Fansplaining: The Will It Waffle Radio Hour

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Title: Fansplaining: One True Fandom
Created by: Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Date(s): November 19, 2015
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Fansplaining: The Will It Waffle Radio Hour is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.

The guest of this podcast is Jackson Bird, the communications director for the Harry Potter Alliance, a fan activist group focused on Harry Potter and other pop culture topics.


It’s the Will it Waffle Radio Hour!! Sadly it’s not actually an audio version of Jackson Bird’s YouTube show. Instead, we interview the communications director of the Harry Potter Alliance about things like the changing definition of “fan activism,” coming out as trans on YouTube, Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Lili Elbe, and whether—if you had to choose just one—you would pick waffles or Harry Potter.


Topics Discussed


[Elizabeth Minkel]: It was really early on, it was before your first panel… One thing I think is really interesting about fan activism is I’m very interested in the increasing politicization of fandom conversation. It seems to be a very delicate, can you walk a delicate line? A very delicate balance or a fine line? A fine delicate balanced line? Between, say, these are the themes of The Hunger Games and this is how The Hunger Games is reflected in real life, to use an example of a campaign you guys have, while trying not to trivialize the actual experiences: it’s still fiction, it’s still just a book. I think that if it’s handled—or to say, this is my favorite slash ship, and this is why I support gay marriage, which can really trivialize the experiences of actual gay people trying to get married. I imagine you deal with this tension a lot, and I’m wondering…

[Jackson Bird]: Oh yeah. This is a tension that weighs on me all the time, and specifically to the last one: every single time that there’s a pride march or a protest for the latest anti-discrimination bill or something, someone sends me this same picture of a sign saying “I’m here for Dumbledore’s rights” or whatever the phrase is—I know you guys have seen it. Every single time an event happens I get sent that picture, people thinking that it’s from that day, and apart from the fact that people send it to me all the time I don’t quite like it. That’s one of the better ones from other signs that I’ve seen, but it is definitely a delicate balance, a fine line to walk, and one that we are constantly teasing out and working on. I like to say that with fan activism in the way that we do it, which is sort of drawing parallels and using fandom communities and their intrinsic enthusiasm and organizing power and creativity to mobilize around these things, you have to be careful that you aren’t saying things like “All right, we’re fighting for economic inequality because Katniss couldn’t afford to live in the capital,” or—I don’t know, something like that. More of what it should be is “If you have never experienced this before, maybe recognizing how these characters you love have gone through this or something metaphorically resonant of that can help you unlock compassion for this issue and from there, since you now have a little bit of this interest, let’s teach you the real facts and the real issues and now you can care about the real people who are going through this.” Or, what we have found increasingly in our community is that the issues that we’re working on affect the people in our community. It’s not so much that they needed these parallels to understand it, but they saw themselves in those characters. They finally were seeing their experiences reflected, even if it is in a metaphoric way or not. So that’s been a really good thing. And it is interesting to look at fandom historically. You did say that increasingly fandom is becoming more political and talking about these issues, and I’m sure that a lot of fandoms already were for a long time, but at least the Harry Potter community and to a lesser extent the Harry Potter Alliance community I think in our early days ten years ago it was kind of enough to say “we’re gonna do this direct service thing and raise money,” or “we’re gonna, like, activism 101 and advocacy,” we’re gonna draw these parallels to the books, and that’s it, everyone’s excited, that’s enough. But with the post-millennial generation growing up and their being so radical and political and so well informed and just this community in general becoming more aware and political, there is much more that we have to think about now and much more that we are held accountable for in ways that we absolutely should be. And it’s really cool to watch that. I’m really glad that is happening. It’s a bigger challenge now, but.

[Flourish Klink]: It does seem like a complicated issue though because even for people who don’t have the privilege of being able to ignore these serious political issues every day of their life, people who have to face discrimination all the time, a lot of people in that position as well as people of privilege do use fandom as an escape. It’s a complicated situation because maybe when I have just gotten done talking to somebody who doesn’t believe that bi people exist, I don’t want to open up my Tumblr and have to argue with somebody about the fact that bi people do exist! I just want to write about my characters and look at people’s asses of both genders! So it seems like you must encounter that a lot as well with the Harry Potter Alliance.

[Jackson Bird]: Yeah, from a personal perspective I definitely understand that and I think that on a Tumblr dashboard that’s a complicated thing cause you don’t want to police anyone else’s content. But I totally, I SO get where you’re coming from in terms of just wanting to escape. And that’s something that I do see people still saying on Tumblr when fandom blogs will get real. I think when it comes to the Harry Potter Alliance, though, that’s what’s on the tin and that’s what you’re going to get. The whole point of our organization is to blend fandom with activism or at least civic engagement. So. That’s just what you’re gonna get.

[FK]: Absolutely. I think that fandom probably plays a role like that in a lot of people’s lives, whether it’s because they’re in a dark time and having trouble in their life and need a way to escape, or whether it’s because they can be exposed through fanfiction to people behaving in ways and living lives that they don’t see in their own. I know it’s functioned that way for me sometimes, has it functioned that way for you?

[EM]: Yeah, and I guess I’m more interested in the latter of those two. I’m interested in them both, obviously, but the latter is very interesting to me because I’m so interested in exploring the kind of overlap and sometimes tensions between fanfiction or fanworks and real life politics. Just look at the ways that fanfiction changes the text. Look at the trends. Definitely an inclination to make things a whole lot more queer, right? On the whole, just in big broad strokes. And just the idea of being able to use that as a place to explore something that you can’t find in the mainstream media, and can’t find in yourself, for whatever reason, whether you’re not ready to go to that step…

[FK]: I think that’s really interesting partially because fanfiction hasn’t always been completely coded as queer, you know? I think that when it really got started being thought of internally and externally as being primarily about queerness to the extent that people often associate it that way was in the 90s, because before then—of course there were people writing slash, lots of them, but it wasn’t always as central to the discussion, at least the outward discussion. It was only in the 90s that Henry Jenkins wrote the book Textual Poachers, which a lot of people cite as sort of the major academic book about fanfiction, especially early on, and that centers slash and queerness. But there was another book that was also written at about the same time called Enterprising Women by Camille Bacon-Smith, which took a completely different view of it and really focused on het fic. There are lots of issues that people in the fan community had with Camille Bacon-Smith’s book, it has different strengths and weakness than Henry Jenkins’ book did, but it’s really interesting because I think that if her book had been centered in the way we talk about fanfic, we’d have a really different academic discourse about it at least, if not an internal fandom discourse.

[EM]: Yeah, but I just have to wonder, I feel like prior to when I started writing about this I never knew fan studies existed, I’d never heard of Henry Jenkins, you know? And I definitely think in terms of fan studies and the academic discourse that’s probably true, but I think that they have more of an observational role than an influencing role. We’re talking about millions of people writing stories, not a few thousand people in an academic community.

[FK]: Of course. But then I think that there’s also millions of people who don’t think of fanfiction as particularly queer. We always have that problem where people say “slash” and they mean “het fic” and we’re like, “what?”

[EM]: Like 96% of journalists who write articles?

[FK]: Yes.