Episode 92: Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 3
In Episode 92, “Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 3,” Elizabeth and Flourish read and play another batch of listener letters and voicemails. Topics covered include fandom’s future platforms, TV revivals, the dehumanizing aspects of RPF, and a return to The Discourse Trilogy™, from parallels with American fundamentalist church culture to the relationship between purity discourse and happy endings.
[00:01:27] Casey Fiesler was featured most recently in Episode 91.
[00:06:46] Rukmini Pande was featured most recently in Episode 89.
[00:10:12] The reference is to Episode 32, “Nerds For Her.”
[00:12:20] If you thought Elizabeth was exaggerating the level of desperation at NBC, we assure you she was not.
[00:13:52] Candice Bergen said that Murphy Brown returned thanks to the 2016 election in several interviews; here’s one example, in an interview with CBS News.
[00:14:52] In case you’re unfamiliar, Go Set a Watchman was so controversial that The New York Times published an article called “The Harper Lee ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Fraud.”
[00:23:41] Freeform eventually apologized on Twitter:
[00:25:10] The term Elizabeth is looking for is “bang paths,” and you can read the thread she’s referring to here.
[00:31:45] Reading the Romance is by Janice Radway.
[00:34:11] Episode 84, “Purity Culture.”
[00:39:22] You can listen to our episode about Primary Colors by pledging to our Patreon!
[00:41:31] We’re referring to Episode 87, “What We Discourse About When We Discourse About The Discourse.”
[00:50:26] The article from The Atlantic that Elizabeth is referring to is “Breaking Faith” by Peter Beinart.
[00:55:06] In 2016, Devin Faraci wrote an awful article about why he hates coffeeshop AUs (and other things female fans do). Unrelatedly, he was later accused of sexual assault and more or less run out of town on a rail.
[00:56:12] The “rules to avoid gross shipping” are here—the original poster has deleted them, but you can see them in the context of threads discussing them.
[01:02:26] Want to try Audacity? It’s totally free!
Flourish Klink: Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is episode number 92: Ask Fansplaining Anything, Part Three.
FK: Yeah, we’ve done two before.
ELM: That’s why we called it “Part Three”!
FK: [laughs] Yeah, OK, I’m a little Captain Obvious today. That’s fine.
ELM: Fine, fine.
FK: All right, so if you have not listened to one of these episodes before, this is what we call our episodes where we answer a bunch of questions from listeners. We answer questions all the time, too, in our other episodes, but we’ve got a particularly large number and we are going to sock it to you. Go right through ’em.
ELM: [laughs] “Sock it to you.” Yeah. This is also, as we said in the last episode, a chance for people to ask and us to answer some stuff that, you know—questions that aren’t just responses to topics that we’ve covered. We get some random questions in our inbox…though, actually, most of the questions we’re going to be talking about are related to things that we’ve been talking about a lot. In particular, purity culture. Which we’ll devote most of the latter half of this episode to.
FK: Yeah, but we don’t have to get there yet. So actually, our first question is related to our last episode, which was an interview with Casey Fiesler, and we talked a lot about platforms.
ELM: Actually, I think this one came in before we put that episode out. I think people are just thinking about platforms.
FK: They’re all—it’s, like, in the zeitgeist.
ELM: It is in the zeitgeist.
FK: Great. OK. Shall I read it?
FK: OK. “What future shifts in platform functions do you see as coming and/or necessary? For instance, the move from LiveJournal to Tumblr sort of democratized engagement. You now don’t have to produce or create to participate, because you can post tags, reblog with comments, et cetera, all publicly. But we also lost the moderated community element, not to mention the friends-only or closed-community modes. Inasmuch as these things are hard to predict, what do you think could be useful or detrimental?” And that’s from stars-inthe-sky.
ELM: This question, I think, hits on some of the stuff that I think is often absent from the platform conversation and that frustrates me. They’re things that I think that we should be talking about whenever we talk about platforms. This is user behavior—this is how the platforms themselves change the way that people can engage with fandom and we...you know, just as we were talking about last week, Casey…er, last episode, Casey was talking about, you know, these kind of false narratives in the sense of, like, “We went from X to Y to Z,” when it was actually like, “Oh, well, at this moment, people were using this as an archive and this as a conversation tool,” and the idea that there was this unified space is actually pretty false, because it goes back and forth in different waves. You know? And I think people tend to really overlook how much the structure and design of platforms actually shapes behavior and who has access to these spaces.
FK: I agree. I think also people focus on the big elements of a platform—like Tumblr lets you upload images which LiveJournal did not—and spend less time thinking about the other affordances of the platform unless it particularly bothers them one way or the other. Right? These, these discussions are about this...sort of top-line issues, but those little decisions are the ones that really impact fandom. Right?
ELM: I’m going to push back a little bit on what you just said. I think the fact that Tumblr privileges images and makes it so easy to share images has been an extraordinarily massive force that has shaped fandom as we know it right now.
FK: I agree. I think that that’s part of a larger trend towards images, though—it’s not just Tumblr. What I would say is more impactful is the way that it makes it easy to spread them. The fact that the images are easy to upload—although that was the thing that got a lot of people onto Tumblr—is actually less impactful, I think, than the fact that you can reblog them.
ELM: Sure. Oh no, I’m not, I’m not saying—I don’t separate those two things out.
FK: OK, so I was trying to separate those things out because I think that when people enter a platform, they say, “Oh, I went over to Instagram because”—back when Instagram first came out—“look at these weird filters,” right? But actually, the things that are important about Instagram and the way they shape your understanding of it have to do with the fact that you see a stream of single images that are all square, that you cannot write other kinds of things, that it has these very limited functionalities, et cetera. Right? So the thing that’s held out to you, the shiny thing people are focused on, is not actually the thing that's driving what shapes that platform as much.
ELM: OK. But I just think that like…I think that that can be a little hairsplitting here. I think that we’re talking about, to say that posting versus reblogging… That all fits together.
FK: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’m not trying to say this is…the reason that I bring this up is because I think the question of what could be useful is a much larger and more complex question. Because if you say “What could be useful?” Often people will come up with things like “I want to be able to be anonymous,” and obviously that’s a huge deal—whether people can be anonymous or not. But if you can be anonymous but only in…you know, whatever, only in X context, or only by posting images but not text on Imgur [pronouncing it “im-gur”] or something…I mean, you can post text on Imgur. Anyway. You know, these kinds of things actually all…
ELM: Do people say “im-gur”?
FK: Well, how do you say it?
FK: “Imager.” Holy shit. It’s supposed to be “imager”!
ELM: That’s what I thought. I’ve never heard anyone say it…
FK: [laughing] It definitely should be “imager” and I’ve never…I don’t think I hear people say out loud very often. My mind’s blown. Thank you stars-inthe-sky. You just taught me something.
ELM: [spluttering] I was the one who said it out loud! Don’t thank stars-inthe-sky for that! That’s me! I’ve said it out loud with my coworkers and we have said “imager” out loud to each other, so that’s a few other people, but we are reinforcing each other because it’s like, just us.
FK: No, but it makes much more sense than whatever my weird ass…
ELM: But never forget: Ko-fi [pronounced “koh-feye”].
FK: Never forget—“koh-feye” forever. OK.
ELM: So I just think—I think that this is a hard question, too, because just what you said, you know, people wanting to be anonymous…the thing that frustrates me about the “We should go back to Dreamwidth” or “we should try to recreate LiveJournal”—and I’ve seen some good commentary on this, and I’m speaking as a representative for lurkers, once again, a very loud lurker representative—just as stars-inthe-sky is talking about, like, Tumblr actually allowed people who never would be able to contribute in any way whatsoever on LiveJournal, because they didn’t feel comfortable leaving a comment…you know, you can hit “like” on Tumblr and you’re at least interacting with the original creator. I mean, it’s not much, but on LiveJournal it’s all or nothing. You comment or nothing. Right? And so a kind of return to that sort of space...
It just makes me think of our conversation with Rukmini, too, talking about how Tumblr opened up conversations. And when you had smaller closed conversations, it was easier for people to say, “Oh no, we don’t talk about those kinds of things here.” And for people who want to say, you know, from Rukmini’s perspective, people who really want to say, “Hey, let’s talk about race and let’s talk about racism.” And people could say “That’s not…” You know, in the dinner party versus coffee shop metaphor, it’s like, “Well, we don’t talk about that at this dinner party.” You know, like, “We’re just here to be friends and talk about the stuff we love.” And then that person sitting there being like, “But this is racist,” you know, like, that kind of thing. Right? Like—it’s really hard.
FK: For sure. I do think, however, that one of the things that’s hard about it is holding that in balance with the need and desire for some more privacy, right? For the need and desire to keep things from getting so out of context that they turn into giant shit shows on Tumblr, and also the need and desire to be able to have privacy in a situation where we’ve got these sort of very large corporate platforms that are selling your data—and people buying your data—and, you know, having the ability to have a friends-only or closed-community situation does have benefits with regard to that. So…but it seems to say what could be useful or detrimental is really hard, because number one, we might not see fandom in the way everyone else does. Number two, how do we really know? Number three, this is a tension that I think is, is held forever through all communities.
ELM: Yeah. I feel like what I would actually say, I just feel like—and this is how I feel about the entire web right now—I think we need to have a serious period of decentralization. I think that the idea that there is going to be a one-size-fits-all platform in any context, you know…especially with corporate owned platforms. Then you get into this, they’re inevitably gonna ahead in the Facebook direction or, you know, the commercial side, the non-social-media side is the march of Amazon, right? The idea of, like, “We’re going to get you in our room and then this room is going to be everything to you.” And you can see the places where Facebook has tried to do that and has failed, you know, the Facebook Marketplace and things like that. But especially if you are a guest on a commercial social media site, you have to know that as they try to make it a one-size-fits-all, this-is-the-only-place-you-need-to-be, you know, they’re going to start moving you in that direction that they want you to be in. Right? And I wish there was a way to break down those structures. And maybe that’s the solution, if we can have…I don’t know why everyone has to be all in one place.
FK: This I agree with. So. OK. We can agree: decentralization, we think that that would be a positive. Is that a pin?
ELM: [laughs] You started to say that like you were gonna say “But…” But you just wanted to say “I agree.”
FK: Yeah! I just want to say I agree. I agree, Elizabeth, we agree.
ELM: Yeah, we could talk about platforms for another hour so I don’t think we should go too much into it. But yeah, I think that thinking about decentralization, thinking about the idea that one thing doesn’t need to be the thing—I think would be really healthy for fan culture at large. Being able to say, “Well, I don’t like what they're doing over there, but I also don’t like what they’re doing over there” and vice versa. I dunno why I seem so negative. “I like what they’re doing over there, but I also like what they’re doing over there.”
FK: Great! Now you turned it around. Made it positive.
FK: All right. We should actually read the next question so we can get to all of them. Um, do you want to read this one?
ELM: Yes, I will do it! So this is from an anonymous person—I think, was this on Tumblr?
ELM: All right. Anon on Tumblr asks: “I’ve been catching up with the podcast by jumping around, i.e. not necessarily listening in chronological order. Today I landed in Fall 2016. Ugh.” Yeah. That makes me feel ugh as well. “Episode 32, ‘Nerds For Her,’ was hard to listen to, though I came out of it more inspired than depressed.” Ooh! “Thank you.” The anon person says thank you, but I also say thank you. [FK laughs]
“Towards the end of the episode, towards the end of Episode 34, y’all name checked three shows—Roseanne, Murphy Brown, and Twin Peaks—all of which had been recently revived with some or most of the original casts. In case you’ve not really covered this already in a later episode, what are your thoughts about this trend? Fan pressure definitely contributed to their returns. Has the fan–creator power dynamic changed? How do different fandoms react to the addition of new canon? How is it for different properties—for example, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Harry Potter—that never seemed to have left the public consciousness?”
FK: Well. I want to push back a little bit on this question’s framing. Not on the, like, ideas behind it, because I think that there’s—I think it\’s a good question, but on the idea that fan pressure contributed to their returns.
FK: Because I would say that fan pressure did not contribute to their returns. Yes, there were a lot of people who said, “Oh, Twin Peaks, hey, it’s been 30 years, so obviously it’s time to go back to the land of Twin Peaks." True. Great. Wonderful. But that’s actually just fan expression of interest, and that’s the thing, if anything, fans did—it’s not like there were massive save-our-show campaigns.
FK: Right. Or, or, you know, I mean, there’s really no way that fans could be creating pressure. There’s a lot of reasons why you would reboot any of these shows, just from the existence of an audience that is still interested in them, without any pressure involved. And that’s what I think happened. So I just want to push back on that, because I feel like sometimes we act like fan pressure is this big thing—and it can be, but in this case it’s just the same way they would reboot anything.
ELM: Well, so here’s what I interpreted, especially for Murphy Brown and Roseanne—and you can tell if this is wrong from your perspective inside the entertainment industry. Cause Twin Peaks feels a little different to me, because it was always known as this “cult show” with this auteur director, et cetera, et cetera. With shows…mass-market sitcoms from the nineties, like Roseanne and Murphy Brown…well, Roseanne's from the eighties too…there’s this kind of idea of—they literally are going through the back catalog from the glory days. There was that incredibly depressing article about NBC. There was some—one of the NBC executives, it may have been the head of NBC, like, calling everyone who’d been on every NBC show from the nineties. And they were like, “Please stop calling.” And he was like, “What about a blank reboot? What about a blank reboot?” And they’re like, “I don’t want to do that. Please leave me alone. I’m working on a new show right now!” So I get the sense with the networks themselves, like, the basic networks, that they are looking through their past hits, assessing whether the, you know, if the cast is all still alive and working, doing market research to see if like fond sentiment—
ELM: —continues, how well it’s done in syndication over the years, you know, like. if people…right? But real, real market research is the is the sense I get from this. Is this the correct read?
FK: That’s all true. But it’s also the case that when Donald Trump got elected to office, and immediately before that, there was an idea that there was some, like, blue-collar zeitgeist—at least for the case of Roseanne, which...I heard Roseanne in many rooms mentioned with regard to this. There was, I mean, we talk about politics a lot, but everybody in Hollywood reads all the same stuff that we all do. And they all were convinced—some still are convinced!—that there is a need for making stuff for Middle America. Roseanne felt like something that could be for Middle America, but also not totally distasteful to someone who's liberal. That’s a delight. Great, let’s make it. And I genuinely think that—I think that that’s…I would not describe that thought process as particularly admirable, but I would describe it as the thought process that I think that existed.
ELM: I think that these are, these are weird examples because Murphy Brown also—I just heard an interview with Candice Bergen and she said that if Hillary had won, they would not have rebooted Murphy Brown.
ELM: I mean, Murphy Brown was always an explicitly political show, right? You know. And the vice president of the United States was yelling at it in a speech, treating her like she was real, you know. So these are very political shows. Like, rebooting Full House, not so much. You know, that just feels like what I was just describing.
FK: It’s true. It’s true. That’s true. Regardless, so—how have fandoms reacted to the addition of new canon? And how’s it different for properties that have never left the public consciousness?
ELM: So, the first question there is something I actually would like to write about, because I think this is really, really fraught. As someone who really admired the original Roseanne, the idea of, like, what Roseanne is now—like, what is the text, Roseanne? I don’t know what to do with that. Because the original show? I could, I could analyze that text for you and describe it. You know, I mean it’s just like when someone writes a…like, thinking about…what was the To Kill A Mockingbird sequel?
FK: Go Set A Watchman.
ELM: Yeah. And it was like, “Oh wait, decades later, all of a sudden there’s, like, this additional…” And people are like, “Well, what are we supposed to do with the original? Like, do we have to change our analysis of the original text?” Right. And it’s a similar sort of question, especially when it feels like a real departure, which you know…
FK: Right. And it is important to note these are revivals, not reboots, right? So Battlestar Galactica, political as it may be, when there is a reboot you know that it is not in the same world as the original one. So if you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the original one, you might like or dislike the reboot, but it doesn’t really impact what the original one was for you. That still is a coherent text that exists in the past.
ELM: Hmm. I don’t know if that's true. I don’t know if that’s true. People who feel this way about the latest installments in various franchises. People are mad at the new Star Wars and think that kind of ruins the broader Star Wars situation.
FK: But that’s a revival. It’s not a reboot. This is different. Right? Battlestar Galactica literally recast all of the characters and completely started all over again. Completely new.
ELM: Yeah. I'm trying think of another reboot.
FK: You know, I don’t like…you can like an earlier version of Spider-Man and be like, "Man, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. I love that.” I don’t. “I love that.”
ELM: Come on, don’t you like that?
FK: It’s not impacted if you have a later Spider-Man, you know?
ELM: Early 2000 feels.
FK: God, I hate it so much.
ELM: Wow! Really?
FK: I really don’t like the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man. I am the only one. Anyway.
ELM: They’re fine.
FK: But right, you can like it or dislike it and it’s not impacted by the fact that they recast Spider-Man later, because the movies aren’t in continuity.
ELM: That’s true. I think that is true, and it’s easier to separate out. But you could also say like, “Well, the broader Spider-Man franchise had its ups and downs,” right?
FK: That’s true too.
ELM: You would say that, personally.
FK: For sure. Right now we’re living in the age of the Spider-Man.
ELM: Yeah. And you still haven’t seen the new one! Shame on you.
FK: Yeah. It is a shame.
ELM: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s tricky. So, I think this is different. So the end of this question, how is it different for properties that have never left the public consciousness? Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter—like, those are big transmedia, multimedia, multi-platform franchises. That’s different than... There’s no Roseanne Cinematic Universe. Thank God.
FK: Oh, God.
ELM: Can you imagine?
FK: Yeah. But even for Twin Peaks—Twin Peaks exists and has a bunch of other stuff related to it, but nowhere near the amount of these larger franchises. Not even close.
ELM: Yeah. You know, they’re not about to make a Twin Peaks corner of Disney World. You would love that.
FK: Although wouldn’t it be amazing? I would live there!
ELM: Would it, though? Like, it’s a pretty town.
FK: It’s a pretty dark show.
ELM: It’s not, like, a fantastical town, physically.
FK: I mean, I’ve been there. I’ve driven through it. It’s in Washington. You can go there.
ELM: It’s just, it’s not…it’s not like going to a Diagon Alley. You can’t…physically, the experience.
FK: There’s a lot of trees. You can smell the Douglas firs. It’s amazing.
ELM: Oh my God. Flourish. Yeah. So, you know, I don’t think…I think that these are different. Those are big, kind of…I mean, these are kind of juggernaut examples, right? And I mean, we talk a lot about franchises. You—obviously most of your work is with franchises, or has been historically.
FK: Or things that want to be franchises.
ELM: Right. And so that's interesting, right? Or…
FK: Which is everything, by the way.
ELM: Yeah. Like, “Can this be a franchise?” And so it’s like, you know, it’s really—it’s different than the idea of a network television show being the, you know, being reunioned, basically, back into new seasons. So I don’t know, but I don’t think the fans…it seems to me the general reaction to the network sitcoms being remade is either, like, “Please stop,” or “OK! Sure, happy to see my old friends again!” You know, there’s no one being like, “Oh, I’ve been campaigning NBC since 1996!” You know, “I’m so excited!”
FK: Yeah, and this is also a different case with Twin Peaks because when they announced it people were like, “You actually did it! 30 years! David Lynch is a God!” You know what I mean? So like...
ELM: I will say, for the record, if they actually go through with a Frasier revival, which they’ve teased at, I am going to be very angry.
FK: Well, I look forward to experiencing your anger when and if that happens. Should we go the next question?
ELM: Yes, let’s do it.
FK: All right. This one’s about fan-creator interaction and it is from Emma. “Hey, Elizabeth and Flourish. So I just saw one of the most shocking creator-to-fandom interactions that I’ve ever seen for one of my fandoms, and I wanted to run it by y’all and see if it was on your radar. I’m in the Shadowhunters fandom, and back in June, Freeform announced the show’s cancellation. It was a pretty big shock, and all the uproar and Twitter campaigning you'd expect occurred. The fandom has been pretty vocal and busy online.
“So yesterday, Freeform played Toy Story with little pop-ups added in for fun facts and jokes, and during this one scene where Woody is looking at a Magic Eight Ball, a pop-up appeared that read ‘Will Freeform save Shadowhunters if I keep tweeting about it?’ And the Eight Ball reads ‘Don’t count on it.’ I’m going to be honest: I was a bit offended. I guess it was a joke, but it seems in pretty poor taste and I’ve just never seen anything like this coming from a network. They’ve barely even had any official comments on the cancellation, and then this? I just don’t understand the thought process.
“It's been a weird situation right now for both ends, because the show was canceled, but there’s still 12 episodes coming out next year. It seems to me that Freeform doesn’t really know how to act, flip-flopping between promoting the upcoming episodes and fending off the angry fans. After the show won several People’s Choice Awards, Freeform suddenly came out with a haphazard line of merchandise for Shadowhunters. It’s ugly AF. [ELM snorts] I know y’all don’t normally talk about specific fandoms on the podcast, but in terms of creator-to-fan interactions, this specific instance was just so bizarre to me and a culmination of a messy situation. I’d love to hear your thoughts.” And that’s from Emma.
ELM: Uh, I don’t understand why they did this and I think that that’s bad.
FK: Me too! [laughing]
ELM: Those are my thoughts. Like, why would you do this?
FK: Why would you do this? I think somebody probably thought that it was a funny back-and-forth, but they did not think about it very well at all.
ELM: No! Yeah, I think there’s nothing…there’s not much to say. Like, I think this was someone, yeah, someone who thought it was funny.
ELM: Probably didn’t think it was mean-spirited, but like, you know, gently mocking.
ELM: And they did it.
ELM: And it’s not like every, every executive at Freeform signed off on this. Like, that’s not how…that’s not the process.
FK: Yeah. I mean, people signed off on it, but they did not necessarily understand the full situation or the way that those feelings work. Right?
ELM: I’m saying every executive and people involved in Shadowhunters itself, like—we have no idea if anyone involved in Shadowhunters ever saw this.
FK: They may literally never have. It's possible. Yeah. And I think that it’s also tough because, in this case, I could imagine a situation…if they had been interacting with fans consistently about it, and it was like a running joke that like they had said many, many times “It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen,” if they had…if there was some feeling of, like, interaction and camaraderie and if there was some kind of a personality that was saying this? And that person, whether that was an official handle that had, like, a consistent person tweeting from it or whatever else tweeted that? Maybe that would be all right. A little bit sassy and a little bit mean, but like, all right? But in this context, obviously not because there’s no camaraderie! You know, there’s no, there’s no relationship that would make that OK.
ELM: Right. Right.
FK: I have a lot of thoughts about this because recently I’ve been doing a lot of work more directly with social media and so on, and really seeing the different ways that it makes so much of a difference when an official social presence is consistently interacting with people, and people trust and understand that the person behind that account is not an asshole. You know? And, like, the way that that makes a difference in the way that your words are taken—versus something like this, which again, could be gentle if it were in a completely different context. But in this context is just shitty.
ELM: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know how this could be gentle. I mean…
FK: If there had been, like, literally 500 questions, and they had been like, “We’re so sorry, we can’t make it happen, and this isn’t working…”
ELM: And this is like, five years later and you’re like “Give it up. It’s not coming back.”
FK: Or even after like five months! And you’ve been consistently having this conversation for five months! Like, at that point, which you know…at that point, maybe. I don’t know, like, this is a fictional—this is a fictional possibility.
ELM: But what I see here too is the idea of, like—this is like Freeform airing Toy Story at a random time. It’s not coming from Shadowhunters. And there is often an idea, kind of, of network cohesion. You know, I’ve seen people...
FK: And it’s a lie!
ELM: People who are fans of a certain BBC television show believing that the rest of the entire state broadcaster is directly involved with everything to do with one show. And that’s not how it works. You know? So that doesn’t, that doesn’t let this person off the hook, but it’s also not necessarily the people who are making Shadowhunters saying “fuck you” directly. It is still the network, someone who works for the network saying “fuck you,” basically. But…
FK: But they also literally may have no understanding of the situation beyond that it’s something that has come up in a meeting as like…you know what I mean, it may be very divorced. So.
ELM: So I’m sorry to Shadowhunters fans because this is shitty.
FK: Yeah, it stinks. We are sorry, Shadowhunters fans. This stinks.
ELM: Yeah. So, and this email came in and I saw the story…it was about a month ago. So I’m wondering if there’s been any follow-up. It might be worth looking into.
FK: OK. We’ll do that.
ELM: All right, great.
FK: All right, so next question.
ELM: OK. Final question before the break. This is a pretty complicated one. Are you ready?
ELM: “How do you usually pronounce ‘!’ if you’re describing a fic out loud to someone?” That’s an anonymous question. I love this question.
ELM: All right. For example, it’d be like Dark—say it’s like, a fic where you’re evil, right? So it’s like, Dark!Flourish, right? So it’s capital-D “Dark,” exclamation point, capital-F “Flourish.” No spaces on either side. How do you say it?
FK: I feel like it’s a, it’s a tonal thing, right? It’s like, [enthusiastically] Dark! [more normally] Flourish.
ELM: Yeah. I would say Dark!Flo…I would say like, like the exclamation point! [laughing]
FK: Dark!Flourish! So there’s like, you know, Surgeon!Joan and Asexual!Sherlock.
ELM: I’m so glad to know that you also always hear it like, “Ah!” like it’s exciting! Like, literally with an exclamation point. You know, these come from, like…
FK: You should be excited to know that this element is in this fic. That’s how I feel about it. [ELM laughs] It is promoting to me that it is exciting that this element is in the fic.
ELM: Bisexual! Yeah, yeah.
FK: Yeah. Let’s do it!
ELM: So this comes from the early Internet. This was…what’s it, interro-? Interropaths? Do you know this?
FK: I actually have no idea about this. You are, you are informing me.
ELM: Oh, there’s an actual term for this and I will look up the post, because there was some post, oh, maybe a year ago that was going around. People were like, “Where does this come from?” And they were like, “I think it’s from Panic! At The Disco!” [laughing] And someone was like, “No!”
FK: It is not from Panic! At The Disco.
ELM: And they said it was from the very early days of the internet, especially when it was mostly in universities. It was a way to route messages to people.
ELM: And there was a specific term for it. So I’m going to look that up, and I’m sorry I didn’t look it up in advance, but we will put it in the show notes. But it’s really just a hold-over from the very beginning of the internet. And I love that it’s still around!
FK: Well, that’s a really nice thing to go to the break on. Shall we, shall we take a break and think about things that we want to have fics about?
ELM: Yeah. Breaking!Flourish.
FK: All right, so we’re back and it’s time for the heavy topics. We, like, totally back-loaded this episode. So now we’ve got…
ELM: I don’t know, a network being dicks to its fans, and we talked about Trump multiple times? Those are heavy topics.
FK: Well, that’s true.
ELM: Yeah. Just, just, it’s fine. Serious, serious Q-and-A here.
FK: OK. The next question is from another anonymous Tumblr user and it is: “Do you think there’s any hope for the issue of ageism in fandom calming down? Those posts relentlessly mocking anyone over a certain age engaging with fandom are painful and anxiety inducing, and make the future seem so much scarier, if it means having give up those hobbies.”
FK: Yeah, bad news. I don’t think it’s going away. [ELM laughs] I think that those people are dicks and you should tell them they’re dicks.
ELM: Hold on. It’s not just those people. So, I saw a post the other day—let me just pull it up. It was one of the more upsetting ageism posts I’ve seen in a while.
FK: Mm. Do I wanna know? I’m gonna know. You’re gonna tell me whether I want to know or not.
ELM: So yeah, I put this in our drafts and we should reblog it at some point. So someone asked an account from an anonymous ask, “Do you have any advice for being an older woman in fandom? I’m almost 27 and I feel disgusting for still being in fandom and liking fanfiction, especially M-rated fic, which I know I’m way too old for—but at the same time I don’t want/don’t know how to just leave.” So everything about this just baffled me. The part that was the most confusing was “I’m 26 and I’m too old for M-rated fic.” I don’t, I don’t understand what that means.
FK: Yeah, I don’t get that. And also, I just turned 32 and anyone who thinks that I am therefore an older person needs to get their head right. And anyone who thinks that they are an older person at the age of 27 needs to re-educate themselves about life expectancy because I’m pretty sure that there is no country in the world that has a life expectancy of 27.
ELM: 27 is the magic age with all the celebrities.
FK: Well, but I’m not a celebrity and I assume neither is this person who is planning to read M-rated fanfic forever—because they should, because that’s fine.
ELM: I don’t understand! It's called “Mature.” Like, it’d be one thing if they were like, “I’m too old for PG fic,” but I don’t understand…and you know, someone in the reblogs was like, “So Mature means it’s ideal if you’re above age.” It’s not for teens, it’s supposed to be for, like, adults. You know, whatever. Who cares. I read Mature fic when I was a teen, but…again, this is the whole thing of, you lie and say you’re 18, go for it. Right? So then there’s a magical window between the ages of, like, 18 or 21 and 26—and then you turn 27 and you, you wither and die? I don’t understand. Like, I just…so the reason I don’t like “Anyone who says that is a jerk,” it’s like... I don’t think it’s wholly just some, you know, some asshole making posts.
FK: Yeah. It's like, people who believe that within themselves, and that’s sad.
ELM: Right? It's just so internalized. I think that there are so many women in particular who have an extraordinary amount of anxiety about life stages and about what they should be doing at whatever time. Especially women who are interested in, I don’t know, traditional heteronormative structures, to be honest! Or homonormative structures. Right? Like, the idea that you should be married at a certain point, have children at a certain point. You’re an adult when these things happen.
That’s fraught, and it’s a shame, because fandom is one of the places, you know—especially transformative media fandom is one of the few places where you get to encounter a lot of different kinds of people who are living different kinds of lives. I think that the percentage of people that you’ll find in fandom who are living in “nontraditional relationship structures” is probably much higher than, like, in your office. [laughs]
FK: But similarly, you know, the number of people who are in very traditional relationships or who had kids when they were much younger than my friends or whatever—like, coming from the other side too, it’s much higher than people I would normally encounter as a queer person living in a large city. Right? So it is an opportunity for people, for everyone to interact—separate from whether that’s a person you would normally like, I don’t know, have your kids play with their kids or something.
ELM: But also it’s like, you know, all right, sure, if you’re in real, real dire financial straits and you're working three jobs and you have literally no free time or whatever…then, sure. And obviously when you have young children, it’s—a lot of people genuinely don’t have time for any extracurricular activities or hobbies.
ELM: But beyond those things.
FK: Well, that’s also not, like, an ideal state, you know? It’s not…the goal is not to have no time when you have an infant.
ELM: Right. But I’m saying, I'm saying, like…setting those things aside—and those are big things, so I don’t want to diminish them in any way—but say that you do have time for, you know, a fun activity, a fun leisure activity during the week. It’s then the idea of “Well, some things are appropriate and some things aren’t.” And that is coming from the culture. And you, you random person on the internet who I was just reading aloud, obviously have internalized some really bad messages.
ELM: But I think by the same token, people are kind of…have to internalize better messages. I don’t think there’s any way to change the way the culture shames people for engaging in this stuff at older ages.
FK: I agree. You know, the great irony of this is…so I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, this great study of romance novel readers, Reading the Romance by Janice Radway. One of the most interesting takeaways from that—and I believe that the study was done in the nineties, maybe the late eighties—almost all the women interviewed who read romance novels talked about how they read romance novels as their one thing. Their escape from their super heteronormative, life-stage-appropriate lives. They all had kids or whatever else. And this was their escape, a chance for them to go somewhere and read about something that was not about, like, all the other shit that they had to do with their family.
And to me that’s part of the appeal of a lot of fanfic for me personally. I think it’s the appeal for some people who are not me too. Right? It serves a similar purpose and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of that. And I think people have been doing that forever at all ages, and in that case, particularly as adult women, right? So…
ELM: Sure. But to take that a step further, like, I mean…you don’t have to be a creator to be in fandom, but like, I also just think the fact that like…you know, if you’re engaging in a community where not just being readers, not just watching a show, you know…like, I think it’s great to have escapes. People who get really into soap opera, you have, like, one hour a day, more power to you. You know? I think that’s awesome. But the idea that there’ll be anything immature about a community of people who are, like, creating extraordinary works for each other?
ELM: For no money? And that that’s somehow a, like, not a thing that adults—
FK: Appropriate, yeah.
ELM: That’s a childish thing? That's, that's bonkers, you know? That should be celebrated! That should be like, “Look at this incredible anti-capitalist thing that people are getting…” You know, whatever. Like, obviously it’s fraught with intersections with capitalism. But you know what I mean? Like, that is worth celebrating, I think, even more than just having something to escape and consume.
FK: That’s true. That’s very true.
ELM: If your escapism is creation? Like, that is super cool.
FK: I agree. So Nonny, don’t feel bad. Some of those people are jerks, and some of them have internalized bad messages, and you don’t need to internalize those messages. We’re rooting for you.
ELM: Yeah. To be clear, the original question was not the person that I read second who is 27 and upset.
FK: [laughs] Correct.
ELM: The original person just doesn’t like ageism. I don’t know if this anon is torn up about this, so whatever, like, we’re just going to keep yelling at people, basically. So we’ve got your back. Don’t worry.
So, it’s time to return to our old friend the Discourse Trilogy. All right, are you ready for this, Flourish?
FK: I’m ready for this.
ELM: I’ll go first. “Hi, Flourish and Elizabeth. I was listening to your episode about purity culture, and I was struck by something that Flourish said later in the episode about her 20 year interaction with Cassandra Clare being dredged up and misrepresented in a call-out thread on Twitter—specifically when you, Flourish, were talking about the realization that people discussing the incident had no conception of either you or Cassie as ‘real people,’ and that it was ‘weird.’
“I know this is a whole other can of worms, but it reminded me of something that really shaped the way I look at RPF. Several years ago, a mid-level content creator that I really admired had made some comment about how they had RPF written about them in the past and that they had enjoyed it then, but had come to feel that it was just an indication that some of their fans didn't view them as a real person, which made them feel weird and kind of sad (or something along those lines). I recognize that the situations are different, because the RPF was fictionalized and the Twitter thread was trying to document reality, but the similarities and the descriptions of the resulting realizations really stood out to me.
“I’m curious as to your thoughts on the parallels. Was this person totally off-base, since the layer of fictionalization transforms their public persona into a character that exists separately in stories without detracting from their fans’ conception of their personhood? Is being ‘tools for people’s own psychological needs’ just a part of existence on the internet now? Has it always been a part of existence, and the internet has just made it abundantly clear? And if it’s not too personal, would it have felt any better if the falsely-alleged doxxing incident had been presented as a fictionalized account of what might’ve happened rather than an incorrect rumors stated as fact? Anyway, thanks for your time and for all the time you put into the show. I really enjoy it. Best, anon.”
FK: All right, well...
ELM: Side note, I love the “Best, anon.” It's like an email at work. “Best,” like, “Did you get them any of the reports? Best, anon.”
FK: Yeah. I love it.
ELM: Anon, I love you. [laughing] Like, I’m not mocking you. I just, I always think of “best” in context of work emails, so this is just a delight to me. Yeah.
FK: All right. So to answer the questions, going back a little bit, a little bit backwards: Yes, I think it would have felt better if the alleged doxxing incident had been presented as fictionalized, because in that situation it would not have been making a direct statement about the truth of what was what had happened in my life or someone else’s. I actually don’t think that’s hairsplitting. I think that that is the case. I would rather have that.
ELM: Hang on. So what if I—not me. What if a person wrote some Cassie Clare RPF tomorrow, for example, about adult Cassie Clare and a preteen fan who she was making a Harry Potter archive with, and in the story Cassie Clare assaults the preteen girl. And it's RPF and I post it as RPF.
FK: If it was labeled as RPF, I would certainly prefer that to someone saying that Cassie Clare had assaulted me.
ELM: Nope. Nope. That’s not the question.
FK: Oh, what’s the question?
ELM: That’s—the question is, like, what if I create a fiction and it’s really fraught, you know? And say in my story, it’s really fraught and you’re, you’re 12 and you like it, you know, it’s not assault. It’s statutory…
FK: You write a really fucked up story.
ELM: Yeah. And you love it.
ELM: And I use your name and I’d be like, “This is just fiction. This is just for fun, you know, like, based on real characters, but just for fun.” That would make you feel better than the thing that actually happened—the false thing presented as fact? I’m not saying rumors, I’m just talking about the full spectrum of RPF. Because it’s very easy for you to say, like, “Oh, if someone wrote a story about Cassie Clare doxxing me I’d be fine with that,” but what if it was actually something that suggested something about how you might’ve felt in an actually serious, you know, morally objectionable fic. Right? Which is I think the way that RPF, people who object to RPF, they start to go into these grounds where they say, you know, “Well, but you’re depicting them in these really problematic situations. That’s character assassination or…”
FK: To be honest, I probably wouldn't enjoy reading the fic, and I might be upset if it started coming up at the top of my Google results, and that was the number one thing, and people were believing it to be true and not understanding that it was fiction—but I think that from the positions that I've taken on RPF and the RPF I’ve written, I’ve got no leg to stand on. People can totally write that fic if they want to.
FK: I mean, it would not be pleasant. I’m not saying “Please go out and write that,” but I think that it’s just…and it would be weird. You know? It would be weird to read that and know that was happening, but the fact that it’s weird doesn't mean that it’s not an interaction that can happen in the world and it’s fine. Right? Like, lots of weird things happen all the time that are sometimes somewhat unpleasant for one person or another, and that doesn’t mean they’re banned or that they’re not OK to have happen. It just means that they’re weird.
ELM: I appreciate the steadiness of your stance, that you understand that there would be a hypocrisy there.
FK: Yeah, there would be. There’d be a huge hypocrisy. You know, obviously if I believed that people were taking this fic as truth, and that this was a major problem, then I would want to step in. But without proof that people were doing that, I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying anything against it.
ELM: All right. But that is really complicated because then, you know, thinking about historical fiction or the things that we call RPF…
FK: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
ELM: But they are, you know, biopics and things like that, you know…even if it’s wildly fabricated or takes huge liberties and licenses, people will be like, “Well, you know, it's really—it was tapping into something real, though.” And you're like…we even talked about this. I remember our second Special Episode…
FK: It’s complicated!
ELM: You know, talking about Primary Colors, and it felt like it was a truer depiction of the Clintons than any…even though it was totally meant to be this fictional story, right? But it felt more emotionally true than any nonfiction thing that we had read about them ever.
FK: I mean, it’s murky. Right? And if people were having those reactions, I don’t know what I would do. Because ‘never been in that situation. But I would like to think that I would let people have those reactions unless there was literally a situation where people were coming up to me and asking me if that story was true. Do you know what I mean? Or saying, “Hey, I heard this story and I’m so sorry you were abused,” or whatever. Right. This is all really depressing. Please, no one write this story.
ELM: I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have even suggested it.
FK: No, no, it’s OK, because I think it’s highlighting something good. But I do think that being “tools for people’s own psychological needs,” it's not just part of the internet. It’s part of all of our lives. Like, without the internet, we’re still tools. Like, honestly. You know, my neighbor who doesn’t know anything about me probably has some idea of who I am. I know that I’ve got some idea of who they are. It’s probably not justified. I could easily imagine getting into some complicated, like—I’m angry at this person without really knowing anything about them. Like, sure,people do that all the time. It’s not just an internet thing, you know?
ELM: I’m angry at my neighbor for really real reasons.
FK: Well, I am too with mine, right now, because they have been playing the same whiny song—possibly a Regina Spektor song—on repeat for like 24 hours, and they just stopped in time for us to record. So…
ELM: Are they OK?
FK: I’m worried about them and also angry. It’s hard.
ELM: OK. But come on, my neighbor knocked on my door to yell at me for chopping cauliflower.
ELM: And then realized halfway through as he said the words out loud that it was nonsensical. That he was like, “Oh.” Like, you could see it, see the realization that this was a completely ridiculous thing that had just happened.
FK: [laughing] At least he could see it!
ELM: Then, like, every day either blasts, like, Game of Thrones or, like, a first-person shooter, like, there’s always women screaming. Like, shooting games and things.
FK: No, I’m sorry. That’s worse.
ELM: Massive hypocrite.
FK: This is probably just a person having a bad breakup.
ELM: Yeah, your neighbor’s having a bad day. My neighbor is [whispering] a hypocrite.
FK: OK. Let’s listen to the next voicemail, because I think you’ve answered this one. [ELM laughs]
Voicemail: Hi, Flourish and Elizabeth. I’m a longtime listener who’s been particularly interested in your Discourse Trilogy, and especially in your last episode when one of your listeners called in about re-evaluating Twilight—because I think Twilight is a really interesting case study of the different ways that purity culture can manifest. I went through a Twilight phase as a tween and then got older, read some critiques, and joined in the whole bandwagon that was Twilight bashing back in the late 2000s. Later, as a teen and adult, lurking in transformative and specifically Tumblr fandom, I kinda ended up in fandoms that were considered “pure” because they had, like, good canonical representation and purity anti culture wasn’t really something I thought about.
Recently I saw a video essay by YouTube critic Lindsey Ellis called “Dear Stephenie Meyer,” and it got me thinking. In it, she examines the phenomenon of Twilight bashing and how much of it was motivated by our societal hatred of anything that teenage girls like. Since then I have started lurking the Twilight fandom on Tumblr, and I found it completely different from what I expected.
So, the Twilight fandom on Tumblr is almost entirely based on critiquing the problematic elements of the series and using transformative stuff like fanon and fanfiction to revise these and come up with alternative interpretations. This is, of course, great—I love transformative aspects of fandom—but there’s also widespread conflation of shipping with activism, and this almost Orwellian fervor to disavow or cancel anyone who dares to like a character or situation from the series in its, like, original canon incarnation. For example, there was some discourse the other day that started with an insensitive sort of shitpost and almost immediately devolved into “If you like Character X, then you’re a misogynist.” “Well, if you like Character Y, then you’re a racist.”
What really struck me about it was that both sides were making the exact same argument, namely, “We like this character, but we’re not problematic because we choose to revise or erase the problematic things they did in canon.” And then I took another sort of mental step back and thought about how they were all fans of Twilight. So the whole situation struck me as a little bit sad.
From my perspective, it seems like Twilight fans have endured so much hate that they feel an extra strong need to police their own fandom and clean house so they can defend themselves from bad-faith critics. And in doing so, they import the same exact anti culture and tactics that are often used against them, which creates an environment where it’s incredibly difficult to just like things the way normal fans do. And that seems like a shame. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here other than “purity culture bad,” which it isn’t necessarily always, but regardless, thank you both for shining a light on these issues with your Discourse Trilogy—or I guess it’s a Cycle now. I know it’s not always fun to discourse about the discourse, but I’m really glad you guys did.
FK: This is fascinating. I haven’t checked in with the Twilight fandom since I was doing my Master’s degree, so I am amazed to hear that this is where they’re at right now.
ELM: That was a really great voicemail. It was very, very interesting to listen to. Also, our first example of, as we’ve promised, you can leave a voicemail and still remain anonymous.
ELM: Very, very exciting! Anon voicemail, who had really smart and interesting things to say!
FK: Yeah. I, I don’t know what to say back other than “That’s fascinating,” to be honest.
ELM: [laughs] I’m in a similar position.
FK: I am so glad that you called in, but I don’t know what to say beyond “Wow.”
ELM: Yeah, so this is something that I wonder…I think about this a little bit when I kind of dip back into Harry Potter spaces right now too, where you have…obviously I know the Harry Potter franchise is still continuing, but in terms of the content from the original books, kind of…people just somewhat, it seems like people have been spinning their wheels so long that sometimes it feels like people are just grasping for new things to argue about. Sometimes interpretations, interpretations that can go so far afield that it’s like “If you don’t agree with this fanon and headcanon version of something, then, like, then you’re racist,” or something. And it’s like “Wait, wait, go back. Harry Potter, though. But it’s Draco Malfoy, though,” you know? Like, can we remember...
But because it's been so long and people are still there at the same pace…and I wonder if some of that is present in a fandom like Twilight as well, though Harry Potter doesn’t have the same stigma of being, like, the joke fandom. The fandom that’s only for, like, dumb, dumb teen girls, you know. Harry Potter gets the benefit of being framed as something that’s for everyone—or at least, you know, for all children, basically.
FK: For sure. And I think that if you knew enough to frame your enjoyment of Twilight in that way—in that like, “Well of course those people just like Twilight, but I like interrogating Twilight…”
FK: You know, that was something that I saw behind a lot of anti culture in the earlier days of Twilight—was a lot of people very invested in spending a lot of time mocking something that they had obviously read ten million times. And it did not seem like they hated it entirely. It seemed like they wanted to engage with it very much but couldn’t find a way to do so without having some serious critiques. And so they ended up being like, making a bunch of mocking gifs.
ELM: Have you ever been trapped in a kind of hate-reading cycle? Because I have.
ELM: Like, there’s a blogger that I was reading that every time I read it I was like, “Ugh!” And I couldn’t stop. And then maybe the beginning of last year I just stopped one day, and I haven’t thought about it. I barely ever think about it. And I was thinking about how I was just kind of trapped in this, where I was like, “I need to read the next installment!” And then I was just like, “I’m so annoyed,” you know? And, like, how free I feel. [laughs] Like, I don’t know, you know what I mean? Has this happened to you before?
FK: It has. May we all feel this sort of freedom from the things that are enslaving us.
ELM: Are you trapped in a hate-reading cycle right now?
FK: I am not, fortunately, but I have been in the past.
ELM: Yeah, this was, this was really great. I feel silly that we don’t have much more to say, but I feel like I said a lot all by itself, so…
FK: For sure. All right. Should I read the next one?
ELM: The discourse!
FK: All right. “I bet you’re all tired of emails about online purity culture, but here’s another one.”
ELM: Nope, don’t worry.
FK: We’re never tired of it. Don’t worry. OK. “I’ve really been enjoying your episodes on The Discourse™ and it’s made me think a little more deeply about some of the moralistic tendencies in online culture. I grew up, like many other people of roughly Millennial age, in a community saturated with white evangelical Christian culture, which I eventually abandoned in favor of figuring out a less cultish relationship to ethics and spirituality. This is a well-documented trend among my generation: rejection and condemnation of a particular type of American Christian culture.
“I’ve had a theory for a long time now that many of us left the fundamentalist beliefs behind, but retained the ‘a thing must be morally pure to be enjoyed’ mindset. The moralistic, content-police-y tendencies on Tumblr and elsewhere just remind me so strongly of that unhealthy church culture and narrow and psychologically damaging mindset toward media, behavior, thoughts and fantasies. So many people are indoctrinated with that black-and-white, touch-a-bad-thing-and-you-are-bad way of thinking when they’re just tiny little kids, and I think many of us struggle to leave it fully behind and think differently. I know it took me many years to identify and begin changing those things in myself.
“Of course, the tendency to moralize is not restricted to American evangelical culture, but I think it’s a massive force behind that way of thinking in our place and time. Thank you so much for producing wonderful, thoughtful, funny content around these subjects. It’s a joy. Keep it up!” I had to say that because it was so nice and it made me smile.
ELM: Yeah. You could literally hear you smiling when you said it out loud.
FK: From Lucy.
ELM: From Lucy. Yeah. I think this is really spot on. I mean, maybe you could speak a little more to it coming from a more religious background than me, like…listeners will know that we both go to church, but maybe don’t know that I did not grow up with any kind of religion whatsoever beyond being, like, nominally of Christian descent.
FK: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I didn’t either, but I think I came to it earlier and I definitely spent some time in evangelical circles.
ELM: Oh my God, Flourish, you were like, very religious, like—maybe you didn’t go to church growing up, but, like, you are from recent Mormons.
FK: Yeah, there were lots of religions that existed in my family that I was exposed to all the time, although my parents are not religious at all. And none of those religions were evangelical, but then, like, I had a brief dalliance with being evangelical in college until I found out that that was not for me.
ELM: Though, from what I know about Mormonism—while not evangelical, falling under the umbrella of “evangelical,” I think there are some parallels.
ELM: From what I understand in terms of…especially, especially in terms of moral culture.
FK: And more to the point, like, the idea that like everything in your life is reflecting this and that there is a right and a wrong way to be, and that there’s this contagion if you do something that’s not…you know, within that sort of circle of acceptability. And I think that that’s more than purely religious. It truly is around the culture within that space as well as…I mean, it is about religion, but it’s also about sort of the culture of that space and the people that you’re interacting with, broadly.
ELM: I mean there’s been a lot of—but there’s been a lot of reporting and research recently about how actually, for a lot of evangelicals in the United States, religion is…the connection to actual religion and scripture is actually quite distant at this point.
ELM: And it is, it is just a cultural force.
FK: Exactly. You know.
ELM: So there was a really good article—did you read that—maybe two years ago? Oh my God, 2017. It was two years ago! That was just talking about how, like…it was, I think, in The Atlantic. Do you know the article I’m talking about, that was really, really interesting?
FK: It’s ringing a bell, but it was two years ago, Elizabeth.
ELM: I know, it’s…
FK: You remember all these articles and I’m always like, “I don’t know that I do remember that. It may have fallen out of my head.” [ELM laughs] You’re really good at remembering articles.
ELM: I will try to hunt that down. But you know, one thing I do think is true is…I’m, you know, I’m reluctant to suggest that…as I think that these discussions have provoked, and I think other people have highlighted as well, this is somewhat cyclical. This country has a very, very long history of moralizing and, you know, tying up personal behavior with morality and with religion, and it definitely goes in waves. I, you know, so it’s just like…yes, I think this is, I think this is all true. That being said, I don’t think it’s new—which Lucy wasn’t suggesting. But I do think that sometimes in these conversations, there is some suggestion that this is some sort of new phenomenon, and I think this is just the way it’s manifesting at this moment in the culture.
FK: I agree. And obviously there’s a lot of complexities with the way that interacts with non-American culture.
FK: Evangelicals worldwide, evangelicals…not…people who are not evangelicals worldwide, you know, all sorts of this stuff. It’s not that that’s the only force, but I do agree that that is a force.
ELM: Right, but I think it’s huge, though. And the idea of, like…so say you don’t come from that background, but you’re young, and you understand that the world is a very unstable place, and you see people online making very forceful arguments that people’s fictional ships or stories are directly contributing to the erosion of the stability of the world. And especially if you are a young person at this exact moment in history, I would…I don’t even know. I mean, maybe anyone who’s a teen right now who listens can tell me if they feel this way, but like…
ELM: It’s a really grim, unstable time. And so I can see, regardless of whether this is your personal background, there are people making really compelling and kind of steady-state stability and, you know, arguments, like…saying “This is how we can fix it. This is how we can regain some control.” Right? And so even if you don’t, if it’s not coming from a religious place, I can understand why this would appeal to people. But that being said, it’s not great.
FK: Yeah. [ELM laughs] All right. Let’s listen to the next voicemail. It’s on…continuing with the same topic.
ELM: Continuing the theme? All right.
FK: Continuing the theme.
Voicemail: Hi, guys! I was listening to your “Purity Culture” episode the other day and I was wondering if you thought there was a connection between, sort of, purity culture, and you talked about before happy—the desire for happy endings in fandom. Now, I know that there are a lot of things that drive purity culture, but I definitely…there is a sort of strain of purity culture that doesn’t want any negative or bad things to be depicted in fic or that sort of thing. And I know that's not everything, but it is a strain that’s out there. For things to be depicted in a correct way, making sure that everything is…things that are “bad” are said to be bad by the…within the text, in the narrative, are completely addressed, that sort of thing.
I was wondering if you saw a connection between that and the desire for happy endings. I was also wondering…thinking about this led me to my own dislike of dark and gritty television shows and movies and that sort of thing, and that sort of spin on things that is really popular—yet I dislike those things, yet I have a desire for nuance in a lot of the fanfic that I read. I'm interested in seeing the relationships, like friendships and romantic relationships, depicted in not necessarily always a completely perfect way, and that sort of thing. So I was wondering if you guys had any thoughts about that. Thanks!
ELM: Well, this follows on very nicely from the last one.
FK: It does! I actually kind of don’t think that that is as central—the connection. Because like our voicemailer was saying, there are plenty of people who do want nuance in their stories that have happy endings. Right? And…not that purity culture doesn’t want nuance, but I think that it’s…I think I hesitate to draw a direct line between those things.
ELM: Between what things?
FK: Between happy endings and purity culture. [ELM makes a “mmm” noise] Oh, you disagree! Tell me why! Tell me why! Tell me why you just made a “mmm” noise!
ELM: So, one thing that frustrates me in the happy endings versus gritty, grimdark, binary conversation is: a lot of the time I think when both sides of this binary conversation complain about the other, they’re talking about bad writing.
FK: [laughs] It’s so true.
ELM: Yeah! You know? And so people will be like, you know, “I don't want to see something where people are just, like, killed off for the hell of it just to make it real grimdark,” you know? And I’m like, “Neither do I! Because that sounds like it’s hackish writing.” And then every Devin Faraci who’s like, “All you wanna do is conflict with your fluffy little coffee shops,” you know, like, yeah! I don’t, I honestly don’t…if all you do in a coffee shop AU is just smile at each other and serve each other coffee, literally no stakes or conflict or plot or anything, that can serve…I’m not going to tell anyone to not do that, because people can enjoy that, but I also don’t think that's a very well-written story, usually.
So I think that there’s a lot of…I don’t necessarily think it’s bad faith, but I think the…a lot of the time in this happy endings versus grimdark conversation, there can be straw-man arguments and they often don’t…I’m not saying this is what our caller did at all. I’m just saying that this is…
FK: Right, this is the context in which this voicemail is heard, is the context of these conversations which tend to be like this.
ELM: Right. That being said, there was a post recently from a webcomics creator that was widely circulated, talking about their own personal rules for creation to make sure you don’t spark “gross shipping” of your characters. I sent this to you, Flourish.
FK: Yeah, you did send it to me.
ELM: And you know, the person said later—I saw in their responses and this was widely circulated, like, “This is just what I do. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it.” There was a question within it of like, why, you know, should the creative worrying so much about policing the shipping of their own characters? But the rules were like, “Don’t create any families.” They’re like, “Don’t show any families” was one of them, like, “Don’t have any characters who have any significant amount of age difference whatsoever,” like, “Don’t have any really dark villains. Make them more like Disney villains,” you know? And it was all kind of reverse-engineered to say, like, “Well, here’s the things that I think are gross in shipping and here’s the way I’m going to make sure none of it happens with my stuff.”
The irony of it is the number of times that I’ve seen people say, like, “Sibling AU” to two unrelated characters—and you’re like, why did you choose…? They were unrelated and you…like, clearly you just have a thing for incest! You know? They don’t have to be siblings for people to write the ship as incest, I’m sorry to say. Like, if there’s a way, fandom will do it. They’ll say like, “Well, you know, they are the same age in canon, but I decided to make one of them 14 and the other one 44,” you know, and you’re like, “OK!”
FK: Glad you did that! Glad to know more about your own personal psychology and your need to read this thing. Great. Good job. Now we all know. Mm-hm.
ELM: So it’s like, the kind of idea of the connection between that. But it did make me think about how people were, you know…potentially people who were within fandom who were creating things were trying to change their work…you know, so it’s this sort of this question of like, can you prime the audiences for a certain kind of response? I think…I don’t know. I definitely think that it connects, but you don’t think it does.
FK: Well, I guess it connects in the sense that there are some people who would, who…in order to have, like, total purity in their fic, believe you should not show anything that’s negative—because if you show things that’s negative, then you run the risk of showing something that’s negative in, like, a wrong way. But I don’t think that that's actually related…I think there genuinely are people who are just like, “No, I want a happy ending because I don’t want the characters to be sad at the end. And this is my escape.” And I don’t think those two things are particularly related. Not, that is…the big bunch of people who prefer happy endings include purity culture people, and they also include people who do not adhere to any of the aspects of purity culture. And I’m sure there’s some overlap between those two groups.
ELM: I think that’s fair. I could write, I could write you a purity culture compliant fic that has a sad ending.
FK: Right! Exactly.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. There are people who ascribe to a lot of the purity culture beliefs and tactics. Who would be mad at me. But then…
FK: Right. There’s a Venn diagram in here.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s a big overlap. But yeah, I think you’re right. All right. You talked me around.
But to address the kind of the end of the question too, I just…I think there’s no shame in not being interested in, like, dark and gritty content. But I also wish, I would love if our conversations could evolve a little to actually kind of encompass that nuance. So you can say, like…you could say, “I don’t like to see things where characters die.” But the idea that every death in fiction is cheap? That’s not true. And you know, like, the idea that people shouldn’t be allowed to write a character dying? I don’t like, I don’t understand why, why we would limit the depiction of the human experience, you know?
FK: And those things are not things that the voicemailer was saying.
FK: But they are related to the conversation that this is in.
ELM: Yeah, no, no, I’m sorry.
FK: I just want to be clear because I feel bad if, like, the voicemailer…I don’t want them to misinterpret what you're saying.
ELM: Oh no, no. I’m just talking about this broader conversation. Voicemailer, don’t worry, I'm not talking to you directly—but I was in the sense of saying, like, “There is no shame in a desire for a happy ending.”
FK: In your feelings.
ELM: And I think this voicemail was a lot more nuanced than the normal discourse I see around this topic, basically, is what I would say. And I wish that people would be a little more thoughtful in this conversation because I just think that you’re just getting backlashes hitting each other repeatedly. Backlash! Backlash! That was a kind of a ping-pong. Aggressive. It was like boxing! You love boxing.
FK: I do love boxing. I think that you’re getting a little bit giddy. So why don’t you read our next question?
ELM: Wow. Isn’t it our last question? No.
FK: It’s our last question.
ELM: Is it?
FK: It is.
ELM: Oh, it is! And it's a meta question. Are you ready for this?
FK: I’m ready for it.
ELM: OK. Momtaku says, “I’m curious about the mechanics of your podcast. Do you record together? How much time do you spend outlining, recording and editing the podcast? What equipment do you use? Thanks in advance. I love the podcast, but I’m also impressed with the consistency and quality and would love to know how you maintain that.”
FK: [laughs] We maintain it because Elizabeth makes me maintain it [ELM hollers] and she does most of the maintaining herself.
ELM: That’s right! Do you know…this is not about the podcast, but my newsletter. Not to throw Gav under the bus, but there’ve been a few times when she said, “Couldn’t we just skip a week?” And I’m like, “No, we cannot.” Like, we’ll just do a short one! We cannot!
FK: I am familiar with your desire to make sure that you are consistent in all such things in publishing. You feel very strongly and you’re right.
ELM: I mean it is true, demonstrably true that the one thing that people really value is, like, regularity and consistency, like formal consistency. People love that. So it is what it is.
FK: Yeah. But you're the driving force behind that and it’s good. I'm glad I have you.
ELM: I’ve worked for a very, very high quality weekly magazine for a very long time. And so I believe in consistent standards and regularity.
FK: Right. But regarding, regarding everything else…
FK: We both use the same kind of headphones with a mic in ‘em.
ELM: Hang on, I'm going to throw you under the bus right now. I wasn't gonna throw Gav under, but I'm throwing you under. So…
FK: No, it's OK. It's acceptable.
ELM: Flourish, for the entire length of this podcast, for like literally three years, spent some portion of money—significantly more than me—buying microphones. You bought at least…
FK: Yeah, I thought it would help and it does not help.
ELM: You bought at least three microphones.
FK: I bought two kinds of microphones.
ELM: Including the original one?
FK: Yeah. There were two kinds that I purchased.
ELM: OK. So Flourish has spent several hundred dollars on microphones. Minimum.
FK: I sold—I sold them back to other people who wanna do podcasting!
ELM: Oh, OK, great!
FK: So the good news is that I did not actually, like, lose a lot of money on this, but I did buy multiple kinds of microphones and it turned out none of them helped at all. They were all bad.
ELM: So, finally I said…Flourish gave in and said that she would just do what I was doing. So I use for…I wear them all day for work, I audio edit with them, they’re the Bose over-ear noise-canceling headphones. They’re, like, the greatest invention ever. I’m sure there’s fancier noise-canceling ones, but they’re nice headphones and they are very important to me. And now Flourish has joined and I think they give you fine audio quality. That being said, like, yeah, I mean Bose is not…these are not cheap.
You know, I used to record using just Apple earbuds that just came with my phone. The only problem with earbuds, which actually a lot of our guests use—and you'll notice our guests’ audio quality can vary wildly, and that’s not something we can really control. We can say, like, “Please try to not be in an echo-y room, try not to be in a loud room.” Sometimes that doesn’t happen. A lot of people just don’t spend a lot of time doing audio, right? Prior to getting these headphones, like about a year ago, while Flourish was on the journey of a thousand microphones, I was just using these earbuds. And the microphone is actually really decent, but the problem with them is there’s so much bleed from the other person’s track that comes out of the ear that Flourish’s track would show up on mine. So if you are going to be recording a podcast yourself, you can definitely just use any old earphones you have, but you have to keep in mind that creates like an additional…like actually a lot of extra work while you’re editing.
FK: And we always record over Skype with someone else Skyping in. Our guests are never there with us. We’re always separate from each other. It would be nice to be able to do it together, but we don’t have the money for a fancy recording setup. So.
ELM: No. Which costs several hundred dollars an hour.
FK: Yeah. We can’t do that, that’s not possible.
ELM: No. And also, our guests are all over the world. So. And then, as far as recording, all of us record, unless someone has something fancier, on free audio editing software Audacity. Audacity is tried and true. It’s free. It’s definitely free. A lot of people who make audio use it. It’s just very, very straightforward, you know, we’re not recording some sort of experimental music here, like, we just need people talking. And then everyone sends their tracks to me and I stitch them together and I do the editing, which is a pretty slow process. If anyone’s ever done audio editing, you know just how long it can take.
FK: The actual recording itself is usually not that long. It’s, like, a little over an hour, but there’s always other stuff around it. So we usually want to set aside, like, maybe three hours in total per episode? To sort of be talking about what we’re going to talk about and then record it and interface with a guest and stuff, I would say? That’s probably about right, right?
ELM: And so then as far as planning, we don’t do a ton of planning…
FK: We could do more!
ELM: I mean, sure! Let’s not open this up to a feedback session, but like, you know, for this episode, obviously, we have…we’re looking at a document right now with everyone’s comments. So that’s, like, an easy structure. For someone like our last few guests, we said to them in advance, like, “is there stuff you really want to hit,” you know, “we’re interested in, this is we want to talk about,” we talk to them very briefly and they make that really clear, and then see where the conversation leads us.
And like, you know, there've been a few times when we’ve had to re-record the episode because of technical difficulties, and it’s interesting to see the different kind of directions it can take. And sometimes it takes a similar direction and it’s like we were just doing a dress rehearsal. So.
FK: Yeah. So that’s that, I think. I think that answers the question.
ELM: Yeah. And then like, obviously, you know, we put it together and then Flourish does the transcript—and this is something I want to continually stress, that there are transcripts, because I think that’s an important part of the podcast too.
FK: Yeah, for sure. That’s very important, I think.
ELM: So that’s how we make the podcast.
FK: Yeah. That is how we do the podcast, and we’re glad that you find it impressive because we try our best.
ELM: [laughs] That’s true. OK. That’s the last question we’re going to do for this episode. Yes?
FK: It is. It’s not the last question we’re gonna answer ever, though. It’s not.
ELM: All right. I didn't suggest that, that wasn’t what I was saying.
FK: Well, I just want to make it clear that even though this is the end of this particular letterbox episode…
ELM: Oh, God, God.
FK: A word I love very much, “letterbox.” It is not the end of your questions. So people should send us more questions, and we’ll answer them either as we go in other episodes or eventually we’ll do another letterbox.
ELM: I want only questions like “How do you pronounce the exclamation point” questions.
FK: Send us lots of those. That was fun. That was truly fun.
ELM: Ask us, like, either-or questions, all right? Wait, Flourish. Would you rather have one bed left in the motel or…what’s another great one? Trapped in, like, a storage closet overnight.
FK: Definitely one bed left. Are you kidding? That’s way more comfortable than a storage closet.
ELM: But like…the storage closet is like, you’re not lying down, you’re not trying to sleep there. So then you have to stay up all night and have a conversation.
FK: Yeah. But I want, I want a good night’s sleep.
ELM: [laughs] No, this isn’t what you want personally! This is what trope is better!
FK: Oh! Um…
ELM: Oh my God! [cackles]
FK: I know. I still have, I have a particular affinity for one bed left in the motel because of my X-Files fandom.
ELM: Oh, did they have…?
FK: They have a lot of that, cause they’re always traveling and they’re always going to some random motel.
ELM: So when this usually goes down though, like…is there, like…the only problem with one bed left, to bring in purity culture discourse, is it can have some sort of noncon or dubcon vibes. Like, “Oh no, he’s reaching out in his sleep! But actually it’s fine because I wanted it.”
FK: You know, I am not gonna interrogate this with you right now. I don’t…I mean, I’m sure it can, but I’m not gonna interrogate this.
ELM: Good. Just, just only send us messages about tropes and conventions. That’s all we want.
FK: Great. OK. That's not actually all we want, but the way that you can send them is you can email them to us, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can call in, like the people who sent us voicemails. The number to call if you want to do that is 1-401-526-3267. Which is 1-401-526-FANS.
FK: We’re so happy that we have that.
ELM: No one can see your tah-dah face you just made.
FK: Or you can send us an ask on Tumblr if you want to be anonymous.
ELM: Or if not you can send us an ask with your username on Tumblr.
FK: Yeah, I mean you can do that too. It’s just that like, you know, you don’t have to, like, chain five asks if you send us an email.
ELM: Right. As we mentioned recently, because we’ve gotten a few…a few of these were multi-part asks. If you do have, like, a long thing to write, like several hundred words, we would recommend just sending us an email and just letting us know you want to remain anonymous, because it’s just easier for everyone if we are…you know, you don’t have to hit “send” 15 times. We haven’t gotten a 15-part ask.
FK: Yeah. And of course we’ve got Twitter and everything else in terms of social media, but probably the better way to ask a question is not to tweet at us. It’s better to, like, email us.
ELM: Yes. OK. I’m going to do the support arm of this outro.
ELM: Ways to support us: first and foremost, monetarily, because we live in a capitalist society, patreon.com/fansplaining. If you are reassessing your finances in the new year and you have a couple dollars a month to spare, we would love those dollars. We totally understand if you don’t have any extra cash right now, but if you do, you could pledge just a little as a dollar a month—as much as $400 a month to receive a sweater from Flourish. No one's ever going to do that, but we should mention it and everything in between. Special episodes, tiny scenes, early access…you get it on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, et cetera.
If you do not have the money or want to spend money on this, rating us and reviewing us on iTunes or any other place where you listen to podcasts, but especially iTunes will be greatly appreciated. And also sharing both the episodes and the transcripts would be awesome. Because then people can find out about it. Especially people who don’t listen to podcasts. I think there’s a lot of people in fandom who are interested in these conversations who maybe would just rather read. So send them those files.
FK: All right. That seems like a good summary to me. Is there anything else that we need to talk about?
FK: Well, in that case, maybe I’ll go read some one bed left in the motel X-files fic.
ELM: Well, maybe I’m going to read [laughs] trapped in the closet…no, the one—do you know that one?
FK: You can’t say “trapped in the closet” cause of R. Kelly, he’s dead to us.
ELM: No, he was never alive to me, so I don’t know what to say there. I’ve literally…I've never even heard that song. I just heard of it. So it was just like…I’m not in touch with the culture. Yeah, don’t worry about it.
FK: You aren’t missing it.
ELM: It’s fine. It’s fine. No, I’m thinking of the delightful, delightful X-Men fic where they get trapped in the Temple of Dendur in the Met overnight. They’re not inside the temple. It’s like…
FK: That would be a little weird. But they’re trapped in that room.
ELM: They’re trapped in a closet, I think. It’s really good. It’s a real joy of a fic.
FK: I don’t think I’ve read this one.
ELM: Do you want to read it?
FK: Maybe I will.
ELM: I’ll send it to you.
FK: I’ll talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: OK, bye Flourish!
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