Fansplaining: One True Fandom

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Title: Fansplaining: One True Fandom
Created by: Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Date(s): November 4, 2015
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Fansplaining: One True Fandom is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.



Episode 8 is live, and it’s called ONE TRUE FANDOM. Flourish and Elizabeth try (and possibly fail) to answer the question “What is fandom?” Topics covered include whether “fandom” implies “community,” the Buffalo Bills’ sad-sack Superbowl record, [Flourish wrote those words and just FYI Elizabeth has murdered her] whether transformative works are really central to fandom as we think of it, and rock fans… not rock n’ roll, geodes.

Topics Discussed


[Elizabeth Minkel]: This is our first episode that’s just the two of us talking since the very first one. As we’ve done the last half dozen episodes, I think that we’ve kind of brushed up some of the same edges over and over again. Especially as we spoke to people who come from different backgrounds and different perspectives. Which is, I guess, natural and good? I have thought throughout the past two years that I’ve been a “fandom journalist.” For me it’s kind of a double edged sword, because I definitely feel like I don’t have blinders on, I see fandom as multifaceted, many things far outside my experience, but I also have spent a lot of time trying to prop up my experience and the kind of fandom I come from because that’s the one that seems to be getting stomped on all the time. [Flourish laughs.] “You stupid women….” The other day I was talking to one of my colleagues and he was all, “what do you write about?” And I was like “fanfiction” and he was all, “Oh yeah, it’s all porn, right?” And I was just like, “No it’s not! …SOME OF IT IS!” and it was terrible! Like, “Screw you! But no, you’re wrong! And yes, you’re right! And that’s fine!” And so this is the land I’ve been living in fro the last couple years. And sometimes I feel like that kind of serves to refocus and make my focus narrow again, because I’m too busy… does that make sense?
[Flourish Klink]: It makes sense to me. I think that I also like to imagine that I have a broad view of fandom if only because for my work I dive into lots of different groups of people. Right now I’m working on a big project about video games, and soon I’ll be on something else. So I have to see a lot of ways that audiences react to stories or to games or to whatever, sometimes even to products or brands. I think that that gives me a broad view of audiences, but I’m not sure it actually gets me any closer to what fandom is, because “fandom” is a contested term, right? Like the term “fan” is. What do we mean when we say that? We sort of have to choose. I don’t know that there is a true answer. Because it means something to people who are in sports fandom, and it means something to people in media fandom, and it means something to… So I think in some ways the project of this episode is figuring out where we want to situate ourselves and how much of an allegiance we have to classic media fandom, or how much are we interested in broadening that perspective, or is it that we’re rooted in classic media fandom but interested in building bridges…
FK: Yeah. Well, then there’s always the awkward thing that happens when you write something that you think is a clever reference and some reader doesn’t understand that it’s a reference and thinks that you made it up and you’re like “uh, I’d love to take credit for that, but…”

EM: Does this happen to you a lot?

FK: Sometimes? Sometimes in a fanfic I’ll like have a character quote something and the reader thinks that I made that up. But the character’s quoting.

EM: Just go for it. Own it.

FK: No! That’s how Cassandra Clare got kicked out of fandom!...

EM: Did you see that story in The Guardian today about, or it was yesterday I think, about the woman who plagiarized?

FK: Yes! And I thought, Why didn’t I think of that first?!

EM: Did you see how she called it “transformative”?

FK: I saw that. And you know what’s funny is, I’m not sure that I disagree.

EM: STOP IT. No! She also said, she said oh, it was wrong by “her code of ethics” or something? I don’t remember what the quote was. And also by all the other…! The thing I was saying today on Twitter was that it angers me because this is what George R.R. Martin and whatever the white slavery woman with the Scottish fanfiction—

FK: Diana Gabaldon?

EM: Diana Gabaldon. Whenever they talk about fanfiction, that is what they think is happening. They’re like “someone’s stealing my books!” and you know what? No one, no one — someone is, but it’s not people in fanfiction, right. It’s book pirates.
FK: We do disagree on spoilers. I love them.

EM: I don’t.

FK: To me, part of my fannish pursuit involves seeking out the spoilers wherever they may lurk and—

EM: That’s ridiculous.

FK: —consuming them.

EM: That’s insane.

FK: It’s a classic fan activity, is getting spoiled!
FK:...I’ll often say things like “classic media fandom” meaning “the group of fans who consider themselves to have roots in fanfiction, zines and fanvidding on VCRs and so forth,” right? Classic media fandom. That’s why I use that term is because I want to differentiate it as that thing as opposed to Tumblr fandom which doesn’t include a lot of classic media fandom, right?
EM: I definitely think it’s at the heart of some things that are really turning me off right now about discourse especially on Tumblr, where I come from a very “fuck canon” kind of perspective when it comes to stuff, where I’m like I want my ship, and I want this to happen, and I want this to happen, and I want it to happen on my terms or the terms of the fanfiction writer that I’m reading.

FK: Yeah.

EM: I think you see so, so many people saying “I want it on the terms of the creator,” and I always go “why don’t you just write that yourself? Why do you care so much?” So that is a perspective not that interests me less but that confuses me. I understand it, but it is just… you know what I mean?
EM: I just, I think I just can’t leave the “fuck canon” school.

FK: Is what you’re saying then that canon shouldn’t be elevated?

EM: Yeah.

FK: Which I think is, if you say that that’s fine, but…

EM: Yeah, that’s fine.

FK: But if canon’s not elevated at all, is it just like fandom is a shared world and it doesn’t matter what the originary story is at all? Cause it just sort of goes out into this shared world space, and then…?

EM: Sure, why not?

FK: Are you really saying that?!

EM: Maybe! Why would you disagree with that? Go for it.

FK: I don’t know that I disagree, it’s just fascinating. It’s interesting because I feel like a lot of my pleasure in fanfic has to do very much with the canon and very much with my disagreements with the canon. And so if the canon isn’t somehow separate from the fandom then I don’t… Do you see what I’m saying?
EM: .... I don’t know if I talked about this on the podcast, but I think I might have told you about this. This presentation I saw at the Fan Studies Network conference last year where this guy is playing YouTube videos of people who were alarmed by the canceling of the Extended Universe [sic] of Star Wars as canon, and this guy was just like “how, how will we know who Princess Leia’s mother is?!” and he was just having a crisis! And I was like, who cares? Make up a name and then give her a backstory! Why do you need someone’s stamp of approval on this? And maybe we should retitle this episode “fuck canon,” because that’s really all I care about.

Fan Comments

[destinationtoast]: Really enjoyed the conversation, as always. Some responses to specific bits of the show below.

I’ve moved around quite a bit on the fan matrix described in the episode. I think the longer I live, the less reverent I get toward canon, and the more I take delight in witnessing (and doing stats on!) aspects of fandom that only happen in large communities. But the solitary, affirmational fan experience is also very familiar from my youth. And I definitely have some sympathy for Star Wars fans who are very caught up in what is canon and are sad to have their favorite story aspects or characters de-canonized. I can (and will) write all the fic I want, but if my favorite character is removed from canon, the creators (and probably fans) will no longer be focusing on them as much and no longer as likely to incorporate them in future works. That’s an actual loss even if I don’t believe in the creators’ work as superior to fanworks – the creators at minimum made some works I enjoyed and direct a lot of fan attention, and if they disappear my favorite character, it will probably have a negative effect on the future creation of works I want to consume. At the same time, as a Sherlockian and Johnlock shipper who is deeply sick of the argument about whether the ship will be canon, there is a definite limit on how much I care about canon. I don’t respect the creators’ opinions more than that of fans, nor do I hold their work to be superior to that of fans. And I don’t personally give a fuck if the ship becomes canon. I’ll be happy to just keep reading fic about it – so long as I keep blacklisting most of the arguments about canonicity, anyway.

Re Elizabeth never commenting on fic: I do comment sometimes, but not as often as I think I should. Any time I start feeling like I should or setting rules that I have to, the result is that I read less. So I’m certainly not in favor of rules or ultimatums. But I’m fascinated by what kinds of feedback fan creators most enjoy receiving, and also why readers do/don’t give feedback. I’ve done some informal surveys about comments and kudos, and I’m curious, @elizabethminkel about any further insights you feel like sharing about your own case, now that you’ve opened this can of worms on air :) – do you leave kudos? Do you not want to have an interacting with the author? Do you not want to take the time to come up with something genuine/interesting/useful to say? Do you not feel like it should be an obligation/expectation of readers? Do you feel like, in your all or nothing way, that if you comment sometimes you’ll have to comment on every story? (Wait, did you say that in the episode, even? What were you all or nothing about? Dammit, now I forget… Sorry if you already went over some of this.) [1]
[Elizabeth Minkel, response to destinationtoast]: OK, first, to clarify: the all-or-nothing thinking was about being a multi-fandom person (or, in my case, not). If you map out my fannish history, there are some pretty clear delineations where I broke up with one thing and fell for another. Part of the trouble I’m having right now is Sherlock has really worn me out — for some of the same reasons you describe here — so I sort of feel like I’m going through my greatest hits, occasionally reblogging Sherlock fanart or rereading Torchwood fic or going on the Harry Potter studio tour or writing an essay about Buffy (I am writing what is BY FAR the most personal piece I have ever attempted to publish about Buffy and it’s actually causing me emotional distress). That’s my fannish past, though; I loved all those and still love all those things but it’s also kind of a bummer that I don’t have that spark these days.

But the fanfiction comments questions! I knew as soon as I said it that people were going to call me out on it. OK, so here’s the thing: prior to right around Sherlock series 3, I was a lurker. An ENORMOUS lurker. I didn’t even have a LiveJournal. I wrote a few pieces that made it pretty clear that I was a fan-type person (on Harry Potter, or Sherlock, or fanfiction) but that’s as far as I would go. I told some people IRL that I was into fanfiction and that was a weird curiosity most people didn’t want to go near. I could write you a whole essay — hell, a whole book — about being a lurker and about the complicated private/public relationship I (and presumably many others) have with these texts. How I wrote thousands and thousands of words of fanfic that I never shared, because I simultaneously felt like I was part of a conversation, but also because what I’d written was so close to me that I couldn’t share it. That and I didn’t want to post WIPs. :-) I stopped lurking in a weird way: I got fed up with everyone and wrote this, which led to more “I’m a fangirl screw you” pieces, which led to my column, and it all spiraled from there. And I’ve honestly not read a ton of fic in the past two years, because while I didn’t hate series 3, it had the kind of stifling effect on my fanfiction-y mind that Half-Blood Prince had: no big gaping wounds that needed stuffing or stitching up, and kind of narrowing of the potential paths of the characters in a way that made it a whole lot less fun for me. Like I said, I’ve recently been re-reading my old Torchwood faves, specifically NancyBrown and amand-r, who are both complete and utter geniuses. But that’s a weird space to be in, especially when you have to play some kind of role of “fanfic explainer,” which is a job I love but also sometimes a strange dissonance: I trumpet the community I’ve long observe, at a microscopic level, but not one I’ve historically been a real, participatory member of first-hand. I know that I’m in the majority here — the numbers bear that out — but a strange silent majority, it feels like. I watched people compliment their favorite authors, but I was never brave enough to do the same. Now I feel plenty brave — I publish angry articles and get yelled at by stupid man-trolls on Twitter and live to tell the tale — but fanfiction is still a murky place for me. So when we talked about all this in the episode, I was channeling my whole fannish self, start to finish. Which is perhaps why I wind up on the ice floe rewriting Jane Austen.

I have always left kudos on AO3, but since I come from a creepy lurking never - commenting place, I’ve never crossed that bridge and said actual words on the site. But I am brave, right? I fight man-trolls. And that’s partly because for every mean person who trashes my writing, someone takes the time to say something nice about it. Honestly, though: every nice thing someone has said about my articles has had a direct and extraordinarily positive affect on me and my writing. I know exactly what good feedback feels like. So I am a selfish jerk who needs to break old habits: I should go back and leave comments, because I know that unless the author violently broke up with a fandom and never wants to hear about it again, they surely wouldn’t be mad about a few lines from something in their ancient past. I should — and I will. [2]

Comments by Minkel and Klink: One Week Later

FK: That’s true, that’s true. You, dear listeners, didn’t have to be subjected to my hours and hours of self hatred about our last episode, in which I doubted every word I said and though I came off like a jerk and so just so you all know, that’s how the sausage gets made.

EM: I think it’s worth talking about, because we did talk a lot after the episode about—we continued this conversation and had some heated emails. And I don’t know, it was interesting too to see the amount of conversation that it generated. There were a whole bunch of people who wrote longish responses. I’ve been emailing with one of our listeners who gave us a response we read in the last episode—it’s very kind of philosophical discussion, which is reminding me of philosophy class which I was very bad at. [Flourish laughs] What is it about this question that you think strikes a nerve? I’m curious. It struck your nerve.

FK: It did strike my nerve!

EM: Oh, I’m sorry! If anyone didn’t listen to the last episode, the question was “what is fandom?” and we were tackling it from a bunch of different angles and the matrix had two axes. One went from being more solitary to the more communally oriented fan. And the other, I’m gesturing with my hands which is useless for everyone, the other one went from more invested in canon and privileging of canon, the more affirmational side, and the bottom of that axis was fanon and privileging the conversation that the fans create.

FK: Certainly the thing that felt like it was striking a nerve for me was not wanting to be in any way a gatekeeper or to reject people but at the same time feeling like when you have a discussion of fandom of any sort there has to be some more focus. So for instance when I’m looking at this stuff for my work, it’s usually pretty clear what the focus ought to be, whether it’s a broad focus that’s looking at everybody in an audience as potentially part of a fandom or shading into fandom or whatever, but it’s harder when you’re talking about fandom in the abstract, right? Because then it’s more about self-definition. And I think that I spend a lot of time wanting to in that context define fandom as much smaller and more community oriented, having that impulse, but then not wanting to exclude people and feeling like a jerk that I had an impulse to exclude people in that way. So that was my little internal breakdown over it.

EM: Yeah, you accused me of having internal conflict and I sent you that long email explaining how I wasn’t.

FK: Yeah, but you were right. I was misreading—


FK: —the things that you had said.



  1. geekgirl1.tumblr, destinationtoast, Archived version, not dated, but must be November 4 or 5, 2015
  2. geekgirl1.tumblr, Elizabeth Minkel's response to destinationtoast, Archived version, not dated, but must be November 4 or 5, 2015
  3. Fansplaining — Transcript: Fansplaining Episode 9: The Will It..., Archived version