Fansplaining: The Year In Fandom 2016

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Podcast Episode
Fansplaining
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Episode Title: Fansplaining: The Year In Fandom 2016
Length: 1:09:28
Featured:
Date: December 28, 2016
External Links: Episode at Fansplaining.com
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Fansplaining: The Year In Fandom 2016 is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining

Introduction

Elizabeth and Flourish (unsurprisingly) talk about the year in fandom! They start by recapping their 2015 list and seeing how those trends have played out in the past twelve months before diving into new trends from 2016. Topics covered include the high and low points of fan/creator interaction, potentially incorrect uses of the term “fanfiction,” the impact of changing social media dynamics on our fandoms and lives, and Star Wars: Rogue One.

Links

Topics Discussed

  • Reviewing the 2015 trends:
    • Fan/creator interaction
    • Continuations of franchises, reboots, revivals
    • Mainstreaming of Fandom specifically fanfiction and questions about "what is or isn't a fanfiction-like story"
    • Zayn leaving One Direction and then One Direction breaking up
    • Fan-led, and consumer-led pushes for diversification of media, in particular racial diversification
  • Backlash through 2016 to diversification movements, in particular racist backlash in fandoms or reactionary fan campaigns such as the backlash against Ghostbusters (2016) or boycotting of Star Wars: Rogue One
  • Fan responses to racism in source content, such as the whitewashing of characters in live-action film adaptations like Ghost in the Shell or the Hydra Captain America plotline in the Captain America comics
  • The Check Please! kickstarter success
  • The limited reach of conversations within fandom (ie: lack of awareness) - feeling like, for instance, discussions about Racism in the Star Wars sequel trilogy fandom or the Kylux controversies not spreading as far as might be expected for how significant they felt in some fandom circles
  • Fandom 'bubbles' and harassment in fandom spaces
  • 2017 predictions: politics eclipsing many fannish conversations, or bleeding into fannish spaces

Excerpts

ELM:... [FK laughs] Last year we named five...we called them trends, but they were like, stories that we'd been watching throughout the year and patterns that we were seeing...yeah, trends, I guess that's the right word. And we discussed them and so we thought it'd be interesting if we started this episode instead of just naming five 2016 trends, instead to see how those things played out if we felt like they continued to have a lot of influence in fandom at large or if they didn't. And then in the second half of this episode, we'll actually talk about 2016 and I think based on our lists that we have, 2016 themes do kind of follow on. But you know, I think both last year's and this year's also kind of...it's not like fandom happens in a vacuum outside of society, both years a lot of our stuff has to do with social media and the way that that affects communication. I think that's probably the most important element of these on the whole, is the way social media shapes our interactions and our fannish experiences.

(on the number 1 trend from 2015)

FK: OK. We wrote down "Black Hermione/#DiversifyAgentCarter/Every Single Word." That's what we said.

ELM: And literally last year we commented on the fact that we had just written those words. So I think the point was, it was about diversification, particularly racial diversification, of our media, and it's about fan led and consumer led pushes for those things. Where the change comes because the push is coming from the audience, not from the creators. The audience is pushing the creators.

FK: OK. So just to illustrate exactly how much the worse things are, when we were brainstorming this episode Elizabeth wrote me an email that said, and I quote, "#1, fandom is racist and talks about it; #2, fandom responds to dead lesbians; #3, fuckboys try to ruin fandom in Gamergate 9.0." That was where we're starting from here, so. [both laugh] When I got that email, Elizabeth, I have to say I had a hard time telling whether you really wanted to do this podcast or whether this was your way of saying to me that you couldn't bear to talk about 2016, so...

ELM: Oh my God, oh my God. Let me clarify. When I said "dead lesbians," what I actually meant was "dead queer women of all orientations." I don't wanna be...

FK: [laughing] That makes it better.

ELM: I don't wanna be biphobic! That makes it so much better. Fine.

FK: OK OK OK. But I think a lot of this stuff actually relates to so many other things that have also been happening, right. So with our #1 thing in 2015, we were talking about consumers demanding more diversity and receiving it in some cases. And in 2016, it felt like, you know, the diversity happened, and then fandom shat the bed a little.

ELM: Or...you mean fandom, like, the fuckboys in Gamergate 9.0.

FK: I mean the most broadly constructed fandom, right. You go from the Poe/Finn vs. Kylux stuff, right? All the way over to yeah, the racist fuckboys and people boycotting Ghostbusters. Not saying that nothing good ever happened in this, I think there's plenty of good things that happened in this space also, but it felt a little bit like it was the year where backlash happened from the positive movement.

ELM: OK. One of the low points was Magic in North America, which was JK Rowling's terrible terrible racist backstory in preparation for, American wizarding in preparation for Fantastic Beasts, obviously the Fantastic Beasts lack of diverse casting was already in place but we finally got to see that play out when the movie came out, Dr. Strange whitewashing, Iron Fist whitewashing, the Matt Damon and the Chinese whitewashing [note 1] which as you say is complicated...

FK: Yeah, that one I would say is a different...

ELM: Ghost in the Shell whitewashing...AND, look, I'm listing bad ones!

FK: Matt Damon is a significant issue but it's a different one but go on.

ELM: And Nazi Captain America, remember that one? Which I feel like has vanished from collective consciousness.

FK: Because we all just wanted to forget it because why.

ELM: Which if you don't remember that incident, they put out a new Captain America and retconned things as they often do in the comics and said that Captain America was secretly a member of Hydra which is actual Nazis.

FK: Yeah. I mean I think a lot of this stuff actually had to do with questions about, you know, so when you look at the whitewashing in Dr. Strange, and the fact that that is a response to...it's I would say an inelegant response to problematic older canon. Same with Iron Fist. You know what I'm saying? I think what it really is is not just as simple as "let's have whitewashing," it's also that no one's figured out how to deal with...I shouldn't say no one's figured it out, but maybe...people haven't successfully dealt with it.

[On the success of the Check Please! Kickstarter, which raised around $400,000 with a goal of $32,000]

ELM: Just think about the commitment of going to the movies is a $15 monetary pledge which isn't insignificant, you know? Buying a book, buying the new Harry Potter book, $20, $30. I don't know how much those cost, I always had Borders coupons. So. But you know, $80, an average of $80, I'm not sure if that's actually how it works out, but that's a pretty serious monetary power for fandom I feel like, you know?

FK: Absolutely, and this for something that has no, doesn't have the massive budget of anybody who's advertising it on billboards and all this stuff.

ELM: As far as I know, no advertising at all. It's completely word of mouth and really good social media, really engaged creator who natively understands these platforms, you know? Clearly knows how Tumblr works and clearly, probably a Tumblr user I'm assuming. Or has been before. So...it's a really interesting model. And one that I'm not sure...I feel like maybe this is something that you see in, I mean, obviously I know that Kickstarters are used widely and Patreon for comics creators. But I feel like this is the first time that I've really seen the kind of source material that fanfiction writers engage with really be in this space and really be successful in this way, because I feel like so much of fanfiction has its eye on big stuff. You know?

ELM: [sighs] So much further. OK. Let's go back to talking about fuckboys. Other fuckboys. Not our fuckboy in chief. So...I, I don't wanna be really pessimistic here but watching fandom interaction this year has left me feeling less optimistic than I probably felt last year. I don't know what I wanna focus on first because there's definitely, there's a danger in— you brought this up in our planning emails, you were saying well, aren't the fuckboys who are harassing people over Ghostbusters, they're kind of using the same methods as people demanding that their ship become canon or whatever, and I was like "I don't wanna frame it that way because I think there's a false equivalence there," but it's also true, and I always think about this when I write about either of these things. That it is the same methods. And I don't know, I just am feeling very, very frustrated with some of the ways that I see people interacting on both sides, even if ideologically I'm probably on the same side as a lot of people who are being like, "dude, make my ship canon." Yeah. I would love more queer ships to be canon.

FK: Yeah, for sure. But then there is a moment where you're like, wait, but...we're using the same playbook...because we're all on a larger social media platform that sort of encourages you to behave in certain ways...so when I look at the way for instance, people talking on Tumblr, and I look at the way that that can encourage people to sort of silo themselves and think within a certain group, and not to spread out their ways of thinking, then I look at Facebook fake news or whatever, they're not the same thing, but I see them as connected, you know? They're both bubbling.

ELM: Sure, sure.

FK: In ways that makes it easier then, maybe, to harass people outside the bubble. Whether that bubble, I may agree with the contents of the bubble or not...

ELM: Can we transition into, we brought it up in the list but we haven't really talked about it, because that reminds me, people talking about seeing what they see within fandom. I think I mentioned this already, possibly multiple times, but I was very shocked when I was at cons this year, particularly Leviosa, talking to people and finding out that they hadn't heard anything about the discourse around racism in the Star Wars fandom in particular that happened in the spring. That really took me aback, because I was like, how could you miss that? You know? Aside from us deciding to do, obviously we were paying a lot of attention cause we did a pair of episodes on the controversy and the conversations— the controversy, by the way, anyone who managed to miss this, if you're one of those people and you've just started listening to us, was I think part of the flash point was Toast's stats, right? [note 2]

FK: Mm-hm, talking about Finn/Poe and Kylux as ships in the fandom.

ELM: So that's Finn and Poe, a black man and a Latino man, and Kylux, Kylo Ren and General Hux, who are the whitest white people that have ever existed, and...

FK: And also Nazis.

ELM: Yes. They're literal space Nazis. And Finn/Poe right after The Force Awakens came out last December had a big amount of fanfiction production and that really dropped off and over time, Kylux overtook them to be the most popular ship on Tumblr and AO3. And there's a lot to unpack there, and it launched a much much broader discussion about racism in fandom and anti-blackness in fandom, and I don't know, all the posts on my dash got—thousands of people were engaging with them. I Just assumed that everyone was seeing them, you know? And I was really surprised to encounter people who were like "I am deep in fandom and I have no idea what you're talking about." I don't know. That's interesting, because then it just makes me feel like, well, in the spaces where you're hanging out, do these conversations never happen? If there's a limited reach for these conversations, you know what I mean?

FK: One of the issues I think that comes up with it is there's so many people who are really in one fandom, especially if it's your first fandom. I've gotten more and more multifannish over the years, but when I first got into fandom there was one thing that got me going. And if you're in that space, then maybe you don't see it until it comes to your fandom, until there is something in that particular fandom that brings that conversation into it, and maybe you learn about what's happened elsewhere or maybe you don't, I don't know. But until it refers to your thing...

ELM: Great. OK. So let's talk about, before we wrap up, here's what I would like to talk about: 2017. Here's my immediate gut instinct: all of the stuff we saw in 2016, I think there's going to be...I don't know. I feel like the political climate right now is gonna diminish a lot of these conversations.

FK: In what way?

ELM: I already feel like it. I already feel like I'm seeing this. And I mean, maybe things will be...it just feels like every day there's a piece of news that is terrifying and literally feels like people's lives are being threatened by the oncoming storm. And I in the last month I feel like I haven't seen, I'll think about some of the controversies that we've been wrapped up in, and I feel like maybe I haven't seen as much? And then I think...do you think you've seen as much? Have I forgotten something that's happened in the last couple weeks? What am I forgetting?

FK: I don't think that you're forgetting anything, but I think that I've seen people dive back into fandom as an escape, and I've seen...like, Yuri on Ice being people diving so hard into it and then having fights about Yuri on Ice as a way of not having fights about other stuff.

ELM: I'm thinking more about the stuff that's interfandom, I'm thinking about people trying to make the entertainment industry better, I'm thinking about discourse within public spaces about pop cultural texts and fans pushing back. I feel like I don't know, who knows? Maybe just there haven't been any flashpoints in the last six weeks, and on January 5th someone's gonna announce some terrible movie that needs to be yelled about and everyone will push back, you know. Maybe it's just, maybe it's just my own distraction that's making me feel like this is gonna be less—the conversation will be less loud and less focused on cultural products and more focused on politics. Not the politics of our cultural products, but capital P Politics.

FK: I think that that might be right. I wouldn't be surprised to see that there was a lot...I'm not saying that, I think that actually some of the trends in terms of more diverse casting and so forth are going to carry forward, witness for instance the new Star Trek getting its first ever African American female captain—or not captain but protagonist.[note 3]

FK: Right, I know that's not what you're saying, I'm just trying to clarify. But I do agree with you, I think fans are probably going to—if we're going to be doing fandom we're going to be doing it more for escapism and less for pushing back on the things we're fans of, and focus our energies outside of fandom and cultural products. I think that's right.

ELM: I'm curious, I don't know. Who knows? And I guess I also feel like, I do think when I think about the last couple of months, you have seen more explicit political alignments within these conversations. So, the fuckboys talking about how they're gonna boycott Rogue One because...which is still hilarious to me. You know. That kinda thing, and then being able to invoke their stupid "this is why Trump won!" It's like, alright guys. So maybe that will happen more. Obviously I got really mad over the summer, there were several articles that were suggesting that the harassment of Leslie Jones was done by fans, like, angry fans, and it's like, this had nothing to do with fans! Right?

FK: Right.

ELM: That was a targeted harassment campaign by some alt-right leaders, you know, in particular one in particular, he who shall not be named on this podcast.

FK: Whereas whatever you can say about some of even the most vitriolic fan campaigns that have made, that have really...from the left, I haven't known of any of them that have not been from people who are actually fans of the thing.

ELM: Yeah, right?

FK: It's not like a political football.

ELM: Well, I definitely feel that when a creator is making a racist decision, I don't think you need to be a fan of the thing to speak out against it. Right? So maybe I wouldn't agree with that entirely. And I think that a lot of the people...who knows if those boys actually cared about Ghostbusters? I bet a lot of the just hated the idea of it, you know? Or any of the people who protested The Force Awakens last year. Those people who are mad, mad that it looked like there was going to be an interracial romance, right. The presumption in hetero cultural viewing land would be that Finn and Rey will get together, which they still could, I mean, obviously I'm coming from slash fandom where that is not the presumption, but obviously that would be great too, you know? So. I don't know. I DON'T KNOW, Flourish.

FK: I don't know either but I think that I'm not gonna say that 2017 has to be better because that feels like it is tempting fate, so I'll just say, 2016, don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

References

Notes

  1. ^ For his role in the 2016 film "Great Wall"
  2. ^ See Fansplaining: Trash Ships and Fandom IRL
  3. ^ Sonequa Martin-Green plays Michael Burnham, First Officer in the show Star Trek: Discovery