Episode 96: Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 4
In Episode 96, “Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 4,” Flourish and Elizabeth respond to a plethora of listener letters on a wide variety of topics, including genderbending, imagines, political leanings across fannish platforms, Fandom Wank, kink memes, and how to deal with a friend who has GENUINELY TERRIBLE IDEAS ABOUT FANFIC.
[00:00:40] If you’re not familiar with Keidra Chaney’s work, check out The Learned Fangirl.
[00:09:36] Bless the Lost SS/HG Fanfics blog for finding “The Fire and the Rose,” by Abby and Domina. (The version that’s up on fanfiction.net is incomplete.)
[00:12:02] You really want to click through for the full thread on black Batman.
[00:13:58] Elizabeth’s (first) cousin (twice-removed), testifying before the Senate in 1973 about the Watergate break-in...which he organized 🙃
He did write those American James Bond books, though!
[00:14:06] The DS9 episode Flourish is mentioning is 7x15, “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (link goes to Memory Alpha, if you want to avoid spoilers on a really old show).
[00:22:00] Our interstitial music is “Thinking It Over” by Lee Rosevere.
[00:25:29] The finest Magneto imagine in the world:
[00:32:40] Elizabeth is talking about how, in the UK, rape scenes are no longer allowed in movies rated suitable for under-15s.
[00:43:51] “I’m done explaining why fanfic is okay.” is a piece of meta by Aja Romano.
[00:50:15] The quote Elizabeth reads is by Zadie Smith, from her KCRW interview about On Beauty.
And to sing us out, those Bach chorales Elizabeth was endorsing…
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode #96, “Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 4.” Yes, another AMA episode. It’s true.
FK: It’s OK. OK. So initially we were supposed to have Keidra Chaney of “The Learnèd” or “Learned Fangirl”—we still haven’t solved this—on. But, there were technical difficulties.
ELM: So, Keidra will be coming on, I think…not even the next episode, but the one after next, just based on our schedule. And we were going through our inbox trying to appease Flourish’s inbox zero [FK laughing] tendencies, um, and found out we had a lot of unanswered messages, like several dozen. Some of which are recent, and some of them are a little older…
FK: Yeah. It’s possible that we don’t have, like, a happy medium between our tendencies, and that, like, together we both failed at a thing that individually I think we both would’ve achieved. [laughing]
ELM: Unclear. I mean…I mean…so, hopefully everyone forgives us, if you feel like we have…
FK: Sometimes we’re worse together.
ELM: Yeah, no, I—I wouldn’t give us any credit. If you have sent us a message and you feel like it’s slipped through the cracks, even if it was like two years ago, please follow up.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: Please follow up! And we will try to respond.
FK: We will.
ELM: So thank you for everyone’s patience. We have eight questions, or…they’re mostly questions, I think they’re all questions actually. I was gonna say they’re comments, but…
FK: They’re all questions.
ELM: Some are responses to episodes, some are not.
ELM: So we should just do it. Let’s do it!
FK: Great. Let’s, let’s go! Should I read the first one?
ELM: Yeah, hook me up!'
FK: All right. This is from an anonymous person. “Hello guys! I’m a big fan of the podcast. Do you ever get annoyed at how a certain character or ship takes over the fic of the series?”
FK: “For me this will always—”
ELM: Stop. The answer’s yes.
FK: Yeah. [both laughing] OK, maybe that’s all we need to say about that.
ELM: No, you read the rest, read the rest. I just wanted to let my really strong feelings out immediately.
FK: “For me, this will always be Stiles/Derek of Teen Wolf. I don’t mind ships or good stories otherwise featuring ships, but it seems like that pairing is required for every story and is always the main focus, permanently shifting the narrative to them in all fics. At what point does revisionism become samey and takes away from exploring other characters or plotlines?”
ELM: [laughs] Wait, what’s the que—is the question “do we feel like this happens”? The answer is yes.
FK: And are we annoyed by it?
ELM: Are we annoyed by it, yeah! I mean, like, I feel like a hypocrite because when it’s like my ship I’m like “No, I don’t care.” Like, I feel great about it. You know? Give, give me more of that. But I think it also depends on what the ship is like in canon.
FK: Yeah! Yeah, for sure.
ELM: Like, that definitely makes a difference to me, if I feel like…people are kind of bending the, this, like, popular ship, bending these characters away from their, like, canonical iterations, just to get them together to the point where, like…
ELM: They’re kind of creating new characters? Then I get a little frustrated, because it’s like…I liked our starting point, but now fanon has kind of overruled…
ELM: You know? And the reasons that I’m drawn to these characters aren’t even here in the service of you as a group trying to put them together. Does that make sense?
FK: Yeah, completely. It absolutely does. I feel like I’m primed to respond to this question in a way that I previously was not, because I just caught up on Elementary, and I once was sort of into the idea of, like, Sherlock and Joan getting together, and at this point I’m not at all into it, like…I think that they should be, like, you know, like I’m into them being partners, but not getting together? And so I, like, went and looked for fic and I was like “Oh, it’s all romantic. All of it.”
ELM: Yeah. Well…
FK: And like…
ELM: But that’s a little bit different because…
FK: And it shifts the narrative from the larger extended, like, family that they’ve, like, put together of people around them to, like, a very focused…like, everybody, you know.
ELM: Yeah. But that’s a slightly different thing, cause you’re talking about…I mean they’re still the central relationship that you wanna see, but you don’t wanna see a romantic or sexual one from them. Which is a little bit different than if you were like, if your ship was something else and, like…you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah, that’s true. If I was, if I was really into like…you know, Joan and Marcus Bell or whatever. Pour one out, that woulda been nice. Like, you know.
ELM: We included a fic yesterday in “The Rec Center” that was…is it Mrs. Hudson? Marcus, and someone else.
FK: Ooh. Spicy! [ELM laughs] I say “spicy” not because of that being anything, I mean, I guess if it’s a threesome it’s spicy. But also because Mrs. Hudson is in like two episodes…
ELM: And they’re spicy? All right, let me tell you, it was Marcus…
FK: She’s kinda spicy actually.
ELM: Marcus, Alfredo, and Mrs. Hudson. Ms. Hudson?
FK: Oh, Alfredo!
ELM: Ms. Hudson?
FK: Oh, yes. She’s Ms. Hudson in this. Yeah.
ELM: Yeah. So the backstory that, this is our reccer, Blythe, said “The entire setup is that Sherlock has hot friends and introducing them to each other means they end up dating.” [FK hoots] It’s called “Team The Best Team.” We’ll include a link. I haven’t read the story nor seen Elementary, but it’s a, it’s, it’s been recced!
FK: I look forward to reading this story!
ELM: I guess I would just say, like, I think that…so we’re gonna be talking a lot about shipping in the next few months, should we—should we tell? Should we tell them now? Let’s tell them.
FK: OK, let’s tell them.
ELM: OK so Flourish is putting together, with my feedback, our newest survey.
ELM: About shipping.
ELM: So I think there’s going to be a lot of shipping talk in the coming months, and this is definitely something that I wanna dig into a little: how shipping, especially how, like, a juggernaut ship, can really shape the fanworks and also the, like, the discourse and the way people are reading the show. I definitely think that it’s got a huge influence. And it, yeah, it can be really frustrating when it doesn’t align with your, with your readings. It feels, like, very…hard to, you know, can be really hard to reconcile sometimes.
FK: Yeah. Totally.
ELM: Yeah. All right.
FK: All right.
ELM: Cool, great. Good. [both laugh] Just think about our own personal experiences there, we’ll just fade off into the distance.
FK: All right, what’s the next one.
ELM: It’s me. I’m reading it.
FK: I know! That’s why I was asking you!
ELM: Anonymous says, presumably a different anonymous person…
ELM: “I was wondering if you could talk about your opinions of genderbending. I’d never been a fan of suddenly-a-girl or suddenly-a-boy fic, but as a cis woman, sometimes I enjoy reading an always-a-girl fic, especially for a character in historical fiction. For a while I’ve been trying to reconcile my love of the genre with the fact that many people find it to be inherently transphobic, and I don’t wanna contribute to the problem by engaging with the fic. Thanks!”
OK, so first of all, let’s define a couple terms. Suddenly—I mean, I think this is a little self-explanatory, but just in case anyone isn’t familiar with these tropes, like, suddenly-a-girl, suddenly-a-boy is just that either, like, just before the story starts or during the story, you know, a character changes gender. For a long time in fandom I always knew it as “genderswapping,” and people have shifted to “genderbending” to be less binary.
FK: Right. And usually, usually what they mean by “changes gender” is, like, literally you wake up and you have, like, secondary sex characteristics of the other—you know, of, of, of—
ELM: Like, woke up a girl.
ELM: “Last night I was a boy, and I woke up and I’m like—where were these boobs?”
FK: More specifically, “Last night I—” more specifically, “Last night I had a penis.”
ELM: Yeah. Oh yeah.
FK: Like, let’s, let’s remove any potential…like, because this is the thing, right. This is why people say it’s inherently transphobic, is because people say, “Uh, just because you woke up with boobs and a vagina does not make you a girl.”
FK: “Just because you woke up with a penis does not make you a boy.”
FK: That said…
ELM: So always-a-girl fic, which I—I’ve mostly seen always-a-girl, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen always-a-boy, but maybe that happens in… [laughs] I clearly spend a lot of time in, like, man fandoms. You know. [FK laughs] You know, fandoms with male characters. There’s not a lot of men around. But you know what I mean. So, like, always-a-girl is, you know, from the very start this is, you know. This, uh…
FK: Right. Instead of, a classic one is, you know, “Oh, actually, it was Samantha and Deanna Winchester.”
ELM: Yeah. Sisters.
FK: “They were always girls.”
ELM: Wayward sisters.
FK: So, I think the thing that’s complicated about this is, like—completely agree that it is weird and transphobic to say that just because you wake up with a penis you’re a boy. However, I think that a lot of older fics like this are trying to actually talk about society’s ideas about what gender means…
FK: And they’re doing it in a kind of old-fashioned way. So it’s, it’s tough, because it reifies the existence of a gender binary, but at the same time…a lot of people’s lives are very ruled by gender binary, and a lot of people would wake up, you know, would think, “Oh,” like, in fact one of the conflicts is, right, people who wake up, the characters often wake up “Oh, shit, I have a penis, I guess I’m a boy now,” right, and that’s the conflict, is that they don’t feel like it or they don’t know what it is. So.
FK: I think it’s still, it’s still, like…inherently problematic in a lot of ways, but I think it’s actually an interesting trope? I, I just wish more fics were more nuanced and more sort of up-to-current-thinking about gender and dealing with it, you know?
ELM: Right. I guess I mostly encounter this trope not…kind of indirectly through bodyswapping fic, which is like, an old…
ELM: …an old chestnut that I enjoy.
FK: Oh yeah!
ELM: I enjoy a good bodyswapping fic! You know, especially, it’s—most of the bodyswapping fic I’ve read has been a, you know, a cis man and a cis woman.
ELM: Swapping bodies. And so it’s never, like…it’s never like “Oh, what is my gender now?!” It’s like, “I’ve got these tits!” Like, “What do I do!?” You know, like, and so it’s like comical…
FK: It’s not just—“they’re not just tits, they’re the tits that I used to fantasize about, oh!” You know.
ELM: Yeah, this is the difference between, like, you the het shipper and me the slash shipper.
FK: In het—yeah, in het it’s always like that. And in those cases it’s very clear that no, you did not change, just because Hermione is in Snape’s body right now…
ELM: [laughing] WOW. This is a story I’m literally never reading ever. Fine!
FK: [laughs] There was a very well-known one. I do not vouch for its quality, I haven’t read it in many years. But yeah.
ELM: That’s so funny.
FK: Yeah, you know, it’s—there’s no question about, like, who it is inside that body, actually. You know.
ELM: Right. So, as far as always-a-girl goes, though, I think that, you know, I think that that’s a harder…you could, you could hurl the like, “all genderbending is transphobic,” sure, you could definitely say that. I think it’s a harder…a harder case to make with always-a-girl fic, because…I don’t know. I, it’s, to me, like, that kind of like, recasting has a different set of challenges. Right?
So like, we actually—we had another question that we wanna save for having a guest of color on, we’re not sure who yet, about racebending. Right? And I think it’s a similar thing, because I’ve never in my life encountered a story where someone, like, you know, woke up in a different race. [FK laughs] Like…except in bodyswapping, right? But like, you know what I mean?
ELM: But that is not, like, a common fandom trope. I think for obvious reasons. Because…like…that’s a minefield right there.
FK: Yes! [laughing]
ELM: That being said, obviously racebending is increasingly popular these days, and I think one of the important critiques of it—and I think a good critique of genderbending too—is, and, I think a critique of, I would have towards a lot of fic that queers characters now…so, like, there’s a, there’s a discourse right now in the last few years about, like, whether, like, gay panic or whatever in stories is…that’s seen as unfashionable. Right? Like, a, “Oh, no, I’m having a crisis in my sexuality,” or whatever.
I do find frustrating, often, stories will be like “Well, yep! He was—but he was bi! Don’t worry about it,” and you’re like “Really? This character who canonically has never acknowledged this?” And it’s just like, “Oh, whatever”? That’s not even for a moment you’re gonna acknowledge that this is, like…this may have changed their worldview or coming to that realization might have affected the…you know. And that’s a critique that people definitely, I think, rightly have about genderbending where it’s always-a-girl or racebending where it’s a canonically white character that they make, you know, a person of color, is…it’s not like just changing the skin color or changing the gender or sex means that they’re gonna have the exact same experiences and worldview that they had in the canon. You know what I mean?
FK: Right. Completely. Yeah.
FK: I do know what you mean!
ELM: Good, you know what I mean! So I think that’s really fraught. There’s a, I don’t know if we mentioned on the podcast but in terms of racebending there was a fantastic thread recently about what a black Batman would actually mean if you really thought it through. Did you see this?
FK: I didn’t see it, but I really want to.
ELM: Oh, this thread was so good. The writer was Jamelle Bouie, who is…he just left Slate, he’s a black political journalist, I think he’s about our age. And I, I love him, I think he’s a fantastic writer, and he just left Slate to go to The New York Times. And he writes about politics and so a few weeks ago they were talking about casting a new Batman, and he was like “look, you know what,” like, “I don’t want you to just, like, cast a black actor as Batman. Here’s what you would have to do to the story, what would it mean if Batman was black.” And he wrote this whole backstory about Gotham City’s black middle class and, like, you know, et cetera et cetera, and like, what “crime” would mean and what the context would be for this. You know? And it was just like, yeah, you really—you have to recast that whole story. You know? In a way that I think is really meaningful, and would make that more meaningful than just casting the actor.
FK: Right. In a way that might not be the same, like, with James Bond, because James Bond already is in this weird, like, idealized fictional universe in a way whereas Batman deals with…?
ELM: I disagree! I, there’s very compelling arguments against that too, saying that James Bond was meant to represent the, like, a soft power last-gasp of British imperialism.
FK: Mm-hmm, that’s true. Yeah.
ELM: And, you know, to cast a black actor in this inherently imperialist role…
ELM: And the fact of when Ian Fleming created that and why. Is this the moment that I slip in my fact about my cousin?
FK: [laughs] Why don’t you?
ELM: NO! I just, it’s related, right? So my cousin, who orchestrated Watergate, I think I’ve mentioned it before, I just learned that in 1964 the director of the C.I.A. sent him to Spain to—he was in the C.I.A.—to create the American, an American version of James Bond.
ELM: Cause they felt really threatened by, like, everyone thought James Bond was so cool and they were like…
ELM: “We need an American spy to be that cool.” They sent him to Spain in 1964! That’s bonkers!
FK: You know, you know what I’m resisting doing right now? You, you—first of all, that is bonkers. And it’s a delight. And thank you for sharing it. Second of all, I am not going to bring in the Deep Space Nine episode that is relevant to this question right now. I’m not gonna do it.
ELM: You’re saying my—did my cousin write an episode of Deep Space Nine?
FK: I’m gonna hold that.
ELM: That was imperialist?
FK: There is an episode of Deep Space Nine that critiques the practice of people of color, like, being fantasy-cast back into historical, like…
ELM: Oh, that’s interesting.
FK: It’s a great episode, I recommend it to everyone, we don’t need to talk about it [laughs]
ELM: We don’t, no.
FK: We should answer the next question! [laughing]
ELM: Not everything is about Star Trek! But I mean, I actually—I didn’t wanna go too deep into, you know, no. I’m ignoring you. I didn’t wanna go too deep into, into talking about racebending in particular with, you know, the two white people talk about racebending. So, like, I really would like to…
ELM: Would like to get a person of color to, a guest who has strong feelings about this, to discuss it with us. Because I think it’s, it’s really complicated. As far as gender stuff goes…[sighs] I’m resisting saying it’s “fraught,” a “fraught topic,” cause everyone’s just gonna make fun of me again. But it is.
FK: It is. OK. [laughs]
ELM: I think, I think there’s ways to do it well, but I think there’s still gonna be people who are gonna say that the entire idea of it is transphobic and, you know, I think some of those arguments are coming from a well-meaning place, and sometimes I think it can be delivered in bad faith too. And…that being said, like you said, like, there’s a lot of older fic that is working within older constructs and so it’s a little hard to stomach…
ELM: In 2019.
FK: Yeah. I will say that I’m a nonbinary person and I will totally read those things, there are definitely people who don’t want to, the world is vast, it contains multitudes.
ELM: Yeah. I think it’s definitely a kind of thing that you can tag.
FK: Yup! And should.
ELM: You should! [laughs]
FK: Shall we read the next one?
ELM: For sure! Can you imagine if it wasn’t tagged, you’d think “What’s going on?!”
FK: “What’s this?!” Yeah. Yeah. [ELM laughing] All right. This is from Melanie S.
“One thing I’d be really interested in knowing more about is differences in political leanings across platforms. I feel like there’s a tendency to think of Western female-dominated transformative fandom as inherently left-leaning and liberal (just to be clear, I’m an American and I’m using these terms as they’re generally used in the U.S. today). I think you’ve interrogated and dissected this notion on the podcast before, but I feel like most of those conversations have been predicated on the idea that people in transformative fandom generally think of themselves as liberal, even when their behaviors may not be—and I do believe this is mostly the case on AO3 and Tumblr.
“In real life, though, I’ve met several right-wing, Trump-loving people who also happen to be active readers and writers of fic. My sense from those folks was that they were active on fanfiction.net, but that’s entirely anecdotal. I’d be interested to know if there are marked political differences across platforms, and if those differences influence individuals to leave or avoid certain platforms. Obviously this is difficult to find out without wide participation from people outside of Tumblr and AO3, but it could be interesting.” And that’s from Melanie S.
ELM: It is very interesting, but in terms of, like, specific platforms, no, we don’t have much of a way to know without doing a big survey.
FK: I do believe it. I mean, Melanie, I think that—I think that you’re probably right. I observe a lot more conservative people, just anecdotally, on like, Reddit. Obviously [laughs] like, it’s hard to know, like, on 4chan or something like that, but there is greentext fanfic there and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people there doing that. On fanfic.net, like, I believe it! But there’s no data.
ELM: Also, within, ah…within AO3 in different fandoms, and obviously, like, we’ve talked at length on this podcast about, you know, like…well-meaning quote-unquote “liberal white people” and, like, their, their inability to see, you know. Et cetera. But that being said, like, I don’t know, you come from het fandom too. In terms of that, like, you know, there’s…I have no idea if it’s just, like, canonical het pairing? I wouldn’t make any assumption about that, if someone’s liberal or conservative. But the difference there being I think there are a lot of quote-unquote “liberal white people” who, like, are not great at race and it’s definitely, like, you know. Something that they’re not very cognizant of. Right? But you know what I mean? But like, as opposed to…I would be surprised if there was, like, a queer pairing and they were like, “Oh actually, I also…I love Trump and Pence.” You know? Like, that would surprise me. Right? You know what I mean?
FK: Right. Yeah! Totally. And I mean, I—I don’t, you know, I, within het pairings, like, I also think that…I don’t know. I run into, I run into people with all sorts of opinions, usually not so much on Tumblr because Tumblr is very Tumblr, but even sometimes on AO3, and definitely on Twitter and in, like, shipping areas, you run into people of all sorts of persuasions. Including people, like, you know, having—like, a really wide, like, there is not necessarily groupthink going on. [laughs] Right? Like, people, people of all races having very wide differences of opinion about things, including holding some conservative positions, some liberal ones, doing whatever. Like, I don’t know. You know? So yes: agreed it would be interesting.
FK: I think it’s probably true, don’t know how we can get further into it. But if we could, we would!
ELM: Well, you know, we’ve been talking about doing a demographics survey for a while, I wonder if there is a way to kind of even…you know. Not too much, but I wonder if there was a way to incorporate something like a…
FK: Hmm. Have to do more thinking.
FK: There’s a lot of challenges already with running a demographics survey without introducing the idea of political positions. But…
ELM: It’s true.
FK: Especially internationally. But we’ll see.
ELM: It’s true!
FK: Always willing to try! [both laugh] Could be a massive failure, but always willing to try!
ELM: Good, great! Great.
FK: All right. All right, all right, all right.
ELM: Oh, is it me? Is it my turn?
FK: Yeah! [laughs]
ELM: OK. You know I was a really big fan of that “how do you pronounce the exclamation point,” but I—
FK: I know.
ELM: This is, this is on that level. Everyone should just send us questions like only those two from now on. Everyone’s, like, got these serious thinky questions, and this is…all right. You ready?
FK: I’m ready.
ELM: Mistakenforademigod asked fansplaining: “I have an important question for you both: Friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, or enemies-to-friends?”
FK: Is this question, like, what do we prefer in fanfic?
ELM: Oh, do they want to know what we are?
FK: [laughs] That was my question! It doesn’t make it clear.
ELM: We were kind of enemies in the beginning. I didn’t know this, but you thought of me as an enemy.
FK: Enemies-to-friends? Not…I wouldn’t go all the way to “enemy.”
FK: Enemies-to-friends, maybe… [laughs] You can’t be a frenemy if you don’t know the person, so.
ELM: I didn’t know you, this was a one-sided thing. One-sided resentment. It’s fine.
FK: You had no feelings towards me whatsoever.
ELM: No, I think we’re talking about shipping.
ELM: OK, so obviously the answer is, like, “Yes.”
FK: Yeah. The answer is “Yes.”
ELM: Right? I am gonna stand up always for enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies…enemies plus lovers, right? The best.
ELM: Clearly, obviously. And…
FK: I think I’m more of a friends-to-lovers person, generally.
ELM: Fine! Look, I like…
FK: I love, I love enemies-to-lovers also. Everyone makes fun of me for Snape/Hermione but what else is that ship?
ELM: Uh, an abuse of power.
FK: [laughs] Thank you. I tee ’em up and you knock ’em down.
ELM: [laughing] You made that WAY too easy. Uh, it’s fine. No. Only when she’s an adult, don’t worry about it. Uh, yeah! No, I’ve had, I guess I’ve had both. You know? But like, currently living in the land of, like, all the things at once.
ELM: Like, my current ship is literally all three things at once, enemies, friends and lovers.
FK: [laughs] Uh-huh.
ELM: And that, I think, is actually ideal. And that’s rare.
FK: Yeah, it is rare. It is rare. But I agree, that is kind of ideal.
ELM: Yeah! You can do all the dynamics.
ELM: But I also really like, which is not included in here, like, shitty friendships. Like, like, OK.
ELM: Hear me out, but: Remus and Sirius, like…
FK: Bad friendship.
ELM: Bad. That’s not a good friend—like, like yeah…
ELM: They’re obviously, like, right? And it’s like, like that’s bad. And that’s what makes them a very compelling couple.
FK: Yeah, I like that too.
ELM: To me, right? It’s like, is you’re like, “Oh! Not great.”
FK: They’re compelling even if they’re not, like, a couple-couple.
ELM: Yeah. It’s a compelling relationship.
FK: Yeah! It’s a compelling relationship. Agreed
FK: Shitty friends is a, is a very compelling relationship, and in fact I think that shitty-friends-to-lovers is, like, very compelling to me, because then it’s always kind of broken and I like that.
ELM: Yeah! Yeah. We like those broken, broken but, like, Stockholm syndrome-y relationships. [FK laughs] Cool!
FK: We do!
ELM: That’s cool.
ELM: OK. That’s our, that’s our halfway point. Should we take a break?
FK: Let’s do it.
ELM: I’m gonna say it this time. We’re back!
FK: We’re back, baby!
ELM: I never get to say that. Well, now I’m gonna start doing it just because [laughs] you had such an enthusiastic reaction. Jesus.
FK: I just wanted to say, quote, “we’re back, baby.”
ELM: Yeah you’ve been waiting for that one. All right. Your turn to read.
FK: All right. “Hello, Flourish and Elizabeth! I’m currently talking about different types of short fics on Pillowfort, and I realized that my experience with them seems to be different from the way you two describe the genre. In the podcast and blog, you tend to describe imagines as second-person, mostly self-insert prompts or short fics. Wattpad Imagines book does the same, describing them as a ‘type of fanfiction in which the reader is included in the story as the protagonist.’
“Meanwhile, the form of imagine I’ve encountered the most on Tumblr has been the ‘imagine Character A’ or ‘imagine your OTP’ written in third person. I didn’t even realize those prompts and stories might be imagines until I searched the word ‘imagine’ in my blog to see if I’d ever read one. Turns out I’ve read hundreds! I just didn’t realize they were imagines, because they didn’t look like what you two described.
“I wonder what your thoughts are in this. Do these third person prompts count as imagines? Is it just a difference between RPF and media fandom?” And that’s from wellthisisnice.
ELM: OK! So first things first, the Wattpad Imagines book, of which I’ve read a portion, and have written about, is confusing to me because the…what they’re describing as “imagines” doesn’t actually resemble most of what I’ve observed as I’ve researched imagines. Which…I think we’ve described it before, but just briefly I will say that they are second-person but they…and they’re all RPF, and they’re not all romantic, like, as you know my favorite was—my favorite was Kfan’s with Kim Kardashian and the selfies, but my second favorite was when you cooked dinner for, “you” cooked dinner for Nicholas Hoult. [FK laughs] My son! Because he’s my son. Uh, and she felt very maternal towards him.
But, you know, like, that one, the character—she, you don’t know her name, but she is a distinct character with a personality and a backstory and a life. And she’s not just…a lot of second-person writing it’ll say “you,” a different kind of form of second-person writing will just be a kind of a blank “you.” And there won’t be any descriptive characteristics about your life, or, you know.
ELM: There might be things about how you feel, you know, “You were excited when Harry Styles took your hand,” or whatever, but it’s like, not—not particularly shocking feelings. Like…
FK: Right. It’s like, yes. Actually, you know… [laughs]
ELM: And, you know, “Harry looks at you, and then you punch him in the face.” It’s not like you’re like “Jesus, what am I doing.” Right. So like…the fact that they chose to call those “imagines” was very interesting to me, because they surely know, at Wattpad, hosting thousands and thousands of what I usually think of imagines, which are this kind of the latter thing I was describing there. So that was confusing to me. But that’s what happened.
ELM: That being said, I think imagines are really poorly defined. I think a lot of people use the term and it means a lot of different things. I think what the, the question-writer is talking about definitely I’m certain people describe this as “imagines.” I don’t think it’s an RPF versus media fandom thing, because I have looked at imagines for the fandom, the last, the current fandom and the last fandom I’ve been in, just out of, out of sheer…perverse curiosity. Oh, wait, did I…
FK: “Imagine that Magneto…just tries to get all the fillings in your mouth.”
ELM: Wait I just, I just found one that—
FK: That’s horrible.
ELM: —that I’d saved, just cause I found it incredible, and it was, may I read it to you?
FK: Oh, yeah.
ELM: We’ll include it. We’ll include it. It’s a picture of Magneto and Quicksilver, my fast grey son, you know Quicksilver?
FK: I know Quicksilver.
ELM: [laughing] Peter Maximoff, and it says, “Imagine Eric and Pietro finding out they both have feelings for you.”
FK: AACK! [laughing] I am just curious about the person who has these two, like, specifically as the fantasy.
ELM: Imagine! Imagine this dad and his son are both into you. Imagine they fight over you. Right? So it’s like, but I’ve, you know, they have tons of stuff like this for every media fandom if you just search.
ELM: Like, “Captain America imagines,” you know, like…and definitely I also see, with media fandom and RPF fandom, people labeling really short fic that’s in the third person…
FK: Right, as “imagines.”
ELM: That I would just think it was like a drabble. As an imagine. So I just think this is just like terminology getting really kind of jumbly and no one, there’s no, like, official definition anymore.
FK: Yeah, that seems about right to me. I mean, I, yeah. I’m certainly not standing on one definition of “imagines.” This is not a case where I’m like “Oh yes! This is definitely an imagine and that is definitely not.” I don’t think it’s that kind of a definition.
ELM: Yeah. I also think it’s interesting, so, like, with imagines too, you’ll find…people will leave, like, prompts on imagine blogs and then it’s basically the same, you know. Sometimes it’s, it’s as if you’re writing, like drabble, you know, like drabble prompts that you might find any—like LiveJournal or Tumblr or whatever. Like, in the, like, kind of corners of fandom that we spend a lot of time in. You know. But sometimes it will be, there’ll be a prompt, but all the imagine person will do is, like, find a good picture. [FK laughs] You know? And then it’ll be like “Yeah! Imagine that Draco…” you know.
FK: Yeah yeah yeah.
ELM: “…likes the look of you,” and it’ll be [laughs] some picture…
FK: [laughing] Picture of Draco!
ELM: And so it’s just so funny to me, cause it’s like, this is basically you were just requesting, like, the right picture to have that fantasy about.
ELM: You know? And I just, I just find that kind of fascinating as a sort of exchange.
FK: It’s really interesting.
ELM: So. And then the way that intersects with, like, roleplaying is interesting too. So.
FK: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
ELM: Imagine that.
FK: [laughing] All right. All right. [ELM laughing] Read us the next one, Elizabeth.
ELM: All right. I’ll do it. “Hi Elizabeth and Flourish! Sorry to bring up the Discourse,” capital-D, “again,” I said that capital-D out loud. It was capitalized. “But, what are your thoughts about kink memes, particularly as related to purity culture? My experience has been a fall in kink memes as purity culture rises, but that could just be the fandoms I’m in and the platforms I’m using. I once did an interview with a grad student about kink memes for a paper she was writing, and I’ve been thinking about the way they seem to have fallen out of favor, maybe because they’re hard to accomplish on Tumblr, perhaps due to cultural shifts as well. Delighted by the show as always. Thanks for your work! Rachel H.”
FK: You know, on the one hand I think it’s interesting that kink memes, like…I think kink memes and purity culture could come into conflict, but I think that what Rachel says about the fact they’re hard to accomplish on Tumblr is probably more the reason why there’s fewer kink memes than there used to be.
ELM: OK, so define “kink meme.”
FK: So a kink meme is when you have, like, a…so, I mean I guess I know these from LiveJournal and Dreamwidth mostly. Someone, you know, makes a post and they’re like “OK, anonymously in the comments, ask for all of your kinky requests about,” you know, sometimes it’ll be like a kink meme about a particular character or a ship or something like that. And so people will be like “Hmm! I would like to see golden showers.” And then people respond with, you know, golden showers fic. Or whatever else it is, right. And, and part of the point is that because everyone is writing anonymously, you can ask for any kink. Like, however perverse you want. Like, go ahead, ask, right?
FK: And so obviously this is really hard to do on Tumblr, because there’s not, I mean, I guess you could have, like, a kink meme that was an account, and then people send in anonymous asks?
ELM: Which I have seen, not necessarily for a specific…actually, I feel like I maybe have seen it on Tumblr for, like, sexual kinks, but I definitely have seen it, you know, not an individual author but an account and it’s like a kind of a prompt account where they’re like…and they basically write these kind of, like, pseudo-fics that are essentially, like, five-paragraph headcanon kind of, you know, that kind of like…prompt fill, where you’re not actually writing a story, but you’re kind of writing a—you know that kind of thing where it’s like, you know what I mean.
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, totally. Totally.
ELM: But, I also have encountered plenty of things that are, like, labeled as kink meme, like, back in LiveJournal days, where it was just like—it was more like prompts. Cause it wasn’t necessarily, it was just like a request account. You know? And there’d just be the place where people would get—and they’d say “I wanna see blank,” and then someone would take that prompt and then they would write a story and it was stored in the comments and then expand out on their own blog and then eventually, when AO3 was developed, they would crosspost it. And they said, like, “originated on the, on the kink meme.” And you’d be like, “there’s no kinks in here.” There’s, this is just, like a story prompt.
FK: Yeah, I don’t think kink meme always means kinks. I mean like, I shouldn’t have…yeah, I shouldn’t have used “golden showers” as the example.
ELM: But I think that’s one misunderstanding, because I think that some people have often associated it with, like, just a place to talk about sexual desires and like, specifically like kinky or, you know. Like…not vanilla ones, right?
FK: Yeah. I mean I do think that’s how it started…
ELM: It definitely is.
FK: …but I do think it’s more that that now. Right? So part of, part of the reason I say that is, like, remembering back at the dawn of the kink meme, like, that truly was what it was for.
ELM: Right, exactly. So. And I do think, too, if you see a fall-off of the kind of construction of it, I think…I mean I think it’s very chicken-and-egg with people leaving LiveJournal to Tumblr, where it is a lot harder. I definitely see individual authors taking requests, but it—that’s a lot to put on one person, to say, like, [laughs] “I want you to do golden showers!” And they’re like, “That is not my interest!” You know what I mean? So. Whereas, like, if it was a whole group of people, then someone could hop in and…it wasn’t, you know. But this is…
FK: [laughing] Right.
ELM: “Write this!” And you’re like “That’s not my thing so please leave me alone!” You know.
FK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ELM: You definitely see popular writers opening it up and then saying, “Oh, I don’t, I don’t write about that kind of thing, so…”
FK: Right. I do think that there is, I mean, and I—this is just purely anecdotal and it could also be just because of my fandoms. But I do think there’s less of an interest in kink.
FK: Qua kink, than there used to be. Like, it used to be, like, “Oh yeah,” like…
ELM: “Kink qua kink,” Flourish. Jesus Christ.
FK: [laughing] Yeah.
FK: Yeah! You know.
ELM: No, it’s fine. It’s fine. Continue.
FK: But, you know what I’m saying, right?
FK: I think that at a certain point it felt very much like, this is fandom, it’s a space in which we’re letting our freak flags fly, like, whatever it is, like, we’re all kinda pseudonymous and we can have lots of stuff and let’s explore, and I think people—plenty of people still feel that way, but I think that the, that used to be sort of central to a lot of discussions I would see.
FK: And it’s less central now. But again.
ELM: I, yeah.
ELM: I have to, I have to…maybe not anecdotally but kind of armchair theorize, a seminal event of this is, like, a broadening and also a de-ageifying. The idea that in the 90s, most of the people who were able to participate in fandom were adults, just because of the access.
ELM: And so now, you have a much more mixed-age space, and it’s not like a bunch of people who have university log-ons, but actually it’s anyone. And so, especially…you know, but there’s also shifting attitudes towards sexual acts. Right? And…
ELM: I think it comes in, we’ve talked about this at length, but I definitely think it swings, you know, back and forth. And, like, I just heard a report…I think it was about the British film rating association, talking about how teens were requesting stronger ratings. Which is incredible to me, thinking about [FK laughs] how, like, I was like so excited to see PG-13 movies and I was like…
ELM: “Can we sneak into an R movie?” Like, “What are they, what’s gonna be on there!” It wasn’t like, not like we were all like “I can’t wait to see it” or whatever, but the idea a movie could be rated X, and we were all like…I remember when I saw Midnight Cowboy and I was like “I can’t believe it!” [laughing] Like…
FK: No, I will never forget watching, uh, the first R-rated movie with, like, a significant sex scene that I ever saw: Legends of the Fall. [ELM laughing] Thanks, Brad Pitt.
ELM: The most 90s thing I’ve ever heard!
FK: I know, right? On VHS tape.
ELM: I can’t! Actually, I have the—I have the Legends of the Fall score in my iTunes.
ELM: I think it’s like a James Horner score and I thought it was really pleasant. And so I’ve never seen it but whenever it comes up—and it’s such a 90s poster. Isn’t Mel Gibson in that movie?
FK: I don’t remember!
ELM: It’s something like Mel Gibson. You know. It’s like, someone from the 90s. You know? Brad Pitt. Is Brad Pitt in it?
FK: It’s Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt is in it for sure. [laughs]
FK: I remember how Brad Pitt is in it.
ELM: It’s just one of these really kind of straightforward, I mean, James Horner, I loved him, R.I.P., but like, you know, he…it, like, it’s such a movie score about America. You know what I mean? So.
FK: Yeah, I do!
ELM: Sometimes I just want that. When I want, like, uncomplicated version of Copeland. And I’m like… [laughing]
FK: Great. Great, great.
ELM: It’s fine!
FK: [laughing] OK OK OK.
ELM: Anyway, I—I think that that’s probably part of it, and I definitely have heard a lot of complaints about this and it’s really hard to not, these complaints are often tied up with, you know, kind of anti-young-person ageism, you know, like, kind of that direction ageism. And that gets really hard, and a lot of, like, kind of gatekeeping kind of language, like, “We used to do this, and now these people won’t let us,” like, [FK laughs] “write this edgy stuff!” And like, that’s a hard discourse. But I do think there is some element of truth in it, and it’d be nice if we could have these conversations without it being accusatory or ageist.
FK: It would be.
ELM: In any direction. But. But, there we are.
FK: But we live in a broken world, Elizabeth.
ELM: Don’t worry about it.
FK: OK. Next question.
ELM: Speaking of discourse!
FK: Speaking of discourse. OK. “Speaking of discourse, I have a question for you as a Fandom Old™. Do you think Fandom Wank was doing a public service by offering us a place for all the discourse and drama to take place, and that without it the wank has spilled out to all the other platforms on which fandom lives? I kinda miss that trash website! And also the fact that it documented all the mess in a way that Fanlore just isn’t designed for. A lot of fandom drama is cyclical, and I feel very put out that youngsters™ have now almost no way of knowing about the old wars, and that I have fewer and fewer places to point them to when I’m trying to make a point about, say, plagiarism and fanfic, and wish them to have more context.” And that’s from Marie B.
ELM: I think that the idea that the wank was isolated to Fandom Wank [FK laughs] and it spilled out is not correct.
FK: Yeah. Fandom Wank was, so, for anyone who doesn’t remember Fandom Wank, Fandom Wank was, um, on…I think JournalFen?
FK: It was like a LiveJournal clone, and it was a place for people to point and laugh at wank, you know, drama, arguments, discourse, that were happening in any fandom. And usually what would happen is they would link out or they would screenshot drama happening on some other platform and then, like, talk about it on Fandom Wank.
FK: You know.
ELM: And, like, in a sort of, I mean I think the problem I—you know, I definitely think there was some, is truth not the right word? Like, I definitely know what Marie is talking about. I also…and I agree that obviously Fanlore isn’t…
FK: It’s not built to record fandom drama.
ELM: No. But, it’s a shame that there’s, those are the two, like, it’s like a binary choice. Because I think that I…
FK: Well, no no no, it’s a trinary. There’s also Fail-FandomAnon. [ELM sighs] Which was an anonymous…is? Was. Maybe still is.
ELM: I actually don’t know.
FK: I’ve made it a practice of not looking at it for so many years. But it’s, like, another sort of kink meme style anonymous thread that, like, people would get on and be anonymous and talk shit about each other on there.
ELM: Right. It’s a shame that there isn’t a way to document actual, like, productive discourse without it turning into, like, “And then she said blank, and then she said blank,” and like…it’s all jumbled up…I’ve said “jumbled” a lot, but I’m feeling very jumbly today. You know, like, it’s like, “Here are the actual substantive issues and events that happened, and then…” but it’s all so, like, tangled up with, you know, the…essentially gossip. Right? “And then this happened, this person said this, and…” It’s tricky because then it’s, it’s kind of a wisdom-of-the-crowd thing too.
FK: And that’s what I would say about it, right. So I, for context, I spent plenty of time on Fandom Wank. One of my closest friends was a Fandom Wank mod at one point. All that said, I actually, I don’t miss it. Because a lot of things that were on Fandom Wank sort of got reified as the truth, whether or not they were. And I mean, that’s gonna be the case with any kind of a…a situation, but with Fandom Wank in particular I feel like, you know, people would like, basically be seeking out the most dramatic possible explanation for something, and sometimes even be trying to stoke people into more drama because there was a real point-and-laugh attitude toward it.
ELM: Right. Yeah.
FK: You know? Which, I mean, look, I had fun on Fandom Wank. I’m not saying I didn’t. I am not above this. But also maybe not, like, the healthiest or best thing in the universe, you know? So I actually don’t agree that, like, say pointing people to the, to Fandom Wank to make a point about plagiarism or whatever else, like…you can point people there, and it was something that, like, a consensus that some people sort of came to an idea about, but that consensus might or might not be…I mean and obviously it’s biased, and the bias that it’s coming from is “What is the most dramatic possible read we could get on this situation.” Which, you know, I—I don’t think is great.
ELM: Right. Whereas, like, something like plagiarism scandal, I don’t—I don’t know why that wouldn’t be, you know, why Fanlore wouldn’t be equipped to handle that. I think that, like, obviously we have to put in the work. “We” being fans. You know. Like…
FK: Yeah, agreed.
ELM: People in these communities. And I think that Fanlore, you know, sometimes I feel like suffers from…maybe not enough people in some fandom spaces have that, like, classic Wikipedia Man drive of being like “I must correct the record on this!” You know.
FK: Wikipedia Man! [laughing]
ELM: You know Wikipedia Man. You know him.
FK: I know! I know Wikipedia Man very well.
ELM: I mean, there’s, there’s Wikipedia Men of all genders. [FK laughs] I see them. But, you know. I think that, and I appreciate Fanlore, I was, you know, from our account on Tumblr trying to boost some of these posts around the time of the adult content ban on Tumblr when people were saying things like “How, who, what will be the record of our history?!” And it’s like, “Not this commercial social media platform that is also kinda janky at all times!” You know? Like… [FK laughing] That cannot be, you can’t, like, history doesn’t archive itself.
ELM: You need to archive it. And I appreciated that Fanlore was coming out and saying, like, “Hey! Hey! Do it here!” Like, “We are literally set up for that!” And I don’t see why, you know, actual points of, of discourse and substantive conversations where we’re looking at 10 years on from RaceFail, we’re talking a lot about Strikethrough because of platforms…obviously those are documented on Fanlore. Everything like that could be documented on Fanlore. The she-said-she-said stuff? Does that need to be documented? Like, when it’s just people arguing with each other?
ELM: Or like being mean girls to each other? Like…or mean people. But.
FK: People. Yeah.
ELM: There are mean girls of all genders. [FK laughs] So…
FK: Yeah, yeah. You know, I mean I think that the thing is that part of the appeal of Fandom Wank was that you were on it long enough and then, you know, [laughs] gee, if I say “and now he ded from coke” to someone and they bust up laughing, like, we were together in that particular space at that particular point.
ELM: It’s community, obviously, right. Like, there…community norms.
FK: Right, it’s community around mocking people. [laughs]
FK: Which maybe is not the kind of community that I wanna be in all the time today? I don’t know. I mean, I do appreciate—I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna sound too down on it because obviously I took part in it and obviously what Marie is talking about I don’t think is those aspects of it. But I think that that was the engine that fueled it, you know?
ELM: Yeah. So, I mean, just for—for my part, like, it’s never…I mean, both that and FFA are not spaces that I like at all. And…
ELM: And usually whenever I have in the past wound up in either of those spaces, it’s because I was trying to research something.
ELM: Like, I enjoy getting a cocktail and, like, gossiping about someone. Absolutely. But like…
FK: Yes, you do! [laughing]
ELM: I don’t know! Something about, like…something about, like an anonymous group on the internet, where you don’t actually…I think that’s, that’s my problem with it.
FK: That was the thing with Fandom Wank, that it was pseudonymous, not anonymous. And that’s, to me, was the big difference between it and Fail-FandomAnon. Like, I couldn’t deal with Fail-FandomAnon because I was like, “I don’t know who any of you nonnies are, even a little bit.”
ELM: You know, talking to these people who, who were active in Fail-FandomAnon, saying that you could—you know, because, like, there are people posting regularly. So they have a—you know, people have told me that you start to, you could recognize people based on the way that they are commenting on things.
FK: Yeah. For sure.
ELM: Their style, that kind of thing. So.
FK: Yeah. I, I get that.
ELM: Obviously, like, I’m not here to be down on anonymity or pseudonymity. I think there’s obviously real value to that on the internet. But, you know, if it’s…[sighs] I don’t know. I just. I have mixed feelings.
FK: Well, there’s a difference between saying this is a thing that could and should exist, and like, “I wanna take part in it.”
ELM: Exactly. Which is why I’ve always, [FK laughing] I always kind of plead the fifth on this one where I’m just like, “Eeh…not for me, and I acknowledge it,” as someone who, like, is, knows about the history of fandom, et cetera, et cetera. But, like…but it also doesn’t mean I need to mourn it, or say that it, it was an extraordinary loss. And, like, that’s my own personal…
ELM: Relationship to it. You know. So. I don’t know.
FK: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and not to say that when it went away…
FK: …people being mean to each other about fandom went away either. [laughs] So.
FK: All right.
FK: Will you read our…?
ELM: The big one? This is the last one!
FK: All right. Last one!
ELM: The last one, and it’s the longest, so that’s why we saved it for last. All right. You ready?
FK: I’m ready.
ELM: This is from an anonymous letter-writer. “Firstly, thank you for Fansplaining. I have loved every episode.” Oh thanks!
ELM: “What I want to talk about relates to your fandom discourse trilogy loosely. This year I discovered a real-life acquaintance who is also an anime fan (!)” Exclamation point in parentheses. “Recently I opened up to her that I read fanfic and meta. I’d assumed that because she consumes doujin—” “Doo-gin”? How do you say that when it’s not “doujinshi”?
FK: “Doh-jin,” I guess. I don’t know.
ELM: All right. Sorry to put you on the spot there. “—goes to cons and shares fanart with me, that she was at least supportive of fandom. When I told her I read fanfic, she said, quote, ‘I think fanfic deviates too much from the source.’ And my response was basically, quote, ‘Well, I guess that’s the point, right?’ Unquote. She said she’ll probably never quote ‘get it or care to try’ unquote and then continued to say, quote, ‘I hate when people manipulate existing characters for their own benefit.’ She continued to take a massive shit on fanfic, describing it as rife with Mary Sues and self-gratification. Her points included,” here’s a bullet pointed list. “A work needs to be completed before reinterpretations can happen; there should be a 10-year waiting period before people should write fic; and it is morally compromising to the property to reinterpret and distribute it even for zero monetary gain, especially in a time when piracy is so high. Those were literally her words!!” Two exclamation points.
FK: [laughing] Thank you for telling us these were literally her words, because I’m sitting here holding onto my desk like it’s a roller coaster.
ELM: [laughs] All right. “I initially tried to participate in a dialogue. I said that fanfic and fandom was a way for me to engage with others about the things I love; I referred her to the article ‘I’m done explaining why fanfic is okay.’”—that’s by Aja Romano, by the way—“for references to copyright and fair use law; I tried to explain that there is good and bad fanfic just as there is good and bad writing, and that things that grossly misrepresent characters is often just bad writing…but also sometimes not I guess?…but also WHO CARES?!!?” Question mark, exclamation point, exclamation point, question mark. [FK laughing]
“She continued with,” all right, “examples such as Taming of the Shrew/10 Things I Hate About You don’t count because the situation is the same but the characters are different and fanfic is”—all capital letters—“MANIPULATIVE OF THE CHARACTERS,” [FK laughing] “Fanfic restricts an author by, quote, ‘informing the author what the rules of their world is,’ I’m not even sure what this means…”
FK: That is the thing that the person wrote. That’s not—
ELM: That’s what they said. We also agree, we also agree. “The mark of creativity is for a piece to stand alone. I’m sorry this has been such a specific anecdote; it frustrated me so much that I wasn’t sure how to process the whole argument. To further complicate my emotional response to this, my friend is a lesbian and enjoys F/F manga and doujin. Part of me thinks she doesn’t like or need fanfic because it’s primarily fanservice for those with male slash preference and doesn’t jive with the wish-fulfillment she desires, although I realize there is femslash, it’s just not as widely written.
“My final thoughts and questions are,” I love all the bullet points in this. “What does she gain/lose by limiting the characters to canon interpretation? Why is she so hostile to alternative interpretations? Who is being manipulated or hurt when someone writes fanfic? Is a work more creative if it quote-unquote ‘stands alone’? Is creativity the mark of morality? Are those things tied up in art? Should a piece of work not be consumed if it is not creative? Thanks for letting me vent and for such a great show that has meant so much to me. Anon.”
Oh my God.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: Oh my God, anon, oh my God.
FK: [laughing] I can’t believe that you tried to have a conversation with your friend at this point! You’re a good friend for trying!
ELM: You are, you are 100% right and your friend is 100% wrong.
FK: Yeah! I—
ELM: No, that can’t be right. Your friend is not wrong on their preferences. But all their opinions? [FK laughs] Fuck, fuck off, friend! Like, are you serious?!
FK: Yeah! I mean…I don’t know. It’s… [ELM laughing] I…I don’t understand entirely what your friend’s idea about the characters is? Does she, I mean, it almost seems like she feels like characters are…I don’t know. I don’t know! This is just a lot. A 10-year waiting period? That’s so specific! [laughing]
ELM: Oh my God!
FK: What happens in those 10 years? What happens? Is it that we need ten years to, like, process something?
ELM: Yep. And so the official canonical work can be solidified in law.
FK: In everyone’s minds.
ELM: So, one thing I would say in seriousness is that, like, ideas of, like, authorship, ideas of authors “owning” characters, is a completely modern idea. Much of it is embedded in Western and specifically American copyright law.
FK: Which is especially funny with the—
ELM: Right! And so like, and that’s kind of, like, meant to be a bit of a burn to your—to the friend, because it’s like…
FK: Yeah, if you’re reading doujin like…I don’t know!
FK: How that…
ELM: Yeah. So if that’s sanctioned and like…are you taking away, like, I—I suspect a lot of these opinions and people who hold these opinions, they’re not sitting there thinking, like, “It’s illegal to…” like, “I’m concerned about Warner Brothers’ IP!” But it’s so embedded for the last, like, 75 years in the way that we consume culture that I think now people, people have gotten, like, it’s in their minds. And they don’t even realize that it’s something that, like, the Walt Disney Corporation has basically, like, reprogrammed people’s brains to think. You know?
FK: Genuinely, though.
ELM: And I, I don’t mean just Disney, I mean, because Disney’s responsible, like, single-handedly responsible for a huge portion of our copyright law. Right?
FK: It, it, yes. That is true.
ELM: I think that if you were to go back, you know, hundreds of years and just be like, “Did you know that…” You wouldn’t even know who to say who owns this thing! Who are you gonna say, like, who owns King Arthur or…I’m trying to think of characters who existed 500 years ago, right? Like…
ELM: You know? Like—and there were, there were things that, like, were owned by a higher law, like the…like God and Moses and Jesus…[FK laughing] in texts, but no one owns them! And like, it’s not like the, you, you might say, like “Oh, it’s sacrilegious to depict them in a certain way,” which I think maybe also is embedded in this friend’s responses to the idea of there being a canonical text. Cause “canon” of course is biblical in its origins. Right?
ELM: So you could say it’s sacrilegious. It’s against the desires of, what? Like, a higher power?
FK: Well, one—another way that you could think about this is you could imagine: maybe your friend views their relationship to an author as, like, a very personal one, right? So if you write a fic, and I’m like, “great,” without asking you—because we’re personally friends—and I’m like “great, without asking you I’m gonna reinterpret this fic and I’m gonna do something totally different with it that you hate,” right? Like…maybe that, maybe not, because it’s you and me, right. But maybe that becomes a point…and also you never share your, I’ve never read any of your fic because you never publish it so this is a bad…whatever. But maybe, but maybe that causes a rift between us…
ELM: Better example, better example, our friend Britta, what if you took an episode that she wrote for Riverdale, and you wrote a fic that completely, you know. Like, you were like, “I hated this, Britta!” Well, I don’t know if you’d tell her, but you hated it and so you…
FK: No but that’s exactly it, right? Because this is the point, is that in this case, like, we’re friends. And I write something that she hates and that says that I hate the thing that she did. Right? Which is very very combative and not actually what a lot of fanfic is like. But imagine this is, like, the most strife-causing thing possible. Right? Then actually, maybe that isn’t a good action for me to take, because like, do I value my friendship with Britta or do I value [laughs] like…you know, like, fucking with her world more?
ELM: Mm, I understand where you’re going. So you’re saying that everyone thinks that they’re best friends with the, in this person’s mind…
FK: Not everyone—yeah, maybe, in this person’s mind! Maybe they have, like, a very personal idea of their relationship to the original author, and even though it’s not true, I assume that they don’t know, like, every major author [laughing] personally, then maybe they’re like thinking about, “Oh, if this person was my friend, would I wanna do that with their work?”
ELM: Right. It’s just, it’s just a…you know, it’s so just wildly ahistorical about the way people have, like, read. The way audiences consumed, consumed stories. Like, it’s…it’s not…there’s a Zadie Smith quote that actually, lemme just pull it up really fast. So I reblogged this a while back, I guess—I haven’t actually listened to the, it’s from a KCRW, the, which is a San Francisco? L.A.? San Francisco?
FK: Uh…that sounds, I think it’s San Francisco.
ELM: It’s in California, don’t worry about it. It’s one of the NPR affiliates in California. It’s called “The Bookworm Show,” and I haven’t listened to this episode. I only know this quote out of context. But Zadie Smith, the novelist, said:
“But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading, is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film or watching television. So the greatest principle is, ‘I should sit here and I should be entertained.’ In the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading, and yet when you practice reading, you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true.”
FK: That’s true.
ELM: And so she’s saying something slightly, slightly different, right, she’s talking about, like, the act of engaged reading. But I also really like thinking about this kind of classical model of reading as, as reading a piece of music. Right? And when you read a piece of music, and you play it, you obviously play what’s on the page. You put in your own interpretation, but you also, you’re playing it, you’re not just listening to it. You know? Like…
FK: Right. And you can also do variations on it.
FK: Like, whatever, like, you know, “Oh great, I’m gonna play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ but I’m gonna, like, swing it,” or something. [laughs]
ELM: And speaking as an instrumentalist, too, like…and far beyond, like, when I’m singing, there are, like, a lot of small things you can do.
FK: Oh yeah.
ELM: You have to make those choices. You get some sheet music that’s unmarked with, there’s no bowing on it. Right? So, like, you have to decide. And the way you bow it affects the way it sounds. And there’s no one way that it’s gonna sound, ever, because everyone’s gonna make different choices, right?
FK: Absolutely, absolutely. Same thing with piano, right, like…and people’s tastes inform this, right? I will always remember my, like, master piano teacher telling me that my “Für Elise” was too schmoopy.
FK: I was like “I don’t know!”
ELM: You are schmoopy, though, sounds right for you.
FK: “Maybe it’s too schmoopy for YOU.”
ELM: Wow. Wow.
FK: She was probably actually right. I mean whatever.
ELM: Good response to feedback.
FK: I was probably too schmoopy. But like, you know, still! Like, that’s not, it’s not like—
ELM: You were like, “Schmoop yourself.”
FK: I was not disobeying any of the things I was told to do in that piece of music!
ELM: Right, right. And so this, this kind of idea, I think it’s very anti-intellectual to suggest that, that a work of art is, like, some sort of set-in-stone text. I think that even if you’re going all the way back to the biblical thing, you know, like, yeah! Like, you know, you’re very involved in the church. I don’t, I think that you probably consider scripture as something that, a text that is alive. Right? It’s not, like, chiseled into a tablet. It’s something that continues to exist and evolve because people are alive and reading it and living it and engaging with it and bringing their own perspectives to it.
FK: Yes, and there has been, like, a LOT of argument in theology about how much we should do that and how much we should do other things, and like, how it should work, and like…this is super super super super super super debated in, like, yeah.
FK: It’s a thing! Not to mention that, like, it was not until long after, I mean, the books of the Bible were written that they were decided to be the Bible. So like…even at that point, like, the way that we understand, like, what the Bible is, someone picked those! A bunch of people, let me rephrase, picked those.
FK: There were some that could’ve been in it and aren’t!
FK: You know? So like, if that’s not an act of interpretation, I don’t know what is.
ELM: Right. Right, right, right, exactly. And the idea that, you know, also like…it’s rare, especially a writer who knows that they’re in control of their, you know, a pro writer who knows they are in control of their own skills, they know they’re a good writer, I think it’s a sign of an insecure writer if they don’t ever talk about their influences, or talk about the, all the different texts. Right?
FK: Yeah, I agree.
ELM: So truly good writers will say, like, “Oh, I was,” you know, “heavily influence, this shaped my—I was inspired…” You know. And that’s, that’s, that’s one of the things I find really interesting, with fanfiction, is that you, you’re not even saying “I was inspired by this,” you’re saying “I am gonna play this transformative game with this.” You know. But like…
ELM: But even writers who would never say, like, “this is a spin on whatever”…
ELM: If they’re confident in their own skill, are happy to talk about their influences, talk about the things that caught them and led them to write the thing that they’re writing, you know. Or the styles that they wanna, wanna follow.
FK: Yeah! Yeah. And, also, let me stand up for uncreative writing. Not like, you know, like, genuinely! Like, let me stand up for that.
ELM: Do you mean like writing pamphlets? What do you mean “uncreative writing”? Writing…
FK: I mean…
ELM: Writing, like, technical manuals?
FK: [laughs] Well. Uncreative writing is a thing that people, like, conceptualist people say. But that’s not the kind—
ELM: Oh, get outta here!
FK: —of uncreative writing I’m talking about.
ELM: Nick Montfort. [laughing]
FK: The kind of, the kind of—yeah. [laughing] I’ve been infected by my husband!
ELM: He’s a parasite! [through laughter]
FK: But that’s not the kind of uncreative writing I’m talking about. The kind I’m talking about is like, you know, why do we enjoy, I don’t know, like, watching a romantic comedy? It’s not because it’s doing something that, like, completely breaks our expectations of this. It’s not because it’s purely creative. It’s working within a form. Sometimes it’s quite uncreative and yet we enjoy it anyway. This is the romance novel thing, this is a lot of stuff. I mean, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that it’s totally bizarre to suggest that, like, the pure creativity of a piece of work is the only thing that is, like, you know, that is moral and good about it. Because if works were purely creative we wouldn’t know what to do with them. We’d be like “What the fuck is this thing?!”
ELM: But also that’s a relatively narrow definition of creativity. I mean I’m thinking back about music again. Music is so useful to look at all of this stuff, because I feel like we get tangled again—jumbled—when we’re just talking about things with written words like TV or film.
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, because we get stuck in words and it’s nice to have something outside to compare it to.
ELM: But, so like, anyone who studied, like, Western classical music theory, like anyone who had to take any, any, you know, anyone from the West who’s had to take music theory at a higher level, almost definitely, like, wrote Bach chorales.
ELM: Because to learn voice leading, to learn the way that chords sit together, you basically have to write a chorale in the style of Bach. And there is a true skill to it. And I mean, it’s somewhat like solving a math problem. People are, if you’re not musical, like, people are not exaggerating when they say math and music are really closely linked, right? And you’re literally solving a problem, but to do it in the most elegant way possible, that’s the sign of, like…so where do we define “creativity” when, you know, like, is—to create something truly beautiful? A truly beautiful solution to the problem that’s laid out of like—
FK: Yeah, yeah!
ELM: How are these voices going to…you know?
FK: Oh this is so good. Thank you for bringing this in. This is great.
ELM: Can I just say, side note, anyone who has to do any editing, maybe it’s just because I’ve been a musician for a really long time but there is the—there’s a Spotify playlist of, like, hundreds of Bach chorales and…because, like, I have to edit, I edit like big pieces. Like, you know, like, 3,500 words, I mean obviously they get bigger. But like, you know, big things. And sometimes it’s really hard to look at 3,500 words and be like…
ELM: “Oh my God.”
FK: That’s very difficult.
ELM: “Structurally this has some issues.”
FK: That’s a lot of words.
ELM: And so, I put on Bach chorales and it’s like, it just flips something in my brain where I’m like, “this just needs to fall into place.” And it works! And it, like, it literally fuels me. And I know people sometimes put on…
FK: I find this to be the case, yeah!
ELM: OK I’m glad you do. Because people put on EDM to write sometimes because it just gets them, it gets the kind of, like, juices flowing.
FK: I, for a long time I did, like, the Goldberg Variations.
ELM: Yeah! Yes!
FK: Which is the most boring—
FK: It’s the most classic, obvious thing, like—
FK: Everyone is like “Oh, when you’re an obsessive genius who’s obsessed with patterns,” [ELM laughing] “you listen to the Goldberg Variations.” It’s true, motherfucker, for a reason!
ELM: It just, it just really, I don’t know something, it just flips something in my brain and I start to be able to, like, slot things into place. And I’m like “Oh, this belongs—this is here, this is here, this is here, annnd resolve.”
FK: Yep! Totally.
ELM: Yeah. So, I feel like we could, we could complain about the letter-writer’s friend for another hour and we should probably stop.
FK: Yeah. But letter-writer, we are behind you.
ELM: Yes. And I’m sure that lots and lots of our listeners are also, you know. And it’s also like, I think there’s nothing more creative than fanfiction, so…sorry.
FK: Yeah, and look, I’ll say this: my hope is that your friend will someday recognize how limited her view on this is. That’s my hope for your friend.
ELM: A little passive-aggressive, but yes.
FK: I mean it’s passive-aggressive but it is my true hope for her, right? [ELM laughing] I’m really working on, like, whatever. In prayer, like, praying for our political leaders even if I hate them, to like, be less bad…
ELM: Oh Flourish it’s so hard. To say “Donald, our president” in the…
FK: Having to say “Donald, our president” makes me want to die, but like, this is one of my Lenten disciplines is trying to do this. So I’m trying to do it for your friend, anon.
ELM: Oh my God. I went to, I went to church in Wales a few weeks ago, and we prayed instead for “Elizabeth, our queen,” and I was like “oh thank God.” Like, I’m not a monarchist over here, but like, I’m happy to! She seems fine. I know she’s fraught. But like, whatever. I was like, that’s, that’s better. No, and now it’s like a…such a bunch of fools. I have to pray for Donald our president, Andrew our governor, and Bill, our mayor. I’m just like, ugh.
FK: Under normal circumstances at my church we don’t pray for all of them, we just pray for, quote, “our political leaders”…
ELM: This is my main church but sometimes I go to other churches and we don’t do that, so I don’t know why it’s in our script. But that’s fine.
FK: Yeah. But it, but it turned up for Lent because we switched what script we use for Lent and now we say “Donald our president”…
ELM: You probably have our script.
FK: …and it’s in there.
ELM: It’s fine. But yeah.
FK: It’s OK. It’s a good spiritual discipline.
ELM: You know, but yeah, it’s exactly. I think this is a hard distinction that people, and obviously it varies depending on what faith you are, what denomination you are, but like, the—you’re not, like, praying for Donald Trump because you, like, love him and you want him to be, I don’t know.
ELM: You’re like “I love him I’m praying!”
FK: THE OPPOSITE.
ELM: You’re, like, praying that he finds, like…like I don’t know, in church a few months back when the, um…child sex abuse scandal, the like, fresh wave in the Pennsylvania Catholic church and we were like, “we pray for the Catholic church.” And it wasn’t like, “I hope that they cover this up and this ends soon,” it was like, “I pray that they can find guidance and they can do literally anything to, to try to atone for this.” You know? Like…
FK: So in short [all laughing] I believe that we have now implicitly drawn a connection between your friend and the Catholic sex abuse scandal…
ELM: I didn’t! I, no…
FK: And I don’t think that was intentional but we ended up there…
FK: And I think we need to stop before we get into way worse waters than this Elizabeth.
ELM: Oh no! Oh no. Anyway. I, I don’t think this person’s ever gonna hear it so they’re probably gonna be fine but we should, we should stop. That’s that. That’s our last question. We’re done.
FK: [laughing] We are done. Stick a fork in us.
ELM: Yes. I’m going to do the wrapping-up business. If you would like us to compare your friends to problematic…
ELM: No. Genuinely, that was not what we were saying. That’s just where the example wound up.
FK: [laughing] It just did.
ELM: Sometimes we pray for great people. It’s fine. Uh, we pray for people who are in times of need who did nothing wrong.
FK: That’s true.
ELM: Yeah. So. Now whenever I say that thing wrong I just think of that meme.
FK: You’re just digging the hole deeper and deeper and deeper.
ELM: I know. Get away from this. I can’t wait to go to church tomorrow. Happy Lent. [FK laughs] Yeah it’s fine. So. If you would like to send us a question, please write to us at email@example.com, or call our phone number [hesitating] 1-401-526-FANS.
FK: 1-401-526-3267, which is 1-401-526-FANS.
ELM: I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to memorize this when I’ve memorized the phone numbers of every NPR, PBS station I’ve ever lived within a 50-mile radius of. So. They do say it, like, a thousand times every pledge drive. We should just say it at the beginning and end. But anyway, firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-401-526-FANS, our phone number, are the two best ways to leave substantial comments or questions. You could definitely remain anonymous, just say so, and we will not read your name on the air. If you have a shorter question, our ask box is open on Tumblr; we have a submissions form at fansplaining.com, our website, where you can find all our episodes, our show notes, our transcripts, our articles, our surveys, and pictures of our faces.
FK: Great! And, to support us, you can donate to our Patreon, patreon.com/fansplaining.
ELM: And now is a great time to do that, to pledge $3 a month or more, because you get access to our most recent special episode, which we recorded since we had our last episode. So we should talk a little bit about it!
FK: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah! So we talked about the Marvel-industrial complex with Gavia Baker-Whitelaw.
ELM: Yes, which specifically means we talked about the intersections of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that franchise and the relationships that those films…and it’s not unique to them, but we were talking about them in particular, have with the U.S. Department of Defense, which has explicitly worked with or funded some of these films. And they have a kind of ambivalent, inconsistent relationship with the military, with our national security structures.
FK: Yeah. And we talked about our feelings about them too.
FK: There was some of that.
ELM: And we also described a movie none of us have actually seen in full where Cameron Diaz fucks a car.
FK: Great. That’s sellin’ it.
ELM: I don’t know. That would sell it for me. I’d be like “I wanna hear about that movie none of you saw that’s, that’s…” Don’t. It’s called The Counselor. Don’t watch it.
FK: All right. Is there anything else that we need to talk about, Elizabeth?
ELM: So that’s patreon.com/fansplaining. No. I think, I, I think that’s it.
FK: All right. In that case, I will talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: Yeah, I’m definitely gonna talk to you later too.
FK: All right. Buh-bye.
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