The Multiplicity and Diversity of Fandom: An Interview with Fansplaining's Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel

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Interviews by Fans
Title: The Multiplicity and Diversity of Fandom: An Interview with Fansplaining's Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Interviewer: Henry Jenkins
Interviewee: Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Date(s): December 12, 2017
Medium: online
External Links: part one

part two

part three
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The Multiplicity and Diversity of Fandom: An Interview with Fansplaining's Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel is a three-part 2017 interview with Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel conducted by Henry Jenkins.

Fansplaining is Minkel and Klink's podcast series.


Throughout this year, I am showcasing work about fandom at a time when the field of fandom studies is once again reinventing itself, often in very dramatic ways.

People often ask me where I go to learn about contemporary developments in fandom and fandom studies. Much of the time, I don't have to go anywhere, because being who I am, many people come to me to seek advice on their projects in this space. I also might go to some of the academic journals, such as Transformative Works and Cultures or The Journal of Fandom Studies, or the great folks at the Fan Studies Network. But I also listen most weeks to the Fansplaining Podcast, which is one of the very best way to keep on top of new developments in this space.

Its hosts Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel get so much right with this podcast. It is, as they note in this interview, not the place you go to get fan theories about Game of Thrones, not that there's anything wrong with that. They are doing what fans call Meta, asking big questions about how fandom works, who gets included or excluded from fandom, how fans intersect with the industry or journalism, why fans do what they do -- in other words, it is about fandom culture and its practices, not about the shows fans love. They may have Orlando Jones as a guest one week and an academic studying race and fandom the next. They work hard to insure a diverse and inclusive representation of fandom, week by week, and in the process, they often help me to discover new and emerging perspectives in the field who had not crossed my radar in any other way. I do not know how they do it -- stay some far ahead on the trends and consistently call attention to new voices and new ideas. They often allow room for graduate students and junior scholars who are not yet being heard elsewhere, and in the process, they are helping to define the next generation of researchers in this space.

I've wanted for a LONG time to feature Flourish Klink (my former student) and Elizabeth Minkel on my blog and I could not be happier to finally be able to do so.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Klink and Minkel's fannish background
  • their podcast Fansplaining (up to 60 episodes at the time of this interview)
  • industry's treatment and views of fans
  • shipping and showrunners
  • fans's influence and perceived influence on canon and TPTB
  • the current state of reporting on fans and fan-related issues
  • fannish practices and terms seeping into mainstream culture
  • the conflation of “geek culture” with fandom
  • differing and changing definitions of fanfiction
  • fandom and fans are not easily defined, despite mainstream culture, and other fans, trying to make it as such
  • changing views on what is taboo in fandom
  • Francesca Coppa's recently published anthology of fanfiction for use in the classroom, The Fanfiction Reader
  • some fannish taboos have broken down because of the way that fan culture has come more fully into contact with capitalism
  • The Rec Center (Elizabeth Minkel and Gavia Baker-Whitelaw)
  • fanfic as “great arguments” and/or “emotionally engaging
  • teaching using fanfic
  • toxic fandom, is fandom broken?
  • changing views on slash, "male/male slash is even remotely the act of transgression it once was"
  • the importance, and non-importance, of fannish history

Some Excerpts

Flourish: Sometimes it seems like people are upset that fandom has moved on from their favorite sites, zines, or fannish practices, so they’ve turned to cataloging what it was like “in their day” and insisting that that’s really important. And sometimes I’ve fallen into this trap and claimed authority just because I’ve been in fandom longer than others. (Whoops.)

Yet I do think that fandom history can be really important for fans today, especially fans who feel like fandom is shameful. Lots of fans still feel that way, and feel very isolated, believing fannish behaviors to be some kind of weird, avant-garde thing that’s only come to be with the advent of Tumblr or the internet. They don’t need to feel that way, because people have been behaving like fans forever, long before we had the word “fan.” These behaviors are part of human nature! I hope that anyone who doesn’t know that has the opportunity to study enough fan history to be aware that they’re part of a glorious tapestry of people freaking out about how much they love things.

Flourish: My unsubstantiated theory is that fandom was much more discrete in the 1990s, because the entertainment industry was more litigious. Today, companies like Wattpad have closed that gap. So people who have gotten involved with fanfiction more recently don’t believe that there is as much of a difference between fanfic and what older fans might call “profic.”

Elizabeth: One topic we circle that I think tends to touch a nerve is the monetization of fanworks, specifically fanfiction—whenever we bring it up we get a good amount of pushback (often against things we aren’t even advocating—a fair bit of it feels like a knee-jerk response to another set of ideas). A few people have even included our podcast (and the work we do with fandom professionally) in their criticism: they disapprove of anyone “profiting off of fandom” in any capacity.

Elizabeth: So to put together an anthology [of curated, selected fanfic to use in a classroom] would be to strip out all that context—which I know is not an issue for a lot of fanfic readers! But it certainly is for some: fanfiction separated from that active fannish feeling about the source material—a friend recently described this, for her, as a lightswitch that gets flipped on and off—can be, for some people, missing some integral part of the work. For others, fanfic divorced from the communal is similarly incomplete, whether this means actual dialogue with fic writers and other readers or simply a fic’s contextual position within fanon or a body of fanfiction.

Flourish: If I were picking stories to teach, I would certainly lead with that type of “argument story,” but I would try to include stories that are primarily valuable for emotional engagement reasons as well—tropey stories, stories that exist solely for shipping purposes, stories that are short and plotless and just drop you into a character like a warm bath. I think that these stories, which many people might dismiss as “bad” from an outsider’s perspective, actually get at the heart of a lot of what people love from fanfic, and so even if there’s not a hope in the world of getting that across, I’d like to talk about it. (Of course, this runs the risk of suggesting to students that fanfic stories are either great arguments or emotionally engaging, which is very far from the truth, but nothing’s perfect.)

A central media narrative in recent years has centered around "toxic fandom", and in particular, white male fan backlash against diversity casting. Yet, we also know that many fans have been strong advocates of diversity and inclusion in popular media franchises. How would you characterize the current state of the debate within fandom around these issues?

Elizabeth: [long weary sigh] Fandom isn’t broken and fandom isn’t inherently toxic, but fandom is undeniably a mess right now. And the straight white male fan reactionaries are using the same channels, and often the same techniques, as the fans who are clamoring for increased diversity in pop culture media—I understand why people try to draw these parallels! But I also see “fans clamoring for more diversity” to be pretty muddled in practice: many, many fans are doing so in good faith (and the sort of pop culture texts that draw in fandom have a *particularly* bad track record on this front—has there been an explicit acknowledgement of any queer character in any of the superhero franchises onscreen? Don’t get me started on Star Wars...) but there are certainly fans who are using calls for diversity as a weapon to bludgeon other fans in ship wars, as justification for harassing creators who don’t validate their ship, etc.

Meanwhile fandom isn’t particularly good at cleaning its own house, as it were: within fandom, conversations about racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc, can be met with reactionary defensiveness.