Tinhats and the Fourth Wall

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Related terms: Tinhats, Fourth Wall (glossary term), RPF
See also: Bandom and the Fourth Wall, TPTB
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The fourth wall is important in any fandom, but it's extremely relevant to RPF fandoms, where it is considered taboo to talk about shipping to the people involved. The problem with the Fourth Wall in relation to tinhatting is two-fold. On the fandom side, there are some tinhats who make no effort to hide their beliefs, or even deliberately attempt to spread "the truth." On the side of the creators, individuals may react in countless ways.


There are different boundaries for fandoms about real people and fictional characters.

Creators react to or acknowledge fandom in a variety of ways. When fan activity reaches tinhatting, creators often take more notice when the situation is personal to them. Some are made uncomfortable by tinhats and theories. There are some who make no attempt to hide their derision.

RPF Relationships

In regards to RPF, there are several different approaches to dealing with this dissolution of the Fourth Wall where fans might tag celebrities in things they may not want to see. Some celebrities draw a firm line between themselves and the fannish activity surrounding them[1], but others play along with the shipping.[2] Some celebrities have gone on record as saying shipping has ruined their friendship with someone while yet others use their position to bait shippers.[3] Generally, fans who get too invasive with a celebrity in regards to fandom will be quickly told not to do that but there's not really a similar recourse that can be taken when the break in the Fourth Wall comes from the other side of the equation.[note 1]

Fictional Relationships

The problem isn't just limited to the RPF side of things, however.

Fans have been known to blackmail people involved with the creation of a show, but creators have been known to respond rudely when questioned about ships.[4]

Reasons for Breaches

This article or section needs expansion.


Tinhat theories around slash relationships often involve the idea that a couple is being forced to remain in the closet. Thus, tinhats may attempt to even deliberately attempt to spread "the truth" of the relationship because they believe the individuals should come out as gay and be true to their identities.


Among some fans, there is the belief that their ship is not canon, but they can convince TPTB to make the ship canon by showing their support for the ship. This has led to organized fan campaigns to deliberately attract as much attention from outside of fandom as possible.

Notable RPF Breaches

Bandom and the Fourth Wall


Domlijah, involving Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood of Lord of the Rings RPF.

The actors explicitly denied being a couple several times, making fun of the various rumors. Dom said at a convention Q&A in 2003, that the actors had "read rumors of a contract they signed with New Line that they wouldn't come out as gay until after Return of the King." Dom laughed, and added, in a sarcastic tone that they were "thinking of walking down the red carpet holding hands for Return of the King." [5] Nothing like that, or any other kind of public announcement ever happened, and the actors have continued to deny any romantic involvement with each other.[6]

Larry Stylinson

Larry Stylinson, involving Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction.

Led to Larry Is Real

Louis Tomlinson has gone on record as saying the shipping has ruined his friendship with Harry Styles.[7]

Shippers like to say, usually half-jokingly, that their ship "is real". However, an unknown percentage of fans who ship Harry/Louis aka Larry really believe it when they say that "Larry is real". As the theory goes, One Direction's management company (Modest! Management) has forced them to remain closeted because gay bandmembers would bring down the monetary value of a boyband.

Screen Shot 2012-09-16 at 3.34.48 PM.png
the infamous bullshit tweet

1D has been aware of the phenomenon since early on (as early as November 2010) and referenced it in interviews, appearing to find it amusing or at least not be bothered by it.[8][9] Later comments from Louis Tomlinson indicate that he was no longer amused. On September 16, 2012, the verified Twitter account @Louis_Tomlinson tweeted

Still months on reading ridiculous conspiracy theories.It's upsetting that I have to read them daily.Thank god for the lovely people on here".[10]

@skyleridk challenged this with "funny that no matter what happens they will never deny larry", and Tomlinson replied,

@skyleridk Hows this , Larry is the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard. I'm happy why can't you accept that." [11]

Non-tinhats have speculated that his anger was in response to his girlfriend getting harassed; meanwhile, Larries speculated that the tweet had been written by management.[12]

There have been many instances where shippers have harassed One Direction members and their friends online.[13] See Nick Grimshaw's Relationship with One Direction fandom for some of the details. Larries have also turned their ire on other fans and observers who questioned their claims. When slash fan Aja in her capacity as a journalist wrote an article in 2012 describing the tinhat phenomenon, she was attacked in the comments.[14][15] The publicity rep for One Direction, Simon Jones, tweeted a denial in 2014 and was promptly attacked.[16]

Larries often claim anyone who disagrees with them either is stupid[17] or homophobic or has been hired by Modest! to spout the party line. For this reason, explicit denials of Larry from 1D's friends and family members on social media have not produced the desired results. Some Larries flood 1D-related people's social media with Larry comments[18] and others go farther, making threats and accusations.

However, since one theme of Larry fandom is that they are "supporting" Harry and Louis and helping them fight the Big Gay War against the contract supposedly keeping them in the closet, Dark larries may be justifying their abusive comments on the social media accounts of supposed Modest! employees (i.e. friends and family) as a way of showing Modest that closeting is unnecessary and counterproductive.[19]

In this context, the heavily-criticized fan project Rainbow Direction, introduced in 2014, may have been started as a more civilized alternative. From the tumblr account that organized Rainbow Direction, in 2013:

This blog was born from the belief that, as fans, through the use of social media, we can show that we are not homophobic but supportive. Not by outing celebrities against their will. Not by waging war on their management and pr companies, But by organizing ourselves, by consistently calling out homophobic statements by media, celebrities and fans, and by educating them on what a tolerant and supportive fanbase looks like. In this way we can slowly but surely tilt the balance in favor of tolerance and support. Amongst the fanbase, at first, in the media, and, ultimately, in the industry itself.[20]

Some Larries are aware that their actions are offensive or even harmful, but believe they are justified anyway. As one says, "Do I support fans sending messages to Briana or Louis family? Of course not. But like they say 'there is no smoke without fire'. We can’t all be wrong…"[21]


Phan, involving Dan Howell and Phil Lester (or Daniel Howell (used to be danisnotonfire) and Amazingphil) of YouTube RPF.

Like in other 'younger' fandoms such as One Direction and the Larry ship, there is a tendency in the Dan/Phil fandom to use the term "Phan shipper" to mean "Phan tinhat". fandom.

Just like in many other RPF fandoms, there is a contingent of Dan/Phil tinhats who believe that "Phan is real".[22][23]

The main source of contention between shippers and non-shippers is the infamous Valentine's Day video, which Dan and Phil had repeatedly stated was a prank that they ended up deciding was too mean.[24][25] Many shippers have gone so far as to ask relatively unrelated YouTubers such as mrtinoforever[26] about the supposed relationship between Dan and Phil, although none of them had confirmed this relationship to be real or not. YouTuber Evan Edinger once tweeted that many YouTubers have seen the Valentine's Day video and "talk more than yall [sic] behind closed doors" in response to someone asking if he's seen the video[27] and Dan's younger brother, Adrian, was also harassed off of tumblr by Dan and Phil fans in 2013, with many of the question being about the relationship between the two.[28]

However, the case of Dan and Phil are interesting, as they have both come out as gay in 2019, and have revealed that they have been in a romantic relationship at some point or another. Despite this, it is still controversial to discuss the Valentine's Day video as Dan has explicitly opened up about how discussions of his sexuality online before he came out contributed to his insecurities in the closet.

Notable FPF Breaches


Sherlock/John, involving Sherlock Holmes and John Watson of Sherlock (BBC).

Led to The Johnlock Conspiracy.

The Johnlock Conspiracy is a fan theory which asserts that the writers of Sherlock (BBC) intend to make John/Sherlock the canon endgame pairing. While the term TJLC was coined in early January 2014, fan interpretations of the queer subtext between the characters of John and Sherlock in the show certainly predate TJLC.

TJLC may be understood as a bit like tinhatting, albeit for a FPF pairing. The conspiratorial tenor of TJLC meta and discourse, as well as the preoccupation with industry machinations and TPTB certainly echo common elements of tinhatting.[29] Other fans critical of TJLC sometimes refer to TJLCers as tinhatters.[30]

TJLCers' relationships to The Powers That Be - commonly referred to as Mofftiss, a portmanteau of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat - often vacillate from criticism to kinship. At times, TPTB are described as co-conspirators, with devoted TJLCers the "one true fans" who alone have caught on to the creators' ultimate plan. But these relationships can also turn antagonistic, with some TJLCers feeling betrayed by Moftiss as events unfold.

In a meta entitled "Mofftiss as Lazarus: TJLC and the Resurrection of The Author," Tumblr user mid0nz frames this relationship in the context of Roland Barthes' essay "The Death of the Author," writing:

Fandom loves The Author, loves to hate The Author. The Sherlock fandom desires Moftiss, needs Moftiss. While most of us academic types cockily think we’ve long ago hammered the last nail in The Author’s coffin, many members of the Sherlock fandom gleefully point us to the Empty Hearse. The Johnlock Conspiracy (#tjlc) is the ultimate Lazarus narrative; tjlc is the resurrection of the Author-God.


Like all power complexes tjlc is immensely kinetic; it hums with implications. Ultimately, I find it to function in a politically retrogressive way, reifying a kind of fundamentalism of reading, reifying the authority of The Author-God, the fictional construct that is Moftiss. I think this conspiratorial construct of Mofftiss has too much in common functionally with Big Brother: an all-knowing, all-seeing manipulator of civil “liberty.” (Nineteen Eighty-Four is, ultimately, a romance novel. Think John as Julia. But I digress.) Mofitss has the power to choose who John loves, the “responsibility” that it be, in the end, Sherlock— just as Moftiss (Author-God), the conspiracy goes, always already intended from the start. Johnlock, then, is desire withheld, desire held hostage. That gets coded as homophobia when, in fact, it’s not.


I’m sounding awfully serious here, with my emphasis on patriarchy and power. There’s so much an element of play in tjlc discourse, isn’t there? Erm… it’s complicated. I, personally, believe whole heartedly, that The Author is rightly ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I dance on His grave.

No matter. As an exercise, let’s keep on. Let’s resuscitate the authorial Lazarus, bring Him back from the dead. Be careful, though. In Johnlock endgame, there be zombies.[31]

Suzanne Frenk further discusses the relationship between TJLCers and the show's creators in "Telling The True Story: Queerbaiting, representation, and fan resistance in the BBC Sherlock fandom," a 2017 bachelor thesis submitted to the School of Humanities at Tilburg University. Frenk writes:

One important aspect within the TJLC community is the relationship between the fans and the creators. When looking at some of the Tumblr posts in this group that were posted before season four, it becomes clear that at this point, the strong belief in Johnlock stems not only from the extensive analyses that have been made of the perceived subtext in the show, but also from a strong belief in the creators of the show.


This trust in the creators and actors of Sherlock not only leads to a strong belief in Johnlock, but also makes several TJLC’ers identify with the creators. Especially Mark Gatiss,

being an openly gay man, is often looked up to, and sometimes even referenced as ‘gay dad’.[32]

When Moffat and Gatiss publicly refuted the notion that Johnlock would be endgame, many ardent TJLCers responded that this was yet another instance of dissembling on the part of the creators, in service of protecting the ultimate plot twist of the show.[33]

TLJC also received media coverage.

Moffat concluded, “And I also think in my case, I was talking about representation, as was Bryan, in quite a serious way. What they did was scale back that conversation and make it about something extremely silly. And that’s not helping anyone. I cared a lot about what I said on that panel. I meant it. And I don’t like it being reinterpreted as something else. [We’re] not telling anyone what to think. Mark isn’t saying other people can’t write that version of John and Sherlock getting together. We’re not. We’re not engaging in a clever conspiracy to write something under the radar, we’re just writing the show we’re writing.”

“There was a chunk of people who just knew it was going to end with us getting together. Me and Ben, we have literally never, never played a moment like lovers. We ain’t f***ing lovers."

Martin Freeman


Dean/Castiel of Supernatural.


Sterek, involving Derek Hale and Stiles Stilinski of Teen Wolf.

From early days, many people working on the show were aware of Sterek. Many fans saw this as a good thing (see below). Some hoped that this meant Sterek might become canon, and a few pushed for it. However, actors' and showrunners' attitudes toward Sterek, as well as fandom's attitudes toward TPTB's attitudes, have shifted over the course of the show. For example, in 2013 actor Tyler Hoechlin seemed pleased to be gifted The Sterek Book, but by 2014 was refusing to sign Sterek fanart at conventions. In 2014, Tyler Posey said in an interview that he thought Sterek was weird--cue Poseygate. Meanwhile, debates about queerbaiting and the fourth wall have been ongoing in the fandom.

Sterek Mentions by TPTB in the Innocent Days of Season Two:

Most of the creators and actors on the show have made their presence known online, usually through twitter. Fans have mostly separated into two distinct groups: those who enjoy the attention and encourage the creator-fan interaction, and those who believe fandom is meant for fans alone.

Jeff Davis (Executive Producer and Writer), Dylan O'Brien, and Tyler Hoechlin have all replied to fans on twitter. Jeff Davis has tweeted about Sterek several times: he is aware of Sterek, has read the Sterek tag on tumblr, is figuring out what Sterek means, and there will definitely be more scenes between Stiles and Derek. Jeff has mentioned That is actually a really good idea lol to someone's suggestion "so one type of wofsbane can make a wolf horny? (how sterek can happens :P)".

Dylan O'Brien tweeted that he was tickling Hoechlin behind the cage, he licked Hoechlin's abs, and the headbash was only on the last take. Other cast members have tweeted about Sterek: Colton Haynes.

During a Teen Wolf post-episode 2x06 "Frenemy" livestream, galaxy-lights asked "best bromance in the show?" Holland: "Come on, Dylan and Tyler!" Keahu: "Sterek! You mean Sterek." Holland: "Sterek?" Although Holland did not specify which Tyler she meant (actor Tyler Posey plays Scott, the lead and Stiles' best friend), most fans have either ignored this or focused on Keahu's blatantly pro-Derek/Stiles response. The exact wording of this exchange is next to impossible reproduce since it seems no one recorded the conversation at the time.

After episode 2.10 Fury, one of the actors (Stephen Lunsford) tweeted I gave you #Sterek You're welcome. His character, during the episode, said, "Oh, I don't know, Derek. I think you two make a pretty good pair" when Stiles was paralyzed on top of a paralyzed Derek and Derek wanted Stiles off of him.

Promo for the Teen Choice Awards 2012

To help spur votes for Teen Wolf to win best summer show on the Teen Choice Awards in 2012, Dylan O'Brien and Tyler Hoechlin filmed themselves on a ship asking people to vote. The video and accompanying photos spread like wildfire on tumblr because Dylan used phrases like "We're on a ship...pun intended" as well as implying that Sterek could be a possibility if the show won the award (crossing his leg over Tyler's lap saying "That's all that needs to be said.")

Several interviews have mentions of Derek/Stiles:

Sterek Fans Advocate For Sterek to Become Canon:

The Sterek fandom has made several "official" requests to the creators to make Sterek canon. Two of the most notable of these are the Open Letter to Jeff Davis by markedwithgrace and the Petition to Make Stiles/Derek Canon by Dillon Spencer on change.org. Fan response to these overtures has been decidedly mixed, with some fans loving the attention and others stating that they feel people are putting too much pressure on the creators (perhaps even pushing them away from making Sterek canon).

One fan tweeted the same message "Well Derek and Stiles have any interactions togehter in the gay bar scene?" 25 times to Jeff Davis. He responded with two tweets, one questioning how many times he had to receive the message before it counted as spam and the other pointing out the misspelling. Fandom promptly responded by freaking out and posting about how Sterek fans were bothering Jeff. Several fans encouraged each other to apologize on behalf on Sterek fandom. Jeff responded by saying no apology was necessary. Interestingly, TeamxSterek has not tweeted since then, although that account is still active, having apparently been hacked by someone selling diet strategies.


Klance from Voltron: Legendary Defender. A klance fan attempted to blackmail the studio to make the ship canon.[35]

Meta & Further Reading

This article or section needs expansion.

Notes and References


  1. ^ For a look into one particular fandom's issues with this phenomenon, see Bandom and the Fourth Wall.


  1. ^ Tweet from @Ryans_Butt_Milk. Posted Feb 12 2014. Accessed March 29 2019.
  2. ^ Bones' David Boreanaz Proposes To Emily Deschanel At Comic-Con!! See It HERE! Posted July 19 2013. Accessed March 28 2019.
  3. ^ Dylan O'Brien and Tyler Hoechlin Get Freaky On Boat. Posted July 12 2012. Accessed March 29 2019.
  4. ^ Supergirl Fans Are Rightfully Angry With the Cast’s Flippant Dismissal of Kara/Lena Luthor Shippers. Posted July 24 2017. Accessed March 29 2019.
  5. ^ Fan report, October 5, 2003 (archived at TheOneRing.net, accessed 2008/10/3)
  6. ^ Sept. 12, 2005 Newsweek interview with Dominic Monaghan (accessed 2008-10-24)
  7. ^ Louis Tomlinson Confirms That Larry Shippers Ruined His Deep Friendship With Harry Styles. Posted July 24 2017. Accessed March 28 2019.
  8. ^ Harry Styles (harry_styles) "On the phone to my sister @GemmaAnneStyles :) she's telling me about 'Larry Stylinson' hahah!!" 22 Nov 2010, 6:34 PM. Tweet.
  9. ^ youtube clip of Harry saying, "The fans call me and Louis 'Larry Stylinson'" and gif set of the same by onedirectiones, archived, posted April 7, 2012. gifset of a video interview, archived, posted by 1dbromance to Tumblr May 31, 2012. MuchMusic interview on youtube
  10. ^ Louis Tomlinson status 247375271156666368 accessed 2012-9-16
  11. ^ Louis Tomlinson status 247381724760264704 accessed 2012-9-16
  12. ^ It is known that certain PR-type staff have some kind of posting access to 1D's personal twitter accounts and occasionally log in to make promotional tweets. Occasionally, this is embarrassingly obvious, such as when "Niall" tweeted, and then tweeted again to say he'd been asleep. However, some Larries use this fact to discount any tweet that contradicts Larry.
  13. ^ youhaveacoolurl's reblog June 9, 2014: a Larrie's post describing being blocked on Instagram and subsequently calling a friend of the band a douchebag. (archived) (Accessed June 10, 2014)
  14. ^ One Direction Fans have trouble separating their 'Larry Stylinson' fantasy from reality, The Daily Dot, posted August 22, 2012. See also eleveninches' August 22, 2012 LiveJournal post This is the greatest thing to ever happen to her (me) (archived).
  15. ^ However, note that many of Aja's Daily Dot articles are controversial in fandom, and fans have criticized them as (deliberately) provocative, sensationalistic, and/or misleading.
  16. ^ Simon Jones (hackfordjonespr). "I want to say for the record I have NEVER fabricated a relationship or date for one of my clients. It is NOT the sort of PR we do in any way". 19 Jul 2014, 9:42 AM. Tweet. See also the Tumblr reblog of the screencapped tweet.
  17. ^ To be fair, here's an anonymous Elounor shipper making a rather weak argument against Larry in 2013: untitled eleanorcalderconfessions post, Archived version reblogged by wholelotofhislarrie on 3 July 2013.
  18. ^ Including comments that consist solely of the word "Larry" and nothing else.
  19. ^ Anon confession at confessionsofexlarries: I used to send awful things to Eleanor because I thought that she would quit and Louis would be able to come out if she did that. 7 February 2016 (dead link).
  20. ^ takemehomefromnarnia. Welcome to Narnia, there is a way out, Archived version, posted to tumblr 27 April 2013.
  21. ^ reblog by louisgirlire, 18 February 2016. archived.
  22. ^ "Phan is Real" since 2009-08-01 Twitter search, first use: Feb 6, 2012. (Retrieved Oct 2, 2014.)
  23. ^ elligalaxies, Tweet: Does it actually matter if Phan is real or not? Stop causing fandom wars over it omfg. Dan and Phil would be ashamed of you lot., posted June 22, 2012 (retrieved Oct 2, 2014.)
  24. ^ "Awrf". 2019-03-09. Archived from the original on 2019-03-09.
  25. ^ "Phanantiproof". 2019-03-09. Archived from the original on 2019-03-09.
  26. ^ "Awrf". 2019-03-09. Archived from the original on 2019-03-09.
  27. ^ Image of a now deleted tweet from Evan Edinger. Accessed May 09, 2019.
  28. ^ Daniel Howell's Brother Adrian Now Has A YouTube Channel by Mia Collins. Accessed March 09, 2019.
  29. ^ In this comment on FFA, one nonnie draws a connection: "Hardcore tinhats always have believe in a sort of secret code that is being sent out to the true fans, and the true fans are the ones who interpret it correctly, unlike the sheeple who just eat up the surface reading they're spoonfed. Coded messages in the colors of clothing (or in set design/lighting, in the case of fiction-based tinhatting like TJLC) or "body language" or things like that. As the tinhat cult encourages itself to go further and further down the rabbit hole, the more elaborate and intricate - and the more of a giant fucking reach - these codes and ciphers become." (Posted on February 2, 2016. Accessed on August 26, 2018.
  30. ^ Anonymous comment on FFA. Posted on May 17, 2014. Accessed on August 26, 2018.
  31. ^ Tumblr post by mid0nz. Available as a reblog from Anne Jamison. Accessed on February 4, 2019.
  32. ^ "Telling The True Story: Queerbaiting, representation, and fan resistance in the BBC Sherlock fandom" by Suzanne Frenk. 2017. Accessed on February 4, 2019.
  33. ^ Social justice, shipping, and ideology: when fandom becomes a crusade, things get ugly by Aja Romano for Vox. Published on August 7, 2016. Accessed on February 4, 2019.
  34. ^ SDCC 2016: Sherlock & A Case of Sexual Identity by Valerie Parker. Published on July 27, 2016. Accessed on July 11, 2018.
  35. ^ Voltron: Legendary Defender 'Fan' Blackmails Studio to Make a Gay Ship Canon on the Show. Posted May 29 2017. Accessed March 28 2019.