Episode 87: What We Discourse About When We Discourse About the Discourse
In Episode 87, Elizabeth and Flourish offer up an extra (and possibly unwanted) fourth installment of THE DISCOURSE TRILOGY, entitled, “What We Discourse About When We Discourse About the Discourse.” Brace yourselves. They read and play responses from five listeners, on topics including the connections between broader cultural conversations and fandom’s purity debates, the Feminist Porn Wars of the 1980s, the ways that fandom fosters cross-generation connections as well as divisions, and Flourish’s deep and abiding love for Twilight.
[00:00:00] As always, our intro music is “Awel” by stefsax, used under a CC-BY license. The cover is an image of the Kit-Cat Club, one of Elizabeth’s particular obsessions—learn about it from The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation, by Ophelia Field!
[00:02:50] Find out details about our event at Wheaton College here.
[00:05:42] Find out more about SqueeCon (and buy tickets) here!
[00:06:56] If you want to go to Elizabeth’s holiday concert, you can find out more here.
[00:08:24] Our interstitial music is “Looking Back,” by Lee Rosevere, used under a CC-BY license.
[00:09:04] Episode 84, “Purity Culture.”
[00:11:18] Episode 85, “Age and Fandom.”
[00:13:36] Episode 86, “The Money Question.” Also, Elizabeth’s article in The Verge, “The Online Free Speech Debate Is Raging In Fanfiction, Too.”
[00:27:16] Nerdist’s coverage of Millicent, General Hux’s cat, in case you were unaware.
[00:28:35] We wrote our trope survey’s results up in “Five Tropes Fanfic Readers Love (And One They Hate).”
[00:29:32] Lori Morimoto spoke about contact zones in Episode 71, “Lori Morimoto.”
[00:34:33] We discussed the “schmoop plateau” in our $1/month special episode with Javier Grillo-Marxuach. To hear all about it, pledge to our Patreon!
[00:36:13] Edie Windsor was the plaintiff in the case that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. More at Wikipedia.
[00:51:53] Lilah Vandenberg spoke about fans feeling powerless and lashing out in Episode 56, “Ships and Showrunners.”
[00:56:00] We can’t find this study! It came out about a year ago and was associated with research that said that American adults are vanishingly unlikely to be good friends with people of different races (e.g., close enough to have them over to dinner)—but they’re even less likely to be friends with much older or younger people they aren’t related to. If you know the study we’re thinking of, tell us!
[01:06:09] Our outro music is “Looking Back,” by Lee Rosevere, used under a CC-BY license.
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: [enthusiastically] And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: OK! This is Episode 87—just like X-Men: Dark Phoenix, it’s a special fourth episode of a trilogy…
FK: That no one asked for.
ELM: That only I asked for, both of these fourth episodes—this is Episode 87, which we’re calling “What We Discourse About When We Discourse About the Discourse.”
ELM: I love that you took this title. I just need everyone to know that this was my idea and you went for it—and it was kind of a shitpost of an idea, but you jumped on it.
FK: You know me. I’m all about shitposting.
ELM: That’s true. You know, the other day I had to explain to my sister—who is younger than me—what shitposting was.
ELM: I also was talking with a friend of mine, a couple, the other day, and I said “shitposting,” and one of them was like, “What’s that?” And the other one was like, “Oh yeah, you don’t know about shitposting.” And I just looked at him and he was like, “Oh, I’m extremely online.” And I was like, “I didn’t know you were extremely online!” And of course that’s the, those are the correct words, right? “I’m extremely online.” I genuinely had no idea he was extremely online. This was news to me.
FK: Well, that’s a delight. It’s better than the thing I recently had to explain to younger people than me, which is who Run-D.M.C. is.
ELM: See, but the young people might not know that. They may not have been born when Run-D.M.C. was an active group.
FK: I have learned that and it made me feel old.
ELM: Time keeps on a-ticking, Flourish.
FK: I know it does. OK. OK. OK. Before we get to discoursing about the discourse… It’s gonna be a letter box episode.
ELM: Yeah. All right. So we will, we’ll go over very briefly, we’ll summarize the last three episodes, which were an inadvertent trilogy about a collection of hot-button issues within broader fandom spaces. We didn’t mean to do this trilogy, and then we did it, and I’m glad we did. And we got a lot of responses, so we can play them and read them and kind of maybe try to wrap up and, you know, solve all of these issues by the end of these…
FK: Which, which we’re totally gonna do. But before we do that, we need to talk about some events! Events.
FK: Events. The first event is an exciting event. [Elizabeth laughs] We are going to be speaking…they're actually, they’re all exciting events. They’re all exciting events, Brent!
ELM: First of all, there’s two events.
FK: There’s two events. The first one, we are speaking at Wheaton College on Thursday, November 15th.
ELM: You will have to listen to this immediately when it comes out to get warning of that. But this episode will come out two days before that for patrons and, uh, the day before for regular non-, non-paying listeners.
FK: Right, right. And, and so if you live in the greater Boston or Providence, Rhode Island areas, Wheaton college is convenient to those locations. I’m not sure I would say convenient. It’s a bit of a drive, but you can make it there.
ELM: Well, it’s half an hour to Providence and 40 minutes to Boston.
FK: Yeah, that’s fairly convenient, right?
ELM: I don’t know. I live in New York City, so if you were like, “it’s 40 minutes to get there,” I’d be like, that's normal. But it’s different in cars.
FK: I don’t know. How do cars work, anyway? You should go if you’re able to…
ELM: Your California soul just uttered those words!
FK: Yeah, I know. I do, I do actually know how cars work. I drove I think 300 miles over this past weekend. I was in California, which is on fire. Anyway, Wheaton College is not on fire and we’re going to be talking there on Thursday, November 15th at 6 p.m. and we will put information in the show notes. You should totally come. We don’t know what we’re talking about yet, but we’re sure it’s going to be awesome.
ELM: Uh, I believe we’re being interviewed about fandom.
FK: That’s true. That's, that is the actual reason why we don’t know what we’re talking about yet: because the interviewer is going to ask us questions.
ELM: It wasn't like they asked us to prepare a powerpoint…
FK: And we haven’t done it! [laughing]
ELM: …and we haven’t done it. And if you happen to listen to this podcast and you are in any of the classes that we’re speaking—we’re speaking at two classes on Thursday in advance of that, and doing a podcasting workshop the next day. So I’m excited to meet you and, I dunno, tell you about how great it is to be in the creative industries right now.
FK: Oh my God. Oh my God, Elizabeth.
ELM: That’s what we’re supposed to talk about.
FK: Yeah, I think that there’s going to be a lot. I mean, you know…what, what is it like to work with each other to put out a podcast? Well, it involves a lot of fighting and then making up and then getting stuff done and then fighting and then making up…
ELM: Done. We don’t even need to do this now. Right. You’ve solved it.
FK: It’s true! The key thing is to be able to make up after you fight, because if you can’t, then you’re just fucked anyway.
ELM: I do think you should have—there should be some fighting, though.
FK: Yeah, because if there’s not fighting, then you’re not actually doing it right. Because like…[Elizabeth laughs] genuinely you’re not, right? Because if you agree on everything, like, you’re never… You’re obviously making very safe choices and/or having low standards or both.
ELM: Cool. I can’t wait to do this presentation: “Find someone you can fight with constantly.”
FK: Worked for us! OK. The other thing is that friend of the podcast Hansi Oppenheimer, who you may know as the person who does the Squee fangirl documentary series, is putting on an event called SqueeCon! SqueeCon.
ELMb SqueeCon! What are the details? I, I unfortunately cannot attend because my holiday concert is that day, but.
FK: Neither of us can attend…
ELM: Because Flourish is coming to my concert.
FK: That's true.
ELM: Sorry. Bach says sorry.
FK: However, it’s on December first from 1 to 9 p.m.. It’s in New Haven, Connecticut. Tickets are $25. There's going to be a screening of the documentary. They’re gonna do a sneak preview of—did you see the docu-series Looking For Leia? People crowdfunded it recently.
ELM: I didn’t realize was something you could watch yet. I knew that it…
FK: It’s not! They’re going to have a sneak preview.
ELM: Oh. Oh, you meant “was I aware of it”? Yes.
FK: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, there’s going to be a bunch of performances, there’s gonna be some cosplay guests, there’s gonna be a bunch of short films, and then there’s going to be nerd karaoke and a mixer, and it sounds like it’s gonna be fun and I wish we could go.
ELM: Oh that's lovely. Too bad my commitment to Bach is so strong.
FK: It is. Your commitment to your holiday concerts is very strong.
ELM: Listen, it’s not just Bach. It’s also Rachmaninoff—
ELM: Look, if anyone is in New York City and not going to SqueeCon, you could also come to my holiday concert.
FK: Oh my God. We’re not doing this. You should go to SqueeCon!
ELM: November 30th! It’s also Friday, November, Friday night, November 30th at 8 p.m.. Look, it’s really festive.
FK: It is very festive and it will make you feel extremely holiday-cheery.
ELM: Also, also, most importantly, we’re doing perhaps my favorite piece ever, Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.”
FK: Great. I don’t know the piece, so I’ll find out about it.
ELM: Actually, singing it makes me feel emotionally fraught, because it was composed just before World War I and there's a bit at the end about like, “God bless our generation.” I was just thinking how depressing it was that people were singing it and then died.
ELM: Merry Christmas.
FK: I have an idea. Let’s take a break and then talk about the discourse.
ELM: MERRY CHRISTMAS. I wanted to talk about how depressing Christmas was. It’s the anniversary of Armistice as we’re recording this.
FK: It is. Let’s take a second and let’s tell people about the discourse. How’s that?
ELM: All right, fine. Let’s take a second and I’ll reflect.
ELM: Did you reflect?
FK: I am not reflective. I am a matte surface.
ELM: That’s genuinely true.
ELM: [laughing] You look so offended!
FK: You love pushing my buttons so much. It’s your favorite thing. Instead of pushing my buttons, why don’t you tell our listeners—who might not have listened to the last three episodes—what those three episodes were about?
ELM: You want me to do it? I’ll do it.
FK: Yeah. I want you to do it instead of pushing my buttons. Do it.
ELM: All right. I’m sorry for pushing your buttons.
FK: No, it’s OK. It’s just your nature. I understand.
ELM: It’s your nature too.
FK: Yeah, it’s our collective nature.
ELM: [laughs] All right. Number one, “Purity Culture.” Oh God, I have to summarize purity culture again.
FK: I don’t know what to say to you.
ELM: Basically, we talked about some, some lines of conversation within fan spaces—and also there’s crossover into non-fan spaces. Just, you know, this is very big on Tumblr in general, outside of fandom people, but specifically in fan spaces: people conflating their enjoyment or dislike of something with very, very strong moral stances. So it’s not just “I don’t like this ship because it just doesn’t work for me,” it’s “I don’t like this ship because it’s abusive. And so if you ship it, you support abuse and you are an abuser.” Do you think that’s a good summary?
FK: That’s a summary.
ELM: There are some people who kind of do these lines of conversation in a well meaning way, people who really genuinely think that we shouldn’t be…I don’t think that some of the things that people are mad about are above critique, like, rape fantasies are certainly a thing. If we’re propping up a culture that fetishizes rape fantasies, you know, like…I don’t think that these are unimpeachable ideas…
FK: Right. There’s, there’s conversation to be had around them.
ELM: Yeah. And you know, in that episode we talked about—you read stories with an adult and an underage person in a relationship and sometimes it’s kind of hand-waved away by “Oh, but they truly loved each other! They’re my ship.” So that kind of thing, right? And so it’s just like…
FK: Or obviously like, you know, treatments of slavery that are weird and problematic, you know what I mean…
ELM: Master/slave romances, that kind of thing. So that, you know…but that being said, like, there’s a big difference between kind of discussing that, interrogating that and saying like, “Well, let’s be a little more critical,” you know, and saying like, “I think that this content should be banned and I think that you are genuinely,” you know, “you’re going to Hell for supporting any of this.” Right? Or, “You are perpetuating this by writing about fictional characters engaging in it,” right? Like, “You are responsible for…”
FK: Yeah. Actual humans doing this.
ELM: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
FK: As opposed to fictional characters.
ELM: And it’s often, it often privileges fictional characters above real humans. Very frequently. It’s fraught. So I feel like that’s purity culture.
FK: Yup, yup, yup.
ELM: Number two: “Age and Fandom.” Yes. We started that conversation by talking about childhood, and how children are often allowed to be fannish, and it’s encouraged to be really into stuff—to be really imaginative about stuff you like. And we talked about the kind of ways that gets fostered into adulthood for some people and some interests. But for a lot of fans it doesn’t. It’s seen, it’s painted as childish. Or sometimes you go over the hill and then you’re painted as…because when people are trashing like, you know, middle aged female Outlander fans or, previously, Twilight fans, I don't think they’re suggesting they’re childish. They’re not saying they’re young at all. They’re saying “How sad. Look at these women past their prime, you know, lusting after this 20-year-old guy.”
FK: Trying to regain, trying to regain. You know what I mean? Like it’s saying, like, “Wow, it’s really sad that you have never moved on, or that you’re trying to regain this, like, youth that you don’t have any more. Give it up.”
ELM: Right. So it’s not, it’s not always, you know—the way the fans are constructed isn’t always, “Oh, you’re acting like a child.” But that’s definitely a thing that I think a lot of male fans get, if they’re interested…we talked about guys into action figures and stuff like that. While that’s seen as more acceptable these days than it might’ve been a few decades ago, it’s still, it’s not like that’s, like, super cool, you know.
FK: No. Right.
ELM: And then we talked a lot about ageism in fandom, and it’s truly one of those issues where I feel like I genuinely can say that there is actually a both-sides kind of thing going on—as opposed to…I think both-sides-ism is a cancer on our national and international discourse, right?
FK: No, but in this case, you genuinely see older fans being jerks to very young fans, and very young fans being jerks to older fans.
ELM: Right. And, and I think part of the reason why both-sides often works here is because various ages have different privileges and levels of power and others don’t. And there’s no…young people are denigrated for certain reasons, old people are denigrated for certain reasons. Right? And it’s not like, I mean, except for the fact that older people, like, control finances…
FK: Well, and also, unless…yeah.
ELM: And young people control culture.
FK: Yeah. And unless you die young, you are going to experience all of these positions in society. Right?
ELM: Right. Which you won’t with most other kinds of identity. So that’s “Age and Fandom.”
All right, number three, “The Money Question.” “The Money Question,” we talked about the third facet—there was a lot of discourse relating to these other two, I think. This whole discourse around the Organization for Transformative Works and the AO3, the Archive of Our Own, which is the fanfiction archive that lot of our listeners are probably very intimately familiar with…there was a fundraiser about a month ago, and it caused a big dust-up where people started arguing about, like, the things they liked and didn’t like about the Archive and its fundraising efforts. Right? And so the purity culture question came in with people upset about the Archive’s free speech maximalism. And that, I wrote about at length for The Verge, and that piece has finally come out.
ELM: Yes, thank you. It got very, very minimal haters.
FK: That’s good.
ELM: I was super ready for people to be yelling at me all day, but then, uh, I don’t know.
FK: They didn’t yell at you all day?
ELM: No, a couple people yelled at me, and I responded very politely, and then they stopped talking to me.
FK: Why did they yell at you? What’d they yell at you for?
ELM: They said that I didn’t…I framed…people could have genuine critiques about the way the AO3 reports its finances, and I didn’t leave any space for people who had real critiques. I think that’s fair. I didn’t really leave a lot of space for that. I also think that the number of people who have sincere critiques about the use of their finances is quite small. I’m not going to say that it doesn’t exist…
FK: No, no, no, nothing is above critique, but like…yeah. Yeah, it doesn't seem to me like there is a large outcry [laughs] that’s real about this, you know?
ELM: Yeah. And I mean like, look, the OTW, it certainly has some problems, and you could not like the way they use their money or whatever. And I think that’s totally fine, and you don’t have to pledge to them.
But a lot of the people, you know—there were a lot of people who were posting those things saying, like, “Why do they even need this money? Like, what are they doing with it? I bet they’re embezzling it.” And you just click on their profile and you’d look at the next post and it’d be like, “You love your rape archive, you’re all rapists,” you know. You’re like, “Oh. No, OK.” So I definitely think that for a lot of people that was just kind of a very, very flimsy smokescreen—maybe not meant to be much of a smokescreen at all—for the issues that they have with the content on this, on the Archive, and the policies that they have around protecting speech.
So those were some of the reasons around the AO3 discourse. And there’s definitely an age element too, because there were, you know, older fans saying, “Well, this is the reason that this is like this,” or younger fans saying, “I don’t care what your reasons are,” et cetera, et cetera, all this stuff. Right.
But the third facet was the money question. There are some people who object to the OTW and the AO3 because they want to monetize their fanworks, and the Archive has a philosophical stance—and it’s a legal one! But I think for a lot of people involved in the founding and running of this organization, it's also…it’s they believe that fandom is about a gift economy and not about money.
ELM: It is what it is. So we discussed that, and we also discussed Wattpad a little bit and how for them, you know, they’re all about making money. Some of their approaches to fanfiction and making money is more like, I don’t know, would you say it’s fair to say it’s more incidental? It’s like, “fanfiction happened to be here.”
FK: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. “And now it’s here, so we’re not going to be dicks about it and c’mon in, but it’s not about fanfiction.”
ELM: Right. “And we’re helping people monetize and you’re here and you happen to be fanfiction and we’ll help you monetize.” Not the same thing as… There’s no site that is like, “Hey, we’re a fanfiction archive and we want to help you sell that fanfiction.”
FK: FanLib was an attempt. It made an attempt.
ELM: I mean like, and Kindle Worlds.
FK: Kindle Worlds was an attempt.
ELM: Well, talk about FanLib for one second, because I didn’t know much—I vaguely remembered this, but when I was researching for the article, I dug into it a little bit.
FK: Yeah. I mean, FanLib was a site and…this is now in the mists of time, so you actually probably know more about it than I do…
ELM: Because I was just researching it.
FK: Yeah, because you were just researching it. But basically, it was a site, founded by some dudes who came in from nowhere and started trying to set up this site for people to write fanfiction. And the idea was, they were going to broker stuff with the Powers That Be—similar to Kindle Worlds and you know…
ELM: It was more extreme than that, though. So it’s called FanLib because of Mad Libs. Yeah. Which if you’ve never done a Mad Lib…
FK: Yeah, it’s incredibly…
ELM: Maybe you weren’t a child of the ’90s.
FK: But this isn’t, this isn’t, this is offensive to fanfiction in every possible way.
ELM: So a Mad Lib basically, it’s like, have you done…I did a Mad Lib recently and I was like, “How did I find these enjoyable?” And I genuinely think you have to be 11. No offense to 11-year-olds but, like…remember everything in there was so funny?
FK: Well, you know. OK. So I went to a con recently, and they did Mad Libs, but it was actually funny…
ELM: [laughing] You’re gonna defend Mad Libs!
FKb It was Star Wars Mad Libs, and then they had voice actors who read, like who read novels, people who you know, like…
ELM: I don’t believe that was actually funny. I can’t believe a Mad Lib is funny, Flourish.
FK: It was! It was actually funny. All right.
ELM: Anyway, Mad Lib is when you have, like, a little story, and then there are blanks, and they say “put an adjective,” or a proper noun or whatever.
FK: It required actors to [be funny].
ELM: They created this site and they said, you know—the way they sold it, it was rights holders. You know, Lucasfilm or whatever. Maybe not that high level at that moment, but I don’t know…miid-2000’s?
FK: I think they had some fantasies.
ELM: In the long-term Lucasfilm would. They would put, like, templates basically, right? For you to write your little Star Wars story in, and…
FK: That was at least part of it.
ELM: They had this, this brochure that was circulating amongst fans, that was the thing that they were showing to rights holders, where they promise the rights holders that the fans, the content the fans create would be, quote, “managed and moderated to the max.”
FK: Yes, yes. That was the quote!
ELM: And they said that fans will only “be able to color within the lines.” All the language was, like, literally the most extreme version…
FK: It was super enclosing, right. It was very, very much like an enclosing-of-the-commons sort of a move, but terrible.
ELM: And it sounded like…it said that fans would write the first drafts, but pros would polish it up—because it was meant to be, like, creation of content.
FK: Yeah, that was, that was part of the point—that similar to the way that Wattpad does do deals with licensors, their idea was that they would, like, use fans to sort of farm…to farm ideas from fans, and by putting your stuff on this, the rights holders would own it. And you were supposed to be thrilled that maybe they would make this into a real thing, you know, “a real thing,” quote-unquote.
ELM: The more I think about this, it’s also like…“What?” It’s like a coloring book? That’s so patronizing! I love coloring, right? But I’m not like…
FK: This is coming from a coloring enthusiast.
ELM: You know, I was an adult colorer years before the adult coloring craze.
FK: Right, I know. You were a colorer before it was cool.
ELM: And I had to—I had a Sesame Street one and a Batman one, because they didn’t make adult themed…in the grocery store. It’s not like [I had] my Sesame Street coloring book and they were like, “Well, if you do a nice job, maybe we’ll use your coloring page to do something real!” Like that’s not…I don’t know why they thought anyone would want that.
FK: I don’t either. I don’t. I genuinely don’t. All right. I think that we have, in addition to discussing FanLib, we’ve also covered the Discourse Trilogy pretty thoroughly now.
ELM: Kind of rehashed all that discourse.
FK: So now let’s discourse about the discourse about the discourse. Let’s listen to reader mail and…
ELM: And discourse about it. We’re going to discourse about that discourse.
FK: We’re gonna discourse about that discourse. Great. So our first piece of mail is from Rachel, and it is a voicemail, which is really exciting. So let’s play it.
ELM: We, in fact, can I just say, have more voicemails then written letters here!
FK: I’m so stoked! OK, let’s play it.
Rachel: Hi, Elizabeth and Flourish! It's Rachel, your faithful letter writer. Sorry I always address you in that order. I love you both equally—it’s just the alphabet.
Today I’ve been thinking about the “Purity Culture” and the “Age” episodes. I wonder if the rise of both antis and ageism in fandom comes in some part from goals. When I was a younger fan, my experience of fandom spaces was about connecting based on mutual admiration—mostly, this is in fanfiction spaces. There were Big Name Fans, but they seemed to happen by merit and accident. I didn’t have follower counts, and I only ever really expected my fics to get comments from my friends—and maybe some other acquaintances if the story got shared around.
Now, there are definitely are follower counts and statistics and kudos-versus-comments discourse—which makes me crazy. The culture has shifted to branding and sort of tailoring your output to attract more people, and only some of those people are mutual—and I’m not passing judgment on that culture change, though it’s not really my thing, but I wonder if an increased focus on attracting followers and upholding a certain image affects how fans see problematic things.
If there’s this base assumption that what a fan puts online is meant to represent them personally and to draw people in, then it might seem more troubling when what they’re presenting are stories with rape or incest or underage sex or whatever. It feels different to me than when I used to just write whatever I felt like, and pop it online with some warnings, and make friends with whatever people happened to enjoy it.
This assumption of intentionality might connect to the ageism problem as well. Whether you participate or agree or not, the fandom culture that you come up in becomes your norm—and I think part of the disconnect between younger and older fans comes out of that culture shift, the same way that culture and technology changes in the wider world cause disconnects between generations of people.
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten in my thinking. I’m trying not to do that thing where I talk for so long that I answer my own question. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts, and thanks as always for the podcast.
FK: So the first thing that I thought of when I thought of this is, I don’t know how old Rachel is! And I wish I did, because I feel like that’s a big question, right?
ELM: Well, I would guess that Rachel was at least around in the mid- to late-2000s decade, because the era of AO3 public kudos and hits and stuff…whereas, opposed to—earlier than that, you know, on fanfiction.net there are stats…
FK: There are absolutely stats on fanfiction.net. In fact, you know, my, my first reaction to this was that I do think that there’s been a shift, but I wonder if it has more to do with the number of people reading fanfiction than anything? Because I definitely knew people who were Big Name Fans or whatever and…I don’t know what “merit-based” means in this context. Right? Like, it feels like those people like wrote about things that were particularly exciting to people in fandom—sometimes intentionally—and they chose to cultivate certain friendships and so on, just the same way people do now. But I think there were fewer people who were potentially going to follow them.
ELM: Yeah. I just—I also feel like it seems a little bit backwards. I think this is a really thoughtful letter, and I’m still trying to work my way through it, but to me, my immediate response is that it’s slightly backwards in the sense of…like, there are definitely cultures within fandom that I’ve encountered over the last two decades where certain types of topics were the ones that were trendy and sexy, and some of them were extraordinarily fraught and problematic. Right? Like darkfic. Should I talk about intellislash again? [Flourish laughs] Should we just keep bringing this up just to make everyone feel sad? You know, like, “Oh, this is like a dark, serious one.” Like, with lots and lots of rape or whatever.
FK: Oh yeah, that was a total thing. No, really, like you almost couldn’t write… like, I mean, you could write other things, but...
ELM: Certain corners of certain fandoms! This is not to say that everyone in fanfiction fandom liked this or whatever, but…especially when I think about some of the stuff that I read early on in the Harry Potter fandom, too. I was reading first Harry/Draco and then Harry/Snape, where I just had to stop, because literally—I think I’ve mentioned this, but, like, every fic I read that was popular somehow devolved into some terrible Stockholm Syndrome-y situation. And every time! I was like, “Every time it’s Stockholm Syndrome, I can’t do this over and over again. Like, once in a while…!”
FK: It’s true. I feel like around 2004, 2005, it was a real…either peak or nadir, depending on how you’re feeling about it. [Elizabeth laughs] You know, I was involved with this too. Like, I don’t know, I'm not throwing stones at anyone else, only at myself.
ELM: Yeah. So I just think that tastes kind of swing, and definitely there are things that get trendy and there are things that aren’t trendy. I don’t necessarily think that wholesome fluffy stories right now are even the only trendy thing, right? Like, you know, this whole…I mean, when we dug into this a little bit with our guests when we were talking about with the race and Star Wars discourse, people saying, “Well, I need to write Kylux so I can write dark stuff,” right? And then you actually look at it, a lot of that’s fluffy! And then plenty of stuff about the other characters is plenty dark, you know. And it’s like, this is a weird…
FK: It's all about petting Millicent.
ELM: Right, for them. But it’s also to say that, like, it’s not like there isn’t, like, serious…it’s not like every Finn/Poe fic is a tooth-rotting coffee shop AU.
FK: Poe has the most tragic back story of anyone possible.
ELM: Yeah. I mean, that being said, I have noticed, you know, I thought about it over—next week is the 150th “Rec Center,” which is very exciting to me! You’re makin’ a shocked face. Can you believe it? Time flies when you’re reccin’ fanfic!
I can't remember, I think I mentioned this at one point on the podcast—or maybe just to you? I don’t remember what the topic was, but I was saying to Gav something like, you know, “We don’t really get any recs around some topic,” and it was kinda like a fraught, a fraught trope. I can’t remember what it was. And she was like, “Would you really send a rec like that to two journalists?” And I was like, “Fair!” You know, because our names are on this and we’re like, we have adult…just like, I think that…I’m sure that people are trashing my Verge article, just not to my face right now. You know what I mean? Like, I think people are hesitant to…
FK: Well, tell me what trope that is and I probably have some recs for you. Like, you know, I can promise you: I have read everything. I have a skull-fucking rec if that’s what you want.
ELM: Not the one by my college acquaintance…?
FK: I actually was joking about that one.
ELM: Don’t bring that up again! It traumatized me! [both laugh] You know, like, I don't know.
FK: This is, this is from the era when people were trying to one-up each other on how dark and terrible they could get. [Elizabeth laughs]
ELM: But you know, what I’m thinking about…when we did our trope survey, and people, when we asked for comments, that one comment that was very memorable…that was like, “even though this was anonymous, I was still hesitating…even though I read non-con and I read underage stuff, I was hesitating because I felt nervous.” And you know—like, this is all really interesting I think.
I think there’s definitely, Rachel is getting at something about the way we construct our personas online. Even if you have a pseud and you don’t attach your fandom name in any way, I think it is…it is different than it might’ve been in 2000, where it felt like you were, like, wading through the murky morass of the internet. And now…you know what I mean? And now, now you’re…
FK: Then, it was very secret, and now, it’s more like “It is me.”
ELM: Right. Even if even if you’re not using your real name in any way, you are kind of creating this branded persona. I think there’s, there’s some truth to that, but the reason I was saying that I think it was a little bit backwards is I just think that…I don’t know. I think that fandom just goes through waves of, fans go through waves of what they like and what they don’t like. And also not all, not all corners of various fandoms, and like, broader capital-F Fandom right now have the same preferences, right now.
And, like, if you go back to Lori Morimoto’s contact zones, right, like—a lot of the friction we see is the people in different contact zones rubbing up against each other, and that’s the problem. It’s because—I think your volume is a really good point. I think it’s sheer numbers, but it’s not just the masses of people. It’s just more, more groups kind of hitting up, like, bouncing up against each other like extra bumper cars. You know?
FK: I think that I agree. I know, and I think it’s a good response. And I think we should read the next letter.
ELM: Cool. All right, you should read it.
FK: OK. This is from buffer-overrun.
ELM: Aww. Hi, buffer-overrun!
FK: Yay! Not a first time writer.
“Elizabeth and Flourish: Elizabeth has a couple of times compared fandom purity culture to the mid-20th-century obscenity trials, but I think for a lot of Gen X women, the closest comparison is the feminist porn wars of the 1980s. As a queer teenager in the ’80s, I wanted to identify as a feminist, but felt like there was no room for the messiness of my lust and desire within feminist purity culture. A lot of queer feminists in my age group seem to have had a similar experience, and I think there’s a lot of frustration that younger people in fandom don't understand the history. If you look at the older women who are arguing most passionately against the current wave of purity culture, you see that a lot of them were involved in sex-positive AIDS activism in the ’80s and ’90s.
“I also understand to some degree why younger fans are so disturbed by older people in what they consider ‘their’ fandom spaces. I was involved in an interrelated set of Gen X youth subcultures: Rocky Horror, goth, punk, slacker, indie rock. And in those subcultures, people over 30 were always viewed with suspicion—and there were enough predatory creeps around, people who took advantage of the libertine culture to target young people, to make that suspicion wise, if not always fair. So for people whose youth subculture is fandom, I totally understand why they're suspicious of older people, especially people who identify as sex-positive.
“Before the advent of HIV combination therapy, sex positivity and ending shame seemed like a matter of life and death. But in the last 25 years, sex positivity has come to be seen as just another round of the sexual revolution, a tool to shut down criticism of boundary-pushing assholes and to pressure people into sex. I guess I see what’s happening is the collision of a lot of different issues that aren’t really specific to fandom, but just seem to be where the progressive zeitgeist is now. Both the age gap discourse and the backlash to sex positivity are all over my tumblr feed, not just the fandom parts. Thanks, buffer-overrun.”
ELM: I think this is a great letter.
FK: I agree. I thought that particularly the sex-positive activism point is a great one. I felt that come up a lot for me too, even though I think buffer-overrun is a little older than me—because of having been really involved with queer rights and gay-straight alliances, in the early days of gay-straight alliances existing in high schools, right? So much, it was so important that everybody feel free to talk about desire and sex and all of that. And that was central from a, you know, fighting for your rights perspective…it seems like, that’s interesting, right?
ELM: That’s interesting—we’re a similar age, but that has not been my experience.
FK: Oh yeah?
ELM: Because I think that we, you know, we came of age in an era that was so focused on marriage equality—and even within broader queer spaces, because I think the marriage equality conversation can really drown out…
ELM: A lot of other, you know… Marriage equality and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, kind of the big—post-’90s, post-Clinton, Bush-era. The HRC, all this stuff—you know what I mean? To come of age at…I’m thinking of the 2004 election. I mean, I’m also slightly older than you, right? So, like, I was in college for that and I just feel like that…
FK: I was in college for the 2004 election too. I had just started college.
ELM: No! No way, Flourish. What year did you graduate from college? 2008? Oh, it’s because you’re weird. You’re weird in that you skipped a grade.
FK: I graduated in 2008. I started college…like, the first event was that election.
ELM: Good times.
FK: Incredibly…oh God, that election was amazing. So I have this friend who is French and very small and I had not met him yet, because I was a freshman. And I literally had brought my embroidery, and I was sitting in a common room, like, embroidering and watching election results—and this incredibly drunk Frenchman comes in screaming in French about how much he hates Bush, and falls in my lap. And I was like, “Hello.” And that’s how I met my friend Charlie.
ELM: [laughing] That story was ridiculous because it had a lot of details that actually weren’t really…it wasn’t really a story. That was the problem. It was more like a description of the scene.
FK: Yeah, that’s true. It didn’t really have a…there was no plot. The plot was a screaming Frenchman. In French.
ELM: This is not a plot.
FK: It’s not a plot! [laughing]
ELM: It was good though.
FK: We were just talking about how we love the schmoop plateau, or didn’t love the schmoop plateau...
ELM: The schmoop plateau!
FK: This is the screaming-Frenchman plateau.
FK: Uh, no, no, I can tell you no.
ELM: Anyway, I honestly think it depends on which spaces you were in, but I really feel like there wound up being—in the broader conversation, a really outsized focus on somewhat normative topics in the queer rights conversation.
FK: That’s true, that’s true. And it really depended. I think that there was maybe a little bit more tension with those topics just where I particularly lived than maybe there was other places like or the context, maybe on where I lived, but the context I was in. But you’re right, there was an overweening focus on marriage equality. Of course.
ELM: I think that obviously shapes a person’s experiences, though. I mean, you think of people who are even younger than us, too. They were coming of age while marriage equality was still front and center, and definitely very, very normative—you know, like, one state after another legalizing it until you had the national decision a few years ago, and the boundaries that puts around the conversation. I mean, this is, this is only focusing on this, you know—obviously there’s really complicated conversations around feminism as well, right? But like…
FK: Yeah, but the focus on marriage equality so strongly emphasized the idea that queer people just want to live in monogamous two-person relationships that are blessed by the state and have children—and you’re, you’re a good queer person if you…you’re probably not a queer person. You’re a good gay or lesbian person. Let’s exclude everyone else. Probably a gay person, because the lesbians were not leading most of that, you know.
ELM: Hey, hey, Edie Windsor.
FK: OK, fair enough. Fair enough. Not, but, I, you know, I mean, it really was a very sort of white gay male…
ELM: To finish that thought, though—so it’s just like, you know, if you think about the way that buffer-overrun and the other Gen X fans, you know, the people who founded the OTW and the AO3—most of them are Gen X women, right? I think that shaped people who came of age in that time.
I think that people, you know, who maybe are in their early 20s right now, were coming of age in the Obama administration, and that really shapes the way you see the world. And that’s not to say [laughs] that if gay marriage got legalized while you were growing up, it means that you’re into purity culture or something! But I definitely think that if you have conversations about sexuality and gender that wind up diminishing space for actual, for, for transgression…and I think that we’re having a very loud, very critical, very necessary conversation about the boundaries between like consensual transgression and like, you know, like #MeToo, you know what I mean? Or fraught situations.
I don’t know, it’s just—I feel like it’s going to be kind of impossible. We did grow up in different times, in different contexts, and I feel like it’s a lot of people talking across each other. And just like with the age conversation, it’s not like just because you’re older, you’re right—or just because you’re younger, you’re right.
FK: Right. Yeah. Yeah. But at the same time, like…people’s experiences bring…you carry along deep stuff with you, right? I mean, like, whatever, someone on Tumblr says that you can’t use the word “queer,” and every hair on my body stands up, you know. And I’m sure every—you know what I mean. I use that as an example, not as a stick to beat someone with. I’m just saying that we all have, like, as a result of the time and place that we come from, we have different things that we just can’t—you know.
ELM: Absolutely. But like, you know, there’s this language conflict within every marginalized group about “Oh, we use this word now, we’re reclaiming this former slur,” et cetera. And, you know, and it’s not necessarily even a generational disagreement. There are people who are like, “I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t think we should use that word.” And so I think that’s really, that’s really fraught, fraught topics.
FK: All right. I think that we’ve covered this. Let us listen to the next voicemail.
Mary: Hi, Flourish and Elizabeth. This is Mary, Airemay on Twitter, and I'm calling because I just listened to your “Purity Culture” episode and wow, did I feel called out! But in a really interesting, reflective way that I hadn’t thought of before.
I definitely applied purity culture to Twilight when it first came out. I still believe fervently that Bella and Edward are not in a very healthy relationship, and I judged fans for that, and I judged the author for that—particularly because I felt like she was consistently glorifying something that I thought was really problematic. And I got all up in “Oh, the children,” because a lot of people that I saw engaging [inaudible] were my sister’s age at the time, who were, you know, preteens, teenagers—and they must be protected!
And after listening to you talk about other examples of purity culture and thinking about the media that I engage in right now, I realize what a hypocrite I was. I think there are still problematic aspects of Twilight and I’m still going to talk about it that way when I have fun critical discussions with my sister about it, but I think I’m going to look at it from the perspective of: well, my sister may like Twilight, but I like Game of Thrones. So thank you so much for the episode! I apologize for the poor audio quality. I never wanted to leave a voicemail before, as a long time listener. but this episode really resonated with me and my hypocrisy from approximately 10 years ago. Thank you.
FK: What a great response!
ELM: So good.
FK: I hadn’t even thought of it that way and yet it’s totally true.
ELM: You hadn’t thought of what what way?
FK: I mean, I hadn’t connected that people’s frustrations with Twilight or, to some degree, I guess, Fifty Shades of Grey—and I think that there are real concerns with both of these—but I just hadn't connected those things to the current purity culture discussion. You know what I mean? They felt like they were very separate to me somehow.
ELM: You hadn’t?
FK: Yeah, I don’t know! In my mind it was like, [silly voice] “That was a different time.”
ELM: Flourish, no.
FK: Yeah, I just didn’t, you know…I guess, maybe because some of the people who I know who are most critical, for instance, of the BDSM practices in Fifty Shades of Grey, who are themselves very kinky and who are like super against purity culture as it has often…yeah. It’s hypocritical. You know what I mean? Actually, yeah, I mean, not to say that there aren't problems. Again, there are issues with this, but…
ELM: I mean, but I, I remember—you know, I was nowhere near the Twilight fandom; you actually did a lot of research on it and I think clearly were super into Twilight yourself. [Flourish laughs] But I only remember people talking about it as morally problematic.
FK: Yeah. Well, I can tell you there were a lot of people who did not think of it that way. [both laugh]
ELM: No, I know, but like…this is my perspective of coming at it from the outside the culture, and people being like, “Oh, you know, like…Harry Potter, it’s good that it got people reading, it’s fine, you know…and it has a good message. But Twilight? Damaging for girls, because it’s just like,” you know…and that’s, I remember lots and lots discussion about that. That was outside of fandom. That was culture critics looking at, you know.
FK: Well and from within it there was a lot of interesting point, counterpoint, you know what I mean? This was a big discussion. Like, you know, there were people saying, “Well, on the other hand, like, Bella gets to make a lot of choices about her life—in that way it’s like an empowerment fantasy. She gets to, on the one hand she’s, like, cooking dinner for her dad. But on the other hand she gets to choose what she eats for dinner.” You know what I mean? She gets to make all these choices about whether she lives with her mom or her dad. She gets to choose Edward. So I mean, you know, there’s a lot of really interesting conversation about this. I’m not endorsing one attitude or the other. I actually don’t—I’ve long ago given up trying to figure out what I think about Twilight on a personal level. [laughs]
ELM: But I don't know. I think it’s interesting too, I mean, because it’s like, where’s the line? Like, I definitely enjoy critiquing things that I think are problematic. Not necessarily...I mean, I think this is the problem, though. I mean, I love this voicemail. I’m just trying to dig into this a little bit in the sense of, like, it seems like a lot of these conversations aren’t necessarily about the content itself. It’s about how you think about it.
ELM: Right. So like, the example I’m thinking of: I’ve been watching, as my background watching, the entirety of Law and Order: SVU, all 350,000 episodes.
FK: I can’t believe you.
ELM: Genuinely, I’ve watched about one…I’ve watched season five, because I wanted peak...just thinking about it, I mean, obviously it’s not above critique in terms of “How many ladies am I going to watch get raped?” or whatever, children get kidnapped, but it’s a question of like…I’m sure there are people out there who are, like, totally depraved and watching it because they love seeing women be raped. Right. Yeah. And they find that sexy, for them. For the most part…
FK: I’m sure, because it’s, like, one of the most viewed television shows out there. So, statistically speaking, there’s probably at least one serial killer watching the show.
ELM: Right! Or it’s some, some actually extraordinarily high number percentage of people who are pedophiles. Yeah, they—perhaps they’re watching the pedophile episodes, sympathizing with the suspect or whatever.
ELM: And lusting after the children on the screen. Perhaps they are lusting after the children. God, this, this conversation took a turn and I’m really sorry, but this is totally true. You know. And so it’s like…it’s not necessarily about the depiction of, of really complicated topics. It’s about what you’re doing with that inside your mind. And so when you look at people in purity culture critiquing or yelling about or trying to censor various types of things, they aren’t just saying “You shouldn’t be depicting underage rape.” They’re saying, “Y’all want to wank to underage rape,” right? Like, that’s always…I don’t know why there’s always “y’alls” involved, but like, you know what I mean? There’s y’alls and wanks.
FK: Right, right. And I think that one of the things that was complex with Twilight, though, is that yes, that the book absolutely does depict this relationship as romantic. It does.
FK: And that is the intended way you’re supposed to take it.
FK: On the other hand, having studied this, there’s also, you know…having studied this, there’s also this element of shaming young women for finding anything romantic, you know what I mean?
ELM: But it’s like…I mean, it’s like, how far…like, you know, the absolutism of the defensiveness…it's just really, really complicated. Right? So it’s not necessarily that, like, it depicts an abusive relationship, it’s the fact that—I mean, and this is the author telling you. But I mean, that’s the same thing with fanfiction writers saying “This is a sexy underage story.” Like, “I’m going to hell! Sexy underage story.” Like, I understand why they’re critiquing that. Right? But it’s also, I’m going to sit here and say, “Well, you’re not, you don’t have to read it.” Right?
FK: Yeah. And I also do that, and there’s, like, a level in which there’s like…I think people saying, “Oh, the children are going to be warped by this.” Well, maybe they will. Also, maybe, like, teenagers understand that when your fantasy is a vampire, that’s not real, you know?
ELM: Right. Right. But, you know, it’s just also, like, the amount. I mean—like, well, Twilight’s mass culture, but…the amount of blame that gets placed at the feet of fanfiction writers in this conversation is extraordinary. Yeah. You know, and I’m sure—I’ve seen people say, “Oh, well, I was in an abusive relationship because I read…” I’ve seen people write this. “I was in an abusive relationship cause I read fanfiction and I thought it was OK.” And maybe that’s why that happened. Maybe many, many other things that contributed to that situation. Also, maybe it’s not your fault that you wound up in that situation. Maybe, maybe blaming your reading choices for the fact that someone took advantage of you is shitty.
FK: Is perhaps…yeah. Perhaps that’s not the right direction to go with this one.
ELM: I don’t know. You know, so it’s just like, I think that the problem is…with all of this is, you are never going to be able to police thought. You can’t stop someone from interpreting your work in a certain way, and so it's just like, I don’t know…definitely critique Twilight, right? Absolutely. But the solution I don’t think is going to be to try to shut Twilight down or to shut anything else that you see as depicting, valorizing problematic behavior down—because I just, I think that’s a losing game.
FK: Agreed. All right. I think that that is a good response, and I think that we should read the next letter.
ELM: All right, I think there’s going to be some more discourse in here. Get ready. “Hey guys. I really appreciated the Discourse Trilogy.” Yeah. I’m glad that other people are calling it that.
“All three episodes were such welcome listens, especially as a member of the Voltron fandom.” Hm. I was [laughs] that was my sympathetic “hm.” I like how I’m editorializing and we’re two lines into this.
FK: Keep going, keep going.
ELM: Sorry, sorry! “I was wondering if you thought there was some merit to the idea that purity and anti culture might be a moral panic–like behavior, related to mainstream culture that is becoming extremely sexualized, as well as being more explicitly filled with predators and abusers and being very hostile to marginalized groups—Weinstein, Trump, et cetera. It might be a way for people who feel alienated from that—who have also educated themselves on a lot of social justice issues through Tumblr and have a level of understanding of sexism, racism, and homophobia—to create a space that is aggressively not that: not abusive and problematic, but pure. Like, an equal and opposite reaction to a problematic mainstream is an aggressively not-problematic online space.
“This is, of course, not really a point about shipping discourse, because that’s just eternal. It just really hit me, seeing the recent rise of AO3 antis who seem to quite gleefully state that, quote, ‘no one has the right to read child porn, so it doesn’t matter if AO3 is destroyed.’
“Maybe what’s appealing is the power to effect change, the power to actually threaten the existence of AO3, the power to actually challenge something problematic—because in the face of a surrounding hostile culture, anti behavior looks to effect change and wield some form of power in their own backyard rather than confront the systems in place.
“Thanks again for your hard work on these podcasts. You bring much needed nuance to my fandom experience. Froggie.”
FK: I think that that second bit, the bit about, like, trying to challenge something that’s actually problematic because you feel powerless to change the broader culture—I think that’s totally spot on.
ELM: Oh, 100%.
FK: I do think that the—you know, the mainstream culture being extremely sexualized and filled with predators and abusers, like…it has always been filled with predators and abusers. But one of the things about it is that it’s being talked about so openly now. You know what I mean? Like, Trump’s tapes, but also, like, #MeToo. I do think that the level of, of things being talked about openly. Maybe...
ELM: I don’t know, Flourish, we’re talking about a lot of people who are involved in this conversation are in their late teens and early 20s. We’re about 10, 15 years older. We grew up in an era where they literally spent all of my public school education telling me that all strangers were pedophiles who wanted to murder me.
FK: [laughing] That’s true.
ELM: Right? You know, like, one time I was walking down the street with my grandmother when I was five, and a candy bar was on the ground and she said, “Look, free candy!” And I was like, you know, first of all, gross. [Flourish laughs] Second of all, I had been told that anytime there’s any candy at all, someone put a fucking razor blade in it.
FK: That’s true. Yeah, yeah. Right.
ELM: And I was, I was aghast. I was, like, five years old and it had been so indoctrinated into me that that was a—you know, a trap for someone who wanted to kidnap and murder me.
FK: On the other hand, like…it was also very much—the attitude toward the Monica Lewinsky–Clinton thing was either “Bill Clinton is stepping out on his wife and that means he’s skeevy,” or, you know, “Monica Lewinsky…”
ELM: Slut! Total slut!
FK: Total slut! And those were the two options. And no one even bothered to stop and think, “Hey, maybe—maybe this was a power imbalance. That was really, really an issue here.”
ELM: I mean, don’t erase that there were people who did say that, but it wasn’t mainstream.
FK: Yeah. So, I agree with what you’re saying on a personal level, but I think that the mainstream conversation about this…
ELM: This wasn’t just me who received this education.
FK: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. But I meant…when I say on a personal level, I mean like…I don’t know. Yeah, I guess there was, like, Dateline stuff, there’s always been that sort of sensationalism, but I think it was different. The way of talking about sexual assault in particular…
ELM: I feel like when we were growing up, and maybe I’m not as clued into the conversation around children right now, but it wasn’t—it was that pedophiles were literally everywhere. [Flourish laughs] You know, in a way that this conversation is still…in the UK they’re obsessed with pedophilia, right. And they keep uncovering high-profile rings in the various institutions and government and stuff like that.
FK: Yeah. Maybe they have a reason to be. Eeh!
ELM: Yeah. And so I feel like this was a huge conversation in a way that I don’t know if it is now, actually—which is interesting, when you consider other revelations about the church in particular. And then, like, Jerry Sandusky, and you know, these various kinds of abuse cover-ups, Dennis Hastert…
And still I feel like it’s less a part of the conversation. And it’s a little bit ironic: in the past it was more about people saying “There are lone individuals who are going to snatch you in their white vans,” and now when we have actual documented…over the last 20 years, examples of high profile cover-up systems, people talk about it less! And that, I mean, I think that’s very telling, right? Because people love random acts, and they don’t like to talk about societal problems in any of these things. So I think that’s true. But I, yeah, I, I strongly disagree that this, this moment in time is more sexualized than 10 years ago or 20 years ago.
FK: Yeah. I mean, like I said, I think that…I agree with everything you just said. I do think there’s a change in the way people talk about sexual assault in many ways. I don’t know that that has anything to do with there being like a purity culture or not, but the idea of wielding some power and feeling like you're empowered to, you know, you can’t yell at...this is what Lilah was saying, Lilah Vandenberg, in one of our previous episodes. We’ll link it.
ELM: You can’t get to the corporation, exactly. For sure. Yeah. I think there is definitely an anxiety here, which we’ve discussed, about people…I think people do feel very powerless right now. That being said, there was similar, you know—like, I encountered discourse that was similar to this when I was doing research on the founding of AO3, also, and that was 10 years ago, and that was a very different political climate.
FK: Yeah, very different.
ELM: You know, and I definitely think in the last five years the conversations around especially marginalized groups, and trying to get some kind of equity, and trying to fight systemic marginalization, have grown exponentially. I think that’s reflected in fandom in some ways and not in others. You know what I mean? So like, I don’t know.
FK: All right. Well, I guess we’re not going to solve this one. Should we listen to our final letter? I guess it’s not a letter. It’s a piece of voicemail.
ELM: Yes. So this is our friend Stephanie Burt.
ELM: She of the many voicemails and many episodes…if you don’t remember Stephanie, she was on two episodes in…February or so, I believe it was?…talking about poetry and fandom. Trans stuff. X-men.
FK: Yeah. Let’s give it a listen.
ELM: All right.
Stephanie Burt: Hi, Elizabeth! Hi, Flourish! It’s Stephanie Burt. If it’s not too late, I’m responding to the “Age and Fandom” episode, which I loved. Thank you so much. You talked a lot about problems of age and age grading and appropriateness in the way that the larger culture views fandom. I wanted to call in with two ways that questions of age in fandom can provide solutions to problems about age, age grading, and authority in the larger culture.
One is specific to trans people. The fan spaces I’m in most often are never exclusively trans people, but there tend to be a lot of us, and the question of how old you are, how old you count as, what your relationship to social categories and what your relationship to your physical body is, is sometimes different for trans people, especially binary trans people who transition as adults. The way that “who is this for?” “How old are you and why?” are open questions or hard questions in some fan spaces, I think can be really useful for some of us, because they’re open questions in the rest of our life too.
It seems just worth noting how often fan spaces, especially the ones that I'm in give people at different life stages—teens and 40s, 20s and 30s, 20s and 50s, even, 20s and older, I don’t know—but give people at different life stages an opportunity to interact in ways that aren’t about power and authority and hierarchy. If I encounter teens or college students in real life, it’s often inflected by the power that I have because of my job, by the fact that I often grade people and giving them As or don’t give them As or write them recommendations—but if I encounter someone who is identifiable as much younger than me in a fan space and they ask for advice or they’ve got a question, it’s not about and it can’t be about a grade or something I can do for them.
The anti-authoritarian nature of fan spaces, when they’re treated rightly and when there are some boundaries in place, can be such a powerful antidote to the age-graded hierarchy that so much of real life depends on, and I value that. Bye!
FK: I love this comment. This is something that blew my mind: did you know that most people in the United States do not have even one friend who is more than 10 years older or younger than them?
ELM: Oh, well, I’m exceptional then.
FK: I know!
ELM: I have several friends who are more than a decade older than me.
FK: Yeah, I mean [silly voice] I’ve got a husband!
ELM: That doesn’t really count, Flourish!
FK: Yeah, it doesn’t really count, you know, but I have…but I also have other friends who are, you know what I mean? Even friends who I don’t know through my husband at all, they were completely unrelated to Nick!
But this blew my mind when I found it out. It actually made me think maybe this is part of why some…I mean, again, there are real issues with power and age within fandom, but I think that this may be one of the reasons why some people are so anxious about this: because there’s no one you know who knows anyone who’s older than you in any circumstance.
ELM: And the only…if you are 20 and the only people that you know who are 50 are your parents or your professors or your boss…
ELM: Or vice versa. If you are 50 and the only people under the age of 20 that you ever interact with are your children and your children’s friends, that means that…I mean, of course you’re going to wind up, you know, saying, “Well, I know best,” right? Like, yeah, and you know, you’re the mom!
FK: It totally blows my mind because I’ve definitely encountered this with fans who were older than me, and now I’m beginning to encounter it occasionally with people who are approximately my age, you know what I mean—who really have this attitude. I had never really put my finger on that before. I’m sure that…I know that it happens with young people, too, because I’ve seen that frequently, but totally. You’re right, exactly what you just said—it, it blows my mind. Like, sometimes you meet someone and they’re like, “I am the mom to all of you.” It’s like, “No, you’re not. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works!” Right?
ELM: Yeah. I wonder too, and I don’t want to like just armchair sociologize…
FK: Armchair sociologize, sure.
ELM: You know, there’s a lot of talk right now from sociologists and probably people in related fields about the breakdowns of structures—whether it’s, like, fewer and fewer people attending religious services and being a part of a religious community, or people not really having kind of centralized neighborhood structures, and a lot of places, you know…
Even thinking about it, last night I had a friend over in my building, which has nine units in it, and the people downstairs had friends over, and the people across the hall had people over. And as I was saying goodbye to my friend, I saw the people across the hall, and we were like, “Oh, hi.” And I was like, it's so funny. We’re all in this building together, living our little lives, right? And I don’t know these people at all. Sometimes I say hi to them in the hall, you know what I mean? And it’s like—we’re a compact unit. We are nine units. You know, it’s not like…you live in a big building, and I know you know some of your neighbors, but like, we could be like a compact. We could all know each other.
FK: The reason, the only reason that I know my neighbors is that every year I throw a big New Year’s party…
ELM: And they threaten to sue you!
FK: No, fortunately, but in order to avoid anyone trying to sue me, right? Like, I purposely have gone around to introduce myself to people as a strategy [laughs] so that they know who I am and, like, understand and we can talk about problems—because I like to throw this big party, right? Like it's a very…it had to be very intentional.
ELM: Yeah. And I just think it’s…I think that it’s normal in this, but whereas, like, 50 years ago in a building in New York, not necessarily that you would know your neighbors, but you probably would. My friends who grew up in middle and working class families in New York City in a building knew their neighbors.
FK: 100%, and it totally blows my mind. The neighbor who dog sits for me most frequently talks all the time about how it used to be that there were sort of…it was basically like collaborative child-minding happening in my building. You know? And there’s…she has a total expectation that everyone in the building will just sort of help each other out when they know each other, and it’s lovely. She loves watching my dog, and I love doing things for her when I can, but it’s like this incredible artifact of another time I love that I have access to—with her and the other older people in my building. It’s one of the reasons I like where I live, but it definitely is not something that would…for sure it wouldn’t be normal now.
ELM: Right. And so then if you have this, you know, diminishing element of this—then the people that you encounter on a daily basis are going to fall into stratified groups. If, I mean, I have friends who are Gen X and even older—most of them I know through fan stuff for the most part; most of my non-fandom friends are around my age. They are former coworkers or we went to college together. So it’s good for people who don’t like age gaps because we’re all very similar ages.
FK: The only places I meet people who aren’t my age are through church or through fandom. Which…
ELM: Church gives you the opportunity to meet people of different ages.
FK: It does, absolutely.
ELM: But outside of that, then, if you just, you know…if I, most likely, if I know someone who is 65, not my parents or their friends or my parents’ neighbors or whatever, it’s going to be my boss or someone in a, in a high position in an office situation. Right? And so it’s like, I don’t know, I think that’s really, really limiting. Because people who are older have lots of dumb ideas. They’re not, like, all-wise. There are smart people who are much younger than me. There’s a lot of dumb people who are younger than me. You know what I mean? Like it’s, it’s…but you kind of fall into these patterns when you don’t have any other contexts in which to know people.
FK: You do.
ELM: It’s hard. Life!
FK: Life. It’s hard.
FK: It’s hard.
ELM: All right. [Elizabeth laughs] I think that we’re, it’s probably about time for us to wrap up.
ELM: [sighs] Discourse.
FK: Have we discoursed enough about the discourse?
ELM: No. I think this is just gonna continue.
FK: We will never have discoursed enough about the discourse.
ELM: Cool. So more comments are welcome. Obviously. We didn’t get any about the monetization thing.
FK: Which was shocking to me. I feel like usually that’s a hot topic. So, like, sock it to us.
ELM: Yes, I saw a lot of people sharing, especially the transcript—a bunch of people that I follow and really respect on Tumblr shared it, and I was like, “Oh, goodness.” And then I read their tags and they were like, “This is a good conversation and, like, this is really difficult topic and I have nothing else to add.” I was like, “Oh, OK.”
ELM: No. I mean, that’s fine. Because I think when…one of the things about that one is we don’t really take a stance on that. Purity culture, I think, and age in fandom, I think we both have strong feelings.
FK: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I will tell you that my stance is I love money. So there you go.
ELM: Yeah. But like, honestly, in the course of reporting on that piece on the AO3 and in talking over the money question thing, I am now more on the side of AO3’s philosophies than I was a month ago. Which is weird! I was not anticipating that, but I’m like, “Oh no, it’s actually important that it’s not monetized.” And you saying the thing about how if it was monetized, you know, the industry would exploit it...
FK: Oh yeah, I think AO3 should not…you know, I think AO3’s stance is right. I think AO3 is making the right choice.
ELM: Yeah. I mean, but it’s also like the…some of the connections, and you helped make some connections in my brain here between, like—well, actually the things, some of the things that I really love about fandom about fanfiction developed…not necessarily because it was an oppositional stance to the corporation, but it was kind of sidestepping that, you know what I mean? Like, if corporations got involved, they’re gonna, they’re gonna take out—they will inherently effect the things that I love, a lot of the things I love most about fanfiction, right?
ELM: It’s not to say that it will ruin it, and for a lot of people it wouldn’t make a huge difference, but I think for a lot of people it would. And so I would like a space that’s independent of those, except in the way that everything is linked through capitalism.
FK: All right. That’s our stance. Argue with us if you want! You can do that by emailing us at fansplaining at gmail.com. You can also do that by leaving us a voicemail. You observed how great voicemails are in this episode, so if you go to fansplaining.com, there’s a phone number right at the top and you can call that number and leave us a voicemail and we will play it on the air.
ELM: You could also Tweet or Facebook at us. Facebook message? I don’t know.
FK: If you want to leave us an anonymous message, you can leave us a message in our ask box, because anon is on. No one has been a jerk. We like that. Keep it up.
ELM: Yeah, so far. And the final place that people have been leaving messages recently is actually on Patreon…
FK: Which is lovely.
ELM: Yeah, and those people, as you can imagine, are Patrons. They’re pledging as little as $1 a month, patreon.com/fansplaining, and if you pledge just $1, you get our conversation we did last week with Javier Grillo-Marxuach, television writer extraordinaire and author of an Indiana Jones/Downton Abbey—it’s mostly those two, the others are more passing references—fanfiction.
FK: But it’s a delightful fanfiction, and we also break some story about a new crossover fanfiction that we’re totally going to write some day. Maybe.
ELM: I’m never participating in this. In real reality, it’s…Julian Assange is involved.
FK: Javi and I might write it in reality.
ELM: It would be really good if you did. I will discuss it with you if you write it.
FK: OK, great!
ELM: But that conversation was a delight, and so we’ve made that the dollar episode, so every patron from $1 on up to potentially $400 a month—at the Weasley sweater level, which literally no one will ever take—have access to that. But if you do $3 a month, you get access to all our special episodes. That was number nine. So there’s, there’s nine great episodes, mostly about fanfiction, including ones or we discuss our writing practices and where we read some fic and talk about it. So yeah, if you have a little extra cash, we would love it. [laughs]
FK: Great. I think that with that…
ELM: Oh my God, can you imagine if that was just what people said in ads? I kind of wish they did. They were like, “If you have money, we would love you to give it to us. We’ll give you this in exchange, but we would love you to give us that cash.” Feels more honest.
FK: I will talk to you and your honesty later. Goodbye!
ELM: [laughing] OK. Goodbye, Flourish!
ELM & FK: Fansplaining is brought to you by all of our patrons, especially Kathleen Parham, Kitaoroshi, Bryan Shields, Boxish, Grace Mitchell, Christine Hoxmeier, Desiree Longoria, Jennifer Brady, Bluella, Georgie Carroll, Goodwin, Earlgreytea68, Chloe-Leonna Steele, Menlo Steve, Katherine Lynn, Clare Mulligan, Heidi Tandy, Megan C., Sara, Josh Stenger, Tablesaw Tablesawsen, Jennifer Doherty, froggy, nubreed73, Amelia Harvey, Meghan McCusker, Michael Andersen, Helena Romelsjö, Willa, Cynsa Bonorris, veritasera, Clare Muston, sekrit, Maria Temming, Anne Jamison, Jay Bushman, Lucas Medeiros. Jules Chatelain. Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and in honor of One Direction and Captain James McGraw Flint. The opinions expressed in this podcast are not our clients’, or our employers’, or anyone’s except our own.