Episode 94: Save Our Show (It’s A Metaphor)

Episode 94’s cover: a man with a bullhorn clutches a sheaf of papers.

In Episode 94, “Save Our Show (It’s A Metaphor),” Elizabeth and Flourish talk fan petitions—to keep a show on the air, to get a ship together, to de-canonize a piece of content, and everything in between. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Flourish gathered perspectives from a variety of entertainment industry professionals, asking the question: Are fan petitions ever effective?


Show Notes

[00:00:00] As always, our intro music is “Awel” by stefsax, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license.

[00:06:55] Strictly speaking, there is a “server discovery” function that will show you some public Discords you can join—but this isn’t the main way people use Discord, it isn’t remotely comprehensive, and it focuses strongly on games (not other sorts of fandoms).

[00:10:24] We’re talking about Episode 89, “Rukmini Pande.”

[00:12:04] Our episode with Tanya is #42, “Fresh Out Of Tokens.” Kotaku has written about her recent Twitch harassment.

[00:15:23] The interstitial music here and elsewhere is “Keeping Stuff Together,” by Lee Rosevere, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license.

[00:16:04] The first Voltron: Legendary Defender petition was to release the “real” Season 8. The Geekiary provides context. The second, older, was about LGBTQ rep.

[00:17:19] Yes, the petition to de-canonize The Last Jedi is a real thing.

[00:18:55] The episode Elizabeth is referring to is #17, “The Powers That Be.”

[00:23:27] Indeed, the show is Jericho. It was pretty widely covered—fans sent nuts to the producers with the message “nuts to Nielsen,” and then later to Variety. There’s been a long-term fantasy that Netflix might bring the show back.

[00:24:09] Flourish only half answered this question. What she says in the episode is true, but also, Jericho and Chuck—two of the most famous “saved shows”—succeeded in part because it was the first wave of DVR viewership and advertisers were beginning to question Nielsen. By making the case that the fans were engaged with ads (in the case of Chuck) or that they were actually more numerous than Nielsen would lead you to believe, due to DVR (Jericho) fans actually were convincing advertisers that it was a better bet to advertise on their show, hence making it a better situation for the networks to keep the show on the air. Now that Nielsen measures DVR viewership more accurately, this kind of argument is harder to make.

[00:25:21] Recode explains some of the business-world complexities that led to Brooklyn 99’s cancellation and, later, its being saved by NBC.

[00:28:17] Kenyatta’s tips for petitions are in Episode 88, “Kenyatta Cheese.”

[00:39:47] Read the Lexa Pledge for yourself—Flourish is paraphrasing. We spoke to Javi Grillo-Marxuach in Episode 82.

[00:46:50] WE LOVE YOU STACEY ABRAMS. Read this interview with her about her career as a romance novelist, and feast your eyes:

[00:48:59] The specific Voltron petition Flourish is talking about is here — it’s the second petition we referred to above.

[00:56:41] Lo and behold, Hallmark gets slightly less white:

The poster for  Christmas Everlasting , featuring Tatyana Ali, Dondre Whitfield, Patti LaBelle and Dennis Haysbert.

[00:59:56] Henry Jenkins covered the Mad Men roleplayers in his blog.

[01:01:09] The galaxy brain meme Elizabeth is talking about comes from youcannotbereal on Tumblr:

Galaxy brain meme with a series of images.  Caption 1: Literally nobody wanted a new background color on Tumblr.  Caption 2: It’s just a color change. Nobody cares.  Caption 3: Many people rely on higher levels of contrast in order to read due to vision-related disabilities. Now they can.  Caption 4: Other people have different disabilities where higher levels of contrast can cause migraines or seizures. This was a bad idea.
Galaxy brain meme with a continuing series of images.  Caption 5: There’s no one size fits all solution for accessibility, but at least they made an effort to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.  Caption 6: They are in direct violation of other parts of WCAG. They should meet all standards, not just convenient ones.  Caption 7: WCAG has only been widely accepted for six years. Adoption takes time, and something is better than nothing.  Caption 8: Standards don’t exist in a vacuum. You need to talk to people with a variety of disabilities to ensure actual accessibility.
Galaxy brain meme with a continuing series of images.  Caption 9: This likely was not primarily prompted by compassion, but by digital accessibility lawsuits in the news, like the Domino’s app case.  Caption 10: All of this could have been avoided by creating multiple color schemes, like many of their competitors do.  Caption 11: User choice leads to user satisfaction. Let people set up their own colors.  Caption 12: This silly meme I made to vent my frustration probably put in more thought about this than all of Staff did.
Galaxy brain meme with a continuing series of images.  Caption 13: Meanwhile, there are still fucking Nazis here.


[Intro music]

Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish!

FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!

ELM: This is Episode #94, “Save Our Show (It’s A Metaphor).” [FK laughing] That one did not translate verbally at all.

FK: You could have just said “Save Our Show, It’s A Metaphor” and that would have been fine.

ELM: I wanted to make it clear that that part was in parentheses. Or brackets, as British people will know them.

FK: To me, “brackets” means something different, and it always confuses me when I hear them say “brackets.”

ELM: Hard agree. Especially as someone who had to learn to code in England. Endlessly confused. Also, the keyboards are different, and they had PCs. It was hard. It’s fine! I got my degree.

FK: All right, well, OK. So the reason that we say “save our show, it’s a metaphor,” [ELM laughing] is that this is our episode about petitions. Broadly. Fan petitions. And many of those are save-our-show petitions, but a bunch of them are also petitions about, like…I want this ship to happen, or this plot choice sucked, or what have you. Which are all fundamentally about “Make our show that thing that we want. Save it.”

ELM: Right. “It is lost and we need to save it.” Some of them are founded on assumptions of what’s gone wrong, and ideas that there’s something that you can sign that will fix them, and that is something that we really wanted to dig into, because I feel like it’s just…it’s just getting bigger and bigger, and to be clear, right off the bat, this is not unique to fandom. I definitely see petitions every day going around where I’m like, “Cool. I’m glad you all signed that. This is not related to how laws get made, and, OK.” You know? “That’s not even…that’s not even the issue at hand, but you all agreed and you all signed it,” you know? So I think this is, this is not something that we can just pin on fandom alone.

FK: No. But it is, it’s also interesting to think about, like, what are the different uses of a petition. Obviously one use is, like, “Hey,” to tell people that they should do a thing and hopefully get them to do it; there’s also things about, like, coming together as a community and expressing yourself and your opinion and feeling good about that and so on. And I think that there’s…some of these things, fan petitions are good at, and some of these things, they’re not always so good at. So.

ELM: Yes.

FK: Picking those apart and understanding what you really can reasonably expect out of different kinds of petitions and so on. Big deal!

ELM: All right. So we’ll be doing that, but we’re gonna answer a question first, right?

FK: Yeah! Yeah, yeah. Sock it to us! Read it!

ELM: Oh yeah. I have it open, I’m gonna read it.

FK: Yeah you will.

ELM: It is from a listener who I think has written to us before, or corresponded with us at least, Froggy. Froggy sent a message:

“Hey guys! I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the rise of Discord servers within the context of the platform debate. I would argue it represents a decentralization of fandom into smaller circles away from the public, and I wonder if this might be a reaction to the extremely public sphere that Twitter represents. I wonder what its relation to Tumblr might be, as Tumblr has been thought of as hard to communicate on by some. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Love from Froggy.” Aww. Love! Thanks Froggy!

FK: Thank you! So, if anyone’s not familiar with Discord, Discord is basically like IRC if you attached voice chat to it.

ELM: What words did you just say. I know what voices are and chats.

FK: Internet Relay Chat, where you’ve got…or you know, actually a better way to think of it is, like, Slack. It’s kinda like Slack.

ELM: OK side note: not everyone knows what Slack is either.

FK: Oh shoot. It’s like…a series…like one Discord server is like a series of connected chat rooms.


FK: Where everyone who’s on the server can see all those chat rooms and also can IM each other, but there’s also the ability to get into voice chat with, like, multiple people on the line at once.

ELM: OK. So it’s all chat functionality, though, there’s not places where you can post…do people post topics? That you discuss, like old-school message board stuff? That’s what, IRC is old-school, right.

FK: IRC is like, yeah, chat rooms, and it’s like…yeah. There’s, like, a topic for this room. So for instance if you have, like, a conlang Discord, which is actually a really good use of Discord, right? Cause then you can speak your constructed language as well as typing it. You’ll have a series of chat rooms that are in English or German or whatever the language everyone is speaking that’s not the constructed language, and then you’ll have some chats that are in the constructed language, some of which might be like “learn about your grammar,” or “suggest new vocabulary words,” whatever.

ELM: I feel like you chose a very confusing example by making it about imaginary languages! [laughing]

FK: But it’s a good example because speaking is a big part of it!

ELM: Say you’re into a show and you…and it’s like a multi-ship scene. Like, would you have different, you would say “we’re all in the whatever fandom,” and then there’s different chats for different ships?

FK: Yeah, yeah yeah, exactly.

ELM: Or for different characters that you like or that kind of thing?

FK: Or you might have if it’s, whatever, I know—I happen to know that there’s, I’m not in it but I know there’s a big Reylo Discord…

ELM: Not in it, huh?

FK: …so there’s probably, like, a chat room for talking about fic, and a chat room for art, and a chat room for off-topic everyday life stuff and all of this, right.

ELM: Sure. So who manages these?

FK: People make them, but they can sometimes be completely unmoderated, really. I mean…

ELM: So someone can just set it up and walk away.

FK: Pretty much, yeah. So that can be a, obviously that can be a problem. I recently found out about a game which had directed people to a Discord that had previously been totally fine, but when the official game account sent people to that Discord, they didn’t realize it wasn’t moderated, and it turned into the worst of the internet. So. There can be some real bad scenes outta there.

ELM: Great, great.

FK: But the other thing you can do is, right, you can do, like, roleplay. So I’m a member of a couple of roleplay Discords where people log on and they chat roleplay with each other. It has all the things that you might have had in, like, AOL chat rooms. But with a little less, like, age/sex/location asking.

ELM: You think so? You think you just aren’t in the right Discords for that kinda thing?

FK: I’m sure that those exist, but because they are sort of smaller and you kind of have to be invited to them one way or the other…like, you can post an invitation in a public place, you can say, like, “Here’s the Discord, come join it.” But it’s not like you really…there’s not, like, an easy-to-discover find-all-these-Discords sort of…that’s not really what Discord’s like. You know?

ELM: Right, right. OK. So take Froggy’s question: is this the decentralized fan space that people are looking for? And then position it against Twitter.

FK: Right. One thing that's true is that Discord doesn’t take data out and sell it to people. So like, I don’t…in my day job, the only way I can find out what’s happening in a Discord is to literally join that Discord and follow what’s happening in it. I can’t buy that data from Discord. So in that respect it’s much less public. Because even if it’s a public Discord that anyone can join, you still can’t get that information out of it, right. And it is also decentralized, and like I said, you know, it’s not like there’s some big directory of Discords and everyone who cares about Star Wars gets sent to the same Star Wars Discord.

ELM: Sure, sure. But it is only chat. I mean, it depends on what we’re talking about here. Positioning it against Twitter is interesting. Positioning it against Tumblr is interesting. Neither of those…well, Twitter…I don’t think of Twitter…while I communicate with people a lot on Twitter, I don’t necessarily think of it first and foremost as a chatting platform.

FK: Yeah. Huh.

ELM: I think of it as a communal kind of publishing space, a little bit. You know, like, a place where people share links and then people can comment on them, you know. That kind of thing. I mean people use Twitter all sorts of ways, right, but that’s a very common way, is like, link-sharing.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And it evolved past the, like, “what I had for breakfast” so long ago that that’s a weird reference at this point.

FK: [laughs] Yeah yeah, it is true, it is true that when you said that I realized that most of when I get on Twitter is actually having conversations with people. In that respect it’s kind of chatty for me.

ELM: Yeah but not necessarily. Because the way you use Twitter personally, you just broadcast stuff. And then you’re like, “C’mon! Talk to me!” Which is not necessarily the same thing as wanting to go chat to people. You do this, don’t deny it.

FK: No, but I also do reply to people. Like…

ELM: Sure! I reply to people all the time.

FK: And then I chat with them.

ELM: But I don’t necessarily go on Twitter thinking like, “I’m gonna have a conversation.” Cause who knows who’s on, and who knows when they were there, and like, y’know?

FK: That’s true, that’s true. I’m not sitting there being like, “who’s here to chat with me right now?” Not like, “here I am in the Supernatural hashtag, who wants to talk Supernatural in this hashtag right now?”

ELM: Right, not least because, like, that’s not the way the platform is structured, and you know, you can still…you’ll see stuff from a day ago.

FK: With the exception of when people are live-tweeting something or are…you know, right. And then it becomes very chatty in the moment.

ELM: Right, which is not…that is personally something…that’s one of the biggest uses of, for fandom, of Twitter.

FK: Right, exactly.

ELM: But that’s not something that’s personally my jam.

FK: Right. But in that respect, you could say that Discord could take over from Twitter and be more private, because Discord is great for live, you know?

ELM: Here’s the privacy thing though: I think a lot of live-tweeting is, that is literally the opposite.

FK: Because for live-tweeting to be fun it needs to be public.

ELM: And it’s about, it’s about volume and scale. Why else have a hashtag? Like, a hashtag is to find other people doing it, but it really often seems like volume of commentary? And people participating and following along with the hashtag, using it themselves, joining in. And bringing people in. And so many people who do live-tweeting stuff on Twitter seem to get a lot of the value out of it by broadcasting to as many people as possible and bringing as many people into the conversation as possible.

FK: Yeah, that might be true. I guess maybe in that respect, what’s happening on Discord is more like…I don’t know, did you ever take part in, like, chat room movie-watches? Cause, like, this was part of my fannish life at some point. On Tumblr people would get…

ELM: No, but yeah.

FK: …get together and, like…

ELM: I still see people doing that, via Twitter, and it often feels like a…a legacy of, like, more LiveJournal culture. But especially people who have a big presence will be like, “I’m gonna do…this weekend we’re gonna watch blank, and follow along.”

FK: Yeah yeah yeah, Aja used to do it a lot I think.

ELM: Yeah, and there’s still…there’s still a few people that I follow who lead these. And that is, that seems more like…yeah, anyone’s welcome, but it’s different to me than putting a hashtag out there and saying, “We’re using this hashtag, come watch along with us, share it…”

FK: Yeah, for sure.

ELM: “…write your own commentary, we’ll follow it,” people I know who lead these will retweet things other people are saying, and it really feels about, like, building volume and getting more people involved.

FK: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true. I think I’m on board with that. I think they’re related but not the same.

ELM: So like, scale, scale is one thing, and when I think about Discord too, and I’ll say this with only knowing about it and not participating in it, but I do think back to, you know…think about our conversation, Rukmini brought up Discord. Right? I think the scale is important, here, to think about. Because, you know, Rukmini was being more positive about Tumblr, and presumably Twitter for the same reasons—but you know, I don’t think she mentioned Twitter—and less happy with Discord, in the sense that she liked the openness of Tumblr, that you didn’t get to say “these topics are gonna be off-limits.” She was talking about privileging niceness over speaking truth, you know? That kind of thing, right.

FK: Yeah yeah yeah and you can definitely, I mean, although some Discords can be…you can make it and walk away, others are definitely moderated. And people can be kicked out of a Discord. And that’s not something that Tumblr, I mean, you can individually be like “I’m not gonna engage with that person,” but you can’t get…

ELM: It’s quite public!

FK: You know?

ELM: Yeah. You can block someone, but like, it is a public space. And that person, I mean you can block an IP address. But that person…and you see this with people harassing people. They can just keep coming back. You know. So congrats, Tumblr.

FK: I actually, you know, it may be worth thinking about this as compared to, like, Twitch, which…so Discord came out of gaming, right? It came out of the fact that you would have voice chat while you were doing, like, a massively multiplayer game online, and you needed for a long time to have another program that would let you do that. Like, in “World of Warcraft” if you wanted to be on voice chat with other people while you played, you had to have another program. And Discord comes out of this space.

Twitch is interesting because Twitch isn't a, is a similarly gamer-oriented but also related to other fandoms things, like, Twitch is moving a little bit outside of the gaming space, but there, when you stream, things are really public and it has very bad blocking, you know. It’s really hard to block someone and prevent them from continuing to come into your stream and harass them. Tanya DePass, who we had as a guest on this podcast, has been dealing with harassment on Twitch that’s just been really bad. But part of that’s because, you know, that’s [laughs] that’s the part where you can’t—you can’t kick someone out really!

ELM: There’s not as much control. Right, right! And we’re talking about—it’s the other side of the coin. I mean, and both those examples we’re specifically talking about racism, right? And it’s like, the same community that can say “I don’t wanna engage with racism,” the same tools that you can use to shut that down are also the ones that are not available if you have people being racist at you. Yeah, I mean obviously the moral of the story is that racism is everywhere and it’s impossible.

FK: And that you can’t make a, you can’t make a system on the internet that is proof from people being dicks in one direction or the other.

ELM: Yeah. Right, exactly! And so, like, I…I just think that there’s a lot that we, you know, we’ve been talking about scale recently, and I think…I’ve been thinking a lot about, as we talk about decentralization…I mean, we were talking to someone recently about this, about scale, and if we start to go backwards in the sense of scale, if we start to move to smaller spaces where you can’t just put in the hashtag and find everyone in the world who’s using the same hashtag, I do think that…not everyone, but I think some people are going to miss that, in a way that they’re not acknowledging right now. Right?

FK: Yeah, absolutely.

ELM: And I think too, especially when I look at the fanfiction community, and people bemoaning the lack of, you know, “Not enough people are commenting, not enough people are reading me,” the smaller you want your fandom experience to get, that’s gonna make your pool of readers smaller! And if you’re more happy with 10,000 hits than you are with 10 incredibly engaged close friends reading your story…

FK: Right.

ELM: There is no both ways. You are not gonna have 10,000 people who think that you’re the gr—you might, if you were, like, the most famous fic writer. You know. But still, you’re not gonna have it both ways, right?

FK: Agreed. Agreed!

ELM: So. And I just think a lot of people are not…that none of these, like, they all have their drawbacks and they all have their positives and unfortunately there’s not gonna be one thing that has all of it.

FK: I think that's right. Do you think that we answered Froggy’s question?

ELM: Yeah! I mean…I don’t know. Like, you’re the one on Discord. What do you think? Do you think that offers a solution to people…people feel like they can’t communicate on Tumblr, yeah, if you want a chat room—if that’s what you wanted…!

FK: I personally, personally I feel like it does, to some extent, like…I would love to be more involved in fannish Discords than I already am. Because I just don’t have that much time, but like, for me, I was already engaging on a fannish Slack, because I liked that experience. Again, not to say that there aren’t big problems with it, or that I would want everything to only be that. But, yeah. Like, I think for a lot of people that is a pleasant place to be.

ELM: You know what, I was just, I was just at a gathering with some of the members of your Slack, and I was talking to one of them, a friend of ours, and saying, “I don’t understand how any of you do this. To me Slack just makes me think of my job.” [FK laughs] And if I heard that noise, the notification noise, I’d never think anything, like, “Oh! Fun conversation!” I’d just be like “What.”

FK: Yeah. Well, Discord could solve that problem for you.

ELM: I don’t know how you balance that! I'm not looking to chat with anyone. I’m not here to make friends. Don’t worry about it.

FK: All right. OK. Let’s move on to the main topic of this episode. Maybe we should take a break first!

ELM: Yeah! I think we should take a break. That’s a great idea. Let’s take a break on that! I’m not here to make friends.

FK: [laughs] OK.

[Interstitial music]

FK: All right! We’re back, and we’re here to talk petitions.

ELM: Save my show! Save my show!

FK: OK. So tell me more—I think you were the one who initially proposed this episode.

ELM: Yeah.

FK: Tell me more about what got you thinking about this topic.

ELM: So the impetus was, maybe a month ago or so? We were contacted by a regular listener, pointing us to a pair of Voltron petitions. And Voltron, as you may have heard, the final season was at the end of last year, there was a lot of controversy, people didn’t like what happened on multiple fronts, and there were some theories that some changes had been made by, like, executives. And there was a real version of the show, and some of it…I don’t wanna comment on whether I think this, any of this happened or not. I’ve read the things that people have sent me to contextualize why people were creating petitions about it. Basically, these petitions were like, “rescue the real show.” “We have all this evidence that there was a real version, so it clearly seems like it was suppressed, and we, if enough of us sign this then they will release the real show.” And the question was, like, “is this common?” Is this kind of thing common. And the answer is yes. And I don’t think it was common five years ago, ten years ago, not in this way to this degree. Cause this is not, this is happening regularly, right?

FK: Right, and this is…specifically you’re saying that this is, you know, about the, like, “give me this ship” or “give me this thing that we think existed that you’ve hidden from us,” not like a save-our-show petition.

ELM: Right. Exactly. I mean, I saw a whole bunch of them for The Last Jedi where they were like “give us a good movie!” It was like [laughs] “OK!”

FK: Yeah, there was one that was like “De-canonize The Last Jedi.” [ELM laughs] And I was like, “Interesting.”

ELM: Yeah, right? So it’s just like…that kinda thing. I mean, so we’re talking at all levels of pop culture media, people are creating these petitions. And some of them are, like the Voltron ones that we saw, which were kind of more oriented towards…like, they were based on, you know, theories, maybe conspiracy theories, or just fan theories, however you wanna frame them, which is different from The Last Jedi being like “That fuckin’ sucked and I don’t want you to acknowledge that it’s a part of this thing.” And I’m sure there are some that are out there that’s like, “There’s some secret plot that Kathleen Kennedy,” like, you know, she tricked all the writers, so release them,” or whatever, like, I’m sure someone wrote that too.

FK: Well, the de-canonize The Last Jedi thing I think was coming off of, right, Star Wars did de-canonize the Legends canon, right? That used to be a thing in Star Wars and they were like “No it’s not.” So if you really hate The Last Jedi, I guess you might think, “Well, if they’re just de-canonizing things willy-nilly…” like…

ELM: Imagine thinking they would de-canonize…

FK: The movie they just made.

ELM: The movie! One of the tentpole movies in their giant franchise! Not the extra-canonical material! Fine, whatever. OK. So, this…you know, this got me thinking: this isn’t how it works. It’s not even asking for the right thing! Cause it doesn’t actually know what happened, and it’s all speculation, right? And I am not trying to pin this on the Voltron fandom or on these petitions at all, because this is something that I’ve seen very…I’ve seen lots of over the last five years or so. So I just wanna make that really, really clear.

So it got me thinking about a very early episode we did called “The Powers That Be.” [FK laughs] And prior to that episode…it’s not like I didn’t have a sense of how things worked, but I really think that episode was a turning point for me, and it was relatively early on in my fandom journalism career. You were like, “No no no. That’s really not how it works.” And you just like explained all of it, and I was like “Oh!” And like, from then on, everything changed.

FK: Television shows are written by committee!

ELM: Well that I knew.

FK: A lot of the decisions are just made because, like, an actor got sick that day and so that scene wasn’t in there! Someone had a horse farm and therefore the entire season is revolving around horses because you have a free place to shoot! [laughs]

ELM: Right. I guess what I had thought happened more often, and you were like “that really isn’t a part of this,” is the idea that there were, like, network suits, actual “Powers That Be,” and they would come in and say “Nope! We’re not makin’ it gay.” “Nope!” You know? “We’re not doing this.” And it wasn’t just you, it was also the fact that I had over the…those few years, around then, had multiple conversations with Hollywood writers where they told me about what they did, and I was just looking at them with my, like, trying to be polite expression and not like “WHAT ARE YOU SAYING RIGHT NOW TO ME,” you know. Things like, you know, “We tried to make that really shippy as a gift to the fans,” I’ve heard from multiple writers now, right.

FK: Yeah yeah yeah.

ELM: And you’re like “That’s common.” And it was like, “WHAT?” So obviously from the fan’s perspective, you think, “Oh of course they were trying to make it gay, and then the network suits were like, ‘No gay!’” But you were like…everyone’s telling me no, that’s literally not how those conversations are going [FK laughing] and there’s no, like, Mr. Men in the suit who’s coming in, you know. So that, that episode really, really was illuminating for me, and so I wanted to have you tell me the inside Hollywood scoop for petitions, and not just this one, that’s like, you know, “You screwed up on my ship and so we’re all gonna sign this until you fix it.” Also save-our-show, actual save-our-show where the show goes off the air—this is something you see a ton of now and actually some of them are successful. You’ll get…

FK: Yeah, absolutely.

ELM: …convince Hulu or Amazon or Netflix or someone to pick up a canceled show on a terrestrial network that…“terrestrial” is not what I mean. Network on the TV! You know.

FK: Yeah, totally. OK. So, there’s a lot of stuff within this, and I was excited that you brought this up right when you did, cause I was just in LA and I talked to a whole bunch of people—like, people on lots of different levels and places in the entertainment industry. And I asked them all for anecdotes about petitions and their thoughts about this, and literally all of them had a case where, like, someone had petitioned them to do something. Every single one.

ELM: That’s incredible. OK. Hook me up. How do we wanna structure this?

FK: Well, let’s first talk about the save-our-show petition, the one that's just saying, like, you know, “We want another season.” So the thing that’s really interesting to me about this is, do you remember how in, like, around 2001-2002, there used to be, like, “fan portals” that were paid for, like, someone at a show would make a website that would try and get fans to come and talk on it?

ELM: Yes.

FK: So I talked with someone who ran one of these, an official fan portal for a show.

ELM: “Portal” is such a 2000 word.

FK: He used this term and I’m gonna use it forever, because it was like “Oh!” He said this and I was like, “Oh, you mean like in the early 2000s!” He was like “Yes, how did you know?”

ELM: A web portal.

FK: I was like, well…

ELM: They dropped that word “portal” quite some time ago! “They” meaning “the internet.”

FK: Yeah. Um, this may have been a little later than that. Anyway.

ELM: Still that’s a very early 2000s, yes.

FK: He ran this site, it was an official site, and they knew that their show was on the bubble, which means that it was maybe gonna be renewed and maybe wasn’t gonna be renewed. And so he basically hinted to people, or like, helped set up a petition and a letter-writing campaign that got the show renewed. It pushed it over the bubble.

ELM: Wow!

FK: And that was interesting to me because it was a case, he was like “This was an actually useful case, because we knew for an actual fact that this would help us. So we told fans that it would help us, and they helped us.” You know? And that was interesting, because I was like, “So you’re saying that when you need fans to do it you’ll ask?” And he was like “Yeah!”

ELM: Does that still happen, though, and in what context?

FK: Well, I don’t know whether it still happens entirely, because this guy has not been running fan portals. Today he’s an independent movie producer. So I don’t know the answer to that. But it was interesting to me that that had been a thing, and that people were thinking in those terms. But then I realized that I’d heard that, actually, from a lot of people over time, right? And there have been cases where those save-our-show campaigns have been endorsed by producers and so on. Where they’ve lent their voices to it and been like, “Awesome. Keep going! Thank you.”

ELM: Right, right.

FK: Was it Jericho, some show like that, that succeeded a long—it was like five or six or eight years ago?

ELM: Never heard of that.

FK: It was not a huge show. But there have been a couple…

ELM: Was it on NBC?

FK: I don’t remember what it was on.

ELM: Feels like it was on NBC.

FK: Probably. Anyway, right. So there’s been a few where it seems like people have gotten in on it and they’ve been like “Yeah, do it.”

ELM: So hold on, this is interesting. What leads to a cancellation? It’s low viewership, right? So if you can say to a network, “Well, ignore the broader viewership. Clearly here’s 100,000 devoted people who will watch,” why will that make a difference to the network when they want advertising dollars and they sell those on the backs of overall numbers and not the level of passion of your core fanbase?

FK: Because those people will potentially evangelize and you may have a larger number of people in Season 2. So, like, the CW tends to do this: they let their shows run. Season 1, maybe it doesn’t have the greatest…that’s just a network that everyone knows does this. Season 1 may not be the greatest one ever. But they figure that if they’ve got enough fans that are excited at the end of Season 1, Season 2 maybe the writers have gotten a little more comfortable, the show’s a little better, those fans are gonna keep evangelizing the show, and they’ll pick up more viewers that way.

ELM: So this, we’re talking about something that’s happening…because when I think of save-our-show stuff, it’s not after one season and it goes. It’s like, it went for five seasons and…oh, that’s still on? And then there's some people who are like “I loved that the whole time!” And it’s like “Well…it really hasn’t happened.” And you do see people arguing for shows to stay on the air when it’s been on the air for four or five seasons.

FK: And so in those cases, a lot of times with save-your-show campaigns, it’s not that they’re hurting anything, but often they’ll succeed because someone else was already trying to pick it up. So sometimes when you see a show like that get canceled, sometimes it’s much more the behind-the-scenes money things. So for instance, who is the network and who is, like, making the show, are sometimes different. So you might have a show that's made by NBC but it’s airing on FOX. And in that case, it makes FOX less money than if it were both.

ELM: Are you talking about Brooklyn 99?

FK: Right! So that’s, that’s like, a famous case, right? Where basically it’s like, who gets paid what amount can make a big difference as to whether a show makes monetary sense for a network to have it or not. And, that also can affect whether streaming networks will pick it up or not. So you know, the question for Hannibal for instance had to do with, like, the overseas viewing. And I don’t understand all the details on that, but the reason why it couldn’t get renewed was not because the fanbase was not really excited, it’s not because it had such a small viewership, it’s because the way that they funded that show made it really hard to present it as a good monetary investment for any of the other networks around.

Which is not to say that it’ll never happen, but the broader point I’m trying to make is a lot of times you’ll have a save-our-show campaign, and coincidentally, another network is already well-placed to pick that show back up again. And so it didn’t hurt to have the save-our-show campaign, but it also mighta happened without it, because it’s just that financially it makes more sense for this smaller network to have this show that is comparatively big.

ELM: OK, but so, would you say then that, like, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon are also changing the game? Because they have completely opaque structures and seemingly could just take anything they want, because they are either run by the world’s richest men or are apparently operating in billions of dollars of debt [FK laughs] or whatever Netflix is, and just taking out as much content as possible?

FK: Yes. I am not qualified to speculate about the exact situation for any of those right now, but I will tell you that everybody…

ELM: Everyone…no. Everyone loves speculating about these. You should join the party.

FK: But I will say that everybody is really pissed off at the fact that none of them will give you any metrics. Even the showrunners don’t necessarily know how many people are watching their show.

ELM: That’s grim. And they can say whatever they want.

FK: And they can say whatever they want. So like, actually, this was something that I heard from a showrunner of a show on one of these networks, he was like, “it really really stresses me out that I don’t know how many people watch my show.” [laughs]

ELM: I just, I don’t understand the Netflix thing, because some of the numbers I think there’s literally no way that’s true.

FK: Everyone has many questions about this in the industry. [laughs]

ELM: I know! But some of them they’re like…

FK: How do you define “watch”?

ELM: But also, I don’t even believe 50 million people clicked on it!

FK: Some things start auto-playing on Netflix. Is that involved? I don’t know the answer to this question, I'm just proposing it.

ELM: What auto-plays? I only get…I get this on Hulu, when they start playing things I don’t wanna see ever. Like Friends.

FK: Sometimes if you, if you, like, hover over something and you leave it on it’ll start auto-playing.

ELM: Do you think when we’re sleeping, they turn on the TV and they start playing, and they’re like, “Oh look! Every single Netflix account ever watched Bird Box!”

FK: Well, I will tell you that I know somebody who did this with a Nielsen hooked-up TV.

ELM: Just left it on overnight?

FK: They purposely turned it on to, like, things that they liked and didn’t watch, and left it on. And they would do it overnight too sometimes. They would, like, program it to do things.

ELM: Come on, you know that when I had the other kind of Nielsen I lied and said I watched Dawson’s Creek.

FK: I know, I know.

ELM: People have been lying for decades!!

FK: People have been lying for decades. OK. OK OK. That’s save-our-show campaigns.

ELM: Yes. This is what—so who was it who was talking about the kinds of tips that they would give, was it Kenyatta who was saying…?

FK: It was Kenyatta.

ELM: If you use positive sentiment in your tweets…?

FK: Yeah, that’s Kenyatta Cheese and we’ll include the link to the episode where he talks about this in the show notes.

ELM: Right. So, just to quickly summarize, it was like, you know, people were trying to do hashtag campaigns, save-our-show, but they were writing, like, angry things. So if you just do broad sentiment analysis where you’re using automated tools to look for positive or negative mentions…then if you only get “50,000 people are tweeting angry things about our show,” that doesn’t encourage anyone to keep airing it. Whereas if 50,000 people are being like “I love this show, I hope it continues,” that automatically…

FK: Pick your save-our-show campaign hashtag in order to be positive sentiment in a really dumb sentiment analysis program.

ELM: Yeah, it’s a hard ask cause you’re probably sad! You want that show to be saved, but like, I don’t know. It’s interesting things like that that I think people probably don’t think about, and so. I think, I feel like it’s not necessarily in the entertainment industry’s best interest to make it more transparent, the process by which…because you know, if they were like, I’m just thinking now of all those stupid viral tweets where they were like, “50—500,000 retweets and you’ll get free chicken nuggets for life!” or whatever. So, they’re not gonna…NBC’s not gonna be like “Well, if you can gather 500,000 signatures…”

FK: No, they’re not gonna say that.

ELM: “I will save your show,” because…like, they would never say anything like that.

FK: No.

ELM: But surely there's some middle ground between total opacity…

FK: [laughing] Total opacity!

ELM: …and, like, 500k tweets for nuggets.

FK: Yes. But part of the problem here is also, like, some of this stuff truly is, like, privileged information. Like, some of the things about what makes a show worth it to a network or not worth it, right. What’s the profit sharing like? All of this stuff. So that’s part of the problem with the opacity, it’s not just is it in their best interest or not. In some cases it might be absolutely in their best interest to tell fans all of this. But whose best interest? Cause there’s someone else who doesn’t want to, for the sake of their shareholders, say exactly what that contract is. You know what I mean?

ELM: Yeah. I wonder if…I mean, is it decent advice to fans to say “evangelize more”? Like, actually get the numbers that can be measured?

FK: Yes. Yes.

ELM: Maybe you should have evangelized more to start. [laughs] That’s kinda shitty to say.

FK: Evangelize, get other people to watch it, and when you do get there, be really positive and focus on doing what you can do. Which is showing that you are really positive about this.

ELM: Yeah, I mean…

FK: You love it.

ELM: That’s a hard ask, but this is the paradox of fandom, right. Because so much of fandom is about being critical, but then like, do you really want this show if you hate it so much? You know?

FK: Well, the other thing about this, right—a save-our-show campaign, right, I know I just said that a lot of times they don’t necessarily…they’re not the thing that saved the show, they might not hurt but they aren’t really the thing…but save-our-show campaigns can be good for other reasons. They can bring a fandom together, right? A lot of the Hannibal save-our-show stuff actually created some amazing things. So I don’t think that people should be too quick to say “This is useless, it’s never gonna change anything,” because actually it can be a really powerful community-building thing and something that helps you preserve that community, even if it doesn’t succeed.

ELM: Flourish, are you saying “the real save-our-show campaign was the friends we made along the way”?

FK: [laughs] That is in fact actually what I’m saying.

ELM: It’s literally what you were saying.

FK: And I wish we could have made that the title of this episode, cause it would have been a perfect title.

ELM: Too late. Too late. I like our metaphorical title. OK. I think that we should take another quick break and then we should pivot towards that metaphor.

FK: Let’s do that.

ELM: OK great, let’s do it!

[Interstitial music]

FK: All right. We’re back.

ELM: We are.

FK: And it’s time to talk the metaphorical save-our-show campaigns: when people are like “This show will be dead to me unless my ship gets together,” or “unless you fix this plot point that I hate.”

ELM: Basically, “You need to right this wrong, and I am the arbiter of right and wrong.”

FK: Right. So…

ELM: To be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your right and wrong are, like, incorrect, right?

FK: Noooo! Sometimes you can be completely correct.

ELM: Yeah! I mean like, a lot of the time there’s lots of bad writing, right? That’s true. And I don’t know, I don’t wanna be too flippant with people who are upset about, like, a queer ship or…you know, a ship with marginalized characters, but in particular a queer ship, wanting it to happen. But I just want to reiterate that shipping is not activism and you can be upset about a queer ship without saying that, like, it’s an explicit act of…you know.

FK: Yes.

ELM: You know what I mean, you know what I mean.

FK: Yeah. Well, and also to be clear, you can be really upset that, for instance, your ship didn’t get together, and you have every right to feel angry about that and to do literally anything that is not hurting other people that you want, about that.

ELM: [laughs] Good, good, good caveat there.

FK: Y’know? Like, like…process your feelings in any way that you wish. However, the bad news is that not only do these petitions not pretty much ever help, they also sometimes actively hurt.

ELM: OK. Tell me more.

FK: Well, a showrunner who will remain nameless told me recently that he received a petition about a character on his show that was, like, “We all love this character,” and they had chosen to give that character a…storyline that was…I would say, broadly negative. And they got this petition. And in the writers’ room they were all like, “Wow. Huh.” And then it was early enough that they were still writing the last few episodes of the season, and he was like “Yeah, and we made it as bad as possible!”

ELM: Oh my God! Now, OK. Why?

FK: Apparently in this case, they already knew that it was going to be bad. But they were like, “Wow. Y’all really hate this. I guess we might as well go all in.”

ELM: Oh wow.

FK: Because they couldn’t, at that point, right—I don't wanna speak for him, and I also don’t wanna say what show it is, because…

ELM: Yeah.

FK: I really don’t think that he was particularly proud of this, necessarily, but it was in fact what had happened. So on the one hand, like, by the time the petition was going, it’s not like they could turn the ship, because they were still writing the last few episodes, but like…you’ve already got the season’s arc planned out. Like, this was a major part of the season.

ELM: Not an actual ship. A metaphorical ship.

FK: Metaphorical ship. [laughs]

ELM: Wow.

FK: There was not actually, this was not a shipping petition.

ELM: Steer the truck.

FK: Steer the truck! Right.

ELM: That classic metaphor.

FK: So you know, if you don’t know this, when you’ve got TV, you’ve got the whole arc planned out and then you’re, like, writing as you’re making episodes, and so sometimes—especially on a network show—you’ll still be writing the last episodes of the season while the first ones have been airing. But by that point it’s very very hard to make changes to anything, because everything has already been set up in terms of production, in terms of timeline, all of this stuff.

ELM: Wait. In non-network shows, so like an AMC, an HBO, or even BBC, which you’re down to six episodes, but—if you’re talking a 13-episode arc or a 10-episode, do they write those before they start shooting?

FK: Uh, it depends. So sometimes yes. So…there’s more flexibility there usually. Sometimes you’ll have an entire thing shot at once. In fact, sometimes you’ll even do this thing called “block shooting” which is where you’ve got all the episodes written and then you, like, shoot all the scenes from one setting in a block in that spot.

ELM: Yeah, yeah.

FK: So when that happens there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to change anything when the fans begin to react—until the season break, right. So there might be something at the end of the season. You might turn the metaphorical ship or truck or whatever it is.

ELM: Truck! It’s a truck. Don’t use “ship” for other things! [FK laughs] Too confusing!

FK: So at the end of the season there might be an opportunity to change…

ELM: Dirigible.

FK: There might be an opportunity to change the dirigible’s path.

ELM: Thank you.

FK: But, like, during it, it’s pretty much…it’s pretty much not gonna happen.

ELM: Gotcha, OK.

FK: That’s not to say, by the way, that changes can’t happen, it’s just that the changes are pretty much never gonna come from fans. So changes might happen because, for instance, an actor breaks their leg, you know.

ELM: What about the shadowy network executive comes in and goes, “No gays!” then storms out? Now he’s like that guy from Spider-Man. “More pictures of Spider-Man!”

FK: If they were gonna do that, they probably woulda done it much earlier in the process.

ELM: [laughing] Wait! You told me they don’t do it that way!

FK: They don’t really do it that way. But if they were going to do it that way, which they don’t really do, then it would have been way earlier in this process. It probably would have been right at the front, the pitch. “Can we do this but make it less gay?” Right, when there’s literally nothing but the log line, right.

ELM: Yeah, yeah.

FK: To be perfectly honest, I think that in this case [laughs] the reaction, while not admirable, was a defensive one, largely, right? It was like “Well, we’re already doing this, so like…here it is guys!” Shrug.

ELM: Right, and it’s…you know, like, while you’re right, it's not…“ad-mer-a-ble” is the way I say that word, not to tell you that…

FK: DUDE. Nick told me it was “admire-a-ble” and got on my case for saying “ad-mer-a-ble”!

ELM: No.

FK: Yes. I said it “ad-mer-a-ble.”

ELM: Like all other English speakers.

FK: That’s—OK well look, you have trodden down my self-esteem about how I say things so much that I—

ELM: Me! [laughing]

FK: I take notes from anyone. Yes! [laughing]

ELM: Sounds like, sounds like Nick does too!

FK: Anyway.

ELM: I—admirable. It’s not admirable. You know, part of me wants to be like “Oh, they don’t owe these fans anything, and the fans are…” I don’t know. I don’t wanna be “the fans are being uppity” or whatever, “entitled.” But like, you know, you could say that, right? Is that an act of entitlement? “You must do these demands”?

FK: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s certainly how this person felt about it in the moment, whether or not he feels that way now. I don’t wanna speak for him too much cause he, you know, he sort of was like “eeeeh” about that story.

ELM: Yeah. But I think those two things can be true at once. It can be an act of entitlement, but he can also have behaved badly.

FK: Right. I think that probably that’s the best way to frame it. But other people who said that they had had these experiences also said, like, you know…some of whom were like, “I wish them well! They wanted to do a thing that I, too, wanted to do!” And yet, that dirigible had sailed. [laughs] You know? And, and the fact is that almost always the dirigible will have sailed, except for if there’s, like, a season break. And sometimes you can, in fact, shift things at the season break, because this character was really great or what have you. But again, not always, right? Sometimes that person is going off on another show or whatever else. Or, there’s different opinions in the writers’ room. So you can never, in these cases, like…it’s not that expressing yourself is bad, necessarily. I don’t think that that’s true, and I think that people should express what they want out of their shows. But you gotta know it’s a very slight chance that you’re gonna have an impact.

ELM: Right.

FK: And that the impact could be one that you don’t like.

ELM: All right. Did you talk to anyone who had encountered the kind of thing that I was describing in the start, the petition that was founded on theories about what had gone wrong and, rather than saying “We don’t like the choices you made as writers,” saying “I’m pretty sure that the reason you made these choices was X and we’re all signing this petition to rectify the series of events that led you here.” Did anyone have any experience with that kind of thing?

FK: No. No one I talked to had experience with that. People did talk a bunch about the Lexa Pledge.

ELM: What’s that?

FK: In a previous episode we had Javi Grillo-Marxuach on the podcast, and he was the writer on The 100 who wrote an episode in which this beloved femslash pairing — I guess it’s not a femslash pairing, it’s a canon pairing, right — talkin’ Lexa…

ELM: Oh, wow. Really? You don’t consider an F/F pairing that's canon femslash? This is, this is…

FK: Well, it depends on…well, it depends on how people define slash and canon pairings.

ELM: This is not, this is not like, a minority opinion. It’s just, like, a split opinion.

FK: It’s not the opinion I hold, I…it’s not an opinion that I hold, I just wanted to be clear about it, for the sake of anyone who holds various things. I was like, it’s debated. Whether you would call…whether you should use that term.

ELM: I find that, I find this whole debate incredible. Because…because, it’s just weird to me because I’ve had, like, canon slash pairings. Canon male/male pairings. So it’s like…

FK: No no no no no—

ELM: Anytime that anyone defines slash as “things that only exist outside of canon,” I’m like, “Whaaaaaaa…” but tons of people do.

FK: A lot of people do, so I—

ELM: Yeah, I gotcha.

FK: I’m with you personally, but I—

ELM: OK. Phew. I was like “Do we differ that much, Flourish? I didn’t know that.”

FK: We really don’t. So anyway, this pairing, one half of them got killed off in, like, a really insulting way, and it was also the tail end of a season where more than 20 lesbians had been killed off on TV that season…

ELM: Oh, I think it was like twice that number. It was like a really large number of lesbians.

FK: It was a number large enough that I was like, “Were there that many lesbians on TV to kill off?!”

ELM: Some of them were bisexual.


ELM: Yes.

FK: Regardless.

ELM: But that’s also my reaction.

FK: At the end of this, obviously, ClexaCon was founded, there was all sorts of uproar…it actually did have the broader impact in the entertainment industry. When this happened, I like, walked into meetings at networks and they were talking about it. So this was a case where, like, truly it, it did become a flashpoint. And a group of people created this “Lexa Pledge,” which…

ELM: Was it the LGBT Fans Deserve Better, was it that group or a different group?

FK: Yes, it was that group.

ELM: All right.

FK: So the Lexa Pledge reads, “We’ll ensure that any significant or recurring LGBTQ characters we introduce will have significant storylines with meaningful arcs. While creating arcs for these characters we’ll consult with sources inside the LGBTQ community. We recognize that the community is underrepresented on television and so the deaths of queer characters have deep psychosocial ramifications. We refuse to kill a queer character solely to further the plot of a straight one. We acknowledge that the ‘bury your gays’ trope is harmful; as such we’ll avoid making story choices that perpetuate that trope. We promise never to bait or mislead fans via social media or any other outlet. We know there’s a long road ahead of us to ensure the queer community is properly and fairly represented on TV; we pledge to begin that journey today.”

And every single person I spoke to agreed in spirit with the Lexa Pledge, but said—and in fact Javi was one of the people I spoke to and he said this, and he’s said it in public before, like—“I can’t sign that, because I can’t promise things that are not under my control.”

ELM: Yeah.

FK: And…you know, I mean, among other things I think that the fact, like…his story of how he got involved in the entire Clexa debacle is illustrative of why this is not gonna work very well. Because it’s not like he was personally, individually deciding to kill that character off, right?

ELM: Right.

FK: And it’s not like he had the final…he, the buck didn’t stop at his desk to decide that, and no matter what he had said in that context—he could have refused and then been fired.

ELM: Sure.

FK: And that was the option that he had.

ELM: But he did make a writing choice which I think he probably regrets to, you know…

FK: Oh, absolutely—

ELM: Violently kill her briefly after their first time. Didn’t need to do that.

FK: All of that is not to say that, I mean, I don’t think he made that choice individually on his own without any input from anybody. I don’t even know if it was his idea or not. It may not have been. I don’t care.

ELM: It still happened in the writers’ room. It’s not like someone came down from on high and said “This is the way that you need to write this woman off the show.”

FK: They certainly didn’t, and by the way, I’m not saying that in order to make it sound like he was not culpable. But I do think that one of the things the Lexa Pledge, signing the Lexa Pledge will naturally put people in a position of is: certain things, like “any significant or recurring characters that we introduce will have significant storylines with meaningful arcs,” he can’t promise that.

ELM: Right.

FK: No writer in a writer’s room can promise that. Not even the showrunner.

ELM: Sure.

FK: Because I heard from another person this weekend, another showrunner, that he had tried multiple times to introduce a particular gay character—or he had tried to introduce a gay character—and then the actor had conflicts and had to be written off. And then they introduced another one, and that actor had conflicts and got written off. He said it was like Lucy and the football, and they were desperately trying, they had meaningful arcs for each of these characters, but every time it was like, you know, this person kept going…  

Now, do I think that there are ways they could have gotten around that? Sure. But when you’re in the moment, do I think that, like, you couldn’t easily fall into a position where, like, you, you know—mistakes happened and then this happens? Yeah. You don't control everything about this, right.

ELM: Right, right.

FK: So my larger point with all this is that in this case, this is a super well-meaning petition, which people broadly agree with, but because of the realities of the situation, it’s really hard for people to sign. And I think that that’s the case with a lot of other petitions as well.

ELM: So this leads me into what I think would be a good final area of discussion, which is the nature of a petition itself.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: Because this topic, everything on that list—it’s very interesting to present that. And that’s not even a petition. That, that one feels like a contract.

FK: That’s true.

ELM: You say “Well, you violated Clause 3! You introduced a thing and then,” whatever. So like…that’s really interesting and to frame it in a contract way…I understand emotionally why people framed it that way, because you wanna say, I don’t, it’s a little like “Sign this pre-nup with me so you don’t hurt me in the—” you know, “in the end,” that kind of thing. “I’m not willing to get into this relationship with you and your show if you’re not willing to sign this contract with me.”

FK: Completely, completely. And by the way, I appreciate that and wish that everyone could and did sign this. Because if it were that easy, I would love to only watch shows that had people who had signed this. Right?

ELM: Right. I mean…like, yeah, I also think, I mean, I…you know, I’m an advocate, on this particular topic I’m an advocate for, like, a diversity of stories. So I don’t think that, like, queer characters should be disproportionately killed; I also don’t think that you should…I mean, this contract did not say “no queer character can ever die,” right.

FK: No, it did not say that.

ELM: If that were in the pledge, I would say no. I think actually the way they worded it, I don’t know if there’s anything that I would say “Oh no I don’t wanna see that,” you know, as a hard and fast rule, but like, just to clarify. But I’m just, I’m thinking about the nature of petitions. I’m also thinking of the parallel I brought up in the beginning—not parallel, but petitions in general. You know? We all, you know, have 500,000 of us sign this [FK laughs] to let, let the White House know that we all feel this way! It’s like, I’m sorry. That literally doesn’t matter. It’s very cynical in politics, but like, it doesn’t matter.

FK: No.

ELM: The only way that matters is that your vote gets counted.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: And then, like…oh man, side note. Can I just say, Stacey Abrams? I love her so much! [FK laughs] Did you know she was a romance novelist!

FK: Not until, not—I mean what’s funny is I think I’d seen her romance novels but I did not connect the two until this came to, this came to be a thing on my Twitter dash. And I was like “Woah.”

ELM: Pro romance novelist. Doctor Who fan.

FK: Attends DragonCon!

ELM: Attends DragonCon! She’s my hero! She, I just thought of her because she was on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me the weekend after the State of the Union, and they were talking about how she was in this union hall, I didn’t actually watch it cause I don't have a TV. And she, all the faces were blurred out, presumably for legal reasons, I guess, in the background, so it was just like blurry faces. And they made some joke, and she said without missing a beat, like, “it’s the ghost of all the votes suppressed,” or something, and I was just like “OH you are so good at this.” Like, it’s so—I mean, it’s a really sad topic. But also she just swooped right in with, like, “I’m gonna remind you what’s going on right now.” So anyways, side note!

I just feel like, there’s something that really bums me out about petitions of all sorts online, because it just sorta feels like a way to collectively shout into the air. And I don’t know if that’s incredibly cynical, but it looks like a lot, just like, as a critique of hashtag activism—it looks like a lot, but it’s, you know. It doesn’t actually connect to reality. Most of the time.

FK: And I think that some aspects of it hashtag activism can be…like, I would never say having a hashtag is meaningless and has no effect, right? It doesn’t always have the effect that people think it’s gonna have, necessarily, but it does sometimes have some effects.

ELM: It depends on the context, obviously. I think things like…I mean obviously it’s, it’s open to critique, but I think something like the original #MeToo hashtag, or any kind of hashtag that opens the…you know, like, anything that’s like, “Tweet about stories of discrimination” or bias or whatever, that kind of thing. You know, right?

FK: Right.

ELM: While obviously open to critique, I think that those can be powerful. But I also do think that’s often a kind of a “the friends that we made along the way” sort of thing, not necessarily, like, “X many people tweeted this,” but more like, you know?

FK: Yeah. But I think that sometimes petitions can be that way too, right? One of the various—there are like a million different Voltron petitions over the course of Voltron. And I was looking at a bunch of them. And one of them, you know, is very explicit, says, “I know that the next season is probably already done and written. I just want DreamWorks to know that the fans care about this, for the future.” You know? Now, the person who wrote that petition may be the only one [laughs] who wrote it and was thinking that way, right? Maybe a bunch of people were signing this thinking “Yeah, this is gonna make an impact next season.”

ELM: Yeah.

FK: However I do, I do think that there’s something to…maybe not the goal in front of you right now, but the goal for the next thing. Maybe the Lexa Pledge and everything that happened with Clexa could not fix that problem on The 100—it certainly could not! However, there’s longer term, like, everybody who heard about that thought about that. People talk very differently about that now than they used to. So, you know, I mean…

ELM: OK. Maybe I think some things are getting conflated here. Because that, and LGBT Fans Deserve Better, is more like…critiquing systemic problems.

FK: Right.

ELM: And trying to highlight them.

FK: As opposed to “I want these two people to smush their faces please now.”

ELM: Yeah. And I think…you know, I don’t wanna pin this all on Voltron, but I do think that it’s a relatively recent show, I think that there were a lot of younger and newer fans, uh, and I think there were a lot of people who wrapped up feelings that…you know, activist feelings with their shipping feelings…and not necessarily just about ships, some of their queer rep feelings as well…and were disappointed, and…you know, I just…the difference between systemic critique or individual critique and treating it like an activist campaign that if you just fight hard enough you can, that, you know, if you can just campaign hard enough it’ll change…

And I saw some commentary from some people being like, one I read she was like 16 and she was like, “You don’t understand what this meant to me and what this would have meant to me.” And I was like “Yeah, no. I mean, I do.” And she wasn't talking to me. But like, I do understand what she’s saying! But, like, if you’ve been in fandom long enough, you’re kind of…it’s maybe cynical, but you do kind of get used to the things that you want not matching up with what happens. And it’s not necessarily every single slash ship you wanted never becomes canon. It’s not necessarily that, but you’ll have expectations and they won’t match up, and so then, you know, maybe you learn that a more effective way for you to take control back is to critique rather than to continually ask.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: Is that a good way to make that distinction, does that make sense?

FK: Yeah. I think that that’s a, I think that that’s a very good way to make that distinction. I think that it’s not ever…like, if the way that you want to express things is through a petition, like, if you—if you feel like there is a problem with a show, and you think, like, this could be—you know, this could be different, and that we really want to specifically tell writers one thing that we believe about this? I’m not saying, I don’t think “don’t do a petition.” In fact, maybe if you have 50,000 people sign a petition, it will come to the writers’ attention—if you really want your critique to be seen by those writers, knowing that you won’t be able to control what they think of it or if they have any power to change it or if they want to change it. Then do it! Go for it! You know? OK fine! But, I don’t think it’s terribly healthy to get wrapped up in the idea that you are actually doing something that is going to have an impact, or that you can foresee what the impact will be…I think that it’s much better to find new ways to think about shows that you’re really into. Like, just like you were saying.

ELM: Yeah. I think…I think it’s something really jumbly about, like, critical media fandom kind of getting wrapped up in a little bit of affirmational media fandom, right?

FK: Yes, very much.

ELM: You know? So it’s like, critical media fandom’s saying, “I don’t like this and I’m gonna complain! I’m gonna critique it, whether I do a fanwork or I fix everything you screwed up, cause you’re terrible at writing, you television writers,” or “I just write long metas,” right. And affirmational is where you wanna validate what the, what the creators are doing. So that’s when these things get really tangled…unfortunately, sometimes that is a bit of a binary. You know? If you really want their validation, like…television, remember television writers, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to align with you 100% of the time. Any viewer! Right?

FK: Right.

ELM: You are not…even if you were one of the writers in that room, you’re not, you’re not getting your way 100% of the time!

FK: You are definitely not getting your way 100% of the time. And there’s also such difference in writers and in what they do. So out of the people I spoke to about this episode, go all the way from people who literally don’t have a Twitter and don’t interact with anybody online ever in the fandom that they’re working on, to someone like Javi who will literally tweet with anyone who tweets at him.

ELM: Sure.

FK: And is excited to say anything about anything, you know.

ELM: Right. And like you could talk to Javi until the cows come home and if he just doesn’t agree with that…he’ll listen to you fairly and honestly, he still might write the exact opposite thing of what you want, and this writer who never goes online, just like the clock being right…what is it, broken clock’s right twice a day? [FK laughs] Like, he could accidentally stumble upon the exact thing that you want…not accidentally. Like, you just may be on the same wavelength or whatever. There’s no way to know.

FK: Absolutely, absolutely. And I mean again, not to say that even those people, like…that person who’s the most hermetically sealed and who actually described this process as “I like to be hermetically sealed from anybody else’s opinions about this except for who’s in the writer’s room, cause I just have too much to deal with already within there,” even in that case, he was saying, “Yeah,” you know, “sure what fans want has some impact.” In fact, he specifically was saying that, like, “Oh, you know, there’s a ship that is,” you know, “it’s endgame in this show that I’m working on, because fans love it. We weren’t sure if we would make it endgame or not, but everyone seems to love them so much.”

ELM: Oh, Flourish. You just opened the floodgates, just there, to now…

FK: No, I mean, genuinely, sometimes it happens! It would be wrong not to open those floodgates, because it’s not that it never happens, right. It’s not that there’s absolutely none of it. It’s just that you don’t know what's going on. Because he could just as equally have said, “The fans really liked it but we think it’ll be better to give them a tragic ending.”

ELM: Right.

FK: “Because everyone will be, because then it’s like this great opportunity to use everyone’s passion for this couple and really make them feel something.” That could have been his attitude! And it’s not totally a wrong attitude. I mean, from a writing perspective.

ELM: Sure.

FK: So he could have gone any direction, and by the way, it’s not just him, it’s also all the other people involved in making decisions about this. So you just can’t know.

ELM: Right. I think the takeaway here is, like, I think we both agree: petition your heart out, but I think…protect your heart, I guess. Don’t…just, just like any political petition, it’s not like if you just gather enough signatures, like, they’ll impeach Trump or something. You know? That’s not how it works, right, you know? Thought it’s a different situation obviously and there’s no voting involved, and sadly, in television, no electoral college of television, like, you know.

FK: Is that…wait, did you just say “sadly” there’s no electoral college of television?

ELM: You would like it if television was created by electoral college? I think it’d be fascinating.

FK: No one can see me opening and closing my mouth like a fish gasping for air, but that’s, that’s…

ELM: Fascinating. Imagine! We had a, not like a full democracy, but an electoral college. Not the current electoral college, actually, I take it back.

FK: THANK you. I’m glad we agree about that.

ELM: Oh is that—you thought I meant the actual, current electoral college?!

FK: I was just sitting and thinking about what the electoral college would be like if it made all the decisions about television and I really do not like that, that possibility. That’s not what I want. No thank you.

ELM: You love Fox & Friends. It’s not even that. It’s like, it’s like CSI. Right?

FK: Yeah. It’s the Hallmark Channel forever.

ELM: What’s wrong with that? Look, she’s just a, she’s just a big city girl who really has lost touch with American values. And she’s gonna go home and run the Christmas tree contest…

FK: If they ever optioned a romance novel that was not about white people, I would be more into it.

ELM: Apparently they had a bunch with black leads this past year!

FK: They just started doing it.

ELM: It was literally this year.

FK: I’m rehashing my complaints about this, but…

ELM: Your complaints are real 2017, Flourish. Now there’s, like, a small number of black leads. I don’t, I don’t know if any of them are not straight romances though. I haven’t heard about any, so…

FK: I think it’s mostly straight.

ELM: Yeah.

FK: If not all.

ELM: Let’s start a petition.

FK: That’s how we’re gonna get the Hallmark Channel to do what we want, is by starting a petition. [laughs]

ELM: I really think that you could just say to the Hallmark Channel, if you did some really good, like, market share research, and be like “people would also be really into this.”

FK: You know, from your lips to God’s ears.

ELM: I’m just saying, I don’t know. Maybe they have, I mean it does seem that they have a bit of an agenda. Like, an American, like a…you know. “Real American values” kind of agenda.

FK: I think their agenda is “what will people in Ohio watch,” Elizabeth.

ELM: I don’t know, people in Ohio watch Will and Grace. The revival.

FK: That’s true. [ELM laughs] That’s true. That’s true.

ELM: Yeah.

FK: I don’t think there’s any shortage of gay best friends on Hallmark Channel movies.

ELM: That’s true.

FK: How did we get on this topic?

ELM: I don’t know, but now I’m just thinking about Hallmark Channel movies. And I obviously, I made it about only Christmas ones too.

FK: Yeah that’s very on-brand for you.

ELM: Apparently they have others but…I only know it when there’s some kind of Christmas tree contest.

FK: Very, very on brand for you.

ELM: Or the like, and someone’s gonna get foreclosed on by the bank on December 24th at 5 p.m.

FK: There’s a cupcake bakery involved, too. [ELM laughing] All right.

ELM: It’s fine. It’s fine.

FK: I feel like I spent this episode being interviewed, but I also feel like the interview questions you asked were really, like, good ones.

ELM: Thank you. I am a professional journalist.

FK: You are! You’re good at this.

ELM: Awww. Thanks! You were good too. As a professional entertainment person. I would love to know people’s thoughts about questions that I did not ask you.

FK: Yeah. That would be…that would be great, I would love to get people’s responses to this, and I’ll see…if there’s anything that people, you know, really have a burning question, I can probably go back and ask some of the folks that I talked to. Obviously…

ELM: I can’t believe that you’re suggesting this right now. Ask anything to the collective people of the entertainment industry and Flourish will ask them all off-the-record.

FK: It’s not collective people, but I, you know. I think probably I could be like “Hey we had a question about this, what do you think.” So. No guarantees, but people were pretty cool about it, you know? In general, I think that people think about this a lot, right? It’s not just fans thinking about this, it’s also [laughs] everybody on the other side. They think about this too.

ELM: We should have some sort of…I know you kind of do this on the individual level, but what if we offered that conduit to them in reverse? Where they were like, “do you have questions about what fans think?” Obviously I know that’s kind of your job, but…

FK: Yeah. Little bit my job.

ELM: I feel like there are questions beyond the scope of your job. Where you could just be like…

FK: I actually literally ran that once. I did, like, a thing for…it was many years ago. For AMC at one point.

ELM: Oh!

FK: I, like, went and I got a bunch of…I had a bunch of questions and I asked a bunch of people in transformative fandom their thoughts on those questions. And I, like, shared them with AMC.

ELM: Interesting.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: For what show, are you allowed to say?

FK: No, it was a broad network thing, it wasn’t for a particular show.


FK: It was 10 years ago, so hopefully nobody, you know. I shoulda checked to see if that NDA was out, but I’m pretty sure no one’s gonna get mad.

ELM: Were they upset that there’s not a lot of Mad Men fanfiction? That’s the famous example.

FK: No. Well, they weren’t upset for a variety of reasons but one of the things was there was actually a bunch of Mad Men roleplay that they knew about, so that was…at the time that was a big conversation, was Mad Men roleplayers.

ELM: You know, as you know I’m watching Mad Men right now because I am in 2007 and I now feel inspired. What if I Mad Men roleplayed? Will you do it with me?

FK: No.

ELM: Why not?

FK: Because I did that in 2007.

ELM: Why won’t you [laughs] why won’t you join me! I was living in a long-term hostel in Scotland where I barely had access to the internet. You think I had time to sit around and watch Mad Men on the television we didn’t have? No. [FK laughs] But now I have Netflix…

FK: Uh-huh. And you’re not living in a long-term hostel.

ELM: And I have dresses that look like they’re from the 60s. I don’t know why you won’t do this with me.

FK: I, I don’t know where to go from here, but I won’t.

ELM: [laughs] OK fine. Fine.

FK: All right. I’m glad that you forgive me for not being willing to come along with you there.

ELM: I don’t. But we have to end the episode.

FK: OK. Well, some wrapping up business: one really good thing, we just launched a new website, fansplaining.com, that used to point to a Tumblr! But now it points to a shiny new site!

ELM: It’s real shiny.

FK: It’s very shiny! So, let us know if you see anything that’s wonkus with it. We hope that it’s a much better experience than the Tumblr was. But the Tumblr still exists!

ELM: Hey hey, hey hey hey, unlike Tumblr it’s not at a contrast so high that people are having seizures. Yeah. You know Tumblr changed their colors, like, two weeks ago?

FK: Yeah, and they said that it was because…it was too low-contrast before and people couldn’t see it.

ELM: I’m gonna hook you up with the post. People are having—I personally actually can’t look at it, since I had my concussion I can’t look at contrast that high.

FK: Woah.

ELM: And I’ve seen, I’ve seen probably at this point dozens if not more than 100 complaints about this pass my dash, including the best galaxy brain meme I’ve ever seen. And in that meme, they said that people were having migraines and seizures. Tumblr! Bad choices all around. We still have a Tumblr though! High-contrast.

FK: So if that’s where you like to get your information, you can still get your information there. You can also follow us on Twitter, that’s fansplaining on Twitter, or on Facebook, we’re Fansplaining there too, or on Instagram, we’re also Fansplaining there.

ELM: You don’t actually get a lot of information on Instagram, but you do get a notification when the show is live, and you also—once every six months—get, like, a Story from us when we do something.

FK: That’s true. So it’s totally worth it. If you wanna get in touch with us, you can get in touch with us by sending an e-mail to fansplaining@gmail.com, or by giving us a phone call at…what’s the number, Elizabeth?

ELM: 1-401-526-FANS. Did I do it? Did I do it?

FK: YES! 1-401-526-FANS. And you can be anonymous in either of those cases. Just tell us, we won’t read your name if you don’t want us to. Or don’t give us your name if you call us!

ELM: Right. And the third anonymous way to send a message, particularly if you have a short one, is we still have our ask box open on Tumblr. But yeah, we highly encourage you to either leave a voicemail or to leave an e-mail if you want to ask something a little bit longer.

FK: Yeah. Because having to chain asks in that ask box, it’s not good for anybody.

ELM: Agree. Final point of business, cash money, patreon.com/fansplaining.

FK: Yeah.

ELM: Is how we pay for our web-hosting fees [laughs] amongst other things. So if you have any extra money and you’ve been thinking about monetarily supporting us, we would love that, as little as $1 a month. We are working on the next tiny zine, another collaboration with Maia Kobabe. So yeah, if you have $10 a month to spare, you should sign up now so you can get that.

FK: Absolutely.

ELM: And of course, as always, if you don’t have any extra cash right now, if you rate and review us on iTunes or wherever else you get your podcasts, that is incredibly helpful for us, for other people to find us!

FK: I think that’s it!

ELM: I do think that’s it.

FK: All right. Then I’ll talk to you later, Elizabeth.

ELM: OK bye, Flourish!

[Outro music]

ELM & FK: Fansplaining is brought to you by all of our patrons, especially Kathleen Parham, 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, Jennifer Lackey, Tara Stewart, and in honor of One Direction and Captain James McGraw Flint. Our Creative Commons licensed music is “Awel” by stefsax and “Keeping Stuff Together” by Lee Rosevere. Both are used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license; for more information and links, look at our show notes. The opinions expressed in this podcast are not our clients’, or our employers’, or anyone’s except our own.