Fandom And The Fourth Wall (aka women reading about gay sex gives people cooties)

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Title: Fandom And The Fourth Wall (aka women reading about gay sex gives people cooties)
Creator: zjofierose
Date(s): July 7, 2014
Medium: tumblr
Fandom:
Topic: Fourth Wall
External Links: online here[1]
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Fandom And The Fourth Wall (aka women reading about gay sex gives people cooties) is a meta essay about the Fourth Wall and fandom.

It was written by zjofierose against the backdrop of Teen Wolf fandom, but its focus is on fandom in general.

The essay explores some of the historical reasons that fandom erected and maintained the fourth wall before advocating for its removal.

It was posted on Tumblr and has generated 750 notes as of 24 May 2015.

An excerpt:
"Fandom erected the fourth wall out of self-defense. But now, it is time for it to come down. Fandom is a place that provides safe space and exploration (and often education) to fans of all ages and sexual identities. It is hypocritical for fandom to perpetuate a practice that encourages the shaming and silencing of non-het sexual and romantic desires and practices..... While I would never ever suggest that we should force individual fans into outing themselves (or out them ourselves), nor that we should subject the actors or creators to harassing behavior, I have come to the conclusion that the more general existence of the fourth wall in fandom has become hurtful to fandom, and beneficial to those who would like to exploit us. It is ridiculous in this day and age that we are not only still being treated as inferior and shameful, but that we are now having our safe spaces and carefully curated desires exploited and used against us. We have just as much right to be present and recognized as anyone else at this table, and it is past time that it was acknowledged."

Reactions

Note that because of the difficulty of tracking tumblr conversations, which are not sequential or threaded, additional material is being quoted to afford context for the discussions.

In response, one anonymous reader asked:

"I loved that essay on the 4th Wall you reblogged but while reading it I found myself unable to quite figure out /how/ it can be broken down. I feel like mainstream media talking about fandom in a respectful and truthful way might well be the best solution to that, but what can fandom do that it isn't doing already?"[2]

Agentotter's reply:

"There are a lot of fans who will tell you that it’s not acceptable to talk about or ask about slash ships at a convention. We have to pretend they don’t exist. (Still vividly recalling the fan who got booed at a Supernatural convention for stating she was bisexual and wanting to ask if Jensen thought Dean might be. Seriously, the word “bisexual” was uttered and the crowd responded by loudly policing the topic. If you think all of fandom is a queer-friendly place, you’re very mistaken.) And if you accept that idea, then you’re accepting the idea that those pairings are lesser or somehow more explicit just by existing, simply because they’re same-sex.... ....Anyway, basically what I’m saying is, we need to change our own culture. We all need to stop acting like slash is a dirty secret, for a start. We need to stop allowing a culture of shame around it like it’s something that needs hushing up. People have a million reasons to not talk about their fannish activities in connection with their daily lives, and that’s fine, but inside fannish spaces we really need to stop hushing each other up over topics that, in this day and age, are really not scandalous.[3]

iwritesometimes response:

"i love you, fandom, and i think this entire conversation is vitally important and i’m glad we’re having it in earnest, but fhew, i have never before read such excellent essays and come to the exact opposite conclusions from the authors’. destroying the fourth wall is just so intensely not the answer to this problem....andom has way WAY too much of its own shit to sort out before we can ever engage with the mainstream on any issue of import (lgbt+ media representation, feminist media criticism, representation of PoC and the differently-abled); if there is any prayer of us actually making a change for the better, as an entity - as capital-f Fandom - we need to spend the next couple years disengaging entirely from exploitative media representatives and bloodsucking entertainment creators and unify our goddamn message..."[4]

agentotter counters:

"You’re in Teen Wolf fandom, by this point don’t you just feel exploited by default? Does Teen Wolf even have a marketing strategy at this point that doesn’t involve “EXPLOIT FANS” written in bold letters at the top of the page? Recognizing that that IS what’s happening, and creating backlash against it — which involves not being ashamed of what we’re into — is part of ensuring that it doesn’t go down in everybody’s books as the most successful strategy ever..... And as far as the homophobia and misogyny in our community, I feel like I might be missing part of your point here so please feel free to correct me or elaborate or whatever, but how exactly do we address that at all without doing what I’m suggesting we do, which is speak up about it and stop treating it all like a secret. There are a ton of people in fandom who are producers of slash-type fanworks who are contributing to that policing of discussions because a lot of us grew up on the “what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet” model of life, but the Internet is a different beast now, and while what we do on the Internet might very well stay on the Internet, these days the Internet is literally in everybody’s pocket. I feel like all we’re doing these days by holding on to this sort of “if we don’t discuss it nobody will know” attitude is broadcasting the sort of shame that everybody seems to think we should feel."[5]

zjofierose, the original poster clarified:

"1) The fourth wall is already compromised, and not just a little bit. We can prop it up, in places, and as I said in my original post, some folks have entirely valid reasons for doing so. I am down with people who need to protect themselves taking the appropriate actions to do so. However, for fandom, the wall is simply keeping us in, while allowing those who want to make money off of or sensationalize us to have free access. If we start to tear it down, then it comes down on our terms, and we get to help control the discussion, rather than if we wait for those who would come after us.

2) “Fandom” doesn’t exist as an actual entity, and is thus never going to actually sort its shit out. There is no UN of Fandom, there’s no Geneva Convention. There are more and less widely accepted ways of behaving, sure, and working to change those from within is absolutely something we should be doing. But trying to put our fingers in the dike until we can get fandom all shiny and clean before going public is never going to work.

3) We can’t wait. Waiting gives the non-fans who want to shame us and take our money more power. Change is not instantaneous by any means- it ebbs and flows and pushes back and forth. But it comes, and the way to shape what the end result looks like is to be out in front of the wave, not sitting on the beach making sure your flippers are on right."[6]

penguinsparade wrote:

"I’d go even further and argue that the fourth wall probably never existed at all in regards to fandom. If it did it at all, it was a one way window that creators simply didn’t bother or have the means of looking through. Fans have always been engaged with the texts they loved and to a lesser extent with the people who created them. Until the internet and social media really took off that was largely limited to official newsletters, writing to authors and conventions. Even back in the wee wild days of the early interwebs, when all we had were bbs and crappy geoshities pages; some authors decided they wanted to pay attention. And that attention often was pretty painful. Anne Rice threw an epic hissy fit back in the 90s over people writing fanfiction based on her work (despite publishing erotic Sleeping Beauty bondage rape fantasy porn, but apparently that was legit).

Now with the saturation (and more importantly monetization) of social media, your engagement with media means you are being watched..... They track most of the major fandom, character, and shipping tags to check in on what people watching the show are talking about. It might not influence how they make the show, but it probably impacts marketing decisions. Because this is a business, to them.

And regardless of how cohesive a community fandom is (and I agree with ziofierose, it’s not), the idea of seclusion and self segregation seems like a pretty terrible choice. Historically speaking, groups that have chosen to seclude themselves, or self-segregate, in order to sort their own shit out have pretty much never managed to do that. That’s just not how community cohesion and identity works. When a community does that, what’s far more likely to happen is factions getting expelled from the community to maintain the ‘purity’ of the group identity. I don’t use that word lightly, but to be honest most of the examples of voluntary group seclusion like this result in faction fighting along the lines of identity politics. Groups within a community (most often the non-white members) get expelled because they failed to adhere to the core of whatever dogma (or norms of whiteness) that drove the group into seclusion in the first place. And I want no part of that.

I do not think it is an accident that the increased visibility of fandom more generally has also lead to an increased visibility of the diversity within fandom. Make no mistake, that diversity has always been there. Queer fans and conversations about the importance of LGBTQI representation has been here for a long time. Women and men of color have been in fandom for years, as have conversations about anti-blackness and the importance of chromatic casting and diversity of representation. Criticisms of ableism and the presence of neuro-divergent and differently-abled people? Not new to this fandom party. Neither are the feminists and womanists.

The thing that’s new, at least to me, is the collaborative potential. I remember being on livejournal and trying to talk about my issue with how a new female Latina character was being introduced on Without a Trace (and more specifically how much fandom wanted to kill her for getting the way of their favorite slash ship). After posting about it in my own LJ, I had the option of posting about it in several groups focused on Latin@ representation, a group focused on discussions of race, and a fan group focused on feminist discussion. There was not much in the way of talking about it intersectionally. Now I have that ability and I fucking love it. And some of that is tumblr, but a lot of it is because fandom is becoming increasingly visible and more voices are joining in to say yes i love that thing too!

and sometimes that thing you love is problematic and you want to make it better. and sometimes it’s you that’s problematic, so you make yourselves better."[7]

juno-magic:

"Dismissing slash fanfic as “dirty secrets” and homemade porn by straight women has two effects: on the one hand, straight and queer women are shut up for exploring their sexual fantasies, for owning their sexual identities, on the other hand queer sexualties and queer erotica are put firmly into an unsavoury corner.

It’s no coincidence that the two latest examples of successful mainstreaming of fanfic and RPF (50 Shades and that One Direction RPF) are both heterosexual romances.....

Most of all, I just have to say how much love I have for this passage — I seriously want to frame it and put it on my wall:

"If we, collectively, begin to fully live into our own sexualities, our own passions, our own truths, it will start to affect the wider world, both inside and outside fandom. — zjofierose”"[8]
ademska offered a different thought:
"this question asks what more fandom can do than it hasn’t already done, and it is absolutely vital that we internalize everything otter outlned, but i think the question itself has an inherent flaw:

it is not fandom’s responsibility to make things better.

the onus is and will always be ultimately on the creators that gave birth to the fandom to create an environment that lets it flourish. if the creative team, marketing arm, and publisher analogue are the acorn to fandom’s tree, how the hell can you expect it to flourish when the seed was bad to begin with?"[9]
arnar-narfi-hjaltalin linked to her own essay, Cracks in the fourth wall what to do? about the Fourth Wall:
"In this essay if you will I explore what is going on with actor-fan interaction as well as interactions with creators and PR. It’s an exploration of perspectives and the false commonality and closeness which social media generates and how, a public space has been created basically in our own personal space, and what tends to be forgotten is how inundated celebs are with a multitude of different things."[10]

References

  1. Reference link
  2. anonymous ask at agentotter's tumblr dated July 7, 2014.
  3. agentotter's reply dated July 7, 2014.
  4. iwritesometimes reply to agentotter dated July 7, 2014.
  5. agentotter's response dated July 7, 2014.
  6. zjofierose's post dated July 7, 2014; reference link.
  7. penguinsparade thoughts dated July 8, 2014; reference link
  8. juno-magic's post dated July 8, 2014; reference link.
  9. ademska's post dated July 7, 2014.
  10. I Loved that essay and Cracks in the fourth wall what to do? dated July 7, 2014.