Episode 98: The After Effect
In Episode 98, “The After Effect,” Elizabeth and Flourish talk about characterization and RPF, pegged to the release of the film After, adapted from Anna Todd’s massively popular Harry Styles fanfic. What happens when different groups of fans clash over their interpretations of a celebrity—especially when some are interested in trying to divine the “truth” about their fave, while others are primarily interested in personal fantasies? They also answer listener questions about anti culture, fanfiction, and cycles of attention online.
[00:02:42] Flourish has resurrected their post about Wattpad and AO3 metrics.
[00:03:33] The stats Flourish is citing about After’s box office take are no longer accurate; BoxOfficeMojo has the most recent info.
[00:09:24] We were planning on linking to studies about the link between video games and violence, but it seems like every other day there’s a new study. In 2018 a meta-study (covered in Scientific American) showed some small increases in aggressive behavior among game players, but other academics didn’t think the effects were significant. A 2019 study says that there is no such evidence. We feel pretty confident saying that if there is an effect, it’s probably vastly smaller than, say, the lead-crime hypothesis.
[00:15:21] The series about tuberculosis that Elizabeth mentions is “The Roots of an Epidemic,” by Paula Akugizibwe. The pieces specifically about gender are “The Gendered Realities of the Tuberculosis Epidemic” and a corresponding comic with art by Darren Garrett:
[00:16:11] There was recently a whole spate of “bio-hacking is actually eating disorders for men” articles, like this one in the Guardian.
[00:18:43] The “rules to avoid gross shipping” are here—the original poster has deleted them, but you can see them in the context of threads discussing them.
[00:19:14] Thanks for asking this question, mistakenforademigod!
[00:19:35] Episode 77, “The Truth About Toxic Fandom”; the two articles Elizabeth was quoted in are “What Does It Mean to Be a Bad Fan on Social Media” by Jake Pitre and “The Science of Stanning and Why You Want Your Fave to Run You Over With a Bus” by Allie Volpe.
[00:21:12] Letters from X-Men fans about Storm, with…differing takes.
[00:25:45] Our interstitial (and, later, outro) music is “Thought Bubbles” by Lee Rosevere from Music for Podcasts 6, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license.
[00:32:34] There is probably more about Superman than Kim Kardashian. Well. Maybe.
[00:42:38] If you were wondering, the name for this sort of pan is an “Ebelskiver pan.” It is a Danish thing.
[00:46:13] On AO3, Supernatural has 206719 works and 138 are tagged “Alternate Universe—Bakery.” That’s .06%.
One Direction has 58529 works and 102 of them are tagged “Alternate Universe—Bakery.” That’s .1%—almost twice as much percentage-wise.
However…Yuri!!! On Ice has 33139 works of which 32 are tagged that way, so .09%, which is similar to 1D. So maybe 1D isn’t actually more likely to have bakery AUs…at least, bakery AUs that are tagged that way. Even when you add in tags like “bakery” rather than “bakery AU” the numbers work out more or less the same. Some further thoughts:
[00:48:43] If you’re interested in Fifty Shades fanfic, you may be pleased to note that E.L. James was profiled in the New York Times and expressed her openness to it (as well she should).
[00:51:01] Elizabeth wishes to point out that Fifty Shades sold over 150 million copies and Dune sold around 20 million copies. Flourish wishes to note that “sexy” might have been overselling A Christmas Prince.
[00:52:52] The friend with very bad opinions about fanfic came to us via listener letter, and you can get all the gory details in Episode 96, “Ask Fansplaining Anything: Part 4.”
[00:56:41] In this moment we remember the dude who blocked us both for suggesting that he was not, perhaps, using the term “fanfiction” in a thoughtful manner. If he has said anything halfway sensible since, we do not know it.
[00:57:37] The backlash article Flourish is talking about is “All About Pete” by Nathan J. Robinson.
[01:00:59] We responded to common questions about the demographics section of the survey; what our plans for publishing results are (and when we’ll publish them); why we didn’t include questions about disability; and more on our tumblr!
[01:03:23] Elizabeth’s “Fansplaining 101” list of episodes is here!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode #98, “The After Effect.”
FK: Ahh, you see what we did there?
ELM: No, credit me for this cheesy title! [FK laughs] I wanna take the credit and the shame!
FK: By “we” I mean Elizabeth.
ELM: So, After. Tell me everything you know about it.
FK: It was a Wattpad RPF college AU about Harry Styles—and the rest of One Direction, kind of incidentally—which famously has a sort of controlling, brooding, bad-boy Harry, [ELM laughs] and a good-girl original character who falls in love with him and throws out all of her plans to, like, not have sex till marriage and get straight A’s and succeed in college and not drink and stuff. And it got adapted to a movie, and the movie is out now…
ELM: Hang on, before the movie, there’s a reason why we know about this story, it’s not just like something you read in passing on Wattpad.
FK: No, I mean, it was super…it was super popular, and before the movie it got turned into a book, and the book became—I guess it sold a lot of copies.
ELM: Millions! All right, first of all: Wattpad calculates its reads in a way that’s somewhat…“controversial” isn’t the right word, but it’s not so straightforward, right?
FK: Yeah, it’s, they basically were like “Look at all these different ways that we could calculate how many times it’s been read, let’s pick the one that is true, but looks the biggest.” Which is fine if you know what it means.
ELM: So, we’re talking about a story with hundreds of incredibly short chapters, you know, Da Vinci Code style, and, you know, every chapter counts as a read, so they say it’s been read billions and billions of times. Right? That’s not to say—millions of people have read this story. It’s not, it’s not like that’s some sort of exaggeration. But it is true the way it’s framed, and they always say “this is one of the great success stories on Wattpad,” is this many-billions-read story.
FK: It is certainly true that it is a great success stories and it has been read many more times than most things on Wattpad.
ELM: Or any other fanfiction website.
FK: To give some context, my own personal Harry Styles story has about 100,000 reads on Wattpad, which I think probably ends up being about like…I bet like two or three thousand people actually finished it.
ELM: You once had a post about this.
FK: Yeah. I’ll go repost it because I think it’s fallen off the face of the internet, but I’ll dig it up.
ELM: Yeah, you were comparing the way you perceived stats to be calculated. I mean, whatever. Not to get too hung up with the numbers. But just to say, whenever anyone in AO3 land is like “I don’t even know what happens on Wattpad,” which is literally every day constantly [FK laughs] it’s like, “Well, millions of people are reading stories and this is the most famous,” is this Harry Styles and original female character story.
FK: Right. And so then it got optioned for a movie, it has been made into a movie, came out in April 12th, as of this recording it’s made about $3,000,000, on what’s reported to be like a $14,000,000 budget—so it’s not, like, a giant success, but it’s also making millions of dollars…
ELM: It came out yesterday! Calm down.
FK: Well no, I mean, just, thinking about how films typically make money and how they normally stay in the—how long they normally stay in theaters based on opening weekend. And also, like, on that much money made, you also have that much more in advertising, so probably close to like $28,000,000 total budget would be the rule of thumb to guess?
ELM: Bringin’ it right down.
FK: Yeah, so anyway…well, I’m just trying to say that, like, it has not been the biggest success in the world as a film.
ELM: But it was quite successful as a book.
FK: Yeah, it was massively successful as a book and it was very, very, very successful as a fanfic.
ELM: Yeah. I mean, if we’re talking about monetized success. So, the reason that we wanted to talk about this—because there’s been quite a bit of, I would say there has been some press about it. Some of it I think has kind of tread ground that I really thought that we, the fandom-oriented press, had covered kind of ad nauseam. You know, like, there were some fine takes, but it’s just sort of stuff saying like, “oh, there’s much better fanfiction, if you’re going to adapt something why are you adapting this,” all that stuff, you know. Blah, blah, blah. Right? OK, whatever. Sure. That is a take that you can have on this. I would make a counter-argument that fanfiction—its mark of success is not whether it can be adapted into a film in mainstream cinemas, et cetera, et cetera. Right?
But, the reason why I thought that we should talk about this is because I was reading an article talking about the backlash, which is something that I had observed around this story the entire time, but apparently it’s given it one more flashpoint, about people saying that this was a harmful portrayal of Harry Styles.
FK: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a thing.
ELM: Which is so many levels up the—I don’t think galaxy brain is right, the right, even, meme here. It’s so many levels down the chain, so we have a college AU in which quote-unquote “Harry”—
ELM: —is an abusive, controlling British man…
FK: Although you’re not supposed to see it as abusive, you’re supposed to see it as romantic.
ELM: Sorry. Sexy, controlling—
ELM: —British man. Sorry, sorry.
FK: Because this is another level of the galaxy brain, right?
FK: It’s like, “Ohh!”
ELM: Right. Sexy, and then, but like, so the distance…and it’s the sort of question of like, for people outside of fanfiction, and you say “oh yeah,” like, “he’s this and she’s that,” and you know, like, “this is the way that he acts in it,” and they’re like “that has nothing to do with him!” You know?
ELM: That kind of, that kind of, like, leap that AUs ask you to make. That just people outside of the fanfiction world can’t wrap their heads around. So now people are mad that Harry, quote-unquote “Harry Styles” is being portrayed this way, even though now in the movie version his name is Hardin.
ELM: And one could, if you had no knowledge of the origins of this, would you know it’s a…? You can still be mad if you think this dude is abusive. But what’s the connection to Harry Styles here, actually?
FK: Yeah, I mean I think the complaint is that the advertising for the movie, or anyway the interviews that the cast and the crew and everyone else are doing to promote the movie, all talk about Harry. I think they’re saying “you’re relying on his name.” So I think that we are going to talk about this, and also all of the variations of this about, like, characterization and the way that fandom sees people and, like—this whole thing, as the majority of the episode. But before we start diving in there, I think that we should answer a couple of questions we’ve had.
ELM: Yes. And I kind of feel like they’re within the general realm—they’re not disconnected. Though isn’t it all connected, really.
FK: [laughs] That’s the final galaxy brain.
ELM: Yeah, yeah man. Everything’s connected!
ELM: All right.
FK: Do you wanna read the first one?
ELM: I will read—we got one anon and one not-anon, I will read the anon first. It’s on Tumblr. “Hello! Just wanted to tell you guys I love the podcast.” Thanks, anon! “I’m sorry to bring up purity culture,” mm-hmm, “but I saw a post recently that compared problematic fanfic to the Jaws Effect as an example of media changing people’s behavior, and it felt like a reach for me to compare a fairly small subculture with the highest-grossing movie ever before Star Wars came out. But I was wondering if I’m being too forgiving of fic, as I think most things I would deride in our media, I mostly don’t bat an eye at in fic.”
So. Jaws Effect. Explain this to me.
FK: The Jaws Effect is when people saw Jaws, and then they were like, “Oh. Sharks are evil, and most of the time when a shark bites someone the person dies, and therefore we should kill sharks in order to stop shark attacks.” All of these things are not true. Sharks usually don’t kill people if they attack them; shark attacks are rare; and the best way to shark attacks is definitely not to kill all the sharks. But people thought this after seeing Jaws, cause Jaws is scary and it’s about a shark, and they kill the shark to solve the problem.
ELM: Right. So the actual effect…
FK: And it actually impacted policy, right. Like, like for real. Across the world.
ELM: So the actual effect is people going out and taking action.
ELM: Or the effect is, is shaping, creating a belief that leads them to take that action.
ELM: So the analogy here, having not seen the post that the asker is referencing, but being able to guess, is a suggestion that when people see an abusive relationship in a fanfiction, then they go and—you know, they go get in one. Right? Or do you think it’s less passive than that, do you think it’s more, if they see someone being raped…someone raping, the rapist, your fave raped someone in the fic, then you’re gonna go out and do it and that creates…is that, is that the implication here?
FK: I think that I would guess the implication is something more like, if you see an unhealthy relationship…
ELM: And you think it’s sexy.
FK: …it’s normalized, and that’s sexy. Right. Which is maybe back to this After thing, right, in which Hardin is sort of controlling and creepy and borderline emotionally abusive and, “Oh, you see that, and you think that that’s hot, and then you’re gonna go and think that that’s OK in your own life.”
FK: It’s also, it’s also similar to, like, the idea that if you play a violent video game you’re gonna go, like, shoot up a school. Right?
ELM: Right. And so, that example in particular has been widely disproven with scientific research.
FK: That one has.
ELM: Which you would never know if you were continuing to watch Law & Order or Law & Order: SVU.
FK: Yeah, because it’s really tempting to suggest that if we just managed to keep our own lives pure, somehow, then we will never encounter that kind of trauma or problem, right? Like, if only we could keep—if we could keep teenagers off violent video games, then we would never have school shootings. Oh man, that seems so easy, right? Let’s just ban violent video games, and it solves the problem. It’s really tempting.
ELM: Right, right, exactly. So that example in particular, I do think of the question of like—placing all of the blame at fanfiction’s feet, I think this is like a constant challenge to balance the idea of fanfiction not being the dominant cultural product that we encounter in the world. Being, yes, a relatively small subset of culture, and in fact the one part of the culture we interact with every day that is coming from within our community and for no money and not created by these people in positions of power, et cetera, et cetera, while also acknowledging that, saying that doesn’t absolve fanfiction of any responsibility or effect in our lives. That’s a balance that I think we need to make across a lot of different conversations we have about this stuff, right?
FK: Yeah, and I think that it also has to do with a question of, are you looking at this, like, structurally or are you looking at it individually? Right? Because, I think, structurally I don’t believe that fanfiction is having anything related to the Jaws effect. I mean, I know, like, lots of people read fanfiction, but it’s not Jaws. Individually, sure. Maybe reading fanfiction has an outsized effect on your life. And maybe what you choose to read is having—it can have positive or negative effects on you, right? I mean, like, obviously. It would be foolish to suggest, like, that what you read has no bearing on your life. But…I just don’t know that I believe that it’s so easy to say, like, “it always has this result,” or…
ELM: It’s actually—this is a good point, I feel like we hear in passing but we rarely fixate on the number of stories where people say, “I literally learned how to navigate my own sexuality, I literally learned what my own sexuality was by reading fanfiction, growing up in my small homophobic town,” or whatever. “It was only through this that I was able to,” you know. Because I think that we—you and I, and probably people that we talk to in this realm—hesitate to pat fanfiction on the back too much, because like, fanfiction does not equal gay rights, et cetera, et cetera, you know.
ELM: That being said, you hear these stories constantly! Right? Or, just a variety of ways that people reading fanfiction has led them to model better behaviors or behaviors that are more true to themselves, but we fixate on potentially anyone who wants to model their bad behaviors on their reading material. I don’t, I don’t think it’s untrue. I double-negatived that. But, like, people definitely are influenced by fiction in their lives because you’re influenced by everything in your life.
FK: Yeah. I mean some of these conversations really seem to me to throw back to, like, I don’t know, the early 1800s, late 1700s—
ELM: All right, all right, I’m ready.
FK: When people are like, “You’re gonna read novels and they’re gonna rot your brain,” right?
ELM: Yeah, but that was super gendered though.
FK: I think this is kinda gendered too! Like, you know? Like…I don’t know. I think that—maybe this is less gendered. But I do think there’s something. It just seems to me like, whatever. You read a book in which Madame Bovary is like, seduced by novels into making all of these bad decisions, and you’re like—
ELM: Madame Bovary was written many decades after what you just said.
FK: Yes, I know that. I know.
ELM: All right. Fact-check that one for you.
FK: I was actually thinking about, like, Sense and Sensibility and the way that it’s like “oh yes you read too many romantic things,” and like—
ELM: Right, and that was after decades of like what you’re saying. From the mid-18th century on, with the actual formalization of the novel.
ELM: And the novel being a, something written by and for women. Yes.
FK: Right, and then also continuing on into, like, later on, oh it’s in Madame Bovary and now it’s later on. And it’s like, I think it’s just a longstanding thread in people’s anxiety about this and I think that by now if it were true then we would all be deeply fucked up.
ELM: I think that there is some element, too, of…well now it’s all mushing together in my head. It’s not necessarily a gendered or misogynistic specifically, but something internalized, there’s a kind of idea…there’s a difference between the man, a man, in 1805 being like “You silly sentimental foolish women! This is going to rot your brain,” and people from within the fanfiction community, people majority assigned female at birth, saying, like, “this is like—” mostly women writing, mostly AFAB people writing for people of the same community, and like, something about the idea of something internalized. An anger that you have that this is something that you might be participating in. As opposed to that man over there made that movie that’s abusive and ugh, no, we’re not gonna support that. But he’s, you know.
FK: [laughing] TMOT. Like thot, but “tmot.” That Man Over There.
ELM: [laughing] That Man Over There! But instead this is, “Oh no, think of the children, it’s you and me, we need to—we’re in this community, we need to think of the children” kind of stuff. I think that does change the tenor of it, you know. It feels like, because it’s something you feel like you have control over, right?
FK: Yeah, yeah. And it also relates, I think, then, to…just like you were saying, this question of what we have control over and what we can do. Like, there’s so much, I think. And this is I think still gendered, so much about control…well it’s not purely gendered. There’s a lot about having control over your own life. A lot of people are very anxious about that. Myself included, I think.
ELM: I think you can still use the word “gendered.” I’ve been really leaning into, cause I just published a series about how gender affects tuberculosis, right? And she was very thoughtful, cause she was like—the writer, when I was working with her. Cause she was like, “I don’t want this to be too binary.” A lot of this is quote-unquote “women’s issues” and it’ll be things about childbirth or whatever, but when she says “gender,” she means patriarchal structures, and that, that means queerphobia. That means transphobia. That means men—now I’m talking about tuberculosis. But that means men being too stupid to go to the doctor because they’re like “it’s fine.” So then men have lower rates of diagnosis, because they’re Tim Allen, apparently, in this scenario. You know?
ELM: You know? So yeah, but gender, “gendered” means patriarchal structures, right? It doesn’t necessarily just mean women feeling bad about anything.
FK: What I was actually thinking about was also, you know, this current spate of articles about, like, Silicon Valley men who have undiagnosed eating disorders.
FK: And like—which is totally an attempt to control themselves and their own life.
ELM: That’s gendered though, because that’s existing within patriarchal structures, because then they are saying, right—it’s not just—it’s not just, “Oh, this is a lifehack, I’m a dudely Silicon Valley man and we’re biohacking,” that’s the kind of structures that don’t even get that conversation labeled as eating disorders, you know what I mean? It is all gendered, but we can’t just use “gendered” to mean ladies.
FK: To mean, like, ladies. Yeah yeah yeah. OK. Yeah. All right, we’re on the same page.
FK: Anyway, I think that this control issue is a really, is a really big one, and I think that it’s, um…yeah. I don’t know. Again, not to say, do I love playing violent video games all the time? No, I don’t always want to. But does that mean that that’s the right choice for everybody at all times, or that, like, by not playing it I will suddenly be more pure or something like this? I don’t think that’s true either. You know what I mean? And I think that that actually comes with extension to this. It’s OK to just not want to read fanfic about something that you think is gross.
FK: That’s fine.
ELM: Right, and you’re also…the most important thing I always come down to on this is, you’re never gonna be able to control the way people read things or the way that they respond to it. So like, you know, yeah, I’m gonna stick up for people’s rights to compose and publish and clearly label their rape stories, and if it’s a rape fantasy…
ELM: You know? And yeah, that’s not to say that you’re never allowed to critique them.
ELM: But this is the way they’re writing it, but they’re never gonna be able to control…just as we’re saying, we’ve talked about this a lot in the purity culture thing, but I could write the fluffiest story imaginable and some creeper could read it in a real creepy way.
FK: Yeah, totally.
ELM: And I can’t stop that. I can’t interpret the, the…
FK: [laughing] In the larger entertainment world, this is the “furries show up to every children’s show” problem.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. Nothing wrong with furries, just to clarify.
FK: Nothing wrong with furries. No no, there’s nothing wrong with furries, but there is always a thing where furries are very good at self-policing and keeping their sexy fanfic and stuff, like, away from the kid viewers of a kids’ show. Good job furries.
ELM: But that’s still how they’re watching those kids’ shows.
ELM: In a sexy anthropomorphized animal way.
FK: Which if you’re, if you make a kids’ show you discover this is a thing and you have to sort of be like “Great! I’m glad that they’re living their lives and enjoying their thing, keep it away from the kids so that the kids are not exposed to sexy things that they maybe shouldn’t be saying yet. Fine, great.” You know.
ELM: Yeah. And even if it’s something completely innocuous like, we were talking about the post about how to avoid—how to create characters so people don’t ship them in a gross way. And one of them was like “don’t write any families so you won’t have incest,” and I was over here thinkin’ about all the incest AUs I’ve seen of people who aren’t…
FK: Yeah, yeah, totally.
ELM: You know? It’s like, people are still gonna write this. I don’t know what to tell you. I just don’t. Fine. Tag your stuff and don’t read it if you don’t like that tag.
FK: Should we talk about the, the next ask now?
ELM: Yeah, let’s do it!
FK: OK. The next ask is from mistakenforademigod, which is a great Tumblr name.
FK: “Do you think the rise of anti culture has anything to do with the idea that the easiest way to get attention in a social media space is by saying something controversial and/or starting a fight with someone.”
FK: [laughs] That’s it. That’s the answer. Yes.
ELM: Yeah. I do think that’s true. Do you disagree?
ELM: [laughs] Yeah. I mean, all right. So thinking back to our toxic fandom episode, or I just, a couple weeks ago, I don’t know if you read it, but I was interviewed for this article about toxic fandom?
FK: No, I didn’t! Wait, what? I didn’t see this at all!
ELM: Guess you missed it! Did you see I was interviewed for two articles within the span of like a week? The other one was on stan culture, which was also toxic fandom.
FK: You didn’t link me to either of these and I missed them!
ELM: Wow, well, I put them both in “The Rec Center,” the newsletter that I run that apparently you don’t read? [FK laughs] And I wrote in the summary of each of them, “Elizabeth is quoted extensively in these articles.”
FK: Oh, man! I get it in my inbox! I don’t always read it as carefully as maybe I should! I’m sorry Elizabeth.
ELM: This is a peek into our collaboration. [FK laughs] No, I’m kidding.
FK: I don’t think that you get my personal newsletter, so it’s fine.
ELM: No, I figure you already told me the information!
FK: That’s not always true. [laughing]
ELM: Is it different information?
ELM: WHAT! [laughs] I thought it was things I already knew! All right, I’ll subscribe. You can sign me up actually. You can sign someone up.
FK: Right now it’s all about Jesus, so like, you may or may not want that.
ELM: He is risen.
FK: [laughs] Not yet he’s not!
ELM: Too soon!
FK: We’re entering Holy Week! It’s like the opposite. This is the week in which He is definitely not risen yet.
ELM: [laughing] Unrisen. Unleavened.
FK: [laughing] Not a thing! Anyway.
ELM: OK. We’ll sign up for each other’s newsletters...so yeah, I was talking about, I think we talked about it on the podcast, I referenced it when I was talking to this writer, writing for Catapult, about toxic fandom, those letters to Marvel about—
FK: [laughs] Yeah.
ELM: About Storm, do you remember?
FK: Yeah, oh, I remember those.
ELM: From the 70s, and one of them was from a black woman and she was very pleased to see Storm, and I was like “that’s great.” And then the other one was from some white man who was like, “Send Storm back to Africa and here are my 17 demands about how you can fix this terrible comic series,” right, and it was like super racist and terrible, and you know, saying, yeah, here’s the difference, is that they could just throw that letter in the garbage. And probably did—well, maybe not, cause you can still read it. But like…
FK: They chose to publish it, but like…
ELM: They’re not gonna put it on Reddit, right? He’s not gonna put it on Reddit, cause it was the 70s, you know. And I think that it’s kind of another balancing act to walk when you discuss this stuff by saying, “here’s why these beliefs aren’t new, but here’s why the current structures in which those beliefs can be disseminated genuinely changed the conversation.”
FK: Yeah and I think that also one of the things that this ask sort of does not actually say, and I think it’s important to note, I don’t think is implied, is that people are intentionally, like, sitting here in their, like, tower of evil being like “Ho ho! How will I get the clicks?” I don’t think it works like that at all. I think that people say something that’s controversial, they get a lot of attention, and then because we’re all basically like rats in a maze, getting attention online gives you dopamine hits and you’re like “oh yeah!” But you don’t consciously go “oh yeah,” you just like say—you continue on with this.
ELM: Flourish, I disagree with what you just said.
FK: Whoa, really?
ELM: Yeah, can you believe it? Cause I’ve actually seen some loud voices explicitly talk about, like, how many followers they have, how many hits their posts have gotten, I have seen people put Google Analytics on their Tumblr posts to show that they are getting the most engagement with their controversial opinions…
FK: I’m not saying…OK. I wasn’t trying to say that I meant that no one is doing it like that. I just mean to say that I think that there are people who are getting involved in this who are also like, you know.
ELM: I don’t, I would not begin to be able to parse what percentage of people are doing it intentionally to get a lot of attention and what people just happen to get attention and then create a cycle of it. I think that’s impossible to say. But I don’t think it’s a rare exception, the person who’s actively courting more attention by having a very very loud opinion. Google Analytics on your Tumblr posts!
FK: Yeah, that’s a lot.
ELM: Like, life’s—you’re not getting paid for this! Like, I feel like you shouldn’t use Google Analytics unless it’s your job in some way.
FK: I have some bad news for you about—well, I guess our site, I guess we have Patreon supporters, so the fact that there’s Google Analytics on our site is…
ELM: This podcast is monetized! I thought of that as I said that out loud. This is part of our jobs, you know?
FK: [laughs] Yeah, it’s true!
ELM: It’s actually, it’s funny cause I, you know, I am obviously guilty of this, because I will, you know, I’ve told people how many subscribers “The Rec Center” has and I’ll be like, “isn’t that awesome?” And I’ll be like really proud, and they’ll be like “Why does it matter?”
ELM: And I’ll be like “Oh yeah, why does it matter?” Because I want to spread a love for fandom? [laughs]
FK: But this is what I’m saying! This is what I’m saying. Maybe the truth is in between the two things. Where I was initially like “Oh, maybe people just stumble into it,”
ELM: Yeah yeah yeah.
FK: And you’re like “No! They’re in their tower of evil petting, like, a white cat!” You know. [ELM laughs] But I think maybe the truth is somewhere in between, because like, if…I think people do get wrapped up, absolutely. But I think maybe there’s not, it’s like…I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t know that there’s always, like, any external reason. It’s not like, I think that some people are obviously like, whatever, there’s Russian troll bots on Twitter and stuff, but I think that for a lot of people in the Tumblr, like, anti space, they may get obsessed with that, but it’s not for like some other reason. It’s like a true believer combined with getting lots of hits, it seems like. Just from my observations.
ELM: And I do think, there are shit-stirrers. And I’m currently imagining Regina George throwing the copies of the Burn Book, you know, that iconic image?
FK: It’s true, it’s true!
ELM: Those people also exist on the internet because they exist in real life.
FK: I have encountered them.
ELM: Yeah! And you’re like, “Oh, I knew that person back when they were in blank fandom creating, starting a lot of fights,” and you’re like “oh no, they’re just a professional—” [laughs] Not a professional! They’re just an amateur fight-starter.
FK: Right. And there’s people who do that intentionally and people who do that just because they’ve got their own personal psychological hangups.
ELM: Because they’re messy…bitches…who love drama.
ELM: Messy benches who love drama I believe is The Good Place.
FK: Messy benches who love drama.
FK: All right. Well, I think that answers mistakenforademigod’s question.
ELM: Yes. The answer is yes.
FK: The answer is yes.
ELM: All right. Why don’t we take a break now and then we can talk about After, after the… [FK laughs] …break.
FK: Thank you for doing that. I will need a palate cleanser now. Goodbye for a minute.
ELM: Talk to you after…wards.
FK: OK. We’re back.
ELM: It is now after the break.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: I’m gonna keep doing it!
FK S-t-a-h-p: stop.
ELM: Oh no. Don’t. You’re, you’re like, you’re a hop, skip and a jump away from saying “yaaas.” [FK laughs] But you know, not just like “yaaas.”
ELM: Yes. Like that. That’ll be you. [laughing]
FK: All right.
ELM: Have you heard people say this in real life, like, not in ironic way? Cause I have and every time I lose it.
FK: I have. It’s…yes. It’s too much.
FK: Don’t do that. In my opinion.
ELM: Yes. Mine too.
FK: I don’t mean to police what gay men choose to do, but.
ELM: Oh, I’ve heard white women do it.
FK: Oh my God. I’ve never heard that. Oh, that’s worse. [ELM laughing] I don’t know why it’s worse, but it’s just worse.
ELM: Yep. So. It was really, it’s really taken me aback every time.
FK: Congratulations. Great.
ELM: Thank you.
FK: Glad we had this talk.
ELM: OK. After this talk…
FK: [laughing] Oh God. I’m gonna stab you in the eye!
ELM: [laughing] Talk to me! Harry Styles is a manipulative college student [FK laughs] just like his normal persona.
FK: Harry Styles has definitely never been to college.
ELM: Oh yeah, he hasn’t! He was busy being in that boy band.
FK: They’ve all been in the boy band instead of going to college or, in some cases, high school. I mean the equivalent. You know.
ELM: So I think that we’re seeing a clash between RPF fandom and celebrity fandom, which is interesting.
FK: Well, I don’t actually know that that’s entirely true, because there’s a lot of people on the Harry Styles fan side who are into RPF but just aren’t into After. Because, like, when After was coming out, it was always controversial for this portrayal of pseudo-Harry.
ELM: So, you tell me in your experience in the RPF world: do you think that most people wanna see the celebrities depicted in a positive light?
FK: Mm. Not always, no, I don’t think I would say that…first of all, I don’t think that Anna Todd thinks that she’s depicting Hardin in a negative light. I think that she thinks he’s sexy.
ELM: Right. This is another layer to it.
FK: So, I think that that’s fine. I think also there’s a lot of, like, when you look into—in One Direction, even just specifically One Direction RPF, there’s a lot of like, kidnap and rape fantasy with all the One Direction boys or whatever. And those things, I think, it would be very hard-pressed to say that that’s a positive light. People reading it, on the other hand, are not reading it because they, like, think that this is bad. They’re reading it because they have a rape fantasy, right. It’s not like they’re sitting—the question of whether the character is good or bad is not really very relevant in that context, right?
ELM: Sure. Sure. Well, it is relevant. There are other fans that would say “how dare you ever depict them that way.”
FK: Well, that’s exactly what I was gonna say. And then there’s other people who are like “well, that’s gross because it’s a rape fantasy,” there’s people who would say “that’s gross because it’s abusive” with Hardin, and there’s people that would say “how dare you depict these boys whom we love, and whom we think are great, as if they’re like that. They’re not like that.”
ELM: So I’m digging into the latter category. I’m saying the kind of people who—and this intersects with stan culture. The kind of people who believe that their faves are unimpeachable and good and pure. Taking these characters and putting them in scenarios where maybe they don’t act in a good and pure way—and maybe not necessarily something as extreme as a boy band kidnapping and gang-raping you, but…content warning on this, guys… [FK laughs] We really should do proper content warnings.
FK: We can start putting proper content warnings on each thing on the site, yeah.
ELM: Genuinely. Yeah, fine. But you know, not necessarily as extreme as that, but say you were just depicting them being manipulative or mean to each other, being bad guys.
ELM: Committing crimes, I don’t know where people draw this line.
FK: And people, and it’s true, people don’t like—just like in non-RPF fanfic, people will say, like, “Oh, I hate it how all of these Hermione/Harry fanfics make Ron the bad guy,” right? Like, he was a jerk and she divorced him and then she got together with Harry or something.
ELM: I hate that too! He wouldn’t do that.
FK: But this is what I’m saying, you know—
ELM: They were a terrible couple and they shouldn’t be together, but I think it would be an amicable divorce. I can’t imagine Ron cheating.
ELM: I, I can imagine him being a bit absent…
FK: So, just in the way that, like… [ELM laughing] Just in the way that people have these arguments in non-RPF fandom, people also have these arguments within RPF fandom, right? They’ll go like, “Oh I really hate it when people make,” whatever, “make Zayn the bad guy because he left the band, so like, he’s gonna be awful in this fanfic.” Right? “Oh, I don’t like that, because to me that’s not what Zayn’s about.” Or whatever else. And it’s truly about people’s preferred characterizations of each of these people, and I think that you’re right that it comes into conflict with stan culture, where stan culture can be like “I love this guy and he’s perfect.” But I think that it’s not totally divorced from, like, non-RPF fanfic conflict.
ELM: OK. So, RPF person, I like how I’m interviewing you about RPF.
FK: Oh my God, stop!
ELM: [laughs] Then the question that comes to me is, I wonder if there is somewhat more conflict around this in RPF? Which I feel like there is. Because—maybe you disagree! All right. Maybe some of the conflict there stems from basically less textual evidence about what the character actually is.
FK: Mm. Well…
ELM: Because we have a, we have a persona…this is something that if we do an RPF and celebrity culture survey, I really wanna dig into this. Does your love of the celebrity rest on you feeling like you truly know as much about them as possible?
ELM: Or do you actively embrace the idea of them as a construct, and is that a construct that you like to share with other people? Like, we communally construct this, or is that a headcanon?
FK: But is there less? Right, and that’s another question. Because depending on who it is, there might be less or there might be a lot more actually. Right? Like, you can see like—someone like Kim Kardashian, there’s way more about Kim Kardashian in this world than any fictional character that I can think of.
ELM: I don’t know, but we don’t have her internal narrative. This is really, this is something that—
FK: Well, in a TV show you don’t get internal narrative, usually.
ELM: I know, I was gonna say, this is why books are the superior medium of all forms. [FK laughs] You know, and that’s not to say that every book you get a lot of interiority like that, but in a well-written book, like, you will actually get—especially of the protagonist or the narrator—you might get a massive amount. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are gonna agree about what the characterization is.
FK: But isn’t that—I mean, I think that one of the pleasures that people have in writing fanfic about TV in general is coming up with that interiority, right? Like, I’m presenting a version of the interiority. And I think that’s a similar thing that’s happening in RPF.
ELM: Sure. But also, but I just think that you’re given less…you’re given less intentional narratives.
FK: That’s true, yeah.
ELM: In RPF and celebrity culture, you’re constantly creating the narratives that you’re not given. Because you say “Oh, well, he was in L.A., and then he was photographed doing this in L.A., but I also, I heard from someone on Instagram that he was doing this and so I’m going to put it all together,” this isn’t necessarily in the, like, stalker side of stan fandom, or conspiracy shipping side—obviously all those things go on, but I think even in regular celebrity fandom…and I, you know…
FK: Well, and there can be contradictory narratives. So you’ll, like, read one gossip site and it’ll have this thing that it says these things, and then another gossip site is like “No, that’s not true, here’s a different narrative” or whatever.
ELM: And in like, and gossip columnists famously also make—make things up.
FK: Of course!
ELM: Right? So they’re creating narratives, so it’s inherently gonna contradict, because people are just making shit up left and right.
FK: And then what narrative you jump on as the thing—that, your construction.
ELM: Yeah, PR puts out a narrative and then you…and you know, I’m not, like…
FK: The problem is there’s more narratives…
FK: …and none of them are central.
ELM: Right, this is what I mean by not intentional. You know? On a well-written television show, or in a well-written movie, like, the characterization should be [laughing] internally consistent and you get the intent—you know, someone has already thought about this.
ELM: I think this isn’t true for everyone involved in transformative works, but I think for a lot of people—and for me—one of the fun parts of it is trying to make that feel really true. And how do you make that feel true when the scenario is different? How do you make that feel true when you, like, zoom in even closer than you might get in the movie, right, or the TV show.
FK: Right. Whereas, I think that with…and I think that this is also true for fictional characters, but I think that with…I mean, I’m not talking now just about fanfic, I’m also talking about sort of why we love characters or how we invest in characters. I think that there’s a certain amount of…with a celebrity, what they mean to you is maybe more important, because you’re picking from all of these different choices of sort of possible narratives to think about, and you have more fragmentary information because, like, what even is quote “canon” when it comes to this stuff, et cetera. Whereas, like, when you look at a character in a television show, people—of course, what that character means to you is very important, but there’s a single, intentional characterization there. Is this what you’re trying to say? Like, there’s a single intentional characterization that people are playing off of, and so it’s like, less dispersed in a certain way.
ELM: Or, like, someone created this character. Like, you know? Harry Styles was created by Harry Styles himself, Simon Cowell, you know, the management—whatever the name of that management is. Then, every public persona he ever had continued to shape him.
FK: Right. Every gossip columnist, yeah, all of the different…
ELM: All the different places he’s appeared in public, some of it is an intentional creation, some of it’s not…
FK: Ideas people have had in the fandom, that they have publicized about, you know.
ELM: Exactly, exactly. Whereas like…and I say this, I keep saying, in a well-written TV show… [laughing] Because, I feel like we were just saying this last week, there’s a lot of the time where people are like “well then this doesn’t make any sense! If this character did this, then like, my theory falls apart!” And it’s like, that’s because the writing was bad. Like…that’s not, you’re not in the wrong here. You are in the wrong because you thought that, like, the writing on this television show was like, science that could be, like, proving my hypothesis, right. But like…you know. So like, on a well-written TV show or a film or a book, the person writing the character should have a really consistent idea of who they are and their writing should express that.
FK: Well…OK. Here’s what I would say about, to get back to After, I think that one of the, one of the things that I am seeing out of this discussion is that if, as we’ve been discussing, within RPF there’s like a heavier…the character of the celebrity is more constructed by a large community, and in fictional fandoms, of course there’s some construction of the character by the community but there’s also, like, more of a core canon—so it’s less constructed by the…it’s still constructed by the community, they’re still reading, but it’s less so. The balance is different.
FK: Then I think that what we see in RPF, and specifically within this issue of, like, is Hardin Harry and, like, how you do that, is sort of, what is the purpose of this character for different groups of people? Right? So if the purpose of Harry Styles in your life, the way that you think of this character and the way that they interact with you, is as a fantasy object, then maybe you’re interested in, like, all the different ways that you could have fantasy objects. You’re interested in, like, whatever. If you’re interested in a rape fantasy that’s fine. If you’re interested in, like, the sort of slightly abusively controlling dude who’s, like, protective and so that’s sorta sexy, like, then you can take him that direction, right? If you are invested in the idea of Harry—I mean this gets even into, like, “gee, is Harry the top or the bottom?” Right? That whole terrible slash discourse, right?
ELM: Terrible discourse.
FK: If you’re interested in a particular—it’s terrible discourse, but if you’re…
ELM: But it’s still in a, like, ladies interested in men self-insert land, like…you could, your fantasy could be that Harry is your submissive.
ELM: Right? Or not necessarily as [laughs] label-y as that, but you know, submissive to you.
FK: Yeah, yeah yeah! So, like if you have personal fantasies that is like the thing that is in about that, then that’s sort of one way of quote “using” the character of Harry. And then I think there’s also the stan culture idea, which is a little…I mean not to say that it’s not also about your fantasies and your desires about the celebrity, but I think that often that tends to be more about, like, raising up, like, almost a—a lifting of this person, an idolization of this person in, a, like, “this person is great, and I admire them, and they’re the person that I, like, think of and want to be like, and like, almost is a—almost a holy figure to me in a certain way, of like, an ideal.” Right?
ELM: You know what I, you know what this makes me think of that I actually think about abstractly a lot, from time to time, is the Toast series “If X Was Your Boyfriend Or Girlfriend.” Do you remember this?
FK: Uh-huh! Oh yeah.
ELM: So, this was a long-running series. “If John Cho Was Your Boyfriend” was one I can think of.
FK: That’s the most iconic one.
ELM: They did a couple other ones I feel like, “If someone was your dad.”
ELM: Like an older person.
ELM: But they were always so funny to me, because I would read them, and I would be like “This is, like, nothing to do with the celebrity’s, even their persona,” right? Like, I don’t know if you’ve read any that had anything to do with the celebrity’s persona.
FK: Not really.
ELM: But it was basically just a fantasy—like a soft fantasy, a second-person, soft fantasy, like, curtainfic essentially, right? Where they were like “She would be so supportive of you, she would think you were the best person…”
FK: [laughing] It really is!
ELM: “She would always do this little quirky thing,” and then they’d name some detail, and you’d be like “but that would be nice if she did that,” you know, or whatever.
FK: Yeah. So, I’ve actually, like, met John Cho, he’s a friend of a friend…
ELM: Oh wow, is he like that?
FK: I mean, he’s perfectly nice guy! [ELM laughing] Let’s see. I think that, my John Cho anecdote is that I went to lunch with him and he had escargot for the first time. Which seems like it would be in something like this.
ELM: That doesn’t seem like it would be in “If John Cho Was Your Boyfriend,” but I could totally see that in, like, an RPF story. Right?
FK: Right? But like, but it was—yeah exactly because—
ELM: Like a funny celebrity AU.
FK: But the other thing is it’s also like, all of the details are so—just like you’re saying, so curtainfic, so it’s also like, it’s not that it’s not like something that they could be like…
ELM: Yeah. In my experience they’re delightful but they’re more a list of things that you’re like, “But that would be lovely if a partner were to do that thing that, that,” you know what I mean?
FK: This is why I mention the escargot thing, is that I was like, “Oh yeah,” I could imagine one of these it being like, you know, “He would always be willing to try a new food that you said that you really liked.” [ELM laughing] “And he might not like it, but he would sort of smile and be like, ‘It’s not for me, honey, but I’m glad I tried it, to learn more about you,’” you know. [laughing] This did not happen, by the way. This was not what was going on. You know what I mean?
ELM: They could never name escargot in the story because that would take you right out of it. You’d be like “No. That is not anyone’s favorite, there is literally no way.”
FK: Snails. I love escargot! What’s wrong with you?
ELM: Is it your favorite food?
FK: It’s pretty close. It’s really up there.
ELM: [gasps] Holy shit Flourish.
FK: I really like escargot.
ELM: Would I have learned this if I had subscribed to your newsletter sooner?
FK: I don’t think so. When I was a baby my parents lived near a French restaurant and I ate escargot and I think that’s why I like it so much.
ELM: To be fair, so my first mentor in my professional life is, like, his mom’s French. And I remember the first time we went—he only takes me to French restaurants. And he got, he’s gotten escargot, and I’m always like “oh I guess. I didn’t realize!”
FK: I mean you would never want this because they are, in fact, living beings, but they’re just like little garlic-butter bombs. There’s not, they’re just like little things full of garlic butter. There’s no, like, it’s purely a garlic and butter delivery mechanism I would say.
ELM: I’m happy to get my garlic and butter via a little dough ball.
FK: Yeah, I mean, that’s fine too!
ELM: Personally. I respect you.
FK: Maybe I will get you—you know they make these escargot plates that have like little divots, have you ever seen one of these? [ELM laughs] And I’ll just, I’ll make, like, vegan escargot for you, which will just be like seitan in a lot of—
ELM: I don’t want that thank you though. I don’t want seitan. [FK laughing] With garlic.
FK: OK, not seitan. Maybe just little garlic bread rolls that you can—anyway. This is off-topic!
ELM: I know this exists because my friend once showed up with my, when I was living with my parents before I went to grad school for a few months, he came to visit and he showed up with what we then termed a “ball pancake pan.” There’s an actual name for this, there’s ball-shaped pancakes.
ELM: So this is like a little skillet—I’ll look this up later, I’ll get you a picture of it—like a little cast-iron skillet, and it’s got little, like an escargot plate little…
FK: Little things for it yeah yeah yeah!
ELM: I’m gesturing, which is not gonna work on the podcast.
FK: No, but little, little divots, like in a—like concentric circles of like little half-ball…
ELM: There’s just three, they’re kinda big, three around, maybe there’s six of them maybe? Four of them? And you pour the batter in, and then when it starts to firm, you kinda scoop it out and flip it over so then it starts to firm in a circle on the other side.
ELM: And then they’re these perfect little balls, and they have a real name, and I kept calling them “ball pancakes” and my friend got annoyed and he kept calling them the real name, which is probably like French or Dutch or something. I think it was Dutch actually!
FK: I love this and I want one.
ELM: Yeah. So forget about your seitan plan, just, we’ll find you a ball pancake pan.
FK: And I’ll make you savory ball pancakes with lots of garlic and butter. Great! And then, should I be John Cho or—you’ll be John Cho in this situation.
ELM: And you’ll be like “this is my favorite food”…no, you should be John Cho. You should be like, “My favorite food is escargot. But I know you’re a vegetarian, so I wanted to give you the joy of eating a bunch of circular garlicky things.” [FK laughing] “And though I love escargot, I really love you and I respect you and I respect your dietary, you know, preferences and feelings.”
FK: So this is now so far down the RPF galaxy brain… [laughing] Anyway. Um.
ELM: “If I—” “If You, My Podcast Partner, Were John Cho.”
FK: All right all right all right, OK.
ELM: I don’t know why—oh! I brought that up because thinking about other kind of, the difference between that kind of RPF to me and what I’ve encountered in RPF, which often is like, you know, you obviously read way more RPF than me but whenever I do encounter it it’s often like, the stuff that I have read seems to be written from the perspective of like, “I am fascinated by these people…” I often encounter RPF when it’s the actors in the franchise of the thing, right? So you—I see, like…
FK: J2 or something like that.
ELM: Or I remember when in Torchwood, there were writers I’d like and they would try to write what was going on on the set and stuff like that, you know.
FK: This is how I also first encountered it with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, through The X-Files. Right.
ELM: So it often…it wasn’t always, like, super-flattering, and it often seemed to be trying to get at the truth of like “Well, I watched the behind-the-scenes interviews, and now I’m actually trying to imagine: what are these people’s lives like?” You know?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah. But that’s quite different from, like, the fantasy person.
ELM: And it’s also quite different from celebrity RP—like, from RPF AU culture where…
ELM: …Harry Styles is a baker! Maybe he’s a controlling baker.
FK: [laughing] I don’t know.
ELM: You know?
FK: Harry Styles being a baker is based on the fact that he, like, worked in a bakery at one point.
ELM: Stop it. No.
FK: It is! That’s why it’s so popular, is because he worked in a bakery before he was on—
ELM: Bakery AUs are popular across all fanfiction.
FK: They are, but I’m just saying they’re extra popular with Harry because of this. There’s so fuckin’ many!
ELM: I just think that’s because there’s a lot of AUs in the One Direction fandom.
FK: It could be both, but there’s a lot about, like, that bakery.
ELM: I’d like you to analyze this. And I want you to do comparison…
FK: I am definitely not going to analyze this! [laughing]
ELM: How many Supernatural bakery AUs are there, percentage-wise, out of all the AUs, compared to like…Supernatural is the place to do it I think because they have the largest pool to choose from.
FK: Is it, is it J2 bakery AUs or is it fiction…
ELM: No, I’m saying Supernatural fandom in general, that’s your stats challenge.
FK: OK. Well, I’m not going to do this but I will think about doing it. [ELM laughs] I just wanna be real because we’ve got like 15,000 survey results that I have to deal with, so.
ELM: That’s fine. More than that now, it’s probably closer to—closer to 20,000 than 15 at this point.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: Yep, yep. No, but I—I don’t know. I always think it’s funny when you’re like “Well, the reason we do that here,” and it’s like “No, they do that everywhere.”
FK: No no no, it’s quite—I mean it’s quite possible. You’re quite right that bakery AUs are very important. But there is a particular connection as well.
ELM: I know.
FK: OK. So I think that where we’re at right now is that there’s sort of different ways that celebrities are important to people, even within…like, writing RPF about them. And outside of writing RPF or just, like, thinking about them, there’s other ways as well. Like idolization versus fantasy versus, like, just as humans looks, versus…I don’t know, something about trying to get at a truth.
ELM: Yeah, I don’t know. I think this just gets us into AU land too and this question of, at what point does this not become the character anymore, you know? At what distance—Harry Styles as a college student? Harry Styles doesn’t seem to act like people think he does? His name’s Hardin now? Like, OK! What’s, where are we, what’s the distance here, you know?
FK: Isn’t there also something about sort of the community—the community elements of it, right? So it isn’t Harry Styles at this point, but the community of people all came on this same journey from Harry Styles to this point and so then can you really—do you really say “well no it’s not Harry at all and this is completely separate”? Well, no, it’s not, because these people came in and they started off, and at the time, it was more Harry or like, they got into it because they searched for Harry. And then they found this other thing, and it wasn’t really Harry but they still liked it, or something like this.
ELM: Right, right. Yeah, I mean, I feel like…this is why Fifty Shades of Grey is really interesting to me too, because actually people literally were taken on a journey away into a completely different now-franchise. Right?
FK: Yeah, Fifty Shades is a great example where people, like, literally started off and they were reading Twilight fanfiction. It was much closer to Twilight and over a long period of time got taken.
ELM: It’s interesting, I wonder…I also know this is such a point of conflict in that fandom. I wonder how many people who would say they’re fans of Fifty Shades of Grey…is there a lot of fic for Fifty Shades of Grey?
FK: I’ve never looked into it.
ELM: Can we look into it right now? I’ll do it.
ELM: You go on Wattpad. No. You go on fanfiction.net.
FK: OK. [typing noises] Yeah, Wattpad is not gonna be the thing for Fifty Shades, because like, too youthful.
ELM: Right. Well, my first result was a Dragon Age: Inquisition/Fifty Shades fusion.
FK: Well, there’s over 3,000 fanfics on fanfiction.net, one of which was updated 22 hours ago.
ELM: 3,000! Fascinating. There’s 322 on AO3.
FK: Are you surprised? It feels like it’s more of an entry level fandom for a lot of people, and AO3 is usually something people come to later on in their fandom experiences.
ELM: That’s interesting and I’m not sure that I agree with that. I think it depends on where you find out about it, but I think that at this point, a dozen years on…
FK: Yeah, maybe that’s true. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re right.
ELM: And most people I know who are learning about fandom, like in the last five years, learning about fanfiction, only know about AO3. Cause they, like, read about it in articles and stuff. So then if they’re like “If I wanted to check that out, where would I go.” So I think if people are finding out different ways…
FK: Yeah I think it maybe does depend on where you’re coming from. OK. So yeah, there’s over 3,000 on fanfiction.net and they are things like, “What if the crack that Christian’s mother had taken when he was a baby had damaged his heart and he needs Ana to take over Grey Enterprises while he recovers.”
ELM: Whoa, this one says, “Christian finds out he has a heart condition after he collapses in the kitchen.” Is…
FK: You’re kidding.
ELM: Is—is… [laughs]
FK: People have things about the heart.
ELM: Is this a, this is a, this is a thread.
FK: Maybe it’s a thread in this fandom.
ELM: Maybe it’s totally coincidental.
FK: Yeah, but I like it. “What if instead of Ana being an English literature student, she was an aspiring pilot and she met Christian during one of Christian’s joy rides.”
ELM: Stop it. This one says “Ana is an aspiring pilot working in dispatch when she meets a sexy, intense rich man that owns a plane.”
FK: No no no, but it’s because Christian is framed as being really into flying, and it’s a big theme in the story. So…
ELM: The two examples that you read were the two I was literally looking at!
FK: That’s funny.
ELM: OK, we don’t need to read all the summaries of Fifty Shades of Grey stories!
FK: We don’t need to do that. There are a bunch of them though.
ELM: It’s interesting though. It’s interesting that there isn’t more fanfiction about it.
ELM: Because it was so incredibly popular.
FK: I’m not that surprised. I think that…I mean I encounter a lot of things that were super popular that don’t have more fanfiction than that about it. There’s not more fanfiction than that on fanfiction.net and AO3 about Dune, which, like…
ELM: That’s completely different, Flourish, this is a BDSM series of erotic novels about a dynamic, not a fantasy series…like, we’ve discussed this!
FK: No I mean I know that they’re different—
ELM: And Dune has a mixed-gender fanbase…
FK: No, but it’s super widely read…
ELM: I think that without the Lord of the Rings films, there would be very little Lord of the Rings fanfiction.
FK: Yeah, I mean I think so, I think so.
ELM: I know that’s a hard thing to say cause it’s been like 20 years since they came out, but you know what I mean?
FK: Having been in the Lord of the Rings fanfiction universe, there were a couple of sites that were dedicated to it before the films came out and were very much focused on, like, non-film things. And they were probably around the same size as, like, a Dune situation I think.
ELM: Right. I’m not saying no one.
FK: All I’m trying to say is I think there’s a lot of stuff that has—I mean I agree with you, I understand what you’re saying about this being, like, a sexy BDSM thing. I don’t know! I also think there’s a lot of, like, A Christmas Prince doesn’t have a lot of…everyone in the world watched A Christmas Prince, and it’s a sexy thing with romance, and like, I don’t know.
ELM: I don’t think that many people watched A Christmas Prince.
FK: I literally could not stop hearing about it.
ELM: Most people I know didn’t say anything about it. I saw passing references to it.
ELM: I think it’s you’re much more in romancelandia than I am.
FK: Yeah, maybe. Maybe so.
ELM: So what you’re saying is…no there’s no theories here. I got nothin’.
FK: No, I’m not sure there’s a theory. Cause I’m not sure that any of the things I’m saying are that relevant either, so.
ELM: Our dive through the world of Fifty Shades fanfiction aside.
ELM: That was an aside.
FK: That was an aside.
ELM: I think that all of this just brings up some kind of complicated and interesting ideas about character for me, and ownership of character. And I’ve been thinking a lot, since we got the completely bananas letter from the person with the bad friend—maybe they’re good at being a friend, but they’re like, the friend with the bad opinions.
ELM: [laughs] Maybe they’re a great supportive friend. “If That Person Was Your Friend,” should I write that fanfiction?
FK: Oh my God. [ELM laughs] Too much!
ELM: You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about Disney. I’m just gonna tell you all the things I’m thinkin’ about right now. OK? I’m thinkin’ about Disney, right, and you know, the fact that people are talking about how Disney only made a live-action remake of Dumbo so that they could extend the copyright. Which I think is a fair assessment.
ELM: Disney’s always pioneering that copyright tightening. That’s great.
FK: There’s not really any other reason to have made that movie except for that, so.
ELM: What about to give Danny DeVito another role? [FK makes a vague noise of acceptance] Only make movies for that reason.
ELM: But, I’m thinking a lot about that, and I’m thinking about, like, exactly what we were talking about in that episode, this kind of idea of people saying “you shouldn’t write fanfiction because it’s disrespectful to the characters,” you know. It’s disrespectful to the people who own these characters and the people who created them. But really to the people who own these characters. And then you’re like, “Really? Disrespectful to the corporation that put a label on it?” You know what I mean?
ELM: And that’s when it gets into this place where my patience breaks down and I’m like “Really? You wanna cry for Disney for thinking a thought about a character they own that they didn’t put in my head?” You know? Seriously, no! Right? But I feel like it’s complicated with RPF, right, because of this idea—because it isn’t so clear-cut. I can’t just say, like, “Oh, Harry Styles doesn’t—Harry Styles doesn’t own Harry Styles,” cause he does. You know what I mean?
FK: Yeah. He is in fact Harry Styles and he… [laughs]
ELM: And that’s not anything to say disparaging it or whatever, but a lot of my arguments about, like, what you should do to characters and what you should be allowed to do to characters, they grow a little more murky when the question of what a character is gets so murky with RPF and celebrity stuff, you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah but at the same time, like…people are allowed to have their own feelings and to express those feelings about other human beings that they know in their normal life, right? Sometimes it may be pleasant or unpleasant, and it may be a—it may be socially awkward or not, but I’m allowed to walk down the street and think any thought I want about any of those people that I see, who I don’t know. And I’m allowed to write whatever I want about them. It may be a good idea or a bad one. It may be different if, like, I know them or if they’re identifiable versus if it’s not identifiable. Of course, there’s a lot of social negotiations in this. But I just have a hard time thinking that anyone who is making money off of having a public persona, and who does not personally know, you know, an RPF writer…I don’t know, it seems to me to be a lot to suggest that, like, people are not allowed to have fantasies about…
FK: You know, a public figure, and write those fantasies down. Like, OK?
ELM: Or not necessarily fantasies. You’re allowed to say “I don’t like that guy.”
FK: Yeah that too, that too, that too.
ELM: Seems like—
FK: I guess I’m focused on fantasies because that’s an area where people get so, “You can’t say that,” you know, “he’s doing this thing, because…”
ELM: Yeah. But I just started thinking about, when you said “you can think whatever you want about anyone else,” I started thinking about politicians.
ELM: You know? And like, yeah.
ELM: You’re kind of asked to say “I don’t like that guy and I like that guy.” That’s kind of what they’re—to the point where I think it’s problematic. It shouldn’t be just whether you like that person [laughing] or not, but you know what I mean? But that’s another story.
FK: Yeah totally.
ELM: It’s true. You absolutely—
FK: And with politicians, people also construct all these narratives about them very publicly, right?
ELM: And then people tweet stupid things about how it’s like fanfiction, or it’s fanfiction, and then I drag them publicly.
FK: Yeah. I mean, you know. It’s not, I would not use the word fanfiction. It’s about as much like fanfiction as having any concepts about a celebrity is like fanfiction. Sure, I guess.
ELM: I think part of the problem is, but then that line gets really murky. At what point does your headcanon, essentially, of what Kamala Harris is like turn into fanfiction? When you write it down? Yeah. No, I mean, obviously you know for me it’s when you label it that way, because I care about that tent. So.
FK: Yeah. But you know, like, I’m seeing literally—when I think about, so I was reading like this backlash article about Mayor Pete and one of the things in it, it was like “Oh, I read his autobiography and he talks about Harvard Square and he doesn’t talk about the homeless people in Harvard Square, and I don’t know how you could possibly ever be in Harvard Square and not have those people be primary on your mind, cause there’s so many of them there.” And I was like, that’s interesting, you know? Cause it’s like. Mayor Pete is talking about Harvard Square in certain ways, and he has omitted this aspect—which is true, right, so like I actually used to work with the homeless in Harvard Square, so it’s very close to me—but then you reading this, putting value on it…it’s similar to the ways people are parsing out whether Harry Styles wearing a blue-colored shirt means something or not, except that it’s about, we’re supposed to be making moral decisions about whether Mayor Pete is a good guy or a bad guy.
ELM: Are we?
FK: We’re required to read him like that. Yeah! Because you’re supposed to—shouldn’t you vote for someone who you think would be…?
ELM: No. I mean, now we’re gonna get into—and this isn’t specific to this example at all, but I actually don’t think that this is the way that we should be litigating our politics.
FK: Well, I’m not sure that it’s the way you should, but I’m trying to say it’s a thing that people try and ask you to do.
FK: The culture asks you to do it.
ELM: We’re completely fucked because we’re like “how do we vote about what’s in their hearts?” And it’s like, “I don’t think we do! I think we listen to their policies and also look at their record.”
FK: I agree. Yes. I agree on this. We are together. But, but, you know what I’m trying to say about the desire…
ELM: We’re gonna be together through this two-year long primary we’re about to endure. It’s fine. It’s fine. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean obviously—one of my biggest problems here is that people can’t see how doing this in one space is so different than doing it in other parts of their lives, right. And maybe part of that is the labels people put on it. You can put a label like RPF or fanfiction on it, and then they’re like, “That’s just crossin’ a line!” And it’s like, “Why, because I actually said it’s fiction instead of writing a fiction and saying it’s my read on the situation, and oh, it’s my speculation?” But when I say “No, I’m not speculating, I’m writing a fictional story,” they say “that’s gross and crossing a line somehow.” And it’s like, stan culture—embedded in stan culture is a massive amount of fiction, to an extraordinary degree, right?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, absolutely. Cause you don’t know these people. I don’t know these people.
ELM: Not even that. There are, you know, just think about all the stans you see for people who’ve been accused of actual crimes in court—and they’re like “that’s all lies!” And it’s like…he pled guilty. So I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a lie. You know? And I’m sorry if, like, you know, your favorite doing this crime is, is ruining your perception of them, but like, that’s another human being and you can’t control their behavior. You can only control your response to it, say, “Well, I’m gonna try to reconcile this with the person I thought I knew.” You know?
FK: I love how we managed to have this and, like, you ended us—you brought us, you’re bringing us to a close, and you’re like “AND NOW a depressing note to end on. BYE!”
ELM: I just think that people are complicated.
FK: Yeah. They are.
ELM: And I think that that’s, that’s one of the reasons why RPF sometimes feels a little more honest to me, because it’s an acknowledgment that it is a fiction.
ELM: That’s a positive note to end on. It’s giving credit to the RPF scene.
FK: That’s true. OK. Let’s end on that positive note then. You’re right. Let’s not give ourselves room to make it sad again.
ELM: OK. Great, great.
FK: OK. So our next episode is going to be talking about the results of the shipping survey.
ELM: Which is now closed.
FK: Thank you to everybody, the thousands of you who responded, and especially the people who shared it.
ELM: We have been answering asks on Tumblr, mostly, some common questions. We had some questions about the demographic section. So if you check our asks, you can see some of our responses to that.
FK: Yeah, and we’ll link to some of them in the show notes also.
ELM: Yeah. And we had a kind of hilarious number of people ask about whether one thing they, you know, “I forgot a ship!” It’s like, please don’t worry. And also maybe don’t tell us any more ships. How many ships have you written down.
FK: For context that is going to be the hardest thing to parse and we have a friend at a data analysis company who is literally stress-testing some of their algorithms to sort out this kind of plain-text thing on our shipping stuff. So not only is it OK if you forgot one, but actually a computer is probably going to be doing the sorting of those things because I cannot read 20,000 responses and sort them out into different ships.
ELM: And to clarify, some of the responses list, like, hundreds of ships.
FK: Hundreds of ships. It’s a lot. You don’t—I mean, you can. That’s for you to choose. But don’t worry about it, really. Don’t worry about it. Don’t stress.
ELM: You know, “Oh, I checked off one thing,” you know, “I checked off that I wrote transformative works and I didn’t” or something—really don’t, this is not.
FK: It’s OK.
ELM: This is not a test and it’s not for science.
FK: It’s for fun.
ELM: It’s statistically insignificant, one answer is statistically insignificant here.
ELM: But we appreciate it!
FK: We do! And people, it’s very nice that people are so attentive and focused and care a lot about getting it right. That’s nice. Thank you for your impulse. Your impulse is good.
ELM: So, that’s just to give some context. I can’t wait to talk about this.
FK: Yeah! I am looking forward to find out what the answers are once everything is compiled.
ELM: Yeah! My, my quick takeaway is that some people think of shipping as wildly different than me. [FK laughs] The fact that you could—
FK: Is that a surprise?
ELM: No. The fact that you could have HUNDREDS OF SHIPS? Then to me shipping has no meaning!
FK: All right, we will—that’s, so that’s, like, a preview of what’s gonna happen next episode. Elizabeth screaming.
ELM: That means that like every time you watch a television show you have multiple ships?! How?! You just look at them and you’re like “I ship it!”
FK: I wouldn’t even call it screaming, at this point I think it’s Elizabeth squawking. “Squawking” is the appropriate term. [ELM howls] So tune in… [both laughing] Tune in next time for Elizabeth squawking and making Muppet-like motions about shipping. In the meantime, Elizabeth also posted, if you just joined us because of the shipping survey, Elizabeth posted a great, like, intro, try-these-episodes-first thing to our Tumblr, so we’ll link that to our show notes too. So if you’re just starting with us, you’ll have a starting point out of our many, many, almost—you know, almost 100 free episodes, and more than that if you are a Patreon patron.
ELM: Speaking of Patreon!
FK: Yeah! Speaking of Patreon.
ELM: So by now you should have, if you are a $10 Patron you should have our latest tiny zine about Flourish’s awkward adolescence.
FK: [laughing] Yup, yup, yup.
ELM: And I actually do think that one and the previous one…
FK: At least if you are in the continental United States, for sure.
ELM: Yeah. It may be in the mail. Or flying over the sea. I don’t know how it gets there. Slow boats.
FK: I don’t know. Does customs care about…
ELM: This is a collaboration with Maia Kobabe, who is I would say Fansplaining’s #1 artist.
FK: Number one!
ELM: And in the previous tiny zine Maia wrote about eir adolescent fannish experience, and in the next one it’s gonna be mine.
ELM: And I believe Maia’s put these on eir site…? For purchase, later?
ELM: So if you did not get in in time, and you would like a copy of either of these…
FK: Go follow Maia!
ELM: And we’ll put a link in the show notes for that as well. But, if you are not a $10 Patron and don’t have the means to become one or the inclination to become one, any pledge really really helps us. I feel like an NPR person any time I say “Any pledge, any dollar amount, any pledge,” at patreon.com/fansplaining. As little as $1 a month. If you have any cash lying around, $3 a month you get access to all our special episodes, which are about things like The Good Place. And Brooklyn 99. And things that aren’t Michael Schur shows. Other stuff too.
FK: [laughs] The Favourite.
ELM: The Favourite! Yes, my favorite, The Favourite. So yeah. If you have any money, we, this is how we make the podcast. And obviously it’s more a labor of love than labor for money right now, so.
FK: Yeah. And if you don’t have any money to give us, or even if you do, you can also contribute by sending us questions, comments, one good way to do that is by calling our voice mail, which is at 1-401-526-FANS. And so you can just leave a voice mail message and you can leave a name or not, as you wish. You can also e-mail us, firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the best way to send us a text, like, written-out message. Again, just say you wanna be anonymous. Or, you know, there’s other ways to contact us that are slightly less optimal for leaving long comments. Tumblr askbox is open, anon is on. We’re on Twitter as @fansplaining. We’re on Instagram as fansplaining, if for some reason that’s the way you communicate, or Facebook? Also fansplaining there. Basically fansplaining everywhere. So follow us to get updates and stuff and talk to us.
ELM: Final way to support us, rating us, reviewing us on iTunes or…
FK: Whatever your podcatcher is.
ELM: Whatever app, yeah, whatever you use to listen to podcasts! And sharing our transcripts. Our episode pages have transcripts on them for anyone you know in fandom who might be interested but is not a podcast listener.
FK: Yeah! All right.
ELM: That’s that.
FK: All right. Well, I am gonna go fall face-first into a lot of survey results. [ELM laughs] Um, so I will talk to you later, assuming I don’t drown in survey results!
ELM: Have a nice time Flourish.
FK: OK goodbye.
FK & ELM: 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, Menlo Steve, Katherine Lynn, Clare Mulligan, Heidi Tandy, Megan C., Sara, Josh Stenger, Tablesaw Tablesawsen, Jennifer Doherty, froggy, 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, Dr. Mary Crowell, Secret Fandom Stories, Felar, Bradlea Raga-Barone, Jennifer McKernan, JungleJelly, Molly Kernan, and in honor of One Direction and Captain James McGraw Flint.
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