right?
FK: Yeah. Harry, I think Harry and Draco are canon-y enough. [laughing]
ELM: Oh I wasn't thinking of that! I was thinking that was the one exception in all of them!
FK: People will argue they’re canon-y. You do have that love/hate thing going on.
ELM: I don’t think you need them, I’ve read a thousand stories so I tell you, you don’t need that many steps to get them together. [FK laughs] But my other ships have been Remus and Sirius and the brief period I was reading Johnlock and then the other two were canonical, Jack and Ianto in Torchwood and now I’m reading this threesome in Black Sails. And I don’t know, it’s true! But with the canonical ones it’s like, yeah, but it’s not…the stories are rarely about getting them together, or if they are it’s working within the spaces of the show, because they’re canonical, right?
FK: Right. Yeah. That is a big difference.
ELM: And I feel like Remus/Sirius has that too, and one of the reasons why, where I’ve encountered this where people get mad about it, not, I’m sorry, they clearly had a really fucked up relationship! [FK laughs] Because they didn’t trust each other so much that none of them trusted each other to the point where they all didn’t realize the wrong person had betrayed them and then, you know, they died. Right? I’m using very, I don’t know why I’m using such vague language, since everyone’s read Harry Potter obviously who’s listening to this. But. You know what I mean?
FK: I know exactly what you mean. I know exactly what you mean! And I think that that’s getting at…maybe you feel the same way as I do, because there are certain things within that where, I guess, it would be hard to…maybe it would be hard to accept, I don’t know this, but maybe is it hard to accept a sort of purely romance novel-y Remus/Sirius story because that’s just not what their relationship is canonically?
ELM: Yeah, that just often feels…when I read those it feels very any-two-guys to me.
ELM: And for anyone who doesn’t know that term, it’s a bit of a pejorative, I guess. It’s this idea that exists within slash fandom, goes hand-in-hand with migratory slash fandom. You can disagree with whether these terms have validity, but it’s like, these are just two men, cardboard cutouts. I think it also goes hand-in-hand with the idea of people treating male characters in slash fandom as just kind of your Ken dolls that you’re just smooshing the faces together of, right? Do you think all of these are correct descriptions of these terms?
FK: Do you remember, this is a slight aside but do you remember when I went to that computer party in Germany?
FK: And I was tweeting all about how I could envision a Merlin, I could envision a Merlin alternate universe fic in this party, right? I was like “OH YEAH.” And I realized the other day, I was thinking about this and I don't know why it came up in my head but I was like, you could do a Harry/Draco version of this! And then I was like, oh shit, this is an any-two-guys.
ELM: You just wrote your any-two-guys AU.
FK: A complete any-two-guys AU! It’s, it’s, I mean…
ELM: Yeah! I don’t necessarily think it’s bad, cause it’s kind of like a romance…there are romance tropes. And it’s true I’ve read some in various fandoms where I’m reading it and you’re like, “you just put their names on this fun, tropey romance story.”
FK: Which doesn’t make it bad, but does make it maybe not the same thing that you’re always looking for in fanfic.
ELM: Right, and that’s not usually what I personally am after. So one of the things about Remus and Sirius in particular is they have such a long and clearly canonically fucked-up relationship, and there’s so much space to explore just exactly what flavor of fucked up it is, so I’ve read it in every combination. There’s plenty of fic out there where it’s completely unrequited on either of their parts. And then one of them dies. And then the other one dies. [trails off miserably] Or like, all the ones where it’s set during Order of the Phoenix and one of them has been in love with the other one all the time and then it’s like, “oh I have you back,” but it’s like, “oh, we’re too broken,” and then Sirius dies.
FK: I feel better about gushing about Harry Styles now.
ELM: All right. [FK laughs] You talking about Harry Styles was just you talking about his suit, complaining about his hairline, I am talking about really complex interpersonal relationships. In a beloved text.
FK: [laughing] I’ve got some things about Larry Stylinson to tell you if you wanna hear them, but ya don’t! [both laughing]
ELM: I mean, I actually have listened to you and several others discuss this ship at length, and it does fascinate me! Because my question is always: so much of it seems to be fanon built.
ELM: That’s interesting!
FK: THEY’LL HEAR YOU.
ELM: [laughing] That’s interesting!
FK: It is interesting, but it’s probably off topic. I think that we’ve actually answered this question pretty well.
ELM: Well I don’t know if we have. Here’s the final wrap up: Do you think that people should have to label…so I have seen people argue that you should have to say whether there’s a happy ending in fic. I think, and I think it’s often people coming from romance, and frankly it’s not just romance, there’s a lot of people who like happy endings. We actually were discussing this, did we talk about this in the podcast, about a year ago I was on “Three Patch Podcast,” the Sherlock podcast. It was when Devin Faraci, sorry I said his name out loud, wrote that terrible article about fandom.
FK: Spit and turn around three times.
ELM: Yeah, I know. I should cross myself right now. But—I like how I didn’t cross myself, but I said I would.
FK: JEEEEESUS. Anyway.
ELM: [laughs] But we were talking about coffee-shop AUs, it was ironic that I was on because I actually don’t like coffee-shop AUs but I will defend fans’ rights to write them. We were talking about this idea, I have a lot of feelings about fandom’s reactionary “happy endings are great and I deserve them,” which is in reaction to a lot of male-dominated culture conversations that are grimdark, everyone…only sadness is serious and intelligent.
And I kind of wanna be reactionary against that reactionariness, I think that there needs to be space for all of this, and I remember distinctly too the host of that conversation, Shannon Sauro, who I believe is American born but lived in Sweden a long time, was talking about how they see this happily ever after desire as distinctly American. And saying how Swedes were frustrated with Frozen because they were taking Scandinavian stories and making them very Disneyfied, making them very everything-is-happy-and-smiley-in-the-end, and that was just not the Scandinavian way. That’s not how they want to end their stories. [FK laughs] And I thought that was just super interesting, because these are actually two cultures I know something about. There’s a whole swath of the world where I don’t actually know how people feel about happy endings or whether that’s even a construction, you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah. One, I was doing some work in China and one of the most interesting things I discovered is the most romantic ending is an ending in which the two can’t be together.
ELM: Wait, go back. That's the most romantic? Because romantic is a tragic…?
FK: Yeah, because honor is keeping you apart, or your family is keeping you apart, or something that you sacrifice your love…but it’s such a great love, so it’s such a great sacrifice.
ELM: This is fascinating to me. We need to get someone in who’s an expert on this so we can talk about this for an entire episode.
FK: We really do. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m more of an expert than I am, cause I’m not. But we were talking about how we were trying to adapt stories to air in both China and the U.S., and this was one of the big barriers. In the U.S. we have romance novels, there’s a happily-ever-after ending, et cetera, but in China, that’s not…that’s not what the best story is. The best story ends with this romantic-tragic parting.
ELM: That’s really interesting when you think about the history of Western literature too, Anglophone literature too. Obviously the marriage plot is a really important part of…not Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, but the thing that he’s naming it after…is a really important part of the literature of the last few hundred years, but also there’s certainly a history of tragic endings within romances. It’s like, but I’m not saying romance, contemporary romance novels, but romances in the Victorian era. It’s also certainly a widely expected ending for stories. And both those things can exist simultaneously too. It’s interesting, I am now speaking off-the-cuff. I want someone who is an expert on the history of the happy ending in America to tell me more about this.
FK: I want this too. I will say I don’t think that people should be like, forced to say anything about the plot of their story if they don’t want to. That’s why there’s a choose-not-to-warn option. Right? I mean, I think that it’s sometimes a benefit in attracting people to your story if it doesn’t surprise them, if they get the happy ending they want and so on. So I don’t blame anybody who chooses to put that on their story.
FK: You know, if you’ve written that story and you want to attract readers who want just that, that’s fine. But of course, I think it’s silly to say “Oh, everyone must put this,” because that’s not a universal desire in fanfiction reading. It’s not.
ELM: Yeah, yeah.
FK: And I don’t want to know, necessarily, when I start reading a story, whether it’s gonna have a happy ending.
ELM: Right. I personally don’t…and this is separate from content warnings to me. Obviously I think choose not to warn, I support that, because you’re entering into a mutual contract, but frankly if you do have non-con, if you do have graphic violence in your story, I would like to see you mention that in the tags, because that’s different to me than “Oh, they break up and it doesn’t work out.” That’s like…you know? People can do whatever they want, but I would love it if people did that. And I know there’s an older school of the pre-AO3, definitely an era of fic where people tend to do no tags and choose not to warn because that was less widely done maybe 15 years ago.
FK: Yeah, I mean, we could have a whole discussion about choose not to warn. I think it’s pretty rare in my experience of writing, at least, that there would be a plot that would be so spoiled by having those warnings in there, you know, that the effect I was seeking to create would be ruined by anybody knowing that there were…
ELM: Frankly, if you’re writing a surprise rape, then you’re probably like the men writing Game of Thrones and it’s probably not a very good plot twist, you know? If knowing that there’s a rape in your story is gonna ruin it, why are you, I would question why are you writing this.
FK: Yeah, I have a hard time thinking of a reason why I would do that. The only thing I might say is if I was writing a story that had a character death in it, and it was obvious from everything about the story what character was going to die, and I didn’t want people to know that, maybe I could imagine that. But I don’t know. But you know, that’s the contract that you’re entering into. Right? When you say “choose not to warn,” I assume that people are going to assume that the worst is in there, because that’s what you need to be prepared for. It could be anything. What’s in the box? We don’t know.
ELM: Wait, have I ever told you about the first time I saw Little Women? Did I tell you this story?
ELM: So I saw it before I read it, because I was nine when the 1990s movie…
FK: The movie with, uh…
ELM: Winona Ryder. I love that movie.
FK: Winona Ryder.
ELM: I’m just gonna put that right out there. I love that movie.
ELM: It was a friend’s birthday and so a bunch of us got to go see it in a theater, very exciting, we were nine, you know. Like, by ourselves. Maybe there was an adult there, but I’ve forgotten about it. And right when the movie started, someone whispered to me “One of them dies!” [FK gasps] And I was like “Oh my God.” But then the movie started and they didn’t say who! So literally, spoiler, I think it’s been long enough that we can spoil that Beth dies—and obviously it was gonna be Beth. Beth who’s sickly for the entire movie! Beth who gets scarlet fever from those Germans! And then is like on death’s door for most of the book/movie! And meanwhile I was over here, Amy’s falling in the ice, I’m like “NO.” Amy throws the manuscript in the fire and I was like, “Is she gonna burn to death?” [FK laughing] The whole time! Even some absurd things I was like “How is this going to lead to their death?” And it definitely affected my experience. So. Sometimes…
FK: So choose not to warn, maybe!
ELM: Sometimes it’s just not that obvious! You’re saying “Oh it’ll be obvious when I say there’s a major character death,” sometimes you're nine and [FK laughing] death could be around the corner for any of these women, these little women. Spoiler. So many spoilers here for this novel written in the 1860s.
FK: All right, I will say that I also saw that movie when I was very young, I did not have the same deep emotional engagement with it as you did. [ELM laughing] May I propose that before we go down any other windy paths, we take a break? And then we get on to talking about history? Because I think that we’ve answered this question as best as we ever can.
ELM: You don’t wanna talk about how Louisa May Alcott was a queer lady?
FK: I didn’t know that!
ELM: I just learned this on Tumblr!
FK: Maybe that will make me like Little Women and Jo’s Boys and all those books more!
ELM: You don’t have to like Jo’s Boys, it’s fine.
FK: Thank you. I appreciate that a lot.
ELM: [laughs] OK, I gotta say this is completely un-fact-checked. I saw it on Tumblr, so it must be true. Don’t worry about it. Fine.
FK: On that note…
ELM: Yes. We can take that break.
FK: Let’s take a break.
FK: All right, we’re back!
ELM: History time.
FK: [in a silly low voice] History time.
ELM: OK, great.
FK: I don’t know where that voice came from.
ELM: OK, so, I think that you should do a little fansplaining to me right now, sorry to put you on the spot, because I feel like we already thought about this before we started recording. I said that you had more interest in the official fandom history. But you do. And I also think that partly is because you have more personal fannish connections to some of that established lineage, whether it is your interest in Star Trek or your interest in science fiction or any number of things that I could continue naming.
FK: Things like, yeah, the material history of zine publishing.
ELM: Yes. All these things.
FK: Yeah, totally.
ELM: So I think that it would be helpful to know the kind of boilerplate lineage, cause I actually researched a little bit, this, to write my first fandom column. So I actually do know about it. But I think you should do it.
FK: [laughing] OK, I knew you were gonna make me do this. I knew you were gonna make me do this. OK. I’m gonna try and spit out what I would call a relatively straightforward lineage of Western fandom as people often describe it on Tumblr. I don’t necessarily adhere to this being the only one true way of thinking about this, as we’ll get to in a moment, but I’m just gonna go for it.
ELM: Are you gonna go forwards or backwards? I can’t wait, I guess I could have waited literally 10 seconds to find out, but.
FK: I think I’m gonna go forwards.
ELM: Interesting, I wanna know where you choose to start.
FK: Well, where I choose to start is always related to the material history of zines, because I love my baby printing press. So there was a point in the late 1800s where tiny printing presses became like the iMac of its day, sort of, you would get it for your kid so they could learn to be a printer, and this was also around the time that newspapers were beginning to become a thing, right, like a real thing. They had existed for a long time.
ELM: In the 18th century or the 19th century?
FK: 19th century. 1800s. They had already been a thing but you got like, all these little tiny towns in the United States at least that are like, beginning to get sort of their own newspapers.
ELM: I can’t wait till someone who’s an expert in the history of printing writes in to remind you of like, I mean, what about pamphlet culture?
FK: There were lots of things before this! I’m just saying we’re running into the heyday of journalism, this is very U.S. centric, by the way, because this lineage always is, when people talk about it.
FK: So we’re just running into the heyday of the big papers and the [noises]
ELM: Are you saying…
FK: Do you like my journalism face?
ELM: Are you saying, are you leading into Newsies? Do you want me to sing?
FK: It’s leading into Newsies. Exactly. I don’t want you to sing. So anyway people have these little tiny printing presses…
ELM: [snickering] Do you want me to sing.
FK: And kids are reading these things and printing, often things would be really tiny at the time, so a book might be the same size as our tiny zine so you could carry it in your pocket, a little thing to read on the train. So kids are making these little effectively tiny newspapers, but newspapers had more like fiction and things in them, so what are they gonna put in them? They’re gonna put in some local news, maybe some ads if they can talk to people and convince them that they’ve got enough circulation, and they’re gonna write some fiction, and the fiction is gonna be at least partially fanfiction. There was a lot for this guy Oliver Optic, wrote a bunch of, did a bunch of stuff, boys’ adventure stories and stuff.
Anyway, the reason this is relevant is they traded these things with each other in things called amateur press associations, so you would make your little newspaper and sort of spread it around to your community and then you would send it off to somebody and it would get circulated to other people who had little newspapers in the country, all around, so you could see other people’s work. And they had a convention and all this stuff, at the convention there were fights about are black people allowed to be here, are women allowed to be here, hey, it’s just like fandom today!
FK: But what’s interesting about this is that format, the APA, got taken up by people when they started getting into weird fiction and science fiction. So H.P. Lovecraft was part of this. Then the APA becomes a thing where now you’ve got these science fiction people who are really into these stories, and they start running APAs so they can trade their writing about science fiction, their amateur stories, even their fanfiction. And that leads us into fanzines and so forth, right.
FK: In the SFF space. This is around the time also you start having cons, Worldcon, other science fiction and fantasy conventions.
ELM: You’re talking about the first half of the 20th century.
FK: First half of the 20th century. So, by the way, if you’re interested zine printing technology, it goes from being on these little tiny printers…printers! [laughs] Printing presses, to being mimeographed, so you got these mimeo zines going around, and then somewhere sort of in the middle bit of the 20th century, the early part of the second half of the 20th century, you started getting people getting really into television shows and movies in the science fiction/fantasy space. We all know about this. It’s the sort of Star Trek era. By that point you’re also beginning to get Xerox machines that are enabling you to do zines that way and things like copy shops that let you do sort of printing of different things. So a lot of stuff is getting shared around there.
Same when you get to VCRs, you start getting fanvids and so forth, right. So people will talk about this as “OK, Star Trek came out of the science fiction conventions,” and by the way, I just totally skipped over Holmesiana.
ELM: Yeah, I was gonna say.
FK: People talk about that also, it was another thing that was happening at about the same time as these early science fiction communities, but not crossing over quite as much. People being really into Sherlock Holmes. But because the Star Trek example specifically came out of science fiction and fantasy conventions and pissed off people at the sci fi and fantasy conventions, because they were like “Why are you bringing your media fandom, your TV stuff, in here?”
ELM: “We’re serious men for serious books!”
FK: “We’re serious people,” right. So then they’re like “Well all right, screw you,” and formed their own conventions. Right?
FK: Which then led to things jumping onto the internet, eventually. to Usenet, people talk about X-files as the first internet-only fandom, the first fandom that really got started on the internet entirely. People talk about Twin Peaks a little bit here too, but really X-files. And then from there people generally are like “and then it became the eras of the internet,” X-files on Usenet moving into the regular Web, and then Harry Potter, you know, coming up with the message boards and…
ELM: I don’t know if we need to cover the most recent, many of our listeners will have participated.
FK: Precisely. I’m just sort of going. And then we get to today. So this is the sort of traditional lineage a lot of people talk about, and in a lot of ways it can be pretty cool because there’s lots of stuff that is way older than you might think it is, things about really old culture that comes up. But it’s not an uncomplicated question. [laughing]
ELM: It’s my understanding that the word “fanfiction” itself actually was originally about fans writing original fiction within these zines, right?
ELM: That would be published alongside the fiction of the professional writers they were fans of.
ELM: 40s, 50s, that’s when they were using the term.
FK: Earlier than that even, yeah.
ELM: But it wasn’t until media fandom really started to develop that that term came to be used for what we think of as fanfiction.
FK: That’s my understanding as well, although, I would be interested, I haven’t particularly researched the history of the term “fanfiction.”
ELM: That’s what I found when I was researching it.
FK: All right!
ELM: I’ll toss in some stuff here! The word “fandom” comes from baseball writing. And it pretty securely stayed within baseball and then boxing, all these, the old literary sports, what’s the three? Baseball, boxing, and horse racing.
FK: Yes indeed!
ELM: The great trifecta of literary sportswriting.
FK: The literary trifecta, we have boxing and we have horse racing, we had a baseball person on the podcast, we’ve got ’em all covered.
ELM: That’s right, we’ve got ’em all covered. That’s perfect. I like how I am in the only one that everyone thinks is weird and shouldn’t, is completely outdated. “Is this still a thing?’
FK: People are about boxing like, eh.
ELM: No, people are really into boxing! Boxing is weird because no one seems to care about it and then whenever there’s a fight…
FK: Everyone cares about it. [laughs]
ELM: Whenever there’s a fight, and it’s not just you, it’s tons of people I know are like “I’m going to watch the fight!” and I’m like “You like watching men punch each other? What the fuck? Where did this come from?” [FK laughs] So. Anyway. Yeah. So it was developed in the mid-19th century in baseball and there was some, there’s some dispute, but it seems like enough people have decided that it does come from “fanatic.” The word “fan.” Right?
FK: Yeah, yeah.
ELM: People tried to find other roundabout ways that there could be some baseball thing, blah blah, but like, that’s probably it. And then they used “baseball fan” over the years and then eventually when they decided to talk about a collective it’s “fandom,” like “kingdom.” You know.
FK: Right. But weirdly a lot of times when people use the term “fandom” now it seems like they’re definitely talking about this sort of lineage that I just described, right. People being in especially science fiction and fantasy fandom. Which then leads us to media fandom. And so. “If you’re in media fandom now, any kind of Western media fandom, then you must look back to your science fiction and fantasy antecedents! Lo, there they were!”
ELM: Right. This is one thing that endlessly frustrates me, and we’ve definitely discussed it before, and this was one of my five myths that I like to dispel when I wrote that piece, the five things I learned studying fandom, is the idea that fandom is somehow synonymous with quote-unquote “geeky pop culture.” Which is so annoying to me, because it’s like, I don’t care! About! Star! Blank! You know? War or Trek! [FK laughing] I don’t, no offense! Me saying “I don’t care” doesn’t mean “I don’t like,” it’s fine, I don’t, but I don’t…
FK: The fact that you’re in fandom doesn’t mean that you naturally are like, [gasps] “Star Wars!”
ELM: Ugh! It’s getting worse and worse every year, and it’s like, I don’t know, I feel like it’s too late now. I feel like we can’t decouple these things.
FK: Geek culture and fandom.
FK: I mean I do think that the term “fandom,” this is maybe getting us back to the point, which is the term “fandom” I think got really adopted by people who definitely identify with geek culture, but that does not…those people are not the only people who make up what fans are today. Right?
ELM: Right, and I feel like some of that is also like…I think that if you study the history of, you know, English majors, but studying history of literature and the way people engage with studying readers, the way people engage with texts, you find so many fandomy or fannish behaviors all throughout, as long as there are things to study outside the text itself, the paratext as it were or…people’s letters about it or describing the way they are engaging with a text or writing the author or all these things. But I think part of the problem is that they’re, even to this day there are many people within say English literature academics who would not describe that as “fandom” or “fannish.” Right? And I don’t, I think some of it is snobbery and some of it’s not, I think some people…I mean why would you? If you’re not coming from fandom and you’re living in a culture that equates fandom with science fiction and fantasy pop culture and not a set of behaviors…
ELM: Or collections of overlapping behaviors, then why would you ever think “Oh, that is, these were fans of X author in 1800. And they were behaving, this was the fandom of this person.” You know what I mean?
FK: Yeah, and I think that you’re also introducing something which is a good point, which is that fandom…there is one way in which that lineage idea maybe isn’t totally wrong, which is that fandom is cultural or subcultural to some extent. There are groups of people who have shared ideas about things, ideas about where they are in sort of the media landscape and so on, right? Those ideas come from somewhere. And a lot of the places that they come from are from this sort of lineage history. I mean, but not all of them! Right? I mean…we haven't even touched on, that lineage touches not at all on Asian fandoms, or people who like any of that…
ELM: Right, or even things outside of specifically this very American focus, not even Anglophone focused, you know?
ELM: But this also gets me thinking about coming back kind of to our “what is fandom” question. Thinking about myself writing fanfiction before I knew this was a communal practice, writing what essentially is fanfiction. But then coming into Buffy and then Harry Potter, I think we said this before, I think I said this once on the podcast itself, it feels like it was a lucky accident that Buffy happened to be within the SFF space. Because if I had gotten really into Dawson’s Creek? No, maybe there was Dawson’s Creek fic. I don’t know. Something that wouldn’t have had much fic. And I was sittin’ here writing my stories about it.
FK: Right. I get what you’re saying.
ELM: You know what I mean? It was like, kind of lucky, and then the next thing I got into was something that had a ton of of fic. But I wasn’t approaching it from thinking of, “Oh, Harry Potter fanfiction is from this grand lineage of, you know, science fiction zines,” and things like that. I never knew of any of that. But I was communicating with some people who probably thought of it that way.
FK: Well, I mean, I think the other thing is that even people who think very strongly of it this way, they call fandoms, people…I’ve sometimes used this term, which I don’t think uncritically, but, people call fandoms that sort of are primarily full of people who aren’t from that quote “lineage” “feral fandoms.”
FK: So Harry Potter, people called that a feral fandom.
ELM: Or Twilight.
FK: People called Twilight a feral fandom.
FK: Especially, even more Twilight, right. And I mean, to some degree they’re not wrong in the sense that there’s fandoms that show up and you’re like “Woah ho! Hey guys! You’re doing some things that look like the things we’re doing! But we’ve been doing them a long time! You’re having all the fights we already had!” Right? But on the other hand, at a certain point you have to be like, “There’s a lot of people here who didn't come from that. In fact most people didn’t come from that. Why is that thing necessarily the dominant thing?” It can be a good thing to know about, but at at point where you’ve got more people than not who did not take part in that sort of historical culture…I don’t know. Maybe that’s no longer the primary thing that we should be trying to rally people around. Right?
ELM: Yeah. I don’t know, it's interesting. But it’s also like, the practices all kind of wind up looking the same, or even being the same. I'm thinking right now, I was just talking to my friend Daphne Olive who’s the host of “Fathoms Deep,” the Black Sails podcast I was on. They were doing this thing on Twitter, the “Fathoms Deep” podcast account, called “Choose Your Own Adventure,” for a minor character. They were gonna be interviewing the actress. I was like, “OK, but they’re basically writing fic right now.” Right? But they called it a choose your own adventure. Or they’re writing headcanons.
FK: Right. Which are kind of fic, right.
ELM: Right, but it’s like, I;ve been talking about it with Daphne because she’s coming from a different background and not from…she’s coming at it from being really into one show. And it’s funny how some of the same practices kind of spring up but not with the…independently of. It’s not like, “Oh, I see that people write headcanons on Tumblr,” which is essentially what they were doing.
FK: Completely, completely.
ELM: Or imagines, or something like that. I just thought that was really interesting cause it was happening even amongst, it’s the most connected we’ve ever been, and it’s not like decades ago where you just may have been in isolation. People are still doing these practices in isolation but they’re all on the same internet together, even on the same feed.
FK: I guess I’m not surprised by that, and that’s one of the things that does make me…knowing about this history I’ve found rewarding, not just about the sort of “lineage” history, but whenever I learn more about any kind of historical fannish practice, one of the reasons I like it is it makes me feel like, “Yes.” It reaffirms for me this is a normal human thing that humans have always done. And not only that it’s a thing that I’m taking part on, that has gone on forever and I’ve been a part of. So I guess when I see posts like that on Tumblr that sort of explain things and people are like “Woah, blows my mind!” I’m like, “OK, I guess there is a reason to keep talking about this history,” right? Because people maybe don’t know about it who could. But then sometimes it becomes a stick to hit people with and I don’t like that.
ELM: Right. Right. This is funny, we were discussing this at length, we kind of got off the rails before we started recording cause we started talking about history in general. And I was like, I guess I would just say I don’t come from…because I have studied history, I rarely encounter something in the historical past and think “Woah, they’re just like us!” Because I’m already coming from a perspective of like, people aren’t that different over time. I kind of hate the presumption. And that’s a, I’d say that’s the majority presumption in the world, is that people in the past were aliens. People get really surprised, “What, wait, they were having sex?!” Yeah! Not even, I think there’s this idea that people in the past were like, proper somehow, and I’m not sure how this got into the culture, maybe through Masterpiece Theater? I don’t know.
FK: Yeah, old things are fancy and therefore proper and we are the only ones who have ever had…OOPS what’s with all those Roman penis statues?! Oh shit!
ELM: It’s all so bizarre, because if you actually read Victorian literature, it’s not like everyone is like…you can definitely read a novel where everyone’s an aristocrat, but if you read a Dickens novel he goes out of his way to show the full spectrum. Actually he doesn’t often make it to the aristocrats. It’s usually the middle on down to the bottom. You know. It’s not that hard to find bawdy people in the past. Or…
FK: I’ve told you the charming story of how when my grandfather taught me Latin, so I would be ready to go to college—because I was going to be a classicist, long story—he was like “We have to learn all the dirty words, because the classic thing that happens is someone makes you translate Catullus and you don’t know what the words are and they haze you that way. So you need to learn about everything,” and that’s how I learned how to say “giving a hand job” in Latin from my grandfather.
ELM: Can you please say it right now.
FK: Oh God, the term is—it’s “shucking,” it’s in this—just a sec, let me look it up so I get it right.
FK: Yes. So, the poem in question is:
“Caeli, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa,
illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam
plus quam se atque suos amavit omnes,
nunc in quadriviis et angiportes
glubit magnanimi Remi nepotes.”
And it’s been like 10 years since I had to actually read Latin aloud, so please forgive my pronunciation.
ELM: Wait wait wait, can we clarify for everyone that you did read that just now, you didn’t have this handjob poem memorized.
FK: I did read that. I don’t have this memorized. No. I had to look it up. [both laugh] What it means is:
“Caelius, our Lesbia, infamous Lesbia,
that Lesbia, the one who Catullus loved
more than himself and everything he owned
now in crossroads and back alleys
gives handjobs to the descendants of great-hearted Remus.”
“Glubit,” which literally means shucking, like shucking an ear of corn. So now you know! Catullus wrote a lot of poems about how much he hated that whore who left him.
ELM: Oh my God.
FK: It’s like his entire poetry and it’s a classic thing you learn Latin on, people have always been the same.
ELM: See? Humans don’t change. That’s so true. That’s the takeaway from this podcast!
FK: It’s the takeaway! Sorry. Now you all know “glubit.”
ELM: All right, first of all, that was an incredible aside. Second of all, I also sometimes feel like this classic lineage of science fiction and fantasy kind of reinforces this idea that these practices are not normal human things. Like I think humans have always gotten, some humans have always been inclined to get obsessed about stuff, right? And obviously humans have for as long as we know obviously have told stories to each other. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that plenty of people have found them captivating. And I’m sure that 3,000 years ago someone heard a really great story and they couldn’t stop thinking about it. You know? And I think it’s super weird to think that this is something that’s relatively new just because if you associate it with “Oh, it has to be about Star Trek.” Which I think some people think.
FK: I do, totally know what you're saying. I think to some degree it’s also…so I’ve been on a fair number of “Fandom! Is it dead?” “The greying of fandom!” kinds of panels at science fiction and fantasy conventions, where the traditional ones do have a greying problem.
ELM: That’s hilarious that that's how they frame that question. “Is fandom dead”! Because that means something specific to them.
FK: It means something specific to them, and by the way, it’s a little funny when I’m the young person on a panel like that, I’m 30, it’s a whole thing.
ELM: You’re younger than me. You’re very youthful. You love Harry Styles. [FK laughs]
FK: I do love Harry Styles. Thank you! I feel so young now. But my point being when I’ve been on those panels it’s clear to me that the reason people feel so passionate about this is because they felt outcast. For people who are part of that particular fandom community, this was the way they could get away from people who didn’t have the same interests as them, and it was a lot harder to find friends who were also obsessive. You couldn’t go on the internet. And these were the people who they found, so there’s a sort of tribal identity almost, that’s probably not the right word to use, I don’t know a better one, but this idea that we are a group and we are together in this nerd tribe and here we are, you know?
ELM: Do you think it’s sort of also this confluence of…they had obsessive tendencies, fannish tendencies, but they were also interested in specific things? And so, like, that’s what I see in that. This idea of, “Well, we were outcast because we really liked X, Y and Z, and we liked it a lot.” But if you really liked The Beatles, I mean, I don’t know what male fandom, if the Beatles is a good example. But if you really like the Rolling Stones, or a classic rock band that a man would respect…
FK: There are also women, by the way, in old science fiction and fantasy fandom, more than you might expect.
ELM: OK, OK, that's my ignorance then because I always see it as a very male-dominated space.
FK: I’m not saying it was all roses and bunnies to be a woman, but I think there’s more than you might think.
ELM: Yeah, and I guess both of these examples have gendered elements to them because if you were a Beatles fan it was something unmanly, and it was seen as something unwomanly if you were a science fiction geek. So I’m not trying to suggest that it’s whether you were performing traditional ideas of gender at the time better, but I am trying to say if you were really obsessed about something that’s popular at the time, those are a lot of the same behaviors, but it’s not really about the behaviors, it’s about the subject matter.
FK: Yeah, I think for sure.
ELM: But I think people talk about it as if it’s the behaviors, “this is what people do in science fiction fandom,” and it’s like “OK, but this is the same thing people do in these other contexts, but it’s because of the subject matter that they were ostracized.”
FK: I think so, but I think the other thing about it is—and this is something really smart—I was at a panel like this at Boskone a couple years ago, and I was on a panel with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and he said the problem with all this is that science fiction and fantasy fandom won. All the terms we use are used on the internet at all times. People are obsessed with everything and see it as part of the same thing, geek is chic, all of this stuff together, “We won guys. Let’s take a victory lap.” Right? [laughing]
ELM: This is what GamerGate is too. I mean, GamerGate. [dismissive noises] But all these nerd boys, their anger, they’re not going to…and saying “we won” annoys me, because that’s not gonna change anything for them ever.
FK: I think you should be careful though, because Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the editor of Tor books, is certainly part of this community also. It’s like an element within the community versus other elements of the community. I just wanna be careful not to…
ELM: People say this all the time, I also feel the same way when a nerdy-seeming celebrity at Comic-Con says this, and I don’t know what this is meant to accomplish because I think there are still a lot of people who are very resentful, had their comic book kicked out of their hands when they were a scrawny teenage boy, and they are never going to let that go. And I think just the fact that it’s saying “we won,” and saying “this is culture now, our culture is now popular culture,” I think that further reinforces their alienation and their anger. And I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that, frankly, because…I don’t know. Maybe I should have a little more sympathy for it, but I also see…this is where I see gatekeepers sitting, and this is where I see…it’s not a culture that I think that people should cling to. And I know you’re saying there were women involved, but I don’t think that traditional SFF fandom has a great track record in terms of diversity, I don’t know. I’m saying this as an observer, not someone who’s inside it, so please, correct me, you know what I mean?
FK: I think it’s more complicated than just “they were a bunch of annoying nerdy white men and they’re bad,” which I don’t think that’s what you’re actually saying, I don’t think that’s what you really think but…
ELM: That is not what I’m saying! Is that what it sounded like I was saying?
FK: It sounded a little bit like you were saying that! But I don’t think it’s what you mean, I see what you’re saying and I agree with you, at Boskone again I was on a panel about “geek is now chic what’s up with that,” and I was the only person on the panel who was able to say, “you know, I didn’t really feel bullied ever for liking nerdy things.”
ELM: We discussed this, yeah.
FK: I felt awkward sometimes, because I was a smart kid and you’re around other things and you just wanna read, whatever, of course there’s awkwardness around all of this. You know I’m socially maladjusted because I got jumped up two grades in elementary school. But that doesn’t mean…
ELM: That’s not why.
FK: That’s not the same thing, you know?
ELM: You think that’s why? [both laugh]
FK: You know what I’m saying though, none of that, it’s not as though kids kicked dirt in my face for liking Star Wars or something.
ELM: I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about men of a certain…I know men our age who talk like this!
FK: That’s what I’m saying, when I was the only person on the panel who felt that way, I was like, “I don’t know how to talk about this. It’s not actually a shared experience that everybody who likes these things has.”
ELM: Yeah, and it’s also something that especially if they’re our age I just can’t, like…I know, you know, I know people have resentments for…if you were bullied by the captain of the football team, I don’t know why that just turned this into a John Hughes movie or whatever, I’m obviously not trying to diminish that, and if you were bullied for your interests that sucks. Cause I don’t think anyone should be. But I also don’t think that gives you an excuse to turn it around. You know? So.
FK: Yeah, for sure.
ELM: I also, I never felt ostracized for anything like that, but then to be fair my fannishness has very little to do with any of this and I did not talk about Harry Potter fanfiction in high school.
FK: [laughing] Everyone at my high school knew I did Harry Potter fanfiction!
ELM: I think you’re a really bad example!
FK: And I had X-files shit covered over everything…but yeah, no, I think I am a bad example.
ELM: Yeah. So like, you know, I wasn’t gonna pretend that Harry Potter was too childish for me and…I wasn’t about to sit here and be like “Well I only like to read E.M. Forster,” even though I also liked to read him in high school. I also wasn’t gonna sit here and announce, talk about the plot of my Harry Potter fic.
FK: Right. I think there’s also other complexities in this too. One of the things being like, I know that it makes a difference, I know that it made a difference for me in high school that I’m 5’10” and not fat. It made a big difference. I’m white, I had long straight blond hair, I’m 5’10”, I’m not fat, all those things definitely helped me not be bullied.
ELM: You had blond hair?
FK: I did in high school.
ELM: Did you dye your hair blond?
FK: No, it just got darker.
ELM: Hmm. I love that this was my takeaway from that statement of you checking your privilege.
FK: No, but I’m just saying, I think that there’s a lot of other things that are also concatenated in this. But one thing that definitely comes out of it is this is a real thing, and it’s a big deal in quote “geek culture,” and it’s also a big thing in fandom, because there’s people who are part of SFF fandom created a lot of things that we use today, but it’s not the only thing.
ELM: I think it’s really complicated to start bringing in people’s physical identity…I don’t know.
FK: We were talking about getting bullied in high school…
ELM: Yeah, this is a really tricky conversation…
FK: Sticking out in any way, it’s like, tough.
ELM: I think that a lot of things outside of your interests are the actual reason people get bullied and maybe you can use…so definitely kids are bullied because they’re overweight, kids are bullied because they’re poor, kids are bullied because they’re in an all-white school and they are not white. Right? And I think that the, being nerdy—whether that means you like comic book superheroes or whether that means you’re good at school—obviously layer on to that too. That’s just trickier to me than like, it’s really really hard when people are bullied for systemic things that are outside their control like their class or their race or their size. Or their gender. Or their sexuality. I can list so many things. So it’s just like…for your interests? I’m not saying it’s not real, but it’s one of those that’s a little harder for me to, you know. It’s not the same, being bullied for being gay is not the same as being bullied for liking Superman.
FK: Right. But also like, again, if we focus on “fandom comes out of these things that people have historically been bullied for,” then you’re like “But wait a minute, but what about the Beatles?” But what about all these pop culture things that were very popular that people were doing the same fannish behaviors for too. It’s like, if all of nerd culture and fandom is supposed to be around that identity of we were bullied, we were on the bottom and now we’re on the top, but we’re not on the top because of whatever…
ELM: I don’t know that all of nerd culture is about that, though. I mean, again, this is adhering to this dominant narrative, right?
FK: Right! I’m saying it’s…
ELM: I don’t see any forebears…I don’t draw any lineage between myself and what we’re discussing. Almost none. And the only thing that I will say is that, because I’ve shared spaces with people who feel this way, that’s the only way. The structures in which fanfiction is written and shared came, many people brought that from a space. But just the sheer fact that I came to it organically all on my own makes me not really feel connected to that in any way, you know?
FK: Yeah, I do know! And I’m sure that people who are in fandom…I would be interested for instance to talk to somebody who’s writing in a Japanese fandom or something like this and publishing their work on the Archive of our Own, I’d be interested to know do you feel like you’re part of this lineage? Archive of our Own is definitely part of this lineage in the sense of people who are involved in it have been involved in all these earlier steps, but that doesn’t mean the fandoms on it are. That doesn’t mean that people who use that tool without necessarily themselves feeling a relationship to it…and in fact people might have a relationship to a different vision of what fandom is, a different lineage, a different story.
ELM: Right, absolutely.
FK: People who are in One Direction fandom like, definitely look to Beatlemaniacs. Of course. The Jonas Brothers are in their lineage, you know. All of these things.
ELM: Are you proud to be descended from the Jonas Brothers?
FK: No. I mean, sort of.
ELM: You love Jesus and so do they.
FK: I love a lot of people who love the JoBros. I appreciate you people who did. I’m not one of you, but I understand.
ELM: Yeah, I mean, all of this is…bringing in the transcultural context of it obviously is a massive additional step that we’re not even really getting into, so I kind of hesitate to be like “and what about non-Americans!”
FK: But I think it would be wrong not to mention it! We can’t get into it, but…
ELM: I wanna acknowledge it as so large as we can’t just say it as an afterthought. Me not feeling any connection to a man who’s my age who’s from my exact town with my exact background, you know, it’s such a game of inches compared to all the different cultural contexts, right. That being said, going back to my “humans are all the same,” I do think that no matter the behaviors or the way it manifests or the source materials, getting excited about stuff is universal. Not universal for all humans, obviously some people find no joy in anything, and I think that’s existed throughout history [FK laughs] but I think there definitely is, some people…
FK: “Fucken Mogh, he doesn’t even appreciate this fire we just made, he can’t get excited, his soul is so cold. He won’t even be happy when we bring home that mammoth!”
ELM: Oh my God.
FK: “The biggest mammoth we ever got but he’s still not happy! No joy for Mogh.”
ELM: OK OK, I’m not just saying that this incredible prehistoric man that you just created…prehistoric? What year? Ice age man?
FK: I don’t know! [laughing]
ELM: What year is he from?
FK: I don’t know, sometime when mammoths were hunted?
ELM: Wow. You maybe should rewatch…
FK: A time that…
ELM: The ice age…
FK: People who eat paleo. The time they like. That time, he’s from that time.
ELM: Is he a human or is he a Neanderthal?
FK: I don't know!
ELM: Wow, you should really look into this background.
FK: I did no research for my little Mogh fanfiction here! Also he has the same name as Worf’s father, so apparently he’s also a Klingon!
ELM: OK, so this prehistoric Klingon you created sounds like just kind of a bummer, he sounds like a pessimist. I’m not saying it’s like pessimists or fans, but I am saying that there are people who get obsessed and excited about stuff. Not just people who enjoy life.
FK: I knew what you were saying, I was just making fun of you.
ELM: I just wanna clarify!
FK: I just wanted to make fun of you a little bit. But I do think…
ELM: WHY WHY I really do think that it’s not…It’s not… [wailing noise]
FK: I’m not making fun of you because I disagree with you, only because I like it when you go… [wailing noise]
ELM: [laughing] Yeah but it’s just, it's not unusual. I think that we’ve established that.
FK: I think that’s probably a pretty good button on which to end the episode.
ELM: You’re saying you want me to sing Tom Jones.
FK: Yes, do it.
ELM: [singing in a Tom Jones voice] It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone! [speaking] How’s that? I danced too.
FK: Elizabeth? [ELM laughing] I’m gonna need you to sing that again for our outro music but before we do that…I really am genuinely going to make you sing that. You’ve made me sing before.
ELM: I don’t know the rest of the lyrics!
FK: You can look it up right now while I talk about…
ELM: No I’m not! [laughing]
FK: Yes yes yes you are you are you are! You’re gonna look it up right now, do it. But in the meantime, we are really excited to get any email you guys wanna send us, any comments, we’re at fansplaining.com, that’s a Tumblr with an open ask box, anon is on, please don’t be mean. You can also use the phone number there to call and leave us a voicemail, we love voicemail, or send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact us on Facebook or Twitter, we’re fansplaining in both places, and send us any thoughts you have. We hope that this will be a pretty productive episode for that. We’d love to get more perspectives on this. And, of course, we have our Patreon, that’s patreon.com/fansplaining, where you can help support us by pledging as little as $1 a month to get excellent rewards. We really really appreciate everyone who has been pledging and pretty soon we’re gonna have a new tiny zine out.
ELM: I love how there were no tiny zines for like nine months and we’re sending people three within two months.
FK: That’s because we got our shit together.
ELM: That’s right!
FK: We got our shit together guys!
ELM: We got our shit together!
FK: Shit is together. OK. And now, Elizabeth, it’s time for you to sing us out.
ELM: Wait, no, you wanna put it in the outro!
FK: I want you to sing all of it right now so I can have you sing, and then take down the music for us to read over you, and then have you sing again.
ELM: All right. DUN DA-DUN, DUN DA-DUN. DA DA DUN DA-DUN, DUN DA-DUN. Why don’t you do the background singing? Why don’t you be the instruments?
FK: I don’t know that I can do it, I don’t think I can be the instruments, I don’t know it well enough.
ELM: You don’t, you know this song! [singing] It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone!
FK: [quietly] dun da dun dun da dun, I’m just gonna go…
ELM: [singing] It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone, when I see you hangin’ about with… [speaking] I don’t know how this part goes. [sings] Anyone, it’s not unusual to see me cry. [speaking] And then the next lyric is “wanna die.” I don’t remember this part!
FK: I remember this part…
ELM: Do you remember it? Does it go [sings] I wanna dieeeeeee [speaking through laughter] My Tom Jones impersonation!
FK: OK OK—
ELM: [singing] What’s new pussycat? woah, woah woah! [laughing] He’s a Welsh treasure Flourish!
FK: I’m gonna use all of this, goodbye Elizabeth.
ELM: [singing] Woahhhhhh.