Fansplaining: Consplaining

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Podcast Episode
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Episode Title: Fansplaining: Consplaining
Length: 51:27
Date: July 14 2016
Focus: Conventions
External Links: Episode at

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Fansplaining: Consplaining is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining


"Flourish and Elizabeth break down fan conventions. Elizabeth, who has only recently (grudgingly) started going to cons, is fresh out of Leviosa, a small, fan-run Harry Potter con, and both she and Flourish are getting ready to attend the big mama, San Diego Comic-Con. They discuss the differences between cons large and small, how things change when you physically meet the internet, issues of race, class, gender, and accessibility in a variety of con spaces, and the joys of encountering exactly your kind of nerd."


Topics Discussed

  • Leviosacon and San Diego Comic Con
  • Fan-run cons and commercial cons
  • Fans hanging out in-person, connecting, and sharing interests and enthusiasm
  • Attending as a fan, a professional, or someone in between both roles
  • Accessibility (or lack of accessibility, physical, mental, and otherwise) at conventions
  • Racism and race in conventions (for instance, around guests invited)
  • Conventions and face-to-face interactions humanizing other fans
  • Costs associated with conventions, including travel
  • Harry Potter Conventions


FK: I was having a conversation with somebody recently—and this is another thing about cons, right? Some people go to cons for the stuff that’s actually at the con, and then some people go to cons just to meet up with their friends. I was talking to somebody about how, happy to go to Comic-Con just to say hello to people! To have an excuse, to have everybody in one place.

ELM: Hmm, is this a person who—is this in a professional context too? Because that’s one thing about a lot of these: Comic-Con to me felt like a weird, there was a weird dissonance between everyone who was there in a professional capacity and people who were there just to be fans. And then there were people in the middle, which was kind of me? I don’t know. As a fan it didn’t really speak to me as an experience beyond the fact that it was what it was and it holds a place in culture.

FK: I think that’s actually a pretty common thing at cons. So, like, at VidCon there’s literally different tracks if you’re a fan or if you create YouTube videos or if you work in the business of YouTube—or Vimeo, or whatever your internet video thing is. And at science fiction and fantasy cons, there’s fans and fanfiction people and professional writers and sometimes you can’t tell the difference between them. In fact, generally you can’t, because everybody sort of is all together.

FK: OK, so one of the things I think is important if you’re going to a con for the first time is obviously figuring out if it’s the big kind or the little kind, and I think that should be obvious. And if it’s big you’ll have very different things than if it’s little. Because if it’s little you’re gonna have, you know, a smaller amount of space that you’re walking around—literally physical things. When you’re thinking about packing and going to a con. At San Diego Comic-Con you should wear closed-toed shoes because someone’s gonna stomp on your feet, because it’s literally a mass of people, like a cattle run.

ELM: This has been a thing that’s been very interesting to me to see, just talking about accessibility on that level or other in-person things. Not just about physical accessibility but also mental or psychological accessibility. The first con I went to was London Film & Comic Con and that was just as a member of the press, and that was kind of a mini San Diego Comic-Con in terms of that. It was still big, but.

The first fan-run con I went to was Nineworlds in London, which is really wonderful space. And they had—I feel like they might have been one of the first ones to do this, but they got a lot of traction the last few years. It definitely was shared a lot on social media. But they had, I believe they were like chips, like little poker chips, red yellow and green, and there was a code, and you could put them in your badge. Green meant “Please approach me, I would love to talk to strangers,” I think yellow was like “I would like to decide if I am up for talking to people.”

FK: So if I don’t want to talk to you don’t take it personally?

ELM: Yeah! I am an in-between, yellowish amount of comfort in engaging in this way. And red meant “No, please don’t approach me.” So especially, for neurodiversity, that felt…it’s just like clarifying gender pronouns. It doesn’t hurt! I’m happy, I’ll talk to anyone, I’ll put on my green button. So no one who has a red button feels like they don’t belong in the space, you know what I mean?

FK: Right, for context for anybody who's not familiar, WisCon is a somewhat traditional science fiction and fantasy convention, but it’s an explicitly feminist science fiction and fantasy convention, so a lot of focus on books, a lot of focus on the traditional science fiction and fantasy publishing industry, but from an explicitly feminist perspective and there’s been a lot of discussion about race in the past few years, just as Elizabeth said.

ELM: So that’s actually one of the only contexts in which I’ve encountered it, is particularly women of color talking about how this isn’t as inclusive a space as you make it out to be. And I can’t speak to that because I actually don’t know enough information about that con beyond the things that I’ve read. One thing that’s really struck me is somewhere like San Diego, because of its size, because of its commercial nature, it has the same—mandate isn’t the right word, but it has the same responsibility that a professional convention, a professional conference might. You go to a tech conference, this is a whole thing: you shouldn’t have your panels, seven white guys and one woman. Seven white guys and one Black person, you know, or any person of color. When it’s in a professional space there’s a responsibility to that, and I definitely think there’s a responsibility for creating diverse panels at San Diego. At a small fan-run convention? That doesn’t seem to be there.

FK: Well, I think it’s a complex issue, because I think there is a responsibility to work towards creating diverse panels, but at the same time cons can be difficult to get to in the first place. So if you have a small fan-run convention about a single fandom, a relatively small fandom, and only certain people can afford to go to the con, obviously there’s great charities that work to bring people to cons who can’t otherwise afford to go, but that can be complicating as well, right?

From the perspective of a con organizer, you can be really well intentioned, you can reach out to people, you can seek to bring diversity to your small convention, you can do everything right in those respects, and you’ll do better than if you hadn’t done any of those things as far as creating diversity at your con, but it still probably isn’t going to be—it won't necessarily be as effective as you want it to be. Whereas with San Diego Comic-Con, because it’s so huge, I don’t think there’s really any excuse to not have diversity there because there’s hundreds of thousands of people.

FK: I think the point is that there’s these issues that exist within cons naturally because one of the things that happens online is when you’re not embodied and talking to each other face to face, these issues, even as much as they come up, they’re not as visceral. And when you go to a con, there you are in this space with these other people who are embodied around you, and you see if there’s gender diversity, if there’s neurodiversity, if there’s racial diversity, to some degree you see sexuality diversity also depending how open people are about it, and...

s...o you know, I think it’s a different experience and I think it’s probably good—I guess I shouldn’t say “It’s good for people to meet in person” but I think it is to some degree because I think it really humanizes people. I had an incident a while back at a con, not to name names, where I was put on a panel with somebody I had gotten into a horrible internet argument with in the past. I discovered that actually we didn’t hate each other at all. They were a reasonable person whom we had gotten really angry at each other and it was a good thing we had been forced to see each other as humans and talk to each other. And you know, I still don’t agree with everything they say but now they’re a person to me. And I think that’s a really valuable aspect of cons.

(On joining a round-table at Leviosacon)

ELM: Right! The funny thing about it is, the thing about being a lurker, I thought so so so much about these characters and this pairing, just by myself. I’ve written things about them, I’ve written little metas just for me, and so I led this round table and it was really wonderful and if anyone who was there is listening, thank you so much for coming and everyone who’s participated. It was just like, all these conversations that I’d only been having with myself for years, I got to have out loud. And the things that I had thought about for years, my insights into the characters or whatever, I like how I just undermined myself by being like “Insights, LOL” [all laugh] —people were like, “Oh yeah absolutely! Great point!” And nodding and stuff and I don’t know. It was, I have never—gotten in plenty of arguments about Harry Potter with IRL people over the years. But I’ve never really gotten to talk about a ship and the stuff I like in fanfiction in that way. And the deep ways that fanfiction interrogates these characters. So that was magical.

FK: All of these things I think are part of the con experience, thinking about these issues. This is stuff that personally I think about most at cons and around cons because of the physicality of it.

ELM: Yeah it’s a time when it’s foregrounded cause you’re like “Here I am and what does this mean.” A con is an existential crisis, clearly.

FK: And about class also. If you’ve been to a con you’ve had that moment where your friend is like either, is like, let’s go to this incredibly expensive restaurant and you’re like “I can’t afford that,” or is like “Let’s go to McDonald’s” and you’re like “I don’t wanna eat that,” or—

ELM: Flourish in the middle class having some feelings! [laughs]

FK: But you see what I’m saying! It’s not something that’s exclusive to—suddenly you’re in this space with another person and you have to talk about your class, your race, your gender. Because you’re embodied with each other.

ELM: Sure, and that’s the sort of thing that I think comes up when you travel with friends inherently. Especially when you figure out what people prioritize and what people can afford or feel they can afford.

FK: And your opinions about what they can or can’t afford have nothing to do with what they feel like they can or can’t afford.