Leftism in Fandom
Leftism refers to the ideas, theories and thoughts related to the left of the political spectrum and involves ideologies such as the centre-left concept of social democracy to more radical forms such as socialism, communism and anarchism. Left wing politics is often closely tied to the idea of social equality and social movements. Contrary to the term's mainstream usage in much of the Western world, liberalism is generally considered to be a centre ideology in much of the world.
Leftism and fandom can be linked and affect each other in many different, interconnecting ways including:
- themes or influences within the source text
- topics or perspectives in transformative works
- metas, analyses and critiques of the text, fandom or cultural, socio-economic environment, both past and present.
Impacts on Canon
A lot can influence a piece of media and the fandom around them. The socioeconomic beliefs of both society and the creators themselves are merely two such examples, resulting in analysis and meta of the political landscape from fandom members and critics alike. As Jim Sterling quite passionately put it in their video A Completely Normal One (The Jimquisition), when talking about the less desirable consequences of the impacts of politics on video games:
Bullshit isn't born in a bubble. Everything's connected. All the shit we complain about on this show - you know, all of the stuff that triple A video game corporations are allowed to get away with, as I've said, are a result of unchecked rampant capitalism allowing these companies to do whatever the fuck they like.
Many fandom source texts incorporate leftist or left-leaning ideas, whether intentionally or not, and sometimes even when the creator themselves may not identify fully with a specific ideology.
Certain genres have a history linked with left wing politics, particularly those involved with punk aesthetics, such as cyberpunk. Sci-fi and Fantasy, particularly the former, also have histories with incorporating leftist ideas into the worlds they create. Many source texts and fanworks in speculative fiction use allegories or coding in order to incorporate these leftist or political elements.
- George Lucas has stated that the original Star Wars film was influenced by his objections to the Vietnam War.
The Olivia Hill Rule
The Olivia Hill Rule is the name given to a warning statement by game devs that fascists are not welcome to play their game. The initial warning in 2019 by Olivia Hill gives it its name, and is as follows:
If you’re a fascist, you’re not welcome to play this game. It’s against the rules. If you’re reading this and thinking, “You just call everyone you disagree with a fascist,” then you’re probably a fascist, or incapable of drawing inferences from context and acknowledging a dangerous political climate that causes the oppressed to be hyperbolic. Don’t play this game. Heal yourself. Grow. Learn. Watch some Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or something.
The original text is under a Creative Commons license, and has been used for several other games, mainly indie titles. The warning acts akin to a DNI.
Capitalism. Where everyone wins... except you.
Tibbles in 'Hooty's Moving Hassle' - The Owl House
- Disco Elysium is an indie game with a political alignment game mechanic in which the main character can align themselves with different political ideologies, including communism.
- Tonight We Riot is an indie game developed by a worker owned co-op, Pixel Pushers Union 512, that involves the workers of a capitalist society rising up through a revolution.
One of the well known Shrek memes 'They don't even have dental', comes from a conversation in Shrek 2 in which Shrek pretends he, Donkey and Puss are from a union:
Shrek: That's okay, buddy. We're from the union.
Receptionist: The union?
Shrek: We represent the workers in all magical industries, both evil and benign.
Receptionist: Oh, of course.
Shrek: Are you feeling at all degraded or oppressed?
Receptionist: A little. We don't even have dental.
Shrek: They don't even have dental.
The podcast Stellar Firma is heavily and explicitly anti-capitalist, and involves a capitalist space corporation building planets for clients. The company is heavily criticised, often through a satirical nature, to the extent where it is destroyed in the series finale.
Trexel: [...] It’s— it’s why Loulabella is— is in many ways the most prolific author! There's so many markets, David! And so much market share to have, because at the core, Loulabella is a capitalist!
David 7: Right. Which is good.
Trexel: Yes. Well, for us, certainly.
David 7: Okay.
Trexel: You can't afford one of our planets unless you’re some sort of ruthless capitalist masquerading as a romantic novelist.
The Marvel Villain Problem
(To come back to. To include: Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers, Killmonger etc. Memes that came about from it.)
Impacts on Fandom
Some texts are more likely to have a left-leaning fandom than others, for various reasons. One obvious example is if the media text is targetting a leftist audience, such as in the case of Stellar Firma, a podcast whose anti-capitalist politics are integral and were present throughout the show's run. The fandom is subsequently skewed towards folks who largely agree with the politics within.
Leftist vs. Liberal Influence
Opinions on the antis/fanpol vs anti anti/pro-shipping discourse in leftist spaces appear to vary considerably, and much of the discussion intersects with issues such as: accountability and justice, youth liberation and censorship to name but a few.
- Swift Wind, from She-ra and the Princesses of Power, is often seen as having politics consistent with revolutionary leftism.
Fandom and Media Analysis Through a Leftist Lens
Analysis of fandom and media can quite often be found. This can come in the form of video essays, written essays, fanfiction or just general discussions and interactions between leftists within fandom.
Sometimes, these analyses will purposefully focus on left wing politics within the videos. Other times, the videos may not specifically be about it, but in virtue of the critic or fan analysing the text being a leftist, their leftwing views will inevitably impact their perspectives on the media they consume and the fandoms they participate in.
- Outlaw Kings and Rebellion Chic (March 2019) - Analysis of revolutionary aesthetics within media, including references to Star Wars, Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games, and the lack of specific ideology that often accompanies it.
- Tea, Biscuits, and Empire: The Long Con of Britishness - Analysis of the contrast between depictions of Britishness, particularly its aristocracy, in media, and the actual imperialist history of Britain. Includes references to Downton Abbey and The Crown, among others.
- The Legend of Korra’s Zaheer and the Dark Fantasies of the War on Terror by Sawyer Martin French on Maydan
Written Essays & Meta
- Lindsay Ellis
- Variety, though emphasis on Transformers, Phantom of the Opera and Disney.
- Renegade Cut
- Variety, including The West Wing, Bob's Burgers and Rick and Morty.
- Folding Ideas (Dan Olson)
- Maggie Mae Fish
- Variety, including Zack Snyder films, the musical Cats, and Robocop.
- Just Write
- Variety, including The Hunger Games, The Last of Us and the MCU
- The Sin Squad
- Variety, including Voltron, She-ra and the Princesses of Power and Sherlock
Other youtubers whose videos are usually centred on more general or varied left wing topics or ideas, such as Thought Slime, hbomberguy or PhilosophyTube will occasionally dip into analysis of media and fandom, such as Stranger Things, Sherlock or Chernobyl (HBO), respectively.
- Capitalism, Poverty, and Ratatouille (December 2020) by The Sing Squad - Ratatouille
- Protest Music of the Bush Era by Lindsay Ellis - Music
- Minecraft, Sandboxes, and Colonialism | Folding Ideas by Folding Ideas - Minecraft & Sandbox games
- How Parasite (And Every Bong Joon-ho Film) Critiques Class (January 2020) by Just Write - Parasite
- CAAApitalism: The Successful Failure Of Videogames (The Jimquisition) (February 2019) by Jim Sterling - Video Games
- How Robots (2005) Rejects Gender and Capitalism (April 2020) by Drawpinion Dump - Robots (2005)
- Does Call of Duty Believe in Anything? (December 2019) by Jacob Geller - Call of Duty
- The Greatest Piece of Communist Art: Chicken Run (December 2021) by JohntheDuncan - Chicken Run
Sometimes, issues will be raised about the suitability of using activism as a fanfic trope, particularly if it borders on depicting real world events. Don’t write George Floyd fanfiction is one such post that has come about from this debate.
Tactics - Riots
Due to the plethora of cop characters, it seems almost an inevitablility that some fanworks would end up showcasing activism, particularly more controversial forms such as riots, through the lens of the police. For instance, the fic A Different Game involves the main cop characters being injured during the Brixton Riots of 1981.
Tactics - Other
- yourfaveisleft - Tumblr blog where fans can submit characters and headcanons of their left wing ideologies, some more seriously than others.
- The aforementioned Shrek union meme.
- This quote from Tim Curry's character in the video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
I'm escaping to the one place that hasn't been corrupted by capitalism...SPACE!
The endpoint of capitalism. The bottom line where life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm — a spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere. We’re fighting the suits.
The Twelfth Doctor in Oxygen by Jamie Mathieson - Doctor Who
Doctor Who's relationship with left wing politics, and wider politics in general, has been discussed by many over the years.
- Malcolm Hulke, writer of several serials during the Classic Who era, was at one time a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and fans have pointed out the influence of his left wing beliefs within his serials, such as in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
But remember what politics refers to: it refers to ‘the relationships between groups of people’. It doesn’t necessarily mean Left or Right, Labour or Conservative, it’s the relationships of groups of people so really all ‘Doctor Who’ stories are political.
- Russell T Davies often incorporated left wing ideas into his stories, particularly when doing satire.
- Steven Moffat, executive producer and head writer for the show, is a self-described leftist.
Certain episodes are known for being more obviously left-wing based than others:
- Certain RTD satirical episodes, such as Aliens of London/World War Three (critique of the Iraq War), The Long Game (critique of the part the media plays in society) Gridlock (an underclass in a permanent traffic jam), have been analysed as having left-leaning aspects to them.
- The episode Oxygen (Series 10, Episode 5) offers a critique of capitalism, and reactions differed amongst fans and critics, though the episode as a whole was generally received positively. Examples of review quotes follow:
Which brings us to Mathieson's other big concern: capitalism. And does it feel a little like student politics, this unilateral cynicism about the making of money? [...] Sure, bad capitalists are bad, but is that capitalism per se? I don't know. I'm getting out of my depth now. I only did English and Film & Media Studies. But I would have welcomed something more than the thudding money-making = evil.
“Oxygen” breaks down this concept in a sci-fi manner that elegantly illustrates what is at stake for many folks in the here and now of the 21st century. Unfortunately, it has no easy answers. The Doctor’s solution is to rage against the machine, to threaten to dismantle the entire system in order to fix it. And then in a post note we’re told that six months later “corporate dominance in space is history.” If only it was so easy back here on Earth.
This story combined with Thin Ice makes for a damning verdict on capitalism as the show takes a socialist approach, which is exactly where you would expect a show of this nature to position itself.
Other episodes and era are known for being criticised by those on the left. The Chibnall era in particular has been criticised as possessing politics inconsistent with past series' left-leaning ones.
- The episode Kerblam! (Series 11, Episode 7) was both praised and criticised for its commentary on retailer companies such as Amazon. Though it criticises many of the conditions, many took issues with its handling of class issues and its use of more centrist politics.
[...] Following the broadcast of “Kerblam!” one of the main points of contention that arose between some fans was where the episode (and in particular its resolution) sat politically, and whether or not the reveal that Charlie was the episode’s antagonist demonised the working class and glorified an ‘evil, capitalist corporation’ – an interpretation clearly at odds with the show’s political identity. This was not the episode that I experienced.
In no way do I intend to devalue or undermine the views of those who prescribed to this reading of the episode – but it is worth prefacing this review by saying that isn’t an interpretation I can share. Despite revisiting the episode and keeping these arguments in mind, it remains for me predominantly about the consequences of a human workforce being gradually replaced by automated workers. More significantly there’s no mention or evidence of Charlie being motivated by any other motive. Informed by the episode’s own dialogue, the context of the Doctor’s line asserting that the system isn’t a problem appears to be in reference to the the Kerblam! software.Regardless, it is important to note that there’s nothing to say that any one interpretation is more or less valid or correct than another’s. While I may not agree with the arguments some of my peers have raised regarding the episode, the conversations about class and ideology they’ve prompted are incredibly timely and important. It’s for this reason that I implore readers to seek out and contemplate varying interpretations of the episode, because regardless of whether or not it’s one you end up sympathising with, they remain a valid and crucial part of engaging with the source and deserve an equal platform.
Other associations have been more humorous. In November 2019, the self-described socialist and Labour leader at the time, Jeremy Corbyn, was photographed with a copy of Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor, a spinoff film by Reeltime Pictures, that he'd been gifted by the actor Nabil Shaban, who played the titular Sil. Memes and jokes about the surreal nature of seeing the then-current Labour leader with a Blu-ray copy of an obscure Doctor Who spinoff featuring a character last seen in the 1980's, occured.
Much criticism has been targeted towards The Walt Disney Company, particularly regarding accusations of the company monopolising the entertainment industry and its weak and often superficial ways in which it has attempted to address criticism of its representation in the past. Renegade Cut coined the term Late Stage Disney to describe this era in his video of the same name. This criticism and analysis affects many elements of the company, including franchises such as Star Wars and the MCU.
The biggest challenge is repaying your loan to a pesky capitalist raccoon [sic].
Because of the ability to create custom designs in-game that can then be turned into items such as shirts, hats and dresses, some players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons have designed left wing symbols, such as antifa's 'two flags' and 'three arrows' symbols, the 'A' anarchist symbol, and the 'hammer and sickle' communism symbol.
The ability to change a villager's catchphrase lead to left wing fans insisting a character say phrases and acronyms such as 'ACAB' (All Cops Are Bastards), influenced by the 'Black Lives Matter' protests happening in 2020. However, Nintendo appears to have added the term to its list of banned words you can't use in game during its September 2020 update. Inevitably, fans have found ways around this, and the initial update appears not to have censored out certain alternatives.
Syndical Crossing is a fangame currently in the works by wobblydev as a critique of New Horizons and its relationship with capitalism.
Some politicans themselves have used the game, whether as part of a campaign or not. For instance, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self identified Democratic Socialist, travelled to other players islands.
See Also: Cultural Imperialism in Fandom
Fandom Impacts on Politics
Discussions surrounding the ways in which fandom has impacted politics will sometimes address the ways in which the participation of fans in the former, affects the way they view the latter. This has become to be theorised as the fandomisation of politics. Examples would include viewing a person's political ideology in a similar way to their Hogwarts House, or treating a political figure in a similar way as one would a fictional character.
Trexel and David 7 from Stellar Firma start a revolution, whilst Hartro looks on. By itsaneve
Lionesses Union's poster against monarchy (Mar 2013) by FireLeviathan, a mock poster based on The Lion King, advocating for the monarchy's abolition at the hands of the lionesses.
- From Each According to His Ability, to Each According to His Needs (December 2020) by OfMonstersAndWerewolves
- Harry Potter And The Antifascist Waffenbrüder series (December 2020) by ComradeTortoise
- Greater Than Your Hoarded Gold 'verse series (July 2021-) by Quietbang
- The Hungry Ghosts of Late Capitalism by Colin Broadmoor (January 2021)
- Fan Fiction and the Bourgeoisification of Creativity (December 2013)
Resources & External Links
- Inside the TARDIS: The Worlds of Doctor Who - Though perhaps not strictly left wing, this book analyses the cultural history of the show, with politics being a big part of the analysis. Discussions regarding the left wing politics of stories include those pertaining to The Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
- ^ Star Wars was a commentary on the Vietnam War (October 2018) on In A Far Away Galaxy
- ^ No Fascists at RPG museum, link accessed Mar 31, 2021
- ^ Olivia Hill Rule by Machine Age Productions.
- ^ The Owl House Wiki - Transcript of 'Hooty's Moving Hassle'
- ^ Doctor Who Magazine Issue 489 (September 2015) page 50 by John Williams
- ^ Malcolm Hulke (1970’s)
- ^ Quote: "I mean, I found myself having to persuade someone at the 'Radio Times' covers party that 'No, I'm not a Donald Trump supporter, I'm a die-hard lefty.'" - Steven Moffat (Doctor Who Magazine Issue 515 (September 2017), page 15)
- ^ Graham Kibble-White (Doctor Who Magazine Issue 513 (July 2017), Page 66)
- ^ Scott Collura, 'Doctor Who: "Oxygen" Review' on IGN (May 2017)
- ^ Mark McCullough, '12 Notable Moments From Oxygen' on DoctorWhoTV (May 2017)
- ^ Connor Johnston, '2nd Opinion: “Kerblam!'” on DoctorWhoTV (November 2018)
- ^ Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor (home video) - Doctor Who wiki page
- ^ ‘Animal Crossing’ Isn’t Just a Game — It’s a Political Platform (May 2020) on One Zero
- ^ What the *, Nintendo? This in-game censorship is * terrible. (September 2020) by Kurt Opsahl on EFF
- ^ The fandomization of political figures - Journal of Transformative Works (March 2020)