So What is It With Wank?

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Title: So What is It With Wank?
Creator: emmagrant01
Date(s): June 17, 2006
Medium: online transcript, podcast
Fandom: Harry Potter
External Links: online transcript here; WebCite
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So What is It With Wank? is an essay recorded in Slashcast by emmagrant01.


At this point, I should probably admit that I have in the past found wank to be highly entertaining -- you know, in that celebrity tabloid sort of way. Person A says something that is taken completely out of context by person B, who goes all passive aggressive and posts in her journal about what an idiot person A is, not to mention a drama queen and a crappy writer. Of course, the whole point of person B's post being public is that person A's friends will find it and tell her about it. Person A then makes a haughty post in her own defense, explaining in great detail what she actually said and often stating in no uncertain terms where the people who disagree with her can go. At this point, the wank could remain a minor personal argument, but it often proceeds to the escalation phase, in which other people in the fandom choose sides and make a lot of posts weighing in on the issue (some flocked and some not), which only engorges the original issue beyond all reasonable proportions. Even people who don't care one way or the other will get in on the wank, making posts about how ridiculous it is that people are wanking about something so stupid. Eventually some amused bystander posts about it on Fandom Wank, where people from fandoms all over the net can point and laugh. You know the drill.

This can all be highly amusing, especially when it occurs in a fandom you're not involved in. And let's face it: if you're having a shitty day, following a trail of online stupidity can make you feel a bit better about yourself. Maybe your boss yelled at you today or your boyfriend is being a jerk, but my god those My Little Pony fans are *insane*!

Of course, it's all fun and games until the wank is about you or someone close to you, and then you see just how the whole thing works. And it's hard not to ask questions like, "Why would someone go to all the trouble of making such a nasty post about someone else?" or "Don't these people have better things to do with their time, like I dunno... write fic?"

Moreover, communication via the written word is fraught with difficulties, and it doesn't help that in fandom, much of this communication is taking place between people who may never meet face to face. People will put things in writing that they would probably never say to a human being standing right in front of them, even if they knew the person. In fandom, other people are generally faceless entities. It's easy to forget that they really exist, that they're people with the same feelings as you. No matter how successful a writer or an artist is, they don't stop being insecure about their work. Just because a thousand people fangirl them, it doesn't mean that a harsh comment won't hurt their feelings.

But on top of that, it's inevitable that no matter how clearly you try to express something, no matter what sort of disclaimer you put on a statement, someone will read it and completely misinterpret what you were trying to say. Or worse, an offhand remark that you really didn't expect anyone but a handful of folks to read gets linked to by a fandom newsletter, and then a dozen people you don't know jump in to tell you you're an ignorant asshole. If only there were an html tag that indicated sarcasm.

I'm not saying I haven't engaged in any of this sort of occasional wank, because I have. I've done it more often than I'd like to admit, and so I suppose I should take this opportunity to publicly apologize to anyone I've ever pissed off with an offhand snarky comment.

But the real problem, I think, comes not from people who are only occasional wankers, but from the serial wankers. You know who they are. They may hide behind sockpuppet LJs or they may be out and proud, but they're all the same. They love stirring up shit. They thrive on misery and discord. They enjoy being mean to other people, perhaps because it eases their own insecurities for just a little while. They like nothing more than to push the buttons of another fan, with the hope that what they started will escalate to the point that they'll become famous for it. I'm convinced that for a serial wanker, making Fandom Wank is the equivalent of a writer making a prominent recs list.

Serial wankers probably can't write or draw or vid or meta, so they participate in fandom by wanking. And while it's true that their particular brand of participation adds color and even a bit of entertainment, it's ultimately a destructive force.

So what can we do? Well, the age-old advice in such situations -- you know, the same thing your mom told you when Susie pulled your pigtails on the playground in first grade -- still holds. The only real way to deal with serial wankers is to ignore them.

Yes, I know -- it's easier said than done. But think about it: they're wanking to get attention. They bitch about you in an anon hate meme because they want you to notice. They create sockpuppet journals and flame you because they want a reaction. Just like the playground bully who isn't talented or pretty or smart enough to get attention in a positive way, they try to get it in a negative way. They pull pigtails. They write nasty things about you on the bathroom wall. They spread rumors. And as annoying as it is, responding to it only encourages them, because you're giving them what they want.

So next time an anon hate meme rolls around (which it inevitably will), do us all a favor and just ignore it. If you have something to say to someone, send them a private email and own up to it. Be honest, be thoughtful, and most of all, treat other fans like you would prefer to be treated.

We're all here to have fun, after all. We shouldn't let a few fans' warped idea of what constitutes "fun" ruin it for the rest of us.