Episode 71: Lori Morimoto
In Episode 71, Elizabeth and Flourish welcome back fan-scholar Dr. Lori Morimoto, who was last on the podcast in 2016 to talk about shipping and activism with Rukmini Pande. This time, she digs into transcultural fandom, including concepts like “contact zones” and “ontological security,” and how fan communities define themselves by what they include—and what they exclude. They also discuss the current state of fan studies, from its boundaries as a discipline to advice for current students interested in the field.
[00:00:00] “Awel” by Stefsax is our intro music!
[00:01:47] Missed us live on Australian radio? Listen to it recorded here!
[00:03:37] Our episode on Fan Tourism was #69 (nice).
[00:04:27] Livia’s previous comments were in Episode 63, “Fanworks and Counterfeits.”
[00:06:01] The Radiolab about materiality is called “Things.” Season 12, Episode 8.
[00:13:17] The episode of the Three Patch Podcast featuring Lori and Elizabeth is called“Lustful Cock Monster,” no comment.
[00:24:00] If you’ve enjoyed Lori’s comments up to this point, why not pledge to her Patreon and thus get access to her Fan Studies For Fans course? :D
[00:50:40] Lori says “Mary Louise Platt” but meant “Pratt”! That post on the Fan Meta Reader about “Fandom in/as Contact Zone” is here.
[00:55:14] Tumblr post visualizations are presented in a way that it’s really hard to get a good screenshot of one? Because you have to click and drag around the image? But here’s our best attempt. You can look at your own posts and see them too!
[01:08:09] If you aren’t familiar with Racefail ‘09, we certainly can’t do a better job explaining it than Fanlore does.
[01:10:10] The original Racefail bingo card post. The card itself has been removed, and we haven’t been confident we’ve found the original. If you have it, please link us!
[01:18:25] We won’t link to everything Henry has recently done on his blog regarding interviewing scholars, but you should read Part 1 and Part 2 of the interview Lori did (the other interviewee is Sangita Shresthova).
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 71, “Lori Morimoto.”
ELM: Who…yeah, yay! Yes. Who you may remember from, oh, I wanna say Episode 29. Did I just pull that number out correctly?
FK: I have no idea, we will have it in the show notes.
ELM: Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it. Our Shipping and Activism episode. I swear to God it’s 29. I don’t know why I’m leaning in on this, but. Which was with Lori, Dr. Lori Morimoto, and Rukmini Pande, both fan studies scholars, where we talked about a specific topic, which was shipping and activism, and how those things aren’t necessarily…what’s the does-not-equal sign? You know?
ELM: Let me say this as awkwardly as possible! We had them both on to talk about a specific topic, so we wanted to talk to them separately about their work generally—so hopefully we’ll have Rukmini on sometime in the near future. But first up, Lori!
FK: Yeah, and I’m especially excited to have her on. I think you are too, because she studies transcultural fandom, and we had a question about that when we were on Australian live radio that we totally could not answer, so we’ll ask her about that question and hopefully she’ll drop some knowledge on us.
ELM: Yes we were on Australian radio, which was…it was an exciting experience for me, I’ve never done live radio before.
FK: Me neither!
ELM: And it was especially exciting because it was in Australia and we had to go on the air at 7 p.m. our time, which was 10 in the morning their time, and I went on the way to the studio I went to get a coffee, and I was like “I’m going to be on the radio in Australia right now!” And the people at the coffee shop were just like, “Have you lost your mind?” They literally could not process those words. I was like “Yeah, and the funny thing about it is, it’s tomorrow there!” That made it so much worse. They were like “Take your coffee, good luck, you can do it!” So that was exciting for me.
FK: I love that you overshared this to your barista. OK. [laughing]
ELM: I talk, do you not say all sorts of…look, OK. I’ve worked at a race track now for 15 years, right?
FK: I say all sorts of weird stuff too, I’m not saying that I don’t, I’m just saying that I love that this particular one, you told your barista and they thought you were insane.
ELM: They asked me how I was doing, and I just wanted to let them know what was going on! I’m just going to say that if you talk to—don’t be creepy and don’t tell people to smile, ever, but if you find yourself chatting with people in a service capacity, you’re not alone. Tons of people do that.
FK: Yeah. I also chat with people in a service capacity cause they’re humans [ELM laughing] who I’m having an interaction with! It’s only this specific thing which is really hard to explain to somebody that you decided to share. [both laughing] You know sometimes when someone pulls something out, you’re just like “Why did you choose to share that?” It’s not bad, it’s just like, “Why was that the thing?”
ELM: I never feel that way.
FK: Oh my God. OK OK. We need to get back on topic because I think we have a couple of letters to read before we call Lori.
ELM: Yes, we do! They’re about our “Fandom Tourism” episode, another topic that people…I feel like we keep going through this wave where we’ll do a topic and then we’ll get many weeks of responses. This seems to be one that has struck something.
FK: And then we have ones that we think people are going to respond to and everyone’s like, “Nope.”
ELM: Crickets. [FK laughs] It’s fine, it’s fine. It’s nice to be surprised constantly. So, I don’t know. This is not surprising that people are interested in this, because I think this is something that we, you know…I don’t wanna say that we all engage in it, but I think that a lot of people—and obviously not everyone has the opportunity to travel, but you can even do it within the place that you live, if you happen to be lucky enough to live in the place where your fandom has taken place. You know what I mean?
FK: Totally. OK. Do you wanna read the first letter or shall I?
ELM: I can read the first letter! This is from Livia, who I believe is the same Livia that wrote in a while back to talk about YA.
FK: I believe so!
ELM: So thanks for writing again! “Hey there. On the topic of fan tourism with non fictional people and places, my friend’s mum is an English teacher and she loves Shakespeare. She has a life size cardboard cutout of him in her classroom.” That’s really good. “Every year…” That was my editorialization. “Every year my friend’s family goes to Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer, where Shakespeare used to live, and they always tour his old house and go see his mum’s farm and stuff. My friend says every single time they go her mom is totally awestruck and is like ‘Shakespeare once stood here!’ and always quotes the bit of Romeo and Juliet about paving stones. Thanks again, Livia.”
That’s adorable. I like that she does this every time. [FK laughing] I also love the idea, do you, when you visit a place where you know someone that you admire has been, do you think about that? Do you think, like, “X has stood here”?
FK: Sure! Absolutely!
ELM: That’s funny!
FK: I don’t think that I like, I mean, I don’t sit there and rhapsodize on it, but definitely I can’t imagine it not crossing my mind.
ELM: You’re gonna quote Shakespeare at the spot that you’re standing?
FK: Yeah, probably…no, I don’t know. I might, if I were there! I don’t wanna say I’m too cool for that.
ELM: [laughing] It’s just funny to try to think about, sure, you’re also probably breathing the same air molecule. Right? What are the odds? Actually the odds are probably incredibly low.
FK: But isn’t that awesome? We’re all made of stars, Elizabeth!
ELM: Oh Jesus. It’s just funny. It’s a funny way to think about it. In the same way that I find materiality really interesting. And the fact that…there’s a classic old Radiolab about materiality like this, where it’s about trying to sort out people who care about the specificities of an object, the meaning behind a specific object, vs. the people who don’t. One of the hosts has this total, OK. It’s a baseball that, you know, Hank Aaron held. OK. And the other one is like “DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?! IT WAS HANK AARON’S BASEBALL!” I don’t know, this is a random example, I don’t think that was actually one of them.
FK: Yeah, it is funny. I think I’m pretty far on the “I don’t care” scale, and yet I still get this feeling. You know? I’m not usually super super super invested in that. But it’s not foreign to me, you know what I mean? There must be people who are much less on this scale, who are even further yet like “I don’t care that someone touched this at all.”
ELM: Right? Which is…it’s just interesting to think about, that’s all.
FK: OK, should I read the next letter?
FK: OK. This one is from Stephanie Burt, who we had on for two episodes before. And she writes: “LotR movie fandom has absolutely transformed international tourism in NZ. There are enormous LotR/ Hobbit film sets or creatures in the Wellington and Auckland airports. As of 2004, 6% of international tourists visiting NZ say LotR is one of their reasons for visiting, 1 in 100 that it was their only reason. I suspect numbers are higher today.
“You can take helicopter tours of the country organized around it, and there are several full-time visit-the-movie set places: we’ve been to the most famous one, the set for the Shire in Matamata, central North Island, and it is an absolute delight but, also, a demonstration of industrial-scale tourism, getting tour-bus-loads of people in and out in an hour, hour after hour. There are other sites that work the same way.
“The prominence of LotR among international images of New Zealand, and its place in the tourist industry, is a source of money and employment but also a source of amusement and sometime irritation for people who actually live there; I suspect book-fandom LotR types are not entirely happy about the widespread misconception that Tolkien intended LotR to take place there—the whole country on occasion seems to have rebranded itself as Middle Earth, and NZ writers sometimes make fun of the image. (The NZ poet Murray Edmond has a very funny new poem about what to do when you find a dead hobbit in your garden.) When you—that is, when I—tell people we’ve recently lived in NZ, ‘Oh! Middle Earth!’ is one of the most common things that I hear.
“NZ isn’t Middle Earth, just like Christ Church, Oxford isn’t Hogwarts. And in both cases it’s slightly annoying both that the fan tourism has made it harder to see the actual people and their cultural production, and that the movie producers’ choice of location has made it harder to bring our own ideas to the books.
“But it’s fun! and it’s an important source of revenue for NZ—especially for the less urbanized parts of the country, which seem to really benefit from the tourism.”
And as you probably can gather, Stephanie spent some time living in New Zealand recently, so.
ELM: Gathered. That’s interesting. I think that’s a really interesting duality going on, this idea of…duality isn’t the right word, but the idea that it takes away, not only are you ignoring the real, I mean, there it seems like it’s more about ecological…it’s not the same as the center of Oxford which is very much man made history, maybe this is natural history. I’m just assuming based on what I know of New Zealand’s sheep population [FK laughs] that it’s not a ton of structures, plus I’ve seen those Lord of the Rings movies, so it’s like…that kind of simultaneously contracting from the real thing and other forms of tourism while imposing this sort of…is hegemony the right word?
FK: You love that word. You love the word “hegemony.”
ELM: I do. Once it came back into my vocabulary a couple weeks ago, I’ve been like “It’s been too long since we said hegemony all the time,” I feel like it’s a very 2000s word, and I wish that we said it more.
FK: I don’t know that I feel the same lack or the same destruction of, oh, the imagination I had in my mind before I read the book—I mean before I saw the movie, now that’s been destroyed by the movie. I don’t feel that way about it.
ELM: Really? Do you not, when you think of Harry Potter characters, do you see the world that Warner Brothers created? Do you see those actors? Maybe not all of them.
FK: Not all of them, but also maybe a sort of conceptual blend, you know what I mean?
ELM: But aesthetically though, they took a very specific…they made a very specific choice. It’s interesting when you look, you’ve seen the new illustrated editions?
ELM: Aesthetically quite different!
FK: Yeah, I don’t feel like they’ve entirely contaminated my mind. And I don’t feel like Lord of the Rings has entirely contaminated my mind, either. I love the actors who played…
ELM: It has for me, but I didn’t read it till afterwards, so.
FK: Yeah, in addition to having read it many times before I saw it, I reread it on a regular basis, cause I’m that person.
ELM: Many times, Flourish, really?
FK: Yeah! I think I’ve probably read it 20 times. [ELM gasps] Yeah.
ELM: Do you…like the prose?
FK: Yeah! I mean…I wouldn’t say that it’s not…its own thing… [laughing] You know what I mean? It’s very much of itself, but yes, I enjoy it.
ELM: OK, OK!
FK: For what it is. And the way it is.
FK: Yeah! I do like it. And I feel like I get something new out of it every time that I read it.
FK: Yeah but so, whatever, I liked the actress who plays Éowyn, she does a good job, but she doesn’t look anything like Éowyn. And that’s OK. You know what I mean? Fine. That’s all right.
ELM: Who’s the actress? Who is that actress?
FK: Miranda Otto.
ELM: What else has she been in?
FK: I have no idea. Not that much that I’ve seen. She’s nice. But Éowyn’s like a Valkyrie and she did a really good, even though she’s very small she did a really good job of…
ELM: She had a presence!
FK: She had a presence, but she’s just not the person I envisioned when I envisioned Éowyn. And that’s OK, it’s all right, but I don’t imagine her when I think of Éowyn.
ELM: Do you imagine Ian McKellan?
FK: Yeah, probably. [laughter] But I think I always imagined Ian McKellan! You know what I mean?
ELM: Yeah. Yes. So did Tolkien when he wrote it.
ELM: “Someday!” [laughing]
FK: Yeah. Yeah.
ELM: All right. Back to Lori. Should we call her?
FK: Let’s call her!
FK: All right! I think it’s time to welcome Lori Morimoto onto the podcast. Hooray! Hello, Lori!
Lori Morimoto: Hello!
ELM: Welcome back!
LM: Thank you for having me! Oh, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
FK: I actually wonder because…I guess most people come back for our year-in-review episodes. I was looking at it and I was like “Wow, you’ve been on the podcast twice!” because of the year in review. So. It’s a pleasure to have you here for a third time.
LM: I’m very excited, so.
ELM: And we were on an episode of “Three Patch Podcast” together long before Fansplaining, so I just feel like we’re constantly podcasting together, second only to Flourish.
LM: It’s weird how these weird relationships develop online.
ELM: Wow, you’re calling our relationship weird!
LM: No, I didn’t mean it that way! [grumbling] [ELM laughs]
FK: Now I know what it must feel like to be the third person staring at me and you, Elizabeth.
ELM: You’re now the third wheel.
FK: Now I’m the third wheel, it’s so weird! [all laugh]
ELM: Let’s get serious. So when you were on the first time with Rukmini, you were kind of on as experts in a topic. You weren’t really on specifically to talk about your work, although obviously your work informed the discussion, but we had you on to discuss a specific issue. But I kinda want to take a step back and talk a little bit about your work. Do you even use the term “aca-fan” any more? I feel like this one is falling out of fashion with some people.
LM: It’s a tricky term, isn’t it?
ELM: Fan studies scholar?
LM: In writing I tend to say “scholar-fan.”
ELM: Like scholar dash fan?
LM: Yeah, scholar dash fan or whatever. Matt Hills does that, and I kind of prefer it to “aca-fan” just because “aca-fan” is so loaded now.
LM: Although on Twitter it’s @acafanmom, so go figure.
FK: Could you just summarize why “aca-fan” is so loaded? I think some people who listen to this podcast will have followed this, and some people will not.
LM: Well, if you join my Patreon course… [all laughing] I have a whole thing about “aca-fan”! Basically, it was, nobody’s really sure first of all where it started, it’s generally attributed to Harry Jenkins…Harry. [laughs] Henry Jenkins. It kind of got a certain reputation within some parts of fandom as kind of academics who are trying to butt in and tell us how we do things and what we do and sort of…an interloper kinda impression, I guess. On the one side, on the fandom side.
And then on the academic side there were people who were concerned about a whole range of things from “being too close to what you study” to “aca-fan is kind of a pejorative,” almost, or self-pejorative term that increased not being taken seriously by other academics. So in general, the reason that I’m not particularly fond of it…I’m happy to go after the discipline, because I think that disciplinarity is a problem. Or at least it inhibits certain kinds of conversation. But the fan side of it bothers me enough that I don’t generally refer to myself that way.
ELM: In the context…
LM: In the context of fandom.
ELM: In fandom.
LM: But even in academia I don’t really any more, just because…I don’t know. I don’t feel it, you know?
ELM: Do you feel like you’ve had to take, over the last few years you’ve had to kind of re-bifurcate those two parts of yourself? I would say, having been in fandom with you as well, and not just you, but there was a period where I felt like I would see more scholars reference their experience and knowledge in discourse, and I think that after some…discourse…
FK: [laughing] In the popular sense…
ELM: People are less inclined to do that these days!
LM: I think that that whole thing…roughly 2013…that was sort of a turning point for me in identifying with that term. I thought that some of the fans that were going “You guys are just throwing your weight around” weren’t entirely unjustified in some ways. In others, things that I worried about at the time have actually kind of come to fruition, which is neither here nor there, but that was about the point that I decided at least within fandom I was still gonna be sort of open as a scholar, as a fan scholar, but I wasn’t really going to throw my weight around as a scholar in fannish spaces, if that makes sense.
ELM: Which is hard, I feel like. Flourish, does this all make sense to you? We’re speaking in veiled terms.
FK: I think it mostly makes sense, although I’m curious about what you worried about and what has come to fruition, because when you speak in those terms it’s like “Ooh, what has come to fruition?” I wanna push but I don’t wanna push, I don’t wanna be like “Tell me all the juicy gory…”
LM: I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible! In the fandom I was in there was a lot of meta being written, some of it was really great, I’m reading it like “Oh my God, this is amazing.” And others of it read to me at the time I was teaching fan…not fan studies. I was teaching film studies. It read to me like very basic attempts at film analysis that needed some work.
And that was really where I directed my comments, if you will. And especially when some of the fans who were writing it began talking about how, you know, “This is basically scholarship,” and I’m sort of…it’s really basically not! Come on. And then there was a discussion about how meta is being written for fun, and I think they were right. It is written for fun. It isn’t trying to pass a class or anything like that. And so that was when I backed away.
FK: Right, so it sounds like it’s complex because on the one hand, meta is something that’s written just for fun, but then when people begin to speak about it as scholarship, which is something you do for work, it becomes like…“I’m not sure that I can endorse this as scholarship.” I imagine that people who work in the film industry feel similarly to some fan films, or even…
LM: It’s possible, yeah.
FK: Or even in some cases, I’m sure people feel this way about fanfic and this gets into the critique in fanfic aspect. Where does critique come in to any fan practice, and at what point can you not turn your brain off about that?
LM: Yeah, and I do think…as much as there are overlaps, we’re talking very different generic conventions across all of those things that you mentioned. And I think it’s the breakdown of those convention where people start getting a little excited about turf. Not that that was what I was concerned about at the time, it was much less…I’ll take good analysis from anybody! But scholarship is a specific genre of writing, and as intelligent as meta is, and it can be, I have the Fan Meta Reader online, I love it, as great as meta can be it’s a different genre of writing from scholarship. So that’s kind of where I got a little…
ELM: This is interesting though, because I feel like a lot of the tensions between fan studies and fans are not…what you described is definitely something I’ve experienced as well, being a professional book critic and watching the ways sometimes people analyze some of these works, and I will feel like a dick, but I’m also like “Well…this is a really bad reading that you’re doing right now.” And these are things that you kind of practice, and obviously I know that you’re very conscious of this too, there’s levels of access to education and to languages and et cetera, but as far as I understand it a lot of the conflicts—and not necessarily the ones we’re talking about right now—between fan studies and fans are not so much about “You’re doing your fannish practice wrong,” it’s more about “Can you even be trusted in that space, you’re going to study them, fans as lab rats and you’re the scientist.”
LM: Yeah, and it’s a legitimate concern, but one that fan studies itself is really unable to address in any meaningful way, because by and large the scholarship on fans that has proven with the fullness of time to be untrustworthy generally doesn’t come out of fan studies. It comes from people who are in social psychology, or other fields basically, who sort of…you have the same problem with media studies as well. Television in particular, and film. People are sort of, “Well, I can watch films!” From no matter what discipline.
And as younger disciplines, as in the case of fan studies, sort of…I don’t want to say we’re the bastard child of media studies but we’re certainly not [all laughing] the shining star, it’s really easy for what we do to just be overlooked. We have no control over what people outside of fan studies are doing. Within fan studies, we have extensive conversations about ethics, about methodologies…the methodology one is growing. But by and large, that kind of scholarship which does exist, I mean, I’ve seen it, and journalism as well, where people sort of flounce in, “Oh my God there’s fanfiction!” You know. Shut up. [laughing]
ELM: Even when it’s not in a soul-crushing way…and I don’t wanna, you know, I have good friends who are fan culture journalists who definitely write about X fandom or whatever, “Here’s what’s happening in this fandom, let me break this down.” You can probably…I don’t even need to subtweet. Gav does this. Aja’s done this before, and I’m good friends with both of them. But that’s not…I understand why people get anxious about that. Obviously it depends on how you do it, and it depends on people’s opinions of you as a writer, subtweeting something specific right now. But you know, I think people are always gonna get…do people who are the subject of an anthropological study feel comfortable?
ELM: Would people, speaking about them in a detached tone as if they’re studying their lab rats, right? And I know anthropology’s very concerned about that. But still. It doesn’t change what it is. But…
LM: Well, if somebody in anthropology was like “Here’s this small group of, relatively small group of scholars who study fans, let’s have a look,” yeah! That would feel weird! And I would at least…that’s sort of the approach I try to take with my own stuff. What would I want to know if somebody was talking about me, and how do I make that accessible to fans? So they can see what I’m saying. As you said, a lot of scholarship is inaccessible, not just by virtue of how it’s written or what it’s talking about, but oftentimes just because of the price of the book.
ELM: Literally you cannot access it, yes.
LM: Which you cannot afford it. And so I go to a lot of pains to try and make my stuff available one way or another. And that was really the impetus of the Fan Studies For Fans course over on Patreon.
ELM: Wait, tell us about this course though.
LM: OK! Fan Studies For Fans is a ten-lecture course that I decided to do back in August of last year. I am currently working on the fourth lecture, so it’s about that kind of pace. And it is actually the Patreon fees are by lecture not by month, because I knew this was gonna happen. And basically I’m just trying to talk to people who already have a grounding in what fandom is, at least as we understand it. So to add all of my qualifiers, it would basically be online, English-language, largely women’s fandom. Using that as the baseline that I don’t have to explain, I talk about what it is that we talk about and how we got into those conversations in the first place.
So the first lecture was about the term “aca-fan,” and also discussions about ethics in fan studies. The second one was an overview of the cultural studies origins of fan studies…fan studies comes out of a number of different disciplines, English literature is heavily involved in fanfiction, my own background was media and cultural studies, so I kind of give an overview of how we ended up at the fan studies point. And then the last lecture was the origins of fan studies: when it began, who was involved, what were some of the key arguments, what took off and what has simmered longer. And so the next one I’m talking about how we talk about fanfiction in fan studies.
ELM: So when you say lectures, do you record them in videos, or…?
LM: I record them in audio, which is why I have the new microphone. But I just couldn’t stomach video. No. I wasn’t ready for video yet. So. I post the text as a paid Patreon post and then I include spoken audio component as well. I figured, if you’ve got somebody who’s commuting and maybe they want to listen to it but they won’t have time to read it, that might be helpful, so.
FK: Well, it’s accessible!
LM: I actually also have one person currently who’s been translating the lectures into Dutch! Which has been incredible.
ELM: Fandom is so good.
LM: I know! Fandom is great.
ELM: Fandom is like “I like this, I’m translating it into the language that I speak!” Oh, so great.
LM: The only payment I could offer was full access to everything, but that was basically it! So I was really really grateful to her for taking this on.
ELM: That feels like it just comes from the spirit of fanworks translation, probably.
LM: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s been great, and I know…I have one other person who’s been interested in talking about…I mean, translating into French. But they are interested in doing it once the entire series is complete, which, fine by me. And of course translations are their own property to do with, if they wanna publish them as an e-book or something, more power to them. I don’t care! It’s such laborious work.
FK: That’s exciting too, because I feel like even people who are relatively privileged, people who are, whatever, maybe in college and studying and trying to pursue this, often don’t have access because fan studies is so specialized. Unless you happen to be able to reach out to somebody and to really pursue it in that way…you can’t take an intro to fan studies course at every university! You can’t get there.
ELM: Can you in most universities?
FK: No, but at some.
LM: There are some that do it, but not a lot.
ELM: You didn’t have fan studies at your college, Flourish.
FK: No, but I taught it at MIT.
ELM: So that’s exciting.
FK: Yeah but I’m just saying, it’s nice. Because I would have loved to have that and it wasn’t there, and the only reason I knew about it even was because I had interacted with Henry Jenkins, and otherwise I would have had no clue, and had no ability to have any…
ELM: I didn’t know this existed until less than five years ago, right?
FK: Yeah, yeah!
ELM: Amherst doesn’t have a media, there’s no media studies there. It’s a small fancy liberal arts college.
FK: [laughing] Yeah, there wasn’t media studies at my college either. I was a religion major.
ELM: It has a classics department! Don’t worry about it. So. I mean, to be fair there’s…it’s not that grim. It’s not like, not to drag Oxbridge. They must have other disciplines other than Classics and English.
LM: Sometimes not so much!
ELM: Yeah, it’s true though. We get these messages from college students who’ve heard of fan studies and I think, I imagine often, probably a lot like we were in college, into fandom, and if someone had told me I could study it I woulda been like “WHAT?” Maybe not. I was really committed to studying the British Empire. [FK laughs] Normal teen stuff! But you know, I just…I don’t know often what to tell them, and I know that you have a lot of feelings about this sort of amorphous field, and I’m wondering what you tell them or how you feel as an independent scholar in a world where that’s a tricky position.
LM: I have a lot of feelings.
ELM: You know, in an interdisciplinary field, too, an independent scholar in an interdisciplinary field.
FK: I would love to hear more about being an independent scholar and, exactly, your viewpoint on that, because I think it’s changed a lot since—even just in the past ten years, what the conversation around being in academia and studying…
LM: It’s really interesting. It’s kind of a moving target at any time, and so this is really just a snapshot of now. There are an increasing number of fan studies classes that are offered on U.S. college campuses, and British as well, I think to a somewhat lesser degree, but mainly because we just have so many colleges. And we have so many people who are interested in teaching about that. They may or may not be publishing in fan studies, but they are teaching about it in some really interesting ways. There are less opportunities for graduate study in fan studies, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
But I should clarify: there’s, to my mind there’s a real difference between pursuing a PhD in fan studies as a discipline, as sort of the main thing, and pursuing say a master’s if you can. I know that DePaul University enables that, I know there’s an up and coming program at the University of Huddersfield in the U.K., that also I believe is going to be a master’s program. I think there are opportunities for master’s students in fan studies, and particularly in promotion. You do see some consultants who are doing this, and that seems to be a slowly growing field, but there are places I think for people who know what to do with Twitter. And know how to interact with fans and who understand fans. And so to that extent, I think there is a place for that kind of study.
A PhD is a trickier proposition, in large part because there are no jobs. [laughing] To speak of. And there are particularly no jobs in fan studies, almost. There’s one out there right now, but that’s about it.
ELM: Don’t tell them about that! Don’t tell anyone else about that! [laughing]
LM: There are virtually no positions that give any indication that they’re interested in fan studies scholarship or teaching, and so that’s something that you have to kind of bring with you in addition to another field. In my case when I’ve applied for academic jobs it’s largely been East Asian media cultures, Japanese and Hong Kong film. The market fell out of that as well [laughing] so I just kinda quit doing it. But a PhD is just trickier, and so you find that there are a lot of independent scholars coming out of PhD programs.
ELM: I feel like it’s often, I don’t know if Flourish has felt this way, I’m now ten years out of college and so in established humanities fields…this isn’t humanities obviously, but it’s in a similar realm of un-hireability. Oh, would you call it humanities? Or social sciences?
LM: What, fan studies?
LM: Fan studies actually is humanities, yeah. The sociological side of it also functions a bit differently. By and large people who are working in it under the title of “fan studies” are in the humanities.
ELM: All right. I was thinking, you know, my college friends, they were like “I’ll do a PhD. English PhD, history PhD.” We even knew then, 10 years ago, the hiring rate is something ridiculous, like 4%, right?
LM: It’s absurd, yeah.
ELM: But of course, most people I knew were like “Well, I’ll be one of them!” And you’re like “Wow, OK!” And to be fair…
LM: Good to be you, right?
ELM: Actually, most people I know did actually get jobs, but they also went to a very fancy college and a very fancy university for a PhD, so there’s a reason why they wound up at that, because they were in that pipeline. It wasn’t like they’d got that lucky break or whatever. You know what I mean? But even then, those are deep core established fields. Every university has a history department, you know? I feel like to add on this thing that tons of universities don’t even address in any way…
LM: Right. It gets really…yeah. It’s really demoralizing!
ELM: Sorry! This is not like, we did not bring you on here to make you feel bad about your job market.
LM: It’s the way things are. I’ve more or less made my peace with it. More or less. But I do think that in some ways I think fan studies and even media studies, which have been under attack at some institutions, I think that they’re sort of canaries in the coal mine in a way.
ELM: For what?
LM: For the general unhealthiness right now of in particular American higher education. I can’t speak to other places with as much knowledge. But particularly in the United States, adjuncting, working part time as an instructor, has just increased exponentially to the point where I think I’ve seen some estimates that more than 50% of teaching higher education teaching in the U.S. is done by adjuncts. I don’t know if that’s true. But it is outrageous.
And I’ve done my time as an adjunct. Depending on the institution it can be a good experience or it can be a miserable experience, but what you don’t get is a guarantee of work going forward. You barely get a guarantee of work in a given semester. If a class doesn’t make enrollment then it’s out, and you are the front line of people who are gonna get cut should classes not make enrollment. And that’s kind of the situation we’re in, and yet we do still have a lot of PhD programs that haven’t yet woken up and figured out what’s going on.
And so it can be really frustrating if you’re at a discipline-wide conference and they have, say, job market workshops or whatever where they’re talking about how you can position yourself for the job market. It’s like, if you wanna position yourself for the job market, sit down in front of a slot machine, stick some money in, and press the little button, see what happens, because that’s as much chance as you have! It is luck of the draw. And so right now I’m really reluctant to tell people “yes, you should definitely get a PhD in film, in fan studies,” because there are very very few jobs for people who are coming up.
ELM: It’s interesting because, I’m going back to this fictional asker who is in college and wants to know if they…
FK: Not totally fictional though! We get this amalgamation of many askers…
ELM: The ur-college student who enjoys fanfiction, it’s funny because I feel like, there have been some really great posts recently, like on Tumblr people will be like “Hey, actually your time in fandom has prepared you for the workforce in a way that you don’t even know, you’re really good at organizing, you’re really good at…et cetera.” Look at the translation thing! “Your enthusiasm has actually led you to build these beautiful skills,” and I sort of, while I think fan studies is really fascinating and I am in no position to talk about this because I also became a fandom journalist, so I could write about the thing I was into, I do think there’s an impulse to say “Well, I love fanfiction so much I should probably just go study it forever as an academic.” People do this with English all the time. “I love books so much I should be an English professor.” And I’m wondering if the real answer is “No, for reals, there are no jobs, so you need to find some way to parlay this into something else,” you know what I mean?
FK: It’s especially funny because there is an actual need for people who are capable of doing exactly what you were saying, Lori, taking a basic understanding of—I mean, not basic but a master’s degree level or less understanding of fan studies and experience in fandom and turning that into, “…and now I will go run someone’s Twitter account and make sure they don’t screw up.” That has its own problems too, that work is underpaid…
LM: Absolutely, yeah.
FK: Community management work is the pink ghetto of modern internet culture, not that there’s not big issues with that. But I guess as a person who took that route, I see, I constantly have a hiring problem actually because I need to find more people like this. Fandom is a good place to find those people, of course, but if people haven’t prepared themselves in a variety of ways and don’t have all…you have 85% of the skills that’s needed to do this! Please! Come up with the other 15! I know you can do it! But people think they want to be an academic, so.
LM: That’s what I really do think, that there is value in undergraduate and master’s level courses in fan studies, in participatory culture, social media, whatever you want to focus on, for exactly that reason. And I do sort of hold that hope that as we have more and more productions that seem to be finessing social media in particular better, that other productions will have a look over there and in particular why and who’s doing that and how can we do that. That’s a pipe dream, maybe, but I hold out hope!
ELM: When I think about, Flourish, some of the work you do, where I sort of…it often seems like you kind of come in, cause you talk to people in Hollywood about their fans but somewhat, sometimes later in the game, like in more of a consulting way, right? And wouldn’t it be nice if that was part of the equation from the start? And maybe it is, in some places?
FK: Yeah, I mean, that’s been my entire…my entire, my company’s entire reason for trying to do a bunch, you know what I mean, that’s been a constant battle. How can we get paid to do consulting work and then either convince people to start planning this from the beginning, or getting in on an earlier stage. Of course it’s hard to convince anyone to pay you money to do something good like that at an early stage. I think that the thing is, this is also getting back to some of those complications and why people who aren’t, who don’t understand fandom get into it, because you’ve got a big studio and they’re hiring people in general to do social media, and then someone just gets assigned to a particular franchise and then they’re like…maybe they’re great at social media about K-pop! But they’re like, maybe they can’t translate that over into whatever this franchise is. So. I don’t know it’s all structural and all a mess, but regardless, I think everybody who works in that space would be better served with a better basis in some of this stuff, and I think that exactly what Lori’s saying about having those, having those classes, having access to those classes and access to those ideas is part of that.
LM: One of the things I think that would be important in those kinds of classes is something that some fan studies classes do and some don’t, to my knowledge, and I’m not sitting in these classes, but they require attention to what you might call…I don’t wanna say the “dark side” of fandom, but certainly the frictional side of fandom, because that’s where somebody who has that expertise can make the biggest difference.
ELM: So we’re probably at a good halfway point right now, do you wanna take a break and then we can talk about transcultural fandom for the second half?
ELM: All right, perfect, let’s do it!
FK: All right, we’re back! Lori, I can’t wait to hear about your study of transcultural fandom, because we got this ask about it when we were on Australian radio a couple weeks ago…
ELM: I love how you describe a question on Australian radio as an “ask.”
FK: It was totally like an ask! OK but it was, you know, when something shows up in your ask box and you’re like “Oh, that’s a question that I don’t know how to approach!” And we both were like “Uh…” on live Australian radio.
ELM: Yeah, you’d ignore it, but we were on Australian radio, so…
FK: We couldn’t do it, we were live. So now we have you. Here. We invoked you even!
ELM: So to clarify what his question was, because I think it uncovers a lot of what you could speak to, was he said that he grew up in Pakistan and that he was…I think he said he was a comic book guy?
FK: Yeah, he was a comic book person!
ELM: He was asking a vague, I wasn’t sure what the question was exactly but it was a vague question, isn’t it great that you could be from Pakistan and you could be a fan of Western comic books or whatever, right. And I completely froze and I was like “I don’t know how to answer this question,” cause yes, but also, cultural hegemony! And also it doesn’t go in all directions! And it’s not like we’re one big global happy family because there’s a lot of cultural appropriation! And white people in America making bad assumptions about media!
FK: I did find it a little funny that this was on Australian radio and I feel like if I were Australian I might have some opinions about American cultural products, you know? I don’t know, but maybe I wouldn’t, I guess. I don’t know.
ELM: So that’s the starting point for us being total dunces about transcultural fandom, so go ahead, explain.
FK: Drop some knowledge!
LM: OK, I’ll explain it all! Well, what I was saying before the break about the, not “dark side” of fandom, but the need to talk about what I’ve been calling the politics of transcultural fandom. That really is the crux of all of this, and one of the reasons that I like to decouple it from “darker” or “anti” or whatever—well, anti fandom is its own thing. But any kind of darker side is that it’s endemic to any kind of transcultural interaction, and usually if I say “transcultural” people tend to hear it as “transnational,” and it can be, but it isn’t necessarily. We have cultures of gender, we have cultures of race, we have cultures of sexuality, all these things, we have fan cultures and producer cultures and we’ve seen what happens when they mix badly. We all have, as fans often times we have intimate experience of fan culture and producer culture interactions going horribly wrong.
ELM: Should we discuss? Do you also still have a vendetta against Cumberbatch, my enemy?
FK: Oh my God.
LM: Oh, I don’t have a…you know, I haven’t paid attention to him? So I don’t know?
ELM: It’s…he’s still, yeah, me neither, me neither.
LM: Mine is more Martin Freeman, frankly.
ELM: I just, I can’t.
LM: He really turned me off. But I’m thinking especially, I’m happy to drag in Moffat and sort of beat him a little.
FK: OK. As the official non-Sherlock person of this podcast, let’s get back to other kinds of transcultural fandom! [all laughing, talking]
ELM: I would like to devote the rest of this episode to debriefing about our experiences in Sherlock fandom.
FK: Oh my God.
LM: It was horrible, it really was.
ELM: That’s interesting though, sorry I derailed us, I will re-rail us, that’s not… [all laughing] So it’s funny because I actually feel like just even us asking you about our question from the radio host was, there was an underlying assumption for us that it was a transcultural question, but it’s true, we were shorthanding that to a transnational question.
LM: Well, there is overlap! I don’t want to sound like “transcultural” is completely different than “transnational,” cause that’s not the case. There’s a lot of overlap, and oftentimes…generally speaking, a transnational encounter will also be transcultural, not always, but that often happens. The same can’t be said for “transcultural,” because it exceeds the national in so many different ways.
But it exceeds them, I think, in really predictable ways sometimes. I have essays in three fan studies anthologies that have recently come out, and one of them is coming out this next month. One of them is the second edition of Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, that’s edited by Cornel Sandvoss, C. Lee Harrington and Jonathan Gray. I have another in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom, which was edited by Suzanne Scott and Melissa Click, and then the one that’s forthcoming is The Companion To Fandom and Fan Studies, which Paul Booth edited, and I also have an essay in there and all of those in one way or another are focused on transcultural fandom and its permutations.
ELM: Can you tell us, can you give us a specific example of the topics of one of those articles? I’m just curious.
LM: Yeah! The one that I did for the second edition of Fandom, I co-authored that with Bertha Chin, and the title is “Reimagining the Imagined Community: Online Fandoms in the Age of Global Convergence.” And what that one focused on, that one was really speaking…all of them speak to fan studies, arguably more than fandom, because I am trying to sort of make a disciplinary push further in the direction of a transcultural perspective on fandoms.
ELM: You’re such an academic. Can I just say? You’re like… “I like to write about the discipline, not about the…” [laughing] No, I love it, it’s so good, it’s one of my favorite things about academia!
LM: Well, cause I don’t really like talking about people that much! I like to talk about ideas instead, because it’s safer.
ELM: I enjoy the history of history lectures that you have to have when you’re in a history class! So.
FK: Yeah but it’s also…it’s a really good point. Even outside of the academic sphere, there’s so much of a focus on…there’s very little focus on transcultural or transnational thinking about fandom. Even when, I mean, for a variety of reasons, some of which is that it’s hard to research transculturally or transnationally, and some of it having to do with—even if you look at just what data can we get, well, it’s hard to get…like, if you’re doing a numerical look at social media talk or whatever, you can’t get stuff out of Europe, so fine! The United States lets us have everything, let’s just do that.
LM: It just doesn’t exist, yeah.
FK: Obviously it’s a complex thing, but I think it’s incredibly valuable, and it’s cool that you’re pushing for it.
LM: Thank you, I think so too! So just to give you kind of an idea of what that one essay was about, the term “imagined communities” was popularized by Benedict Anderson in 1991. Actually, the late ’80s as well, but then he revised. And the book that he wrote that is titled Imagined Communities has a subtitle, oh, I can’t remember word for word, basically it’s On the Origin of Nationalism. Which I think is really significant, and which is something I brought into this discussion.
When we say, historically when we’ve used the term “imagined communities” in fan studies, we’ve used it as a way of talking about how particularly online people from all over the world, from all kinds of backgrounds, come together in an imagined community of shared love of something. A show or something. And that is the imagined community, which is fine, that’s not not what he was talking about, but the nationalism thing is really important because one of the things that he argued was that the communities that we imagine are generally speaking defined by who we exclude, what we value over what we don’t, what shared assumptions we have which presumes that there are assumptions that may not be shared by all communities. And so this was sort of the gist of that argument, was that we need to be paying more attention when we look at fandoms, but also within fan studies itself, about how these communities are imagined, and what they leave out as much as what they include.
And that’s the kind of argument that I keep making in different ways over and over and over, that it actually started in a meta-post on Tumblr, where I was playing with this idea, I have a friend who wrote a book and she used the term “contact zones” a lot. And I had never heard it before, like oh, you know, and then I completely forgot about it, and then one day I was thinking about strife in a given fandom that I was participating in.
LM: Strife, yeah! Which never happens in fandom except that one. Never.
ELM: It’s a real anomaly. [all laughing]
LM: And it really resonated. The woman who popularized that term, Mary Louise Pratt, described it as basically a space where people converge, oftentimes in asymmetrical power relations and they clash, they fight, they negotiate, it’s a space of necessarily…not necessarily turmoil, but certainly the intersection and, yeah, clash of different cultures. Which to me is what a fandom looks like a lot of times, you have all these people, especially as we’ve moved from the more contained communities of places like LiveJournal to Tumblr and Twitter which are much more porous and unstructured, largely un-hierarchical in an organizational sense.
I just really like this idea of contact zones! So I write a meta post about contact zones and it gets some traction and I’ve just been running with that ever since and so my interest really now is just, what happens in the contact zone? And particularly in terms of transcultural clashes. Or intersections.
FK: So you mean like what happens when you have people with very different backgrounds, different expectations, maybe coming from different internet communities…
LM: And experiences, yeah.
FK: Even before we go to the question of nationalism, or race or anything like that, and interacting with each other.
FK: That’s amazing. I feel like Twitter sort of is almost ground zero for that, and a lot of things that have happened on Twitter both in fandom and outside have to do a lot with the different online culture spaces.
ELM: That’s funny. To me Tumblr is the prime space I see this.
LM: They’re both, I think…
FK: In different ways, maybe.
LM: In somewhat different ways, not very, yeah, they do it sort of differently. But they’re both to me really great examples of these kinds of contact zones that happen rather than that are organized. You know. People kind of… it’s…I was talking about Tumblr with Matt Hills when I first met him, several years ago…
ELM: Matt Hills is a well known fan studies scholar, for anyone who doesn’t know.
LM: He is. He’s one of the big two that gets cited.
FK: It’s notable that he is the person who, when we get mansplained to about fandom, is the person that we are always told to go read. [LM laughing] Because I guess we talk about Henry more on this podcast, and so there’s this thing that we don’t know that he exists? It’s great. Hey mansplainers listening to this, you can stop, we know who Matt Hills is!
LM: Oh, that’s great. He’s a really lovely guy.
ELM: It’s not his fault!
FK: It’s not him! He didn’t ask for this!
LM: He’s also hugely prolific, so you know, good luck reading everything. He was asking about “How does Tumblr work,” because he was doing some preliminary research in that area, and at the time I was always on Tumblr so I said, well, you know, “It’s kind of like this,” I explained, and he was like “Oh, it’s rhizomatic!” I was like “Yeah!” I didn’t know what a rhizome was. So apparently a rhizome, for other people who don’t know [laughing], rather than sort of a top to bottom hierarchy of interactions…imagine a community on Livejournal. You can close it if you want to to outsiders, and give permission to people to participate, you usually have one person that owns the community, you may have more than one moderator, but it’s structured in that way.
ELM: You make a post and you comment beneath it.
LM: You make a post in a hierarchical structure. And on Tumblr, as many of you know, it’s pretty much just I show up, I interact with some people, they may interact with me, I post something, it goes completely left field and I didn’t even intend that but now I’m in trouble…it’s these kinds of points of interaction, these nodes of interaction from which other things kind of spread, that’s more a rhizomatic structure. Actually if you do, I think they’re still doing it on Tumblr, if you look at the little visualization of a post to see where it went, that’s a rhizome. It’s basically…
ELM: Let’s dig up one of these posts.
LM: They’re great! And see, like, especially if you wrote the post and it went totally someplace you never intended it to go, seeing where that happened is really interesting.
ELM: I think that anyone who’s written a text post that makes a statement, not like you know, just a quote from something, that’s gotten more than I don’t know, a hundred reblogs… You watch it and you’re like “What happened?” Right?
LM: And it’s so interesting, right?
FK: And you’re totally right that that’s the moment in which you realize how quickly the things you said in a certain context have now gone into a different context, and you’re like “Whoa, I don’t even…you clearly have none of the same referents I do, and you’re taking it in a way that’s completely different, is that wrong, is that right, I don’t know, but I know that’s not what I intended so now what happens, oh God.”
LM: And that’s a really good way to imagine this contact zone. Because those nodes of contact where people interact with your post, and then take it someplace else, or whatever, or fight back against it, you know. That’s the kind of clashing that Pratt is talking about.
ELM: This is interesting, too, because the one that I always get hung up on—not to make you talk about shipping again, but the thing I always get hung up on is in shipping culture in particular: sometimes I feel like these points of contact are happening without people even knowing. When I say “ship” and when other people say “ship” we mean two different things, and obviously I know that “ship” means a lot of things, cause I have to mansplain shipping to people all the time—sorry, fansplain shipping. [all laugh]
That’s one thing I find fascinating about Tumblr in particular. We can be looking at the same image, and have a completely different interpretation, and I’ll never know. It’s not like they reblog it and they say the opposite thing from I was thinking. They’ll reblog it thinking we are in agreement, and neither of us would ever think the other person…which is fascinating to me having been in a fandom where you never know if someone’s gonna wind up on a different side of an ideological divide, and you’re trying to read between the lines: “Is this someone I can’t…” You know what I mean?
FK: Isn’t that also especially because of visual language? One thing I’m thinking about is, I have a lot of friends who live in Oregon and who are pagan, and one of the big issues in Oregon if you are pagan is that you have maybe a tattoo that is something that is a Norse pagan thing. And now you’re playing the “Is this person a white supremacist or a super hyper liberal pagan hippie?” And there’s no way to tell from the outside! It also could be both.
ELM: Oh, Oregon, no, it probably is both. [laughter] Sorry.
FK: None of my friends are neo-Nazis! I will say this! None of my pagan friends in Oregon are neo-Nazis! But you know what I mean? They’re like “Oh my God!” And isn’t that part of it, the visual culture?
LM: Yeah, the visual aspect of it is 100%…oh, I don’t know. A lot. And I actually have two examples that kind of illustrate what you’re talking about. One I saw years ago, it was a fairly well-known fan artist in a number of different fandoms who had posted a very shippy picture, usual white guy ship, and it was a commission and they had said “Here’s the shameful commission.” Now what she was talking about, which became clear in the fullness of time, was that she had never really done a shippy picture before and she didn’t know if she was doing it right. That was the shame.
ELM: I remember that!
LM: That was the shame she was talking about. But you know, shameful in Anglo-American English language online fandom comes with its own sort of baggage that people just jumped on. And it wasn’t until the artist said that she wasn’t a native English speaker and that this was what she intended that that died off. But there for a hot second, everyone was coming down on this because of a cultural assumption on the one hand…well, just a cultural assumption that everybody who was participating in English language online fandom on Tumblr has a common understanding of what words like “shameful” mean in fandom when that was patently not the case.
A more recent one happened a few weeks ago in a fandom I’m involved in now—guess [laughter]—which is also a very transnational fandom, where an artist from East Asia posted a drawing of one of the main characters in the fandom in a Nazi uniform. Now, she had written underneath “I don’t mean any, I’m just doing this artistically, I don’t mean anything political by it,” but she had A.) written that in her own language and B.) it doesn’t really matter, if you’re coming at it from in particular a European perspective where you’re like, “Oh no. We don’t do this.”
And eventually that, the artist took it down, took the post down from Twitter, but again, it was…it sounds like “Ooh these are really scary,” but in fact these kinds of clashes are endemic to fandom. That is what happens in fandom, it is a condition of fandom almost and especially now that we’re so much more in close contact both in terms of space, we’re all sharing these online spaces, and time, where if you…you know how it goes, if you post something inflammatory before bed and you go to bed, in the morning you’re overwhelmed by anger and all kinds of things. That’s how fast it happens.
ELM: Don’t post before you go to bed!
FK: [laughing] Sometimes you don’t know that’s going to be, and then you wake up and… [all talking over each other] It’s like your pizza box is your pillow, but everything is still on fire.
LM: The main reason I’m interested in this is because when I became a fan, and I harp on about this everywhere so if your listeners have heard this before I’m sorry, but when I became a fan I was 11 years old, I was living in Hong Kong, which was a British colony then, saw a lot of British TV, and I saw Star Wars, the original one, for the first time, 1977, which is how old I am.
At that time, watching an American movie in East Asia where there were very few, you know, I wanted magazines, right? I wanted to see pictures, I wanted to cut them out and put them in scrapbooks, which I did. But trying to get American magazines to do that was next to impossible, and they were outrageously overpriced when you did find them. But what they did have was a bunch of Japanese movie magazines, and I couldn’t read it, but the pictures were on the cover, and if you open it up…right? So I’m an American fan of an American movie in Hong Kong collecting Japanese magazines to read. And because it requires a material experience of being in one place and having access materially to these objects, I had the time to kind of learn about the different cultures that were sort of involved in that experience of being a fan there.
And that’s a time that people do not have now. You see the same things happening, but with no time to learn, and so these conflicts just kind of erupt. And so I’m interested in understanding, and I think we should all be interested in understanding, the nature of the conflicts and also what people do…I’m not interested in whether or not something is good or bad or whatever, what I’m interested in is what happens when something erupts. And that’s kind of where some of this other publishing has gone.
ELM: You as an academic, as an observer, obviously you’re not sitting there trying to fix this. I wonder, though, if other people can and should?
LM: Yeah, well, what I’m trying…so there’s one more argument, and this one also is kind of theoretical, but what I’m trying to do right now really is look at how—not just how things fall apart, but how people sort of negotiate those kinds of things and come out on the other side. So what I’m working on right now is a way of understanding not just what happens and not just the conflicts, but how people sort of approach those conflicts. How they come out on the other side. And so this is an essay that I wrote for, expanded on in an essay I wrote for Paul Booth for his book. It’s called “Ontological Security and the Politics of Transcultural Fandom,” and in that one I put Pratt’s notion of contact zones together with the sociologist Anthony Giddens’s notion of ontological security, kind of putting them together and seeing what happens.
So Rebecca Williams in the U.K. has been working a lot on ontological security, and she has a book called Post-Object Fandom that I highly recommend, I think it’s a wonderful read and it’s such a fruitful notion. So what “ontological security” basically is is the things that you sort of incorporate into your everyday life, they give you a sense of continuity, stability, of things are ongoing. And fandom, we theorize, is sort of one of those things.
ELM: Define “ontological” please!
LM: “Ontological” is basically the starting point, a foundational thing in a way. An origin point, a starting point. Something that’s at the base of something. So when you have ontological security, when you experience a sense of ontological security, it means that everything in your world is pretty much as you expect. That nothing’s being challenged. That I know that if I wake up, and I go outside, my cars will be there, that there are stable things in your life. Both in terms of objects, but also in terms of expectations and experiences and that kind of thing.
So fandom is theorized to be one of those things that contributes to ontological security. I know that if I go to AO3 and I look up a certain pairing, if it’s a popular one in particular, I’m probably gonna find some fanfiction. That kind of thing.
FK: My show’s gonna come on, it’s gonna happen every week…
LM: My show’s gonna come on and it’s not going to upset me. And that’s actually a critical part.
FK: Or possibly it will upset me, but in a predictable way that I enjoy. [laughing]
LM: That I enjoy, right. So in the contact zone of any kind of transcultural interaction, a lot of times what happens is that ontological security is destabilized. That the thing that you expected or assumed or whatever isn’t what you thought it was. Or is in some way or another destabilized.
FK: Right. So I thought I knew what the word “shameful” meant in fandom and it turns out I don’t know.
LM: Exactly, exactly.
FK: Or alternately it turns out this person has a different idea than I do, and how do I deal with that.
LM: Exactly. So this essay that I wrote looks at three different case studies. One of them is from my dissertation, it was Japanese fans of the Hong Kong singer Aaron Kwok and their reactions to a concert where he came out in this lamé kimono kind of thing, and they were like “Oh my God.’ You know. Because he was trying to address them as Japanese fans, and they—prior to seeing him on stage—had a much more intimate relationship with him that transcended or exceeded any kind of national orientation. So when he comes out in this gold lamé kabuki thing, they’re like “Whoa.” He’s separating them, where they had expected to be closer in a way.
Another one was looking at the relationship between a couple of television producers and creators and fans who shipped two of their main characters [Elizabeth quietly cracking up] and the different cultural backgrounds they were coming from. And the last one was, three of my fandom friends, who are also black women, agreed to be interviewed for this one, and I was talking about their experiences in normative fandom, which is generally white, sometimes middle class, white is the big one, oftentimes heterosexual, you know, this kind of thing. But white.
And all of them kind of grouped under the aegis of destabilized ontological position, and if you look at these you can kind of see these generalizable reactions. What you often get, and this happened in terms of Racefail, as well. What you often get is a range of about four or five responses to that destabilization, and particularly on the part of the people who are in power, who don’t want to see it.
So you get either “La la la la la, I can’t hear you,” just ignoring the problem, you get people who are like “Fine, I’m out of here,” and they just divorce themselves from the issue, divorce themselves from the fandom, you get people who are try to rationalize why that happened, you know, “Oh, I didn’t understand that you didn’t understand this word,” it doesn’t make the jumping on this woman about saying "shameful” any less sort of awful, but that’s the excuse for it, “Oh I didn’t understand.” You get people who want to fight about it and say “Well no, you’re wrong and let me tell you why, you shouldn’t have used that word,” people who kind of stick to your guns. And then you get people who, and this is the group I’m really interested in, you get people who say “Huh, I hadn’t thought about it that way, let me regroup and see where I am now.” They basically take a step back and say “Al right, I need to find out more about this,” and kind of challenge their own orientation towards the thing, their own assumptions, rather than coming from a defensive position. Does that make any sense?
FK: No, it makes perfect sense! I guess the key thing about the rationalization is that it rationalizes it and the end it results in is “…and that was why it was correct to jump on you after all,” as opposed to “and that was why I jumped on you and I’m sorry I jumped on you, I feel like it was reasonable for me to do so under some senses but it was still wrong, I thought it was reasonable but it was wrong…” there’s this line between rationalizing and thinking about it and being fair to all involved and that’s really interesting.
LM: So during the Racefail thing, a LiveJournal user whose name I can barely say—dysprositos, I believe? D-y-s-p-r-o-s-i-t-o-s? Put out a bingo card with different responses to the criticisms that people were hearing. And this is where I think you can really see how generalizable these reactions are, in terms of rationalization you get people going like “I’m 1/16th Cherokee,” or “I have friends or relatives who are people of color,” or “I don’t see race and we shouldn’t keep bringing it up,” or “Well I once dated somebody who was a person of color, so back off” kind of thing.
You get people who want to argue or criticize the critique, so “You’re just looking for things to be offended by,” or “You’re racebaiting,” or “This diminishes real racism,” it’s all real racism, right? “Talking about racism and race is impolite,” “You should tone your language down a little,” that kind of thing, and then you get people who just withdraw altogether, “You’re harshing my squee,” you know, “That’s not what fandom is.”
And one of the things I was saying here was that for the fans that I interviewed at least, that’s entirely what fandom is, where normative fans have the luxury of sort of sometimes falling into these contact zones, for the women that I interviewed it seems like this experience of ontological destabilization was part and parcel of the fandom experience in normative fandom. That they can’t get out of it, because it’s always there, it’s always a shoe waiting to drop, you know, and something that’s kind of analogous—although not nearly as politically charged or important—is when, you know, you’re watching a TV show and you have a ship and you think “Ah, this is gonna come to fruition, this is gonna happen,” and…
ELM: You think that?
LM: Sometimes people clearly seem to!
ELM: That was so cynical! [laughing]
LM: But if you watch something like that and you’re like “Oh this is totally gonna happen,” and you believe it, and then the creator or somebody comes out and says “Never gonna happen!” It’s a very different kind of…
ELM: Or laughs about it.
LM: Or laughs about it, or otherwise. It’s less that thing actually than sort of fangirl ridicule, I think, is probably more analogous in a lesser extent. You’re like “I love this show, I love this creator,” this is one of my fears in my own fandom! I have a very, to date, fan-friendly creator who has been lovely to this point, but the possibility of having that destabilized is always there. And I worry every time they say “The show’s coming back,” there’s part of me that’s like “Yay!” but there’s part of me that’s like “Oh God, there’s more opportunity to hurt me!” You know?
ELM: When I was in this Schrödinger’s-queerbaiting space, Schrödinger’s ship right now.
LM: Or they could just say the one thing that undoes everything good that they did.
FK: Yeah. Welcome to my life with The X-files. I’m sorry. [wail-laughing]
LM: Oh my God, exactly, don’t even get me started.
FK: This is interesting because it puts, what I find really interesting and valuable about this—and I’m so excited to read this article that you’ve written now—it puts things that are very politically charged to me in a context where it’s like, “OK, this is one thing that happens and it’s really important when it happens in this context, whether it’s race or class or cultural, but it’s not unique to those experiences. These patterns and the ways people think about it, it’s a larger way that we deal with our world being disrupted.”
LM: Right, exactly.
FK: I find that really really helpful in terms of thinking about those arguments and understanding. Maybe it’ll be helpful in understanding my own reactions when I find myself [laughing] slipping into rationalization or anger, as I’m sure I do.
LM: My fear about this one creator just doing something…even though I don’t expect it, the fear is palpable, you know? This is such a silly thing to get worked up about, but it means something to me that to date they have been this person and if that was taken away, what else falls with it? You know? That’s…I think it’s a more in some ways I think it helps to illuminate the real stresses that people who are outside of normative fan culture experience within it, but also I think it takes a little of the sort of intentionality of certain transcultural interactions. Not all of them, obviously, there are some really vicious people out there, but when people kind of inadvertently sort of clash, I think it helps to at least understand where they’re coming from, whether or not you agree with how they responded to it, so that looking at the people who didn’t realize that the one artist was not a native speaker of English I’m a little more sympathetic to them, at least as a researcher, for knowing that they didn’t know that.
But I can also recognize that that was an assumption that they needed to deal with, not the person who made the post, and that’s…what did the people do who did the thing that I think is egregious? What did people do when that happens? How do they respond on both sides of it? But especially when you think about it in terms of these kinds of unequal power relations within a fandom. That’s what I’m interested in because this is…Giddens theorized this as part of talking about politics and especially global interactions in a shrinking world, and it’s very much relevant to issues of, you know, tribalism and people kind of retreating to “Make America Great Again.” Whose America? What America? It’s the same kind of thing, and that’s one response that I think is particularly unhelpful, but we do have some people who are like “OK, these people say that this guy is a problem, so maybe I will learn a little bit more about that,” or whatever. It’s the reaction, what happens next, that I think is at the crux of transcultural fan studies, and that I think is so important to get in.
ELM: That’s really interesting. OK. So I’m a dumbass because I have yet to pledge to your Patreon course and…I just haven’t gotten around to it!
LM: It’s OK, I’m very late!
ELM: I just want to hear you talk about this stuff all the time, please! This is fascinating. Thank you so much for coming on.
LM: Thank you for having me! I never get to talk about this stuff [laughing] except in writing, and then I’m lucky if somebody reads it, so it’s really great to be able to actually talk about it!
ELM: Yeah, I would say, I don’t know how you feel, I don’t wanna put you on the spot, but if anyone has questions can they ask them and we can pass them along?
LM: Sure! I’d be happy to look at them.
ELM: Obviously they can reach out to you directly, but…
LM: Yeah, I’m on Twitter, I’m @acafanmom, one word.
FK: Well, thank you so much for coming on. This is great.
LM: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it, it’s been really fun talking with you.
FK: It is always a delight to have Lori on this podcast.
ELM: Yeah, well, I didn’t actually realize I was making a mistake with conflating transcultural and transnational.
FK: That was a really good corrective to both of us I think, cause I was doing the same thing.
ELM: Despite having read her work. I don’t…it’s fine.
ELM: Don’t worry about me.
FK: I definitely feel like I could use a more intentional brush-up on the current state of fan studies! I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that I just haven’t had time to read, so this was a great reminder that there’s lots of cool stuff happening and coming out!
ELM: Yeah, actually, I don’t know if our listeners have seen this on Henry Jenkins’ blog, you know the series that he’s doing right now?
FK: Oh, yeah! It’s so good!
ELM: Yeah, a lot of content! But so he’s basically having two scholars per installment interview each other, sort of, they’re sort of in dialogue?
FK: Yeah, it’s great! And it’s this very long format sort of back-and-forth kind of interview thing that’s delightful.
ELM: So definitely check it out on his blog. We can put the link in the show notes, but I think everything I’ve read so far has been really interesting. There’s just a ton of conversations, and also I know he’s trying to highlight newer and more emerging voices. It’s kind of, I definitely feel like from the perspective of someone who’s sort of…I don’t think I’m a total outsider, I think I know more about fan studies than your average person, but I think from the perspective of an outsider certain voices get privileged repeatedly, and certain texts that are older get privileged repeatedly.
FK: Right, because they’re taught in the few classrooms there are—they get taught and re-taught and so on. So it’s pretty hard to…
ELM: I think that’s a little too generous. I think a lot of journalists do some really basic googling.
FK: Well, that’s true too. [laughing]
ELM: They’ll pull out the same book from 2005 or whatever and the same basic definitions and they’re good foundational definitions, but it really…it’s a shame to me that there isn’t more exposure in the mainstream outside of that media for a lot of the voices that are coming here.
FK: I agree. State of the world. But we can help change that state by being more up on these things! So let’s do it.
ELM: We’re trying, we’re trying! And, speaking of fan studies, just as a note, I will be going to the Fan Studies Network conference.
ELM: In Wales! My beloved Wales! In June! So we’ll do some, we’ll report from there.
FK: We’ll do some #content around it.
ELM: Very excited. Just because it’s Wales. Fan tourism!
FK: [laughing] OK OK. Next thing up, we have a new tiny zine coming out soon!
ELM: We do! You’re gonna wanna pledge for this, because we have the greatest content that this podcast has ever created.
FK: Yeah. It’s pretty astonishing and I don’t think that we can oversell it. I think that we’re, I think there’s nothing we can say that’s gonna be strong enough. I literally howled, Elizabeth commissioned this piece of work and showed it to me, and I started screaming with laughter. So if you wanna find out what it is, you’ll need to pledge… [laughing]
ELM: It’s written by earlgreytea68, who is a very well known fanfiction writer, and the ship, it’s a double drabble and you wanna say the ship?
FK: [laughing] IT’S A KLINKEL FIC!!!! [all laughing] OK, so you clearly want to read this. It’s amazing. So.
ELM: It’s really good and I’m really glad that this is where our drink led to the other day. So we got that and some other great stuff, that’s $10 a month on Patreon, Patreon.com/fansplaining. If you were thinking about bumping up your pledge, or pledging for the first time, if you get it in within the next week or so then you can take part in this round.
FK: Indeed! OK. Other things you can do if you don’t have the cash or inclination to give us money to support the podcast: you can also review us on iTunes, which helps us find a larger audience and is incredibly helpful. We believe we deserve five stars, you can give us however many stars you think we deserve.
ELM: [quickly, quietly] Five stars.
FK: Sniff sniff. [both laugh] You can also send in responses to any of our episodes, even if it’s an old one that you’re just listening to for the first time, we love all listener mail, that can go to fansplaining at gmail.com, or you can send it to our Twitter handle if it’s very short—@fansplaining. Or if it’s kinda longer you can send us an ask—although Tumblr sometimes eats asks—the box is open and anon is on, that’s just fansplaining.com or fansplaining.tumblr.com. We also have a Facebook page, if you should feel like you still need to be on Facebook.
ELM: Look Flourish, do you really wanna go down this rabbit hole?
FK: Anyway, movin’ on, I think that’s it!
ELM: [laughs] That is it! OK, bye!
[Outro music, thank yous and disclaimers]