Episode 89: Rukmini Pande
In Episode 89, Elizabeth and Flourish welcome back Dr. Rukmini Pande, a fan studies scholar whose new book, Squee From the Margins, explores race in both the field as well as fandom at large. Topics discussed include defining the boundaries of “fandom,” how queerness and gender structure fan studies while race typically does not, closed vs open digital platforms, how fandom discussions of racism are often relegated to “crisis points,” and more.
[00:01:40] “Shipping and Activism” was Episode 29.
[00:25:25] RaceFail, as covered by Fanlore.
[01:07:31] Rebecca Wanzo is on Twitter: @rawreader. Kristen Warner has written many, many articles and books—for example, here’s a review of her The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting, in the Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures.
[01:11:12] Our response post is actually embedded in the ask about whether we were going to do an episode on Tumblr’s current situation.
[01:20:26] Archive Team is spearheading a Tumblr archiving party and you can track their progress here. More info in this tweet thread. But to archive your own Tumblr, you can export all your content. You can also back things up to the AO3! Fanlore can also help preserve some things that might be lost when things go down on Tumblr, and here’s a post on how to use it.
[01:23:24] The post about owls defeating Tumblr’s censorbot seems to have been deleted (or censored…???) but there’s a viral Tweet that has screenshots and commentary!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 89, “Rukmini Pande,” who is our guest!
FK: Yay! I’m so excited. We had her on many, many moons ago, and now she’s back to talk about her new book.
ELM: Yes. So, Rukmini. We had her first on when we put out a call for—well, actually we may have approached her directly, but we did put out a call—in our Race and Fandom double episode. Which was one of our—within the first year. It was Episode 21 or so, right? So that would have been, like, towards the end of our first year. People said she was one of the most memorable of our guests. And then, we had her back on with Lori Morimoto a few months later to talk about shipping and activism. And how shipping, in I believe all of our opinions, isn’t activism. And so that was great. But, you know, for the last year and a half, I’ve really regretted that we haven’t been able to have her on just specifically to talk about her work—as opposed to using her expertise to talk about some hot-button issues or whatever. Hot-button issues, like shipping! [laughs]
FK: But today we are righting that wrong. [both laugh]
ELM: OK. So yeah, just for reference, Rukmini: an assistant professor of English literature at O.P. Jindal Global University in New Delhi, and she did her PhD on the intersections of identity and media fandom communities at the University of Western Australia. She finished last year. In 2017. And her new book is called Squee From the Margins, and I believe it is a... What is known as a “monograph”?
FK: A monograph, just like Sherlock Holmes would write!
ELM: Did I get that right? It’s a monograph, right?
FK: Yeah, it’s a monograph!
ELM: That’s academic for a single-authored book. Yeah! That’s right. That's right.
FK: Yeah, like Sherlock Holmes about tobacco. ELM: Oh yeah, he did write a monograph.
FK: Yeah, he did.
ELM: Good. Good reference. [FK laughs] So anyway, so that’s Rukmini. And so Squee From The Margins talks about... We’ve both read it and it’s great. And I think it’s really, I feel like—I don’t want to go on too much about this, but I do feel like it’s really accessible? Because maybe I’ve just been burned by academic texts too many times...
FK: No, but it's important to say, because sometimes, there’s... Like, there’s the different ways that academic texts can be inscrutable. There’s the “Here is some continental theory” bullshit, and we’re gonna use a lot of words that don’t mean all the things that they’re supposed to mean in normal speech. And then there’s the, like, you know, other ways that academic writing can be inscrutable, it can be like, you know, “Here is a simple idea that I’m saying in ways that are jargony.” I guess they’re the same thing, but in different flavors... This isn’t like that.
ELM: Yeah. It’s not like that. So we will make sure to include links everywhere. And yeah, you can buy a copy or especially ask your library to order a copy.
FK: Because like many academic books, it’s, you know, it’s not an inexpensive book, but asking libraries to get it is an excellent thing to do.
ELM: If you’re a student, always ask, like—just start asking the library to order stuff. Look, they’re not going order everything—
FK: They do it!
ELM: But they, they usually do, right? They’ll be like, “sure.”
FK: In my experience, libraries order things if someone cares enough to ask. They’re like “sure,” usually.
ELM: Right. And then it's on the shelf and, you know, people who never would have known to look for it can encounter it, so.
FK: Unless you check it out and keep it for like three years, which I will admit has perhaps been a thing that I did in the past when I had access to academic libraries, because I’m a monster.
ELM: Don’t do that. Don’t be like Flourish!
FK: Don’t be like me!
ELM: Though I have done that as well. [FK laughs] So, we will talk to Rukmini! Very quickly, we should say we are going to talk a little bit about Tumblr. Hopefully we’ll talk a little bit with her, though I don’t really want to turn this into a Tumblr thing. But we will, we will touch on it at the end of the episode. I put this in the ask, but in case anyone doesn’t follow us on Tumblr or has not been spending time there, someone asked if we were going to do a whole episode on it. We do not have plans to do that within the next couple of months, because our next episode is our Year In Review, and after that we're going to have Casey Fiesler on—but that’s lucky for anyone interested in platforms, because Casey Fiesler is an information science professor who actually studied, like, actually studied the Livejournal to Tumblr fannish migration in an academic capacity, you know.
FK: Yeah, I think that the important thing to note is, we’re not planning on doing one episode about it right now—but we are planning on talking about it today, and then we’re planning on talking about in our next episode. And then also when we talk with Casey, we’ll talk about it then too.
ELM: We will talk about it then, yeah.
FK: We’re gonna, like, distribute our thoughts, which will actually probably be nice, because it’ll give us, like—as we have more perspective over time. Right?
ELM: Right. And this is, this is constantly evolving and I think there is a limit to a speedy reaction here. Because we actually don’t know... Whatever. I don’t want to get into it now. But like, we don’t know.
FK: We’ll talk about this more after we talk to Rukmini.
ELM: Let’s focus on Rukmini right now.
FK: I’m so excited that we get to talk to her again.
ELM: Me, too.
FK: So let’s do it. Let's call her.
FK: All right! It’s time to welcome Rukmini to the podcast! Hi Rukmini!
Rukmini Pande: Hi! Thank you so much for having me.
ELM: Welcome back!
RP: Good to be back! It’s been too long.
ELM: Well, you’re probably the second most frequent guest after... Destination Toast has been on a few times to talk about stats, but...
FK: But actually fewer that I always think, because we talk about Toasty more than we actually have Toasty on.
ELM: All right, so you might be our most frequent guest. That’s really exciting.
RP: I am so cool! Maybe it isn’t too long then. [all laugh]
FK: No, no, no, because we had, like, a bunch of Rukmini, and then we were, like, in Rukmini drought, and now it’s, you know.
RP: Glad to be back. Thank you for having me.
ELM: Very glad to hear that. All right, so the most exciting thing about this was, this is not you coming on to talk about a topic that we already wanted to talk about, but we are—this is about you. Not to put you on the spot! [all laugh] OK. So because we were talking about you, I actually, I would like to start with you—the question we have when we have, like, when we’re talking about a guest’s career. I’m just curious about your origin story, is how I’m framing it now—to evoke, like, supervillain origin stories.
RP: My supervillain origin story!
ELM: Yes, exactly. I have one, I know Flourish has one. But not just to talk about how you came to this point in your career, because I think for a lot of our guests, including you, your career has been—and your fan life—have been intertwined, right? Like, you wouldn’t be a fan studies scholar if you were not also a fan. So yeah. Can you give us—wherever you want to start, however you want to frame it. I’m just really curious about your background.
RP: Yeah. Well, I started off as a fan. I suppose those are two different aspects of my fannish life, which I had to actually work through while I was—you know, working on the book. And I continue to do so. Because if some, if people... There's a thing that happens in, you know, fan studies discipline groups where they’re like, you know, the icebreaker is like, “What was your first fandom?” And for many people, that means the first fandom that they either kind of did fannish things with—in terms of how we think about, you know, fan work—or, you know, some people are just like, oh yeah, like I was really into Naruto.
For me, I used to say, you know, my first fandom was Weiß Kreuz, which was really the first fandom that I read fic about, when I was in my undergrad. But I’ve been a fan all my life. I’ve been a cricket fan. I’ve been a Bollywood fan. I’ve watched pro wrestling for a really long time. [laughs] Yeah. So those were all parts of my fandom life that I just kind of compartmentalized, because they weren’t the fandom that we conceive of when we talk about fandom a lot of the time. So that way, in terms of what I started working on professionally... That would be, as I said, Weiß Kreuz in my undergrad, when I started thinking about—started interacting with transformative fandom. That was of course just something I did.
And then when I started doing my master’s and started thinking about, you know, what I would like to work on as a researcher, I started thinking about reception studies... I was in English literature and I really didn't want to write the, you know, five thousandth thesis on, I don’t know, Shakespeare. Five millionth, rather! [all laugh] So I was quite convinced that I didn’t want to do traditional literary studies, and I was fortunate enough to get into a program at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. We’re quite traditional still, you know, a lot of our universities tend to kind of not be very appreciative of... You know, non-literary studies in the literary department. But this university was like, “Yeah, sure, do it! Work on fanfiction!”
And it's really cool that now I see a lot of younger Indian scholars who are working on fandom and fanfiction. You know, I had one get into a PhD program in Melbourne this year. It’s great, because when I started there was literally—it was just me. So, you know, that’s really cool—to see kind of fandom studies kind of grow, even in the last five or six years. And then I did my Master of Philosophy thesis, and then I got into a PhD program in Perth. Then, you know, I look back on my research proposal, and like, race and fandom was one chapter.
FK: Oh boy.
RP: And you know, that again, I kind of talk about it a bit in my introduction in the sense that I literally—because I was going on the bibliographies, and you know, the kind of work that was on fandom, I didn’t see it! Because it wasn’t something that was... You know, I saw gender, I saw sexuality, but because of those frames... Race just wasn’t foregrounded as a frame. I didn’t see it. And it was only through the process that, of the PhD, that... It took me two years to figure out that that was the heart of my thesis, that’s what I wanted to talk about. And also kind of figuring out how to talk about race in a transnational context. And that was a whole breakdown [laughs] in itself.
FK: Incredibly hard!
RP: Yes, yes. Like I was like, oh my God, I don’t—there’s a lot of problematic language around those identities. And talking about that, you know, without forcing any kind of one interpretive framework on it, is difficult. And again, because I... You know, it was weird, because I grew up in post-colonial studies, but it was just not something I had thought about in terms of fandom, again, because of the disciplinary boundaries. So, you know, when I had that moment of “You already know how to, you have the vocabulary, you just haven’t—nobody’s applied it to fandom.” Not many people have applied it to digital spaces, and that let me kind of talk about identity, platforms, fandom conflicts, and kind of frame it in a way that wasn’t centering it on the US or the UK. Which a lot of fan studies does.
FK: So then it sounds like, just to be clear, when you say there was a lot of problematic language, you don’t just mean—I mean you probably do mean to some extent “problematic” in the sense of “that’s problematic,” but also in the sense of this is actually, like—it doesn’t work. It’s a problem in that it’s not functioning to describe the situation—which is the root of the first kind of “that’s problematic,” but people get really defensive about it.
RP: Yeah, that’s the academic kind of thing. Like, when I say “man of color,” what does that mean outside a US perspective?
FK: Right, right.
RP: Because that’s not language that makes sense for, you know—it has a very specific, “person of color” has a very specific connotation within US-centric identities. Just as when I talk about queer issues, you know, gay, lesbian, trans, that means different things. You know, there are different ways of talking about those identities. So if I wanted to talk about “What do you think as a fan of color?” Fans in India would be like, “Hmmmmm?” [all laugh] “What do you mean by that?” You know, and it’s important to foreground that and not try to imply a conformity—on any level, whether it is in terms of how people identify or where they’re located in terms of context. You know, societal context, and where they come from in terms of how they think about their position. And of course I would clarify that my work is still on white-centric fandoms—OK, not white-centric fandoms, but Anglocentric fandoms in English language spaces.
And so, you know, that’s—how do we talk about those positions of marginality without kind of being like, “You’re a fan of color and you don’t get to talk about that,” or “you don’t get to think about what that means or your relationship to that.” And that’s, you know... A lot of fans, as I was talking to them, were like, “Yeah, like, we use it in certain contexts. I wouldn’t use it if I was talking to an Indian fan, that’s not something I would use. But yes, if I wanted to use it as a point of solidarity or as a, you know, as a way of signaling who I am in spaces where that makes sense, then yes, I would use it.” So, you know, that’s something that I wanted to bring out in my work: that it’s—you can’t just collapse identities into labels that, you know, mean different things in different contexts.
ELM: Sure, sure.
FK: I imagine this gets even more complicated—I mean, I know you work on Anglocentric fandom, but of course there are plenty of fandoms that don’t involve anybody Anglo at all.
FK: About the way that like, I don’t know, K-pop is received in Brazil, for instance. Right?
RP: Absolutely. There's a lot of really interesting work on, you know, non-English-language fandoms of different kinds of texts, whether those are English language texts or those are K-pop or anime or—and that’s a part of fan studies as a discipline.
FK: It’s funny how the low-hanging fruit of like, non-English-language texts used to be anime and now it’s K-pop. I feel like that’s changed. [laughing]
RP: Yeah, I know! So many of my students are, you know, baby fangirls about K-pop.
FK: BTS is the biggest boy band in the world.
RP: I know! It’s fun to see how that works. But it’s also interesting that those get sectioned off as well. You know, so, if we’re going to talk about race, then we’ll talk about it in terms of those fandoms, that are transnational fandoms, and what other—by, you know, either language or location or text. And that becomes a whole other thing in itself. It’s very, very valuable work. It’s really important to be able to disrupt, again, the Anglophone-centric focus of the field. But again, it becomes a niche in itself. “That’s the transnational fandom panel.” Or, you know, “This is a book on transnational fandoms,” which means other fans. I remember I blew somebody’s mind by talking about bilingual fans. [all laugh] Being like, “Yes, like, fans do move between spaces. A lot of diasporic fans will be in, will access texts in languages that they are comfortable with and will interact with that space and will continue to be part of English language fandom spaces as well. It’s not, it’s not an either-or situation!”
ELM: Or, you know, what about another angle in on this, which is—like, you know, say American or Anglo, especially American texts, being fanned about in spaces where there are no Americans. Right? Which is like—that’s a huge portion of cultural consumption around the world, too, right? And I feel like, this is never something that I have encountered on the global panel at the conference. It’s like, not even transnational—global. It’s like the, you know—like the Global Vibes store in the mall, you know, you’re like... All other countries but ours, and all of the things.
FK: Yeah! There was—so, there was, at MIT, there was recently a whole thing about changing the Foreign Languages and Literatures [department] to Global Languages and Literatures. Like, on the one hand, this is a good thing. On the other hand, I can only think of that store in the mall.
ELM: The pan pipe music.
FK: Actually, or the other way around. One of the things that struck me as you were speaking just now, Rukmini, was that it’s not as though bilingual fans being fans of different things, including in their own language—in different language communities, is not a thing, even if you look within just the United States. Think about, like, fans of Selena! You know, that is obviously fandom and yet somehow it never comes up in any conversation with things like—I mean, even things as simple as boy band fandom, right? Which, you would think, it’s both music fandom and there they should be, but...
RP: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s that weird block about thinking about, yes, like... And I talked about it a little bit in the book when I talk about the histories of media fandom and how those are written. People get annoyed with me because they say, you know, “Oh, well, we’re talking about a very specific way of how media fandom in terms of transformative works evolved—and sure, like, anime and manga fandom have a different story.” And I’m like, “Yes. But also there were people who were moving between them. I know because I’ve talked to them. Either they’re American Chinese fans or American Japanese fans or Japanese-American fans.” However they wish to, you know, talk about their identities, who grew up with texts and grew up with access to texts in non-dubbed languages—or maybe dubbed languages. But who had access, whose families would send them stuff, or, you know, in pre-streaming, you know, the pre-streaming world... You know, you have people talk about the fact that you can see that in terms of manga and scanlation where people are like, “Oh yeah, I visited and I got this bunch of manga that I scanned and I translated, because I wanted to have other people to squee with me. I wanted to be able to share that.”
And so because of the assumptions of early researchers in media fandom spaces, we’ll just never know where those... Because you know, you would ask somebody their gender, perhaps you would ask their sexuality—but that was also not, I mean, you know, the whole idea of why were slash fans seen as straight women? Because nobody asked. So it’s the same thing. There were fans of color in those spaces, non-white fans in those spaces, who were in multiple spaces at the same time, who—as I call it—who passed, as I did in, my early forays. Nobody knew I was Indian. I had the language, I had the reference. In my head it just wasn’t relevant. And that only changed very gradually, and you know, that’s again because of how fandom moved from different mediums. But you know, if you were in a closed space—a mailing list or a usenet group or, you know, those kinds of things—you may not, if everybody around you is white, you may not be very comfortable in identifying yourself or othering yourself in that way.
One person who I was talking to was like, “You know, it sounds funny, but when I was on LiveJournal, I never really thought there were any other people who were non-white. It’s only when I got on Twitter and on Tumblr that I realized there were so many other people around.” That was a really key turning point for me when I was thinking about how identity is thought about. So a lot of the time it’s like, “All these fans are new, so they don’t understand how media fandom works and how etiquette works and how…” You know, it’s like, “You do your fannish thing and we do our fannish thing,” and there’s a lot of assumptions about how those communities work. And a lot of people who are critical about, especially around race, are seeing that—are framed as new fans, or young fans. And that goes counter to all the evidence we have of these conversations coming up again and again and again, simply because media fandom histories—what we think of as our history—never talks about it.
ELM: I don't think they’re necessarily new conversations, but I think the volume—you know, exactly what you’re saying, right? Like, so many fans didn’t feel like they were even able to speak up under those structures. And so the conversation... I think it’s really, really easy for people to say—I understand why they say it!—where they’re like, “Well, no one ever brought this up before! I never thought about this before!” And you're like, “OK, you're correct. No one said it to your face before.”
FK: “To you, maybe!” Right?
ELM: And in this context. Because it's not like people weren’t talking about race—like, you know, in any other space in the entire world! You know what I mean?
FK: Things can be known to people who are deep within the community or within a friends group and yet not obvious to someone who comes in from the outside. Right. You know what I mean? So when I think about like all the people that I knew say in the, in the early 2000s, I think “Oh, there were a bunch of people who I knew were people of color.” But I can only think of one or two of them who you could tell from their display name, or maybe you couldn’t tell, because who knows what display name you chose. But you know, they had a display name that, like, had an ethnic marker that suggested they were a person of color. I don’t know if that’s the right term [ethnic marker] to use. Is that the right word to use? I guess it is.
RP: Yeah. But what’s funny is that, you know, there is a thing... Part of my first chapter was like, “Let’s think about, you know, let’s interrupt this notion of fandom history and let’s really look at how to kind of decolonize that and put those back into the conversation.” And I didn’t have to look very hard. I didn’t, you know—I was a very scared PhD student, who was convinced that I was going to be piled on or attacked or get something wrong in my call for participants. I was, you know, I didn’t know. Nobody had done it before. I was, you know, really kind of caught up in, “How do I—what identifiers do I put out? How do I frame this conversation?” And all of those things. You know, of course I was just a rando PhD student. I was active in fandom, but I wasn’t somebody who had a very large reach or you know... I was mostly a lurker. So it’s not like I could put it up on, like, a place which would be circulated, you know, hugely or anything.
And even within that, you know, even within that very circumscribed—and circumscribed both in terms of time because, again, I didn’t have that much time to talk to people, et cetera, because of the PhD and its constraints—but even then, I got people who talked about their experiences on mailing lists, on UseNet, on LJ, on Dreamwidth, and talked about it, you know... It’s not like, again, my questions weren’t, you know, “Did you ever talk about race?” It was just like, “How did you, how did you experience a fandom work on those platforms?” And you know, a lot of people were like, “Yeah, I wasn’t comfortable with the, with the kind of conversations around various issues. So I made my own mailing list,” you know. And those are just never...
I’m not attacking, you know, people who’ve talked about these issues before. I’m just saying that because of the framework, because we don’t ask, we just don’t get those stories, and they’re never part of “fandom history,” quote-unquote. All the fandom history that I keep getting told that everybody forgets, and you know, that... You know, “Remember Strikethrough!” I’m like, “Yes, but maybe we could also think about Racefail!” That’s as much a part of fandom history as anything else. But it doesn’t fit a certain narrative about fandom spaces. And so we don’t think about it.
FK: It’s so interesting that, like, Racefail—it’s like the gate posts have moved, right? Because at the time of Racefail, people were saying this about things before Racefail. And Racefail happened, and then there’s this idea that like, “Oh, now race is a part of the fandom conversation,” but now that we’re in the future, people are like, “Oh, Racefail? Was that a thing?”
ELM: “I’ve never heard about this before!”
FK: It occurs to me that some people who hear this might not know what Racefail is, so if you don't know, we will put links in the show notes.
ELM: People perpetuating exactly what we’re saying? I mean, it’s also, you know, there are new fans, right? So we should never assume.
FK: That’s what I mean. I don’t mean people perpetuating it, but genuinely, there are probably people who have gotten linked about Strikethrough, but who never heard about Racefail—because it was a long time ago now. It was ten years ago now.
ELM: That’s people who are telling the history perpetuating it. Right? You know, it’s, it’s history continually framing and excluding...
RP: Absolutely. What is being discussed? You know, how do we talk about the fandom? Whether we talk about it in terms of when we write a journalistic piece, or when we have a class on fandom, who—who is being taught? And what are the issues that are coming up, and is there a race week? [laughs] Cause if there is, please don’t. Everybody knows what I’m going to talk about when I walk into fan studies room in an academic context, and that’s, you know, that’s fine. I own it. But it’s true. If you can’t walk out of a fan studies class or classroom without thinking about what are the, you know, feminist and queer frameworks that we discussed, then you need to put as much focus on race. And not just “Oh, let’s think about race in this particular week,” but “let’s think about it when we talk about our foundational scholars." And that's something that is hopefully changing, but still, you know, it’s something that continues to be a thing. It’s something that needs to be built in rather than a footnote.
FK: Just thinking about Strikethrough and Racefail, it occurs to me that one of the frameworks that maybe helps support this narrative is that so often narratives about especially queerness and also gender are sort of connected up with narratives about platforms. And then narratives about platforms are very specific, right? They’re typically very linked to certain, certain fandom communities existing. So for instance, people might talk about DeviantArt as a place for fan art, but they don't necessarily talk about all of the different places for fan art that exist in countries that use languages that don’t use Roman script. Right? Like, to me that’s the big, that’s the big jump, right? Like, there’s tons of Asian fan art sites that exist that sort of don’t get talked about as platforms for fandom. So that’s really interesting to me. And Racefail didn’t spur, at least not that I recall, a major platform shift for people. It wasn’t—that is, let me rephrase. People didn’t say it, maybe it did, and I don’t know about it because no one ever framed it this way. So maybe those things get connected together.
RP: Yes, yes. I think, I think it’s important to think about, in this change from mailing lists—broadly—from mailing lists to... And I’m not saying all of these platforms. They overlap. Obviously, you know, people are still on... Before, we were talking about, you know, people are still on IRC. Those platforms, you know, they don’t die, even though we stop thinking about them. But the broader move of fandom towards platforms like Twitter and Tumblr, one of the things that kept coming up was the sense of, like, a dialogic platform, you know. A sense of like, “This is where you can talk about something, but you can also be interrupted,” you know, and there’s no one person who has... They can kick you out of a chat. They can kick you out of a Discord. You know, and that’s, in just the kind of small conversations that are happening that I can see, a lot of nonwhite fans are like, “I’m not really comfortable with going into a Discord where the premium, once again, is on niceness,” you know, and on kind of not rocking the boat.
I’m not trying to prop up Tumblr as an unproblematic space in that regard at all. [laughter] It had, continues to have, have many, many issues. But it did kind of change the way people thought about conflict in fandom. And how people were able to find other points of allyship within large spaces, especially around issues of race and racism. And so as you were saying, those conversations always existed. People just found them in an easier way. And then were, I think, more comfortable about engaging, however they engaged—you know, I’m not making this, like, everybody was talking about it in the same way, because they clearly weren’t. And those, you know, those are...
And I think the other part of the conversation about social justice on Tumblr, a lot of people are like, “Oh, well, you know, it went out of control,” and you know, when I talk about conflict, you know, obviously there was harassment and trolling and call out culture and all of those things. But for me, that’s not something that takes away from the power of it. Because that’s not just on Tumblr that that's happening. Mainstream feminist movements have plenty of conflict within them, and there's plenty of drama within those. So it’s not just, you know, “Oh, you didn’t go to college so you can’t have a conversation.” I’ve met plenty of academics and activists who have messy dialogues about these very complex issues. So kind of putting it on fandom, and being like, “Unless you can talk about these very messy things in ways that can be passed as progressive or regressive,” right? You know, it’s not easy to kind of map those conversations and be like, “Tumblr is great because it’s an activist space,” or “Tumblr is terrible because people misrepresent activist positions.” Right? Like, both those things can be true at the same time.
And so for me personally, and for a lot of the people that I talked to and continue to talk to, it was: “I don’t want to go back to LJ or to Dreamwidth. I wouldn’t talk about these things there.” It’s not that nobody talked about those things there, but the conversations just moved differently and worked differently. And certainly, the move towards more insular and closed platforms is not great as well, you know, for people who the premium is not a... You know, one of the reasons that I liked Tumblr was that I could, you know, I could engage on my own terms, and kind of also... If I wanted to disagree with the OP of a post, I could. Which LJ didn’t really have to the same extent. That had terrible implications as well. But you know, that’s, that’s—it’s still something that changed for me.
FK: It seems like this is the classic question about, like, the value of... I don’t mean this in the... I guess when I almost started saying this, it sounded weird, but I mean really: the value of moderation, right? You know, obviously I think there are very few people who would say that complete free-for-all spaces are perfect. But on the other hand, anytime that you bring in any form of moderation, literally any form of moderation—I mean even right down to things like any form of speech being... Then you enter into this space where someone is making a decision about what speech is permissible and what isn’t. Someone is setting social norms, someone is doing these things. Often that has many benefits, but it can also potentially exclude people, prevent people from speaking, make it a difficult space in which to speak in so many different ways. And it’s sometimes hard, and with the best intentions, people can still really have a chilling effect on conversations that are actually very important.
RP: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, again, I’m not a... I mean, as anyone who follows anything I... I’m not a free speech absolutist by any means.
FK: No, not to say that either!
RP: No no, I’m sure you’re not either. But these are difficult conversations that continue to be had. I mean, I don’t think the answer is, as you say, no moderation, but it is a mediating factor in how we conceptualize our conversations.
FK: There’s also a possibility [that] there’s no perfect solution, right? Like, that there’s literally no place that is both open enough and closed enough, you know.
RP: It’s just that how Tumblr was framed in a lot of kind of nostalgic language, in terms of it being a worse place than previous fandom platforms...
ELM: You mean, up until this exact week.
RP: Up until, exactly, what happened. And now it’s the...
ELM: Now it’s the beloved...
RP: Now the nostalgic framework is moving into how we talk about Tumblr as well.
FK: That’s how LiveJournal used to be too, right? Like, people hated LiveJournal. They hated everything about it and then they were like, “Oh, LJ was so great.” You know, and you’re like, “I don’t remember that.”
RP: I remember the communities, you know, which were based around killing female characters. I remember those! And nobody wants to remember those, but they existed.
ELM: Can I interrogate this conversation a little in terms of... Maybe what I want to do a little is disrupt the idea of linear time here. [All laugh] Which is a sense of like—I do think there are a lot of fans who genuinely, like I was just saying, did not think about race and fandom until people... they couldn’t, they could not ignore it, because people were talking about it in their feeds. Right? And this is not making any excuses for them, but a lot of white people don’t think about it until someone, like, they are literally confronted with it, or they think like, you know, Green Book kind of thoughts. Like, “Oh, if we just hold hands and drive around the South together, it’ll be great.” Right?
So, it’s sometimes hard for me to think about the future of platforms, and the future of conversation, by only framing it by what happened in the 2000s in more closed spaces and what happened in the 2010s, whatever we’re going to call it, in more open spaces. Right? So, like, that being said, like, I hear—I am not in Discord. I am not in any closed spaces right now except for, like, my DMs—I’m not in any, like, closed moderated communities. I have heard fraught things coming out of them, and probably what you're referencing, too, people saying “We all need to be nice, so you actually can’t discuss this stuff.”
But I’m also thinking about like the difference between—say, like, in college, being in the classroom... And you’re a professor! Like, being in a classroom with a professor who, you know you need to moderate what you say. You know, if you say, “Well, actually I’m going to read this from a queer lens,” or “I’m going to read this from a post-colonial lens,” they’re going to get really mad because they are a close text—I’m an English major, clearly—close text reader and they still write their letters on a typewriter. [laughter] And the difference between the discussion in that room...
FK: I really get a feel for this person.
ELM: They were—there were at least four of them at Amherst College. And then they were like...
FK: In their tweed?
ELM: Oh yeah. I mean, they’ve been wearing tweed since—they’re probably dead now, but...
FK: Some elbow patches happening?
ELM: The difference between that and being in a room with, you know, a young female professor of color who’s, like, talking about queer studies, post-colonial—and how the conversation changed, and it wasn’t necessarily these professors doing much. They were obviously doing something, but it wasn’t like they were directing the conversation, but it’s how much does that room change? Do you know what I mean?
RP: Absolutely. Absolutely. Which, I mean, because I kind of—my work is both in terms of challenging fan studies as a discipline, and challenging fandoms and how they think about themselves. For me that’s, again, very much about “What are the frameworks you’re bringing into this?” I talk about it in terms of, like, crisis points. So fandom will talk about race when there’s a crisis point, but they’re not going... You know, then the crisis is over. So, you know, I don’t know whether you remember, but there was a J2, Jensen and Jared, Haiti fic that was basically written for a challenge. And it was... It seems funny to think about, like, one fic that causes...
ELM: A J2 fic, for that matter.
FK: Yeah, but sometimes one fic does cause a crisis, right? It’s not, it’s not the cause, maybe, but it’s the flashpoint.
RP: Yeah, it’s the flashpoint, you know. And so that was a flashpoint, and there were a bunch of conversations about it. That was the thing about, like, in another challenge where—in a kink bingo where miscegenation was a kink. So those flashpoints continue to happen and continue to exist. And when we think about fandom, we don’t think about those, because those are crises that don’t matter. They do matter, of course, but they don’t matter to how we think of fandom’s history.
And so it’s been easy for fans who have seen those, who’ve been there, but they see it as an exception to the norm. They see it as somebody who is being a bad actor, who’s being racist. So it doesn’t reflect on the fandom space as a whole. If you talk to people who are in those spaces, they might remember one or two of those incidents, but they’re not going to think about it as parts of fandom. They’re going to think about it as “Oh, those bad people who did racist things.” And that’s something that the, that my book is trying to kind of shake up and say: “It’s not an exception.” It’s not something that crops up because of bad actors. It’s because it's facilitated by a white-centricity in fandom spaces. Because then the only time we talk about race is when it becomes visible, when there’s a crisis.
ELM: Well, it’s interesting thinking about this as you’re talking, because it’s like—can either of you think of flashpoints around any particular queer issue or around...?
FK: Yes. There were some around—there was one around trans characters and quote “gender bending” or “gender swapping” fics a while back.
ELM: There was a flashpoint? Because that’s a conversation that I feel like—it’s always percolating. You know what I’m trying to draw a distinction between...?
FK: I guess it’s been more like there have been a few littler flashpoints, as opposed to, like, one really big one. Like, I’ve seen a conversation around this fic, and then a conversation around this fic and a conversation around this fic... You’re right, it’s not one.
ELM: That’s interesting because, yeah, in my experience I mostly saw... Whether it’s gender bending or, you know, any conversation about slash in terms of queerness and gay men and et cetera, et cetera, that kind of thing.... It’s just, like, a perpetually bubbling... Or misogyny. It’s not like there was, like, Ladyfail. [laughing] “Why are you always a jerk to the ladies?”
FK: You’re right. This was always below the level that I would say like, “Oh, Transfail.” You know?
RP: That’s very true. Because again, it’s part of fandom.
ELM: Because it’s things that, yeah, white queer fans think about.
RP: It is about what white queer people think about.
FK: It also occurs to me that as fandom has become more and more... More and more connected to the entertainment industry, or rather as the entertainment industry has spent more and more time with fandom... None of these issues, no social issue is ever going to be... “social issue,” listen to me... [laughing]
ELM: Flourish works in the entertainment industry. [laughs]
FK: But you know what I'm saying? I know, right? Like, God. But, you know, race is never going to be a thing that's centered by someone who's trying to make money on a project, unless the project is about race, right? Gender is not, nor is queerness, nor is any of... Nor is class, none of these things are ever going to centered by, like, whatever, the Marvel universe—unless they’re trying to make hay over, like, you know, “Oh, we have this character and it's…” Whatever. “The first trans superhero who’s on TV!” That's not Marvel. But anyway. In those cases it's never goIng to happen; in race, it's also really never gonna happen. It’s really, really never going to happen with, like, a quote “transnational fandom,” because no one wants to admit they have quote “transnational concerns” with the way that they’re creating movies or whatever. That’s not something you want to talk about really, because then it seems weird...
ELM: Wait, hold on. They talk about it all the time. Is it only entertainment journalists who talk about that all the time?
FK: People don’t—they don’t use it in their... People don’t do it in, like, their marketing campaigns or the way that they’re, like, talking to fans about it. I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Do you?
RP: I mean I suppose that they are... yes, they do talk about it when it’s a marketing aspect, but I suppose the whiteness then just is the default. Right? So everything else become an interruption of that.
FK: Right, exactly, it’s perpetuating this.
ELM: Yeah. I was just saying that I feel like they... Maybe it’s not in their marketing, but it’s definitely in their public responses, where they say like, “Oh, well, we don’t feel comfortable doing this queer thing because Chinese people are homophobic,” or “We don’t feel comfortable putting John Boyega’s face bigger on that poster because Chinese people are racist.” I don't know if you heard, but Chinese people are the problem with America.
RP: Yeah, the new thing is to blame China for things.
FK: I usually think about those in terms of like... Because those are usually less about messaging to fans. Right? Like, they’re never going to be, like, “here’s a celebration of this character because they are Black,” unless it's because we're trying to market to Black people. Right? Like, that’s not like a part of the conversation with fans. It’s never a thing. It’s only when... Like, when a company is challenged, and then it’s usually through entertainment journalism, like it’s in Variety or something. But it’s not, like, as part of how they’re trying to talk with fans and create that community. Do you know what I’m saying?
ELM: But it’s actually how they’re talking to fans, by saying shit like that.
RP: Yeah. Yeah. I suppose... I think my other thing about the texts is that actually, that’s actually also one of the reasons why conversations are growing. Because the texts are changing. You could have a theory that fandom was racist in the 1990s, and it was right. [all laugh] But you didn’t have the backup. People would be like, “Look, if there was a black Superman…” And you know, “It’s not about, it’s not about the fact that Clark and Lex are white dudes. It’s because of the dynamic.” And you didn’t really have a comeback for that, because we didn’t have that dynamic that you could show. Right? And say, like, “This is not working in the same way.” But now you do. Now you can say, “Yes, that is a dynamic that is the exact same dynamic,” you know, Han Solo and—uh...
RP: Oh my God—Lando. Han Solo and Lando, right. Like, you cannot get a more fundamental slash dynamic than that.
FK: And historically—and it’s been there.
RP: It’s been there, it’s been there. But if you even wanted to say... that, OK, it wasn’t then... but Solo was. It should have been fandom catnip. You have the history. You have, you know, the very charming actors who do have chemistry in that film. It wasn’t a great film, but when has fandom ever needed a great film?
ELM: [coughs] The Man From U.N.C.L.E. [all laugh] Like, honestly, because this is why I say... I thought Man From U.N.C.L.E. was—it was not good. But people have got real slashy about that! And I’m thinking of, like, that was based on an original dynamic in the original when it was good. And I feel like it was the same with Solo. I thought Solo was a bad film, but the original dynamic was like, that’s a fandom dynamic.
RP: And there was a lot of stuff in Solo that should have sparked off major fandom activity, but it didn’t. Now that you have these texts, that you have these dynamics, nobody can tell me anymore that the problem is not with fandom, it’s the texts. You know? And that’s, I think, also key to how I approach those conversations. I, for the longest time, you know—in my head it was like, “Maybe it’s true. Maybe if the right text came along it would happen.” We, I think, are now at the stage where at least we can put that aside and be like, “That’s not true.” We have enough data to back that up. I mean, of course people still argue against it, but at least there’s more, like—at least in fandom spaces, you can disagree with that and have the backup to make your point. You know, that’s also part of how these conversations are evolving.
FK: I do want to flag something a little bit because I agree with everything that has just been said, but we’ve—
ELM: You also disliked Solo and Man From U.N.C.L.E.?
FK: Yes, but, we have also just been using the word “fandom” to mean very specifically slash fandom in this particular space. You know what I mean? I’m just saying this because another part of me was thinking, “Oh, but, like, there’s…” I can think of a bunch of... Like for instance the fandom around the new Star Trek series, which is not very shipping-y, not very slashy, not very any of this, and yet there’s still very clearly fandom happening. There’s been a bunch of het fandoms around things that again, maybe aren’t reaching the same pitch of... you know, so I don’t disagree with you, but I think that there’s also this challenge of...
RP: Absolutely. I would agree with you. I think I default to that frame because that’s—that’s what I—that’s what the book is about.
FK: [laughs] Absolutely. Sure, sure.
RP: Transformative fanworks and that aspect of fandom. And that’s true. I mean, yes, I’ve said, you know, I’ve referred to Solo, but you know, that’s also true for het fandoms. That’s also true for femslash fandoms, that kind of white-centricity remains true. Which ships become, kind of, juggernauts. I think, I think I tend to get angry, you know, at, at white slash, because white slash tends to... There’s a history of white slash being seen as the home, right, for those who just felt unwelcome in other geek spaces. And part of that is the realization that it wasn’t home. And that’s my own thing. But that’s also true. I’ve talked about, when I’ve discussed femslash fandoms, that’s true for femslash fandoms as well. Many, many fans of color in those spaces are articulating the same issues, and of course het spaces—there’s plenty of conflict around interracial couples and of course, you know, who is seen as endgame and...
FK: And how somehow white men always get involved in all of these [ships] at all times, you know, like, gee.
RP: Yes. So that’s—and the kind and, and again, the evidence is more, just because there are more roles available, more dynamics available. Even, we have Black Lightning right now, you know, which has a lesbian Black character right there. And somehow there’s not much of a f/f, there’s not much f/f interaction with that text. You know, again, that’s something that’s been a continual conversation in there.
You know, we can go back to—I talk about the fact that Santana and Brittany, in Glee, that was a lot of racist fic being written about Santana in particular. And that’s come up in, you know, people analyzing stuff on the Glee kink meme. You know, like, again, there’s enough evidence that there is a—this was an ongoing thing. It’s not located in any one specific part of fandom. It’s just that it continually gets pushed to the side when we frame what these spaces mean. I think that’s also true because of the crisis points in fandom history as a whole. Right? So when do we get asked to talk about fandom? Right, when there is some kind of... You know, when Tumblr is down. Or when...
ELM: Yeah, when did we first ask you on?
RP: Was, the Fandom and Race episode of Fansplaining came when there was—
FK: When there was a crisis.
RP: You know, but you would talk about slash and femslash generally. Right? And it's not something that would necessarily, as you were thinking about... and I’m not saying “you,” I’m talking about generally how it goes. [laughter] Generally when fandoms are being talked about. We talk about, you know. Femslash. Then it’s not like, “OK, who do we have on this,” you know, maybe race wouldn’t come out as a constitutive part of that—even though it is. You know, and it’s like: who is in the room, you know? Who is in the room when we’re talking about this? Whose concerns or experiences are being discussed?
And that continues to be true in all these things, whether academic, whether more just how, you know, how people discuss their fannish histories and continual experiences. And that’s true for everything, you know, that’s true for all aspects of identity that are being talked about in fandom, you know, like ableism and trans issues and all of those things that my work—I’m sure my work has many, many, gaps in it as well. But that’s what I’m also excited about, because again, when I started, I remember I was putting together a bibliography, an indicative bibliography, and like, my supervisor was like, “You clearly have just not done enough work,” you know, “Why is your bibliography on fandom and race this,” you know—
RP: Like, nothing. And I was like, “There’s not a lot.” And you know, now that’s not true. Because, yes, stuff like this is being published, but also because in terms of what fandom scholars... Not fandom scholars, actually. What other scholars in other fields are engaging with fandom studies and challenging the disciplines, frameworks, you know, quite fundamentally. So you know, you have people being like, “There is an entire section of media studies that talks about Black reception studies,” you know, and Black fandoms, right, are very, very foundational to how—you know, how comics fandom has evolved or how sci-fi has evolved or you know, any of those things. And it’s just—I think it just has to build it up to a critical mass where at least in terms of a discipline, you have to lead it, right? Like, so if you’re doing this—even if you’re taking a class on fandom, right? It’s an undergrad class, then it has to become that much of a critical mass that you just have to engage with it.
ELM: And not during race week.
RP: Yes. Not during race week. And in terms of fandom, I think we... I’m not saying that anything is changing. I don’t think anything ever changes very, very fundamentally, but at least we’ve come to the point where—you know, you can’t trot out a very basic understanding of this anymore. That there are enough fans of color and enough non-white fans who are in these spaces who are vocal, and who push back against this one note—of kind of transformative fandom being the be all and end all of progressive politics. That’s very key to how we think about these spaces going forward, and, you know, how even like how podcasts like this would function.
Or how we also engage with media. What, what are the bearings that we get so attached to that we build it, you know, so it's not just all like, “We’re going to do this because it’s a special interest fandom.” It’s a big festival for fans of color or it’s a fic writing thing for characters of color, right? I mean, that continues to happen, but again, that’s an othered space. It seems to be like, “Oh, you’re scoring your social justice cookies.” You know, so that’s why you’re doing it. And I think that somebody said, “You can’t make me, you can’t make me do things.” And, you know, that’s not the point of...
Like, as I said, why I called the book Squee From the Margins is that it’s about squee! It's about this, it's about this—you know, this impulse towards taking enjoyment about the text and within fandom spaces. And for me it’s definitely changed the way I look at media and kind of the characters I gravitate towards, because again, I think part of me at one point was like, “Well, that’s a side character or that character who’s not, whose dynamics are not as engaging.” And that was something that I had to work through internally, because it was something that fandom told me, you know, what was engaging or what wasn’t. And now that I have people who I have found who take joy in Magnus from Shadowhunters, you know, it’s valid, right? So that's also part of the way fandom engagement changes when you’re not just on your own, you know, in a corner. But as perhaps people think about it, it could mean that these don’t remain niche.
I mean, I’m not trying to... [laughs] I’m not going to be like, “Everything will be wonderful,” because I don’t think it will be, but in some ways, in some spaces, in some, you know... There’s a lot of, I think there’s a lot of protectiveness that, that also comes up, sometimes to good effect, sometimes for terrible effect. But there’s a claim to characters of color that is different, I see, now. When Magnus Bane came out, there was a claim to him. There was an understanding that this was a valuable character who was important and people were invested in his arc. So was meta, there was art, there was engagement. And so, and I think that was something that was missing a lot, earlier, that you didn’t feel that you could claim a character like that—because they, you know, weren’t the main character. Or they were a character wasn’t written very well, or they were a character, you know, in the background. And I see that changing more again, texts are changing.
But again, how people engage with those characters, especially fans of color who have found each other... Again, not in a like “We are all going to march behind a flag,” [laughter] but you know, “Hey, this is a cool show that looks really interesting because it has got characters of color in it—let’s watch and engage and, you know, fight about it.” “Obviously I disagree because clearly you’re completely wrong about this character and his motivations or her motivations.” There’s that sense of engagement around it. So there’s wank, you know, and that’s as much a part of fandom as anything else.
ELM: OK. So we’re running short on time, so we should probably wrap up soon, but I just—I want to end the conversation by, you know, we’ve been talking about your book the whole time, but I would really love to just talk about it for a few minutes. A lot of our listeners are interested in fan studies, but are not involved in academia. Maybe they don’t feel like that’s an accessible space to them. And you know, I think your book is very accessible, but I also, I’m maybe... We’re all, we’re all biased here a little bit. But I’m wondering if you could just talk a little bit about it. Because I’ve read it, I feel like you were talking about it the whole time, but people who haven’t read it may not realize…
FK: Yeah, maybe give us a, like, scaffolding, so people understand what they’re getting into when they go buy it—which everyone’s totally going to do at the end.
RP: Yes, please buy it! The book is definitely engaging with academic literature around the field, because, I mean, it is meant to be part of a broader range of texts that hopefully will contribute to fan studies as an academic discipline, and [it] also talks to other fields as well within that. So that is definitely... I don’t want to say that that's not the frame to that, that’s not the frame that it’s in. But I do... The book is basically trying to chart a way through thinking about fandom spaces, as always having been constructed with notions of race and culture and ethnicity and the various ways that that has manifested.
So, the first chapter really talks about what is the history of fandom, and how does, how do non-white fans figure in that history and how have they been ignored. So it’s... And I think the good part about the book is that it does have narratives from fans, both in in terms of my interviews, and also in terms of kind of the public posts that have been made about people talking about various aspects about race and fandom. And so that’s very much part of the... I really wanted to kind of give the space to, you know, different ideas of fandom and how people have interacted in it. So that’s, I think, a very engaging part of it, in terms of fan narratives themselves. And of course I analyze them and I try to kind of contextualize them, but they do tell a story in themselves as well.
And then I kind of look at fandom as a post-colonial cyberspace, which is in essence really: What is, what are the conversations that are happening in terms, around representation, in terms of power, in terms of this idea of talking back. And I think, you know, most, people who are in fandom recognize this idea of “talking back to texts” and making space for different iterations of, then, gender and sexuality. And I want to talk about how that has not, so far, has not really taken into account race, culture, ethnicity, religion—how those conversations have been happening as well. So we need to think about that aspect of fandom spaces.
I then go on to, I think it’s Chapter 4 where I kind of talk about—I mean, I call it the fandom algorithm... But mainly ask people to think about how does fandom work? So you know, how do we think about the... Both the technical and the kind of communitarian norms, like the community norms that we think make up transformative media fandom. For me, that’s my favorite part of the book, because that’s really where a lot of my ideas came together, I think in the most kind of clear form. Where I talk about, you know, this is what we think about fandom—how fandom works in terms of fandom versus canon, you know, fandom versus, you know, this idea of multiplicity. So canon is restricted and, you know, fandom is where everybody goes and finds everything they want, all permutations, all combinations, all ships, all kinks—and how that’s not quite true, and especially when we start bringing race into the conversation. And also how we think of these norms, that is, “ship and let ship,” and you know, “your kink is not my kink and that’s OK”... In a broader sense, yeah, they make sense, but they also can tend to push back moments of, as we’ve talked about, moments of crisis. In terms of, you know, looking at them as individual aspects of, you know, “Oh, that happened in that fandom. But it has nothing to do with me.”
And so I tried to bring those together as a narrative of, “No, this happens because of the fact that we want to think that it’s a few bad actors, because it goes against what we conceptualize of this space that a lot of us come to from geek spaces that are, you know, more visibly unfriendly.” And so we are protective and we want to believe that is what it is. I show how fans of color themselves go through this journey of, “Oh, this is the space where I can do my stuff, my thing with other people who are like me,” and then come to the conclusion that it’s not... The characters that aren’t white just don’t get the same traction.
So, then I finally kind of ended up in with a discussion of fanfiction and the kink meme in particular. Because that’s, you know, one of those spaces where porn and kink and pleasure is sometimes seen as outside, you know... So we don’t, we don’t want to discuss, “Oh, now everything is problematic. Now we can’t take pleasure in anything.” Pleasure. Right, whose pleasure? When we talk about pleasure, it’s never just undifferentiated. So that’s the last part of the book, where I try to talk about—how do we think about, like... Fannish kink is seen as more broad-ranging, as more inclusive, and again, with the sense of multiplicity. And that’s true for some parts of it, but it does remain very enmeshed in, like... Who gets access, right, to this expansive notion of sexuality? And it’s usually white characters. Their whiteness is part of the kink. So it’s already part of it. It’s not divorced from it. It’s not divorced from the pleasure that you get from it. And that’s just something that needs to be talked about more. Basically what the book does.
ELM: I think that’s a fantastic summary. I don’t know, I strongly encourage people to go buy it, but honestly like, yeah. And I think, I mean, I don’t want to put too fine a point on it by being like “Academic writing is scary!” Because it’s not. But it can be, but this is like, you know...
RP: I tend to not be a very jargony writer. I’ve run into problems with that in grad school, because they're like, “You’re not using enough theory!” And I’m like, “I just want people to understand what I’m saying!”
ELM: To literally read the words and be like, “Oh, I understand those words.”
FK: I think that one thing that would really... I do think that people would not just enjoy the book but also sort of benefit from it in that, a lot of times when we’ve had you on in the past—and also sort of whenever fans of color’s voices really float to the top, just like you’ve said, it’s been in crisis points. And it seems to me like this book puts things in a different light, right? Because it’s about the reading of all of fandom—but not in a moment where people are necessarily feeling defensive or “I fucked up and now I have to do it.” So I really like encouraging people to go read it now, like, at a moment when there’s lots of crisis, but it’s not crisis around racism! Like, literally while we’re recording this right now. I mean, like, there’s not a flashpoint—that I know of—happening at this moment. So like, go read that and think about it if you’re white, and if you're not white, maybe also! Because like I’m sure that...I can’t speak to that, but I feel like it’s probably relevant there also.
RP: I would love that. I love, I mean non-white fans are why this book exists. So, that's my dedication at the start of it. That is why this book exists and that is my community, you know, as well. So I hope that I have been—I’m sure I have fucked up. There are many things that—and I hope that, you know, I do hope that people find value in it as well. In terms of a reflection of some part of of their experiences. Obviously not all of it, but some part of it. And hopefully that becomes part of critical thinking about where we’re at.
ELM: Absolutely. Is “trailblazer” a problematic word? [all laugh] There must be a better term! Every term I just thought of is, like, “explorer,” just turned problematic really fast...
FK: Trailblazing does not necessarily imply that there’s, like...
ELM: Like my uncle who takes a machete up the mountain and won’t take the regular path. Is that problematic for forest management? Possibly. And for his health? Yes. But...
FK: I’m, like, this close to mocking this conversation right now. I can’t decide whether this is a valid and really important discussion to have, or whether I should just roundly mock everybody involved in this and the fact that we would even be thinking about this.
ELM: You know, you can’t use “pioneer,” like, but you know what I mean? I really feel like you are...
FK: You’re quite right!
RP: It’s the limitations of language as well.
FK: It’s hard!
ELM: But yeah, I just... whatever. Say that, like, “Oh, I’m sure I got something wrong,” or whatever, like, but you are leading this conversation, and I found that so valuable. You are building the structures that like more and more scholars will be able to—and fans, too—will be able to have these conversations on.
RP: Thank you! I just want to, like, shout out to the people who, you know, again, the scholars who made it possible. People like Rebecca Wanzo, who really changed the way I thought about fandom and how, you know, the histories of fandom that I was thinking about. There’s Kristen Warner, you know, so many, so many wonderful Black academics in particular who are doing the work. I hope this contextualizes it because, again, their work is not seen as fan studies work. It very much is, but it’s not seen as that. But since I kind of, like—I’ve kind of engaged with the discipline in a different way, I hope that this book then becomes, again, a pathway to people engaging with that work as well.
ELM: So you’re like a bridge builder.
RP: I hope so!
FK: There we go! We got it, we got that one.
ELM: So yeah—make sure you give us some links to their work. We’ll make sure it’s in the show notes too.
RP: I’ll send it across. Thank you so much for having me!
ELM: Thank you so much for coming on!
RP: It’s been wonderful to talk to you, as usual!
FK: We look forward to having you on again so that you will, you know, really formally be the most, you know.
ELM: No, yeah. Like we had Javi Grillo-Marxuach, he’s been on twice, and he said he wanted to be the Tom Hanks of this podcast.
FK: So you have competition!
ELM: If you want to fight him... [all laughing]
RP: It’s always a pleasure talking to you guys. Thank you so much.
FK: It was so good to have Rukmini on!
ELM: Agree. Hard agree! Yeah. I mean like, selfishly, you know, I’m really grateful I got to read the book... “selfish,” ha, maybe it’s not selfish. Whatever. I’m really grateful this book is out there. Like, you know, I know I dug us into an awkward linguistic, language hole by talking about her being a trailblazer or something like that. But, like, I really do think it is! These works are like—just as she was talking about Rebecca Wanzo before her, like... She hadn’t known or had the tools to frame experiences that she had had in fandom, and like, this gave her frameworks. And I really feel like this framework is going to open up a lot, especially for fans of color who are interested in fan studies. Right? Because it's like... It’s really hard to, you know, obviously not speaking for fans of color, but it’s hard to go into a space where you aren’t sure if anyone's doing that kind of work, and you can think, “I can’t break it up,” right. But if someone sets up some frameworks—academia is all about building on what other scholarship that’s been done.
FK: And having those frameworks continue not just when you're in a point of crisis. I thought that was one of the things that was really great that Rukmini said, and something that I don’t think that I had fully... I mean, not that I didn’t know it intellectually, but I don’t think I fully appreciated until we just had this conversation. Like, you know, it’s easy to say, “Oh yeah, whenever, if we only talk about race when we’re at a time of crisis, like, that's no good.” But I guess I hadn’t thought as much about it as... As sort of: Queer issues are the theoretical underpinning of the way people talk about fan studies, but race isn’t, and why is that? You know, and how can we change that, because it’s not like that shapes people’s lives any less than their sexual orientation, right? [laughs] Like, obviously not. But we should talk about Tumblr, because we said we were going to, very quickly.
ELM: Ohgod.tumblr.com. This whole thing has been a nightmare. So to clarify: here’s some of the things that I wrote in a response post which you signed off on and had an addendum to—and I think we still stand by them. One: this is why the OTW owns servers. One A: like, fandom history online is one of purges, and that is because the rights holders didn’t like the fan activity, or because the platform didn’t want to be liable to that kind of pressure from rights holders, that kind of thing. Or we’re worried about angering advertisers, that kind of thing. Right? That’s one. Two, no social media company is an archive and no social media company owes you an archive.
FK: I might frame it more like “No social media company is your friend that is just there,” right?
ELM: No, no, that’s different. That’s a different point. Archives are not your friends either. Like, I love archives. I’d love to hug an archive, but like... Archiving...
FK: They’re, they’re related points but they’re different points.
ELM: No one is going to archive this for you. And so one thing I wrote, and I really stand by this, is like, you know... Social media platforms, in theory, until they shut down, kind of give you a limitless repository for your stuff. Right? And archiving actually asks you to choose: do you want, do you want to save all this? You know, like, do I—what would you put in a photo album, versus I’m just going to have 9,000 pictures, like, shitty pictures of my trip, you know, like: what would you choose to save? Are you really going to look back at all those replies?
Yeah, and if you want that—and I know that it’s a hard decision to make—but like... One thing through this whole thing I was saying that I really appreciate about some more recent social media platforms, is they're built on the ephemerality. I think that kind of actually changes... Social media is so many things. Right? But one thing that’s really interesting about Instagram stories or Snapchat is the kind of like: “I’m just saying this, here it is,” and you know, like, if you happen to see it...
FK: And it weirds me out that now you have Instagram story archives for your own stuff and it’s like...
ELM: That, see, that’s—why? Like, just accept it. Like, you know, if you call someone on the phone just to chat, are you recording the conversation? You know? It gets so jumbled for us because, you know, like we want our written chats to be saved, but why? Because if I’m going to go to lunch with you, I’ll be like, “I remember we had a really great conversation.” Do I wish I had videoed our conversation?
FK: Yeah, I have a lot of questions about this too. I mean, like, just because I know some people who have saved their chats and I have not. I’m, like, an active anti... I archive things that I care to keep, but I’m also an active purger, like, a very active purger of my life. And people will bring up shit from our chat history and I’m like, “Nope, not today, Satan.” [ELM laughs] Like, I don’t look at that because I don’t want to. I don’t want to remember what our relationship was like in that moment, because I didn’t choose to archive it. Probably for a reason. Like, I don’t need to hold that grudge, I don’t need to, you know?
ELM: Right. I think about this too, you know? Sometimes it feels slightly hypocritical because it's like... So, I think I mentioned on the podcast before, but my best friend in college was killed when we were a year out of college. And you think about, like, social media platforms. this was in 2008. And so definitely that previous decade was marked by a lot of like things getting lost. We were all switching from—you know, I actually did import all my emails, so like, half our emails are just very mundane kind of... You know, some of them are not. But, like, pictures were definitely lost over those previous five years, just because of the time and getting a new computer and you know, all that stuff.
And sometimes I think about it and I'll just be like, you know, “Oh, I wish I had more of her.” And then I’m like, “You know what, I kind of have exactly what I want.” What, am I going to sit here and, you know... Like, I think about her a lot, but I’d kind of rather think about her than, like, read old instant messages or something like that. And like the things that I would truly want, which would be, like, a voicemail or something—I don’t have. So it is what it is and that’s sad. And that’s a part of life, but you know, so it’s like, I understand why you might want to save some stuff, but like... I don’t know why I went down this path, but I really just have some feelings about archives.
FK: I feel like this is partially like... I think this is partially about sort of the process, right? It’s been a little while since the initial outrage that we all felt, I think, and the initial breakdowns and people going “Oh shit.” And realizing like all of the ways that this is going to impact people and...
ELM: Wait. Did you feel outrage? I didn’t feel any outrage.
FK: A lot of people felt outrage. I was too old and tired to feel outrage.
ELM: Me too.
FK: But I recognize how people did and I feel like that was a point that many... I just jumped over it. But lots of people felt it and that’s fine.
ELM: I was just like, “This was a foolish decision.”
FK: But I’d also like, you know, predicated my entire Tumblr existence on assuming this would happen, so whatever. But now I think both we and a lot of other people—like, the tenor right now is very much about like, “Well, what’s going to happen on the 17th when everything shuts—gets wiped, or shut down or…”
ELM: I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to celebrate my birthday.
FK: Uh, yes. Well, that’s true. But you know what I’m saying.
ELM: Now I’ve announced it to thousands of people. [laughs]
FK: We’re all thinking about what we want to keep and what we want to, you know, what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of. I think that’s the place a lot of people are. So I’m looking forward to finding out how we feel about this, and maybe we’ll have more perspective when we look at Fandom Year In Review, and then, you know, in the new year when we talk with Casey. Because I think that we’ll probably have very different things that we want to highlight and, you know, that are on top of our minds. Just like literally right now, what was on top of our minds was like “What are you keeping, what are you archiving, what are you throwing away?” ELM: Yeah. And then one of the final points that I made in there too, it’s like: all right, so fandom is not Tumblr. Fandom does not equal sign Tumblr.
FK: And also, Tumblr does not equal sign fandom.
ELM: Exactly. That goes in both directions.
FK: And nor does porn on Tumblr equal sign fandom, which is I think a very important point.
ELM: Right. So, like lots and lots of people in fandom have never used Tumblr. Lots of people on Tumblr in fandom have complained to me, over the last five years, that they don’t get Tumblr, they don’t like it, they’re grudgingly on there, they think it’s a piece of shit... I was on Tumblr in a non-fandom way first. I like Tumblr, I like the broader community, the one that, like, intersects with fandom, but it’s also just kind of about an ethos, and there’s definitely a Tumblr culture, right? And fandom is a part of that, but it’s not all-inclusive.
FK: It’s not just that.
ELM: And I liked that. I think there’s some really funny shit on Tumblr, right? Like, there’s some creative people. There are some funny exchanges. It is a really interesting space to look at. Like, I wrote my master’s dissertation on Tumblr. That being said, lots and lots of people don’t like it, and I think it’s a little disingenuous to talk about it, like... You can be mad about it, but to say, like, “Well, where do I go now?” And it’s like, “You didn’t even like this!” [FK laughs] So why were you here? Because you felt like you had to be here? And if so, like, what do you want out of fandom? Is it like, do you want to talk to your friends? Then message your friends and say, like, “Where should we go? Should we, should we be using Dreamwidth? Should we be creating a Slack?” You know, that’s a thing! I’ve been saying to people, like, my current personal fannish activity is reading fanfiction on the AO3 and then texting or DMing a couple different people. That’s it. And that’s all.
FK: Valid life choices.
ELM: That’s what I want right now. Right? Like, you do a lot in a private Slack.
FK: Yeah. It’s true.
ELM: And those are really valid ways to be. So you don’t feel the need to dive into the tags of Reylo on Tumblr, I feel like you probably don’t want to do that at all.
FK: No, there’s no way that I would have any desire to do that. Sorry Reylos, but we all know that that is a place where [funny voice] there be dragons.
ELM: Number two ship of the year, though. Congrats!
ELM: So. So I just, I just think that people... I just think that people, as they’re also thinking about, like, “What do I want to save,” if they are leaving the platform, think about, like, what they want to do. And one thing, I shared that post—we should, put in the links, there's a post with a bunch of different websites, and people were making fun of it because—they were like, “Some of these have literally no similarity to Tumblr, other than, like, being websites where you can put content.” And I agree with that, but I actually think it's kind of an interesting exercise. Because you could say, like, “Oh, do I want to create a Wordpress blog?” Like, do I just want to write some meta?
FK: Yeah! Maybe I genuinely, genuinely, I would rather do that.
ELM: “Oh, do I…” Like, someone was saying in my mentions at one point, “I’ve been using Pinterest more and more.” And I was like, are you finding other fans? Or are you just saving images you like? And they were like, “Oh, the latter,” you know, because some people use Tumblr that way. They’re not trying to meet new people, they're just, like, reblogging stuff they think is beautiful. There’s a lot of sites where you can do that, Pinterest being a big one of them, you know.
FK: And Pinterest, by the way, does not deserve all the shit it gets. Like, I think Pinterest is interesting in a lot of ways, for what it’s worth.
ELM: Yes, I agree.
FK: As long as you can get outside of the wedding industrial complex.
ELM: Yeah. I think that the critiques of Pinterest are rooted in misogyny and every website has the wedding industrial complex.
FK: That is very true. Although I will say that it is, Pinterest is a lot on that.
ELM: Sure. But so is facebook.com.
FK: Oh God. In a different way, but yeah, absolutely.
ELM: Yeah. So anyway, these are some initial thoughts. I just think that people just for right now, you should sit tight and if you want to archive your Tumblr, do it. There’s lot of tools. We’ll put some in the links, but other than that—I know it’s difficult to say “Just hold on,” but like, I think that we have to. Because we have no idea what's going to happen. They may... I’m not gonna say they may change their minds, but they may modify their policy. It may get worse, you know, like... I dunno.
FK: We’re gonna find out how their AIs really do get trained. We’ll know soon.
ELM: They may realize that this is nuking the site and they may try to figure out a different solution. They might not, and there’s nothing you can do except control your own content, and make sure you have contact information for anyone that you only know from Tumblr that you wanna be in contact with. End of story.
FK: All right, well, on that slightly depressing note, I think that we should wrap up.
FK: We should wrapup.tumblr.com. So we recently released a brand new special episode! About The Favourite, which was definitely my favorite movie of the year.
ELM: Me too!
FK: So we loved it and we talk about a lot of things.
ELM: I’m going to see it for a second time. Do you want to come?
FK: Oh, I don’t think I have time.
ELM: Yeah. My friend just texted me and they’re like, “Have you seen it yet?” And I was like, “Opening weekend, you fools! But I would see it again.”
FK: That’s great. OK. So people, you should become a Patreon patron to get access to that. $3 a month or more will get you access. There’s also good stuff if you only have $1 or $2 a month, there are many tiers of Patreon support. So give it a look and consider it and [in a dopey voice] listen to our thoughts on The Favourite.
ELM: You just sounded like Jason from The Good Place.
FK: That was kind of intentional!
ELM: Because you’d be like [imitating Jason] “Our thoughts on Donkey Doug.”
FK: Did you see the most recent Good Place?
ELM: I am saving it for a moment when my neighbor's not being a douchebag. Shout out to my douchebag neighbor! What a douchebag!
FK: Well, the new Good Place episode—just for everyone’s understanding—it is a fucking delight.
ELM: The Janet one, yeah?
FK: You are going to lose... Yeah.
ELM: I love Janet.
FK: No, you don’t understand how great this episode is! You’re going to be like “Oh, it’s great!” OK. Um, you should call in and give us your thoughts. This is now not you, Elizabeth. This is now the listener.
ELM: I’ll call you.
FK: You can call me whenever you want, but listeners can call us at 1-401-526...
ELM: I don’t need it to be recorded though.
FK: ...3267, which is 1-401-526-FANS. And you can leave us a voicemail and we’ll play it and respond to it on the air. And that will be great. Don’t do that unless you want us to play it on the air, because we’re definitely gonna play on the air unless you tell us not to.
ELM: Yeah. And if you don’t want us to play on the air, you should probably just write us at gmail.com.
FK: Yeah, firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELM: Otherwise we have to, like, transcribe your words, and it’s just creating..
FK: But you can do that also if you want us to read your email! email@example.com. Or as long as the blue Hell-site is still up, you can leave us an ask in our Tumblr ask box. That’s a really good way to leave us an anonymous question.
ELM: Nothing explicit, of course.
FK: Nothing explicit, of course. Or did you see this? Or if you do want to show us something explicit, like for instance the torso of a man...
ELM: I saw this!
FK: ...then put a little owl next to it. That’ll be great. That’s good. Totally make it OK.
ELM: At 50% scale, I believe it was.
FK: Yes. Yes. OK. And what else? Is there anything else?
ELM: You could Tweet at us @fansplaining. You can message us on Facebook. I don’t know why you would do that.
FK: Don’t do that.
ELM: We are on Instagram, @fansplaining, we won’t archive... You archived our stories.
FK: It doesn’t give you an option; it all automatically archives.
ELM: Instagram really letting me down. Also, if you don’t have any money, but you would like to support us, two of the best ways: rating us on iTunes or wherever. If you listen somewhere else...
FK: Wherever fine podcasts are found!
ELM: Yeah. Like, if there’s a way to rate and review us—on iTunes in particular that’s really helpful. And then also if you tell other people, especially if you have friends who don’t like podcasts—we have transcripts! We have a lot of readers of this podcast, and so we are working on getting those out to you right when we get out the audio. Flourish has been doin’ a great job.
FK: I’ve been doin’ my best!
ELM: With the help of temi.com! So. And you’ll be excited to know that while we’re currently hosted on Tumblr, by the new year, I think we can guarantee... We are making that happen.
FK: [laughing] Yeah, we have to! We have to, now!
ELM: We are currently building out fansplaining.com.
FK: We can’t drag our feet anymore. It’s not possible.
ELM: Yeah. So. So definitely we’ll let you know about that. We, as long as Tumblr exists, we’ll still post—you know, we’ll say “new episode” there, just like we say on Twitter, but we will be hosting everything on the brand new fansplaining.com. Which is good, because Tumblr keeps eating all of our links. Another problem.
FK: I know. I just had to go in and fix things again today, by the way. [ELM groans] Yep.
ELM: You should have put a 50% scale owl.
FK: A 50% size owl on our episode page!
ELM: That would keep it. So cute.
FK: So, yes. And if you notice that a link has been eaten on our Tumblr, please tell us. It’s not us. It is Tumblr.
ELM: It might be us. Sometimes, Flourish doesn’t do things correctly. [laughs]
FK: But just tell us and we’ll fix it.
ELM: Yeah, no. Tell us! We haven’t noticed. If you see a problem, we would like to be told.
FK: Please tell us. We would like to know. We always fix them, whoever’s fault they are, and I swear to God... But anyway.
ELM: Dot flourish.tumblr.com. [both laughing]
FK: All right, I’m gonna talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: All right, bye Flourish.
Elizabeth and Flourish: 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, Stephanie Burt, and in honor of One Direction and Captain James McGraw Flint.
FK: As always, our intro music is “Awel” by Stefsax. This week’s Creative Commons licensed interstitial music is by Lee Rosevere. Both are used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Find out more details in the show notes.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are not our clients’, or our employers’, or anyone’s except our own.