Episode 61: Episodic
Elizabeth and Flourish read a wide range of recent listener responses: on the purpose of fandom history, why adults read YA fiction, the difference between privacy and secrecy, and how happy endings and reader expectations vary across time and place. Then they discuss Elizabeth’s recent presentation at “Episodic,” a conference that brought episodic storytellers from different media together. Topics covered include why fandom is drawn to episodic content, different modes of episodic storytelling, and the one comedy Flourish has ever watched, M*A*S*H.
[00:00:00] As always, our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax.
[00:01:15] If you’re curious about the Episodic conference, check out peoples’ tweets from the event.
[00:07:03] It would hardly be fair to talk about Flourish’s teen girl webpage without linking to it.
[00:09:38] The series in question is “Mortified.” Its site has this description: “Witness adults sharing their most embarrassing childhood artifacts (journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies, art) with others, in order to reveal stories about their lives.”
[00:14:21] We have linked to this bad article about women being obsessed with teen girls and Carly Rae Jepsen so many times because it is such clickbait for us, but honestly!
[00:18:28] The article Lor linked us to is “The Secret Life of Secrets,” by Alan Burdick.
[00:20:07] The Good Place, folks:
[00:23:09] We talk about waiting 5 minutes to hate on a movie in our conversation with Orlando Jones in Episode 60.
[00:27:56] We talked about happy endings and where fanfiction overlaps with romance novels in Episode 59, “Fandom Histories.”
[00:43:26] The new translation of the Odyssey is by Emily Wilson and there’s a great New York Times article about it!
[00:44:35] Elizabeth works at Storythings, which publishes, amongst a bunch of other editorial projects, a science and tech site called How We Get To Next that’s experimenting with episodic journalism
[00:48:24] Fandometrics can be found at “Fandom on Tumblr”!
[01:12:39] Flourish means “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.” Here’s the Hollywood Reporter’s take on how it can be difficult to determine if a show is a success or not these days (and why David Lynch hit the metrics he needed for Twin Peaks: The Return).
[01:14:17] Caroline Crampton’s article is “Fic, Interrupted” and you should read it!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 61, “Episodic.”
FK: That’s too many “episode” words.
ELM: Episode words?
FK: Episode words. That’s two words with the word “episode.” [laughter]
ELM: Uh…I thought you were this classicist who understood, like, the terminology around the different parts of words.
FK: Nope! [laughter] Nope.
ELM: Uh, well, we can’t help the fact that we call episodes “episodes”…
FK: That’s true.
ELM: …and that the topic of this episode is episodic content.
FK: Right. Which is the topic of the conference you were at a little while back in the U.K. And we’re not gonna do a total rundown of that conference. Rather we will talk about the general topic.
ELM: Yeah. This was news to Flourish. She thought we were gonna do, she thought I was presenting my presentation. I presented at this conference. But it was a Fandom 101 presentation that I don’t think our listeners need to hear.
FK: I’m like a human shruggie right now. Don’t know what to say.
FK: OK. But before we get into that, we have a massive amount of listener mail, and some of the listener mail that we got we’re just going to be sort of publishing on the Tumblr, but we wanted to read at least some of it in an actual episode.
ELM: Yeah! So these cover, I would say the last three, four episodes or so.
FK: That sounds about right. It’s been about that long.
ELM: Two months of our lives. Can you do it? Can you remember that far back?
FK: I’m not sure. I’m like a little goldfish with a plastic castle. That’s not actually true, by the way. Goldfish have memories.
ELM: Ani DiFranco led us astray.
FK: It’s all false.
ELM: It’s a good metaphor, though.
FK: Ani DiFranco led us astray in many ways.
ELM: OK, that’ll be the topic for our next episode.
FK: [laughing] “How Ani DiFranco Led Us Astray.”
ELM: OK. Let’s do the first letter.
ELM: Do you wanna read it? It’s from Rachel.
FK: Sure, I’ll read it! “I just listened to ‘Fandom Histories,’ another great episode. I have a lot of thoughts about it! I've been in many different fandoms, some that fall within that US-centric SFF ‘lineage,’ and some that don’t. What I find valuable about the lineage, particularly the women of that lineage, is age validation. I’m sure that every new young generation of fans coming up thinks they invented fandom and that’s fine. I did too. What bothers me is the idea that women over a certain age don’t belong in fandom spaces anymore, and that our fannish interests should be set aside. It feels empowering to me to know older women who are still enjoying their fandoms.
“I have thoughts about being in Japanese media fandoms as well. Maybe it’s because I’m white and/or because I have moved through a variety of fandoms, but I use the same platforms and spaces for anime fandom as I do for Western media stuff: webrings and fandom-specific archives in the ’90s, Livejournal and Fanfiction.net in the thousands, Tumblr and AO3 now.” I guess I should have said “’00s” instead of “thousands.”
ELM: We got it.
FK: “Though cons are often separated, I attend and enjoy both comic and anime cons, wear whatever cosplay I happen to be into at the moment regardless of the focus, and assume that I will find both Western and Japanese fandoms represented in artist’s alley. I totally get that some people are more specific in their fannishness, but I go all over and it all feels to me like part of the same subculture or grouping of subcultures.” And that’s from Rachel.
ELM: Thank you so much, Rachel, for, I mean, there’s a lot going on in these! These are two different topics here.
FK: They are, they are. I think the first thing is a thing I see on Tumblr all the time, right, and it’s probably mostly because many of my friends are older and so I see them righteously, self-righteously laying down the law to young fans who don’t know their grannies were fans too, you know.
ELM: Yeah, though there is something different too…I too see this every single day on my dash, it’s one of the two most popular topics [laughter] inter-fandom topics that I…actually that’s not true, because I also see plenty of conversation about fandom privileging non-marginalized characters, for example. That comes up fairly regularly, as does the…what some people call “purity wank,” which we’re not going to get into right now.
FK: Nope. [ELM laughs] No we’re not.
ELM: Someday I do think we need to talk about this.
FK: Oh gosh.
ELM: The ageism thing is huge, but for me, I think that it’s kind of a bit of a…there’s overlap, but also, having people over a certain age or people of a variety of ages in your fandom right now isn’t the same thing as knowing that women in their 20s in the ’60s were Star Trek fans, the same way that you might be a Star Trek fan now. I think that there’s overlap, but I don’t necessarily think that those are, that it’s a direct one-to-one.
FK: Right. I agree with that for sure.
ELM: So, I think sometimes when older fans—and I think we both fall into the “older” category at this point, since we’re over the age of 30, but actually people who are middle-aged and older, there are plenty of fans who are not…I mean, we are still within the “young” demographic for advertisers. [laughs] All that matters, really. But you know, sometimes there are people who will say, “Well, my opinion counts more because I’ve been here longer.”
ELM: And I don’t like that either, so I don’t think it’s entirely…but I think the ageism thing is a massive problem and young people need to…stop…being…ageist. [laughter]
FK: Yeah, I agree with you that it’s complicated, because on the one hand there is the issue of ageism—which is real—but on the other hand there’s also, even separate from whether older fans are saying that they deserve more credit or whatever, I can recall being a younger person and feeling like—whether people were saying they wanted more credit or not—that they were patronizing me or otherwise sort of leaning on being older. I don’t know, I’m sure sometimes that was true and sometimes it wasn’t, but I think that it can just be tough to communicate across age divides no matter what, whether you’re younger or older, because people have such different perspectives and…positions in society is maybe the wrong way to put it, but do you know what I mean?
ELM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally.
FK: I don’t know what to do about that entirely, but I think it’s on both sides.
ELM: I think in fandom there’s the additional complication, I think you might find this within other…I’m trying to think of analogous groups that are outside of fandom. But it’s not just about age, it’s more about length of participation.
FK: Right, absolutely.
ELM: So you’ve been in fandom longer than some people of the same age as us.
FK: Absolutely, and I mean, God knows that I’m not innocent of ever having leaned on that, right? [laughing] The other day my friend Heidi…
ELM: Should we talk about this?
FK: …brought up a hilarious, oh gosh, it was like, I wrote this webpage when I was 12 listing all the people who had…I guess maybe I was 13 or 14 by then. But I wrote this webpage of all the people who had been in Harry Potter fandom before, like, March 2000? Had written fanfiction?
ELM: No no no no no, you’re mischaracterizing it.
FK: It was basically a “first!” list.
ELM: Yeah. What it said was, and it was totally written in young teen girl I’m-creating-a-club-and-here-are-the-members kind of tone? [FK laughing] “And you shall be the secretary.” That was kind of the vibe I was getting. It definitely felt like it was written by a 12-year-old girl, or maybe 13 or 14, and you said like, “It’s important to know that these four people were the first people to put their Harry Potter fics online!” [FK laughing helplessly] “And this list of 12 people, they weren’t quite first…” [ELM laughing] Your face! I like how you brought it up and now you look like you’re gonna die. But you brought it up! I was not gonna bring it up.
FK: You know, I brought it up because...there's a couple of reasons. One of them is when you have all of your stuff from when you were 12 on the internet the only way you can deal with it is to fully brazen through and be like “Yup! Yup. Yup. Yup.” [laughter]
ELM: Right! But I feel like tons of people who were once teens, particularly teen girls, have made a list like this in a notebook where you’re like, “And we were the first ones who were here.” Right?
FK: Completely, completely.
ELM: “And these people are the second tier of the group because they were here second.” You know? But that’s now been lost to time.
FK: Yeah, but unfortunately as a millennial I think you even…because you weren’t doing this on the internet, none of this stuff that you did is out there, but there it is for me, I gotta brazen through. But it is, it’s funny but also I think that it’s good, and this is maybe where I’m gonna sound like an annoying old person, right, I actually think it’s probably good for somebody to acknowledge the dumb things that they did. I’m not trying to abuse my 12-year-old self. It was OK! You know? It was all right. That’s fine. It was silly. I did it. I don’t need to be embarrassed and I hope that my 12-year-old self, if I told her, “When you’re 30 you’ll be a little embarrassed about this but you won’t deny it, you won’t hate yourself for it…”
ELM: That’s exactly, we were talking about this. What my old boss said when I was thinking of publishing my early Buffy emails and he was like “No, respect your past self more than that. Don’t treat it like the punchline. You can write about it in a respectful way, about your own stupid teen or preteen self, but don’t…” There’s that series that does this that kind of makes me uncomfortable, “Mortified.”
FK: Yeah, yeah!
ELM: I’ve just never been a huge fan—maybe some people are really into it, and respect to you if that’s your thing, but something about it does feel like the kind of point of it is that your past self is the butt of the joke and we can all laugh together because we were all embarrassing. Kinda doesn’t make me feel great, especially because it’s like, these things are the things that teens are doing right now. You know? It’s just like, I think the kind of stuff you do.
FK: Totally. And I think that maybe this also has to do with what your particular anxiety portrait and your relationship to shame and embarrassment is. There are things that I am really ashamed of that I’ve done and I still think about them many, many years later, and when I think about them sometimes I cry.
ELM: Oh no!
FK: No, I mean, they're really alive to me and I feel like…if it was one of those things I’m not sure I would be so sanguine, but I don’t want any teenager to think that that is something that you should be that mortified over. I actually think I’m probably, even if I should let it go I’m definitely right to be embarrassed and ashamed about the things that I am, even if it’s a little extreme at this point. But that’s not one of them. [laughs]
ELM: I feel like this is now a therapy session.
FK: Oh, OK. Do you wanna stop the therapy and listen to the next person?
ELM: [laughs] I don’t…
FK: Cause I’m ready.
ELM: I don’t wanna cut you off, I just feel like we have a lot of mail to get through and this feels like we’re going into a different realm.
FK: [laughing] OK, OK. But the next one is actually also about age, as well.
ELM: Oh! That’s well lined up. Did you arrange these on purpose? You…well, there’s a gesture happening right now that only I can see, so good job. Great job. Way to go.
FK: I’m great at podcasting! It was a very pleased-with-myself gesture.
ELM: It was! This is a voice mail from the U.K.
FK: Shall we roll it?
ELM: Yeah, let's roll it!
Ruth: Hi Flourish, hi Elizabeth, my name is Ruth, I’m sitting in the U.K., I have a slight sore throat so apologies if I sound a bit croaky. In your latest episode you were talking about why so many not so young adults, especially women, read young adult fiction. I’m in my 30s and I’m a very keen reader of young adult books, particularly science fiction and fantasy. So’s my mum and she’s nearly 60. I have a few thoughts on this topic.
One thought is that YA books are generally fast paced and they offer a quick hit in contrast to the often bloated door-stopper novels which are common in the fantasy genre. I do read “grownup fantasy” as well, right now I’m reading Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson which is over 1,100 pages long. But I don’t always feel like reading something that long. I’m sure there are quite a lot of people out there who don’t have the time or the patience to ever read an 1,100 page fantasy door-stopper novel, however good it is. Sorry, Brandon.
Another thought is that a high percentage of YA authors are female, and they write well-rounded female characters with agency within the story. Unfortunately many male authors for older readers, #notallmaleauthors, still fall into the trap of minimizing and/or objectifying their female characters.
And a final thought is that everyone has gone through adolescence and it’s a time of very intense emotion when everything feels very high stakes. I remember my own teenage years balancing my studies with my social life felt like a battle of monumental importance. So I’d say that for many people, it’s easy to identify with teenage characters and their struggles, and I don’t think it’s a case of fetishizing teenagers. It’s a case of identifying with them as representations of your younger self and it’s quite easy to identify with these characters. Anyway, those are my thoughts, thank you, goodbye!
ELM: Such good thoughts. Thank you Ruth!
FK: Yes, seriously. I thought that, it’s funny because I guess I read big novels and sort of gulp them down and especially really really bad novels…sorry, Brandon Sanderson, I don’t think you’re really bad, that’s not personal, but I just read such volumes of stuff that it literally never occurs to me that someone might not have time to read enormous amounts of things [laughs] cause my problem is always there’s not enough.
ELM: Wait, that’s not a normal problem.
ELM: Also, I mean, you’re reading bad books. They’re fast reads, yeah?
FK: Oh yeah! Absolutely. I’m just sayin’. [ELM cackles] They’re not all bad! We’re not gonna get into a question about Star Trek novels. But what do you think…
ELM: Oh, wow, I didn’t realize you were talking about Star Trek novels. Oh, is that what we’re talking about?
FK: Yeah, it is what we’re talking about. But I want to know what you think about the idea of identifying with teenage characters.
ELM: Yeah, I mean, I didn’t write that article saying that women were fetishizing teen girls! [laughter] Teen girl culture. Yeah. And I mean, I think that…I don’t know if we said this in the episode, which I think prompted Ruth's voice mail, but talking about that article and this conversation around not just teen girls but teen girl culture, I think embedded within it…did we say this already? I like how I won’t even give you the chance to know what I’m gonna say before I cut myself off. [laughs]
FK: I don’t know! It’s a mystery.
ELM: Embedded within this is a sort of division between what is girlish and what is womanly. Right? And I think this actually ties back to the conversation we were just having about age and fandom too, this sort of idea that there are a certain set of things you give up when you transition into womanhood and then take on the mantles of womanhood—which are motherhood and marriage, or in a more modern Western construction also, you know, career-type things as well. But specifically this sort of, there’s definitely embedded within that commentary about sexuality, I think.
FK: For sure.
ELM: And desire. And what’s appropriate.
FK: And also just what you’re gonna have time for while you’re doing the second shift, right?
FK: The second shift of labor? You go to your job and because your partner doesn’t help out you have to do all the housework too.
ELM: Right. But I mean, like, OK: think about the way people talk about Twilight, women reading Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s not necessarily about what you have time for, it’s about how these readers are being constructed. So you’re transgressing one way or another: you’re either not sexy and womanly enough because you’re in the world of these kind of pre-sex but romance YA. Right? Cause I, I mean, I’ve read a fair bit of YA, I don’t read it all the time, but I’ve never read explicit sex in YA. That’s not a part of the genre.
FK: That’s not a part of the genre.
ELM: OK, good. Thank you. So you’re either that, you’re immature, or you’re like the women who were reading Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey who were mocked because they were too horny. Right? [laughter]
FK: Right, but it’s also tied into pleasure and the idea you’re not doing the stuff you’re supposed to. The romance reader sitting on her bed eating bonbons.
ELM: Right. Both of these things are doing not what the husband is expecting, which is that you’ll sit there and be ready when he’s ready.
ELM: And then cease to exist, right. But you’re gonna be ready for him too.
FK: Right, or spend the rest of the time doing all the housework and stuff. Can you possibly, if you have the time to do this, can you possibly be a good woman?
ELM: Right. All of this is, I mean, total bullshit, obviously. Incredibly heteropatriarchal normative, all the words I can try to fit into that phrase. Right? I definitely think that what Ruth is talking about with YA, across the YA subgenres, is true for a lot of people. I think people appreciate that they’re relatively quick and not, you’re not lugging around a really dense book. I think there’s something to be said for that. It seems, it’s a shame that there isn’t more variety within “adult genre” versions of this, if every fantasy novel needs to be a brick.
FK: Yeah, I don’t know what started that, but I too am ready for it to be over.
FK: Fantasy novels all being enormous doorstoppers.
ELM: I mean, I don’t read fantasy, so I’m only just listening to what you all are saying.
FK: Well, I can report to you that separate from literally anything else, whether it’s good or bad, I wish they would just publish them in multiple volumes so I wouldn’t have to carry around a book that’s this tall or buy an ebook.
ELM: Yeah, but then people have to buy more money! Or are the big books priced higher?
ELM: I don’t wanna make people pay more, but I hear you.
FK: Yeah, you know what I’m saying, right? OK. Should we go on to the next letter?
ELM: Yeah! Is it my turn to read, even though I have a cold?
FK: If you want to read, then go for it.
ELM: Now everyone knows I have a cold.
FK: You do have a cold. It’s OK. They can all be sympathetic.
ELM: OK. So Lor writes: “I came across this article a little while ago and thought it might be relevant to your interests.” The article they link to is from the New Yorker’s “Elements” blog; it’s called “The Secret Life of Secrets,” by Alan Burdick.
“So, I know you guys are very open about being in fandom (obviously!), but most people I know IRL still aren’t, myself included. In particular, I have another friend I’m thinking about who isn’t ‘out’ about being in fandom, and we’ll sometimes have conversations about this. I’m interested in eventually being more public about it, she isn’t.
“The huge difference in our perspectives on not telling people about our fandom involvement was really confusing to me until I found this article and it all clicked. Basically, the article explains the psychological differences between something being private vs. being a secret.
“For me, that I’m in fandom (/what fandoms I’m in) is mostly secret in my real life. This is something that really bothers me, and has caused me distress over the years. Because of this, I’m working on trying to be out about it to at least some degree, to help me feel less shame, I guess.
“For my friend, that she’s in fandom is private. She doesn’t tell anyone because she doesn’t think it’s anyone’s business, and she’s fine with that.
“So: both of us are stealth about being involved in fandom in our real lives, but because it’s for different reasons/we feel differently about it, this has very different effects. Anyway, I hope this makes sense! I was super psyched figuring it out and I really enjoyed the latest episodes.” Smiley face, Lor.
FK: Smiley face!
ELM: [laughs] That’s an emoticon, smiley face, from Lor. L-O-R. I have a million thoughts about this.
FK: Tell me about them, because I have nothing valuable to contribute to this.
ELM: Yeah, cause when a thought comes into Flourish’s head, she just says it.
ELM: Flourish doesn’t have private things OR secret things.
FK: There’s no filter between… [laughs]
ELM: I realize that you probably have plenty of both private and secret things, so by me saying that probably made you feel bad. But.
FK: It didn’t make me feel bad because, actually, as a Slytherin, the idea that I have nothing private or secret is my most powerful thing. No one believes that there are secrets. But there are! Mwah-ha-ha-ha.
ELM: You know, wait, aside, are you watching The Good Place? Oh, you don’t like comedy.
FK: I actually have been considering watching The Good Place cause everybody says it’s so great.
ELM: You know it’s about moral imperatives and whether you can have a natural ethical code, right?
FK: This is why I’ve been considering watching it, because it might be the category of comedy that I’m OK with.
ELM: And one of the main characters, who I’m obsessed with him, was an ethics professor, and it’s so good. Anyway, that’s an aside.
Going back to secrecy and privacy, so, as long time listeners know, I was a lurker for a long time, and for me that wasn’t about secrecy. It was about privacy, 100%. I still feel this way a bit. It’s taken a lot for me to actually talk about…it’s very easy for me to talk about fandom on a broader level, fannishness, fannish practices. But it’s very…I feel very uncomfortable talking about the thoughts I actually have about my objects of fandom publicly. And I still feel that way! I read books and I see films and I watch TV shows all the time, and I really like some of them and I really hate some of them, but I almost never say so except when I'm being paid to write a, you know, a critical article. But I don’t go on Twitter—this is one thing that always amazes me about Gav, my newsletter partner, cause everything she sees she’ll let us know her opinion and people love that. But I never do this. The other day I recommended my favorite book of the year and I felt very nervous.
FK: But you did it so, this is so strange to me because you do this…you have every opinion on politics and world events and so forth. And not only do you have every opinion, you need to talk about them. That’s a thing you do really importantly. So whenever you mention it I go, “No, wait, Elizabeth has an opinion on everything,” and then I think back and I go, “No she doesn’t, she doesn’t really talk about…”
ELM: Publicly! But I mean, I talk to you, like, I tell you privately if I thought something was a piece of shit. Like the Great Gatsby movie that you love. [FK laughs] This is the thing too, often when I’m doing it on Twitter…because I think about when people kind of do drive-by dumping on stuff.
FK: Oh, yeah.
ELM: I’m like, “I don’t wanna be that guy.” I don’t wanna be like, “Oh, I thought Baby Driver was abysmal.” But I thought it was abysmal. Now everybody knows I thought it was abysmal. It was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, in my opinion. But I told people privately…I like how I just announced it now. Now it’s out there!
FK: [laughs] No, it’s OK. I think it’s been long enough that anybody who really likes it can probably take a moment and be like, “OK. People have different opinions.”
ELM: It’s true. I think it is harder right when you see something and you’re like, “Oh God, I don’t know.”
FK: We’ve had this conversation before.
ELM: Have we? Yes.
FK: Because I’m one of the worst offenders in this category.
ELM: We were talking about this last time, where it was like “Can you wait five minutes if you want to hate on this movie.”
FK: Right. But I agree with you. I don’t say, I shouldn’t say I agree with you because I don’t have hang-ups around this. I don’t know that I say my opinions on everything very much either, but yeah, I see what you’re saying. That seems like a totally valid thing to be concerned about. Not that that’s probably helpful to you for me to say. [ELM laughs] Sorry.
ELM: I guess the common thing is, if it seems like I am very open about fandom, I am, but I’m not a very open fan, is how I would say. To the point where I’ll tell you, “Oh, I’m in Black Sails fandom,” and I will reblog art, but I think I’ve written one meta ever for any fandom I’ve been in. I rarely reblog meta cause I don’t really wanna get involved in these debates in a public forum. You know? And I haven’t published any of my fic, and part of that is because I haven’t finished anything properly, cause I always write, like, epic things and then I get 20,000 words in and then I walk away. But part of it is because it’s still somewhat private to me.
FK: Yeah, I think that there is also something about different things you find private vs. secret within fandom. I wonder if this article can also help us think about being private vs. secret within fandom. For instance, for many years I didn’t ever write any explicit fanfic because it felt like it was too private or too personal. Even if it wasn’t actually about me, just to write that and show someone “Oh, I’m curious about this thing, I’m interested in this idea enough to write a story that includes it.” It was like, “Oh gosh. That’s really private.”
I know other people who felt like it’s a secret within fandom, who've created alternate identities or have…in order to write whatever their, their Omegaverse fic or their bodyswap fic or whatever it is that’s tied into something they feel, that’s tied into something that’s very private—and not just private but very secret about themselves. So it’s interesting to think about how this might actually go all the way down. First, are you private or secret about fandom at all? Then also, are there things within it that you are? It seems to me that there’s a lot about self-disclosure and what you're comfortable self-disclosing or not.
ELM: Sure. And while we’re on fandom, lay on the additional level of anon culture.
FK: Oh God.
ELM: And I don’t just mean Tumblr, which is a specific kind of anon culture, but you know. Like anon meme LiveJournal culture, right.
FK: Completely, completely. Welcome to the kinkmeme.
ELM: Right? And there's different levels within that. There’s people who have an anon persona that’s essentially another pseud, but it’s an anon one. And then there’s some people who want to be anonymous and you wouldn’t be able to link one of your anonymous posts to another one, because the whole point is just to come in and be totally…
FK: Right, actually be anonymous.
ELM: Which is really complicated.
FK: If we go too far down this rabbit hole we’re gonna have to start talking about 4chan, so I think that we should stop.
ELM: No, thank you. OK! Great. This was a wonderful comment and we will put obviously the link in the show notes so everyone can read the piece, and I’m actually really curious if people make these kinds of distinctions. Though I would say…actually that’s not true. I was gonna say probably if you’re gonna write to us it’s relatively “out” in fandom, but not necessarily! I think people just like Lor, you know, write to us or…people rec stuff to “The Rec Center” and say “Don’t link to me, but here’s my contact information.” So it allows different levels of how much you can be there but still keep your real identity relatively close to yourself. So.
FK: Yeah, we’ve had actually a number of people write and say “Please don’t use X name, which is associated with this email address, but use Y name instead, or just say this came from someone anonymous,” or I don’t know what else. I think that we, generally speaking, assume that unless people don’t ask us we’re probably OK to discuss their—if there’s nothing in it that suggests that someone wouldn't want us to read or talk about comments, I think we generally do, we’ll publish asks, we’ll publish responses to asks if we get them, et cetera…I hope we’re sensitive about this enough.
ELM: If someone leaves either Fansplaining or me an ask and, I’ve had multiple people write “Please don’t publish.” Or “Please keep private.” And I will reply privately. Often, you know, usually my default instinct is if it seems like it’s a question just for me and not a question I can illustrate something with, I’ll be like—I’ll just respond to this privately. You’re literally asking me a question, it’s not just me broadcasting my wisdom about, you know. Whatever.
FK: OK. Shall we go on to the next?
ELM: OK. So the context for these two letters is we were talking about cultural expectations around happy endings or unhappy endings or something in between.I'm trying to think, so we were talking about how the American happy ending, the Hollywood happy ending…and the example I gave for a counterpoint to that was talking to Shannon Sauro, who’s an American living in Sweden, talking about how Swedes were mad about Frozen because it was like a very…you know, happy-ending Disney version of kind of the Swedish way of telling stories.
FK: Right. And the way we got onto this entirely was we had someone write in and ask about why fanfiction always seemed to need to have happy endings.
ELM: Oh it wasn’t happy endings, it was why the pairing always needed to happen. The pairing needed to have a happy ending.
ELM: I guess it’s how you define “happy ending,” right, yeah, that’s true. So, we were asking for other historical or cultural perspectives on endings. So do you wanna read Natasha’s?
FK: I’ll read Natasha’s. “I was especially interested to hear your discussion of happy vs. unhappy endings in fic as I am currently working on the reader response to the endings of Samuel Richardson’s novels in the mid-18th century. Richardson’s audience—who engaged in some recognizably fannish practices—were left dissatisfied by the tragic ending of Clarissa, or by happy endings that could have tied things up in a neater bow. It occurs to me that the cause of this reader dissatisfaction tends to be generic expectations not being met—genre itself being a kind of paratext, if often an invisible one. In the case of the early novel, the lack of established conventions—including Richardson’s insistence that he was creating a ‘new species of writing’ different from the fiction that had gone before—resulted in a particularly vocal and participatory reader community, some of whom stepped in to rewrite the endings they didn’t like. (Others, of course, simply didn’t finish reading—we know that sales of the last three volumes of Clarissa were lower than expected.) For more on this, see my book!”
And this is Natasha Simonova and her book is Early Modern Authorship and Prose Continuations: Adaptation and Ownership from Sidney to Richardson. And when you read the summary of her book it says, “Natasha Simonova’s monograph builds on her earlier research published in journal articles on fanfiction, Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. In this full-length study her project is to establish a lineage for fanfiction through a detailed study of prose fiction continuations and the discourse surrounding them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Her main topics are the continuations of Sidney’s Arcadia, Samuel Richardson’s novels, Richard Head’s The English Rogue and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.”
ELM: So Natasha is my friend and we are going to have her on in the new year to talk about…
ELM: 18th century fan responses and fanfiction.
FK: Wildly looking forward to it. This also made me think about other kinds of sort of continuations and so on, like My Fair Lady, for instance. Right? Like the happy ending? And needing to fix it?
ELM: Oh. But does he write My Fair Lady just to fix the ending?
ELM: NO! That was just like, that was like…
FK: OK, it’s fine. Fine. It’s a musical and they were already doing the musical. But I still hold that that’s one of the greatest…for context the original play that My Fair Lady is based on ends with…
ELM: By George Bernard Shaw.
FK: Thank you. Ends [laughter] thank you. Ends with the leading lady being completely like, miserable living an upper class life with the guy she’s engaged to and running off and ending up in a flower shop, because that is as far as any one of the lower classes can hope to travel. Even if they have been given the greatest elocution lessons. Et cetera. They’ll never be able to really be happy in high society because they’re just different.
ELM: That’s an interesting read on the ending.
FK: What do you think the ending is?
ELM: I don't know, I haven’t read Pygmalion.
FK: That’s my read on the ending. I mean I don’t know whether he’s trying to say that’s how it should be or not, but it’s pretty clear that she’s really unhappy in high society and she leaves.
ELM: I don't wanna, without reading any scholarship on this I don’t wanna speak out of turn, but another possible reading of this is that she never should have gone through all that in the first place and she had a really happy life when she was working as a flower seller.
FK: That’s true.
ELM: To try to assume that someone could be unhappy in that situation and needed to have the lessons of a higher class onto a lower class person…
FK: That’s true, that’s true. I have not read scholarship on this either. All I will say is that at the end it’s like…she is deeply unhappy with the situation, she seems like she’s happy for a little while and then like she’s not happy with the situation, and then she ends up working in a flower shop after all. And…
ELM: I think it’s a much better ending than the ending of My Fair Lady which I think is garbage.
FK: I mean, I don't know…
ELM: Stockholm Syndrome! He’s some monster. A monster, Flourish!
FK: I’m just saying I don’t…
ELM: A MONSTER, FLOURISH.
FK: I’m not sure I’d go as far as a monster. But I would agree with you that I think that the end of My Fair Lady, in which she goes off and then runs back to Professor Higgins, the Pygmalion figure, is not fabulous. [laughing] But it is very generically satisfying!
ELM: I’m sorry it’s your favorite love story.
FK: It’s not!! Dude!! Elizabeth!! I actually… [laughing but irritated] Hey! I’m really irritated by that!
ELM: [laughing] I don’t believe that you think it is. I don’t know! It’s got a teacher-student thing.
FK: Oh my God, that’s why I’m irritated by it! [both laughing] That’s exactly why I’m irritated by it!
ELM: [wails with amusement] Say no more! OK. We both have copies of Natasha’s book. We’re going to read it and we are going to talk to her, as I said. But that’s really interesting talking about, this is like what we’re talking about though. Conventions established.
FK: And people wanting their convention to be fulfilled.
ELM: And there’s like, we’re talking about a time when, you know, this is the whole thing around modern romance. These conventions are set in stone, but what is the lineage of those conventions? The novel is always evolving in different subgenres and everything like that. I don’t know, it’s interesting. OK. Do you want me to read the second one while you sit there and stew about your…
FK: I’ll sit here and stew.
ELM: About your teacher-student fetish.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: “Hi Elizabeth and Flourish, long time listener, first time writer. I paused your recent ‘Fandom Histories’ episode to write this—right at your discussion on ‘happily ever after’ in the context of shipping/romance being an American preoccupation. In thinking about this I went down a rabbit hole through English drama (the thin line between tragedy vs. comedy), the novel, and then fairy tales (Grimm’s and then Disney’s)…
“But mostly I write to relate my fragmented and childhood experience of Chinese romances—the first ‘romantic’ story I remembered as such is The Butterfly Lovers, who (in a morbid combination of Romeo and Juliet and Metamorphoses) die and turn into butterflies because they cannot be together in mortal life. Another foundational story I remember is that of Altair and Vega (a poor cowherd and a naiad-like weaver in Chinese folk tale), whose mortal/immortal love,” one is mortal and one’s immortal, that’s how I would think I’m meant to read that, “leads them to be banished to the two banks of the Milky Way (called the Silver River in Chinese) which they can only cross one day in summer (July seventh, if you are Japanese). These two stories actually form in part the Four Great Chinese Folktales, the third of which is a story about a woman whose husband was conscripted to build the Great Wall for Emperor Qin and never came home. Her love for him was so great she went to the head of the wall and cried—and her tears were so bitter that they broke the wall to reveal where he was buried. (The fourth one is surprisingly happy, about a snake spirit who ends up together with a mortal man.)
“And lastly, Dream of the Red Mansion (one of the most beloved Chinese novels) is nothing if not a protracted, 80-chapter WIP with unrequited sexual tension between the two protagonists. Redologists to this day probably debate about what the ending should be—happily ever after, or tragedy?
“I can’t comment on contemporary Chinese culture—which from what I can judge moves at near-relativistic speeds and perhaps has taken on different character from the rather drab TV dramas of the ’90s when China was still a slumbering backwater… (Is there a role for materialism or how much food/comfort a society has baseline access to in how its people view happy endings? Probably. And also, in the context of slash, the happy endings for a long time were novel in literature, and so much that ‘tragic’ endings are plagued with residues of homophobia… Not that happy endings and tragic endings are the only available binary…)
“So while certainly there are story traditions in English canon which reprise the dynamic I laid out from these Chinese folktales—love as sacrifice, love as suffering—but I would wager not to the same extent as the Chinese canon. And I guess personally I don’t care much for happily ever afters either. Cheers, Mimi/zambla/@polytony.”
FK: I’m glad to know that I didn’t just completely make some things up about Chinese storytelling traditions, I am so grateful that the 20 people who told me this was at least moderately accurate.
ELM: That’s a good sell for your professional expertise right there!
FK: I’m not expert in China! I’ve been sitting here going “I really hope this is true.” [ELM laughs]
ELM: Well, this was a fantastic letter. And it's interesting because I don’t think that, you look at the foundations of Western stories, Greek and Roman myth…Greek myth, I wouldn't say those are happy endings.
FK: No, it’s full of…no, not at all. No one’s happy who’s a Greek god.
ELM: And a lot of it’s like, there’s so much transformation and there’s so much…similar to some of the folktales she was describing, someone is transformed in them, they’re now permanently separated kind of stuff also happening in Greek mythology, I feel like.
FK: Yeah I think so too. Like, Orpheus and Eurydice, right.
ELM: I mean if you wanna name some examples, but there are many.
FK: Of course, I was just saying, I was thinking, hmm. Cause at first I was thinking “Hmm, all the stories I’m thinking of are stories where Zeus tries to rape someone and she escapes him.” And then I was like, “No, there are other kinds.” There’s other stories.
ELM: Right, or there’s a lot of punishment involved, you know. I don’t know. So not super happy. Also, look at the Bible!
FK: Yeah, OK, so…
ELM: Unhappy stories abound!
FK: Right. I think that probably the more relevant one would be…
ELM: The Bible.
FK: Dream of the Red Mansion, to the kinds of stories we’re talking about right now.
ELM: Yeah OK, but the lineage is there. She's talking about traditional Chinese stories and wondering how they influenced modern Chinese media narratives. I definitely think that the history, whether it’s explicit or not, all these things have built on each other over the centuries. Right? In Western storytelling. So.
Is the happy ending a more modern invention? Maybe that’s the question. Cause I think what you see in ancient stories is you see a reflection of a world where things were depressing. People die. People are separated. And the stories reflected people processing that. Whereas you might today, sure people die, people are separated, but we write stories that show that it doesn’t always have to be that way, even though everyone dies.
FK: This is an intriguing idea. [ELM laughing] I don’t know if I can say that I wholeheartedly jump on it, you know, right now, because I can tell you for a fact I’m not well read enough to make any such sweeping generalization about the history of Western literature…
ELM: I’m not making a sweeping generalization! I’m just saying that it is undeniable that the, within the broad history of Western literature the Bible’s influence is undeniable.
FK: That much, that much… [laughing]
ELM: You agree with that one?
FK: That much I can get behind.
ELM: You agree with that one?
FK: I don’t know, I’m just thinking about things like in the Odyssey there is a happy ending. Fundamentally.
FK: So I’m, I don't know that saying…
ELM: But the Aeneid?
FK: Well, not for Dido.
ELM: You find the one happy ending in…
FK: The Aeneid is much later and there are other happy endings between the Odyssey and the Aeneid.
ELM: OK, I’m just thinking of some of the famous ones. So you find one epic poem with a happy ending.
FK: All I’m saying is, I would be interested to think more about this, I’m not totally…I think the happy ending as it’s constructed right now is definitely a more recent, the happy ending as it’s constructed at the end of a romance novel, yeah, absolutely, that’s definitely a more recent construct than some of the tragic forms, right!
ELM: And even, would you say that the point of the end of the Odyssey is that he’s reunited with Penelope? Or is it that he’s done with his journey?
FK: I would say that he has set things to rights.
FK: Right? Which actually I think is related to the happy ending tied to the marriage plot.
ELM: That’s interesting.
FK: You set things to rights by setting everything, everybody is once again sort of in this happy settled social world. At the end of a Shakespeare play, at the end of Much Ado About Nothing, where how do we solve all these problems? Beatrice and Benedick get married…
ELM: God, spoilers!
FK: Hero and Claudio get married, and Don John gets kicked out and now everything is once more sort of in its social harmony location. Everyone gets their just desserts.
ELM: Right, so that’s interesting, but I think that is different than a modern romance story.
FK: I think it's different but I think they’re related.
ELM: I think they’re related but I think it’s different! It’s something that’s happened over the centuries, about the construction.
FK: I don’t disagree, I’m just not sure where to pin each bit of it.
ELM: God, this conversation went right into it.
FK: The other thing about this, right, back to the topic of this episode and episodic content! Because I think that there’s something different in a happy ending, an ending requires an ending, right? And episodic content can be a work in progress, like The Red Mansion, in which case can we even say that has an ending? It doesn’t, it’s a work in progress, it’s unfinished.
ELM: This is such a slick transition into our next topic.
FK: Right, but… [laughs]
ELM: It’s really well done.
FK: That’s cause I’m great. [laughter] No, but the idea of the happy ending as it relates to a soap opera versus a romance novel, even versus an epic poem, I think is a very different proposition.
ELM: Right, this goes back to Natasha’s upending of expectations of form kinda thing too, right?
FK: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. One of the…if I recall correctly one of the things about epic poems, at least the Iliad and the Odyssey I should say, is that because they’re too long to recite all of it, people would generally experience it (at least in Ancient Greece) you would experience it bit by bit and you would select the bit that seemed relevant and appropriate to the occasion. So that’s a quite different thing. You might read the happy ending bits at one time and the other bits…
ELM: Out of order? You’d get it out of order?
FK: Yeah, because you’d have somebody show up and they’d be like “Well, what do you want?” and you’d be like “Well, let’s hear the part of the Odyssey where this happens because it’s a wedding! Let’s hear that part.”
ELM: I wish we still did this.
FK: Don’t quote me, I’m not 100% sure that this happened at weddings, but you know, it would be at a gathering of people. [ELM laughs] Look, it’s been a long time.
ELM: I am going to write to your professors.
FK: Oh God. But you couldn’t recite the whole thing in order. I have been a part of a reading all of the Iliad, and all of the Odyssey, over the course of multiple days, and that was…you can’t, one person couldn’t do it.
ELM: Are you gonna read the new translation?
FK: Yes! I’m really looking forward to it.
ELM: Everyone’s sayin’ good things.
FK: I know!
ELM: It’s the Emily Wilson, I believe her name is?
FK: I think so, I’m so excited.
ELM: OK, you brought up episodic content, we’ve been talking for awhile, let’s take a break and let’s actually talk about episodic stuff.
FK: All right!
ELM: Episodic content. OK. You want me to tell you a little bit about the conference?
FK: Yes, because you actually have not filled me in basically at all.
ELM: OK. So this was put together, I work for a company called Storythings and they produce editorial projects for various clients, like our biggest project is a site called “How We Get to Next,” it’s about science and technology and it came out of a PBS series. And it’s funded mostly by the Gates foundation, so it’s about public awareness of science and public health. And so we have been presenting science and tech stories in episodic form since I started, I only started working for them like four months ago and this is a new experiment we’re trying. We’re doing series as opposed to a themed collection. Which is something that’s really fallen out of fashion in print based journalism in the last, I would say, 30 years. No, actually one thing I think we’re learning is that people don’t know really know how to do it. Anymore. Right?
FK: Like readers or writers?
ELM: Readers. Well, writers too. Most writers aren’t used to working this way, you know, whereas if you look at an issue of the New Yorker from the ’50s or even as late as the ’70s and ’80s, or GQ, or any of these big big glossy magazines of the mid-century, you know, every issue would have serialized article. And it would be 20,000 words in one issue, 20,000 words in the next issue. That kind of thing. These were massive articles, but obviously they were thinking about where they were gonna stop them and what bits would go in which issue and readers would buy the next issue hoping to find out the conclusion.
So, every year my company does a conference called “The Story” where they invite different people who do various storytelling things across industries, talks, so this year they experimented with a new conference called “Episodic” where they invited creators from a lot of different mediums. Media, I guess, is the plural of medium. To talk about episodic storytelling, so they had Starlee Kine who is a radio person who worked on S-Town and Serial and This American Life, Graham Linehan who’s the creator of Black Books and The I.T. Crowd and Father Ted, and Adrian Hon and Naomi Alderman, who produce “Zombies, Run!,” the game, which I think you’ve done before, right?
FK: Yes I have!
ELM: And Kieron Gillen and Jamie MacKelvie, who are the creators of The Wicked and the Divine, a comic writer and illustrator respectively who are also working for Marvel and Star Wars and stuff like that. So those were some of the speakers, and so obviously these are different media. All with kind of different approaches to episodic storytelling but all creating stories episodically. So it was kind of a way for people in different, working in different media, producing different kinds of stories, to learn across media—cause I feel like often people don’t really share their process and experience and things they’ve learned, you know what I mean?
FK: Right, or assume that everybody else has similar process and experience which is not true.
ELM: Right, and there are definitely some things that cross over and then there are some things that are specific. Like there are things you do in comics that you wouldn’t do when you’re creating podcasts, right? But then there are some things that definitely cross over, but then people might think “Oh no, that’s just for comics.” But actually you could learn a lot from trying to do this process, adapting it to what you’re doing.
FK: Right. And from what you said last time we talked about this, you were talking about how fans are particularly responsive to episodic content and also then go on to create their own episodic content based on that.
ELM: Right. So basically I was there to give a fan’s perspective cause almost everyone in the room was coming from the “creator” side of the fan/creator divide. Two-thirds of the talk, it was basically a history of fandom, Fandom 101, trying to explain transformative fandom—cause that’s, I think, the area that people are less familiar with, they have this kind of archetypal fanboy-on-the-forums vision in their mind. So I was trying to explain, you know, fic, and shipping and stuff like that briefly. But then I talked about fans and episodic content and if you—I was looking in the top fandoms on AO3, top fandoms on Tumblr, it was interesting, Amanda Brennan, our friend at Tumblr does all these Fandometrics, you know, measuring engagement on Tumblr, and I was looking at her shipping data, and it tracked what types of media produced the biggest ships on Tumblr. Can you guess what media? Big categories here. Film, comic, whatever. In 2017.
FK: I mean, I think that you already told me about this.
ELM: Aww, did I already give you the answer?
FK: I think that you said it was K-pop.
ELM: No no no.
FK: It’s not! What did you tell me about then?
ELM: You think K-pop produces the most ships on Tumblr? It was television.
FK: OK. See, that’s what I would guess, but here I thought it was a thing that it was in that category of “There’s whole worlds on Tumblr that you’re not aware of!”
ELM: K-pop is very popular, but it’s something like, I don't know, it was 15% or something. Still a lot, considering that there’s no K-pop on my dash, which maybe says something about who I follow, but then I’m not in K-pop fandom. But 2013 it was like 40% of shipping was TV, and now it’s above 50%, and I think that’s an interesting shift, and I think that’s telling, because TV beyond any other medium is the one that by far is most episodic.
FK: Right, and I think that for other major fictional fandoms, things that aren’t…I mean, real person fandoms may or may not be very fictional, sports fandoms, music fandoms, whatever, but for fictional fandoms I think even the non-television fandoms that are biggest tend to be kind of episodic. Like the Marvel universe or the Star Wars universe.
ELM: Franchises or book series.
ELM: Yeah, it was interesting. When Mad Max came out I was like “Oh, everyone loves this so much, this is gonna be a big fandom.” And not to say that people aren’t really into it, but I wouldn’t describe it that way.
ELM: It’s also kind of a hard, I tried to read some of the fic and I was like “I can’t do this.” It was all super abstract and I was like, “Guys, come on.”
FK: I think there’s also maybe a difference between things that have characters that fans are engaged with, and things that have…how can I put this? Recently there’s been a big bloom of, for instance, roleplaying games, Twitch streams, and podcasts and so forth, things like Critical Role. And looking into this I’ve found, oh yeah, actually, there’s massive amounts of roleplaying game information on the internet, not just information on how to roleplay, but people’s drawings of their characters and their storylines and people putting up “Here is a dungeon that you can use in any roleplaying system, congrats. Have fun with it.” People writing stories about their campaigns, et cetera. And that’s not the same thing as fanfiction, because they are to some degree original characters, but I would say that it’s kind of fandom related, which is really when you start getting into these spaces. But that’s never gonna create shipping, because it’s not about a set of characters that already exist, it’s about a world that you play in with your original characters.
ELM: That’s interesting, you think it would never create shipping?
FK: Well, not never, I mean, I think that people ship their characters, but I think that usually…it’s only when there’s something like Critical Role where you’ve got a podcast of people playing that I think it would create shipping. You’ve got a group of people playing and then a bunch of people who are not playing and are like “Oh, I wish they’d get together,” as opposed to “I’m running a game out of my living room.” Maybe I ship two characters in it, but no one else does, cause there’s literally only five people who play the game.
ELM: What about our friend who met her girlfriend on a roleplaying forum?
FK: They ship each other, you mean?
ELM: They were roleplaying as a ship when they got together.
FK: As a ship for a TV show, or…
ELM: Yeah, it was for a movie. All right.
FK: I mean I’m not saying, if you expand the idea of shipping to my parents could be a ship, then there’s shipping going on there.
ELM: Do you ship your parents?
FK: But anyway all I’m saying is…sure. They’re cute! Um. But my point there is that’s episodic too, but it’s slightly different than the fanfiction-creating shipping side.
ELM: That’s an interesting definition of “episodic.”
FK: A roleplaying game in which you have literal episodes in which you sit down for four hours and play, then sit down for four hours and play the next bit?
ELM: Yeah, because what if I defined episodic as a narrative that was being written?
FK: Well, if it’s a narrative that’s being written, then it can’t be the Odyssey or the Iliad because those were oral tradition.
ELM: Oh my God, Flourish, all right.
FK: I’m just sayin’!
ELM: By writing I don’t mean writing with a pen and a paper or a typewriter. Scripted. And…I mean, if in your roleplaying session you commit the narrative to memory and then you tell it to your friends over the campfire at the wedding [laughing] then OK. That’s passive. The story, if you’re creating the story and it’s being passed on. But playing a game, to me…that’s more ephemeral. That’s happening for those four hours, but then that’s not.
FK: So you’re saying that it’s…I think we would both say it’s collaborative storytelling within the group.
FK: But then, because it doesn’t go on and get told to someone else, unless it turns into one of the many doorstopper fantasy novels written based on your D&D campaign, it doesn’t turn into…OK. I can understand that. Although I do think there’s a fair number of these campaigns that do at least, whether or not anyone’s reading it, what gets done gets written about.
ELM: You’re taking us down a weird kind of tangential rabbit hole though that you’re clearly doing because of your obsession with roleplaying.
FK: I’m just interested in it! I want to poke at all the edges of what episodic content can be. We can go talk about some other topic.
ELM: Let’s actually talk about the center of episodic content. We didn’t even talk about the heart of it and you were like “Well, let’s talk about this thing that's tangential!” [FK laughing] And then your face lit up and it’s like, OK. We can do roleplaying episodes! We will talk about this! Man.
ELM: IT’S TRUE THOUGH.
ELM: All right. Episodic content. Do you think it’s as simple as that? Do you think it’s as simple as “Fans like to engage in the spaces between episodes,” whether we’re talking about between this Marvel movie and the last or between next week’s episode of Supernatural and the past week’s episode? Those are my two examples of the length of gaps.
FK: Well, could it also be related to when there’s going to be a push or a reminder or a thing to get excited about, as an entire community? Every time there’s a new Supernatural episode, everyone goes “Ooh! What’s gonna be in it?” And then they watch it and maybe liveblog it, and then afterwards there’s like “What was the fallout? Let’s write some meta!” It creates a natural pattern.
ELM: Sure, but I wouldn’t say that fanworks necessarily are dependent on that. I think fanworks are more active when the new canon is coming out or immediately after the canon finished, to write…there are obviously people who write response fics to episodes, but I think you’ll find people, as Supernatural's going on, to be working on their Supernatural story, which may not have much to do with the episode that’s coming out. Is it because people are thinking about it in the fandom? I don’t know. Supernatural is a bad example, I shouldn’t have gone there.
FK: Well, I do agree with that. I don’t think that fics are necessarily tied to this up and down, although sometimes they can be. The gap between Harry Potter books always create a bunch of “I’m gonna write the next book the way I think it should go.” And the gap between seasons always results in like, fix-it fics or whatever.
ELM: Or virtual seasons and things like that.
FK: Or virtual seasons. But separate from those stories I think that there is something about the continued engagement. If you get into Mad Max: Fury Road, there’s a burst of engagement, and then will there ever be a sequel? I don’t know! Right? And there’s nothing to sort of rally around, and it eventually, however excited you are about it.
ELM: Well, but I mean, Harry/Draco is still one of the most active pairings on AO3.
ELM: There is no new information there unless you take Pottermore very seriously.
FK: Or Cursed Child.
ELM: OK. Yeah.
ELM: Hate to bring that one up. People are still writing Inception fic.
FK: Inception I think is the exception that proves the rule, but there’s not all that much that’s as active as Inception was.
ELM: Yeah, I mean, Inception is a bad example, I always think, because this is what happens when a few very popular fic writers write some really good fic.
FK: There’s also, I’m not saying that it never happens or that no one ever still likes things years later. Why else have I written Dorothy Sayers fanfic a bunch of times? I can promise you I am not holding my breath for the next Jill Paton Walsh book, sorry to anyone who likes them, I really don’t like them. But I think there is a general excitement wave that people get caught up in.
ELM: OK. So and I mean that was one of the things at the conference, I felt like some of the creators said exactly, they said in advance what I was going to say, exactly what we’re talking about: over the episodes, that’s where fan activity grows and blossoms. In the spaces in between. And that’s what they had observed and it was like, “Mete out your content,” basically, “in a way that kind of brings people in with each new installment, gives people things to look forward to.” But I think what they didn’t talk about and what I talked about, and what some of the audience questions touched on, was how this kind of backfires—or kind of the flip side of it, which is sort of I think that while fandom loves episodic content it’s also the source of a lot of conflict. [laughter]
That was a wide-eyed nervous laughter. Um. [FK sighs] When expectations can be built in, those gaps and anger can erupt when those expectations do not, are not matched in the next installment.
FK: Oh my God, completely.
ELM: So it’s kind of a double-edged sword, I’d say. It’s like, it’s the way to build enthusiasm for a lot of content creators. But…kinda taking a gamble there! About whether people are gonna be mad at you!
FK: I guess the other question is though, would anybody…there’s nothing to be mad about if there’s not an Episode Two of something. If I read one novel I can have feelings about what’s within the novel, I can wish that this was different or whatever, that’s a different kind of disappointment than the kind of disappointment of anticipation.
FK: I think you’re right, but I also think that it sort of comes with literally any sequel, not just things that you would consider to be episodic, but if you do anything that comes back into the same fictional universe that you had been in before, ever. You invite this even if there’s no fandom.
ELM: Yeah, that's true. God, why do people do it? Just make one thing and then walk away.
FK: Well…was that a real…? That was not a real, because you love writing fanfiction.
ELM: But also sequels are different from episodic content. If I’m making a television show, I’m not thinking of it as part one and then the sequels. I’m thinking of a story that expands over the course of 10 episodes. Right?
FK: Well, it depends if you’re talking about a television show like I Love Lucy or a television show like The Sopranos.
ELM: Those are two great examples.
FK: Right? I mean in one case you’re talking about a case where you have a bunch of little sequels. Or M*A*S*H or something like that. I mean I know M*A*S*H gets more serialized later on, but.
ELM: What’s a bunch of little sequels? A situation comedy is not a bunch of little sequels. I know you don’t watch comedy so let me tell you what a situation comedy is. It’s when you have a concept and a group of characters and then with each new episode you create a new situation for them. Did you know this?
FK: Yes, yes, [ELM laughs] but what I mean is that it’s not a serialized narrative. It’s not episodic and serialized in the way of having…you can in theory at least shuffle the first season of M*A*S*H, which is a comedy that I watched, and freaked out by the way when Hotlips and Hawkeye finally kissed to an EPIC degree.
ELM: Yeah I know, we talked about your het shipping the other day.
FK: Because it still blows my mind. Anyway, you can shuffle those episodes pretty much, it's not episodic. It is episodic. But it’s not episodic in the serialized way. Right? Whereas…
ELM: I mean, there are broad arcs over most comedies, right. But I can tune into literally any Frasier and be like, “OK.” Which I do.
FK: And the arcs become…
ELM: DAILY. [laughter]
FK: And the arcs become more pronounced the more recent they become. The arcs are not very pronounced, for instance, in Star Trek, that’s not a comedy but it’s an earlier television show…
ELM: That’s a monster-of-the-week show, that’s a little different.
FK: Well, you have the same characters put in a new situation every episode. It’s a situational drama.
FK: Sitdram. Anyway, my point is, episodic content can be serialized or it can be not serialized but still episodic.
ELM: All right, that’s a good point.
FK: And I think sequels are in between those two things, because if you take Alien and Aliens, the connective tissue between the is the world, and they’re different genres, and there’s a character you care about…
ELM: The cat.
FK: The cat is in both of them. [laughter]
ELM: Wait, I’ve already forgotten his name, I feel so bad. What’s his name? JONESY. Jones!
FK: Jonesy! Jones. Point being you wouldn’t say those two things are part of one story per se, but it sort of is. It’s about Ripley.
ELM: Jonesy’s story. It’s about Jones.
FK: Ripley changes between the two, and that’s part of why the genre changes, her character changes.
ELM: Yeah, she takes her tits out in the second one.
FK: Did you see the second one?
ELM: Yeah, I just watched it.
FK: OK. I was like, if that’s the first thing that comes to mind…
ELM: The second one was gross male-gaze power fantasy. Disgusting. I hate Aliens and I love Alien. I watched them back to back for the first time ever like a month ago.
FK: That’s amazing, I am very…
ELM: Alien is a feminist film and Aliens is not. No no, sorry, critiquing them in a feminist lens. Alien is good and Aliens is bad.
FK: All right.
ELM: I’ve heard…
FK: Point being though, however you feel about those two…
ELM: I’ve heard that people like Aliens more than Alien and this is mind-boggling.
FK: I think comparing them is like comparing chalk and cheese, so I’m not sure…
ELM: Cheese is delicious and chalk is not fun to eat.
FK: Wow, I did not expect this to go down a tangent about which movie you like! My point was just like…
ELM: Remember at the beginning where I was like “I never share my critical opinions” and now I’m just going off the rails!
FK: Now it’s like there’s too many of them! There’s just too many of them coming at me right now.
ELM: OK, episodic content. Continue.
FK: [squawking] Now I’ve lost my train of thought! No no no, I haven’t. I haven’t. Uh, you can have episodic content that's like a sitcom or a sitdram where it’s the same characters and they’re not really in a serialized narrative. You can have a serialized narrative. But I feel like sequels are kind of in between the two. It’s the same characters, it’s technically speaking a serialized narrative, but that’s not really the purpose behind it.
ELM: So like, there’s different fannish expectations though. Say it’s a situational thing, whether it’s a monster-of-the-week or actually a sitcom or whatever, you’re probably drawn to it as a fan because you like the characters, right? That’s most likely why you're into it. Maybe the situation, but…maybe you like Buffy because you like vampire things, but I think that a lot of people were drawn to that show because of the characters.
FK: Right, because they’re the thing that's consistent.
ELM: Maybe Buffy’s not a great example because Buffy did have these arcs. It straddled the line between monster-of-the-week and season-long narrative arcs. OK. So you have that and so you have fans who come into that probably for the character, if it’s really a monster-of-the-week proper, because that’s kind of the contract that we’re going into it as a watcher, right? You had to be really drawn to these characters because they’re gonna be put in new situations every week. They’re gonna roll up in their Chevy Impala to a new town to fight some demons. Is that the plot of Supernatural? [FK laughs] Never seen it!
FK: That is the plot of Supernatural. They come to a new town, there’s something evil, they fight it.
ELM: So you gotta be committed to them. You’re gonna be in a new town every week. So as opposed to the sort of narrative arc, which is what draws fans in, it might be the story itself. It might not necessarily be the characters, because you want to know how the story’s going to unfold. I’m just thinking about the different ways that fans engage with these two different things, and how that goes wrong in different ways.
FK: Right. Well I think that I’ll have a lot to say about this particularly when we’ve gotten more than one episode of the current Star Trek, because this is the first Star Trek that is completely serialized…
ELM: What do you mean, more than one episode?
FK: I mean more than one season. Sorry. Pardon me. That was a complete misspoke.
ELM: You’ve all been talking about it for weeks!
FK: No, when we get more than one season of the current Star Trek and there’s a little bit more time to get space…
FK: Ah, space! But I think that you’re quite right in saying that fan expectations have a big impact when you have a long time to think about something. I think Star Trek is probably the prime example where any new thing, everyone immediately hates, and then some people come around and like it and some people still hate it. All about expectation.
ELM: That’s a whole other level, when it’s a franchise and it keeps coming back in and out, in and out. In the ways different audiences approached the new Star Wars trilogy, old school fans very excited for it, old school fans being whiny man-babies, brand new fans coming in via that…no, you know, the ones, you know the whiny man-baby fans.
FK: Ah, I mean, yeah, I know they exist.
ELM: “Rey’s a Mary Sue! This is just like the original trilogy but boring! I don’t like these people!”
FK: I wouldn’t call all old-school fans that.
ELM: “This is so politically correct!” I literally said in my list, the first was old-school fans who were excited about it!
FK: I thought they were the same thing and I was so confused!
ELM: Ah, Flourish, come on! Come on.
FK: You were not clear. OK.
ELM: Yeah! I mean I have people on my dash who came back to writing original trilogy fic just cause it was back in the consciousness.
FK: Delightful. I hope that some of them are older people who shipped Luke and Leia before they were siblings and refuse to let go of that train.
ELM: Some of them are.
FK: Delightful. My favorite type of fan.
ELM: There was this post going around on Tumblr where people were like, “Can you imagine what it was like for people in the ’70s when they shipped Luke and Leia and then found out?”
FK: [gasps] I saw that.
ELM: Then a bunch of people were like “I don’t have to imagine that.”
FK: “IT WAS AWFUL.” The thousand-yard stare. [laughter]
ELM: OK. So, here’s a question that I'll pose to you, because someone posed it to me, after my talk.
ELM: What can creators do in this fan–creator space of mismatched expectations and episodic disappointment? This is not exactly how it was phrased, because they were basically asking about fandom, but since we’re talking about that in particular, especially if…no, regardless of what type of show you’re making. You’re making a television show, doesn’t matter if it’s episodic monster-of-the-week stuff or you’ve got a narrative arc and people don’t like the narrative arc you’ve done for this season. Do you just have to accept that that’s part of making serialized content?
FK: To some degree I think so. One of the things about this is that when people greenlight the arc for a season of television, there’s only…after a certain point there’s only so much you can do to change it. So if you’re locked in and then something changes with your fans in the middle of it, they change their opinion, they’re reacting in a different way, there’s only so much that can be done to change it at that point. And that may or may not be…and sometimes that’s not your fault. Sometimes you didn’t know, you didn’t have the information, you didn’t know how people would react. I think other times people haven’t listened or don’t understand the people that they’re telling stories to. And I think in those cases they back the wrong horse and then they’re startled.
FK: Or, sometimes people misjudge the percentages, right. They think “Oh, well, 90% of people like this and only 10% like that.” But they were wrong. They were listening to…
ELM: Pause, pause, pause.
FK: They were listening to people talking really loudly about how they like X, but a vast number of people don’t like it.
ELM: Are you telling me that creators should write stories based on what the highest percentage of the audience wants?
FK: In large-scale network television? Not always exactly what they want. But I think that you have to be responding to what they need narratively.
ELM: That’s interesting.
FK: If the audience wants a couple to get together, that doesn’t mean “Get them together instantly and have them make babies and destroy all narrative tension around them.” But it probably means you should be thinking about that couple rather than some other couple that you’ve already decided you wanted, right? Because it’s a product, ultimately. It’s an art form, but it’s also a product. It’s not like you’re writing a novel that is going to be completely under your control and you’re going to write it or not because it’s for art’s sake.
ELM: That’s interesting.
FK: I’m not, I mean, I don’t think that people cede all creative abilities or license or like that, but there is a reality, which is that you’re telling a story to people. And if they don’t like your story, they’re not going to watch it, and then your television show will go off the air.
ELM: All right.
FK: Like…that’s it, you know? They don’t like it, they’ll stop watching, and then your television show goes off the air, and then good job having all of that creative integrity, right? So. You can make a choice. It’s not that simple, but maybe it sort of is sometimes.
ELM: It’s tricky. I’m thinking of examples where people vote for the wrong thing. You know. Like, in politics.
FK: I feel like those are very different issues.
ELM: Are they?
FK: Well, in one case the stakes are whether people want to see enacted a particular…yeah. I mean. I sort of do. [laughing] I sorta do. I think they’re kinda different, Elizabeth.
ELM: I’M JUST SAYING.
FK: I was gonna go down this rabbit hole trying to explain why I thought voting for president was different from wanting a ship to get together, and then I was like, “I don’t think I even need to explain this.”
ELM: I’m saying sometimes the crowd is not very wise.
FK: But what’s the outcome you’re seeking with the TV show, right? If the crowd wants one thing, if the outcome you’re seeking is…you’ve got competing things. On the one hand you want to create the story that has integrity and is the thing you wanted to tell, although it’s not really you because it’s actually a massive group of people all collaborating.
ELM: Yeah, that’s really important.
FK: So whatever. But fine, maybe you’re the showrunner and you’re like Matthew Weiner and…
ELM: He’s problematic.
FK: Yeah. But he had incredible control over his writers. So everything happened the way he wanted it. So maybe you’re him. Fine. Great. So you wanna have artistic integrity, but you also want your show to stay on the air, and the two things you want…so if your audience wants something from what your artistic integrity wants, I don’t know what to tell you about that. It’s not like there’s something moral here necessarily.
ELM: No, I don’t think it’s necessarily moral. It’s just now we’re talking about lowest common denominator. I think if you’re making a show on CBS, sure.
FK: Right, but if you’re making a show on…here’s the example. If you’re David Lynch and you’re making a show on Showtime, you don’t actually want your audience necessarily to keep watching past the first thing. Because he knew what he needed to get to make Showtime happy, if he even cared. So this is an example of difficult television which I love, which the audience did not all love, right?
ELM: It seemed like a lot of people I knew who were watching Twin Peaks may not have been happy with everything about this new season but they were committed to the end.
FK: There were some who I know, I know a lot of people who dropped out.
ELM: Who stopped watching?
FK: I got in big fights with people. Yeah.
ELM: Oh no.
FK: Who I felt didn’t understand its quality.
ELM: The genius of it.
FK: But the point is David Lynch put himself in a position where all he had to do—first of all he had already gotten to make it, so who cares. Everything he’d already done was in talking them into giving him the budget to do thism and once he had the budget he didn’t care, he didn’t want to make more or not. Why does David Lynch care? Right.
FK: If it totally flops he’ll just go make another Inland Empire on home video cameras. He doesn’t care at all. Even if he did care, all he needed to do was get out of the gate of getting people to join Showtime and he did. It was a massive success in that even if everybody stops watching.
ELM: Even if everyone cancels after one month.
FK: Even if everyone cancels after that episode that was entirely all of “Requiem for the Victims of Hiroshima” with an art film behind it, which literally happened. It played in full. With an art film about atomic bombs.
ELM: I can’t believe that this is what you love and you’re also giving me shit over here for saying that, for being horrified that television is being created by committee and lowest common denominators. You’re really a contradictory being.
FK: But my point is that the reason he’s able to do this is he’s already achieving his goals within the space he’s given for it. Every person wants their artistic integrity to be able to, to make whatever they wanna make.
ELM: I think plenty of people don’t care about artistic integrity. Everyone who works on a CBS show. I shouldn’t paint all of CBS with a broad brush but you know what I mean. Everyone who works on Two and a Half Men. Is that show still on, do you know?
FK: I dunno.
ELM: Big Bang Theory. Big Bang Theory.
FK: I don’t wanna speak to any of the people on there. I’m sure there are people who care a lot about, they would love to make their own movie or their own TV show. There’s a lot of people.
ELM: I’m talking about the artistic integrity of The Big Bang Theory.
FK: But all I’m saying is the point of The Big Bang Theory is to appeal to everybody, that’s its point. It has a different point than Twin Peaks.
ELM: Sure, sure. This really, this got somewhat abstract.
FK: Do you think that we at least said useful things, though? Somewhere in that mass?
ELM: I think so! [laughter]
FK: We;ll find out from our listeners. We’ll find out if they like this or if they want us to go in a different direction because the lowest common denominator…
ELM: NO. We’re not crowdsourcing this, Flourish! I know you work in Hollywood, but absolutely not! Um, so…
FK: We have too much artistic integrity for that.
ELM: Please. So one thing we did not get to talk about is we wanted to re-plug, because it's related, Caroline Crampton’s article for our Medium about works in progress. Fanfiction and otherwise. She talks about the history of serialized fiction.
FK: Episodic content.
ELM: Yeah, it’s fascinating! I actually quoted some of it, I used some of the stats in my presentation. I didn’t realize, I believe it was The Pickwick Papers, Dickens, the first installment he published had like a 1,000 print run and by the end it was going at a 40,000 print run I believe? That’s fairly significant. It’s quite a lot of installments, but it was this sort of word-of-mouth excitement growing over time, and it proved to be a good business model, but the only reason they were doing that was printing costs. People couldn’t afford to buy a whole novel, they could only afford to buy a little bit and pass it around, read it to their friends. That’s so charming, I wish we did that. “I’ll buy the novel this time and I’ll read it to you guys.”
FK: That is charming.
ELM: If you wanna come over, I’m reading a few interesting books right now. I’ll read them to you to your face.
FK: I did that on a long boat journey with the Vorkosigan novels once.
ELM: You read them out loud?
ELM: Oh that’s lovely!
FK: To a guy who was really into Horatio Hornblower and C.S. Forester’s novels and I was like, “I have a space navy thing for you!”
ELM: Space navy.
FK: And it worked perfectly.
ELM: All right, so people still do do this, apparently.
FK: Occasionally. Not usually though.
ELM: So I think that if people haven’t checked out that piece, they should do so right now, because I think it’s also, you know, probably a good portion of our listeners are fic readers and probably writers as well, and I love the paradoxical bits where everyone was like, “Yeah, I know it’s hypocritical, I don’t wanna read WIPs but I write them anyway, or I post them.”
FK: Totally guilty.
ELM: It’s like, yeah, it’s really tricky.
ELM: Someone asked on “The Rec Center”! We started warning. Not warning, but they said “Can you mark if it’s WIP?” Yeah, I can do that. They don’t even wanna click through and see.
FK: Cause you might get attached.
ELM: You can see it when you look at the, like, cause we give information…
FK: Too late, too late, too late.
ELM: Yeah, you’re like “I love the sound of this” and then you click on it and you’re like, “OH BURNED.” Yeah. That’s right.
FK: All right. So if you were enjoying both Fansplaining and also the articles that we’re able to commission, a really good way to support us is by supporting our Patreon. It’s at patreon.com/fansplaining.
ELM: Another smooth transition.
FK: You can kick in as little as $1 a month. If you get up to a little more than that you can get wonderful prizes like special episodes.
FK: Prizes. Do you like that I call them prizes? Like special episodes. If you pledge $10 a month you can even get a special tiny zine that we make, we’re working on the next one right now. If you have no money but want to contribute, please, as you can see from this episode we love getting mail and asks and especially voicemails. To do that, go to fansplaining.com, that’s a Tumblr with an open ask box. It also has a phone number listed there. We especially love voicemail, so call that number, leave us a voicemail, just make sure you’re in a quiet place so we can use it. You can also email us fansplaining at gmail.com, or contact us on Twitter at fansplaining, or through Facebook, our Facebook page is also called Fansplaining, and we really look forward to hearing from as many of our listeners as possible!
ELM: What a spiel! You got it down.
FK: Got it down.
ELM: Oh and iTunes, we never tell people to do that! We should.
FK: And please rate and review us on iTunes, that helps new people find us through iTunes. If you have even a moment, that’s super super helpful and also makes us blush if you say nice things. So.
ELM: It’d be really nice if you made us blush.
FK: OK. I think that’s about it! Do you think we’re done, Elizabeth?
ELM: Yeah! I’m gonna go watch some episodic content.
FK: Me too. Talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: OK bye.
[Outro music, thank yous and disclaimers]