Curatorial Fans, Transformative Fans, & How Both Can Be Obnoxious

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Title: Curatorial Fans, Transformative Fans, & How Both Can Be Obnoxious
Creator: Syera Miktayee
Date(s): July 25, 2018
Medium: Essay on
Fandom: Panfandom
Topic: Curative Fandom, Transformational Fandom, Authorial Intent, Headcanons, etc.
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Curatorial Fans, Transformative Fans, & How Both Can Be Obnoxious is a 2018 essay by Syera Miktayee.


I'd say it's not so much that there are two types of fans, as it is that there are two ways that fans relate to content they like. Most people seem to have both curatorial and transformative tendencies, even if they do tend to lean more toward one than the other. Additionally, someone can relate to one work in a curatorial fashion, but relate to another in a transformative way. How one relates to a particular work tends to depend on how much one likes or can relate to it as-is. If you strongly like everything about it and can easily relate to it, you're more likely to take a curatorial approach. If there are some aspects you like but others that bother you in some way, or if you find it difficult to relate to in some way, you're more likely to take a transformative approach.

Neither approach is intrinsically good or bad, despite what people who lean extremely far one way or the other would have you think. In fact, it's good to use both approaches. When fanfic writers have no respect for canon, their works often bear so little resemblance to the source material that they can barely be called fanfics at all. When they stick to canon so rigidly that they refuse to take even the smallest creative liberty, their fanfictions become little more than rehashes of canon stories.

Problems arise when a fan with strong leanings toward either mindset decides to get up in other people's business and tell them what they should or shouldn't do. First, let's look at hardline curatorial types. They tend to argue that works are perfect-as is and claim that there are reasons for things to be this way, and thus, they ought to be left alone. These reasons usually boil down to:

  • Creator intention (or alleged creator intention).
  • The environment the story developed in.
  • In-universe conditions or circumstances.
  • Lack of plausibility/realism.
  • Censorship.
  • Lack of meaningful consequence.

And they're all typically irrelevant.

What fans who make arguments like these truly are is busybodies and meddlers. The vast majority of what they complain about does not meaningfully affect them in any way. No one is forcing them to play an RPG based on someone's rewritten lore. No one is stealing the original copies of their beloved movies and replacing them with altered versions.

Now let's talk about hardline transformative fans. These ones tend to make trouble in other ways. In RPG environments, they might make up their own lore without bothering to consult with anyone else. When called out, they might insist that they're "just trying to have fun" or tell the players that it's just a game and that they should stop trying to take it so seriously. The fact that everyone needs to have a common understanding of the game's setting to play a coherent game either goes over their heads, or they just don't care. When it comes to issues like the fact that they don't have consent from anyone whose characters their creative liberties might affect, or that they're creating massive plotholes, or that what they're proposing makes no sense in context, they often just don't care. They act as if their "creative freedom" comes before game balance and internal consistency, as well as anyone's ability to actually enjoy the game.

Sometimes hardline transformative fans insist that everyone takes their headcanons as seriously as they do. Rather than accept that their own personal interpretations and ideas are just that and recognize that everyone is equally entitled to have their own, they insult and harass those who don't adopt them. An example of this would be a fan who claims that the only explanation for a character's quiet and withdrawn behavior is childhood bullying, then when others point out that social anxiety can have other causes, writes vitriolic rants accusing them of being ignorant and uncaring toward victims of bullying.

Despite all of their differences from hardcore curatorial fans, when it gets down to it hardline transformative fans have exactly the same problem: they try to impose their own opinions and creative visions on others. They both complain about people getting things "wrong" in their RPs, fanfics, adaptive works, etc. Both get upset when other people have "incorrect" opinions or interpretations. Both of them think that their own opinions on what's good or fun are better than anyone else's. Both of them treat fandom as a zero-sum game where someone doing something "wrong" is somehow taking something important away from them. Both of them act like they have the moral high ground while being nothing more than pests who need to learn how to mind their own business.

Here's what it boils down to: Everyone is allowed to have opinions. Everyone is allowed to criticize things they don't like. People are allowed to think that canon is just fine, and they're allowed to think that it could use some polish. Unless what someone is doing could actually get someone hurt (EG, by promoting a hateful agenda), or is in tremendously bad taste, or is directly interfering with your own personal affairs somehow, relax and let it be.