Episode 70: “Our Most Passionate Fans”

Episode 70’s cover: a packet of Szechuan Sauce.

In Episode 70, “Our Most Passionate Fans,” Elizabeth and Flourish discuss the ways that corporate America interacts with fandom—especially when fandom behaves badly—through the lens of the Rick and Morty/McDonalds Szechuan Sauce debacle. (Spoiler: corporate America does not do well.) They also continue to discuss fan tourism and read a listener letter about what happens when your own fandom descends on your town.


Show Notes

[00:00:00] As always, our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax.

[00:02:38] The Sauce podcast’s url is “wewantthesauce.com” which is… a lot.

[00:03:30] Didn’t listen to last week’s episode on fan tourism? We are shocked. But it’s OK. You can still catch up.

[00:10:36] We are still proud that the episode where we talk about Harry Styles is entitled “Flourish Goes To A Concert, Or, Elizabeth Agrees To Talk About Harry Styles For Half An Hour.”

[00:13:05] They put up a barrier to stop people from kissing the grave. Boo.

Oscar Wilde’s grave, with art deco angels adorning it and many kisses on the clear barrier between it and the rest of the graveyard.

[00:13:33] Our episode about grief and fandom is here.

[00:20:26] Read the Harry Potter Lexicon on gargoyles and weep, Elizabeth!! (They’re also in the video games, but those are noncanonical so.)

[00:21:06] Emily Roach’s appearance on Fansplaining!
[00:22:28] Our interstitial music is “Perpetuum Mobile” by Karstenholymoly.

[00:25:33] The McDonalds apology is here.

[00:34:26] The Verge article we’re discussing is “In 2018, let’s stop pretending abusive fans are ‘passionate’“ by Katherine Cross.

[00:40:23] If you were living under a rock and missed #Ham4Ham and yet also like Broadway, you are in for a treat!

[00:52:52] The article we’re discussing is “Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet” by Andrew Marantz.

[00:56:16] Our episode discussing the Outlander fan merch incident.


[Intro music]

Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!

FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!

ELM: This is Episode 70, quote, “Our Most Passionate Fans,” unquote. The quotes are vital there, that’s why I said them out loud.

FK: [laughs] They’re really important because we’re going to be talking about the ways that corporate America interacts with fandom, and especially really toxic quote-“passionate”-unquote fandom.

ELM: This quote is from the corporate PR teams and things like that. And social media teams.

FK: Right. And we’re gonna be focalizing it around the Szechuan sauce debacle, which is what happened when Rick and Morty made a joke about Szechuan sauce, which was like a special sauce McDonald's had 20 years ago… 

ELM: Wait wait wait. The joke was last spring on an episode of Rick and Morty, which is a cartoon show.

FK: There we go. [laughs] Explain it more detailed.

ELM: Just givin’ a little more context! And the Szechuan sauce was a Mulan tie-in from 1998, or whenever Mulan came out. They have occasional special sauces at McDonald's.

FK: Right. And so the joke was that one of the characters was trying to get this sauce and McDonald's saw that and was like, “Hey! Let’s make some sauce!” And Rick and Morty fans flipped out over the sauce, and it ended in riots.

ELM: Yeah. To clarify further, this was in the spring that the episode came out, of last year—in October is when they announced they were doing this sauce. They, I think, underestimated how interested people would be, they made in their words “cups,” they call the sauce “cups,” individual units, which stresses me out to no end. It’s not a cup!

FK: Yeah because they’re at most maybe… 

ELM: The little packet!

FK: An eighth of a cup of sauce.

ELM: The dipping trough. Trough is too…you know what I mean. I don’t go to McDonald’s. I’m a vegetarian. So. They made 20,000 of them! Which is not that many to distribute over special stores in the U.S. And people camped out, there wasn’t enough sauce, people flipped their shit.

FK: But then what happened, right, they backed down on all of this and did this whole apology tour, basically, and more or less were like, “How do we fix this?” And then they made a podcast about the whole thing as a response to this, in addition to bringing the sauce back in greater volumes. So… 

ELM: At proper scale, millions of cups.

FK: So we were gonna talk about that as well as other corporate interactions with fandom, because it’s ridiculous.

ELM: We listened to the podcast, it was my idea, and then I live-tweeted my listening to Flourish with a lot of capital letters saying things like “Oh my God, fuck them, fuck them” over and over again. Spoiler, just so you know how I felt about this whole thing.

FK: OK. We’re gonna get to that, but we can't get too deep into it right now though… 

ELM: But I have so many feelings! I have so many feelings about this!

FK: There will be time for your feelings later! First we have a letter, and we also had some topics from last time that we wanted to talk about.

ELM: Well, the letter is about topics from last time.

FK: Let’s start with that!

ELM: So last episode, we talked about fan tourism, which we kind of put some boundaries around, so that’s what we wanted to discuss a little bit. They weren’t hard boundaries, but the conversation had boundaries. We were basically talking about if you’re a fan of a fictional property, and we drew this sort of spectrum of whether you want to pretend the fourth wall is still up and immerse yourself in the real-life analogue of the fictional world you like, all the way over to you wanna see behind the scenes, you wanna see the cameras working, you wanna see the sets and props they use, you wanna see the production of it, right? But it’s very much about thinking about television shows and movies and books and things. We weren’t really talking about music fandom, for example.

FK: Or celebrity fandom.

ELM: Or theater fandom. So we started to discuss it and I was saying, I don’t necessarily think of those as fan tourism so much.

FK: When you say “those” what you mean is going to, traveling to see a Broadway play or to see your favorite celebrity in a play or… 

ELM: Which in a way I think is tourism, obviously going to see a Broadway play is tourism, but I just think of it as a lot different than…it kind of brings up a question too of—I know there are discussions within theater fandoms, and music fandoms, you’re in a music fandom you tell me—if you don’t see it IRL, are you truly a fan? If you’re in the Hamilton fandom and you never get to see Hamilton, I’m sure that’s actually a point of anxiety for people in that fandom, because it’s so inaccessible to so many people.

FK: Right, especially when it was only in New York.

ELM: Exactly.

FK: That was a big, big deal. There are people I knew who had seen it multiple times and who really had to…defending that to other people.

ELM: “You’re so privileged that you were able to see…!” And seeing the original cast, especially for that one in particular. I’ve never before or since seen a Broadway show where people got so invested in the individual cast members, right? It’s definitely a phenomenon, an unusual thing in that way. But you were saying to me that Harry Styles fans, some people believe that you do need to see it live, right? To be really a quote-unquote “true fan” or whatever, which obviously, “true fan”… 

FK: I don’t know about that, but I do think there are people who would side-eye if you were like “I’m not trying to go to concerts, I don’t care about it.” Yeah. I don’t know if people would be like “You’re not a true fan,” but I think people would be like “Really?”

ELM: “What’s the point?”

FK: “Are you sure you even care about this that much?” You know?

ELM: Right. That’s the coded way of saying “true fan.” “Do you actually care?”

FK: Yeah. I mean…I don’t know. I guess what I’m saying is: I don’t know that there would be the same—probably some people would feel gatekeep-y about it, undoubtedly, but I don’t know that it’s a massive gatekeep-y thing. I do think there’s that feeling, but it may or may not be a big stated…but I guess…so I assumed that these things would count potentially as fan tourism, and I think that I was coming at it from the perspective of: basically anytime you're traveling to do a fan thing, and especially to see a sight or a thing that you can’t see anywhere else, right? That that’s tourism. And I don’t know if that's right, I don’t know if that’s the boundary we want to draw or not, but it’s an interesting question, I think.

ELM: It’s just a different way of shifting it. And someone else in our mentions mentioned cons, and I just…I, that I don’t really see. That obviously is travel for your fandom, but you’re inside convention centers that look fairly similar…that to me, I just wouldn’t place that as tourism. Maybe that’s a weird way to define “tourism,” but I also just…I think that's travel for an IRL fannish activity, but… 

FK: I think that’s complicated because you have—it’s not like there can't be tourism to events. You can go to the Christmas markets in Switzerland, and that’s tourism for sure, if you’re like “I’m gonna go to the Swiss Christmas market in December!”

ELM: That’s a specific tourist activity, yeah.

FK: I’m listing something that is an event that occurs every year that is moveable.

ELM: Or you go to see the Northern Lights or something. Is that tourism?

FK: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s, because that’s not human made I think it’s more clearly tourism, maybe? I don’t know! You see what I’m saying there? So I guess I could envision, maybe San Diego Comic-Con is tourism in a way that random small sci-fi/fantasy con isn’t. Because one of these things is something that people might come just to gawk at rather than to be part of. I don’t know.

ELM: I don't know. I guess at San Diego Comic-Con there’s definitely people who are fans of San Diego Comic-Con, right?

FK: Right!

ELM: People in the Hall H line, they’re fans of Hall H, and you know, cause when we were in there and we heard people saying…or I did, cause we were separated, cause there were random seats that we had to sit in. But I heard people behind me, it was the beginning of Saturday, they were like “What’s first?” And I was like “Oh, you’re just in here to be in this room! You’re not here to…” 

FK: Yeah, to have a particular… 

ELM: To see DC or to see whoever the hell was in that room. Maybe they were there to see Marvel, so they were like “What do we have to sit through first?” [FK laughs] “For eight hours…”

FK: Yeah, but there’s definitely people who go just to be like, “What’s gonna happen? Let’s find out! I wanna see what’s in Hall H.”

ELM: It’s the excitement of being in that physical space. And is that tourism? Maybe I’m just drawing too-hard lines around tourism. I’m not saying if people define it other ways that I’m right and they’re wrong, also. It’s just maybe where I define it in my head.

FK: In any case, whether or not we’re picking…I think we might be picking, just debating the terms, debating a term without a purpose, almost. Our initial purpose was to talk about fan tourism as sort of a phenomenon. But I don’t know that there’s that much…what’s the stakes if we define it one way or the other, you know what I mean?

ELM: [laughs] There’s not! Though actually, I do think the way that we wound up talking about it last time was really valuable for me, because it wasn’t necessarily about the travel itself. It was about the way of engaging with a fictional world.

FK: Yes, and I think that that was good.

ELM: And I don’t think that that, I also, back when I was in…when I went to the U.K. previously, the last trip was in October, for work, I went on another wonderful tour with my friend that I mentioned last time, this was of naval London or whatever. I also went to go see Toby Stevens, star of Black Sails, in “Oslo” in the West End, which is a play about Israel and Palestine. So that’s kind of celebrity…that’s obviously a celebrity fandom kind of thing. But I didn’t think of that as fan tourism, because for me, that’s not really…that’s not even, that’s beyond breaking the fourth wall. It’s not like I went to go see him give a talk about playing Captain Flint or whatever. I just wanted to see his charming face, and I did. I just stared at him the whole time, even when he was in the background.

FK: [laughing] I think that when I’m in L.A. my experience of different neighborhoods is different if I’ve seen members of One Direction in paparazzi pictures there, you know, as embarrassing as that is…my experience… 

ELM: Own it! This is who you are, Flourish.

FK: It is who I am! The experience of being in that place is different. Right now I’m back editing my One Direction fic after literally two years… 

ELM: Oh really?

FK: Yeah, I'm trying to, I was like, “I really need to get this done. I have to stop waffling about it.” So anyway, working on that, I definitely experience places differently. I felt different about Boston when Harry was in Boston. Which I mentioned in our episode, I was like, I was surprised at how different it was. And I was surprised at what an awful person I was to even consider the possibility of stalking him at SoulCycle, right. So I think these things relate to each other, it’s just a little weird when it’s not a fictional universe, it’s instead an actual person.

ELM: But the way everyone talks about One Direction, or any…obviously more than that, but that’s the one that I hear about most from all of you. It is kind of like—and maybe that’s why Boston feels different to you also—because suddenly it’s like, “The characters from this text that I like studying, and I talk about them like they’re characters in a text, and now suddenly my city has been transformed into a part of that text,” when actually it forces you to simultaneously conceive of that and the fact that it’s the real place where you live…and now it’s two things at once.

FK: I think you’re right. But that’s slightly different than…I mean, it’s not entirely different from what we were talking about in our last episode, but it’s a little different.

ELM: Yeah.

FK: Good talk! [laughs]

ELM: All right, so we just wanted to feel our way through some more of these things. People visiting the houses of writers and things like that too, what does that mean to your relationship with the text? I’ve done a ton of this.

FK: Sort of like behind the scenes, right?

ELM: Is it behind the scenes? Sure.

FK: Going to where Emily Dickinson wrote? Like “Yeah, here I am! In this little upstairs!”

ELM: That was the backyard of my dorm, so to me that’s just the place we trespassed on. Don’t tell them we do that, but we do that all the time.

FK: Oh my God.

ELM: I actually never went inside the house!

FK: Oh yeah?

ELM: It was…I had classes to go to. [FK laughs] But yeah, I don’t know. I try to think, when I go to a place where a real person I admire lived, I’ve definitely done that. Even visiting blue plaques, they have blue plaques all throughout the U.K., historical markers, “Blank lived here.” You walk down certain streets and every house has a plaque, because at some point someone famous passed through. And I’ve literally visited streets just to be like, “Oh, I’m on the street where they had a house!” What does that embodiment even mean? Why does that…they lived there for like two years, in 1895 or whatever, and I’m like “Oh wow!” It’s just, it’s funny, cause there’s obviously…or Père Lachaise, have you ever been there?

FK: Yes, I have been there! And yes, it is… 

ELM: The cemetery in Paris.

FK: Let me kiss the grave!

ELM: You’re not supposed to do that.

FK: No. But people do. All the time.

ELM: Oscar Wilde’s grave, to clarify. You’re supposed to leave an empty bottle at Jim Morrison’s grave, or whatever, put out your cigarette on his grave. So that too. You get that a little bit here in New York at Greenwood, but it’s not as many. Père Lachaise is all the heavy hitters, right. You’re like “Whoa, Balzac!” I don’t know. So it’s like, that’s super weird too. Visiting people’s graves. Is that fan tourism?

FK: It’s a little bit like the pilgrimage idea, which we talked about in…we talked about it several times, but we talked about it in the episode about grief and fandom. Because people were creating that memorial to David Bowie, and also a memorial to Alan Rickman at Snape’s door in the theme parks, and so forth.

ELM: And the memorial to David Bowie was outside his actual home.

FK: Yeah, I’m just saying, wherever it is creating little shrines for people to go to… 

ELM: A physical space.

FK: Whether or not they were actually, in some cases, a place where the person had been and in some places a place associated with them.

ELM: You don’t think Alan Rickman lived inside the theme park?

FK: That sounds like a hilarious middle-grade book.

ELM: [laughing] Go pitch that one! OK. So before we leave this topic we should read the email that we got from Ruth.

FK: Do it!

ELM: It’s kind of the flip side of fan tourism, when you wind up…just like, when Boston became Harry Styles land, you turned into the—you weren’t like “Ugh, people here! Treating my city like it’s some fictional place where they can stalk Harry Styles!” or whatever, right?

FK: Yeah, that was not how I felt about it.

ELM: OK, so let me read this. This is from Ruth. “Hi Flourish, Hi Elizabeth, thanks for an excellent podcast!

“Thoughts on your episode number 69 (Jake Peralta voice: noice!) ‘Fan Tourism.’” Glad I got to say “noice”! [FK laughs]

“The mention of eating dinner at high table at an Oxford college and feeling like you’re in Harry Potter vividly brought back some memories of my own time at Oxford, and how I fell out of love with Harry Potter. I studied at Oxford in the early 2000s, at more or less the height of Pottermania (the first few films were coming out, as was the highly-anticipated fifth book). Oxford is always swarming with tourists, but at that time a lot of them were saying things to students like ‘Is this the real Hogwarts?’ or ‘I love your Harry Potter gown!’ (Note: students at Oxford are required to wear academic gowns to sit exams. Feeling stressed about the final exam you’re about to take is not the time when you feel most inclined to chat about how much your clothes look like wizarding robes). Meanwhile, they were ignoring the real thousand-year history of Oxford all around them in favor of a story about a boy wizard. A boy wizard who, in the books, never goes anywhere near Oxford and has nothing to do with the place! Needless to say, I got a bit annoyed with all these tourists, and as a result I stopped liking Harry Potter altogether for a couple of years. I subsequently rejoined the fandom, although I’ve always had a more complicated relationship with it than before, as my enjoyment of the books is tempered by my memories of getting annoyed with fan tourists.

“One other thing I think is worth noting about the fandom is that, as you say in the podcast, it’s a very British series of books, and I don’t think the American audience always grasps the underlying stuff about the complexities of the British class system. Eg, the stuff about ‘mudbloods’ is always taken by Americans to be exclusively about race, whereas to a British audience it reads as being as much about social class. Actually, once I’d got over my initial annoyance with tourists, I found that my experiences at Oxford (as a ‘Hermione’ surrounded by snobbish ‘Draco’s) gave me in some ways more appreciation for the HP books. Like I say, the relationship status is ‘it’s complicated.’

“Finally, a little fan tourism anecdote of my own: are you familiar with the His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman? (The Golden Compass, etc). A YA fantasy series which is actually partly set in Oxford! The beautifully bittersweet ending of the final book features a particular bench in the Oxford botanic gardens. I used to go and sit there whenever I felt stressed out, to contemplate the beauty of the gardens and the complexity of the Universe. Thanks for reading my thoughts, Ruth.”

FK: That’s such a great letter!

ELM: Mm-hmm. Man. I have a lot of feelings.

FK: Me too. So it’s funny, I can’t imagine how frustrating that influx of fan tourists must have been, but my first thought about this was, I used to live right in Harvard Square. Literally in a spot where I was across the street from the prettiest church in Harvard. And there would always be a swarm of tourists on my doorstep, and inevitably this was when I was coming home with a bunch of groceries. And at the time I was teaching at MIT, and people would always assume I was a Harvard student cause I was like 22, and would ask me all these questions about being an undergraduate, and I would sit there and I would be like “First of all, I wanna put down my groceries, and second of all fuck you I am not an undergraduate, and third of all can you please just leave me alone!” So I guess what I’m saying is I wonder whether if Harry Potter wasn’t the thing, how much she would still be frustrated by tourists for other reasons, you know what I mean?

ELM: Yeah, I definitely…well actually, I kinda enjoyed it. I experienced this but I actually really enjoyed it, cause my dorm room was on the tour my freshman year.

FK: What. You were the tour dorm room!

ELM: Yeah, because it was a really nice new dorm, and it was really small dorm, so there were only five rooms on each floor and three stories, it was a very small dorm. So we were on the first floor, so…and they picked our room a lot, I think, because we kept it pretty clean, as opposed to my next door neighbors—love them, they’re great women, but they did not keep that place clean. And so I actually put a bunch of provocative—we both did actually, my roommate and I, she was very progressive, total leftist—and so we put a bunch of aggressively provocative things outside the door, and also on the walls, and it was like…especially the dads would get so stressed out. You know? They’d be like “I can’t send my child to this place!”

FK: Oh my God.

ELM: “Where they’re all some gay socialists!” or whatever.

FK: Oh my God.

ELM: So I actually really enjoyed it and I got some sort of…I actually kinda got this pleasure about being like “Yes, I can be your ideal college student! Here we are in our dorm room.” I do feel like the heart of that is not necessarily the idea of being annoyed by tourists for Ruth, but the idea of people not even wanting to engage with Oxford in any way and just pretending it’s Harry Potter, which I personally would find tedious as well.

FK: Yeah, I agree. I mean…it sounds like she had the most of a situation where…do you remember, I mean, I was just at the age of looking at colleges around this time and it seemed like every college wanted to sell itself: “You’re going to go to school in a place that looks like Hogwarts!”

ELM: They did like to say that.

FK: And I was like, “None of these places look like Hogwarts.” I went to my college: “This looks like a copy of what someone imagined an East Coast university would look like, which itself looks like not even really a copy of Oxford!”

ELM: The only college that really really does is Yale.

FK: Yep. It is Yale.

ELM: But beyond that… 

FK: Everything else is like [laughs] red brick!

ELM: I went to a New England college and it looks like it's from New England. Red brick and white wood and it’s just…pure Massachusetts aesthetic.

FK: I know. I know. So anyway, I couldn’t quite get over that.

ELM: Yeah. I mean, I guess it’s a way for people to feel like school is exciting and fun? “You’re gonna come here, it’ll be as magical as Hogwarts,” or whatever, but it's weird and also—I don’t know. I feel like kind of infantilizing too. You’re going to college.

FK: I mean, who doesn’t like gargoyles, but come on.

ELM: There’s no gargoyles in Harry Potter, Flourish.

FK: Are you sure there’s not any gargoyle ever mentioned? I’m pretty sure there are gargoyles mentioned.

ELM: I don’t think so. It’s not a French castle.

FK: I’m pretty sure there are gargoyles.

ELM: And it’s not like the greatest show ever made, Gargoyles.

FK: It’s not like that, but I’m pretty sure that there are gargoyles mentioned, and I want to look this up now, but I don’t have a searchable copy cause all of mine are paper copies.

ELM: OK, we’ll sort this out later. We’ll report back.

FK: Anyway, yeah. I agree with you. I’m just, I think it’s interesting, I guess the position of being involved with tourism in different ways is interesting to think about also.

ELM: It’s a shame, I can see how that would be frustrating and how it would drive you away. I don’t know. It’s funny too, because just before I left the U.K. last week I stayed with my friend Emily, who came on the podcast the year before last…last time I visited her, for the “Queer YA” episode. And we were talking at length—because I know her from Harry/Draco fandom—about people’s conceptions of Draco. And she was saying, I hope she doesn't mind me saying this, she was saying she went to Oxford surrounded by Dracos. She thinks of Draco as the man that she went to Oxford with. And often, I mean—not just Draco in leather pants, but all sorts of fanon interpretations of this character would be so distant from an Oxford of Dracos, right? [FK laughs] He’s just a boy, he’s actually a rich asshole. You know?

FK: Yeah!

ELM: So. Who could be redeemed. But like, you know.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: It was funny to hear that echoed again, and I’m sure that [laughs] any of our other listeners who went to Oxbridge probably had similar experiences, I’m sure.

FK: I think one of the things is way more quotidian than people would like to make it, right?

ELM: I don’t know what “quotidian” means outside the restaurant Le Pain Quotidien.

FK: Like, everyday.

ELM: Oh. Oh! The everyday bread?

FK: Yeah! That’s what that restaurant means!

ELM: No way!

FK: Our daily bread.

ELM: Oh, like from the Bible!

FK: Yeah!

ELM: OK great.

FK: I’m glad that we had this learning experience, Elizabeth, should we take a little break and then talk about Szechuan Sauce?

ELM: Ugh, I’m already mad thinking about it! Yes, but this was a good conversation that didn’t make me mad, and thank you Ruth for your letter.

FK: Yeah, thanks Ruth. OK. 

[Interstitial music]

FK: All right, we’re back.

ELM: We are.

FK: And it's time to talk “The Sauce.”

ELM: OK. We already described it, but let’s just do this breakdown one more time, very quick. Rick and Morty, adult cartoon show...not like erotic. Just with adult fans.

FK: Not a kids’ show.

ELM: Like Bojack Horseman. I don’t even think it’s a crossover one like Steven Universe. I feel like Rick and Morty is for adults.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: In the spring of last year, 2017, mentioned in an episode about Szechuan sauce, at McDonald’s, one of the characters wanted it, it was a sauce that McDonald’s did a special promotion 20 years ago for Mulan.

FK: Right.

ELM: McDonald’s, when they saw people requesting it, they were like “Hey McDonald’s, can we get this?” People were tweeting at them for months.

FK: Right, because people remembered Szechuan sauce—or alternately never tried it, but thought it was funny.

ELM: I think the vast majority of people had not tried it, from what I have heard.

FK: I agree.

ELM: And they just wanted it from kind of a fan perspective. They were like “Well, I want it too. I need to try this sauce.” So McDonald’s was like “Great, we’ll really capitalize on this enthusiasm, these passionate fans,” cause McDonald’s is dumb, so they were like “OK. We’ll make a limited run at certain stores.” And then there was not nearly enough and people rioted, police were involved, it was a really bad scene, they issued an apology—do you want to read the apology? I think you have that up.

FK: Yeah. I’ll read the apology. OK. So the apology read as follows:

“To our customers and Szechuan sauce lovers, yesterday we were truly humbled by the amazing curiosity, passion and energy this community showed to welcome back Szechuan sauce, even if just for one day. Thank you a million times over. Between the costumes, the memes, and the cross-state travel, you, the fans, showed us what you got. And our super limited batch, though well intentioned, clearly wasn’t near enough to meet that demand.

“‘Not cool.’ We agree. So we’re going to make this right. In the last 24 hours, we’ve worked to open any portal necessary, and it worked. Szechuan sauce is coming back once again this winter, and instead of being one day only and limited to select restaurants, we’re bringing more. A lot more. So that any fan who’s willing to do whatever it takes for Szechuan sauce will only have to ask for it at a nearby McDonald’s.

“We want to make this right. You’re some of the best fans in this or any dimension, and we plan to deliver on that promise as soon as possible. Stay tuned. Your friends at McDonald’s.” [ELM cracking up]

So this highlighted to me the fundamental mistake McDonald’s made, which was: the first thing they did was they did a limited run of Szechuan sauce and they made a vat of it and sent it to the writers of Rick and Morty. Great so far. Right?

ELM: Right. This was over the summer, right? Long before they decided to send it to the stores.

FK: Right. And then they made a couple more vats and gave them away to some people.

ELM: They gave them away, OK, we know this because we listened to the podcast where they broke this down for you. Which we’ll get to in a second. They made three of them and gave it away to random winners, right?

FK: Right. Random winners.

ELM: And one person put it on eBay immediately and then it was purchased by Deadmau5, the EDM artist, shockingly random to me, paid $15,000 for it.

FK: And who then by the way gave it out to everybody who attended one of his concerts, which was a surprisingly cool move, I would say.

ELM: So random, Deadmau5, too!

FK: It’s ridiculous, but sure, right? And then one of the people who got it was a guy who really genuinely loved Szechuan sauce, not even from Rick and Morty [ELM laughing] and he was…oh, there are good people in the world, right? Because when he heard about, later, when they made this really limited run and people were upset and rioting, he went down to his local McDonald’s and handed out the Szechuan sauce he won to everyone!

ELM: Gave samples!

FK: So that everybody could taste it, which was really charming, and I was like “Oh, good job, guy!”

ELM: Yeah… 

FK: But he shouldn’t have ever been put in that position, because…what McDonald’s did next was make like 20,000 servings of Szechuan sauce and send them out to restaurants, and each restaurant only got like 20 servings.

ELM: And it was only select restaurants.

FK: So like 20 servings at a few restaurants here and there.

ELM: On the surface you feel like this is a mismatch, a supply chain problem, right, and they didn’t plan ahead, but I think that’s too generous. I think what they did was try to capitalize on…they saw there was this fan interest, right? Without really understanding the full scope of it or the depth of it, right? And they were like, “OK! Let’s just do this.”

FK: If nothing else, it seemed like to me if they’d known anything about Rick and Morty fans they would have been wary.

ELM: Yes.

FK: But even apart from that, it seems like someone did not think about the possible…what happens in all situations. So they made this podcast afterward that was like…we can talk about how we feel about that. But they made this podcast afterward where they interviewed a bunch of people involved or people made statements or whatever about what happened… 

ELM: Whoa, talk about the podcast actually. The podcast came out in February with the launch of the mass run of the Szechuan sauce. And it’s called "The Sauce," it's a branded podcast, they say that repeatedly, they kinda make a joke out of it—the host says things like “I’m just a branded podcast host, what do I know,” that kinda thing. Like that’s a fun joke.

FK: Which, whatever, sure, but… 

ELM: You liked it? You liked that joke?

FK: I mean…no…I don’t know what to say about it. [ELM laughing] The most painful thing was that it was based on “Serial.”

ELM: Or “S-Town,” yes! So it’s done in this “What happened? We’re gonna deconstruct it,” that kinda thing.

FK: I think it was supposed to be—I can only hope that this was supposed to be funny, but it actually ended up being incredibly irritating. Irritating partially because the overdramatization of everything made it seem like…I don’t know how to put it. While I was listening to it I was like, “You’re making this podcast about what is about what happened, and I guess I’m glad about that, because it’s better than no recognition that you fucked up, but this overdramatization is so…it’s so much! It’s so bad!”

ELM: I think I can articulate this. What actually happened was kinda heinous. People rioted, people physically threatened minimum-wage workers at McDonald’s, right? Who had no warning, no support from McDonald’s. What happened, “heinous” is the word I’d use. That’s horrific.

FK: The individual experiences of people working at McDonald’s on that day suuuucked.

ELM: There’s a woman who had to barricade herself in the freezer for eight hours because people were threatening her life! A McDonald’s worker! That’s absurd. McDonald’s should be appalled. This is legit within the realm of crime. So you’re talking about it like, “This is a debacle, so we’re gonna do this true crime ‘Serial’ style podcast where we deconstruct it,” but instead you layer this shitty PR veneer over it—so you don’t actually get to the crime-iness of it, and you just try to make it sound like, all the bad actors? They’re “our most passionate fans” in it. They’re never the criminals in the story. They are the fans, in my opinion. And I know that’s a hard thing to say on the Fansplaining podcast, we’re supposed to be pro-fan, but the fans should not have acted that way. You should never threaten someone’s life over fuckin’ sauce! I’m mad, Flourish, do you see how mad I am?

FK: I’m mad too! I think that what, just hearing you say that, it was not exactly what I was trying to say… 

ELM: Do you disagree with that?

FK: But it’s close, I agree with everything you said. I think the thing that bothered me about the podcast, it changed the conversation to be something about what McDonald’s did or didn’t do. Everybody they were talking to was like, “How could we have foreseen this or not foreseen this?” Right? And that’s fine, I’m glad they’re thinking about that, but then it had nothing about what happened to McDonald’s workers, how those people are being treated in the aftermath of this, what is being done to make it up to the people who have been put right on the front lines here of what was ultimately an actual physical confrontation, and they only talked to… On the one hand, it was nice they talked to a bunch of people who had been really interested in Szechuan sauce, and they all were relatively nice people.

ELM: The fans they talked to were nice. There are good fans!

FK: But then they didn’t talk to any of the bad fans! And admittedly I don’t think that the “bad fans” would have agreed to be on the podcast… 

ELM: [laughing] “Why did you try to punch a McDonald’s worker in the face for sauce?”

FK: No one’s gonna be there and be like, “Well, I don't know, there was a mob mentality and also I’m kind of a degenerate human it turns out, I’m reconsidering my life choices at this point,” you know?

ELM: Right. So basically the people they talked to were PR people, PR team, social team, all these head-of-comms kind of people.

FK: The actual chef.

ELM: The head chef. They had him read the insulting tweets, the most insulting one they had him read out was like “You’re fat and bald,” or something like that. They weren’t that bad as far as harassing tweets go, they weren’t like “I hope you die in a fire” or “I’m gonna come to your house and kill you” kind of tweets. I don’t know if he got anything like that.

FK: But they chose not to read the ones, if he did. I can’t imagine that he didn’t get those, because I know what Twitter is like.

ELM: You know, like when they have celebrities read mean tweets about them?

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And some of them are like—they’re often funny, cause they’re just like, you know. And it’s just to watch this sad actor be like “I hate the way this person looks” and then they’re like, “hmm.” None of them are actually the level of abuse that I see daily on Twitter—in particular to people of various marginalized groups, where the threats are specifically about the marginalization.

FK: Or even just specifically about them personally and what physical things could happen to them, right?

ELM: To me I think the scariest ones are the ones that invoke various types of genocide if you are from a particular group, that sort of thing. Obviously every threat is scary. But the ones that feel like they have this ideology behind them, you know what I mean? Actual Nazis, that kind of thing. That scares me the most, so. Cool. I’m glad we got down this road. But yeah, I agree with you.

FK: That’s the point, right, and it’s funny cause I think that we could…the thing that I find most frustrating about this is that this is such a transparently, of course a corporation is going to do this. They’re betting that if you cared about Szechuan sauce, you’ll be mollified by this treatment, because you don’t want to think about the individual workers who were hurt in this way, you don’t want to think about the fact that there was all this. And if you don’t care about Szechuan sauce, you’ve already forgotten about it. So why would you… 

ELM: You’re not gonna listen to this.

FK: You’re not gonna listen. So the assumption is no one will care, and they’re probably right from a corporate strategy standpoint, but it’s so… 

ELM: Cynical?

FK: I was gonna say that ultimately these choices degrade public discourse and the way humans interact with each other! When there is no consequence from anyone when people behave in those ways. I don’t know, man.

ELM: OK. So let’s segue into the article that mentions this, that I think was really interesting and really useful for some of these conversations. This article came out in early January in The Verge. The author is Katherine Cross and it’s called “In 2018, let’s stop pretending abusive fans are ‘passionate.’” And it happened right after that swatting incident, so very quickly…you know what swatting is?

FK: Let’s say what swatting is.

ELM: Do you wanna say what swatting…?

FK: So swatting is when someone gets mad at you or wants to troll you or whatever, and they call the police in your home jurisdiction, and they tell the police—for instance—that you are inside your house with a gun threatening to kill people. The police then are obligated to send a SWAT team to your home, which they do, and potentially the police then kill you. Or maybe just scare the shit out of you. Or shoot your dog or whatever.

ELM: In this case they killed him.

FK: In this particular case they killed him. This happens often, and it’s not always that people get killed, but in this particular case someone got killed, which is [sighs] awful on so many levels I cannot express it.

ELM: Right. So this was between, it was two players in “Call of Duty” who were mad at each other so one swatted the other and then they came to his house in Kansas and killed him. Actually I was at this event about the toxicity of YouTube, which turned out to be not about that at all, a couple weeks ago…it was supposed to be about algorithms feeding algorithms, which is a big topic right now. Actually, it’s gotten bigger in the last few weeks, with the stuff about how people are promoting conspiracy theories—have you seen this whole thing? And then Wikipedia was like “Please don’t do this to us. Don’t involve us in your garbage fire.” [FK laughs]

It was an interesting talk because they actually turned out to be more of a qualitative conversation, a YouTube researcher and then a Twitch researcher and there was also a woman, I actually don’t remember her name, one of those “ye old internet,” you know that vibe. She was talking about this and she said something like, “Everyone in this listserv I’m on are debating online rhetoric and swatting, and obviously isn’t the most important thing you’re all overlooking that the police can just come into your home and shoot you? Have we become so…” and I was just like, “Literally everyone…” Not everyone obviously, not everyone thinks that the police are overmilitarized and there’s too many guns or whatever. But that was so basic! I was just, it was so eyeroll-y to me. I was like, “Obviously that’s point number one. The fact that you could call the police and they would show up with a giant team of people with guns.” But I think that’s a completely different…you know, can swatting happen in the U.K., where they don’t have…well they actually have guns and SWAT teams there. Can swatting happen in a country where they don’t have guns? They still come to your house and try to arrest you! You won’t die… 

FK: But actually, fundamentally with swatting, people dying is a new level of bad—but it’s already bad enough when no one dies. Shockingly enough, that’s already really bad enough.

ELM: I’ve seen, in other fandom spaces, doxxing that involves calling the police and reporting people for pedophilia in ship wars where people are into 16-year-old cartoon characters or whatever. So it’s not necessarily about the over-violent reaction, though obviously that’s hugely problematic, but that just seems a little bit beside the point of what’s happening here: people getting revenge via the authorities, basically.

FK: I think that in that case, in video games, it is complicated by the fact that there, people are…maybe not complicated, maybe made simpler by the fact that people there are interacting with each other, right? There’s a reason why I do not play first person shooter games online. There’s a reason why I don’t play any game that involves requiring me to voice chat with people. I don’t need to put myself through that. If that makes me a bad “girl gamer” then so be it, because I just don’t need the pain, period. So games have a…that limits a game’s audience. And so there is, if they aren’t addressing it, if they aren’t addressing the toxicity in there, then I don’t know… 

ELM: They meaning the people who are in charge of “Call of Duty.”

FK: Right. If people who are in charge of moderating games and people who are building game systems to allow for voice chat or for whatever, the tools that enable people to harass each other, then I don’t know that McDonald’s is ever going to do it either. Because at McDonald’s most people are never going to know. Most people aren’t impacted by the Szechuan sauce thing, do you see what I’m saying?

ELM: Right, this is an unusual thing for McDonald’s to actually be engaged in “passionate” fan culture. Cause usually…there are McDonald’s fans, but it’s not the same thing as…I mean, I don’t know. I don't know if you can get that kinda thing in McDonald’s… There’s the added layer of the fact that they’re Rick and Morty fans. That complicates it. Would this have happened if it was just people who are passionate about a sauce?

FK: Right, because the other thing is there’s lots of releases, lots of limited-release things that happen that don’t end in riots. Sneakerheads, right? You see them all the time lined up at stores, and not everyone’s gonna get that pair of sneakers, and people are still lined up and camping, and they understand that, and that’s what it is, right? And I think that… 

ELM: Or tickets for a show. I guess most of that’s online right now, but still, when that does still happen.

FK: And online…for people who still cared about Cursed Child, that is a major drama in the Harry Potter fandom right now, but people aren’t, even if they weren’t… 

ELM: Wait, what is?

FK: People not being able to get tickets for Cursed Child in New York?

ELM: Is a major drama?

FK: Yeah, because they had a lottery and no one got tickets because of how few tickets there were for the number of people who wanted them. Similar to Hamilton. But people didn’t riot over Hamilton tickets, and that was physical for a long time. So it doesn’t happen every time.

ELM: Yeah, it was only physical! People going to try to get the returns or whatever, people lining up…people are still doing that, I think. You go every day. That’s where he was doing the show every afternoon. Where people were waiting.

FK: Right. Not that people all had a great time with it, but just the fact that there’s a limited edition thing doesn’t mean that there is going to be a riot, right?

ELM: Yeah, yeah. OK. So going back to this article though, I got a little distracted talking about swatting. Basically the argument in the article is what we’re saying here, the kind of idea of framing your violent fans, your abusive fans, your toxic fans, as quote-unquote “passionate” fans is a huge problem. You know? This idea of “all publicity is good publicity,” the fact that…it would have been one thing if McDonald’s had just left it at that statement and then said in February “We’re gonna come up with more sauce, you guys love it, we’re gonna give it to you, you guys are great.” Leave it at that. But to do this podcast, multi-episode podcast, the way they did it and some of the quotes in there…the one quote, I think it was the chef who said it, wait, I sent it to you.

FK: The chef said, quote, “I would never be upset at a superfan for any reason.”

ELM: For any reason! That’s an absurd statement!

FK: Yeah! It is absurd.

ELM: “Someone hated my food so much they murdered my wife, but you're a superfan, so don’t worry about it because you’re committed to the brand.” What a dumb statement. The fact that they made multiple statements throughout, multiple people said this. And I just don’t understand. I mean, I understand how corporate fandom has gotten to this point, but I don’t…I kind of don’t understand how, also. [laughing]

FK: So I do think that there is something about being upset or not being upset, right? I can understand somebody saying “I don’t get upset about what happens in a fandom, because I don’t have time to be emotionally engaged in what’s happening with fans.”

ELM: You mean like the head chef of McDonald’s.

FK: Yeah! I can imagine the head chef being like “I don’t have time to emotionally engage in this, and one of the things I learned from this is sometimes people hate you, and you just sorta ignore it, and that’s what that is.” Which he did say in the thing. And I could understand that far, being like “I am just gonna emotionally disengage from this whole experience, because it’s way too much.”

ELM: That's like criticism, right? If you make a movie, you can’t sit there and yell at every single person who tweets “Your movie sucks.”

FK: The difference I would say is that there is, the never-be-upset-at-a-superfan-for-any-reason makes it feel like, basically, “I would never set boundaries with people about what behavior is OK or what people should do or say.” And that’s not healthy for anybody involved, you know?

ELM: They literally say in it multiple times, things like “The customer is always right, and this is just an extension of that.” That’s sort of the vibe. They said “the customer is always right,” so then if the customer is always right, the superfan—who’s the ultimate customer—is always always right. Because they’re the ones that you need to appease. Anyone who’s worked in retail, or food service, I know very few people who believe “the customer is always right” is a healthy attitude. I don’t think you should be rude to people, but the amount of abuse that I see on a daily basis working in the service industry—and I continue to work in the service industry at the racetrack—no, those customers aren’t right.

FK: Yeah, and more to the point, there’s a difference between “We did something, it didn’t work out, and we want to make it up to people who waited in line and couldn’t get any,” fine, great, and “Everything that people did while they waited in line, we’re gonna reframe as passionate and OK.” It’s a little bit like, I mean, yeah. Like looking at, I don’t know, One Direction fans following Harry Styles around. Right? It’s one thing to say, to not pathologize people for being interested in celebrities, and it’s another thing to be like “…and it’s totally fine to go through the trash, through your favorite celebrity’s trash.” You know what I mean? No, actually, there are boundaries—and we may disagree on where that boundary is, but I think everybody should agree that there are boundaries that exist in the world!

ELM: That’s a real question, though, where are those boundaries?

FK: Yeah.

ELM: What if I tweet at Harry Styles every single day. Every single tweet he tweets, I tweet back multiple times. Fine? What if I follow him around the world and have to speak to him at every event? And then what if I just happen to find myself in every hotel bar that he winds up at? You know? There’s gotta…is there a line in there somewhere? Is it different for different people?

FK: I think it has to be, but I think there has to be a line, because otherwise how does anyone function? There is a line, there is one, and people need it. There would be a line, I have to assume that there would be a line if people were being murdered. You know what I mean?

ELM: Yes. What if Harry Styles… 

FK: Over Szechuan sauce.

ELM: I went so far I murdered him, cause I just couldn’t bear him to look at anyone else.

FK: Legitimately, by the way, something people have done.

ELM: Yes!

FK: Yeah! Obviously, right? So there…when people put things out that suggest that there is no line, or there couldn’t ever be a line, that’s what I find weird and gross about this.

ELM: Do you feel this anxiety—cause I certainly do—about talking about fandom and explaining it to people? For a lot of people who I talk to who are outside of fandom, they draw the line [laughing] a lot farther over, where the idea of you know, things like cosplay are crossing the line into quote-unquote “too much,” that kind of thing. So then it’s really hard, because then I feel like, where am I supposed to draw this line when I’m busy trying to say “Whoa! Chill out, people are passionate!” You know?

FK: But the line is clearly, to me the line is clearly at harm. Right? To me, that is where the line gets drawn. So for instance, right, if someone is… 

ELM: Tweeting at someone, though.

FK: If someone is tweeting at someone, I think that is a perfect example of that sort of grey area in question. Depending on whether they manage their own social media, and what’s happening, that might be a bigger deal for them or a smaller deal for them, right?

ELM: Sure.

FK: So I think that's a perfect grey area example. But cosplay? Obviously not doing harm.

ELM: I’m just thinking of examples that I think of as normal fan things that people say to me, “That’s a bit much.” Fanfiction. “That’s a bit much.”

FK: Right, but to me that’s the question of “Is it causing harm?” If it’s not causing harm, there’s no problem. If something’s in a grey area where it could cause harm or not, there’s a negotiation that has to happen there between the fan and the person they’re a fan of or the thing they’re a fan of—and in an ideal world I think that people who are on the other side of that, that’s where they have to draw boundaries or to express what they want or need or…you know? That’s the place where people have to actually interact.

ELM: What about, so, but you think that stalking someone but never causing them physical harm… 

FK: Emotional harm is a thing.

ELM: Stalking them at a distance…OK. You’re not condoning stalking.

FK: I’m not condoning stalking. I also don’t think that every instance of going to a place where someone is…again, that’s tough because it’s this weird grey area. When you have a lot of people who are all, whatever, getting together in order to camp out around someone’s house, obviously that’s harm because of the number of people who are there, not because any one of them is doing it every day, right? And that’s where we get to this really complex issue of numbers and crowds, and that’s why that is difficult from an individual vs. a group perspective.

ELM: Flourish, I think one individual going to a celebrity’s house and camping out is an issue.

FK: Make it not the house, whatever. [ELM laughing] Probably not the house. Make it the recording studio, or the back door of the venue, or whatever. Or even the hotel, if they’re in town.

ELM: Eh.

FK: I think that’s, again, if one person shows up, maybe it’s cute; if a hundred people show up it’s suddenly really not cute anymore.

ELM: I feel like for celebrities even one person is not cute.

FK: Maybe, although I guess it depends on how much they creep someone out. There’s this demeanor piece.

ELM: You mean if it’s the sexy fan from the self-insert fic?

FK: Oh my God! [laughing]

ELM: Do you mean someone who just doesn’t know how beautiful she is and is feeling a little beat down by the world?

FK: I mean that I think that if people… 

ELM: And then they’re both in Starbucks together? I read the Imagines book.

FK: I love this fic you’re writing. [ELM laughs] No, but you know what I mean. People can be polite or not polite. You’re on an airplane with somebody, you don’t harass them in the first two minutes of the flight for their autograph, right!

ELM: Get it out of the way? Be like “Hey, I’m a huge fan, sorry to bother you, can I have your autograph, would you mind?” And then leave them alone for the rest of the flight.

FK: Right, well, particularly if you’re not seated by them. I would never say that at the beginning of the flight if I was sitting right next to somebody.

ELM: Oh my God, that would be so awkward. Having flown internationally a bunch recently I have now noticed—I don’t know if this is between every country, but definitely between here and Europe—they’ve started to announce that it’s against U.S. law to congregate in the aisles, have you heard this before?

FK: Interesting.

ELM: I’ve never heard this before six months ago.

FK: People have said that about congregating by the pilot’s door on some flights… 

ELM: Yeah, now every Norwegian flight, I’ve gone back and forth across the ocean like six times in the last six months. And they say that every time. And I’ve seen people get yelled at for, like, standing and talking to someone just randomly. Plotting. So you can’t just stand there, you’ll be arrested.

FK: In any case, you know what I’m saying, though, right? There’s things that are clearly OK, that clearly do not cause harm and could not cause harm, and there are things that are clearly causing harm, and then there’s things that are in this grey area that has to be negotiated. And I think that's the area where people have to communicate about expectations and draw boundaries, both as fans and as celebrities or people who…and that’s really difficult, I know, it’s hard, but one way that you can’t do that is by just saying “the customer is always right” and letting it go.

ELM: Let’s bring this back to McDonald’s, or any corporation that has passionate fans, though. Cause what you’re talking about is more of a personal negotiation.

FK: I think it has to do with corporate policy too, though.

ELM: Fan to fan object. With the corporation, it’s not the same power dynamic as it would be between you and Harry Styles.

FK: True.

ELM: He’s an individual, he’s a human, McDonald’s is not a human, you know?

FK: Certainly not.

ELM: Can you violate McDonald’s’ boundaries? Apparently not, because the customer is always right.

FK: But you can violate individuals’ boundaries who are… 

ELM: They don’t care!

FK: Working for McDonald’s. And the corporation doesn’t care.

ELM: McDonald’s doesn’t care. I’m trying to think of other examples where employees are put in harm’s way in these situations. Riots at a sporting event? Could be genuinely dangerous for the people working there.

FK: Concert halls as well, although those are generally more dangerous for the people who are in the poorly crowd-controlled pit than they are for anybody working there.

ELM: Right. I think this was an example of them putting their foot…I just, the fact that they could go through that without even acknowledging…I mean they said it in passing. They talked about, like, the woman trapped in the fridge area.

FK: But it was sort of played as a joke, right! It was almost like “Ha, ha!” No. That’s not funny! She was trapped in the fridge! For eight hours! That’s not funny!

b: She feared for her life, right? Over sauce. And so I just feel like, or when you look at this kind of whiny fanboy reaction to Ghostbusters or Black Panther or the fact that critics didn’t like any of the DC movies, that’s the hill they wanna die on apparently, which I always find really funny, they have to…it’s like they’re now contractually obligated to like all bad things. [FK laughing] All these people who reactionarily loved Iron Fist. “You wouldn't even give it a chance!” It’s like, “Did you like it though? Now you feel like you have to like it.” So tolerating that behavior, saying “These are just passionate fans,” where does that end? 

I can’t stop thinking about, this isn’t about fandom, but I’ve been thinking a lot about, cause I was reading that…did you read that great piece on Reddit in the New Yorker last week? So good, I highly recommend it to everyone. By Andrew Morantz, a contributing editor to the New Yorker, and he has done some really great reporting on the alt-right and really—along with Adrian Chen, I think, they’re writers who are around our age and can simultaneously write really intelligently in-depth about the toxic corners of the internet, really understand the internet, and can also explain it while still being able to write in-depth about it, so thank you to those gentlemen.

This Reddit piece was really interesting because…I don’t know, it definitely talked a lot about this sort of stuff, Reddit wants to be this place of passion, this place, they bill themselves as the “front page” or whatever, this place where people can express themselves, and it’s a really interesting piece cause they talk to one of the founders and he’s talking about how he's struggling with these lines and how can you say “Well, we want everyone to be able to have their say, do whatever they want,” but then if you don’t set any boundaries then you wind up with…I mean, not just TheDonald subreddit, but all the ones that they banned.

FK: The great irony being, of course, that individual subreddits today are better moderated than almost any other place on the internet except closed Facebook groups, right? Reddit, the pit, is actually better!

ELM: But part of that is because he’s been outright deleting groups for the last couple years! Deleting subreddits that were explicitly toxic. And actually changing the terms of service to explain what “inciting violence” meant, that kind of thing. You know? But it’s like, I don’t know. I just…I just feel like if you’re going about it like “The customer’s always right, our fans are the most passionate, passion’s good, everything that falls under passion and conversation is good, doesn’t matter what the content is, engagement is good, doesn’t matter what that engagement is,” even if you look at the way they’re building the YouTube algorithms or the Facebook algorithms, the most engagement will skyrocket it to the top and that engagement might be something incredibly toxic. But it doesn’t matter because it’s kinda blind to what the actual content is, as long as people are…as long as there’s movement on it, right? And where does that end?

FK: I don’t know.

ELM: Great. I thought you were gonna answer it.

FK: You thought that.

ELM: Flourish, you work with corporations. I thought you could be my ambassador to explain corporate fandom and where they’re gonna set those limits.

FK: I have some bad news for you.

ELM: I mean, honestly… 

FK: I don’t know the answer to this!

ELM: What happens if someone had died because of this sauce? Obviously they wouldn’t be doing this, right? If someone had been murdered over sauce?

FK: I think they would probably try and hide it, right? They would try and entirely bury it, I would imagine.

ELM: I think there would have been no way to.

FK: I don’t think there would have been a way to, but I think that nonetheless they wouldn’t have…in this case it’s almost like they’re trying to recast the story as “Oops, we made a bad mistake, but look at how great we were in responding to it,” right? “It’s solved, it’s better now.”

ELM: “You give us violence, and we’ll give you the sauce you want!”

FK: That’s the outcome! It’s a little bit like—the irony is, I think that it’s good policy for corporations, when they make a mistake, to then try and address the issue, talk about it, think about it, and move forward. The thing that sucks about this is that it doesn’t actually address the issue. Most of the time the issues that I think people should be addressing are issues that are internal.

The Outlander thing that we talked about before, right? They hired a company that sent shutdown notices to all of these fan merch things, and then they addressed it, solved the problem, figured out what the problem was, addressed it, communicated to fans through Diana Gabaldon, all better, great, right? But that’s not about fans doing things that are incredibly bad. And this is! And this is not the solution to that problem!

ELM: I feel like that’s kind of apples and oranges… 

FK: That’s the point, though, right? They’re giving a response that would be appropriate if the only problem was something they had done. But they were not the only people who caused this problem here, right?

ELM: Exactly. Which corporations have to do all the time, obviously, whenever there’s an E. coli outbreak or whatever, any sort of thing where they have to address the public, and they apologize. You lied about your airbag testing, all these issues that cars have where they have to do these recalls, and they apologize. Often it’s not enough, cause people die, so then they are also sued. And have to pay people money. You know. But those are in situations where the customer is not at fault, and in this case the customer was at fault.

FK: And the people who are most hurt by it were actually neither the customer nor people in the corporate office.

ELM: Right. And yet that’s the only people we heard from. Cool.

FK: This is all really depressing and we’re almost out of time. I don’t know that we have a positive outcome to this.

ELM: I think it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. I think it is definitely, this kind of corporate fandom space is something that I think I imagine a lot of our listeners—based on the stuff we normally talk about and the stuff we engage with, it’s not the primary fandom interactions of their lives, but I think that it’s impossible at this point, if we live in this corporate capitalist society or whatever, to avoid it, you know what I mean? People, corporations definitely use language about fans all the time now in a way they didn’t five years ago, right? “People who are passionate about our brand,” or whatever. It’s like, “All right.” So it’s definitely something that I think is going to affect all of us, whether or not we are the people punching a McDonald’s employee in the face to get some sauce—which is just like teriyaki sauce by the way.

FK: Really? It’s not even like…it’s not spicy? I assumed it would be spicy.

ELM: I don’t know if it’s spicy, but basically it’s just teriyaki sauce. That's what they said in the podcast! It says “teriyaki sauce with some extra stuff in it.” There’s an ingredients list. You could probably make it yourself.

FK: I think that sounds like it’s probably kinda tasty, if you like chicken nuggets?

ELM: Too bad I don’t.

FK: Neither, I don’t either, cause I know how those things are made, so.

ELM: Yeah. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12, so I don’t have to engage with this anymore. That’s when I stopped going to McDonald’s, too. Sorry, McDonald’s. They stopped making vegetarian salads around the time of Super Size Me, they added a bunch of salads to the menu to try to seem healthy and they all have fried chicken on them, basically. That’s fine, that’s fine. McDonald’s, you do not have a fan in me.

FK: Well, let’s wrap up then, how’s that? OK. So as always, we’d love to hear from everybody who’s listening. Our email address is fansplaining at gmail.com, our website is fansplaining.com, and that is a Tumblr with an open ask box. Anon is on. Please do not be a toxic fan at us.

ELM: [laughs] No no Flourish, our most passionate fans are always right. We just wanna do right by our passionate fan base.

FK: I’m going to kill you.

ELM: [laughing] That’s fine, you’re my most passionate fan. So that’s totally fine. [both laughing]

FK: I will not actually kill you or swat you or do anything mean to you Elizabeth.

ELM: Thank you.

FK: You can also tweet at us, @fansplaining, leave us a message on our Facebook page, also called fansplaining, you are probably getting the hint as to what we are on every social network. And if you are feeling like doing something nice for us, you can go and rate us on iTunes. We believe we deserve five stars, you should give us what you think we deserve. Leave a review. That helps other people find us, which is super helpful. Or, if you really really really love what we’re doing, please consider donating to our Patreon which is patreon.com/fansplaining.

ELM: And when you’re there you can listen to our most recent special episode about The Good Place.

FK: Also kind of about ethics, which is the theme of this podcast.

ELM: We love ethics.

FK: We love ethics.

ELM: Apparently our next one’s gonna be about Madam Bovary.

FK: Yeah, our next special episode will be about Madam Bovary!

ELM: I haven’t started reading it yet but I took it with me on my last trip.

FK: I haven’t started rereading it either, so it may be a little bit.

ELM: Good, let’s get reading! And we are working on the spring tiny zine, so if you have been thinking about upping your pledge or pledging for the first time, that’s at the $10-a-month level. People who have received tiny zines in the past have enjoyed them.

FK: They have also been featured in classes at MIT as an example of a current fanzine as compared to old ones.

ELM: Really? Wait. Who, did your husband do this?

FK: Yeah, totally. [both laugh]

ELM: Like “Oh my God, who’s featuring it? Oh, all right.”

FK: Yeah, it’s my husband.

ELM: Still, still!

FK: Still nice!

ELM: If you wanna read a tiny zine that’s on the syllabus at MIT, that might be stretching it, but still.

FK: I think it’s on the syllabus.

ELM: We have little bits of art and original writing and little fun things.

FK: Great!

ELM: Great.

FK: So shall we sign off, Elizabeth?

ELM: Do you wanna say that again less awkwardly?

FK: No.

ELM: [laughing] All right, we can sign off. We can say goodbye.

FK: OK, talk to you later Elizabeth.

ELM: OK goodbye.

FK: Bye!

[Outro music, thank yous, and disclaimers]