Episode 85: Age and Fandom
In Episode 85, Flourish and Elizabeth talk about the ever-contentious topic of age in fandom. They start with childhood—are there aspects of childhood that are naturally fannish?—and continue on through later stages of life, including the way mainstream society pits fannishness against maturity (unless you’re a sports fan!). Topics covered include ageism, the empathy gap online, Ann M. Martin, and the glory that was the mall in the 1990s.
[00:00:00] The intro music, as always, is “Awel” by Stefsax, used under a BY-CC license.
[00:08:39] We interviewed Zan Romanoff, author of Grace and the Fever, in Episode 47!
[00:13:37] Important corrections: Elizabeth met Ann M. Martin at an INDEPENDENT bookstore in Loudonville, NY, not a Waldenbooks, but it was, indeed, in a strip-mall. It was for the release of book #90, which was published in 1995. Many thanks to the ultimate fact-checker, her mother.
[00:19:21] Peaches (warning, the song is called “Fuck the Pain Away,” it is… not work safe)
[00:25:38] Interstitial music by Lee Rosevere, used under a CC-BY license!
Flourish Klink: Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for and about fandom!
ELM: Slightly creepy greeting. Thank you.
FK: It is October, the spookiest month.
ELM: Oh, yeah. That's right. Okay, this is Episode 85, the long-awaited Age And Fandom.
FK: Age and fandom!
ELM: Yes. So by way of starting this conversation, we got an ask a little while back we did which reads:"Hi. I love your podcast. I was listening to one of your old episodes, and oneif you said something about 'creepy olds.'" Did I say that? I don't think I would say that.
FK: I don't think that I would either, but I have no idea what context this was in.
ELM: Maybe we were imitating someone else. Anyway, it continues: "This made me curious about whether you'd ever do an episode on age / ageism in fandom particularly with regard to gender biases, IE men in some cases are allowed to be fans longer than women. Thanks!" So, this is not the first time the people have asked us to do this and we've said probably a hundred and fifty thousand times that we would eventually do a whole episode about age and ageism. And that time is now!
FK: It is now! At different times, we had played with different ideas about having guests or something, and none of that happened. We're just going to talk about it.
ELM: Yeah, we had talked about having a teenager.
FK: I would still like to do that. We just not this time, but I would still like to do that.
ELM: Okay, you want to "how do you do fellow kids" for the team?
FK: [goofy voice] How do you do, fellow kids!!
ELM: Is that the way that Steve Buscemi said it in the real thing?
FK: Probably not.
ELM: I don't even know what it's from. It's a meme. We'll include that the picture of that meme in the show notes. Yeah.
FK: It's a pretty great one. I don't know how he actually said it.
ELM: I've literally had no idea what it's from though. Do you know?
ELM: Great, cool. We just baselessly spread memes.
FK: Like most people!
ELM: That's true. Another reason we wanted to talk about age was a friend of mine sent us a message. He's got two kids both of whom are around age 10, I think maybe 9 and 11 or so, talking about children in fandom and how his children are super fannish. I mean to be fair, he's pretty fannish and he's an adult man, but it is true that I think children can be very fannish in a way that I think is less surprising to people than when adults are.
FK: Absolutely, so maybe maybe childhood is a good place to start. Yeah. I've heard that from a lot from my friends who have kids also and...I don't know, looking back on it, it does seem like when I was a kid, I feel like there was a lot of emphasis on imaginative play. People wanted me to do imaginative play and it was like, great, if you were gonna play Power Rangers or play Pokemon or play whatever.
ELM: Wow you are slightly younger than me.
FK: I got the first Pokemon on the day that it first came out. I think I was about like maybe eight or nine? The very first.
ELM: Yeah, the girls I babysat for were in the Pokemon and I was like 11 and they were like 8. Which again, makes... whose joke is that? A John Mulaney joke? Some comedian, about how does that make any sense that you would leave like a twelve year old...It is a John Mulaney joke? You'd leave a horse to watch your dog?
FK: It's true. But I also babysat when I was 12, so I don't know.
ELM: I don't know what it is. Yeah. Yeah for children who are like basically your age now.
FK: Yeah, it's wait. I truly can't believe that I was allowed to babysit some of the kids I was allowed to babysit, who thought that was a good idea. But anyway.
FK: Actually this probably has to do some with gender and growing up as well.
ELM: That's true. That's true.
FK: But you know what I'm talking about, right? Like there's this imaginative play thing, oh, yeah, of course, you should go immerse yourself in these fantasy worlds.
ELM: I don't think adults necessarily were encouraging me or my peers to engage with pop culture properties like that. "Why don't you go play Pokemon" or whatever. For me I remember very distinctly in nursery school getting roped into being April with every group of four fools, four stupid boys would come up to me and they would be like "come on!" Like, screw you!
FK: Aw, really?
ELM: I don't want to be the April to these dumb turtle boys! If you invited me to be one of the turtles maybe, but I don't want to be the one human lady. That's weird.
FK: That is weird. I think that this shows, I liked the turtles, but the thing I always played imaginatively was Power Rangers, like I said. I always got to be Trini. The best Power Ranger.
ELM: Which color Rangers that
FK: No. No, are you kidding? It's a Power Rangers. It is in certain ways deeply racist and she is the yellow Power Ranger and she's Asian, and the pink Power Ranger is a white girl, and the black Ranger is a black dude. This is how Power Rangers work.
ELM: This is a problematic franchise.
FK: It is a problematic franchise.
ELM: Yeah, as opposed to the turtles. All turtles. Just named after my... the great. I was going to say my ancestors Yes, my ancestors! Leonardo. Michaelangelo! I love pizza. I love New York City.
FK: But totally... did you ever pick up a hobby or anything because of a fandom that you had when you were a little kid?
ELM: Like my hobby of becoming a ruthless business person? How little are we talking about little? More than that though?
FK: Well, I was just thinking about how like I saw the Karate Kid with Hilary Swank in it. Bad idea. That's a bad movie. It's got a huge Nerf...anyway. And that was a big part, between that the Power Rangers, that was why I got into martial arts, you know what I mean? And this was like a totally like reasonable thing, right? You have a kid, they see some movie, they want to do that thing, take them to do that thing. Which I feel like, as an adult, if someone said like, "oh, yeah, I saw this movie and I want to learn horseback riding" you'd be like Really? You pick up like a new interest because of your movie?
ELM: Well, we wouldn't because we do this all the time.
FK: That's true, but it's totally normal for kids. I think.
ELM: Yeah. I wonder why that's okay for children and not okay for adults because it seems... I mean, I think the imagination thing is a good point. I think that imagination in certain contexts is valued in the adult world, but I think on a broad base it's not very much. You know, if you are innovative in your cool startup, that's imagination, right?
ELM: But for the most part, even thinking of it from a class perspective, only certain types of jobs get to even have access to language around imagination and creativity right? The vast majority of jobs, that's not something that's privileged in any way. You're often not rewarded for...
FK: [laughing] In your job is a Walmart stalker you are not going to be rewarded for imagination and creativity.
ELM: Why don't you just be creative with this display? Go for it! Yeah. I mean I can say, having worked a lot of retail, working big corporate retail at the Gap...they tell you what to put on the people in the windows! Yeah, the mannequins ,the non-flesh people [laughing]. The plastic people! They give you exact instructions on the day. They don't say go wild. We're not decorating Barney's windows. It's corporate. They have a corporate mandate and all the windows are going to look the same.
FK: Well, I think also in children's media there is such a...I think it's still the same today, that there's there's such an encouragement of imagination, and that sort of ends at a certain point. People start telling you to put away childish things and to stop with that kind of imaginative play, right?
ELM: Sure. Okay, every single person listening to this grew up in a time when people thought that childish obsessions were childish, as it were. There was probably tension in teenagerhood, pitting probably fannishness against things that were seen as quote unquote more adult. For girls in particular, probably quote unquote girl things, all of which are about the transition from girlhood to womanhood—and in a very heteronormative cisnormative, etc, etc. You know, lipstick and boys and quote unquote girly things.
ELM: Like that's seenin opposition to fannish stuff which is seen often as...I don't know, unsexy? Is that the word? I don't know if I'm articulating this well, you know what I mean?
FK: No, I do think...I think that "unsexy" maybe is the word.
ELM: I'm thinking about Grace and the Fever too, and I think that was a classic kind of like...Her glamorous friends from high school, but it's kind of ironic because it's like, well, if the her obsession with Fever Dream... Fever Dream. I almost called them One Direction. Fever Dream is seen as something childish, that she keeps this secret now because her friends used to like them a few years ago but they grew out of it, right? The expression "grew out of it," but it is a little bit ironic because she's actually like engaging in...she's actually like hooking up with the members of this band! [laughing] Right? So that is much more adult behavior than, you know. But it's still tied up in this idea of oh, I'm still participating in something that the rest of my real life friends grew out of.
FK: Well, I think there's also sort of different kinds of fandoms that people identify as childish, or more grown-up, or whatever, right? So I'm remembering—as you might not be surprised to learn that I was a nerd, I remember being in sixth grade and having a male friend who was like, "Star Wars is so for kids. I like Star Trek."
FK: right? I know that's so silly. It's also a little true ,but it's really silly, but at the time I felt like really called out!
ELM: You're giving Star Trek possibly more credit than it deserves.
FK: For sure. We're like, maybe ten year olds at this point. And he was really...but there was genuinely, like, I believed him! And I also was mad at that idea. You know what I mean? Like, there's even within fannishness - I feel like when you're a kid, especially, there's these hierarchies of what's more serious or real or adult.
ELM: Hmm. Yeah was that fannishness as much as, like, specific sub genres of the culture? So you're talking about mass market sci-fi, and I'm also thinking of the kind of fantasy novels a fantasy fan might have read as a seven-year-old. And then when do you read The Hobbit and when are you old enough to Lord of the Rings, that kind of thing. I don't know if that's necessarily... I wouldn't shorthand that as quote unquote fandom and I think you just did that, and I don't want you to do that in the future Flourish.
FK: Well, I wasn't short handing that as fandom because in this case, I was actually like a real... he was a big Star Trek fan and I was really into Star Wars at the time. I wasn't trying to shorthand that.
ELM: What if you had come back at him and been like "cool, I'm gonna be really into actual space. I'm going to be an astrophysicist."
FK: I actually think that that was why he felt like Star Trek was more adult! Because Star Trek was more sciencey. Genuinely! I mean it's a little silly now that I think about it, but Star Wars is space fantasy. In Star Trek you say a lot of things like "bounce the gravitron particle beam off the main deflector dish." [ELM laughing] Real line, a real line.
ELM: Yeah, it's real science right there! That's sciencey.
FK: We've got some blueprints here for you.
ELM: Science the shit out of it. Yeah. And kids, a lot of kids have that anxiety. I think that people who always identify as fans, people who stick with fandom all the way through...I don't know. I feel like the the most well-adjusted among them are just like, "whatever I continue to like what I like," you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah totally!
ELM: But I think that for a lot of people it's really hard. Your example I think is perhaps not a normal one.
FK: [laughing] I doubt it. I doubt it's normal.
ELM: Right? But I do think that there's, there's seen as... It's in teenagerhood. The adults will start saying "isn't it time you grew up? Isn't it time you started focusing on real things?" Except when it comes to sports. Or celebrity fandom.
FK: But I feel like for girls to some extent sports are part of the thing that you're supposed to grow out of, you know? I mean, I'm thinking about like, you know, The Baby-Sitters Club, a series that I feel like we both probably read when we were kids, right?
ELM: Oh yeah.
FK: And how like Kristy is in some ways... in some ways pretty grown-up and organizes everything, but she's really into sports and that's kind of childish. Certainly Stacey, who's into boys feels like that's childish, right?
ELM: Stacey's got a lot of problems. I'm sorry.
FK: Also, I'm pretty sure Kristy is gay.
ELM: Yeah a thousand percent. [FK laughing]
FK: But you know when you read those, that's what you're supposed to...I think that you're supposed to like, I don't know. Kristy is sort of...
ELM: Really? I never read them that way at all.
FK: Oh, yeah?
ELM: Cause Kristy is so organized. And she has two of everything because her parents are divorced!
FK: That's true.
ELM: You know what it's like to have divorced parents and have two of everything?
FK: I don't actually know what it's like to have divorced parents. That was probably my biggest, you know, reference point.
ELM: I feel like I could recite every single fact that that they insisted on writing in every first chapter of every one of those books.
FK: I'm sure. I always liked Claudia, but I'm not really a Claudia.
ELM: No. No.
FK: I aspired to be a Claudia but...
ELM: You're not as flighty and creative.
FK: No, I think I'm more Kristy. [laughing] Anyway.
ELM: That was one of my first fannish IRL experiences. I got one of the books signed by Ann M Martin.
FK: Oh, I think you told me about that.
ELM: Yeah, and then I cheated, got back on the line and got a second book signed by her. [FK laughing] That's right. I think it was like, a Waldenbooks?
FK: Maybe you're not a Gryffindor.
ELM: I think Gryffindors cheat. I don't think there's anything about Gryffindor's being honest in there.
FK: That's true.
ELM: Gryffindors like blustering towards the win, not sneaking towards the win. So I just boldly got in the line again. Why not? So she signed number one and she also signed, I think it was number one hundred was why she was on tour. Like a strip mall Waldenbooks probably. Yeah. memories. That's fine.
FK: Strip mall Waldenbooks I feel like is a very particular...
ELM: Moment in history.
FK: Yeah, you know, for me it was a Barnes & Noble that was in the mall. That was the bookstore that I went.
ELM: You had a Barnes & Noble in the mall?
FK: Yeah, there's a Barnes & Noble the mall. There still is Barnes & Noble in the mall!
ELM: Inside the mall!
ELM: This is blowing my mind.
FK: Inside the mall, so you could walk through it and go to like the food court and then on the other side of food court was the movie theater. So you could get all of your media needs in one place. This was where I liked to hang out when I was in high school.
ELM: Ours was similar, but it was Waldenbooks in the mall and then it abutted the food court, and then in the far end was also the movie theater.
FK: Yeah, malls!
ELM: Malls. [both laughing] Wait, though. Was yours a California mall? So there's like outdoor bits? It always stresses me out.
FK: This particular mall did not have outdoor bits. But the other mall in town had outdoor bits, was the first outdoor bits mall.
ELM: I can't, I can't. I'm from a very cold place. So the idea is you go inside the mall and then you don't leave it for like six hours. And you're like, I'm warm now. I'm gonna go to Ruby Tuesday's.
FK: In California you go into the mall and then you arecool because it's air-conditioned inside.
ELM: Oh, I hear you. I hear you. Wow, malls! I hear malls are really on the decline. And that is a way that we differ from current teens. I don't know if they go to malls.
FK: I don't know if they go to malls either, and I hope they don't, because the mall was...well, I don't know.
ELM: I thought it was fine. Look, you got a ride to the mall with your friend when you were like 14, and then you can hang out with your friend and walk around by yourself for hours.
FK: That's true. You're allowed to do that at a mall.
ELM: Yeah think of all the things! And we didn't have any money, or we hadl ike five dollars. [FK laughing] So like, you know, we could go to the arcade. Yeah. Wow, this is really sad. [laughing] I remember having very nice times! Going to the pet store.
FK: Going to Claire's, had to try everything on at Claire's.
ELM: Claire's! We did. We went to Afterthoughts also
FK: Afterthoughts! I'd forgotten about that.
ELM: [laughing] It was an afterthought to you.
FK: Yeah, there was a lot of glitter that smelled like fruit.
ELM: Oh my goodness. Did I tell you that I had to go to a 90's party a couple years ago? So I went to the Claire's in the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, because there's a Claire's there. I realized that the things that I thought were very 90s? Actually may just be the things marketed to preteens.
FK: That are sold in Claire's? [laguhing]
ELM: Yeah, because it was like yin-yangs, peace signs, chokers and I had always thought. Oh, this was just some weird 60s revival in the mid-90s.
FK: I always thought that too!
ELM: But either it's happening again or that they've just decided that...
FK: I think it's happening again.
ELM: I think eleven year olds love yin yangs.
FK: Why not both? Porque no los dos?
ELM: Oh my God, we're supposed to be talking about ageism and now we're just down memory lane.
FK: Well, but I think that there is something valuable to memory lane about this! Because I think that one of the things, actually the idea of walking around the mall and having those experiences is maybe part of that "turn off your imagination" messaging. Part of it is because now you're old enough to go and do things yourself, as opposed to being shepherded around by people and not really having the ability...there's almost...
ELM: I feel like this is tenuous. I know you're trying to link these thoughts together. But also if you, I went to New York Comic Con last weekend, there were teens there by themselves having the same experience!
FK: No, but that's exactly what I'm saying! When you turn about 14 you get to go and whether it's the mall or at New York Comic Con or something, you're old enough go out and be on your own a little bit more. I don't know. I think that there is something about like a broadening Horizon of things you can do because you're not like a child.
ELM: But I think that for some teens the things you can do then become explicitly fannish. You can go to Comic-Con.
FK: Mmm. Yeah, that's true.
ELM: You know, I think that's only increasing as time has gone on. I think that the...
FK: Having access to that as an option at all.
ELM: There are more and more cons. There are more small cons that are affordable, not just the big ones, you know, there were tons and tons of teens.
FK: Yeah. Well this has to do with the mainstreaming of fandom, right? There's more opportunities. It's more okay. The first midnight release party that had been held at the mall for anything, I think, was for thefourth Harry Potter book and then after that it suddenly became a thing. There was going to be like a midnight release for Lord of the Rings there was... not that those things didn't ever happen before, but...
ELM: Well, they certainly did midnight screenings for decades before Harry Potter came out.
FK: Of course they did, but I feel like it really picked up speed at a certain point in the mid-2000s.
ELM: Yeah. Well, so what does that say then? That means that there are people who are growing up in a climate where it's more and more mainstream. That runs at odds with the increasing volume and tempo of the ageism conversation, especially coming from younger fans towards older fans, right? If you're being raised in a world where fandom is increasingly mainstream, why is the reaction then to yell at someone who's you know, 50 on your dash and say "why are you still here"—when the culture is sending a message that fandom is cool? And that superhero movies are awesome and people of all ages should go to this con? It just seems very counterintuitive.
FK: But is that a little bit like "culture is for young people" in a certain way? I mean, when you are...when I was younger certainly it would have blown my mind to realize that adults would be into, I don't know, whatever, Peaches or something. You know what I mean? Whatever, I'm trying to think of what music I liked.
ELM: Peaches the Mario character?
FK: Peaches the incredibly sexually explicit female singer.
ELM: I don't know this Peaches.
FK: Well, I will send you Peaches' music and you will understand more about what my high school experience was like. But. Point being, it would have blown my mind. Of course, she was an adult! Mostly adults were into this! This is a thing for adults! And yet somehow it would have blown my mind if I had been like "woah you mean someone will still like this when they're 35? What?" [all laughing]
ELM: Right. So so if we're thinking that instinct is really natural, and that you always center yourself, and as you grow older...and I don't think everyone's good at this, but I do think that the opportunity arises for you to remember what it was like to be, you know 30 and 20 and 15 and whatever. Certainly that option is open to you. I think some people don't do a good job remembering what it was like to be various other ages and still continue to center themselves.
There's also, I was just listening to someone talking about this, I think it was like a psychiatrist was talking about this, or a psychologist, saying that we have a really hard time envisioning what our lives will look like in 10 years. They've done studies and people think, "Oh, I can't imagine it'll be that different." Even if intellectually, you know, like, I'm 20 now when I'm 30 it would be quite different! And you know right now, us in our early 30s, in my mind I'm like, "oh sure. I'll just be doing this." That's completely abstract!
And then of course you look back from 40 to 30 or 30 to 20 and whatever and say, "oh God I couldn't even..." because some of it is very very hard to predict. You don't know the little individual events, subtle, that will kind of shift your path. You know what I mean? So I think it makes sense that if you're deep in the thick of it in a fandom when you're 16, I think it's pretty hard to project what your life will be like, and it's pretty hard to empathize with the future adult that you'll be or the current adults that you're around. Obviously not all adults, not all teens, not all anyone...
FK: Yeah, but I do also think that there's a lot of people for whom...One thing that is true for both of us, and for I think many people who listen to this podcast, is that people are curious, interested in the way other people live... like, you know, want to travel, want to go to different places, have the opportunity to live in many different places, all of this. Right?
I think for a lot of people when you're young you haven't ever had the opportunity to see that many people or that many different ways of living. And some people never get that opportunity for whatever reason, or never go out of their way to encounter it. So for instance, when I was 16, I'm sure that I knew people who were fannish who were...well, I'm sure the average kid in my high school knew someone who was fannish who was older, but maybe didn't know that they were fannish, maybe didn't have any context for that. Certainly really had a hard time understanding that there's millions of people out there who really love Star Wars who are 40. And as you have more experiences and just sheerly meet more people, you get to see that there's this wide variety of ways people relate to all sorts of things. Do you know what I mean? That's not purely about age because it also has to do with, like, where you live and what opportunities have been given to you.
ELM: Sure, yeah, and the privileges you have.
FK: Yeah, but age certainly is a limiting factor.
ELM: You know, I'm thinking when I was 16 in Harry Potter fandom online...Certainly, I had an intellectual awareness that all the people writing fic and commenting on it that I was seeing, there were tons of people involved. It never ever occurred to me to think "I wonder if those people are around me? I wonder if I could meet them?" Obviously this kind of from the perspective of someone who's lurking also, right? So I was not interested in engaging with them in any way, but I also didn't, I wasn't thinking "who are these people?"
FK: Even as someone who was very engaged with this and who knew all these people who are older than her, when I met people in person I was like, holy shit. Y'all are adults!
ELM: Did you think they were all 12 also? plaughing]
FK: I knew that they were not all 12 also, but like, it's a very different thing to be like talking to someone online and sort of halfway envisioning them as the exact same age, and then being like...what?! Like I remember my oldest online friend, who I'm still friends, with she's only like three years older than me, but when we finally met I was like, "Whoa, you're like a senior in high school!" [laughing] You know what I mean? And that seemed like a big deal, even though we'd been friends for like years online. I don't know, but in my head somehow we were exactly the same age. It was so bizarre.
ELM: Okay, so to just kind of move us in the direction that I think this conversation needs to go... Because I think we should take a quick break first before we do this. I think this kind of dissociation that we're talking about, this this inability to really wrap your head around the other people in fandom, I think underscores a lot of the empathy gap that in turn underscores a lot of the conflicts that you see in fandom.
If I like one ship and you like another, and I can't actually really envision who you are beyond someone who likes the wrong ship, then that's that and then you you're not a person anymore. You're literally just...and if I do have that extra ammunition to say "I believe fandom is for X age and you are not in that group." And I think this goes in all directions! I think there are some adults who behave quite badly on the age question.
FK: Oh, yes.
ELM: I feel like it's so often gets framed as like "the damn kids," but we really need to make it clear that unlike other marginalizations, where I'm not going to sit here and say like, "oh whitefans are being bullied too"—no, come on. With age I think it's complicated because ageism does go in a lot of different directions.
FK: Yeah. Absolutely.
ELM: There's definitely systemic biases against young people and against old people, you know, and then obviously it manifests differently around gender and race,
FK: And differently and absolutely, any age you are the people are going to have stereotypes about what it means to be a person of that age combined with your gender and race, right?
ELM: Right. Exactly. So I think it's those gaps and it's in those gaps between me thinking about you in the abstract. I think that's where a lot of our conflict is. So I feel like we should kind of dig into that in the second half. What do you think?
FK: Let's do it. Let's take a break first.
FK: Okay, we're back.
ELM: We are back.
FK: And it's time to talk about the empathy gap, I guess!
FK: [laughing That was such a doubtful "sure." [ELM sighs] Well, here's one thing that I would like to talk about. Here's one thing I would actually like to talk about, which is, you brought up the gender aspects of this before and I think that as we start talking about age with regard to people who are not teenagers...right? I think that comes into play more and more and more.
FK: And I think that men and women begin to get treated pretty differently at that point and I think that has to do with sort of, who is expected to take up the most work of making a family unit work? In a certain way? On a day-to-day basis. Like the way that the work of men and women is like, configured in the world, the way people think about it.
ELM: I think it's more complicated than how you're framing it. I think that that's the starting point.
ELM: Okay. So let's let's break this down a little. You're a man, right, you're a teen boy. Your fandom is sports? You're golden. You're literally the greatest man of all time. Especially if the sport you like is a really aggressive manly one, like football.
FK: Right, and it's something everyone can talk with you about because it's so enshrined in... Yeah. Totally.
ELM: You know what's really extraordinary to me? And I say this as someone who, well, I'm not an active sports fan right now, but knows the rules of all the sports. Has been a genuine fan before, so I'm not like, "oh the sports ball!" Every Super Bowl party I go to there's always someone being like "lol sports ball" and I'm like, okay cool, we're all here to get drunk together, that's fine. [FK laughing] But also! Yeah, you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah. I too have had this experience. Where I'm like "Am I literally the only person here, who knows what a fucking down is? I can explain to you all if you want but please stop making jokes about how this game works!"
ELM: OK, my favorite experience of this was kind of flipped, because I went to this party in Williamsburg the year that The Who were the halftime act. And there was one guy in this party of like 35 hipsters who really wanted to see The Who. And everyone else is just being an ironic dick, and they were like, "Garbage!" Like immediately before they even started, "Only a loser would care about this!" and he was like "Guys!!!" I would have watched, I'm curious, I like The Who! The Superbowl halftime show is usually really hacky, but it was just a lot of layers of like ironic interest and fannish...and they were all gambling. They had a pool, like a point spread, and so it's like...you're into gambling, but it's uncool to actually like the sport, but then a couple...Anyway.
All this aside, I was going to say, I really do find it funny when I'm in an office—and I freelance in a couple different offices for clients. There is this incredible language between middle-aged men and young men, where a middle-aged man—this happens constantly—will never ask any woman if they've seen X game. Like, a game. But they'll ask the young man. Like, "did you see the Knicks game last night?" And it's incredible when it doesn't work and the guy's like, "uh, no, not really a basketball fan." Because then it's like the world of this older man is just, "I don'tm I thought we had the man code together!" but when they get going! And you're like, really???
FK: In entertainment it's people using sports metaphors. I'm like, I'm just gonna pull out a laundry metaphor or something here. We need some new metaphors here that work as well, I don't even know what. We just need something that's not sports. [ELM laughing]
ELM: Okay. But anyways, sports aside? Sports always good. Everyone's always into sports. There's a sports section. Increasingly I think there's more acceptance of women getting in on that, but it often is on men's terms.
ELM: Big portions of the NFL and MLB audiences are female.
FK: But they still don't have female announcers.
ELM: Well, that's—
FK: The first one just happened. The first all female announcing team, right?
ELM: Yeah, if anyone doesn't follow football—and maybe you shouldn't at this point, because it's so fraught on so many levels—but this this year they have an all-female commenting team. I think it's two people.
FK: Yes, it's two people.
ELM: Doing Thursday Night Football. I believe they're doing 11 games this season, which is almost almost every week. That's good. That's football, so I don't know how to feel anymore, but all that aside.
Okay, so sports. Set that aside, right? We all understand, we can see very visibly in our culture, at least. Our perspective as Americans. I find this is very true in the United Kingdom as well, where I've lived and worked. I'm sure it's also true in other cultures. The man, the teenage boy...say you're a teenage boy and you really love Star Wars. I think that when you transition into adulthood, I don't think that's the same thing. I think that it's overstated how cool it is to be a nerd.
I think that certain things are cool. Like seeing the movie: cool. Star Wars, cool movie, right? Jimmy Fallon has the cast on, cool, right? Everyone likes that. If you are sitting in your darkened room painting scale models of every character...
FK: Yeah yeah yeah.
ELM: That's still not cool! No one, you know, people in fandom like that, but the general culture does not put the stamp of approval on that. Right? And so when I think about male nerddom and the kinds of behaviors, I think about The 40 Year Old Virgin. Which is a movie that came out probably 10 years ago. I don't think our culture has changed that much. One of the signs of his his childishness, as equated with his virginity, was the fact that he had a lot of hobbies that involved him sitting in his house and painting his little figurines and action figures, sadly playing the trombone, and that was all... That was all wrapped up in what was depicted as... And that movie, I don't think it's the most offensive film in the world, but I also think it plays on a lot of cultural assumptions.
FK: Yeah. I think you're right, and I've also I've been thinking a lot lately...Because people of our parents age are retiring now, so I've been seeing a lot of people that I know, who are older men, retiring. And a lot of them, it seems like they don't have any hobbies but their job.
ELM: Yeah. I think that's true.
FK: And I think there's actually been a lot of studies about this, too. Where you've given up all of your hobbies and it's just your job, and that's all you've got, and then you retire and you don't know what to do with yourself at all.
ELM: Right, right. Or things that are joblike, like lawn...mowing your yard.
FK: Yeah. Cleaning up the house.
ELM: I come from a family of men who love doing things with wood and leaves. I make it sound like they're crafters. They enjoy doing manual tasks outdoors.
FK: Yeah, yard work!
ELM: They love that. No, they love chopping wood just as a group. They're just, you know, they're from Buffalo. [all laugh] We would go out on vacation with my dad and his thousand brothers to the Adirondacks every summer and the Minkel boys—as they're called—they'd be like, all right, let's go! And they all go chop wood together all day. "Gentlemen!" My mother and my sister and I would be like, "Could we sit on the dock? Go swimming?" They'd be like "We have work to do. Sorry!" All right, gentlemen, that's fine.
FK: For my uncles it's a hunting and fishing family. So...
ELM: But that's more of a leisure activity. That's not necessary.
FK: No it's not, although...
ELM: Is chopping wood necessary?
FK: It's not really but I mean, at the end, you do have a wild boar to bring back and have in your giant chest freezer forever.
ELM: Yeah. I don't approve of this hunting and fishing your family does, Flourish.
FK: I don't know what to say, it's a thing!
ELM: OK. Sidetracked! I sidetracked us though by talking about the Minkel men. So bringing us back then to the teenage girl.Obviously, in this conversation, we're talking in binary girls and boys, which I think is a problem, but I think for the sake of this conversation...just to acknowledge that.
FK: Well, I would also say that since the broader culture has very little non binary representation anyway... if we're talking about the sort of broad cultural ideas about what it is to be to have a gender...
FK: I hate to say this but I don't have any stereotypes about non-binary people because I haven't seen enough of them to form stereotypes of in the general media. That's not totally true. But you know.
ELM: Aw, Flourish, they're all gems.
FK: Oh, yes. Yes. No. There have been some stereotypes. But go on.
ELM: Hundred percent gems.
FK: Hundred percent gems. I love being a gem.
ELM: So I think for girls who are fannish, there's a lot of things going on. I think that one thing that you've talked a lot about is wanting to occupy male dominated fannish spaces or male-dominated fannish practices. Kind of trying to navigate what your own sense of self is.
ELM: In that context. I think that there are probably plenty of our listeners who are in that boat. I think probably plenty more of our listeners who grew up in very female-dominated spaces. I mean, I think you did both.
FK: I think most people do both. You know, I think it's a rare person growing up as a girl who doesn't to some extent touch in both.
ELM: I'm not sure that's true. I think there's a lot of people in transformative fandom who never had anything to do with the affirmational, collecting, wiki elements.
FK: Or sports or any of those, anything?
ELM: Yeah. I mean based, on any time I mentioned spare anyone [FK laughing] and they're like, what's a sport?
ELM: [laughing] That's fine. You don't have to like sports! Sports are problematic and are simulations of war and et cetera et cetera. It's fine.
FK: Powerlifting isn't a simulation of war!
ELM: Yes it is, Flourish!
FK: No, it's not!
ELM: Yes it is!
FK: You're just lifting heavy things!
ELM: Yeah, okay.
FK: Ah, no. It kind of is. The deadlift, one of thethings about the deadlift, it's probably a myth but the idea is that you're supposed to be picking up bodies on the battlefield.
ELM: WHAT. I love that you were trying to say, I can think of actual sports that aren't simulations of war, like swimming, but instead you went for YOUR sport which unfortunately is. It has a specific analogy! [both laughing]
FK: I think it's a myth. I think it's a myth!
ELM: All right. All right. Okay.
FK: I said it just to annoy you by the way, did I succeed?
ELM: No, I'm ignoring you. Teen girl fandom obviously is not a monolith, right? So you have people exclusively reading and writing slash about, like, fantasy characters. You have people who are reading Tiger Beat and writing self inserts with themselves and the young male star of the era in which this is...this conversation is...you know, in which you were raised. You know what I mean? I think that no matter, the one universal across all of these is I think that obsession—for both male non-sports fans and for female fans of all sorts—as teens is something that is cast as childish.
FK: Yeah, for sure.
ELM: You agree with that?
FK: I do, and I think that this has to do partially with what affect is considered to be desirable. To be cool, the whole point of being cool is that you don't care about things, right? "Stay cool" meaning "don't get freaked out, don't get excited."
FK: A cool person is just hanging out being chill.
ELM: Yeah, not really caring about anything.
ELM: Like, caring is not cool.
FK: Caring is not cool. I mean, I think caring is cool. But...
ELM: [singing a jingle] [laughing] I feel like I'm in a DARE sketch right now!
FK: But I think it's the same—
ELM: "You might think cigarettes are cool, but I think not smoking is the cool thing!!!!"
FK: No, but I think there's also...the other challenge with this imaginative issue is that when you're a teenager, you are learning about yourself and your identity. And I think that for a lot of teenagers, certainly when I was a teenager, I assumed that when I was the age I am now, I would have had that all figured out. Right?
FK: And I think one of the things about fandom, and imagination as a wholem, is that it gives you ways to sort of try on different worlds, or think about different possibilities. And so that that feels somehow very teen, but it's not like that ends when you're when you stop being a teen! Right? For a lot of people, our identity continues to transform.
ELM: To take that in a slightly different direction, I wonder too, I'm sure you've had the experience—as I'm sure many of our listeners have, all the ones who have kept falling into deep fannish holes—when you're completely consumed by something, it can feel very overwhelming. And it's interesting because I feel like...I don't know if you've had experiences of times where you wish, "oh, I wish I wasn't I wasn't so consumed by this," right? "Yeah, maybe I'll grow out of this."
And it's interesting to hear the flip side of it. Like, I wrote that piece of the end of last year talking about giving yourself permission to kind of get into stuff again, and I've heard from a lot of people who are our age who are like, "I really miss being able to...I really miss that." But when you're in it, it can feel very all consuming, and I think has parallels to the way that people form crushes and form early romances and stuff too. I think that there's a way that people can conflate all of this and say, "oh, this is the way that you feel everything super deeply when you're a teenager."
ELM: "And this is something that..." You know, just in the same patronizing waypeople say about your first crush your first boyfriend, "we all go through this, you'll learn." Which I mean, you know.
FK: Well, it's sort of true and it's sort of not true. Right? I mean, I can tell you the last time I had this was about Harry Styles. And there was a period which I was like, "I truly wish that I did not see this man-child's face in front of me swimming like a vision at all hours of the day. I truly wish I could turn this boychik off." [laughing] You know, the thing is, I think that when I was a teenager, I didn't necessarily know that it was likely that that would..maybe over the course of years, but that that feeling would change. And that it wasn't tied in with that. Now I have enough experience to be like, oh, yeah. I felt this before. You know.
ELM: You had relationships to fannish properties, basically. And you've broken up with them, and you started dating new ones.
FK: Right? But the thing is, it's not like it was less intense to have that feeling of "Holy shit. I love this thing."
ELM: Yeah, I think it's hard to... I can see why someone might say, to an older fan, if you're a younger fan, "Yikes. You're still here? I really thought I would have grown out of this." And I think one thing that we need to make sure we dig into, as I know we do have limited time, is the internalized misogyny that underscores a lot of that.
ELM: Because I think, we're setting up the various male-female, what's acceptable-what's not acceptable. It's not just obsession. I think female-dominated fandom on the explicit side, women who—not just women, but majority women, who are looking to read and write erotica. We've talked about this before, but the mainstream world either paints female fans who are interested in the sexy side of things as immature...
ELM: ...or as the oversexed? Undersexed? Twilight housewife type. Now the Outlander fandom, women 40s, 50s, up who are living in this fantasy land with these....
FK: Similar to the way that people talk about romance novels in general, right? Like why why did romance novels have a bloom when the Kindle came around? Well, it's because now you don't have to show someone that you're reading a romance novel. You can enjoy the thing you like without being judged on the subway for it.
ELM: Right. Though I do, if you are reading one, I'm reading over your shoulder.
FK: Yeah, that's fine.
ELM: I read everyone's Kindles over their shoulders, I am actually the worst person.
FK: I love it when someone is reading like a really explicit sex scene. I'm like, OHHHH!
ELM: And you look and you're like, wow, good poker face. Tha'ts really impressive. I do this with all people, not just people reading romance novels. A lot of people really like thrillers.
FK: Yeah. I'm not surprised. They're a genre that sells very well.
ELM: Seems easy to read on the subway. Nice and fast. Short chapters. Anyway, so I think we discussed this before, but there's definitely an element of control here. The mainstream culture feeling like they can't control women's sexuality or women's sexual interests. So you either have to infantilize them, and say "you're immature, you're younger than a mature woman," or "you're over the hill and sad and desperate and horny," or whatever, that kind of characterization. And so I think that a thousand percent seeps into the conversations from younger female fans to older female fans.
FK: Well, and I think it also goes the other direction too sometimes, in that when you are getting steeped in that "you're over the hill"... I mean God, I'd be cranky too. You know what I mean? When I see, sometimes, older female fans being rude, "oh these goddamn kids, get out of my backyard!" Obviously sometimes those things are said jokingly and sometimes they're said seriously. I think in that case, a lot of the rest of society can be awful to younger people. And soit feels worse when it's compounding that. But then I look at the way that that conversation is happening, and I'm like man, if everything in society was telling me that I was over the hill, and everything sucks, and you're too old, and you're not allowed to love these things because it's bad, and then I went to my happy place and here are a bunch of young people being ageist at me too? I would be fucking angry!
ELM: Well, and also this ties back into our purity culture conversation too. There's definitely a line of rhetoric on Tumblr in particular right now talking about how older fans, or fans of all ages, who are interested in explicit content, are harming underage fans. And we talked about this at length, the kind of flipping the script from when we were teens and you lied about your age to get into the older spaces, and now the presumption that the default is...Which doesn't even make sense with the age limits. I don't know what the, you have to be 13 to be on Facebook?
FK: That's, generally speaking it's I think 12 or 13 because of COPPA>
ELM: On the AO3, to read an explicit story, I think even a mature story, you have to click proceed. It's like a big old school warning. You have to click it. It's protecting you. That protects you.
FK: I kind of think that part of this has to do with the way that the internet is perceived as being for older people or younger people over time. So when I was first getting involved in fandom, the internet was something that people had through their work or through college—if they had access to college. It was something that was really fairly rare and people were just beginning to get it in their homes more regularly and even then it was very very class differentiated. And so it was a thing for grownups. Right? Like there were a few kids' portals. You'd go on the Nickelodeon kids portal. But it was definitely not something where...
ELM: Yeah, even if you had it in your home, we had Prodigy probably around '96 or so. It's not like it was just for me or just for my little sister! I was 10 or 11 at the time. If you were literally getting AOL CDs in the mail and you got a couple hours of internet a week, you're not gonna be able to sit there and build a wiki or fanfiction site as a kid.
FK: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So I think that then the narrative around it, and the narrative at that time too, it was so much about earlier computers about business machines and then slowly bringing it into the home maybe. But even then, marketing it to women, because in this time period we're still in the world where women may or may not be working according to ads...
ELM: What if you didn't want to bake cookies?
FK: WELL. I mean so you're going to have, computers are literally being marketed to you to hold your recipes. This is a genuine thing, right? But today we look at everything that goes on online, and there is an assumption of digital kids, the generation that's grown up with this, they're all whiz kids, adults don't know how to use the internet and that's scary... right? There's this fear, and especially if you think about older people, people who are, whatever, 60, and you think about the way people talk about new computing things. They go "Oh, it's so easy. Even your mom can use it." Great. Well, my mom has used computers forever. Like, I don't know what to say. But there's a cultural narrative in which online fandom may be...
ELM: Yeah, and I think that taking a step beyond, I think we're even talking a little bit past teens at this point. I find when I actually dig in, and I see some bad behavior, ageism tied up in purity culture conversations, I often find that a lot of the younger people are not teens. They're often college-age. 18 to 22, 24, not to zero in on a group. [laughing] So these are people who are on the cusp of adulthood. And you know, honestly, I don't think there are massive numbers of fans who are above 50 in the spaces...not a huge huge number.
FK: Yeah. I mean, I think there are massive numbers of fans who are above 50, but maybe not in those spaces.
ELM: Yeah. Oh, I mean, on the broader level sure! But in the conversations that we're talking about. I think honestly it's a lot of 20 somethings, 20 year olds yelling at people in their 30s. Which is super weird because we are not that far apart! We were mostly alive for the same time.
FK: Look at your future!!! Look at it!!!
ELM: Old Millennials versus young Millennials or something. I don't want to over state too much. I don't want to paint this as some sort of teens versus 60 year olds, cause I think that's not realistic. I definitely think there are teens in these conversations, but I think it gets wildly overstated how all young people are teens in these conversations. And honestly, frankly, if you're in college, I hold you to a higher rhetorical standard than if you're in high school.
FK: Yeah, for sure.
ELM: You know, you're in a space where you're being asked to step up to the next level. Probably now you've been exposed to more people than you had before, just like what we were talking about. That being said, I was a dumbass in college, right?
FK: Weren't we all.
ELM: I feel like we've all grown and matured in the last 10 years. So I just don't know, Flourish.
FK: I don't know either. I think one thing this conversation hass really done for me is help me think harder about the ways that fandom and these conversations with in fandom relate to broader cultural discussions about age. And expectations for what it looks like to be different ages. And I think I need to go think about that some more before we get back on this topic again.
ELM: I want to know what are some of the initial thoughts you're having!
FK: Well, I'm curious to learn about people who do research on people's conceptions of life stages and ages. And I'm curious to know about how people think that that was different 10 or 15 years ago from today. Because I actually think it was different.
ELM: Yeah, I agree.
FK: And you know as we've talked about this the the difference in that is really jumping out to me, but I don't know enough about it to make convincing statements.
ELM: Yeah. I was just talking about this with a friend of mine actually. It's been noticeable to me as my peer group has entered their 30s how many people I know who...I kind of assumed that, for anyone's talk of being alternative or whatever, they actually would fall into kind of normative structures. Whether those are hetero- or homonormative structures. And I've been really really surprised by how few of my friends actually have done that. How few of them have gotten married and had babies. That's not an indictment of anyone who wants that, and I say [this] to a person who is married like, that's not an indictment!
FK: No it's true! Yeah.
ELM: I've been surprised, and not just amongst...it was something that I was more inclined to expect amongst queer friends, but even cis and straight friends too, choosing non-normative paths. I think it's partly the climate in which we've all come of age, it's been a very tumultuous one, but it's also the world is changing and expectations are changing.
I say that as someone who went to a fancy college and lives in New York City; whenever I go back out to the real America all this goes down the drain.
FK: [laughing] I was gonna say, awhile ago I was in Texas and I think that my tweet was "it is extremely heteronormative here and I'm ready to go home now."
ELM: Yeah, the world's one big baby shower. Don't worry about it.
FK: Oh my God, everything has to have Mr and Mrs printed on it. Literally everything you own now that you're married. Everything you own has to have Mr or Mrs printed on it because HOW WOULD YOU KNOW.
ELM: Flourish. I've been to your house. You've got the Mr and Mrs Klink towels. [FK bursts out laughing] That would be incredible. I know what I'm getting you for Christmas.
FK: Actually, that would be incredible. I want it.
ELM: Mr and Mrs Klink!
FK: It happens all the time when you don't change your name.
ELM: Dr and Mrs Klink.
FK: Dr and Mrs Klink! [ELM laughing] No, it's sad but one of my my sisters-in-law...actually they're they're both, one of them's a pharmacist and the other one's a trauma surgeon. And the trauma surgeon is constantly having things addressed to Dr. and Mrs. Montfort and she's like, "I'm the doctor you fuckers, it's me! He doesn't even have a graduate degree, fuckers!"
ELM: Mr and Dr Montfort.
FK: [laughing] I believe it gets to be "Dr and Mr" because the person with the higher title comes first.
ELM: But okay, anyway, just to wrap it up. This realization happening in real time about the life choices that people make, and maybe pushing back against the sort of structures... I think this has been a slow evolution over the course of the last hundred years, from expectations evolving. And to be a teen coming up now, or a person in their early 20s, I feel like the the world might look quite different and wide open.
That's why it's a little hard for me to hold these thoughts together in my mind, when actually so much of the purity culture rhetoric is so reactionary and conservative. Maybe that's exactly it. It's the reactionary element, maybe part of that is...it'll be people who are embracing even very new labels for gender and sexuality, but still having what I think of as very conservative beliefs. And that's really interesting and somewhat paradoxical to me. I think just like in the purity culture conversation, I think a lot of this rests on fear and anxiety. Cause everything is nonsense right now.
FK: For sure! "Mr Mom" is getting remade, which is ridiculous. And I think it's a perfect example of how we take one step forward and then you take, like, .9 steps back.
ELM: This is grim.
FK: My father stayed home with me, and that was weird at the time, but like it was a thing? We don't need Mr. Mom today! We're past that! Please let us be past that!
ELM: Yeah you say this, but...
FK: I know! It's depressing as hell.
ELM: The fact that they made A Star Is Born for the fourth time and somehow it feels possibly more regressive than the last one...DISCOURSE! Starting the discourse!
FK: All right. I am not up for discourse. I think that we should wrap up.
ELM: DISCOURSE IT.
FK: No, no more discourse. No discourse on this topic. I haven't seen, I'm not going to see it. I don't want to get into the discourse. We're not having discourse about this! No discourse!
ELM: All right. Unlike the male characters in A Star is Born. I accept your no as a no.
FK: [laughs] OHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhHHhhhhHHhhh. [ELM laughing] All right. So. Now we're wrapping up!
ELM: Okay, age. Big topic. I feel like we only scratched the surface. I would take people's thoughts. I would take 'em! [ELM laughing]
FK: Send 'em! The way to send them is, the best way is to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, to call our phone number and leave a voicemail message. We love that because then we can use your voice. The phone number is at fansplaining.com. You can go there and see the phone number and dial it. You can also leave us an ask in our ask box. Anon is on. Be nice.
FK: I was just going to say it as an order not as a request!
ELM: Please be nice!
FK: You can even tweet at us if you feel like it or like send us a message on Facebook. We're @fansplaining everywhere. Don't do those things, it's better to send a email. You can support us on Patreon if you like our #content. So we are going to have a new special episode coming out pretty soon for our Patrons!
ELM: Okay, and this episode which we've already hyped a bunch—I don't want to overhype it. But when Javier Grillo-Marxuach was on=, he talked about his...what was it? Downton Abbey, Indiana Jones, A Passage to India... There's two more. The Titanic RPF? [FK laughing] There's several other pop culture things all intersecting.
FK: It's a super crossover.
ELM: Yeah, and he wrote this big crossover because he worked out the times and the time would work correctly. And we are going to read it and we are going to discuss it with him. And so we have...normally our special episodes, so far we've done eight of them I believe? Are for $3 a month Patrons, but for this one we're going to swap out the current $1 episode and this will be the one dollar episode. So if you just have a dollar, sixty cents...that's... NO. Oh my God. 60 cents! A hundred cents! [laughing]
FK: How many sets are in a dollar, Elizabeth?
ELM: I have been a mutuel clerk for 15 years. You know how many coins I've held in my hands? Millions! Probably not millions. Thousands of coins! Anyway, if you have 100 cents per month to give to us then you get that great content.
ELM: You're looking at me you like you never want to speak to me again. That was the look on your face.
FK: Well, I really had some questions about your ability to understand how many cents in a dollar. If you don't have a hundred cents a month, you can still support us by, for instance ,rating us on whatever podcasting system you listen to us on. Like iTunes. That helps get the podcast out to people. You can tell your friends, you can ask us questions, you know, be a mensch! Help us out.
ELM: That's right. All right. That was cheerful.
ELM: All right.
FK: Do we have anything else to say?
ELM: I mean I have I have lots more to say. I could talk about this topic for maybe two, three, four, five more hours.
FK: Without even getting in to the Star is Born discourse.
ELM: Yeah, you want to get into age and A Star is Born.
FK: No. Goodbye, Elizabeth.
ELM: They made it so many times!
FK: I will talk to you next time!
ELM: Four times!
ELM: Okay. Goodbye.
[Outro music, thank yous and credits]