Hockey RPF and the Fourth Wall
|Related terms:||Fourth Wall (glossary term), RPF, Tinhats and the Fourth Wall|
|See also:||Hockey RPF|
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Hockey RPF fandom has a very fraught relationship with the fourth wall. There have been several notable incidents in which the divide between the fandom and the subject was breached or seemed to be at risk. The distress caused by these events negatively affected fandom activity, leading many to hide or delete their works. The desire to avoid breaking the fourth wall has affected the fandom's attitude toward Sharing Deleted Fanworks.
Tweet from Tyler Seguin
In December 2012, player Tyler Seguin tweeted a link to a LiveJournal picspam, The Tylers Seguin-Brown: A Picspam by rsadelle, to fellow player Tyler Brown with the message "your girl should see this..." (Seguin's Twitter has since been deleted; see section below). Though not explicitly slashy or romantic, it highlighted their bromance and contained links to a slash primer on the two of them. In response, many of the commenters on the picspam deleted their posts.
After a screenshot of the Tweet was posted on tumblr, rsadelle responded positive, writing: “That is my picspam, and I can’t stop laughing. (Meaning, you all are welcome to freak out on your own behalf, but it’s not going to make me lock/delete things.)” This casual response was not appreciated by; many wanted the picspam to be deleted or made private so that it would not continue to be shared outside the fandom and draw attention. dexwebster wrote:
Your way of doing fandom—in this case gleefully accepting attention from the objects of an RPF fandom, and thinking about seeking out more—is directly at odds with, and in fact hurtful towards most of the fandom’s way of doing fandom. You indeed technically have the right to conduct your fannish life however you want, but I think it’s important to recognize that it’s leading to more closure of those avenues to new fans than anything Tyler Seguin did.
Rsadelle responded, saying:
I am absolutely not saying it is okay to go tell the objects of RPF fandom about fandom. I am saying that, to me, the opportunity for people who want to be part of this community to find it outweighs the risk of the objects of RPF fandom finding it. I know not everyone agrees with me, and I’m sure I’m not any more likely to convince any of them of my view than they are to convince me of their view. I think this is one of those places where people disagree and do things differently, and although we all wish people would do things our way, that just isn’t possible.
Dexwebster reached a rapprochement with rsadelle, but touched on the concerns of many hockey RPF fans in a follow-up comment:
I absolutely realize you didn’t direct Seguin toward it at all, but I was uncomfortable with how…flippantly you reacted, I guess, and more so at the comment about replying to him. I’ll admit I was one of the people cringing when I saw the tweet. If I had a choice, my fourth wall would be bank-vault impenetrable, not out any professional concern—I don’t even work—just personal comfort for me, and for fans who do have those concerns.
My real issue was that I think the enthusiasm for Open Fandom goes beyond that, and will in the long run do more damage than it will good, because other people already in the fandom will lock down (as is already happening on AO3) and make it less accessible to new fans, and that potential new fans will avoid a (visible, because the rest would be locked) fandom whose openness was beyond their comfort level, which seems to be the exact opposite of what you hope for. I think keeping things as low-key as possible allows us to stay visible to those potential fans in a way a lot more people are comfortable with.
Additionally, the Seguin tweet was brought to a wider audience when Aja wrote about it for The Daily Dot at the beginning of 2013: When celebrities discover fanfiction… about themselves
The incident came just weeks after the Daily Dot curtailed an article on hockey fandom online and off, due to the reaction from members of hockey fandom as it was being written, which ranged from fear and anger to the locking down of fanfiction that was previously publicly accessible. Despite the fact that Seguin’s mention of the picspam seemed to be all in good fun, many of the commenters deleted their comments so links to their journals would not be accessible to Seguin or any of his 200,000 followers that might click the link. Additionally, the poster, rsadelle, was asked to remove names and delete the link to his beginner’s guide, while fans continued to lock down links to their fanfiction and other fanwork on the Archive of Our Own (AO3) and elsewhere.
For more on the "curtailed an article on hockey fandom," see below.
Aja's Unpublished Article
Fan and journalist Aja Romano had previously, in December 2012, announced that she would be publishing an article on hockey fandom.Despite her assurance that the article would not focus on hockey RPF, the prospect of her article was strongly opposed in the hockey RPF/tumblr fan communities. Many fans were simply uncomfortable with attention being drawn to fanfiction which focused on real people in (often) erotic situations, but jedusaur, for example, cited the delicate position of the anti-homophobia movement in sports as a reason to curtail such an article. LJ user quiet000001 also noted the marginalized status of female hockey fans as a factor:
Having attention called to hockey RPF, which does seem to be predominantly women, is potentially just going to be one more thing used by hockey fans and the hockey industry to marginalize women and give them 'proof' that the only reason women like to watch hockey has really nothing to do with the actual game of hockey.
Hockey RPF fan and fanfic writer impertinence posted about how she would be locking down her fanfiction: “This is totally an overreaction and I own that, but […] I don't want to deal with people who aren't in hockey fandom being all "omg, hockey boys~" or "tee hee, RPF" or what the fuck ever.” Impertinence’s post attracted a large number of comments, including an extended discussion with Aja herself.
The article ultimately remained unpublished, with Aja apologizing, and writing:
But it’s not worth it to me, it is never worth it to me, to cause hurt or harm to fandom in my attempts to cover it. I can’t state strongly enough how much I don’t want to do that. But when you wake up and find that a story tag on AO3 that had 55 stories on it last night now only has 10, it’s pretty clear that despite your best intentions, the harm has already happened.
An anonymous commentator on the Yuletide Coal LJ community highlighted the tensions between grassroots fandom and Aja’s mainstream-oriented articles:
My biggest problem with Aja isn't that she's writing about fandom, because she absolutely has the right to do that, it's that she wants it both ways, to be a part of fandom and report on it, and a lot of people don't feel comfortable with that. She doesn't get to play the "I'm just a fan like you card" when people are responding to her pro work.
There was a general feeling that Aja was not being respectful of many people involved in hockey fandom’s wish to remain a subculture. As LJ user beatperfume wrote in a comment on Impertinence’s post, “Look no offense, but if you respected the concerns of fandom and this fandom regarding privacy, you wouldn't be writing an article that makes us incredibly uncomfortable.” It was not just the prospect of the publicizing of hockey RPF that made people uncomfortable, but also Aja’s approach to it. As another commenter on impertinence’s post wrote,
Please stop trying to convince us that you'll be the best one for the job and that other people will be mean to us or whatever. […] These actions you're taking right now on this post are really annoying because it seems like you're trying to convince us to believe that your article will be a good thing. […] Please stop trying to convince us. Just do whatever you have to do and then leave us alone so that we can go back to writing our fic and worrying about the lockout instead of worrying that people will come treat us like a freakshow.
(Aja did, however, publish a non-RPF-referential article called "5 ways the Internet will help you survive the NHL lockout").
Later in January, Aja alluded to the controversy in The crumbling of the fourth wall: Why fandom shouldn't hide anymore, an article encouraging fans to break down the fourth wall:
I bumped headlong into the fourth wall even as I was editing this piece about the fourth wall. While finishing an article dealing with a particular community, members of that fandom panicked at the intrusion of media into their online world. They began locking their fanfiction, which was previously public, so that if my article brought other members of the press to their door, they would be “safe.” I watched the panic from outraged fans with dismay, and I listened. I chose not to publish the article. I'm still not certain that was the right decision for me as a journalist—but it was the right decision for me as a fan, understanding all too well the possible fallout.
Impertinence commented on the piece on her tumblr, describing it as "that article about how hockey fandom can’t handle the truth", and further commenting on her problems with Aja’s approach. As she wrote:
My reaction to Aja writing an article on hockey is based on 3 things: 1) my need for privacy/boundaries 2) my awareness of fandom as a subculture, and 3) my frustration with people attempting to dictate the personal choices of others.
A long commentary on the fourth wall and Aja's article was posted by amazonpoodle, pointing out the conflict between Aja's fan presence and journalistic presence. As amazonpoodle writes,
I also think this identity clash adds some major bias to this essay about fandom and the fourth wall, as Aja has an extremely unique vested interest in fandom learning to be less touchy about being brought into the mainstream, and also a much more blasé attitude about fandom meeting mainstream, because that is what her job is about. [...]
Her assertion that “the fourth wall crumbled long ago” is untrue, and is based on her individual experience as a person who did not want a boundary between her mainstream life and her fannish life, and who was lucky enough to find a way to make it happen and profit from it — which is something that many of us do not want to do, and for most of whom it wouldn’t be an option even if we did want it. [...] Her insistence on ignoring the power imbalance between herself (a BNF with a huge fandom following who combines this with her paid work as a journalist with a mainstream audience) and the fannish people she interacts with is worrisome. Her consistent refusal to understand and respect people’s self-selected boundaries as fans is even more worrisome.The fourth wall is important. It exists, though its dimensions are constantly changing, and it can provide privacy, safety, security, and boundaries between work and fandom, school and fandom, other personal life and fandom, creators and fandom, text and fandom, and media and fandom. Lots of us want that.
In another example of fandom colliding with other spaces, salifiable republished her Crosby/Ovechkin story "Heart in Hand" as original fiction via name changes after it began to be recommended on Goodreads.
In 2012 and again in 2014, fans in the Hockey RPF community spoke against fellow fans listing fanfic on their GoodReads blogs or writing reviews about the fanfic on GoodReads. While these objections were not unique to Hockey RPF fandom, the community taboo against "visibility" resonated with many members
...we had a huge fiasco a couple of years ago, when RPF hockey fics decided to lock down their stories at AO3 and threats to take them down because of added fics on GR.
"Yes, I was right in the thick of the hockey rpf fiasco and it left a lasting impression on me! I keep my own list of the fics I've read, outside of GRs.
"Great points by everyone, actually. For me, it boils down to wanting to be part of the hockey rpf community, so I'm willing to follow the community norms. YMMV. Fanfic writers should probably be aware that not everyone who reads their work will be members of the community/conforming to the same norms, so they shouldn't be surprised if their books end up on Goodreads. Especially for fics that are published on Archive of Our Own - when readers can download ebooks in multiple formats, it's kind of hard to argue that these are unpublished works that shouldn't be in GRs. 
"The blog post should really be retitled to: This Is Me Dictating You Readers How You Should Post Your Opinion Usually, we see this with published authors and in regard to readers' negative reviews. This time it's fanfiction writers and in regard to readers' choice of platform.
Many fans use creative tagging for their hockey posts, possibly as a strategy to retain hockey RPF as a niche activity. Many tags poke fun at NHL players and their fandom personas, for example:
- sidney crosby is Canadian for hockey robot jesus with a booty touch (sharksdontsleep); The Sid!Bot is programmed for hockey excellence (puckling)
- Tyler Seguin’s harem is the best harem (rsadelle)
- PK Subban: Actually a puppy (puckling)
Players/reporters in fannish spaces
Twitter: locking twitters or not using full names (of players or reporters who are known to search for their names)
Tumblr: Erik Karlsson on Tumblr (and commenting on fanworks, e.g. here), initial apprehension.
Trends in Locking Works on AO3
In a 2015 Slash Report episode, Mklutz noted that a significant proportion of the hockey RPF on AO3 was still locked (only viewable to logged in users), despite the passage of time and the article never having been published. As of 7 February 2015, 72% (5710 of 7925) of hockey fanworks on AO3 are public, which is lower than average.[note 1]
As of 9 December 2017, 54% (8618 of 15898) of hockey fanworks in AO3 are public.
As of 27 September 2020, 50% (12568 of 24952) of hockey fanworks on AO3 are public. A comparison of relationships shows that many of the newer relationships (particularly identifiable by date the players arrived in the NHL) have substantially higher locked work rates than pairings that have been around for a long time.
Sharing Deleted Fanworks
These many negative interactions with the Fourth Wall has led to the community adopting a strict stance against sharing of deleted fanworks and using copyright law to argue against sharing fanworks.
This extends to private sharing, public requests for deleted fanworks, and in one case, even the creation of a database of Hockey RPF that included both current and deleted fanworks. In spite of these prohibitions, at least one Hockey RPF Fic Search blog remains active in 2019. See Sharing Deleted Fanworks for how other communities approach the practice.
Meta & Further Comments
- Compare logged in and logged out view of the fandom tag pages: fiction television fandom Supernatural (99.3% public), music RPF fandom One Direction (99.3% public), and video blogging RPF (including youtube) at 99.6% public. Actor RPF was slightly lower at 96% public. Sports RPF does appear to be more secretive overall with only 82% of fanworks public (though as a subtag, hockey fandom numbers do affect the sports average).
- 12/28/12 response by dexwebster
- 12/28/12 by Rsadelle
- 12/28/12 by dexwebster
- 12/28/12 by dexwebster
- Fandom Wank: In which Aja demands that she is Vroomfondle and Majikthise, I mean that she is a real journalist
- , Archived version
- Slash Report episode 504 Fourth Wall Redux, posted February 1, 2015.
- Tumblr, Archived version
- Ibid. One fan added tumblr notes: #really private sharing will always happen #but don't oranize a fucking database#. See also Tumblr, Archived version
- Tumblr, Archived version