About our "broken" fan culture

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Title: About our "broken" fan culture
Creator: June 2, 2016
Medium: tumblr post
External Links: About our "broken" fan culture, Archived version
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About our "broken" fan culture is an essay by bookshop.

It is in response to several earlier posts by other authors, all of which address the topic of supposed fan entitlement.

The post includes many examples of Twitter posts by Devin Faraci, and responses by Aja Romano as examples of how Faraci finds fanworks worthless, crap, crummy, plagiarism, delusional, pathological, overly sexual, too female....

So as we all know, movie critic Devin Faraci caused a minor internet brouhaha Tuesday with a controversial piece about online fandom. “Fandom is broken”—which piggybacks off a milder but similar article published last week by the AV Club and argues that fan culture has entered an ugly phase—was largely met with solemn nods of agreement by everybody except, uh, anybody who’s actually in fandom and actually knows what the fuck fan culture is about.

Some Topics Discussed


The main target of the piece is fan entitlement, which Faraci believes is the result of fandom being “post-fanfic.” That is, he thinks the current state of fandom—which can be overwhelmingly polarized and activist—is a natural result of fans having so much personal autonomy over their own fanfiction and other fanworks (including fanart, fan film, fan meta, shipping, and fan theories). Consequently, they seek to have the same level of creator control over their canons, too.

In this piece, which piggybacks off a milder but similar (and equally wrong) article from the AV Club, Faraci begins by comparing the average internet fangirl to the mentally ill obsessive protagonist of Stephen King’s Misery. He then laments what he calls the “powder keg” of fan interaction with creators, which he claims has finally exploded on social media in a melee of “the entitlement, the demands, the frankly poor understanding of how drama and storytelling work.”

Faraci’s slippery slope argument makes the handwringing assumption that every fan is a step away from donning a coat of armor and striding into a studio carrying a sword and yelling “HASHTAG LEXAGATE” as they mow down the industry. But it also assumes that fans have some sort of obligation to step back and be reverent towards our betters, the creators. And that’s never been the case.

Faraci thinks the current trend of fans to organize movements, actively participate in fan campaigns, and express discontent with plot points is all some sort of repudiation of a longstanding top-down pyramid of creation: one in which the creator dishes out plot points to an eager, hungry public who unquestioningly, passively consumes that narrative and then is simply grateful and eager for more. A large part of his philosophy towards the relationship between fans and their canon seems to be that it’s silly and entitled for fans to react to the text as a product of the problematic world we live in, with real-world consequences to certain types of tropes. Fanfiction and fan theories in particular disrupt his theory [1] of the sacredness of the Text, and how he feels we are meant to interact with it—namely as passively as possible.

Faraci thinks this fan outrage is a natural result of fans having too much personal autonomy over their own fanfiction and thereby seeking to have the same level of creator control over the canon, too. But fans have always had exactly this level of deep ownership and willingness to flambé their canons as part of routine critique and deconstruction and cultural criticism. Social media isn’t exacerbating a rise in the level of ownership fans have over a text; it’s just exacerbating Hollywood’s longstanding inability to understand fan ownership over their texts.

Both Feraci and the AV Club article he is responding to make a number of false comparisons between different corners of the fandom political spectrum. The argument both pieces make is that regardless of what these groups are arguing, whether it’s against an all-female Ghostbusters reboot or for a queer Queen Elsa or Captain America, they’re motivated by the same basic collective sense of ownership over a media property. Faraci compares what he calls the “yelling and brigading” of the socially motivated protests behind these types of backlashes to Gamergate, a movement that is explicitly about silencing women and gatekeeping diverse representations out of games.

But this comparison is a false equivalency. A fan arguing for more progressive representation is fighting an uphill battle, and they know it; the loudness of what Faraci calls a “chamber of screams” is, in the case of fans who have had to fight for representation, at least proportionate to the level of yelling members of marginalized groups have had to do throughout history in order to be heard to begin with. That’s not on any level the same thing as a Gamergate member who’s always been secure that a game was being made for him being suddenly unsettled by the intrusion of diversity and greater inclusiveness into his space; the online intensity of these two groups may look superficially the same—but that’s all Feraci’s argument has ever been: superficial.

Rather than identifying specific kinds of fan ownership as being harmful, Faraci is threatened by the whole concept of fan ownership—and he explicitly seems to be most troubled by female fan ownership. After all, most of the fan practices he hates are female-dominated, and most of the specific incidents he discusses are campaigns that have been spearheaded by female-dominated fan communities.

But the irony is that part of the increasing volume of fan “entitlement” that has so unsettled Faraci is the rise of a new class of fans who are willfully disregarding decades and even centuries of being depicted in popular culture as mindless zealots, dangerous obsessives, disturbing basement-dwellers, and brainless shallow screeching twits. These fans know exactly how much they are worth, both to the media properties they love, and as parts of the vibrant communities they have built. These are fans who believe in their own power; they aren’t afraid to talk back when creators and critics talk down to them; they aren’t afraid to speak en masse in order to be heard. They aren’t watching their tone. They are willing to bite the hand that feeds them and willing to dismiss the critics that dismiss them. And they are ready at a moment to back up their outrage with deep, intelligent critique that ultimately bespeaks their love of the canon—a love born of the belief that if you truly respect something, you don’t place it on a pedestal and passively worship it; you tear it down and rebuild it in order to make it better than ever.

These “screams” aren’t about attacking creators; they’re about drowning out the Devin Faracis of the world who tell fans that their imaginations and their love of characters, their deep investment, and the many personal miles they travel with their favorite canons, are inferior and invalid.

Some Essays and Articles: Related and in Response