Fansplaining: User-Generated Content

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Title: Fansplaining: User-Generated Content
Created by: Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Date(s): February 6, 2019
Focus: platforms, commercialization
External Links: Episode 93: User-Generated Content

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Fansplaining: User-Generated Content is an episode of the podcast Fansplaining by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.


In Episode 93, “User-Generated Content,” Elizabeth and Flourish tackle the thorny intersections between making stuff you love and getting paid. They start with the recent round of layoffs at BuzzFeed — including the revelation that a good portion of their traffic comes from uncompensated “community” members — and segue into a conversation about the uncompensated things fans enjoy doing, and the complicated ways that the tech, media, and entertainment industries profit off fans’ work. What is exploitative — and what is just fans having fun?[1]

Topics Discussed


Elizabeth Minkel: One of the reasons why this whole thing with BuzzFeed and the community members has bothered me so much, is I simultaneously do think people should be paid for their labor, but I’m also very ambivalent about this question, because I think that people should be allowed to do things they like, and not have to think about the market and money. And I think that the latter stance there is…maybe not necessarily naïve, but somewhat wishful thinking, because as we’ve discussed at length, even the “anti-capitalist gift economy” fanfiction spheres are not disconnected from capitalist structures and big media! And, you know, like as you said, if you really want to remove yourself from this, you have to stop writing fanfiction about Captain America! That was your line.[2]

Flourish Klink: Well…yeah. One thing that I will say, is that I think fanfiction, like other forms of fan creativity or fanwork — so I can be as broadly inclusive as possible — does get more respect when people recognize it as money-making. And I’ve said this a billion times on the podcast, but I do think that’s one way in which these things are similar, even though it’s a very different situation for fanfiction — as compared to a wiki or compared to whatever, right. Wikis are more…you get more credit for having SuperWiki when you know that SuperWiki gets used by the production. And one of the reasons that you do is that you know there is a guy at Star Wars who keeps all the canon, right? Because there’s a job. Someone has that job; here are fans; they’re doing this job; they’re doing it well enough that it could be professional. Holy crap, that’s worth something. Right?

Fanfiction, as much as people love mocking it, I think, is more respected when you have Fifty Shades of Grey or something happen. Because then people who don’t have any investment in art, or don’t have any positive or negative feelings about fanfiction as far as aesthetics go, can just be like, “Oh, but you can make money off of that. That’s how we assign value to things.” And that’s sad and weird but it's true.[3]

FK: People in the entertainment industry go to Etsy and see what fans are making. Like, that is a thing that is public, it’s online, people do it. They go and they go “OK, what is being made here?”

ELM: Hold on, answer me this: why are the official merchandise items still not things I want?

FK: It’s a mystery.

ELM: Side note, can I just say…

FK: Probably the wrong people, probably the wrong people are looking at this.

ELM: Yeah, right? I went to Hot Topic, in the mall, over Christmas? I know, alert the media. It was pretty exciting. [FK laughs] And, oh, I also went to Spencer’s Gifts. It was not exciting and it made me wanna die and it made me…Spencer’s Gifts has not changed since 1999.

FK: Oh, oh dear.

ELM: It is exactly the same store. No offense, if any of our listeners enjoy it. But Hot Topic really made me feel this, like, surge of affection for, like, teenage girl…in particular, but teenage person fandom. And they had so many things, so many different properties in there right now. Like, way more than when we were teens. I was like, this is kind of incredible. Not to say that, like, a national clothing…er, clothing and accessories chain, like, validating your fandom with official merchandise means…that doesn’t validate it, right. But there were so many things that I felt were relatively obscure, like I only know because of Tumblr, and I bet people who don’t know fandom very well, who I’m friends with, had never heard of, that had, like, official stuff in there? I was like, that must be super exciting. You just go to the mall, still…I mean, I know that the internet exists, and you don’t need Hot Topic. But just the fact that there was so much in there, and…

FK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s something about having it physically there.

ELM: It was, it was really really nice. It just, it was the kind of feeling that I…it was the other end of the spectrum from what I usually feel from when I go to, like, San Diego and New York Comic-Con where I walk around and I go, “I don’t…I don’t know what any of this is, and I feel really alienated.” And this was like, “Oh, I know what all of this is, and I love that there are teen versions of me who can buy this. I don’t actually watch this show so I’m not gonna buy,” you know what I mean?

FK: Well, this, I mean, this is also…yeah, that validation. This is also a little, one of the nice things about Star Trek fandom is that suddenly, like, you’re walking into a world where, like, all the stuff. Any stuff you want? You can get that stuff. You know? [laughs]

ELM: Does that, does it make you feel validated?

FK: It does—well, look, it’s not just…and it’s not just stuff for dude fans, it’s also, like, all kinds of stuff for all sorts of people.


  1. ^ Episode 93: User-Generated Content. Fansplaining. Published on February 6, 2019. Accessed on February 9, 2019.
  2. ^ Episode 93: User-Generated Content. Fansplaining. Published on February 6, 2019. Accessed on February 9, 2019.
  3. ^ Episode 93: User-Generated Content. Fansplaining. Published on February 6, 2019. Accessed on February 9, 2019.