The waning of ambivalence

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Title: the waning of ambivalence
Creator: sophia helix
Date(s): January 2005
External Links: the waning of ambivalence, Archived version
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the waning of ambivalence is a 2005 essay by sofia helix.

Its topic is Fandom_Wank and that comm's effect on fannish participation, discussion, and fanworks.

"the waning of ambivalence" was written, in part, as a response to Fandom Wank Poll: Fandom Wank, possible virtures of., a post that pondered whether Fandom_Wank prevented bad fan behavior.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from the Essay

Take the recent post in jennyo's lj about, god, I don't even remember what it was, even though I posted in it. *g* Something about pseudo-lesbianism and the *licks* online and other modes of fannish expression. Did the discussion at times get self-important, a little blinkered and preachy, from all sides (post and comments included)? You betcha. Did it keep on going for days, with multiple posts and pages of comments and answering posts from other fans? Sure. And did it end up getting wanked on f_w, thus effectively shutting down useful, serious discussion because now it was Wank? Yes.

And, well, that's annoying. I'm the last person to deny giggling my ass off, from time to time, at the f_w posts about crazy flamewars and egregious examples of Big-Headed Fans, so I don't want to come off as prudish and "everyone play nice now!" here. But when I actually see my friends hesitant to post about things that upset them, or even excited them, because it might be labeled "wanky," well, that just isn't right. And I don't think that's the purpose of the community, either.

And I certainly don't think this is something that happens with intent, or on the part of any individual f_w-ers (::sends worried reassurance snackywards::). I don't think some cabal (*g*) decided to become the fandom police and scare everyone into submission with the awesome tool of their mighty mockery. However, fandom is now getting to the point where a) individual fans are worried to make mild waves in case it's "wanky," and b) the term "wank" carries such weight that, once it's been applied, an entire discussion can be invalidated.

There is wank. Oh ye holy gods and little fishes, there be wank on the internets. But not *everything* that is self-important, or misguided, or poorly written, or in some other way resembling classic wank (personally defined as either flamewarlike or BNF narcissism/dictatorship) needs to be called "wanky," especially when that's become such a crippling "devil term," to borrow a line of thought from cereta. Thankfully, it seems like some f_w denizens are beginning to realize that, but the fact that the post in that link even ended up "wanked" in the first place is pretty upsetting. (And also speaks of personal grudges, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of anchovies.)

I guess the other thing that bothers me, besides the idea of the Fear of Wank making people self-censor posts or stop participating in worthwhile discussions, is that the people doing the labeling always make sure that everyone knows they're "just here to point and laugh," and not really *involved*. Which, well, for one thing, isn't true, since I think having huge discussions about something being stupid or whatever is by definition "involvement," and for another thing is pretty insulting. I understand that most f_w members *are* active in fandom in other spheres, whether on JF or LJ, but for many, f_w *is* fandom. And it's pretty frustrating to see activity in one's fannish community become slowly reshaped by fear/awareness of a community of people who, by self-declaration, are not actually involved in said community.

And oh, I know much of the wank posted on f_w is brought by members of the fandom in question, laughing at the peccadilloes of their own fandoms. But it always seems to me that to post on f_w is to step outside of the borders of Fandom X or Y, and to become some kind of extra-fandom arbiter of behavior. Do they have that intention, or self-perception? Maybe, maybe not. I won't debate the motivations of people I don't, honestly, know particularly well. And maybe I'm operating on a kind of old-fashioned idea of community-loyalty (which, fuck, *I* don't even possess -- I leapfrog from fandom to fandom without looking back and mock with impunity), but sometimes it feels a bit like selling out one's own fandom for some cheap laughs. Just a little, mind you.

Anyhow, I'm not really saying that fandom_wank shouldn't exist, or that people should mock more politely, or whatever. I'm just worried about the silencing effect on fandom by a group of people whose stated purpose is just to mock, not improve or what-have-you. I don't begrudge them the right to their fun, but I also don't like the Fear of F_W that is settling over us all.

(And hilariously? Yes, I worry about *this* fluffy little ramble of a post getting wanked. It won't be, [unless the comm is having a *very* slow day], but the fact that it crossed my mind just goes to show... something.)

Excerpts from Fan Comments


my worry is that it sometimes prevents all fan behavior

I've been mocked on fandom_wank for daring to post about (gasp!) the politics of representation in slash. And it wasn't pleasant. So, yeah, I share this worry. It seems as though almost any serious discussion (especially if it ties fannish issues to the larger world or, god forbid, attempts academic analysis) risks being dismissed as "wank" by the self-appointed "fandom is only for silly fun" brigade.

[sophia helix]:

Right. And you can soldier on with the discussion once that wank-label has been applied, but somehow it's not quite the same. It's one of those things that, even if you're acquitted of doing it, the shame of accusation never goes away.

I couldn't begin to guess at what the general motives are of the f_w crowd, or what they think fandom should be, but I certainly know what they think it *shouldn't* be. And I'm frustrated that their opinion is somehow becoming fandom's opinion.


I've run into the attitude that kindkit mentioned. Some people seem to find serious discussion of anything in fandom offensive or evidence of pseudo-intellectualism.

I have gotten into a discussion with a f_w member over the use of "canon" and other literary terms in the context of HP fandom. She found it hard to believe that anyone would naturally think that way (as opposed to using terms to impress), despite the fact that they are commonly-used terms across the HP fandom and others. She was also upset that I insisted on correctly using those terms. In the discussion, she suggested that the thread would make a good link at f-w. I didn't much care, although it irritated me that she was using f_w as a de facto threat, but I noticed that the thread was never picked up by f_w. I don't think it was because the wank was being generated by One Of Their Own--the other individual has been reported there fairly recently for similar behavior in another context


I never go over to someone's journal to mock, because even if that wasn't against F_W policy it would be offensive and stupid. Sometimes if I say something about an idiot argument in the comments of a wank, someone will say, "You just have a grudge" or "you're misreading my complex argument!" and I'll say, "calm down, I'm just here to point and laugh, I don't mean anything against you or your friends/whatever personally."

I haven't posted many wanks. I normally don't see them, which is the way I like it (among my friendslist, that is). Usually it's been something I stumbled over and found absurd, or that an anonymouse has requested someone post. The last one was the guy who played Starbuck in the original Battlestar Galactica whining about how his character was turned into a woman-- I did say "I'm just here to mock" a couple times there, because I have no opinion on the new show vs. the old show but thought the actor was taking the whole thing way too personally.


Heh, here's where I get myself in trouble.

I don't think saying "we're just here to mock" gives me any sort of high ground at all. As a matter of fact, it seems to be staking a claim to a low ground, if that makes sense.

Here's how it worked for me: I loved flamewars. Always have. Loved watching them, loved laughing at them, and usually, never participated in them, because what people were fighting about always just seemed pretty ridiculous to me. So, along came fandom_wank (and this was back in the day, when it was still on LJ), and wow, a place where I could find flamewars to watch! And a place where people shared my perception of how a lot of fandom kerfuffles were just silly, and said so. So, I liked fandom_wank. I didn't go there with any personal grudges or axes to grind. I just liked to laugh at (what I perceived as) silliness. Commenting in the flamewars or kefuffles themselves seemed counterproductive and trollish to me (what I would I post? "OMG YOU GUYS ARE SO SILLEH!"), but posting a comment at fandom_wank seemed a good idea. It removed me from the thing the that people were so passionately arguing about, and gave me a place where like-minded people would do the same as I did: laugh and move on.

Now, not everyone comes to f_w for the reason I did, and lots of people bring grudge wanks and so forth. But when I say, "I'm just here (at f_w) to mock", I am. And I see that as an admission of my own silliness in fandom, rather than me claiming any kind of high ground.

[sophia helix]:

I did mention that I have, in the past (and esp. in the beginning) enjoyed the hell out of f_w, right? And I still browse for amusement, when my FL is slow. Laughing at flamewars is a time-honored pastime.

The "high ground" I'm talking about is just that, well, it seems like some people don't "own" their discussion/comments when they say they're only mocking. It's like the people actually participating in said wank are more invested, but the mockers aren't, and that makes them... better. I don't know how to phrase this so I'm not a) assuming those 2,000+ people ALL feel this way ['cause I'm not], and b) not calling f_w folk MEAN ELITIST BITCHEZ, because, hey, I can wear that hat too, most days. But that's how it sometimes comes off to me, personally. (The "better" part, not the "mean elitist" part.)

I also think that's not just a f_w thing, or even a fandom thing. More and more, it's become common in general society to laugh at people who take things seriously, and to retreat to irony, mockery, etc. Hell, look at politics -- most people would rather make disparaging, humorous comments about it (or watch a fake-news program that does) than actually change what's being laughed at.

Which is, of course, a little high-minded and far-reaching for fandom. I don't expect anyone to want to crusade for fandom change, or to want to actively improve fandom with their every comment. (Or, hell, *any* comment.) Fandom is supposed to be fun. That detachment is just what puts my back up about the "only mocking" defense.

[katie m]:

Yeah, well. I'm not surprised that a community that's dedicated to mockery--even when it's originally centered around pointing out people who totally deserve to be mocked--is going to attract people who will then learn that It's Fun To Laugh At People rather than Don't Be A Dickhead Because Then You'll Get Mocked.

[harriet spy]:

At what point does one become responsible for the unintended consequences of one's behavior, when those consequences become apparent, but the behavior continues?

As wearisome as I may have found its repeated reminders of the average fannish reading comprehension level, truly the most troubling aspect of that community for me has been the way that it licenses fans to be aggressive against each other without taking responsibility for it. To this day, you will find people claiming that the community was "never personal"--when people's quite real and serious mental illnesses were made sport of (not even because they were offered as some kind of defense of bad behavior, but just because the information was handy) and others were accused of pedophilic behavior with their children.

Obviously, I do not pretend to neutrality here, but flamewars at least generally require that you *own* your aggression, your bad feelings towards other fans, your anger towards creators. That community allows fans to engage in viciousness under the guise of impersonal and detached satire and others to enjoy it under the claim that they bear no responsibility for what happens in a community they gladly participate in. I think that encourages and prolongs particularly unpleasant behavior. Most flamewars do eventually burn themselves out, but in that community, you can still find people taking sad random potshots at others over three-year-old fannish disputes in the evident belief that they are righteous satirists, not just...plain old pissed-off fans bearing long-lasting grudges.

And, yes, I'm stopping for a minute to think here before hitting the post button, if only because you obviously don't want your post to end up over there, and I don't want to drag you into it. It's awfully convenient, is it, when you can manage to convince people that criticism of your community can't just be regular criticism (which may be smart or stupid, founded or unfounded, personally-motivated or not), but must somehow be a violation of a broader fannish norm against antisocial behavior?

[sophia helix]:

but flamewars at least generally require that you *own* your aggression, your bad feelings towards other fans, your anger towards creators.

That's pretty much exactly my complaint. The idea of a wank community turns what *used* to be a personal disagreement into some kind of tribunal. Fandom, with its constant hierarchical squabbles, was just *waiting* for someone to appoint themselves as an unshakable inquisitional council. I just don't think anyone ever realized how very unshakable that council would turn out to be.

Several fans have had repeated run-ins with f_w. In the ordinary course of things, those run-ins would have been just like any other long-held fandom grudge -- a handful of people, or just two people, repeatedly butting heads in difference arenas. Not pleasant, but far more in keeping with the level of the individual fan.

When f_w takes a dislike to someone, the power imbalance is staggering. Suddenly you have "Oh, Fan X is at it again...." and "Our old friend Fan X has..." posts, and when Fan X attempts any kind of self-defense, whether in community comments or seperate posts, the mockery just reaches a higher pitch. Fandom_Wank's good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.

And that's just one of the many faces of f_w that scares me. The other is that uneasy, blanketing sense of They're Watching Us which, as mentioned above, is coming to bug the hell out of me. Fandom is no democracy, but it doesn't need to be its opposite either.

(And of course, my real issue is -- what the hell *benefit* does anyone get out of the whole mess? As originally envisioned, a community which points the way for others to toast their hands at big flamewars has some merit. Some flamewars are undeniably just that. But a community that's sliding down an ever-broader definition of "wank" will, I think, serve a smaller and smaller population. If everything is wanky, eventually you're going to offend every*one*.)...

Do I undermine my own argument if I admit I love flamewars? I love flamewars. They can be hilarious and crazy. I quite pleased by f_w in the early days. Heck, I was a major player in one of the very first flamewars they ever wanked, back before they got TOSed. (Coincidentally, the last flamewar I vigorously participated in. That's got to mean something...)

And yeah, interesting stuff ends up there sometimes. I'd just rather that people got trained to metablog it instead of wank it. Somehow "wank" has become the stand-in for "Posts that get a lot of comments and express strong opinions."

[harriet spy]:

Well, while the [f-w] community still exists, and is still large, I think its influence is nowhere near what it once was. I mean, it's pretty hard to hold onto credibility after you manage to reveal that you're the one fannish institution that *really is* run by a elitist clique that hates the n00bs and engages in random powerplays like deleting the whole community to get back at them.

That's one of the reasons I *don't* generally talk about it--I think discussing it gives some of that credibility or authority back.

[sophia helix]:

It's true -- the credibility as an impartial, cohesive community has been undermined. But the community influence has remained the same, if not grown, and I think that's due to the recent wanking of some big discussions which were better left to metablog, or alone. I think some people are starting to get worried that *anything* with strong opinions is going to be mocked.

Or else someone who hates them will go wank them. You'd think the frequency of personal-grudge wanking would puncture that credibility too, but it doesn't seem to have.


Yea, this is where I disagree- who the hell thinks F-W is the credible authority on what's ok to discuss in fandom for godsake? Who really sees them as an unbiased entity? And where can we find these people and beat some sense into their heads?

Jesus, even F-W themselves say they exist solely to mock. At least it's truth in advertising. I have very mixed feelings about it BECAUSE of their mission statement. But I do have to say that many many of the posts that are mocked are just as much personal vendettas as anything F-W could ever come up with.


...I would say that f_w feeds on itself, stirring up mockery for the sake of mockery, and becoming less and less substantive. Sometimes there are indeed things that are worthy of satire, but where does satire end and gratuitous slamming just to feed one's ego or to stake a "safe" place in the fandom begin?

But a community that's sliding down an ever-broader definition of "wank" will, I think, serve a smaller and smaller population.

Indeed--and it runs into the danger of becoming mockery just for its own sake, tearing down without any real sense of what it is attacking, or why--just becoming reaction.

[ cathexys ]:

i think there is a certain f-w ethos that not all members share and that sadly doesn't get curbed more and better a lot of times. getting personal, airing personal grudges, wanking things that really ought to be metablogged, recreating the wank in the comments are suposed to be some of the nonos, but occur all too often.

i like the idea of finding the kerfuffles as much as the great discussion via metablog (and often think of one as the dark underbelly of the other), but sa with any fannish mob behavior, it often gets out of hand. that, and the fact that there are a few too many people a bit too enamored with their own bitchiness...i often wonder if they are that nasty in RL or whether they just 'play the role,' something i find very distasteful, b/c to me there are real people on the other side and i usually try to think about how my comments will be received.

so, i find myself liking the idea a lot more than the actual thing a lot of times, and the comments often to be out of order and unpleasant. the need to be ironic/sarcastic/mocking takes away the funny all too often.

and yet, i think it serves a purpose...sometimes the posts point me in interesting (and yes, mockworthy and disgusting direction) when the comments add little...


But not *everything* that is self-important, or misguided, or poorly written, or in some other way resembling classic wank (personally defined as either flamewarlike or BNF narcissism/dictatorship) needs to be called "wanky," especially when that's become such a crippling "devil term," to borrow a line of thought from cereta.

Yis. I wonder if part of it is people that enjoy F_W want to participate, so there's a sort of grasping-for-wank?

There's also a sort of anti-meta strain in F_W that might also contribute to the silencing effect, but I think that has to do with how F_W formed(?). It's one of the things I don't like about F_W -- I love meta -- so I have to remember that when I visit. (My favorite wanks usually involve crazy people that harm other fans in some way. Like VB. Ah, VB!wank. ::takes a drag::)


Political intelligent discussion abounds, in the same LJ's of fen who also make incest icons. Women debate sexuality and writing and characterization everywhere in fandom, on threads which also happen to include *licking*. Deep philosophical points are made daily, right next to squealing about Orlando Bloom's ass.

It's most often when someone decides they need to be the CEO of appropriate fandom behavior that they get wanked- and frankly, that's a damn amusing irony. "OMG only *I* get to say what people should talk about and how they should go about doing it! How dare F-W tell me I have no right to----". Ha! Take a beat to feel the synergy.

Can F-W be cruel and petty and downright stupid? You betcha. As can - well, pretty much any community of people who then subdivide into smaller groups. Welcome to the real world. Grab some common sense, take a walk and get the hell over it, man.

I've been wanked, and I lived to tell the tale. The whole 'F-W is oppressing me and/or ruining fandom' makes as much sense to me as the 'BNF's can kill me through the internet with their brains so I'm afraid to argue with them' routine. Post whatever the hell you want, sign your name to it and stand by it. If you can't stand the thought of someone disagreeing with you and being unpleasant about it, lock your LJ.

F-W will not kill you. People disagreeing with you will not kill you. Being made fun of will not kill you. And maybe, just maybe, if you find yourself on the receiving end of a helluva lot of people who are saying you're an asshat, for the same things, again and again everyone else *really* crazy or is it possible you're being -whatd'yaknow, an asshat?

Pheh. I'm gonna go write porn now.

[sophia helix]:

It's hard to argue with "F-W will not kill you."

The only possible argument for me is... many people, including me, do not have your admirable chutzpah. Many of us *are* upset by being mocked, or feel that their dissenting opinion will get them disliked (which, hey, sometimes it will), or just can't handle taking on a lot of criticism and disagreement. It's not always a fragile-flower thing, either. For me personally, I wish I didn't care so much about having people like me, or at least not hate me, but I do, and it informs my public fannish behavior all too often. I try to work on that, but it's not easy.

And that's just my experience. And I know there are people far wimpier than me, and far braver. But at the moment f_w *does* influence a lot of people, both in how they view others and in what they're willing to talk about, and sometimes that hesitance is justified and sometimes it's not. But it's real for the people experiencing it.

And like I said to Sarah above, what bothers me most about the community at this point is really its unshakability. They say they're not "involved." Serious argument only brings on more taunts and mockery. And yeah, it's best to just walk away from someone like that, because you can't win, but... that's sometimes a little more mature than many people feel like being. *g*

[harriet spy]:

Well, if fandom_wank's vitriol could kill, I'd be dead a dozen times over. Clearly, I'm still here, alive and kicking. But I think your two examples are of two different experiences.

If I post in my LJ, "OMG, Kita sucks because she writes Connor, who is a lame and boring character that only morons would write about!!!" and you respond in yours, "Sarah T. is a fucking bitch who wouldn't know a good character if he came in her face," then what you have is a personal dispute. Obviously, some people will take sides. Some won't. Eventually one or both of us will get tired and/or realize we're involved in a degrading personal squabble and move on. It's an individual dispute, carried out at an individual level, and both of us are stuck with the obvious responsibility of having chosen to be nasty to a fellow-fan for personal reasons.

But when such posts get posted to fandom_wank, there is an implicit claim that one or both participants have violated some pan-fannish norm and therefore are deserving of widespread personal insults, even by people who otherwise wouldn't be involved. However bad the original unpleasantness may have been, it amplifies it, and the group frenzy tends to license people to engage in attacks that they probably would not if they were on their own, or merely taking a side in a personal dispute (I'm guessing that in whatever flamewars you've been in, you *probably* haven't been accused of inappropriate sexual involvement with your kids). Since many of the people participating *aren't* part of the community, they don't have the personal ties or the sense that the community itself is probably better off if the fight is allowed to die down that might help put out the flames. So, yes, for many people, the experience of being accused of "wankiness"--which can involve hundreds of random people sitting in judgment, not merely of whether you said something you shouldn't have to a fellow-fan, but whether you've sinned somehow against your whole fandom, or maybe even fandom as a whole, and feeling comfortable after that judgment in being quite personally nasty themselves--is a lot worse than even a personal disagreement with a fellow-fan.

Does this mean that "fandom_wank is oppressing fandom?" No. They're still *just* opinions (well, except when your personal contact information is posted; I'm going to charitably assume that you did not mean to imply that I deserved that). Opinions, whether from alleged BNFs, fandom_wank, or anywhere else, aren't going to kill you. I've never been one of the people calling for that community to be *shut down*. We generally believe that the trade-offs for letting people post mostly what they want (free exchange of ideas, creativity, autonomy) are worth the costs (possible social unpleasantness, divisiveness, chilling effect). But it's not unreasonable to ask, "Does this institution actually increase those costs? If so, is it worth it?"


As for consequences, we as a community suck at that overall, don't we? Plagerize fic, fake your own death, take money from fellow fans, be hateful and petty and cruel- and you can still hang about. Maybe have to change your name, maybe not- someone will always take your side either way. What consequences would you suggest? Ostracism? People pointing and mocking? This is where it gets murky, isn't it? Who gets to judge? Someone who takes fandom shit offline to the extent you mention above should certainly face real life consequences. The rest is much blurrie.

[harriet spy]:

The consequences I was referring to were the natural social consequences of behaving aggressively. There are some people online who just don't like me because they don't care for various things I've done. They think I'm a jerk/elitist/whatever; they don't want to hang out with me fannishly. That really is their privilege--we all make those judgments. I have to take that into account when I choose to speak or act a certain way, because it carries those consequences.

Fandom_wank allows people to claim--to themselves and to others--that they're not acting nastily when they, in fact, are ("we're just pointing and laughing," "well, just because someone posts this to a moderated community without any repercussions doesn't mean the community has any responsibility for it!," "it never gets personal!"). That's just a claim that people should not buy into; when considering how they feel about someone who's a happy fandom_wanker, they should realize what kind of behavior actually goes on over there. That is the only kind of consequence I was referring to.


Humans tend to disclaim responsibility for objectionable behavior or statements by claiming that "it was a joke--can't you take a joke?" What anthropologists call "joking behavior" is incredibly powerful, because it lets people say something serious without the usual social consequences of being called on the statement or made to answer for it in some way. In other words, jokes aren't just funny---they can mean something. Jokes can express our fears or ambivalences about things (remember all the jokes about "women drivers" back in the 60's and 70's when women's roles were changing and more were driving?).

Jokes can also operate as a form of social control, particularly when there's an anonymous element involved. The charivari was an old way of disciplining people who had strayed from community norms. At certain times of year (dependent on local religious customs--often holidays) groups of masked or hooded or just thinly disguised people would knock on the doors of henpecked husbands, or excessive wife-beaters, or others, and buffet them about, carry them through the town to be mocked, and otherwise humiliate them. The charivari was "fun"--but is was also a threat. Often its targets were people who had not done anything wrong legally but who still needed to be told that they were behaving badly, but other times the charivari attacked people who were simply pushing the boundaries of what society at the time (usually the 18th century and earlier) saw as normal. In each case the element of anonymity was critical, because then everyone could go back to business-as-usual in the morning without overt hard feelings. Although in a small village you'd know pretty much who was under what mask or robe, you couldn't say so openly--it was misrule, revels, a joke.

Reading through this thread, I am coming to see f_w as the fandom's equivalent of the charivari. Sometimes it is a necessary corrective to problems that can't be solved (or are not even noticed) by normal authority and processes. Sometimes, it acts (intentionally or not) as an element of self-appointed social control. Sometimes, however, its anonymity has led it itself to go beyond the acceptable boundaries for charivari-like behavior. Mocking something, anything, becomes the ticket for entry into the community, which encourages the irresponsible behavior it mocks outside of the community.


i think you make a really important point about knowing people and respecting certain behavioral norms. if i interact with someone in my lj, i have a personal relationship on some level...most of the time i read their lj, they read mine, or we have at least someone in common...even if it's ion someone else's LJ we'll probably both respect the "host" and try to be civil.

once you become an anonymous stranger, it's a different ball game. i've realized that the more people i know, the less i enjoy fw, b/c it's suddenly *friends* rather than strangers that are mocked (and that goes for the appropriate wanks, b/c yes, ad hominem is so beyond disgusting and inappropriate...i can't even imagine being the target of that)

i think a lot of the discussions about anon threads is relevant here as well, b/c in both the attacks are decontextualized and thus lose meaning and become larger than themselves (i.e., if a friend calls me a pretentious suburban housewife, i know how to take it and whether it's a joke...if i get called that anonymously i have no clue how to take it other than at face value.) similarly, the lack of relationship and individual context makes attacks on strangers so much easier. in both, the offender is not really held accountable by the person being attacked.

and that situation creates mob behavior, one of the worst things in fandom, i think. it's a hysterical tendency where everyone loses responsibility for their own actions and instead disappear behind the faceless mass...and everyone elbows each other be funnier, nastier,...

[ snacky ]:

Oh, I just typed up a long response and deleted it, because I'm upset by a lot of the discussion here (and of course, I deserve that, because you know, I'm a fandom_wank member, and we don't have any feelings, at least, none that matter, and we're all despicable, bitter fans with vendettas and grudges and axes to grind, and we deserve all we get for the crimes we commit against fandom.) I'll just blame it on hormones, though. ;-)

Anyway, I'm just going to say, some really interesting discussions spun out of a wank earlier this week, with various people discussing mocking and criticism and when is it going "too far." One of the most interesting things about it, I found, was that one of the people on the side of "all mocking is cruel" labeled the people doing the discussing and thinking as being "wanky", because she was tired of having the conversation. So wank, I think, has become a very handy accusation by anyone (even the people who decry it) when they want to shut down conversation.


I just get frustrated when I see the massive sweeping generalizations being made about the motives of 2000+ people, as if everyone who belonged to f_w shared all the same thoughts, characteristics and motivations. That's like saying "everyone in the Smallville fandom is a mean bitch" or "all HP fic writers are plagiarists" or "all Batman/Robin slash fans are pedophiles" - I mean, just because one, or a group of fans, engage in certain types of behaviors, does that mean it's true for the fandom as a whole? I don't thing so, and most people would agree. But no one has a problem with believing that about fandom_wank members.

Which is fine - I guess f_w handily fills the role of Fandom's Villian - "oh we can't do this because we're afraid of being wanked!" or "those awful fandom_wankers with their cruel ways! They've ruined fandom for everyone!" Heh, f_w is kind of like the Republican party of Fandom. The liberals bash the Republicans because it's obvious they're completely evil people or they wouldn't have voted for Bush in the first place - and it's okay to accuse everyone in f_w of eating babies and drinking the blood of innocents, because they wouldn't be part of f_w if they weren't BAD PEOPLE TO BEGIN WITH!

I've seen people in these comments talk about consequences, and, in other places, call for f_w to be shut down for its detrimental effect on fandom as a whole. But my questions would be, who gets to decide the consequences? harriet_spy's seem reasonable: if you don't like f_w, you don't associate with anyone who is a part of it. But shutting it down (aside from the fact, as long as it's on JF, it ain't gonna happen *g* )? Who gets to decide when something like that happens? Who takes responsibility for deciding what's wrong with fandom? People accuse fandom_wank of trying to police fandom all the time (and some f_w members believe they're doing just that), and that horrifies me. Who wants to be the one who decides "this is right and this is wrong and this is going too far and must be stopped?" Not me.

And if fandom_wank does get "shut down" or say, it dies a natural death, what then? No more meanness? No more cruelty? Fandom goes back to the way it was before, when no one ever was a bitch or said snarky things?

This past week, I've seen the claim made that: no one can or should ever mock or criticize any fan's writing, because fic is a gift, and no one's getting paid for writing it, so no one should get their feelings hurt over it. Plus, we're a community of women, and women should support each other and not hurt each other! And this does not apply to just the wanking and mocking in public place - this applies to people snarking via IM, or private email, or in locked posts. If you do that, you're cruel and hurtful and hateful and not a good person (or woman) at all (I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of the argument).

So, is that the case? Can no one say anything bad, ever, for fear of stifling another person's creativity or their opinion or ruin their fun? Who gets to decide what's "nice" and "fun" for everyone?

[harriet spy]:

That's like saying "everyone in the Smallville fandom is a mean bitch" or "all HP fic writers are plagiarists" or "all Batman/Robin slash fans are pedophiles" - I mean, just because one, or a group of fans, engage in certain types of behaviors, does that mean it's true for the fandom as a whole? I don't thing so, and most people would agree. But no one has a problem with believing that about fandom_wank members.

I'm asking this in good faith, truly, not as a flame, because you seem to be willing to discuss it reasonably. Do you honestly not realize where these sorts of claims get most frequently (publicly, at least) aired? *In fandom_wank itself*. And because of the "echo chamber" effect there, it's generally much more damaging when those kinds of remarks get made there than in individual LJs.

The claim that I said "all HP writers are plagiarists," which was made in fandom_wank, was a *lie*. No one has ever been able to link to anywhere where I *did* say that, because I *never did*. As far as I know, *no one* involved in that particular discussion ever did. Yet how many people out there thought, and probably still think, that I did say that, because, after all, it was said in fandom_wank before a large audience without objection? Quite a few, I'd wager (at least of people around at the time)--certainly the community served to both spread the lie to a much broader audience and legitimate it. (It's possible from what you've posted here that *you* believe it.) Smears against SV fandom were constant back when, of two groups of people active in the fandom who didn't like each other, one of them used fandom_wank as a platform to airs its grievances (and, well, *still* does). General insults against [x] fandom are a common thread whenever someone posts a bit of craziness from [x] fandom ("God, I'm glad I never joined that fandom--they sound totally bitchy!").

This behavior has been going on in fandom_wank forever, so I know you must have seen it. It's common. It falls comfortably within the mission statement. I don't see any real attempt by the mods to prevent it, or even self-policing against it. I believe that you're being honest in your posts here. But if you don't care for that kind of behavior, why in the world do you remain an active participant in a community where it's standard operating procedure, and sometimes in a far nastier way than it's been here? Why do you object *here*, and not *there*? Why do you think you deserve better treatment than you are comfortable seeing doled out to others all the time?


[much snipped]

Why do you think you deserve better treatment than you are comfortable seeing doled out to others all the time?

I don't - when I was saying I deserve it, I was trying to say that I'm not surprised that people would feel comfortable ripping on me (or other members of f_w) - after all it's what *we* do.

I just don't think that we should *only* hold fandom_wank responsible for those kinds of things, as other people make sweeping generalizations and feel comfortable attacking fandom_wank members (whether personally or as a whole). If you object to the behavior, you lose the moral high ground when you do it yourself, and it doesn't matter whether it's to people who deserve it.

Basically, this is what I understand as to why people object to fandom_wank: because it's an (loosely) organized group, people feel that it, as a mob, terrorizes fandom with its bad behavior (including dissemination of hearsay as fact, personal attacks, etc), and object to the existence of such a group. I think the difference between me and the people who object is this: Me, I have the problem with the *bad behavior* and think that it's always existed and will be there, whether f_w is there or not.

[minim calibre]:

I think F_W is a symptom, but not the cause, because I notice the same sort of behavior in areas that are F_W free, and have noticed it for more years than I care to admit in various online circles. As soon as a community gets large enough (or old enough, or perhaps it has to be a combination of the two), actual open and honest conversation goes down the toilet in favor of a lot of tongue-holding (and a lot of behind the scenes backbiting). Which isn't, by any means, healthy.

Sometimes, I wonder if the curious quasi-community feel of LJ, the sheer vastness of it, when coupled with what appears to be a fannish 2 degrees of separation, is partly to blame for why fandom has seemed so fraught lately. It's both easier to avoid people you disagree with (the wondrous echo chamber of the F-List) and harder (unless you have a locked journal).


Also a f_w member here (although I don't comment often and have just one post), and I do see some of your points. Some people at f_w CAN get overly nasty about things. The point of f_w is to point and laugh, not slash and burn, and I think some people simply forget that.

The thing is, 90% of what I see on f_w is true wank -- people getting all self-important and crowing "look at meeeeeeee, I'm a BNF" and invoking Deirdre's law (ie, "As a fandom discussion grows longer, the probability that participants will define True Fans as 'those who agree with us' approaches one"). In other words, people who really are being ridiculous to the point of inducing eyerolls. As you pointed out, when something that's clearly not wank is posted to f_w, it gets shouted down (and posts like that are left up as examples of How Not To Do Things).

There's also the rubber/glue aspect. What does it really matter if a small group of people think part of a fandom discussion is getting wanky? If a discussion ends up on f_w, then snicker about it, say "wheee, we got f_wed! Go us!" or otherwise just point and laugh back at them for being silly. Because really, f_w is silly, not serious. It's not a gang of traffic cops roaming around arresting people for being wanky. It's MST3K: Fandom Edition.

I feel I should add that, of course, a few discussions at f_w have gotten out of hand. That's going to happen in any active community. But taking things into real life, like posting personal contact information, has never been kosher; the one time I saw that happen, it was an anonymouse and was removed by a mod.

F_w is about making fun of online behavior only. It's never been okay to take that into the realm of real life, and in the rare case that it happens, the members and mods are not going to be happy about it.

I should also mention that it's true that way too many f_w posts lately have been nonwank, some even including some variation on the phrase "no wank here yet." Um, if it's not wanky, WTF made you think it was okay to post it to fandom_WANK?? That aspect of desperation to find something to post is extremely annoying. It seems everyone either despises f_w or is clamoring to participate (and sometimes both).


Another regular f_w reader here, although I haven't been involved since the move over to journalfen.

I think... yes and no. I do think that there's been a change in fw since leaving lj (what would we do without fannish shorthand?), or at least, a change in it's attitude toward livejournal--now it's "a source of wank" rather than "where we all live," and there's an apparent division between people who participate in fw and people who participate in fandom--even though many people do both, they seem to do so in different personae. But that might just be my own perspective--people do still regularly post on conversations in which they were tangentially involved.

But I think that it would be inaccurate to blame fw for shutting down conversation (with the important exception of "conversation about fw itself," as you and Sarah point out above), if only because I don't think that the majority of fans take fw seriously. I think that there's a lot of aggressive behavior in fandom, to be honest, and fw is hardly the worst of it. I've been struck, recently, by the anonymous "hate" memes, which seem much more virulent--and at least in fw people are expected to sign their names if their mockery is going to be taken seriously. Yes, there is a division in fandom between the people who do meta and the people who don't (although many people happily live on both sides of this fence), but I don't think that f_w created the one any more than metablog created the other.


I have my serious doubts about f_w being about the fun at all. People who are members/participants talk about it as though it were a bunch of friends sitting about, making jokes at each other and calling down those who were getting to be a bit of a stuffed shirt. Everybody laughs, nobody goes too far in the mocking without getting mocked themselves.

To me, it seems to have far more in common with jr hi girl's locker rooms and whispers behind the hands. There is the same self-important determination of "acceptable" and "totally uncool", and the same potshots at favorite targets. Everyone laughs except the person(s) being mocked - unless they know better to show how the cuts hurt, and laugh anyway.

Yes, it should be allowed to exist. Tolerated. No, it should not be defended, accepted, revered, or respected - nor should the actions of those people who participate in it.

This comes across a hair harsh, yes, and evokes the dreaded "high school cliche girls picking on me" analogy. But all it would take, I think, for f_w to lose a lot of that air would for all f_w posters to be required to make their comments on the lj of the person involved, instead off running off to f_w to do their snickering. It's the difference between laughing with and at, imo. As it is, f_w encourages nasty behavior on the part of the participants, by giving them a place and a community that supports that behavior, out of sight of the rest of lj fandom.

Take this as you will. I'm not going to be a poster or reader at fw, no matter what changes got made, so my comments are so many murdered electrons.


I find it very interesting the continued mantra of "it's okay to laugh and insult off their lj, but we can't actually involve the person in the discussion."

People have talked about "not wanting to get into someone's face and say something insulting." Fine. Then don't say it. Rephrase, hold your comments, or post it in your own lj as your own rant/mocking. That way one (as said above) *owns* the insult. Instead of setting up a community with license to insult as they please.

But hey, when I think someone is talking out their ear, I either say so on my lj or on that person's post. To me, this seems far more honest than fw's passive-aggressive behavior.


One man's community is another man's street gang is another man's mindless mob. Sometimes a sense of "it must be okay to do this, I'm not the only one doing it" is bad.

I keep coming back to the "outside/inside" division. Pointing and laughing in one's own lj - that's one thing. One is still a part of the joke, imo, to some extent. But this whole separate community - which is very *outward* looking, compared to other lj communities, which are inward looking - where the community members are the mockers and the rest of the universe the mockees - that still strikes me as wrong.


I do think that the accusation of wank shuts down discussion sometimes. I know it does. It's often made me think about and censor what I'm about to post. I don't think that's *necessarily* a bad thing. Certainly, with me, it's a combination of not wanting to wank, and not wanting to perpetuate the wank to the exclusion of all things fannish? Maybe. I know I had things to say about the jennyo debate, but it wasn't f_w itself that stopped me, but the growing realisation that I was vastly, passionately, opposed on my flist and that I didn't care enough about it to start a fight with all my friends. My partner and I have a rule about arguing. If the other says: I *need* to be right about this, and the other has no such emotional investment , then they back off. Maybe that's a bad thing; it's practical though - choosing your battles. I know I've thought to myself, when my flist has filled up with passionate screeds and angry refutation, 'God, this is pointless and frustrating.' Certainly, for me, there comes a point in a multi-journal discussion when I become desentisised to the pain being expressed and simply think: 'you know? If you just shut up about it and do something else, the problem will go away.'


Interesting post. And it's interesting that you mentioned that the possibility of this ending up there almost made you not post, because yeah: I sat on the post you linked to for quite some time for just that reason before saying, "Ah, fuck it" and posting. In the end, if I'm going to be made fun of, it might as well be for being me ;).

Still, at the heart of what I posted was my one real problem with f_w that's unique to f_w (as opposed to being just problems with human behavior that shows up all over the place), and that's the fundamental tautology it rests on: if you set up as a basic premise that you're going to make fun of people who take fandom and themselves "too seriously" (and thus the premise that such people deserve to be made fun of), then any objection to being made fun of just become further proof that you take yourself "too seriously" and thus that you deserve to be made fun of.

The problem, of course, is that "too seriously" varies from person to person. Just as an example, fewer things drive me batshit faster than someone suggesting that because a particular interaction takes place over the internet, that it doesn't matter: that cruelty or discourtesy or just plain meanness shouldn't affect a person because the medium was the internet instead of, say, the telephone or print. You know what I'm talking about: "It's just the internet! Why get upset?" Speaking as someone who both works and plays online, that makes me nuts. Am I taking myself too seriously, or fandom too seriously, if I object to people saying nasty shit to other people? I don't personally think so, but there are lots of people who disagree with me. And I'm happy to have the discussion, but the problem is that once something is successfully labeled "wanky," even trying to have that discussion is just more wank.

And of course, this doesn't always happen, and not all member of f_w adopt the attitude, etc, etc, but it is something that's kind of built into the system.


As a longtime fandom_wank lurker/participant, the only conclusion I can draw about the place is: It Is What It Is. With over 2000 members from all over the internet, no one can even try to figure out what the motivation of the community as a whole is. It's the equivalent of trying to poll a Springsteen concert crowd and asking them what their favorite song of his is; you're going to get a thousand different answers, and none of them will be "wrong".

I do wish the definition of "wank" would get re-adjusted there, because a lot of the problem I have with the community is that there's often stuff that gets linked that isn't wanky or flame-war-ish, or even remotely interesting to me. But again, that's more likely because my favorite Springsteen song isn't everyone else's necessarily.

I also don't think fandom_wank hinders fandom conversations, although I do believe it can at times *cause* wank where none existed. Hell, oftentimes fandom_wank is wankier than whatever is they're/we're mocking. Because it's a part of fandom, as much as any other community or mailing list or message board. The members come from fandom, they squee and complain over fandom things, and the topics they discuss are fandom-related. So if people out there in fandom can be wanky, then GOD YES, so can the people at fandom_wank.

I like to think of fandom_wank as Waldorf and Astoria from the Muppet Show: two cranky, "funny" old men up in the balcony, watching the show going on at the stage below them and amusing themselves with in-joke zingers and snark. Sometimes they really are funny, and you're glad they're there because they made an entertaining part of the stage show below even more entertaining, and sometimes they're just a pair of crabby old men.

And we as the viewer -- we can enjoy them as a part of the bigger performance of The Muppet Show. They're meta, in a way -- but they're still a *part* of the show.