Episode 83: Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 2
Flourish and Elizabeth answer a pile of listener letters from the past few months. Topics covered include responses to the recent episode on real person fiction, whether crossovers are underappreciated, why there is a culture of paying for fanart but not fanfic, what “fuck canon” really means, queer representation in fan-favorite shows, and whether fandom is rife with internalized misogyny.
[00:00:40] Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 1 is here!
[00:04:19] Our Mary Sue episode was #44, and it gives us a great excuse to show off the beautiful illustration @redgoldsparks made for it:
[00:12:23] Our RPF episode, featuring @bookshop, was #80 and you can listen here.
[00:17:39] Deepfake example 1:
[00:18:16] Deepfake example 2:
[00:25:44] Mark Wahlberg’s terrifying schedule spawned a veritable slough of hot takes, including one dude trying to live by it for a stunt.
[00:27:48] The interstitial music here and in the outro is “Glass Android” by Lee Rosevere, used under a BY-CC license.
[Intro music: "Awel" by Stefsax]
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 83, "Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 2"!
FK: Yes! We did a Part 1 and now we are doing a Part 2 of letterbox!
ELM: We did a Part 1, I just looked, it was fewer than 10 episodes ago, which...it feels like it was a hundred years ago.
FK: It does.
ELM: I have this problem all the time with the Rec Center. I'll be like "I feel like a year ago maybe we did a list of hurt/comfort fic" and then I look and it was like two months ago [laughing]
ELM: Yeah, whatever, people love hurt/comfort. That's by far, slow burn is by far the most commonly submitted trope, cause I go through and pull out ones that we have a bunch of when we pick out things to do, but hurt/comfort is number two in case you're curious.
FK: I'm completely unsurprised. Everyone loves a good hurt/comfort fic.
ELM: I think some people don't, some people genuinely love all fluff all the time, no hurt just comfort.
ELM: So, the way this works is we collect various comments, questions, on Twitter, Tumblr, gmail, some of them were left quite some time ago and so we offer our sincere apologies, and sometimes...you know, sometimes an ask will come in and I'll think "oh, we should talk about this on the podcast" but the moment's not right. So this is a great opportunity to go through them and give them all a little space.
So apologies to anyone who has been tuning in every two weeks eagerly hoping for a response, this is the big moment! And if you feel like we've somehow lost, if you sent something in and you think it's slipped through the cracks, please nudge us because it's entirely possible. Just cause we have so many different inboxes.
FK: Yeah, we are not always the greatest keeper tracker of absolutely everything. So please keep poking us, we will not be offended.
ELM: Yes, and hopefully you're not offended either. OK!
ELM: Disclaimer out of the way.
FK: Alright. Shall I read the first one?
ELM: Yeah, do it!
FK: OK, this is an anonymous ask sent in from Tumblr. "Lately, in a lot of male/male fics, I saw the repeated trope of a toxic female ex. This has brought me to look closer to the female minor characters in male/male fiction. Even in the softest and fluffiest male/male university AUs, it happens that there's only one woman and she's either a horrible person or antagonist or hurt by whatever is happening with the main pairing. Now, I know it's not always like that. But I do think that the majority of fanfic are read and writtenby women. Do you think women in fandom have internalized misogyny? Like the male/male pairing is sometimes too focused on what I'll call "traditional" gender roles, like only person A will wear a skirt sometime or put on makeup "for the other." And then female characters are disregarded." That's the ask!
ELM: Wow. This is a bountiful topic.
FK: [laughs] I feel like we actually have a lot of asks that could be entire episodes.
ELM: I'm frankly surprised we haven't done an entire episode. This is a very widely discussed, and has been a widely discussed topic for a long time, I think not least because I would actually say in approaching the end of my second decade of reading fanfiction, that this is something I've seen improve a great deal since when I started.
ELM: It used to be quite common 15 years ago...it would be rare to see, especially especially a canon girlfriend? Or wife? If the goal was to get her out of the way, that would usually not be done in a very respectful manner. And now, I think people are, the vast majority of the stuff I'm reading is amicable breakups, she's not some terrible harpy, you know. She didn't trap anyone. I mean, obviously this stuff still exists, but a lot of the tropes that were very prevalent when I first started reading fanfiction have really chilled.
FK: One thing that I feel like I see less often now than I did at one time is the Mary Sue of a type that gets the two characters together, and when I say a Mary Sue here I'm using the term not so much because I think that female original characters are bad but because there was sort of this idea of a, an original female character who was gonna be there to get the slash pairing together. And I feel like that has...I don't remember the last time I saw that existing in a fic.
ELM: See, that's fascinating to me from analyzing the relationship between the writer and the characters.
FK: I know!
ELM: If my goal is to bring these two male characters together, so I'm going to create a self-insert that literally exists not to bring pleasure to my self insert character but to bring pleasure through the idea of a gaze, with a Z, and sometimes with a Y.
FK: [laughing] And sometimes with a Y! I remember even seeing this in other, this is not obviously solely a slash thing. I also remember seeing this in het fics and in, sometimes even in femslash fics.
ELM: That's super interesting. I wonder if that was more prevalent in het fic?
FK: I don't know! I'm not actually sure. I think...my impression has been that it's a historical thing. But the thing that seemed relevant to me is that it's not a canon character. So whether it's a slash pairing or whether it's a het pairing, this is not a female character who's in canon who you're elevating, it's a female character who you're making up.
ELM: So something that we should say is, I feel like, while I don't like the argument of "well fandom is just working with what it has," I do think that sometimes the only one woman thing is somewhat a trickledown from canon. It's a lot of pressure on the one female character! Compound that with the fact that there is so much stigma around original female characters, and so I think your solution is often to work with what you've got, which means that puts a lot of pressure on the lone lady.
FK: But I do think that internalized misogyny is a part of it. I think that's hard to deny, even when I think about my own reading and writing habits, that that plays some role sometimes. Not all the roles all the time.
ELM: You monster, Flourish.
FK: But some roles sometimes.
ELM: I'm reading this ask now and there's one thing, I know we need to move on to other stuff, but the last bit actually...while I think these things are connected I think that's kind of another question entirely.
FK: The question about...
ELM: Gender roles.
FK: Having gay characters play out gender roles.
ELM: Yeah, like, "the M/M pairing is sometimes too focused on what I'll call traditional gender roles; only person A will wear a skirt or put on makeup." Think of the classic yaoi, the body types, the top/bottom wars and the idea that somehow a smaller more feminine looking quote unquote feminine looking man is inherently going to be the bottom and what that means. The top/bottom roles are inane and have no redeeming value whatsoever to me, I don't, you know, [laughs] Maybe you can make some sort of intellectual argument about them but that's my stance. But I feel like this is a whole other can of worms, talking about heteronormativity and homonormativity in fic, so.
ELM: Maybe a conversation for another time.
FK: Yeah, maybe so. Maybe so. OK, should we answer the next ask?
ELM: Yeah, do you want me to read it?
FK: Read it!
ELM: OK! Also anon. What if these are all the same person? So anon writes: "I'm a big fan of the podcast and find a lot of your musings about fanfiction insightful, however I can't help but notice that fanfiction crossovers tend to be under discussed and suffering a decline over the years in terms of relevance. I have this theory that crossovers are more influenced by platform than other fics. On FF it's easy to see how crossovers are accessible but AO3 makes you type the specific fandoms and often gives you fic with 50 different fandoms. What do you guys think? J." Oh, not so anonymous! J.
FK: [laughs] I don't know, this doesn't accord with my experience of reading fanfic, so I wonder if...I mean, that crossovers are less, that they're declining or something like that. So I find that hard to answer.
ELM: It's funny that J mentions the fic with 50 different fandoms, because this is one of my least favorite things on AO3.
FK: Now that's true. That I agree with.
ELM: If you're not familiar...
FK: To be clear for anyone who doesn't read fic, if you search for a crossover between two fandoms on the Archive of our Own...
ELM: Not even! Say I just searched for a Harry Potter fic and someone wrote a fic where they include characters from...maybe it's a crossover.
FK: From 50 different fandoms, one of those where everybody interacts with each other.
ELM: Or 50 different chapters, each one is a stand alone drabble, but they post it under a single story. That's the part where you're like "oh no!" [laughs] You gotta sort through it! And it's funny because I understand why people do it that way. They're like "these are my drabbles!" But then you have a list of like 500 characters and of course it's another 100, 200 tags or whatever, and you're like...this is too much. And I wish that, it doesn't seem like AO3 is...I'm sure you could do some fancy footwork with your own search parameters to get the results you want, whether it's pro crossovers or against what we're describing right now, but I would say sure, it seems like...I've never been a huge crossover fan, as we've discussed. My hypocrisy, because I was writing a crossover but I don't really enjoy them. So I don't have a sense of the decline, but I would believe there was a robust crossover culture on fanfiction.net back in the day. I just wasn't a part of it.
FK: I do believe there was a robust crossover culture, but I feel like there's still about as much in the fandoms I read in. And maybe it's because I'm thinking also of fusions, and fusions are different from crossovers as we both know and have said, but to me sometimes that's a question.
ELM: To clarify, a fusion is basically...it really varies.
FK: For instance, I would consider a Hogwarts alternate universe to be a fusion fic if it's like, all these characters are at Hogwarts, which is a school of witchcraft and wizardry...
ELM: Thank you, Flourish.
FK: But none of the actual characters from Harry Potter are there.
ELM: Will you sing the song for me?
FK: Hoggy Warty Hogwarts?
ELM: [laughs] So yeah if you do BTS Hogwarts AU, all the members of the boy band go to Hogwarts, that kind of thing. Yeah.
FK: But there's not necessarily Harry there or Hermione there, it's not necessarily crossovery that way.
ELM: Although whenever I read a Hogwarts AU there's always references to the Harry Potter characters and they always make me feel weird, just like crossovers make me feel weird. They'll be like, "you know that Harry Potter!" and I'll be like "oh, you don't know about him!! That's weird, you're from a different world!" Something about it stresses me out and I don't know what that is, which is ironic again cause I was working on this crossover for quite some time and I wrote tens of thousands of words of it and half of it was Harry Potter. But it's fine. Don't worry about it.
But I'm thinking more, it seems like it's more, a fusion is when you take a different world and that's kinda the setting. It's almost always an AU. But it's interesting, the relationship in fusions between those texts. I think fusions are usually pretty complicated in terms of the way the texts are playing with each other.
FK: I agree. Well, anonymous, I think that maybe you asked the wrong people about this. Not that we don't think this is an interesting question, but just that I don't think we have any answers. [laughs]
ELM: Yeah, sorry. It's not anonymous, Flourish.
FK: Submitted as an anonymous ask!
ELM: Yeah that's true.
FK: Signed with a single letter, that's pretty anonymous to me.
ELM: Fair. Yeah. Alright. I'll give you that. OK. Awesome. Thank you, J. Do you want to read the next one?
FK: Sure. This one is also an anonymous ask, and it's a bit more of a comment than a question.
ELM: Oh, I feel like, are we venturing into responses to our RPF episode? Should we just quickly summarize that? Cause we've got a couple, right?
FK: Yeah, there's two of them. Here, you summarize the RPF episode really quickly and then I will read this ask.
ELM: Real person fiction: when you write fanfiction about real people.
FK: Yeah! And we talked about it!
ELM: [laughing] So we had Aja Romano on, who's the internet culture reporter at Vox. You also might know Aja from their very very long fandom history, I was reading Aja fic in 2001 on Aja's own website. You remember when people had their own websites?
FK: Oh yeah, I remember when people had their own websites!
ELM: Grandma! [laughing]
FK: I still have my own website, Elizabeth!
ELM: No for your fanfiction, not for your... I have elizabethminkel.com, but this was a fanfiction archive just for a single person's work!
FK: Oh yeah, yes.
ELM: Those were the days. Anyway, so, Aja had gotten really into Angels In America RPF—the recent Broadway production with Andrew Garfield amongst other people. He's the most famous. And Aja's been a longtime RPF defender, and RPF I think is pretty controversial even within fandom, which is...it's unique. Not necessarily unique, but it's a point of interest I would say. It's one of the few things that I think ruffles feathers inside and outside of fandom in terms of fannish practices. People, it's a line that people are unwilling to cross. So yeah, I think we had a pretty...I would say we had a pretty, we were all on Team RPF, even though it's not really my jam. It's not like we were arguing, one of us was like "it's garbage" or "it's a violation" or whatever. I was expecting us to get some blowback, and I actually know that Aja's gotten some very negative comments, not necessarily about that episode but about their devotion to RPF. We did not get that kind of response, which I'm grateful for, and people being dicks in Aja's mentions should reassess their life choices.
FK: OK. So. In this response the other thing I should say is that if you are not familiar with the type of fanwork called an "imagine," it is a short few sentences usually which says just "Imagine this scenario." Imagine this scenario about...I don't know, Harry Styles or imagine this scenario about Harry Potter or whatever it is.
FK: So it sort of lets people fill in the rest.
ELM: I just gotta let you know, I fucken love imagines. They're ridiculous.
FK: I love 'em too!
ELM: Something about them, I'm just like "this is extraordinary." Cause it's like, so many of them are so out of context. I was looking at these Black Sails imagines, and they were like, "imagine Captain Flint is looking at you for the first time," and it was supposed to be romantic, and it was a picture of him where he looked like he literally wanted to murder you. And I was like, I don't understand what's going on here? Why, is this...it's absurdist to me!
FK: But you love it!
ELM: But that was like, that wasn't...it wasn't a steamy gaze. It was like, I'm fucken tired of you and I'm gonna murder you right now. You know what I mean? So I just think imagines are incredible. I think we need to do more research on them.
FK: OK great! I love imagines also. Here is what Anonymous says.
ELM: Go ahead.
FK: "I was listening to Episode 80, Real People Fiction, when a post came on my dash about a Tom Holland imagine that people thought was real. I think some of the dislike of RPF comes from the fact that on social media it is hard to tell truth from fiction. If someone posts about a celebrity having a relationship, or dying, or saying something hurtful it might end up being reposted as a real thing and having an effect on the celebrity’s image. Calling John Watson a murderer is one thing, saying the same about a real person edges on defamation of character."
ELM: So this is tricky.
FK: Yeah. I mean I don't disagree that this is a phenomenon that happens and that it's concerning.
ELM: Yeah I completely acknowledge context collapse and I think it's hard when it's an imagine and it's on your dash and it's not coming from tomhollandimagines.tumblr.com. Some of those are pretty easy to tell, they have specific formats.
FK: Right. But if you don't know what the format is, I've encountered that sometimes myself.
ELM: Have you fallen for adamdriverimagines.tumblr.com?
FK: [laughing] Not me, but working in the film industry sometimes people will encounter something and they'll just be like "what even does this mean?" You know? It'll be an imagine or something like that that would be totally comprehensible within the fandom context, 100%, but not coming from within fandom they're just like "what???"
ELM: Right. So I think that's tricky, and if I were to just start tweeting my RPF about celebrities on Twitter I think that that would cause a similar context collapse because people would be like...they would have no idea I was doing fiction, if I was like "Breaking! Tom Holland does blank!" And that was part of my fiction. Everyone was like "what are you talking about???" [laughing] Right? That being said I think that we talked about this in the RPF episode, maybe in a different one. Did we talk about deep fakes?
FK: I don't think we did talk about deep fakes but, wait, no, maybe we did talk about them. I'm not sure.
ELM: Well, if we talked about deep fakes, for anyone who didn't catch our potential conversation about deep fakes that may or may not have happened...
FK: I have the best deep fake example that I'm gonna put in the show notes.
ELM: OK great.
FK: Just hold up. Get excited already. It's the best deep fake.
ELM: So deep fakes are, now with technology, with...you can basically, and Adobe is working on this which, cool job Adobe, you can basically...they call it Photoshop for audio and video, to the point where just as you could Photoshop an image so it's completely false, the technology is rapidly developing to be the same for both audio and video. Often they film someone else's body, they'll superimpose...there's a famous video with Obama where he says a bunch of bonkers stuff that he would never say. And they use his real face, they can just basically manipulate it. And it's genuinely scary.
Deep fakes are interesting when you think about this in this context, and I was talking to a friend of ours who was asked by a journalist who—and I think I did tell this story on the podcast but it's worth repeating again—whether deep fakes are like RPF. And it was like, NO! Because RPF, real person fiction, you are literally broadcasting that this is fiction and that is...you are entering a different space when you say "I understand that I am reading fiction right now."
So for the deliberate, for the labeled, for the vast majority of RPF that labels itself as such, this shouldn't be an issue, and if just the mere writing of words about Tom Holland on the internet that aren't exactly true is the problem, well then we're all kind of screwed cause people say all sorts of nice fake things about Tom Holland all the time. [FK laughs] People have fake headcanons about every celebrity that are flattering.
So it's really hard to then...where are you gonna draw the line? What if my headcanon about Tom Holland is that he's like, I don't know, fun and definitely straight and you're like "oh, my headcanon is that he's definitely gay!" or something, right? Then neither of us know, no one is right or wrong there, but you could see my headcanon as being offensive if you're convinced that he's gay. You know what I mean?
FK: Right, or vice versa, yeah.
FK: In other words, context collapse sucks and that's a problem, but probably RPF is not the problem but maybe some people are worried about context collapse and yeah, maybe that is one of the reasons why people feel this negativity towards RPF. But there's probably more stuff going on too. Yes?
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
ELM: Alright, wait, are you sure that the next RPF letter isn't going to be all this overlap? Shall we read it?
FK: Let's read it.
ELM: I'm reading it, right?
ELM: OK! It's from R. Sent in via gmail. "Hey Flourish and Elizabeth! I had a lot of thoughts about your RPF episode. I won't lie - there is something about RPF that really skeeves me out. I have read some RPF fic, and that never really bothered me, but the fandoms themselves always weird me out. Maybe it's just the fact I mostly see stuff focused on internet celebs, who don't have much of a fourth wall between them and their fans. Like you said, having a strong distance is important - there's a big difference between shipping people, and telling someone you ship them and/or trying to get them together.
"On the other hand, I'm probably in a relatively unique situation (although you I'm pretty sure you guys can relate a bit) - I've read RPF about myself." Yeah, we can relate, Flourish. [FK laughs] "A while back a writing group I'm part of that is mostly made of much younger users got really in to shipping and there ended up being a ship between me and a friend, and they did write some fic about us. For the most part, the whole thing became a debacle - people lost friendships and even left the group as it got out of hand - but the 'ship' part between me and my friend actually still goes strong, maybe because we were both older and kind of got that there's a difference between shipping people, and wanting them to end up together.
"In the end, the community got a hard rule: no writing or shipping about people without their permission. That's something that works when it comes to a small community like that, but does it really work on a larger scale? And wouldn't that kind of be the same as published authors forbidding or restricting fanworks - and should we expect fandom to do stuff like that?
"It's hard to tell where to draw the line. I mean, I want to say I'm cool with fic around big name celebrities, actors and sports players and boy bands, but maybe wait for permission from youtube stars and such, but is that reasonable or fair? When it comes to people who really interact with their fandoms, is it on them to avoid RPF?
"I don't know exactly where I draw the line, I just know that I have a line somewhere around here, and it feels really creepy when it gets crossed. Anyways, I want to say that I love you guys & the podcast a bunch. Keep up the great work!" Aw, thanks R!
FK: Alright, this is actually, I love this comment. I think it's really interesting. And it's actually really relevant to something I've been thinking about a lot lately, which is the level of...
FK: NOT Klinkel. Which is the level of emotional labor that for instance YouTube stars and any sort of smaller celebrities have to take on in interacting with fans. And bigger celebrities have to do this too, it's just that they tend to have a little more either money to pay people to help them, a little more protection from the projects they're in being very large scale, a little more guidance sometimes, right? But it's really hard when you're a very young actor, a new actor, or just someone who's working in YouTube where there's a lot more expectation on interaction...it's incredibly difficult and that's separate from RPF.
RPF is part of it, but I think the biggest issue is really the question of can they police it? How does the actor react to that, and maybe that shouldn't be their job. So I feel like there's this structural issue that's really at work here.
ELM: Yes but I do think that a lot of smaller celebrities, YouTube celebrities, operate under the principle of "all publicity is good publicity."
FK: Oh yeah.
ELM: And that has a line for them, a hard limit of "oh until it makes me uncomfortable." It's undeniable that a lot of celebrities are perfectly happy with fictional imaginings about them along certain lines and not others.
FK: For certain.
ELM: There are celebrities who are perfectly happy to be thought of in super sexy hetero situations and not in any others, and you know, you can have your own feelings about whether that's homophobic or just people's preferences about, you know, whatever. I don't know, it's tricky.
FK: You're subtweeting so hard right now.
ELM: No, I'm thinking about many gentlemen in the entertainment industry. But I also don't, me saying that YouTube celebrities want to dish it out but can't take it or like it till they don't does feel a little victim blamey to me. So I'm not 100% sure that I stand by what I'm saying right now or that I'm even articulating it fully, so. There's not that much to stand by. You know what I mean though?
FK: Yeah, well, it's a complex situation because certainly people who...I don't think that you can expect fans of YouTube celebrities to self police, and I also don't think that they should have to, or of any other celebrities really generally speaking, beyond the normal don't make credible threats or be total dicks to people. But in terms of writing? I don't think people should do that, should have to self police.
But on the other hand I also don't think that it's entirely fair to ask a person to process, emotionally process all the kinds of information and reactions that people have to them at that scale. I think that that can get really difficult. Now, the answer may be "this is our life because the internet, so...we're all gonna have to learn ways to work with that," and I think that probably IS the answer, but it's still a difficult point.
ELM: But to what degree is this genuinely being shoved in people's faces and how much is it people googling themselves?
FK: [laughing] JUST STOP VANITY GOOGLING. Just stop.
ELM: Honestly, you can just train yourself out of it. And if you really need to know, then I think that's gonna have to be some of your resources, you hire someone to look and to be a buffer. Because as you said, A-list celebrities are not sitting there reading everything people are writing and thinking about on the internet.
FK: Right. They might do it sometimes when they're making bad life choices, but they definitely can have people doing it. It's not required for them in the same way as I think that for a lot of YouTubers, if your life is...whatever your points of publicity, if you're responsible for all your own publicity then maybe you kind of have to.
ELM: I'm sorry Flourish I did not see in Mark Wahlberg's hour by hour schedule that was going around the other day any time set out for googling or reading and writing RPF about yourself.
FK: There was time for cryotherapy, though.
FK: The nicest way to put "I ice my muscles."
ELM: The best one that someone pointed out was, first of all, he wakes up at 2:30 in the morning and goes to bed at 7 PM. Why! Why not bump that by a couple hours to be awake when more people are awake! What does he do when he has to go to a party?
FK: I had this question too!
ELM: This is baffling to me. It would be one thing to me if he just gets 4 hours of sleep, I would be like wow you're inhuman cool congrats, but he doesn't. He gets a full night's sleep. It's like he's hosting Good Morning America or something.
ELM: Except he's just workin' out.
FK: Well maybe he has a lot of early call times, I don't know. Maybe he just has a lot of early call times and it's easier. Let's not get into Marky Mark's schedule right now, OK.
ELM: I was gonna make a comment about him also committing racially biased hate crimes, but we don't have to go there.
FK: And serving burgers at Wahlburgers.
ELM: Mark Wahlburg. That's fine. Anyway...
ELM: Yeah I think this is a great comment and I think the line is really hard. This is, you know, the big drama of...five years ago now? Over the hockey RPF fandom that lingers still when you talk to people in hockey fandom. It's really tricky, but it's also like, then it gets to where the burden of blame is. Obviously when it comes to a lot of this stuff I blame the Graham Nortons of the world and he's not the only one but he's the worst offender.
FK: For shoving fanfic in the actors' faces.
ELM: That kinda thing yeah.
FK: That might not otherwise have to encounter it.
ELM: Asking people about ships on the red carpet, that kind of thing. But I've heard some people saying, they can't read my fic, otherwise it could have consequences. It's like...well you're also responsible too! You're the one putting this on the internet not behind a password. So it's tricky.
FK: OK, well, should we take a quick break and then come back and do some more questions and answers?
ELM: That sounds like a really good plan!
FK: Let's do it.
ELM: Alright we're back!
FK: We're back!
ELM: You're so used to being the "we're back" person that you're not very good at responding to "we're back."
FK: No I'm not very good [laughs] at responding to "we're back" but I am good at reading peoples' asks and I will read one now.
ELM: Do it!
FK: Alright, this one is another anonymous ask. "Hello! I was wondering if you could fansplain something which has been puzzling me: why is there a culture or expectation that you should pay for fanart, but not for fanfic? I see plenty of posts on here talking at length about why you should pay for fanart commissions because of the work involved, and yet fanfic authors seem to be expected to permanently work for free, despite spending many hours slaving over a hot laptop. Why is this? Yours, Puzzled of Tumblr."
ELM: We have discussed this at length, and every time we do, people get all up in our mentions being really mad at us.
FK: It's true.
ELM: Let's do it again. Get ready if you were mad at us last time, you'll be mad at us again.
FK: Because people value art more than they value words.
ELM: Yeah. Some of the stuff too that, I remember we talked about this, some of the stuff people come back at us is absurd to me. They'll be like "well the cost of materials." I'll be like "I'm sorry, how long does it take to write a 60,000 word novel?" Like...really??
FK: I will tell you that having written 90,000 words of fanfic over the past three months, it takes a lot.
ELM: [laughing] Yeah! I just, I don't, I mean, I know it feels like there's something intangible, but even then some of the best fanartists working right now are working in digital only mediums. Beautiful stuff, but it's made in whatever program.
FK: For sure, I've commissioned people with this who are...I've commissioned fan artists and I'm very happy to commission them who are working digital only, and I've received nothing other than the digital file and the joy of looking at the thing I wanted them to draw. [gasps] Which is a great joy.
ELM: You gonna put some of it in the show notes?
FK: It's under a sock!
ELM: I think everyone can figure out your sock.
FK: Go find my sock!
ELM: Your Kylo Ren... this is so fuckin coy. It's really somethin'.
FK: ANYWAY. Point being.
ELM: The other thing I think too is, people say "there's no way I could afford to read as much as I do," it's not like you're paying for every piece of fan art that you look at! There's no "drop a quarter in the slot and you get to look at a picture." You commission people if you like their work! There are definitely fanfiction writers that I would commission RIGHT NOW to write me what I want. And not for an auction, which is definitely one of the only...you know, that's probably the only way I know where you can have this explicit monetized exchange for fanfiction.
FK: A charity auction.
FK: Pretty much always for a charity specifically.
ELM: And sometimes those aren't even requests like that, you say "donate to me I'll write a story," but I have seen, you do see some where people are basically buying a story from someone with the money going to the charity. I would 100% do that if a few of my favorite authors right now said "commissions open."
FK: Yeah. I agree, and I think that there's also something about barriers to entry. I really like and appreciate that the barrier to entry for fanfic is very low, that lots of people feel very confident getting their toes wet writing for the first time in fandom. I really really appreciate that. I feel like people do that within fan art but then at a certain point it's like, maybe at a certain age? Or...or something. I feel like I see a lot of young fan artists whose, the quality of...they're young, the quality of their work, they haven't necessarily practiced as much...
ELM: Do you say young or newer?
FK: Often young I feel like. Very specifically. And I think this is relevant. Cause you see newer fanfiction authors coming in, and I feel like I don't see as many newer fan artists who are not young and who don't express that they are young. I don't know, maybe this is not true.
ELM: This is anecdata.
FK: It is anecdata, totally. But it's making me think about whether there's norms in the way that people share art, or if people stop trying to draw after a certain point or feel like it's a professionalized thing, which clearly they don't feel with words.
ELM: Yeah, and I do think that the dividing line between fan art and art for money is a lot more porous than it is. Because while there are plenty of fanfiction writers who also write fiction for money, either simultaneously or—while I find this problematic—treating fanfiction as the training ground for the real show...I don't like that kind of setup but some people do think of it that way. Often that means really strong divisions between your fanfiction self and your professional writer self. Whereas a lot of fan artists don't draw the hardest lines, you know? They'll say "look at my portfolio!" Or the FanArtGotMePaid hashtag that was going around recently.
FK: Or even artists who don't consider themselves fan artists, but who are still drawing things that are definitely fan art. Right? Well, Puzzled Of Tumblr, I think that we're puzzled too to some extent, but I hope that what we've said has been a little enlightening at least.
ELM: You're looking at me like I should be enlightened.
FK: Are you?
FK: Oh, that's so nice!
ELM: [laughs] OK, I'm going next. Alright. Not anonymous! @PopContrarian, this is a tweet! PopContrarian says, "I don’t totally get the whole #FuckCanon thing. If "fuck canon" is true, then what’s wrong with Any Two Guys? What anchors us to these stories we love has to do with canon characterization or plot or something. We can change a lot in fic, but there’s always a canon anchor, right?"
FK: Right. I feel like "fuck canon" is about something different than Any Two Guys, but it might not be immediately obvious if you aren't steeped in the discourse.
ELM: Say more, Flourish!
FK: Well, so a lot of times when people are saying "fuck canon" they're not meaning fuck all of canon, they're meaning fuck canon with regard to usually the ships that you wanna ship. Right? It's a very specific thing where people will say, often...
ELM: Or rewriting plot points, especially when characters are killed.
FK: That too sometimes. But it'll be like, people will say, "why are you so focused on if Destiel will be canon in Supernatural? Fuck canon! You've already got Destiel cause you can write it yourself in fanfic!" Right? But that's not saying "fuck canon" in the sense of like, "and by the way, they don't have to drive an Impala! They don't have to wear flannel! They don't..." you know what I mean? It's about specific things within canon, not everything in canon.
ELM: I think the relationship between a fanfiction writer and canon is a really fascinating one. And I feel like we've talked about this before, and you do as well. It's not even as explicit as "I know every fact of canon and I'm gonna toss away what I feel like," but sometimes like that. Sometimes...do you ever read a fic and you catch something that is not canonical and you just get the sense that it's because they didn't know?
ELM: And you're annoyed? And that turns you off? Because that happens to me. Which is funny, because I can almost always tell when it's a deliberate...you really need to feel like the, I really need to feel like the fic author is kind of in control of this relationship with canon.
FK: I agree.
ELM: And choosing what they wanna discard and what they don't.
FK: Right, which can sometimes even mean things like...if I believe that someone is letter-perfect on the things they consider canon, and that they've really just ignored some pieces that I consider canon, then sometimes I'm all right with that.
ELM: Me too.
FK: But there has to be a level of trust, and that is about canon.
ELM: Right. Right. That doesn't mean, because obviously there's no such thing as a completely canonical fic, because then it would actually be the original work. Right? Even if it's just the alternate perspective of a canonical scene, and you literally just put the dialogue in, which you do you but that's not my cup of tea...you're still inherently, unless you're literally writing in dialogue, in which case I don't know what you're doing. But if it's a scene between you and me and in the book I'm the narrator and the fic you're the narrator, it's gonna have your internal narration which is inherently going to not actually be canonical. Because I'm a fic writer. I like how now it's about Klinkel again. But you know, I [laughing] I'm a fic writer, going into your head, and the writer never went into your head in that way, in the way that we saw.
FK: This blew my mind recently, I was reading a Star Trek Fotonovel and they've inserted thought bubbles about what the characters are thinking. It's almost like a comic book made with images from an episode?
ELM: Wow Flourish.
FK: And it's just retelling the episode, and a lot of it is actually the dialogue, but then there's these moments where the character is thinking something and that's interesting. They just made that shit up!
ELM: That's really funny.
FK: That's not in the script!
ELM: They were like "what's he thinking right now?"
FK: They just looked at these actors and were like "what's he thinking" which is so fanfictiony!
ELM: It is interesting too because the idea of reading the actual visual elements of a show as text...right? You know, there's so much, fanfiction is fascinating in this way because it's rare that you get fiction that is based on other fiction where a lot of the cues you're getting are visual. Does that make sense? A lot of texts are based on other texts but you're literally playing with text, whereas a lot of fanfiction encompasses the gestures they make. It sometimes throws me off a little. I'll read a look between two characters as one way and they'll read it wildly differently and I'll be like "I'm sorry WHAT? There's no way that was what the actors were thinking or what was in the script!" But whatever, that's what you saw so go forward! It's your story.
FK: This happens a lot within Star Wars fandom as you might imagine. There's a bunch of gazing and people are like "that's obviously a hatred gaze!" [ELM laughing] and other people are like "It's obviously a they wanna fuck gaze, what's wrong with you?"
ELM: I can imagine, I can imagine. [aughing]
FK: Gaze, not gays.
ELM: Yeah, your ship does not have gays.
ELM: Sorry to say. Your male/female ship has no gays.
FK: [laughing] Alright. So.
ELM: I hope that articulates it. I mean, obviously again, I don't think that there's any...alright, I do think there's a problem with Any Two Guys, in the sense of...The interchangeableness of it can be a bit dehumanizing I think.
FK: Fetishizing sometimes.
ELM: Not even fetishizing, but just sort of, if you can literally slap on any other pair of names...right? I don't, honestly Any Two Guys is something from pan slash fandom, but you read romance novels, I'm sure that there are male/female tropes just like this. You know?
FK: Oh yeah, absolutely.
ELM: I do think sometimes we zero in on Any Two Guys and the problems of male/male shipping just because it's so prevalent in the kind of fandom they're in.
FK: It's also more clear I think if you're going from this supposedly very significantly characterized couple that you're supposedly fans of because of the characters, right, and then you move to another thing that you're also supposedly fans of because of the characters, as opposed to... "Now I have read The Billionaire's Pregnant Bride, The Billionaire's Virgin Bride, The Billionaire's Secretary Bride, and The Billionaire's Pregnant Secretary, and shockingly, they all seem to have the same characters." No one is reading that and thinking that they are a fan of any one of these individual billionaires.
Maybe someone prefers one more than the others because it has more characters whereas the others feel they're rehashed. That's one of the reasons that people like [particular] romance novels: this one really felt like they were humans and these didn't.
ELM: Yeah that's really interesting.
FK: Particular romance novels, I mean. But it's not pretending anything.
ELM: OK Flourish, if you had to read all those, and you had to put one of the three following men in as the billionaire, who would you choose: Elon, Jeff Bezos, or Zuckerberg?
FK: [laughing] OH NO.
ELM: A look of horror! Sorry!
FK: OH NO.
ELM: You thought I was gonna toss in Richard Branson or Bill Gates or...
FK: Can I refuse to take part in this?
ELM: ANY more palatable billionaire.
FK: Actually I was gonna say, when Richard Branson is the better option...
ELM: I know.
FK: Alright. I'm about to be horrifying. I think I would pick Zuckerberg! [ELM laughing] I don't think I could stare at Elon Musk's hair plugs.
ELM: OK, but...I think you just...[laughing] I do think Jeff Bezos, one of the things that seems right with him, maybe I've discussed this with my colleagues. He seems evil, and he's a billionaire, that just seems...whereas Bill Gates seems just super awkward.
FK: Yeah, he seems like an awkward dude who is sort of trying to navigate...
ELM: Was not expecting this! Where, I mean, it's all a facade, again, this is some RPF right here. Jeff Bezos seems like petting a white cat in a lair. So I feel like he's just doin' it up right for evil billionaire.
FK: That's true. Maybe it's...
ELM: But you're supposed to think this is a sexy guy, so...
FK: Sexy guy?
ELM: And you think that Mark Zuckerberg is sexy, I understand.
FK: [laughing] What I would say is "the best of a bad bunch"?
ELM: I'm sorry!
FK: I, I, I can't believe you made me do that.
ELM: If I added Warren Buffett would you choose him?
FK: [very decisively] YES.
ELM: That's really good!
FK: Wouldn't you?
FK: I will say that Bill Gates is, with everything else he is, he is actually a legitimate hacker who is really obsessed with code in a classic hackery way, which I see as a positive? So.
ELM: I think Zuckerberg...
FK: He believes in the beauty of perl golf, you know?
ELM: I think Zuckerberg was once at that level but he got too distracted by the product.
FK: Yeah. Whereas I think that Bill Gates, based on his reading lists, still is that dude in his deep heart. Alright, this is all a lot of billionaire RPF.
ELM: It's so much.
FK: I think I should read the next.
ELM: This is all to say that capitalism is immoral and so are billionaires. I feel like we have to put that out there.
FK: Great. I agree. Even though I am the official capitalist of this podcast.
ELM: Yes. You are like that man from Monopoly. The uncle.
FK: I am Monopoly Uncle? All right.
ELM: What's his name? Moneybags? Pennybags? Uncle Pennybags?
FK: I think it's Pennybags.
ELM: I'm googling this right now.
FK: It's not Warbucks because that's Little Orphan Annie.
ELM: I'm literally googling this, get ready. "Is Mr Monopoly a real person?" [laughing] His name is Rich Uncle Pennybags! I won, I won!
FK: Alright great well I guess you get to be the iron if we ever play.
ELM: How did you know I like the iron?
FK: I guessed!
ELM: Wait are you serious?
FK: I am serious.
ELM: I genuinely like the iron.
FK: I guessed that you would like the iron.
ELM: Is it a popular choice?
FK: I like the iron too.
ELM: Oh you're just giving me your favorite, that's so sweet!
FK: Let me read the, in fact the last of our letterbag. This letter is from Rachel and Rachel actually also sent in another letter about our last episode, which we're just gonna hold on to for a bit, and talk about it next time. Rachel, we have not forgotten your other letter. This one goes:
Hi Elizabeth and Flourish, I'm having lots of thoughts tonight about how asexuality, specifically mine, intersects with fandom, shipping, and queer representation. This isn't the first time I've had all these thoughts, but I was just now looking through Tumblr and saw something that got the train moving again.
"I'm not really in Voltron fandom, though I have watched a few seasons of the show, but lately Tumblr has been informing me that one of the characters has been confirmed as gay onscreen. This is great! Yay representation. I'm a lesbian, I love seeing queer rep in the media I consume.
"Of course, this news has been particularly embraced by the fans who ship this character with another man on the show. I don't ship it, but that's cool, people can like what they like. What caught me by surprise was a sketch that is circulating around of Shiro cupping his hand to the side of Keith's face. Shiro looks angry to me; Keith looks upset. It's an intimate gesture for sure, but didn't read to me as especially romantic or sexual, just a thing that's natural between two people who are very close. This sketch was done by one of the animators, and there was a comment on the post saying 'I'm happy a lot of the animation staff love and support Sheith!' It would never even occur to me to read this as support of the ship, although after considering it I understand why a Sheith shipper might.
"Then I wondered why. Is this because I'm asexual and probably demiromantic, and so I read most intimate physical gestures as simple affection? I am physically affectionate with my friends; we cuddle, we hold hands, we kiss hello and goodbye, I escort them through doorways with a hand in the small of the back. I tell them I love them. All of these things could easily be read as romantic to an outsider--it would be really easy to find evidence shipping me with all of my closest friends.
"Of course there are valid multiple readings for every text. Some people see a lot more shipping than I do, that's fine. I don't want to put a damper on their fun, or on any possible queer representation, with the bullshit 'but they could be just friends' argument. I hate queerbaiting, and I think explicit queer representation in media is really necessary and important. But I also want to see representation of what I feel, specifically. I want to normalize platonic physical affection, especially between men, who don't get to have enough of it. I want media to explore all of the myriad ways in which two people can be close to each other.
"I think Steven Universe does this really well; almost all of the characters are nonbinary females, as is the show creator. They express so many facets of love: the romantic love of two people who want to be together all the time, who kiss, who marry; the platonic love of people who have known each other for a very long time and have become family of choice; the in-between uncertain love of people who don't know where they stand, they just stand together. One of the powers of these characters is that they can fuse to form other beings, and fusion is at turns treated as very romantic, a little sexy and adult, or totally platonic and with a specific goal in mind, but always very intimate. I've seen it used in the show as an allegory for rape and abuse, for homophobia, and seen the hesitation to do it used as, maybe, an ace/aro allegory.
"On the other hand, there are Steven Universe shippers, who ship not only the canon relationships but any and all other potential relationships as well. Again, go for it! But in my deepest heart, I'm always a little disappointed that someone else looked at what I see as representation of my own experience as an asexual lesbian, and instead read every tiny fond look or gentle touch as sexual. I guess the point I'm maybe getting to is that I want to feel seen, in all aspects, and I want other queers to feel seen as well. I want so much diversity of representation that fans hungry for queer allosexual content will have enough to satisfy, and there will still be some left over for intimate asexual friends, and aromantic friends with benefits, and every other combination under the rainbow.
"Until that blessed day, I guess I'll just keep shipping and not shipping as I like, writing fic about it, and sending you long-ass emails. Love, Rachel."
ELM: What a good letter!
FK: It was a really good letter!
ELM: I think we should ask Rachel if we can publish it like we did for Lilah's manifesto after our anniversary. I feel like if it didn't say "hi Flourish and Elizabeth" it could just be a meta by itself.
FK: It would just be a meta by itself. One of the things I loved about it was obviously Rachel is coming from the perspective of an ace person, but I almost felt like I could read it and some of the feelings described in there are feelings that I've had about bisexuality and the way bisexuality can be read or not read in shows. Right? I'm sure other people, for all sorts of different bits of queerness, have similar feelings, because queerness isn't something that's [laughs] it's not always easy to decide what you're seeing. Things can be read in different ways when you're looking at a show.
ELM: Right. It's so hard because I don't think that you're gonna be able to, even if there's a massive multiplicity of experiences and orientations and preferences, I still think people are gonna get upset when they identify and pin their...the way they identify and someone else does it in a different way. I don't know how much we've actually discussed on the podcast, but I was disheartened when I started checking out the Black Sails Tumblr scene, after I got really into the show last year, because for anyone who hasn't seen the show—and I know you still haven't seen it cause you're a fool and are instead just reading Star Trek novels instead of watching the greatest show ever made—you know, there are five characters on the show out of probably ten total who have on screen intimate sexual relations with a person of the same sex.
Most of those are also involved in tricky triads that don't really get defined in words. We're also talking about a show set 300 years ago, when the way people conceived of sex, sexuality, gender was quite quite different from the way we talk about it now. And the way we talk about it now is very different than it was 50 years ago, as well.
FK: For sure.
ELM: Frankly it's different than it was 10 years ago in terms of the minutiae of labeling culture. So there are characters who have sex with men and women, and people are coming to blows on Tumblr about whether, you know, is it a closeted lesbian or a bisexual person? Or people saying that, portraying in one of the threesomes the female character was committing some sort of violent act by being intimately involved with two gay men. Which is like...no one has any of these words on this show! Right? [laughing] And that's never a part of it! But the fact that people will...this is a show with I think a very high amount of queer representation and a lot of different things depicted. Very different attitudes. And still people...
FK: Was she like...was she raping them?
FK: OK, I...sorry. I just had to ask that. Because if two gay men decide that they want to have a threesome with a lady?
ELM: Oh yeah absolutely!
ELM: I'm not sure how much of this to say that doesn't give away too many spoilers. But one of the men and the woman are married, and then on the show the woman in flashback scenes begins having an affair with the protagonist who's a man. And you find out, this is spoiling it all, I feel like people know by now if they're gonna see Black Sails they know.
FK: I think so.
ELM: That the protagonist is also having an affair with the man of the relationship.
FK: Right, so that's definitely...
ELM: One thing that makes it kind of interesting and I wish there was more fic about this is it's actually a very very ambiguous space. You think, were the three of them all together all the time? We don't get that on screen cause they limit the amount of exposure they have. Or is it just a V? Or was he actually in our modern terms gay and trying out, finding some intimacy, possibly just having sex with someone he loves but someone he's not romantically attracted to? The woman in the relationship? But no, I saw those words that I described about...
FK: Great. Let's burn the internet. [laughs]
ELM: And these are all people who are actively having sex on screen! That leaves no room for interpretation. The amount of acephobia and hostility towards asexual and aromantic headcanons is shocking to me. It's the level of vitriol on Tumblr, extremely wearing. The idea that you could see a character who does not have any relationships on the screen and say "oh, I wanna read that character as ace," and people will come at you and say "you're a homophobic monster" is absurd! You know? And that's something that I've only seen grow in the last couple of years and I don't wanna harp on it in Black Sails but it just really left me disheartened and a little bit hopeless, I would say.
And this was happening around the time that we had Lilah on the podcast, who was talking about how when there are more queer characters then a lot of these clashes won't happen. And it's like, sorry, still happening! This is a show about adult flesh people, what are they called? Live action! [laughter]
FK: ADULT FLESH PEOPLE.
ELM: You know what I mean?
FK: Absolutely! You're using Black Sails examples, but I feel like this is in lots of fandoms as well, so.
ELM: Yeah, though I don't actually know of that many fandoms that have that many canonical queer characters.
FK: No, I don't think so, but I mean these are being used as political footballs. This question is widespread, whether there's that many queer characters or not.
ELM: Yeah. I guess the example of Black Sails is one of the few and I'm sure there must be other examples but I honestly can't think of any where it's an ensemble cast and...there's obviously something like Queer as Folk where the whole point is that most of the cast is supposed to be queer, or The L Word or whatever. But you know what I mean. I just feel like it's not, we always talk about the scarcity question but I don't necessarily think it's a numbers game. People internalize what they see in characters and how they see themselves in them and I think frankly aren't very thoughtful about the way other people might have a difference of opinion. Or have equally internalized that! So.
FK: I guess that's the note we're gonna end on.
ELM: That's a depressing place to end.
FK: Um, what's less depressing? The Good Place is coming back?
ELM: Yes, I wasn't going to say that but yes.
FK: Star Trek?
ELM: I don't care. I mean, I support you.
FK: I know, but I'm not depressed! You support me, right?
ELM: I support you. The Favorite is coming out in November.
FK: The Favorite?
ELM: [laughs] I don't know, I haven't seen this gentleman's other films and I don't know how to say his name, Yorgos...Yorgos... the man who made The Lobster?
ELM: I think his first name is Yorgos. I'm bad. He adapted this book which I have tried to get my hands on but it's been out of print and now they're holding it to have a tie in version with the movie. Every time I've been back in the UK for work over the last six months I've been like "do you have this book yet? Do you have this book yet?" and they're like "please come back in the fall." It's about the relationship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill, so.
FK: That's exciting!
ELM: Kinda gay! But 1705, so they constructed it differently.
FK: [laughing] This seems very relevant to both your and my interests actually.
ELM: Yeah! I'm going on opening day if you wanna come.
FK: Lemme look at when it is but yeah!
ELM: It's in November and I'm going.
ELM: I'm just very excited to have more things set in the first decade of the 18th century, my special time.
FK: [laughing] Your special time. That is a happier note to end on.
ELM: [laughing] You know my friend who takes me on the historical tours? She calls it "your time." "These buildings are very much of your time." That's right, it's my time now, I just appropriated it from Thomas Hamilton, who may or may not be gay!
FK: So if you've enjoyed this episode and you want to support Elizabeth's desire to do nothing but historical fiction at all times for ever, then [ELM laughing] You can support us on Patreon, that's patreon.com/fansplaining.
ELM: Hold on, can we announce our big announcement?
ELM: About the next tiny zine?
FK: Let's do it!
ELM: So we have embarked on a partnership for our next few tiny zines with our favorite artist, Maia Kobabe.
ELM: Maia is the subject of the first installment, they are about some early fandom memories.
FK: Tiny comic zines!!!
ELM: We actually just got the final just before we started recording today and it looks SO GOOD so I'm really excited. So I think we should say if people want to pledge at the $10 level is the tiny zine level by...shall we say Monday September 24? How's that for a cutoff?
FK: That's a great cutoff.
ELM: That's almost a week.
FK: If you pledge the $10 pledge by Monday the 24th, you will receive a tiny comic zine.
ELM: And there are more of those to come.
FK: Yes. Of course there are also rewards for lower levels of pledging, and if you don't have any cash that you wanna kick us you can also support us...
ELM: Wait, go back! What kind of rewards? Is there more new content at a lower level as well??
FK: YES! [ELM laughs] Yes! We recently released two in rapid succession...
ELM: A pair, they're a pair! You make it sound like it wasn't planned but we meant for them to be two parts.
FK: That's true. About our fanfic writing practices. Special episodes for $3/month and up patrons. And we already know that the next special episode after this is going to be very special special episode with Javier Grillo-Marxuach talking about his crossover fanfic! That's gonna be coming in a few weeks.
ELM: October for that episode.
FK: So you've got some time to pledge.
ELM: There'll be a lot of content for you! Of course if you pledge at a higher level, as these things always work, you get those episodes as well.
FK: And of course if you don't have any money to kick us or don't want to you can also support us by doing things like promoting us to your friends and family, reviewing us on iTunes, sending in questions for perhaps the Ask Fansplaining Anything Part 3 episode which will come up some time from now...
ELM: So cheesy Flourish. You are the most cheesy person.
FK: It's my life, I'm just cheesy.
ELM: You're like Uncle Pennybags. I assume he's the cheesy uncle.
FK: The best ways to do it are our email address, email@example.com, or if you go to our website fansplaining.com there's a phone number you can call and leave us a voice mail message which we love.
ELM: Oh yeah, we love voice mails!
FK: Alright, so yall are gonna send us your questions and Elizabeth I'm gonna talk with you later.
ELM: OK Flourish!
ELM: [laughs] Bye!
[Outro, thank yous and disclaimers]